Daily Archives: September 25, 2008

Notable and Quotable (II)

To call for an existence which is qualitatively more satisfying is of itself legitimate, but one cannot fail to draw attention to the new responsibilities and dangers connected with this phase of history. The manner in which new needs arise and are defined is always marked by a more or less appropriate concept of man and of his true good. A given culture reveals its overall understanding of life through the choices it makes in production and consumption. It is here that the phenomenon of consumerism arises. In singling out new needs and new means to meet them, one must be guided by a comprehensive picture of man which respects all the dimensions of his being and which subordinates his material and instinctive dimensions to his interior and spiritual ones. If, on the contrary, a direct appeal is made to his instincts ”” while ignoring in various ways the reality of the person as intelligent and free ”” then consumer attitudes and life-styles can be created which are objectively improper and often damaging to his physical and spiritual health. Of itself, an economic system does not possess criteria for correctly distinguishing new and higher forms of satisfying human needs from artificial new needs which hinder the formation of a mature personality. Thus a great deal of educational and cultural work is urgently needed, including the education of consumers in the responsible use of their power of choice, the formation of a strong sense of responsibility among producers and among people in the mass media in particular, as well as the necessary intervention by public authorities….

It is not wrong to want to live better; what is wrong is a style of life which is presumed to be better when it is directed towards “having” rather than “being”, and which wants to have more, not in order to be more but in order to spend life in enjoyment as an end in itself.75 It is therefore necessary to create life-styles in which the quest for truth, beauty, goodness and communion with others for the sake of common growth are the factors which determine consumer choices, savings and investments. In this regard, it is not a matter of the duty of charity alone, that is, the duty to give from one’s “abundance”, and sometimes even out of one’s needs, in order to provide what is essential for the life of a poor person. I am referring to the fact that even the decision to invest in one place rather than another, in one productive sector rather than another, is always a moral and cultural choice. Given the utter necessity of certain economic conditions and of political stability, the decision to invest, that is, to offer people an opportunity to make good use of their own labour, is also determined by an attitude of human sympathy and trust in Providence, which reveal the human quality of the person making such decisions.

Centesimus annus

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * Religion News & Commentary, Economy, Other Churches, Religion & Culture, Roman Catholic

Robert A. Sirico: Friends of the Unrighteous Mammon

In reading through Prof. Davenport’s text, I was struck by how similar are the contours of the economic debates in this period of American history are to our own debates. There are those who are comfortable with the idea of a free economy as a necessary institution for providing material well being for the human family. It simply is not possible to support six billion people on a system of central planning or on agrarian or distributivist principles. At the same time, there are the Sojourners who feel grave discomfort at what they perceive to be the materialism of our age and thereby seek system-wide change. Finally, there are the moralists who minimize debates about politics and rather seek to inspire personal moral piety.

What we need to see is the greater compatibility between the three positions than is usually supposed, provided there is freedom in which the three approaches can work. No society under any economic system will be free of greed, but the free economy produces the wealth that also makes charity and philanthropy possible. In addition, for those who seek simpler lives and private piety, the free economic system provides the room and possibility to make that choice. Davenport does not appear to be what I would call a pro-market thinker, which is what I suppose I might be called. Nonetheless, this book has identified the critical issues of the debate in those times and in our own. Christianity has adapted itself to many cultures and settings, but the advent of capitalism did provide its own special challenges.

How can a religion born in a world of poverty, and centered on the eventual glory associated with death on a cross, thrive in a world of fantastic levels of material prosperity? The experience of Americans shows how, and the views of the thinkers highlighted in this volume explain how a reconciliation can occur. It comes down to the critical fact that the most productive economic system ever known also happens to be the one that is most respectful of human rights and dignity, and provides the freedom to worship.

Read it all.

Posted in * Christian Life / Church Life, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Church History, Economy, Religion & Culture

BusinessWeek: Main Street's Rage at the Financial Crisis

[In Allentown, Pennsylvania] the latest details of the government’s proposed $700 billion rescue plan was not the main story in the local paper, The Morning Call, on Sept. 23 (an article about the end of a teachers’ strike was). But it is on people’s minds. For many of Allentown’s residents, the rescue is an occasion for anger, even if that feeling is at times blunted by fatigue and resignation. They dislike what goes on in Washington, but those ill feelings are nothing compared with their view of Wall Street. “People see that the chief executives of these finance companies are making millions on the backs of taxpayers,” says Ed Pawlowski, the Democratic Mayor of Allentown. They are worried about how the next generation will fare in an America that many feel has mixed up its priorities.

At Wal-Mart (WMT) SuperCenter Store #2641, Brett Slack, one of the owners of Lehigh Valley Paintball, was picking up groceries with his two-year-old daughter while his wife was at her part-time job as a cashier at Giant Food. He, like most others here, believes that the government has no choice but to intervene, since the consequences of inaction appear to be far worse. So fine: He can live with his tax money helping to prop up America’s financial system. But he wants the chief executives of those companies (unnamed by anyone in Allentown) to pay, too. “The government should go after the CEOs,” he said. “I own a business, and if I went under, the bank would come after me. They made bad decisions and figured the government would bail them out. If the CEOs end up sleeping in cardboard boxes, that would be O.K. with me. They don’t deserve to be multimillionaires.”

Slack, who is 32, has had to lay off 20 of his 35 employees in the past year as rising gas prices slowed business. He and his two partners took pay cuts, too. “That’s what CEOs and owners should do,” he says. He put all his savings into the company when he started it four years ago. “If I have money to invest one day, I’ll just start another business. I won’t invest in the stock market,” he says.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Stock Market, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package

In Lancashire Cash-strapped church praying for public help

A PUBLIC appeal for help is being made by the Anglican church at Cornholme as a result of mounting debts.

St Michael’s Church, in Burnley Road, is hoping for a cash boost as arrangements are being finalised for an arts and crafts exhibition at the end of this month.

In this month’s parish magazine, assistant priest, the Rev Irene Greenman, writes: “It is the parish church of Cornholme, but it is supported by the donations of only a faithful few ”“ some good friends who would not like to see the church close down.

“We have our usual share to pay to the diocese ”“ this year almost £11,000, of which we have paid £7,204 so far.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Parish Ministry

Paulson Plan’s Mystery: What’s All This Stuff Worth?

What would you pay, sight unseen, for a house that nobody wants, on a hard-luck street where no houses are selling?

That question is easy compared to the one confronting the Treasury Department as Washington works toward a vast bailout of financial institutions. Treasury Secretary Henry M. Paulson Jr. is proposing to spend up to $700 billion to buy troubled investments that even Wall Street is struggling to put a price on.

A big concern in Washington ”” and among many ordinary Americans ”” is that the difficulty in valuing these assets could result in the government’s buying them for more than they will ever be worth, a step that would benefit financial institutions at taxpayers’ expense.

Anyone who has tried to buy or sell a house when the market is falling, as it is now, knows how difficult it can be to agree on a price. But valuing the securities that the Treasury aims to buy will be far more difficult. Each one of these investments is tied to thousands of individual mortgages, and many of those loans are going bad as the housing market worsens.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package

Bloomberg: Short-Sellers `Clearly Bank Robbers,' Says Archbishop

Hedge funds that bet on a decline in British mortgage lender HBOS Plc are “bank robbers” and “asset strippers,” according to the Archbishop of York John Sentamu, the Church of England’s second-ranking cleric.

“To a bystander like me, those who made 190 million pounds ($353 million) deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS, in spite of its very strong capital base, and drove it into the bosom of Lloyds TSB Bank, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers,” Sentamu told an audience of bankers at Drapers’ Hall in the City of London last night, according to his Web site.

Sentamu’s speech came as the Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, the Anglican church’s highest-ranking cleric, urged the British government to adopt more radical regulations, in addition to the temporary ban on short-sales of financial stocks in an article published yesterday on the Spectator magazine’s Web site.

“The question is not how to choose between total control and total deregulation, but how to identify the points and practices where social risk becomes unacceptably high,” Williams wrote. “The banning of short-selling is an example of just such a judgment. Governments should not lose their nerve as they look to identify a few more targets.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Culture-Watch, * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Anglican Provinces, Archbishop of Canterbury, Church of England (CoE), Economy, England / UK, Religion & Culture, Stock Market

Notable and Quotable (I)

The debate in Washington over the $700 billion bail-out plan for the US financial system is starting to resemble a plot from the television show 24.

Gerard Baker in the (London) Times

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, Economy, England / UK, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package

The Archbishop of York's Speech to The Worshipful Company of International Bankers Dinner

I know you are having to shoot the financial rapids. Markets are in turmoil. Bear Stearns and Northern Rock are etched indelibly in your memory. And now we have the stories of Lehmann brothers and Merrill Lynch, AIG and HBOS.

To a bystander like me, those who made £190million deliberately underselling the shares of HBOS, in spite of its very strong capital base, and drove it into the bosom of Lloyds TSB Bank, are clearly bank robbers and asset strippers!

We find ourselves in a market system which seems to have taken its rules of trade from Alice in Wonderland, where the share value of a bank is no longer dependent on the strength of its performance but rather on the willingness of the Government to bail it out, or rather on whether the Government has announced its intentions so to do.

Our country has built its financial strength historically on the manufacturing of goods, where money was the medium of exchange. In the last week we have has seen its systems come close to ruin because now money is no longer being the medium of exchange for goods, but rather is the very item which is being traded.

Meanwhile talk of bonuses being paid out to the few whilst the many suffer, cocks a snook at any talk of “fairness” or “equity”.

Read it all and there is a press release here also.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Economics, Politics, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), Economy, Stock Market

Rowan Williams–Face it: Marx was partly right about capitalism

Trading the debts of others without accountability has been the motor of astronomical financial gain for many in recent years. Primitively, a loan transaction is something which enables someone to do what they might not otherwise be able to do ”” start a business, buy a house. Lenders identify what would count as reasonable security in the present and the future (present assets, future income) and decide accordingly.

But inevitably in complex and large-scale transactions, one person’s debt becomes part of the security which the lender can offer to another potential customer. And a particularly significant line is crossed when the borrowing and lending are no longer to do with any kind of equipping someone to do something specific, but exclusively about enabling profit ”” sometimes, as with the now banned practice of short-selling, by effectively betting on the failure of a partner in the transaction.

This crisis exposes the element of basic unreality in the situation ”” the truth that almost unimaginable wealth has been generated by equally unimaginable levels of fiction, paper transactions with no concrete outcome beyond profit for traders. But while we are getting used to this sudden vision of the Emperor’s New Clothes, there are one or two questions that, in government as in society at large, we at last have a chance to ask. Some of these are elementary and practical. Given that the risk to social stability overall in these processes has been shown to be so enormous, it is no use pretending that the financial world can maintain indefinitely the degree of exemption from scrutiny and regulation that it has got used to. To grant that without a basis of some common prosperity and stability, no speculative market can long survive is not to argue for rigid Soviet-style centralised direction. Insecure or failed states may provide a brief and golden opportunity for profiteering, but cannot sustain reliable institutions.

Without a background of social stability everyone will eventually suffer, including even the most resourceful, bold and ingenious of speculators. The question is not how to choose between total control and total deregulation, but how to identify the points and practices where social risk becomes unacceptably high. The banning of short-selling is an example of just such a judgment. Governments should not lose their nerve as they look to identify a few more targets.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Economics, Politics, Archbishop of Canterbury, Economy, Stock Market

U.S. bailout deal near as Bush to meet lawmakers

Congress looked close to reaching a deal to approve a $700 billion plan to bail out the U.S. financial system and President George W. Bush called an emergency meeting for Thursday to hammer out details.

The move toward a deal will likely calm U.S. markets, which remained on tenterhooks on Wednesday as negotiations dragged on. Investors sought cash and safe-haven assets, briefly sending short-term interest rates below zero. Experts said banks were hoarding cash, fearful that if they loaned money to other banks they might not get repaid.

Most Asian stock markets were weaker and the U.S. dollar dipped against major currencies on Thursday on lingering worries about the timing and scale of rescue plan and fears of the financial contagion deepening.

On Wednesday, Senate Banking Committee Chairman Christopher Dodd expressed optimism a deal was nearing.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package

TED Spread widens to record 317 basis points – Bloomberg

For background on this, please see this post from yesterday.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, Economy

A great piece Reminding us how much Military Families sacrifice every day

Watch Elmo and friends do their magic–heartwarming.

Posted in * Culture-Watch, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Children, Marriage & Family, Military / Armed Forces

Ruth Gledhill On Robert Duncan's Deposition

Have we come so far from our Catholic tradition that we have forgotten the power of martyrdom, on which the Western church is built? Does no-one in TEC understand any more the meaning of sacrifice?

Because a martyr is what Bob Duncan now is. The Episcopal Church should not need a heretically catholic Anglican such as me to tell it that the next step up from martyrdom is sainthood. Bishop Duncan’s office has been inundated with emails, phonecalls and letters of supportm since the ill-advised deposition. Since Friday, he has had personal messages from six primates, including ++Anis and ++Chew, indicating their intention not to recognise the deposition and to support the Pittsburgh “remnant”. There have been all kinds of other ones as well from various bishops, clergy and laity all over the world. They are being catalogued on a new site, set up specially to venerate the deposed bishop.

And now in England, six bishops are pledging their support and saying they will continue to recognise him. Surely that is momentous enough to warrant an archiepiscopal comment? Or perhaps all pretence of episcopal collegiality has been abandoned.

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, Anglican Provinces, Church of England (CoE), CoE Bishops, Episcopal Church (TEC), Presiding Bishop, TEC Bishops, TEC Conflicts, TEC Conflicts: Pittsburgh, TEC Polity & Canons

ENS: Wall Street's woes come to church

“I’ve had people say: ‘what’s with the Episcopal Church? They’re open to everybody’,” she said, noting that many such group are offered only to congregation members. Trinity Church in Princeton offers a similarly unrestricted job-seekers group, she added.

Johnson also predicted that the newly “reduced profile[s]” of many of the area’s employers will mean reduced incomes for people who do keep their jobs. That reduction could mean changes in local economies, she added.

Sandra McPhee, a lawyer who belongs to St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church in Evanston, Illinois, and the chair of the Consortium of Endowed Episcopal Parish’s endowment committee, told ENS that she expects that Episcopal parishes with endowments of all sizes are consulting their investment experts and “taking a wait-and-see attitude.” While the consortium does not give investment advice and does not track how member parishes invest, McPhee said the best investment strategy in times like this is one of prudence based on the advice of a trusted adviser.

McPhee, who is also a member of the Episcopal Church’s Executive Council, participated in the Eucharist at St. Matthew’s this past Sunday (during which her two-month-old granddaughter was baptized) and recalled that rector Jane Henderson acknowledged in her sermon that “everyone’s antsy, everyone’s nervous.”

Read it all.

Posted in * Anglican - Episcopal, * Christian Life / Church Life, * Economics, Politics, Economy, Episcopal Church (TEC), Parish Ministry, Stock Market

NY Times: President Issues Warning on Economy to Americans

President Bush appealed to the nation Wednesday night to support a $700 billion plan to avert a financial meltdown on Wall Street, and he invited both major presidential candidates to join him and Congressional leaders at the White House on Thursday to forge a bipartisan compromise.

Warning that “a long and painful recession” could occur if Congress does not act quickly, Mr. Bush said the consequences could play out in “a distressing scenario,” including potential bank failures, job losses and inability for ordinary Americans to borrow money to buy cars or send their children to college.

“Fellow citizens, we must not let this happen,” he said.

The address, and the extraordinary offer to bring together Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic presidential nominee, and Senator John McCain, the Republican, just weeks before the election underscored a growing sense of urgency on the part of the administration that Congress must act to avert a far-reaching economic collapse.

It was the first time in Mr. Bush’s presidency that he delivered a prime-time address devoted exclusively to the economy, and it came at a time when deep public unease about shaky financial markets has been coupled with skepticism and anger directed at a government bailout that would be the most expensive in American history.

Read it all.

Posted in * Economics, Politics, * International News & Commentary, America/U.S.A., Economy, Housing/Real Estate Market, Personal Finance, Politics in General, Stock Market, The September 2008 Proposed Henry Paulson 700 Billion Bailout Package