In a society of 24/7 media, political pundits and an “economic crisis” once a day, Gary Moore is a prophet. His latest book, Look Up America, carries the subtitle: “Financial Insights for Tea Partiers Looking Right; Occupiers Looking Left; and All Americans Looking at a Lower Standard of Living for their Children.” For those of you who can’t remember if you know Gary here is some info that may spark your memory. In the mid-90’s he released a book, endorsed by Tony Campolo, illustrating how concerns over federal debt were over-stated yet concerns over wall street were under-stated. He also served as board treasurer at Opportunity International.
Recently, Gary took some time out of his schedule to email with me about his book, imaginary and realistic economic concerns, and much more. Come, read along…
RLC: Gary, you use your introduction as a means by which the reader develops a knowledge of “things economists know.” Why is it important for the average citizen to understand certain principles of economics? What principles specifically should the average citizen be aware of?
Gary Moore (GM): As evangelical Christians, we need to be particularly sensitive that Jesus challenged Nicodemus with the words, “If I have told you about earthly things and you have not believed, how can you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?” We can’t expect our money culture to believe we have the keys to the spiritual kingdom when we’re usually so very wrong about the federal debt, Y2K, stock market, and so on of America.
RLC: You talk in the book about “real and imaginary problems” – can you unpack what you mean by this phrase and give examples of each?
GM: During twenty-five years of asking, I find every American Christian knows the size of our federal debt. But I’ve never found a single one who’s heard the size of America’s assets. That’s like obsessing over your mortgage without knowing the value of your home. I believe that began in earnest when President Nixon famously told our politicians and media, apparently including the conservative Christian media, that they may not teach it in Sunday School, but more people are motivated by fear than love. Since then, that alliance of despair has focused on the negatives of “the economy stupid” rather than the Good News of God’s graceful provision. Yet reality is that the Bush White House estimated America’s net wealth, after all debts were paid, as being $112 trillion dollars. Donald Trump recently estimated our assets at $280 trillion. The Bible assures us that “as a man thinketh so is he, ” so we might wonder if The Donald is so rich as he’s thinking about America’s assets while the rest of us may be indebted as we only think about the federal debt.
RLC: Throughout the book you frequently reference the mass media’s role in economics. What kind of influence has the media had on economics and how has that affected our current system?
GM: The ancient Hebrews dreamed of the promised land of milk and honey for centuries. They escaped Egypt and got to the border of the promised land but then stopped. They wanted human assurance that God’s promise was possible. So the ten spies, and we might remember they were politically inclined religious leaders, told the Hebrews that the giants were indeed too fearsome. Due to their slave mentality that made them feel like grasshoppers rather than children of an omnipotent God, the people imagined that to be true, despite God’s assurance. Remember the Hebrews never actually encountered a giant. So it was their fears of the giants, rather than the giants themselves, who kept them out of the promised land. Only Joshua and Caleb, who had faith all along that our omniscient God knew the giants were conquerable, would lead the next generation into the promised land. Fearful Christian in modern America repeat the same mistake by listening to politically inclined leaders who affirm our worst fears of the federal debt, Y2K, China, and so on.
RLC: It’s obvious this book is written for the country but also for the church. What role should the church, and Christians, have in the economic today? Why should they be concerned?
GM: I was in the newspaper business before being a commentator for UPI Radio. We had a saying, “If it bleeds, it leads.” Unredeemed human nature has no interest in reading or hearing about tens of thousands of planes arriving safely yesterday, though that is the reality of our world. So many friends are afraid to fly. It’s the same with investments. The media loves it when something crashes. So people avoid stocks and such and stay in T-bills and CD’s, even though those have been rather unproductive investments over the long-term for both investors and society. Then we complain about joblessness and so on and we cycle downward. The Gospel however is to “seek first the kingdom” as, for better or worse, economies are only as strong as their spiritual foundations of prudence, patience, ethics, and so on. If the media was more sensitive to the depressing effects of their headlines, they’d understand how they are slowing our economy. Our hope is always in the Good News and the Holy Spirit, rather than the spirits of fear and greed created by bad news.
RLC: The economy is consistently presented on TV, radio, online, as a depressing topic; is there hope? If so, does this book present it?
GM: Professor Doug Meeks, author of God the Economist, called Andrew Carnegie the most influential theologian in America. Carnegie’s famous Gospel of Wealth essentially said the Christian ethic doesn’t apply to wealth creation, only charitable giving. Teddy Roosevelt said he tried hard to like Carnegie but it was “difficult to like a man who made a God of mere moneymaking, ” even if he knew he understood the reality he wasn’t going to take it with him. Still, the church has since essentially reduced holistic stewardship into ecclesiastical fundraising. That isn’t even giving as giving begins with the spiritual needs of our members while fundraising begins. and usually ends, with the financial needs of our institutions, as real as those needs are. I served on the board of a major ministry with Ken Lay of Enron. Ken was a generous giver but few Americans remember him as a great Christian steward. That demonstrates the futility of Carnegie’s thinking. The church needs to remind Wall Street and corporate CEO’s what Jesus was getting at when he said, on the Mount no less, that if we come to the altar with our gifts and remember someone has anything against us, we should go away, make peace with our neighbor, and then come back and make our offering. In other words, Jesus had far less interest in conscience money than the modern church does. It has rationalized Carnegie’s theology with the words, “It’s been the devil’s money long enough; it’s God’s turn now.” The biblical prophets actually railed about the priests tolerating sin as they got to eat of the ever larger sin offerings. For the good of Wall Street and the souls of our CEO’s, we need more prophets of that nature.
RLC: When a reader finishes the book, what do you hope they will tell their neighbor? What do you hope they will do?
GM: I hope the book encourages more Americans to confidently walk on the responsible side of Wall Street, and there is one, though, of course, the media and politicians focus on the irresponsible side. There is a growing movement, which I believe is just as moral as the civil rights movement and women rights movement, for corporate America to enrich more than the 1%, or even the 10% that owns most of America’s stocks. It’s called SRI for “socially responsible investing, ” or “sustainably responsible investing.” Twelve percent of all professionally managed money in America is now managed that way and studies say returns are equal to non-responsible investing. SRI grows quickly with each Facebook debacle, loss at JPMorgan, and so on. As we simply have to invest for the abundant life of our grandchildren, we need to be in Wall Street but not of it. A Christian’s investments need to be on the creative side of capitalism’s “creative destruction.” There’s more than adequate Mammon on the irresponsible side of Wall Street for the destructive side of capitalism. I’m trying to get more investors created in the image of our loving Creator to walk on the responsible side of the Street. As legalism is always necessary but insufficient, it’s the only Way I can see to put America back on course to the promised land.
Gary Moore graduated with a degree in political science in Lexington, Kentucky, the home of “the great compromiser” Henry Clay. Gary has a thirty years of Wall Street experience and has founded The Financial Seminary. He has just authored his sixth book on morality and political-economy. It is entitled Look Up America! Financial Insights for Tea Partiers Looking Right; Occupiers Looking Left; and All Americans Looking At A Lower Standard of Living for Their Children.