Saviour of last resort

The quote of the day, adapted from Conrad Black, writing in the National Post:

We operate in the vortex created by three facts:

  1. Capitalism works better than any other economic system because it is based on self-interest;
  2. That self-interest eventually crowds out caution and leads to a crack-up [witness the current financial crisis]; and
  3. Governments are the only salvation, not because they have any aptitude for salvation, as the public sector is generally even less competent than the private sector, but because governments make and enforce laws and control the money supply.

In sum, government is the saviour of last resort:  “They are the last resort, ex officio, not from any natural vocation to make things better.”

Black’s low opinion of government is typical of right wing commenters. And I think even left-leaning folks would concede that government is not the most efficient instrument for getting things done. Thus we might ruefully acknowledge Black’s point:  that government is our saviour only because it has its hands on the key levers (laws, money supply), not because government is especially capable.

It would be nice if right wing commenters were able to acknowledge Black’s other two points.

First, the engine that drives capitalism is naked self-interest. That’s why capitalism succeeds. But surely people who value morality — not least, Christian morality — might concede that a system built on naked self-interest is problematic, from an ethical point of view.

Second:  self-interest, if it is not held in check (by government) eventually leads to a “crack-up” of the sort we are living through right now. Absolutely unfettered markets ultimately are not a good idea. But of course, right-leaning folks are loathe to acknowledge any such thing.

In sum:  government oversight of markets is necessary, because some actor must provide a check against naked self-interest. And yes, it’s true that government is inefficient and only semi-competent.

There is no shame in being a saviour of last resort. That’s when saviours are welcome:  when circumstances are desperate.

Power to the planet

Here’s an interesting example of tradition and transformation in pop culture.

The other day, for the first time, I saw someone wearing a “Power To The Planet” t-shirt.

Power To the Planet

Most people will immediately catch the reference to a 1960s slogan, “Power to the people”. The t-shirt (and the campaign) both alludes to the slogan and simultaneously subverts it. (Hence, tradition and transformation.)

Once upon a time, it seemed that we needed to divert power from governments and patriarchs and redirect it to ordinary people. But now, from an eco perspective, people are the problem. We need to divert power from the people and redirect it to the planet. Thus the familiar slogan has been refitted to a new social consciousness.

The Power to the planet campaign is the brainchild of a corporation, Element:  a manufacturer of skateboards, clothes, and shoes. Not surprisingly, some folks are sceptical:

HOLY CRAP. […] Anybody ever heard the term GREENWASH? I would be so ashamed to be one of those 60 people that they fooled into being a part of this campaign.

Maybe that’s right. Corporations are extremely sophisticated about manipulating people into buying their products. In this case, the corporate branding begins with the name, Element. (Remember high school physics?) This company wants you to view them as eco-friendly.

It’s marketing, pure and simple. But it’s getting the eco-friendly message out there, and that’s a good thing. As St. Paul once wrote,

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. […] What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. (Php. 1:15,18, ESV)

I’m reminded of the United Colors of Benetton campaign:


A white baby suckling at the breast of a black woman? Think of this image the next time you’re listening to jazz, or even rock and roll. Many aspects of “white” culture are descended from Africa.

It’s a powerful message. And it’s a Benetton advertisement.

Again:  I’m reminded of Dove’s counter cultural message to everyday women:  you are beautiful just as you are.

This message has been brought to you by Dove, a manufacturer of soaps and anti-aging products. But truth has a power independent of its messenger.

Consumers must be savvy. If Dove, Benetton, or Element has corporate practices which contravene the values of their ad campaigns, consumers should hold them accountable. Perhaps by not buying their products.

Even so:  truth remains true even if it is violated by the very people who proclaim it.

(Why am I suddenly thinking of the Gospel again?)

The economic cloud’s silver lining

4.4 million Americans have lost their jobs since the recession started in December 2007. The American economy has shed at least 650,000 jobs in each of the past three months. According to the New York Times, that’s the worst three-month decline in percentage terms since 1975.

Ouch! — there’s a whole lot o’ hurtin’ going on out there.

“These jobs aren’t coming back,” said John E. Silvia, chief economist at Wachovia in Charlotte, N.C. “A lot of production either isn’t going to happen at all, or it’s going to happen somewhere other than the United States. There are going to be fewer stores, fewer factories, fewer financial services operations. Firms are making strategic decisions that they don’t want to be in their businesses.”

Certain questions immediately spring to mind:

Gallows humour

Quote of the day:  Clay Risen comments on the ongoing financial crisis:

You know things are bad when Bush calls for an emergency meeting of not just the G-7 or the G-8, but the G-20. As they say on the Gossip Girls, OMFG. That’s like when the Justice League called in not just Superman, Aquaman, and the Wonder Twins, but the Black Canary and the Red Tornado, too.

A Burden Too Great (Amos 8:4-9)

I was in Peterborough this weekend, preaching at St. Andrews United Church — my parents’ congregation. St. Andrews is celebrating its 175th anniversary this year. That’s a very long time, by Canadian standards:  stretching back to a time before Confederation (in 1867, when four of the provinces united to form a nation).

I don’t know whether anyone will be interested, but I decided to upload my sermon to the blog. I’m speaking on an environmental theme, grounding the message in a text from the prophet Amos.

The sermon is 25 minutes long, which is a rather long time for modern people to sit still and listen. But I’m not apologizing. I think it’s possible to hold people’s attention for that long, but a sermon has to be well crafted for it to work — no meandering.

The first voice you’ll hear is my father, reading a few verses from the Gospel of John. I’ve broken the recording into three segments. The middle section is longer than the other two.


The land trembles:

Moral cause and effect:

Treehugger: brought to you by …

WTF?! Treehugger, brought to you by Chevy trucks. But be sure to buy your jeans green.

Screenshot, June 24 10:20 a.m.; click to enlarge.

treehugger brought to you by ...

Bhutto’s assassination: brought to you by …

This is a screen capture from a photo gallery at today’s LA Times (click to view full size):

Benazir Bhutto's assassination jpg

I don’t want to pick on the Palazzo Las Vegas hotel:  I’m sure they didn’t choose to sponsor this particular image. And in fact there are several sponsors of the photo gallery; the Palazzo just happened to come up on this image.

But I want people to see the juxtaposition of this photograph and this advertisement and take careful note. This is what Western democracy has sunk to, as capitalism now swamps every other social institution.

At local Junior “A” hockey games, I get a chuckle out of the “Goulbourne Sanitation power play”. A local business, sponsoring the local hockey team. There’s no harm in that.

But this? Where is the moral discernment of the LA Times? Where is our moral discernment? We are so bombarded with advertisements that we have ceased to be conscious of them, no matter what the context. And that’s a very dangerous state of affairs:  it suggests that we have lost our humanity.

What would the Hebrew prophets say if they were active today? They would use every rhetorical tool in their arsenal to try to shock us out of our complacency.

Where is our moral discernment? The things that shock our consciences in most cases shouldn’t; and the things that don’t shock our consciences damned well ought to.

The rot has taken deep hold of Western capitalist-democracy and we had better repent. Disaster looms — I am increasingly convinced of it.