Caesar and Mammon: Together Forever

I don’t know nothin’ ’bout economics and high finance. But I have eyes and ears. The national conversation about the Great Wall Street Meltdown, such as it is, appears to be something that takes place in secret government chambers, with news bulletins to us trembling laity who do not speak or understand the strange hierophantic language in which it is conducted. Those bulletins say, “It’s really bad. If we were to tell you how bad, you would probably drop dead on the spot. So we won’t. But, trust us, it’s really bad. (And no, there’s no point in trying to tell you how it got that way. Mistakes were made, mostly by poor people. Trust us on that, too.)” 

Then our Masters tell us, “We are working to fix (well, okay, more ‘stave off’) the problem. Meanwhile, continue your normal life. Remember, you are consumers first and citizens second. We have things under control, but we are telling you now that you will need to give us vast and well-nigh dictatorial power — power without a right of appeal, nor oversight, nor accountability of any kind, and do it without thinking too much because the need is so urgent!”

Our response: “It says here on the news that these guys are working on it. I don’t want to ask too many questions because I feel stupid not understanding this giant problem. And besides, it’s a huge scary emergency and what we need is action — not reflection, self-examination, repentance, or responsibility, and still less a serious look at the people and policies that got us here. All that kumbaya touchy-feely stuff is for the weak, not the consumers of a proud superpower. So I’ll just go ahead and support whatever it is they do because they’ve certainly done a great job up till now.”

Forgive me, but I have a strict rule of only allowing myself to be stampeded into one world-historical blunder per decade, and the Iraq War has used up my limit. For what it’s worth, here’s what I can make of the latest fraud to emanate from our Ruling Classes. Broadly speaking, it appears to me that over the past 30 to 40 years or so, the State (whose function is to preserve the common good against the onslaughts of the various effects of original sin) got it into its head that capitalism was magically immune from the effects of original sin. Possibly this was due to the fact that Caesar and Mammon had been seeing each other, sleeping together, and falling deeper into addiction to a cocktail of various drugs.


It would appear that Caesar then told people in the grip of one of the capital sins — Greed — that they could go ahead and police themselves while he did a line of coke with Mammon up in the penthouse.

Some of these people in the grip of Greed were in the private sector and some were in the public sector. All behaved like people in the grip of serious sin. Sin makes you less free. It does this by, among other things, darkening the intellect, disordering the appetites, and weakening the will — all of which are a very unsound basis for policing oneself for Greed and other capital sins. That’s why Scripture describes it as “slavery.” This slavery we called “the free market.”


And in the grip of this particular capital sin of Greed, we then became very stupid indeed due to that ol’ darkened intellect and burned through trillions we don’t actually have, all while telling people to go shopping because we were locked in an existential struggle for survival. If I were to do this with my family finances, we’d be living in our car. But when you do it on a titanic scale, you are called a bold entrepreneur by people who are also in the grip of capital sins. This is but one of the reasons our descendants will call us the “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot?” Generation.



Now we have reached the point where the Mighty go to the State that has ceded them oversight of their own folly and tell Caesar, “You can’t afford to let us fail. You need to confiscate money from those people over there who still actually have assets and give it to us. This time we promise we’ll be trustworthy.” So Caesar (who was sleeping it off after an all-night rager with Mammon), dutifully rolls out of bed, dons his police uniform, and goes out to declare a state of emergency and order every man, woman, and child to pony up vast sums in perpetuity to “fix” the problem.
Caesar knows he has a big job to persuade the people with actual assets to knuckle under and give it to Mammon and his servants.
First trick: Blame poor people first. As Jesus clearly said, “Those to whom little is given, much will be required! Blessed are the rich! For they can always be trusted and they aren’t responsible for anything that goes wrong.” So explain it all by saying that it’s pretty much all the fault of poor people and their damned mortgage defaults that they got into just because every lender in the world was telling them they could make their dream of home-owning happen, urging them to take the risk, and assuring them that this is a normal part of the American Way as they signed on the dotted line and got the toaster. Those poor people were evil for trusting the giant lending institutions who reassured them that being in debt was a normal part of home-buying and handed them a free toaster on their way out the door!
Second trick: Don’t mention what one of my blog readers pointed out — that every single sub-prime mortgage in this country not already owned by the government could be purchased for less than what it cost to bail out Bear Stearns, about $300 billion. Ignore the fact that some banks and funds have $250 in outstanding loans for every dollar kept in reserve (and that, as the reader pointed out, “at that leverage ratio, a drop in value of your assets of 1/2 of 1% makes you technically bankrupt”). Ignore the fact that these institutions have been hiding this by lying on their balance sheets, and that the reason they are now stealing $700 billion from taxpayers is to cover that up. And above all, ignore the fact that this patch job won’t work, in no small part due to the fact that it rewards the crooks and book-cookers who got us where we are.
Otherwise Caesar may actually have to go to rehab, get clean and sober, break off his co-dependent relationship with Mammon, and set about creating an actual system that keeps the capital sin of Greed from destroying the common good. Caesar doesn’t want to do that. He loves the disco night-life too much. And Mammon? She’s been a junkie so long she can’t even imagine changing. In fact, they’ve both worked very hard to make us enablers of the good thing they’ve got going. And they’ve been very successful. That’s why, for most Americans, such a fundamental change is not even on the radar, since almost nobody in our culture even knows what weird Catholic jargon like “common good,” “capital sins,” or “sin enslaves the will and darkens the intellect” means. We’ve been trained to reflexively respond, “Don’t impose your religious values on me!” and we recite it better than a parrot. An analysis of the role of the State using Catholic social teaching as a guide? What’s next? Aristotle, thumbscrews, and The Handmaid’s Tale?
Meanwhile, as we freedom-loving Yankees fend off the Phantom Theocratic Dictator and the Imminent Papal States of America, we welcome the Saviors who hand us a bill that subjects every American company that handles financial instruments to the absolute power of the Treasury Secretary — a power not subject to review by any outside agency or court:
Sec. 8. Review. Decisions by the Secretary pursuant to the authority of this Act are non-reviewable and committed to agency discretion, and may not be reviewed by any court of law or any administrative agency.

You read that right: Under the bill, the Treasury Secretary could command Goldman Sachs to sell $1 billion in stock to Morgan Stanley at $1. It would be lawful, without appeal, and without judicial review. Every company that issues bonds and stock options to its employees would be enslaved to the absolute diktats of the executive branch. That used to be called “tyranny.” Now it’s called “Bush Conservatism” and “Democrats Looking Out for the Little Guy.”
And so it goes. Of course, reality has a way of imposing on wishful thinking anyway. Sooner or later, we will reach the point where we begin to seriously say, “Men have forgotten God; that is why all this has happened.” But we are not close to that yet. We still readily believe that the sleazes and crooks who got us here will save us and that we can go back to living beyond our means and looking the other way when the Titans of Finance and State do the same. 

For my part, I think the only sound advice in this hour is, “Repent! Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” It was always the only sound advice; hours like this make you realize that.


Mark P. Shea


Mark P. Shea is the author of Mary, Mother of the Son and other works. He was a senior editor at Catholic Exchange and is a former columnist for Crisis Magazine.