A Christian Economist’s Response to Occupy Wall Street

The Occupy Wall Street protest has dominated the news over the past month, and it’s raising plenty of issues about financial governance, inequality, and fairness.  It is spreading beyond NYC to other cities and college campuses.  (There’s even an Occupy UConn).

Bruce Wydick is an economist at the University of San Francisco, and he is a friend of mine from college.  He has written a very thoughtful piece about the Occupy Movement for Christianity Today, and in it he diagnoses what he sees as the source of the crisis.  Here are some excerpts from Bruce’s essay.

“Part of the power of the protest lies in its ambiguity. Americans are angry about many issues today. In such a climate it may be more strategic to focus on the common anger than on specificities.”

“The crisis has spiritual roots. Jesus warns his followers, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions” (Luke 12:15, NIV). But a syncretistic form of Christianity has emerged in our country, a syncretism that mingles genuine New Testament Christianity with the consumer materialism of the American Dream.”

“This spirit of entitlement in America also lies at the root of our national debt problem, a crisis exacerbated by the housing and finance meltdowns. Make no mistake: our national debt problem is a moral problem.”

Thanks Adrienne for the link!

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  • j smith

    uh … or some of the occupy wall street participants are very specific about problems and solutions concerning American financial corporations: http://scatter.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/more-on-handling-biased-media

  • Brad,

    This is an interesting article. I have no doubt that some people on Wall Street made mistakes and are greedy, but the ills on Wall Street can be found on Main Street as well. My concern is that the Occupy Wall Street movements seem to use the Marxist rhetoric of class struggle–those with money must be bad, those who are suffering from losing their money must be good.

    Catholic theologians and both Pope John Paul II and Pope Benedict challenge the basic Marxist assumption that class struggle is the engine of history. The problem with Marx’s idea of class struggle, they have argued, is that all human beings have the same nature, and the same possibility to be good or bad. So to say that 1% of the population is bad and the rest is good is incompatible with the Christian understanding of the human person. Splitting the world morally into the “haves” and “have nots” can have dangerous consequences for social harmony. Protesting against the “haves” does not seem as productive as working to bring together the interests of “haves” and the “have nots”.

    I think we need to address the causes of our current problems without demonizing some people because they have money and exalting those who do not. Most Christians would say that morality is not determined by wealth or poverty, but Marxists might disagree.


  • Lindsey Barber

    So basically the protesters are the greedy ones? The author argues that the protesters are the ones without a clue, but it’s seems the author himself doesn’t quite understand what has brought these people together to protest. These are not people who want more money so they can go buy new cars and big houses. Forty-nine million Americans are currently living under the poverty level while the profits for Wall Street have increased by 700% and the super-rich are enjoying a tax rate that is the lowest it’s been in almost a century. To dismiss their frustrations as mere greed and materialism makes no sense when you look at the actual facts, rather than simply using this rhetoric to support your biased opinions. To claim that those on Wall Street shouldn’t be blamed because they “couldn’t understand the implications or robustness of the financial derivatives they were trading, or even how to properly price them” also makes no sense. Wall Street isn’t being blamed solely because of derivative trading. They are being blamed for their blatant corruption and mis-handling of billions (soon to be trillions) of tax-payer dollars that were given to them. Not to mention the fact that many of these corporations don’t even pay taxes. Even after the bail-out, CEOs continued to receive excessive raises and bonuses. Congress recently had to pass legislation to stop Freddie Mac from doing this exact thing. Not to mention the exploitation of labor and resources by greedy American companies that takes place in other countries on a daily basis. To claim that Wall Street is innocent and the protesters are greedy not only goes against the facts, it also goes against the teachings of Christ. Christ’s command didn’t come with a qualifying statement. He said to help the poor. He actually said to give them the clothes off of your back if need be. He definitely didn’t say to blame them for their own misfortune. He also made some pretty clear remarks about rich people as well…

    PS- I tried to post citations for the facts that I listed but the site read them as spam. If anyone is interested in the sources, feel free to email me and I will gladly provide them. ldcar85@gmail.com Read the facts and think for yourself.

    • Bob Kundrat

      “These are not people who want more money so they can go buy new cars and big houses.”

      Maybe not to the extreme’s as stated but isn’t that the ultimate motivation behind these protests? Isn’t that why they’re taking place now to the extent that they are and not 4 years ago before the economy tanked and the American dream was alive and well.

      What’s different now is that the outlook for many is bleak now but the inequities existed then. I didn’t need these protests to help me know that the income of top 0.1% is out of whack with the 99.9%. That knowledge is pretty common.

      That many of the protesters, yourself and myself are to blame seems to be a main point of the article and I agree. Unless the protesters are willing to take ownership then the problem will remain and when I say ownership I mean that the protesters must be willing to live differently for the rest of their lives and not just until the economy is righted and they can get on with their pursuit of the American dream.