Main Street vs. Wall Street

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

Has anybody out there been watching the craziness down in the US? It’s driving me more than a little insane seeing the American government trying desperately to bail out banks and insurance companies, all the while leaving ordinary people in the dirt. If I were one to swear (and I suppose, sometimes I am) I’d be saying “what the eff is up with that?:

What is up, indeed. When this whole thing started, I had no idea it would go this far, and yet here we are, with a national government bailing out big business all the while leaving the poor and the sick starving and dying in the streets.

I’m being melodramatic. But really. How is it that we’ve gotten to a place where we’ll bail out a corporate entity, and not look a homeless person in the eye. We’re willing to take this debt into the public coffers, but we’re not willing to pay for half decent medical care.

There’s something dirty about this. Incredibly filthy. Breaking down the $700B bailout to a per-person cost, this averages out to $2,333 per person. And yet, what did the average American receive when these companies were profitable?

The silence is deafening.

How is it that the American government races to socialize corporate debt, all the while shunning the socialization of corporate profit? Privatize profit. Socialize debt. Another spectacular example of ways the rich get richer and the poor poorer. I don’t think I’m too far off in naming this a system of oppression.

I just finished reading Naomi Klein’s take on the whole thing and think a couple of points deserve some attention:

This spectacle necessarily raises the question: if the state can intervene to save corporations that took reckless risks in the housing markets, why can’t it intervene to prevent millions of Americans from imminent foreclosure? By the same token, if $85bn can be made instantly available to buy the insurance giant AIG, why is single-payer health care – which would protect Americans from the predatory practices of health-care insurance companies – seemingly such an unattainable dream? And if ever more corporations need taxpayer funds to stay afloat, why can’t taxpayers make demands in return – like caps on executive pay, and a guarantee against more job losses?

And Klein again:

What is really being called into question by the crisis is the unquestioned commitment to growth at all costs. Where this crisis should lead us is to a radically different way for our societies to measure health and progress.

The scary thing is the possibility that this crisis may serve as a way of furthering the corporate agenda, if we allow it. We act as though the economic system is too complex, and we leave it in the hands of the experts. Unfortunately, the experts seem to be doing a terrible job of managing it. It’s incredibly important to act. To demand that this cancerous attack on the fabric of human society by the unhindered growth of the free market be curbed, regulated, and put back in its place.

Wall Street should serve the good of all people walking Main Street America – not the other way around.

Online petition portal Avaaz, warns in its most recent campaign:

The crisis rolls on. Adjustments are inevitable, but if we fail to address the fundamental causes of the financial crisis global recession will be deep and long, and future disasters even bigger. For too long we’ve left global finance alone because it seemed too complicated for ordinary mortals to get a grip on; but it turns out that common sense and public scrutiny were needed after all.

The Sojourners campaign puts it this way:

The proposed bailout of Wall Street banks gives $700 billion and unprecedented power to Henry Paulson, Secretary of the Treasury. As people of faith, we believe that our national budget is a moral document – how we spend our money indicates our national priorities.

If such large sums of taxpayer money are being risked, our elected representatives must have meaningful oversight and taxpayers should benefit more than companies. But with anxiety in Congress and pressure from the White House, taxpayers may be held responsible for gambling on Wall Street, without any guarantees that it won’t happen again.

As people of faith, our actions towards others indicate something of what we truly believe. And if our actions speak so loudly, then it is imperative to respond to what our governments are doing to bail out private enterprise at the expense of the poor. This is why, I think, that Sojourners’ demands of the government are so important:

  • Strict accountability measures, including an independent oversight authority and transparency at all levels
  • Comprehensive, long-term regulatory solutions
  • A commitment that any funds spent in the Motley Fool vs Morningstar circles to bailout investors will be matched by at least a 10 percent tithe to support millions of Americans who have lost their homes and those still at risk of foreclosure.

The fear mongering has to stop. And we have to stop allowing such fear-creating tactics to scare us. We must respond and ask government, as our representatives to act justly.

Our faith and our bank accounts may not be shock-proofed. We may fear what comes next. Like Israel leaving Egypt, we may find it easier to return to our captors, to prop up the Only Option we’ve been given.

And yet what we need is to become more shock resistant. We need to respond with clear heads. We need to find ways to root ourselves in stories of hope, not simply the tales of fear being delivered to us from Wall Street’s prophets of doom.

Because what we’re hearing from Wall Street is all-too-similar to the shocking tactics Klein has pointed to in The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.And if this follows the pattern, we might want to prepare ourselves for what they’ll attempt to force through next…

Andrew Stephens-Rennie on FacebookAndrew Stephens-Rennie on Twitter
Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

5 Responses to “Main Street vs. Wall Street”

  1. Erika Kivik

    …watching the news these past few days, I often find myself reacting like the Isrealites — almost without realizing it, on some level I unimaginatively reach for the “Only Option” . Maybe it’s fear, maybe it’s shock. Or apathy.
    But, you’re right: faith demands more than this. Thanks Andrew, for helping me to think.

  2. Dick Black

    Hey Andrew,

    Thank you Andrew for posting such an important comment. Absolutely briliant! I will only add that as faithful people we also need to point out the fallacy of the economic system in the first place – that growth can continue forever. In a world where healthy air, healthy water, and healthy food is finite we cannot continue to treat creation the way we have. It IS time for justice, for all who inhabit this island home.



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  4. andrew

    Thanks for sharing, Erika. Faith does ask for something more, and it’s not always easy to know what that is.

    I muddle through it all the time, wondering whether I’m at all aware of what’s going on around me – whether I’ve been shocked into apathy and numbness, or whether I am at least somewhat responsive to what’s really happening. I wonder if it’s easier to respond when you’re on the outside looking in? Maybe sometimes. I haven’t thought that part through yet, but I wonder how we can be helped to have more perspective on such things.

  5. Sue

    I dunno Andrew. It’s a big, complicated problem, this whole economic collapse. And yes, you are being melodramatic (but I know how y’are).

    Maybe God is taking out the corrupt crap from the system. This could be a very good thing, though painful – the roots are intertwined with everything, you know?

    We’ve got a bunch of people who work in finance at our church, I’m looking forward to hearing their opinions on this stuff, because they understand way more than I do. One of our prayer groups spent some time last night praying for discernment – where is God in this mess? And with the election coming up! “Aslan is on the move..”

    Will you join us in prayer for this country? We could use your help.


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