By Chris Smith
The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity and What We Can Do About It.
Paperback: Chelsea Green, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture.
Hardback: AMACOM, 2009.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]
The Seven Faith Tribes:
Who They Are, What They Believe and Why They Matter.
Hardback: Barna Books, 2009.
Buy now: [ ChristianBook.com ]
Those of you who have listened to William Cavanaugh’s insightful telling of the story of the recent financial collapse will find a similar story told in more detail in Les Leopold’s The Looting of America: How Wall Street’s Game of Fantasy Finance Destroyed Our Jobs, Pensions and Prosperity and What We Can Do About It. Leopold deftly weaves the tale of how corporate financiers created products such as Collateralized Debt Obligations (CDO’s) and Credit Default Swaps (CDS’s) to artificially generate profit for themselves and set the nation’s (and the world’s) economy on a crash-course. Leopold’s critique of the financial system here is excellent, but he is repeatedly unwilling to critique the widespread greed and unsustainable expectations for profit held by investing individuals and organizations. He concludes the book with two chapters of “proposals Wall Street won’t like,” which are rooted in a much more sensible economics and leave the reader with much to ponder.
I found Larry Samuel’s new book Rich: The Rise and Fall of American Wealth Culture to be a disturbing complement to Leopold’s work. Samuel traces the history of America’s über-rich class (which he notes is the “first mass-affluent class in history”) over the course of the twentieth century. Samuel’s work is fascinating as a cultural history, but it also illuminates – albeit without much reflection – the ubiquitous American desire to enter into this elite class of the richest, a reality that Leopold seemingly wants to avoid discussing. One of the most intriguing themes in Rich is Samuel’s exploration of how the wealthiest class reconciled their fortunes with Christian faith. Essential to this justification was the concept of “stewardship,” and the story that Samuel narrates here resonates nicely with Kelly Johnson’s critiques of stewardship in her recent book Fear of Beggars (Eerdmans 2007).
And now for something completely different…
George Barna’s recent book The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe and Why They Matter tackles, in the typical demographic fashion on which we have come to expect from the Barna brand, a religious and political assessment of the broader American culture. The book, premised on the question “What will it take to restore our country to greatness?” is lacking in serious reflection on – e.g., on questions like what is “greatness” and why should the United States aspire to it and at what cost? The nationalism that undergirds Barna’s work might work well for selling books especially in a time of apparent national crisis, but it does little to nurture (and arguably is at odds with) the trans-national Kingdom of God that has been secured in the death and resurrection of Jesus and is now breaking into and transforming the world.