Saturday, November 14, 2009

Grace, or Mammon

British bankers are keen to redeem capitalism in the wake of the recession. Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs says he's "doing God's work", and others such as Barclays CEO John Varley are publicly spiritualizing money. Matt Taibbi tweaks out:
Goldman Sachs international adviser Brian Griffiths explains it this way: that Christ’s famous injunction to love others as one would love oneself actually means that one should love oneself as one would love oneself. This seemingly baffling outburst by a Goldman executive in what appears to have been a prepared speech — someone actually wrote this, and thought about it, before saying it out loud — gets even weirder when one tries to figure out what could possibly have motivated this person, and by extension his employer Goldman Sachs, to make such statements in such a place as St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Griffiths and Blankfein aren't talking as crazily as Taibbi seems to think. You may disagree with it, but this is all just a retransmission of the Calvinist spiritual view of money, later adopted by the Puritans and others. We associate Goldman et al with greed and ostentation, and those were reviled by Calvin and his predecessor Luther. But generating wealth as a fulfillment of God's purposes is the "Protestant ethic" to which Max Weber referred, and from which modern capitalism eventually emerged.

You may find this theology offensive, and I have no dog in that fight, but it isn't exotic Mammonism. It's as old as the Reformation.

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