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A Warning

Getting Downright Apocalyptic on You


W
ith all the panic over a credit freeze and the climbing London Interbank Offered Rate (LIBOR), it seems increasingly clear that something is broken here. Not only is the shadow economy of investment banking threatening to bring down the real economy of labor, production, sales, and profit margin, it's now clear that the shadow economy is now the primary organism and the real economy merely survives to feed it. (A grisly picture, but it's starting to look that way.)

That's probably a result of lax regulation — old-fashioned greed isn't the culprit here so much as a get-rich-quick, quarterly horizon is — and maybe in the longer term it can be fixed. But for the last two weeks I knew there was something I'd read somewhere that was stuck in my mind from way back when. I've read a few analyses from the 40,000-foot view of how this financial crisis came about, but I was thinking of something I'd read that was more like the 40,000-year view. I finally found it:
"There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest — what we call investment — is the basis of our whole system. Now it may not absolutely follow that we are wrong. Some people say that when Moses and Aristotle and the Christians agreed in forbidding interest (or "usury" as they called it), they could not foresee the joint stock company, and were only thinking of the private moneylender, and that, therefore, we need not bother about what they said. This is a question I cannot decide on. I am not an economist and I simply do not know whether the investment system is responsible for the state we are in or not. This is where we want the Christian economist. But I should not have been honest if I had not told you that three great civilizations had agreed (or so it seems at first sight) in condemning the very thing on which we have based our whole life."
C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 1952.

Yeah, that was what I was trying to remember. Thanks, Jack.

An interesting twist on this, where the meta-issues in our domestic policy meet the meta-issues in our foreign policy meet issues of faith, is the realization that, under Islam's Shariah law, charging interest is still illegal.

I'm not sure what the implications of that comparison are, and it certainly isn't a prescription for an economic rescue package that a majority of House members can vote to pass. But I find it an interesting commentary on this crisis from the perspective of religious history, nonetheless.

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