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Greed isn’t sustainable.

I came across this insight over on the Sojourners Blog the other day:

“Major institutions have crumbled, markets have failed, and trade has ground to a halt. And many would argue that the crisis highlights something bigger: the failure of an ideology.”

– Andy Clasper

Could this economic crisis really signify the failure an entire ideology? If Andy is talking about our cut-throat, every-man-for-himself brand of capitalism, I think he may be right. In fact, I hope he is.

Right now, our economic ideology is to look out for yourself. Give yourself the biggest advantage you can. Do whatever it takes to get promoted, stay ahead of the curve, get paid more. Money is the lifeblood of our culture. It not only keeps our economy fluid, but serves as the primary gauge by which we judge the success of a person, and the overall happiness of ourselves.

I think this ideology has been the Achilles’ heel of our economy. If you think about it, almost every reason why our economy collapsed – lending crisis, foreclosure crisis, excessive risk on Wall Street – can be traced back to human greed.

Maybe it’s the recession, and maybe it’s just because Drea and I are generally strapped for cash, but I’m beginning more and more to see the value in the way my grandparents’ generation lived. I still don’t quite buy the “I had to walk to school uphill both ways in the snow” bit, but maybe our grandparents were on to something. I get the impression that they lived in a healthier society than ours. People cared about each other’s well-being, about the common good of their communities. They also lived within their means. No credit cards, no instant gratification. If you wanted something, you had to wait until you’d saved enough money to buy it. (What a concept!)

Hopefully something as large-scale as this recession will make us realize that a greed-driven ideology isn’t just ungenerous, it’s also unsustainable. President Obama wrote the following in an op-ed released yesterday in anticipation of next week’s G-20 meeting in London:

“We cannot settle for a return to the status quo. We must put an end to the reckless speculation and spending beyond our means; to the bad credit, over-leveraged banks and absence of oversight that condemns us to bubbles that inevitably bust.”

There’s obviously a lot of work and backpedaling to be done, but it’s good to hear that the President doesn’t view this recession as a glitch in an otherwise good system, that he recognizes the need for a fundamental rethinking.

As a nation and as individuals, I hope we come out of this mess with an enhanced confidence in two things: moderation and community. Moderation because certain luxuries are worth giving up for the sake of being able to sleep at night. I’ll take living in a small house and eating cheap meals over “the finer things” anyday if it means not having to stress about money. And community because, well it’s just better than trying to get by on your own (as Solomon would attest).

As bad as this recession seems right now, it might be just the kick in the pants we need in order to pursue a more sustainable ideology.

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