The Other Isaiah (Update)
Robert P. Imbelli December 18, 2008 - 4:47pm
Like all of you, I thrill in this Advent season to the Isaiah who promises, to those who walk in darkness, a child who will be called "Wonder-Counselor, Prince of Peace" (9:5). And, like all of you, I rejoice in the Isaiah who proclaims "Comfort, give comfort to my people" (40:1).But then I read the story in today's New York Times:
For Wall Street, much of this decade represented a new Gilded Age. Salaries were merely play money a pittance compared to bonuses. Bonus season became an annual celebration of the riches to be had in the markets. That was especially so in the New York area, where nearly $1 out of every $4 that companies paid employees last year went to someone in the financial industry. Bankers celebrated with five-figure dinners, vied to outspend each other at charity auctions and spent their new found fortunes on new homes, cars and art.The bonanza redefined success for an entire generation. Graduates of top universities sought their fortunes in banking, rather than in careers like medicine, engineering or teaching. Wall Street worked its rookies hard, but it held out the promise of rich rewards. In college dorms, tales of 30-year-olds pulling down $5 million a year were legion.While top executives received the biggest bonuses, what is striking is how many employees throughout the ranks took home large paychecks. On Wall Street, the first goal was to make a buck a million dollars. More than 100 people in Merrills bond unit alone broke the million-dollar mark in 2006. Goldman Sachs paid more than $20 million apiece to more than 50 people that year, according to a person familiar with the matter. Goldman declined to comment.
And I remember the other Isaiah (actually the same one, but hardly invoked lest he disturb holiday cheer):
Woe to you who join house to house, who connect field with field, till no room remains and you are left to dwell alone in the midst of the land. In my hearing the Lord of hosts has sworn: Many houses shall be in ruins, large ones and fine, with no one to live in them...Woe to those who demand strong drink as soon as they rise in the morning, and linger into the night while wine inflames them. With harp and lyre, timbrel and flute, they feast on wine. But what the Lord does, they regard not, the work of his hands they see not (5:8-12).
Thank God for the prophets who don't decline to comment.Update:This just in from Isaiah Krugman on Mount Princeton:
But the costs of Americas Ponzi era surely went beyond the direct waste of dollars and cents.At the crudest level, Wall Streets ill-gotten gains corrupted and continue to corrupt politics, in a nicely bipartisan way. From Bush administration officials like Christopher Cox, chairman of the Securities and Exchange Commission, who looked the other way as evidence of financial fraud mounted, to Democrats who still havent closed the outrageous tax loophole that benefits executives at hedge funds and private equity firms (hello, Senator Schumer), politicians have walked when money talked.Meanwhile, how much has our nations future been damaged by the magnetic pull of quick personal wealth, which for years has drawn many of our best and brightest young people into investment banking, at the expense of science, public service and just about everything else?Most of all, the vast riches being earned or maybe that should be earned in our bloated financial industry undermined our sense of reality and degraded our judgment.
The rest is here."undermined our sense of reality? degraded our judgment?"Perhaps that's why many of the fathers of the Church drew a connection between the prophets and Plato, especially Plato's "Myth of the Cave" in his Republic. Or why Pope Benedict insists that faith in the Logos does not annul but fulfills the human logos. However, that bringing to fulfillment, as both the prophets and Plato maintained, requires conversion: a turning from idolatry or illusion to reality.Even Isaiah Obama seems to be suggesting as much: the pressing question, he comments, is not: "will it boost my bonus: but: is it right?"
About the Author
Rev. Robert P. Imbelli, a priest of the Archdiocese of New York, is an associate professor of theology at Boston College.