Remember Gordon Gekko and his famous – infamous – speech in the 1987 movie “Wall Street” about how greed is good?
Instead of serving as a warning, Americans everywhere jumped on the free-for-all market of the 1980s, adopting this belief in self-interest as the new gospel, the new truth – that by pursuing profit you were pursuing the common good. Wall Street was perceived not only as a respectable way to make money but the most glamorous. There was an allure. Money would make money. Greed equaled good.
Until September 2008, when it all came crashing down. Moses came down from the mountain and exposed the golden calf. Millions of Americans were thrown into poverty, lost their jobs, lost their homes. The collateral damage of “greed is good” was huge.
In the ’80s, our value base began to disappear, and for three decades and four presidencies it continued to erode. There was a peeling away of the economic from the social in our society; growing the economy became central, and social concerns were marginalized. Now Washington is debating new regulations to modernize the country’s financial regulations and hold Wall Street accountable. These efforts are a step in the right direction.
Pope Benedict VI instructs us in Caritas in Veritate, “I would like to remind everyone, especially governments engaged in boosting the world’s economic and social assets, that the primary capital to be safeguarded and valued is man, the human person in his or her integrity: Man is the source, the focus and the aim of all economic and social life.”
Achieving this requires innovative and fundamental change – in how we think and how we act. The Holy Father insists that it is not enough to merely bring economics and social concerns back together, but that the social element must be embodied in the economic one so that the market becomes an instrument of civilization once again. We need big, innovative ideas about how to meld our market economy with the common good so as to avoid collateral damage in the future.
In the United Kingdom, a Robin Hood tax has been proposed, a “tiny tax on bankers that would give billions to tackle poverty.” Is this an effective model that would produce a more inclusive economic recovery? Would this serve to connect the market and the common good, which Pope Benedict emphasizes as crucial to economic and social life?