Economic purgatory

Here is a rather more optimistic assessment of the economy, based on the plans of America’s business executives.   I cite it, though, for the figure of speech in the final paragraph:

Washington policymakers are entering a crucial period for the nation’s stalling economy, starting with President Obama’s address to Congress about jobs on Thursday, but the fate of the recovery ultimately depends on decisions being made elsewhere: inside corporate America.

So far, business leaders have been standing firm, with senior executives making few revisions in the plans they had drawn up for expansion and hiring, according to interviews and a review of more than three dozen recent conference calls that executives have held with financial analysts. Even the wild swings on Wall Street during this cruel summer have not knocked executives off track.

But while companies are not undertaking new rounds of layoffs, hiring does not seem poised to take off. Executives speak of the same sluggish but steady job creation that has been underway for months continuing through the end of the year.

The cautious approach taken inside executive suites was also reflected in the grim jobs report from the Labor Department on Friday. While it showed that the nation’s job creation had ground to a halt in August, the private sector continued adding jobs slowly. After adjusting for workers on strike, mostly at Verizon, and employment cuts by government, the report revealed that private employers added the modest net sum of 62,000 jobs.

That result was consistent with the reflections of top executives, such Ronald L. Sargent, the chief executive of office-supply retailer Staples.

“I’m not an economist at all,” Sargent said in a conference call in mid-August with analysts to discuss quarterly earnings. “But from what I see, we have no chance at another recession. I think we’re probably more likely to stay in economic purgatory for a while longer, but I don’t have any worries about a double dip at this point.”

via Despite stock volatility, executives moving ahead with growth plans — for now – The Washington Post.

We are in economic purgatory!  We are being punished for our sins!  But we are still saved, eventually.   And government efforts to get us out are nothing but indulgences.  We can buy them, if it makes us feel better, but they don’t really work.  Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • Pete

    Dr. Veith, you’re viewing the world through your Luther’s rose colored glasses – over-analyzing, as it were. I don’t think this fellow views the economy in terms of atonement or justification. He’s just trying to say that if a “bear” economy is Hell, we’re not really headed there and, similarly, if a “bull” economy is Heaven, we’re not likely to be there either.

  • Pete

    Dr. Veith, you’re viewing the world through your Luther’s rose colored glasses – over-analyzing, as it were. I don’t think this fellow views the economy in terms of atonement or justification. He’s just trying to say that if a “bear” economy is Hell, we’re not really headed there and, similarly, if a “bull” economy is Heaven, we’re not likely to be there either.

  • SKPeterson

    Sargent sounds like those business executives in 1930 who saw no danger of a prolonged depression as they had plans to hire modestly, increase wages and expand production. Until they didn’t.

  • SKPeterson

    Sargent sounds like those business executives in 1930 who saw no danger of a prolonged depression as they had plans to hire modestly, increase wages and expand production. Until they didn’t.

  • fws

    “Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?”

    Yes. The word for this is “mercy”. And mercy, by definition, is always undeserved!

    The Law always accuses.

    In this case, everyone desires mercy to be done to them, but no one thinks it is “fair” for mercy to be done to others, so they self-justify and grumble at the command of Jesus to “Do mercy unto others as we would have mercy done to us. ”

    In this precise way the Law is accusing us.

    At the same time, will God punish us for not obeying the commandment to do mercy unto others in the form of greed-called-virtue? Yes.

    So we should fear God and learn to do that mercy for others that is the ultimate Good God wants to get out of us with his Law.

    Instead we calculate that each should recieve what he deserves and earns and turn the Law into Sacrifice of others rather than the Mercy God demands. “God would have mercy rather than sacrifice”. Economic Laws are made by God for man, man is not made to serve economic Laws just because….

  • fws

    “Can there be free forgiveness in the economics realm, or that just in the spiritual kingdom?”

    Yes. The word for this is “mercy”. And mercy, by definition, is always undeserved!

    The Law always accuses.

    In this case, everyone desires mercy to be done to them, but no one thinks it is “fair” for mercy to be done to others, so they self-justify and grumble at the command of Jesus to “Do mercy unto others as we would have mercy done to us. ”

    In this precise way the Law is accusing us.

    At the same time, will God punish us for not obeying the commandment to do mercy unto others in the form of greed-called-virtue? Yes.

    So we should fear God and learn to do that mercy for others that is the ultimate Good God wants to get out of us with his Law.

    Instead we calculate that each should recieve what he deserves and earns and turn the Law into Sacrifice of others rather than the Mercy God demands. “God would have mercy rather than sacrifice”. Economic Laws are made by God for man, man is not made to serve economic Laws just because….

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Pete, I’m being kind of jocular here. Do I have to always use those Smiley-Faces.

    I suppose the economics equivalent of forgiveness is bankruptcy. And those of us crushed by the law and turning to Christ for forgiveness are confessing our moral bankruptcy and receiving God’s forensic ruling: “your debts have been forgiven.”

  • http://www.geneveith.com Gene Veith

    Pete, I’m being kind of jocular here. Do I have to always use those Smiley-Faces.

    I suppose the economics equivalent of forgiveness is bankruptcy. And those of us crushed by the law and turning to Christ for forgiveness are confessing our moral bankruptcy and receiving God’s forensic ruling: “your debts have been forgiven.”

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    In economics there is no thing like free forgiveness.

    Even bankruptcy has consequences.

    There is no free lunch. Now with planning, immorality and foresight, you can shift the risk and cost to others but something is always lost, somewhere.

    In order for anything of value to be produced something finite must be sacrificed (time, natural resources, labor).

    In that sense the atonement parallels economics. God couldn’t simply satisfy the moral calculus of the universe by fiat. A precious resource had to be sacrificed to create something of great value (our salvation).

  • http://steadfastlutherans.org/ SAL

    In economics there is no thing like free forgiveness.

    Even bankruptcy has consequences.

    There is no free lunch. Now with planning, immorality and foresight, you can shift the risk and cost to others but something is always lost, somewhere.

    In order for anything of value to be produced something finite must be sacrificed (time, natural resources, labor).

    In that sense the atonement parallels economics. God couldn’t simply satisfy the moral calculus of the universe by fiat. A precious resource had to be sacrificed to create something of great value (our salvation).

  • Lou

    SAL “A precious resource had to be sacrificed to create something of great value (our salvation)”. So, perhaps the question I would have is: what exactly is this precious resource that our country must sacrifice in order that its people be set free from economic purgatory? Like Gene was saying, government spending is nothing more than mere indulgences that can’t and don’t work. Where then shall we find our economic atonement?

  • Lou

    SAL “A precious resource had to be sacrificed to create something of great value (our salvation)”. So, perhaps the question I would have is: what exactly is this precious resource that our country must sacrifice in order that its people be set free from economic purgatory? Like Gene was saying, government spending is nothing more than mere indulgences that can’t and don’t work. Where then shall we find our economic atonement?

  • DonS

    Of course, being redeemed from our sin does not relieve us of the earthly consequences of that sin, does it? Our profligacy, and absolute refusal to confirm to our citizens that there is no free lunch, is our purgatory.

  • DonS

    Of course, being redeemed from our sin does not relieve us of the earthly consequences of that sin, does it? Our profligacy, and absolute refusal to confirm to our citizens that there is no free lunch, is our purgatory.

  • Lou

    Hmm. The parable of the lost son and elder brother in Luke 15 11:32 comes to mind, DonS.
    So, what’s a father to do?
    Forgive and restore the younger son? At the cost of the older brother’s remaining inheritance? Then, ask the elder brother to come celebrate the occasion with them?? For heavens sakes, no we can’t have that… right??.

  • Lou

    Hmm. The parable of the lost son and elder brother in Luke 15 11:32 comes to mind, DonS.
    So, what’s a father to do?
    Forgive and restore the younger son? At the cost of the older brother’s remaining inheritance? Then, ask the elder brother to come celebrate the occasion with them?? For heavens sakes, no we can’t have that… right??.

  • Martin

    Lou, so who do you want to be the “Big Brother” in this scenario of yours?

  • Martin

    Lou, so who do you want to be the “Big Brother” in this scenario of yours?

  • DonS

    LOL @ Martin @ 9!

    Lou @ 8: The younger son was restored to his place in the family, but not to his inheritance. See Luke 15:31 — “And he said to him (the elder brother), ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.”

    The younger son’s loss of inheritance was his consequence.

  • DonS

    LOL @ Martin @ 9!

    Lou @ 8: The younger son was restored to his place in the family, but not to his inheritance. See Luke 15:31 — “And he said to him (the elder brother), ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.”

    The younger son’s loss of inheritance was his consequence.

  • Bob

    I’m not a theologian or anything, but what about the Jubilee in the OT? Wasn’t that a situation where, every 50 years, debts were totally forgiven and those in debt set free? From what little I know about it, it always struck me as a foreshadowing of the gospel — free grace — something that’s pretty well otherwise nonexistent in the economic world, as some others here have commented on.

  • Bob

    I’m not a theologian or anything, but what about the Jubilee in the OT? Wasn’t that a situation where, every 50 years, debts were totally forgiven and those in debt set free? From what little I know about it, it always struck me as a foreshadowing of the gospel — free grace — something that’s pretty well otherwise nonexistent in the economic world, as some others here have commented on.

  • kenneth

    Doctor Veith that is a fine pick-up on a meraphor of which all at some point breakdown. The answer most plausable to paradoxes, I think, is the essential of faith in the God of Christ. True God, true man.

    Then we have a way out of the odious notions of purgatory and indulgences an an end to speculations on getting to heaven. Faith, as any lutheran ought to confess is simply the beautiful One.

  • kenneth

    Doctor Veith that is a fine pick-up on a meraphor of which all at some point breakdown. The answer most plausable to paradoxes, I think, is the essential of faith in the God of Christ. True God, true man.

    Then we have a way out of the odious notions of purgatory and indulgences an an end to speculations on getting to heaven. Faith, as any lutheran ought to confess is simply the beautiful One.

  • helen

    Bob @ 11
    I’m not a theologian or anything, but what about the Jubilee in the OT? Wasn’t that a situation where, every 50 years, debts were totally forgiven and those in debt set free?

    Somewhere (not in Scripture!) I seem to recall reading that the worth of any property which could be ‘redeemed’ at Jubilee was revised downward, in relation to the number of years it would be used before it must go back to the owner.

  • helen

    Bob @ 11
    I’m not a theologian or anything, but what about the Jubilee in the OT? Wasn’t that a situation where, every 50 years, debts were totally forgiven and those in debt set free?

    Somewhere (not in Scripture!) I seem to recall reading that the worth of any property which could be ‘redeemed’ at Jubilee was revised downward, in relation to the number of years it would be used before it must go back to the owner.


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