Orbiting Dicta

Monthly Archives: July 2009

Slumping toward Bethlehem?

Ireland does not figure among the eight richest countries in the world.  Brian Cowan will not be at the G8 meeting in L’Aquila with representatives from the United States, The UK, Japan, France, Germany, Canada, Italy, and Russia (although he took advantage of the day to announce the date of the revote on the Lisbon Treaty – October 2).  But not long ago, when the Celtic Tiger was wagging its tail ferociously, Ireland’s workers enjoyed the second highest salaries in Europe.  After the fall, it has the second highest rate of unemployment, the economy is in tatters, and things are not yet showing signs of improvement.

Ireland’s problems are hardly unique.  The pattern of risky and often shady bank lending, unscrupulous property development schemes, deregulation of the financial industry, a boom-town mentality that prevailed as the country experienced unprecedented prosperity – it’s a pattern seen in any number of countries suffering from the global economic slump.  Or do you say “recession”?  But Ireland is a small country, one whose economic climate is far more fragile than might seem evident.  And so the present government has taken very serious steps to stop the downward spiral – social services are being cut drastically (especially, it would seem, in the health sector), taxes are being raised, new taxes are being levied, and a lot of heavy borrowing is going on.  There has been talk of reducing huge bonuses paid to bankers and CEOs, and government ministers who were receiving pensions while salaried servants of the public are being asked to tighten their collective belt.  Even judges were politely asked to take a cut in their generous salaries – but fewer than ten percent thought it might be a good idea.

Many people are, of course, asking in the words of a senior member of the British Parliament today, “How the hell did this happen?”  It’s a question many are asking here in Ireland and elsewhere and there are, needless to say, many theories, some of which have more than a little to do with hell.  Not a few observers have chiseled the candidates down to one: greed.

Not long ago, the fictional Gordon Gecko, cunningly played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street, articulated the philosophy of virtuous wealth with elegant precision: Greed is Good.  Events over the last sixteen months tend to make me think that greed is still bad.  Not merely bad, but classically one of the Capital Sins.  (That doesn’t mean it was worse than most of the others, but that it was the source of a vast river delta of subsequent sins.)  The naiveté of Scripture inevitably comes to mind – or is it just simple insight into the human heart and the trouble it can get into:

…the love of money is the root of all evils; it is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced their hearts with many pangs [1 Timothy 6:10].