Yes! The Dow is back down to 11,232! I feel a little like Jonah sitting on the hill, waiting for the fireworks. Hearing that news on the radio brought me my biggest smile all day. Of course, Jonah was roundly rebuked, because Nineveh repented in ashes, and he still was annoyed they weren’t destroyed. He clearly had an attitude problem, and lots of people might say the same about me.
The Super Committee’s lame punt is just the most recent sign of the overall trend, though: at an institutional level, we haven’t even really admitted there is a problem, let alone started repenting. What do we need to repent of? Oh, there are plenty of things seriously wrong with the way we run our economy, including many of the favorite criticisms from both the right and the left, and the economy feeds into a lot of other things that are wrong with our society.
I’ll just mention debt for now. We borrowed like mad for the past fifteen years or so, on houses, credit cards, student loans, and government programs, and called it prosperity—short-sighted materialism (among other things), masked and rationalized with convenient economic pseudo-theory. I was getting nervous about this back around 1999, but by now a lot of readers will probably grant it to me, though there are plenty of theorists and politicians who say our problem is still that we need to spend more.
So if you’ll grant me that this self-deceptive over-spending is a pernicious vice, isn’t my schadenfreude still wrong? Jesus said that those who don’t forgive are guilty of the greater sin, and one of the most important and revolutionary insights of the Restoration is that God does not rejoice, but actually weeps over the suffering of the wicked, so I should too. I’m sorry, though, it’s hard for me to see the Dow at a little over 11,000 as an unbearable affliction. This is not like a war. It’s not even a famine, let alone a flood. It is certainly not the fire from the sky that Jonah was hoping for, and it might even save some of us from a longer-lasting fire. It just might be enough of a discomfort to make us re-think our priorities, and we are long over-due for rethinking.
Instead of Jonah, let’s look at Nephi, who prayed, “O Lord, do not suffer that this people shall be destroyed by the sword; but O Lord, rather let there be a famine in the land, to stir them up in remembrance of the Lord their God, and perhaps they will repent and turn unto thee” (Helaman 11:4).
This economic sand trap is a serious problem for some folks, no question, but it is mild in comparison with a famine. Moreover, the Dow isn’t even the economy. A decent amount of wealth, at least in the abstract, is bound up in the stock market numbers, but they change too fast for us to take them seriously as wealth, full stop. More than anything, the stock market is a barometer of where we think the economy is going, and so when it goes down, it isn’t so much a problem itself as the recognition and publicizing of a problem.
So, I’m excited that we are admitting to ourselves, in an implicit, confused way, that we have a serious problem, or at least that for the reluctant there is a highly public indication that there may be one. I’ll be more excited when I see people recognizing what we need to actually change. Will we as a nation actually turn back to God? That might be a bit much to hope for, but perhaps we will at least be less enamored with our idols of gold and silver, and some of our destructive ideas. Maybe we will stop seeing the stock market as quite such an important indicator of our wealth, because we will see that our real treasures are elsewhere.
Actually, I would be happy for more of us to just do the math, and there are signs that this, at least, is happening: credit card debt went down 11% from October 2010 to October 2011! Hurray! Some of us at an individual level, at least enough to affect the average, have started to change our ways.