From the April 2013 issue of Futures Magazine • Subscribe!

God & Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism

Book Review

God & Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism
Craig Columbus & Mark W. Hendrickson
Brick Tower Press, New York, NY; 2012
$17.95; 195 pages

In “God & Man on Wall Street: The Conscience of Capitalism,” authors Craig Columbus and Mark W.Hendrickson pose the question “Can the brightest and best of the Millennial generation fix capitalism to make it kinder, gentler and more ethical; and yet preserve Wall Street as the engine of financial growth, prosperity and freedom for individuals enshrined in the only system known to mankind that works — capitalism?”

When I left high school more than a few years ago, I was an idealist, change-the-world type of guy. My background taught me that God and Mammon were mutually exclusive. They are not.

As this book artfully declares, wealth and wealth creation are not in and of themselves against God’s wishes. It all depends on what you do with that wealth that matters. We have seen great wealth emanating from Wall Street or Silicon Valley being redistributed by its philanthropic owners to those in need, both within the United States and around the world. 

As a first generation immigrant to the United States, I often have observed that great wealth sometimes begets great charity. I, like many before me, have sought to attain the American Dream whereby, in theory at least, anybody has a shot at fame, fortune and happiness, no matter how humble their background. In this little book (195 pages, including chapter by chapter references) the authors use the example of the Great Recession of 2006-2008 to remind Americans that human greed, hubris and political arrogance can seriously dent that dream if not kill it off.

The authors, a Wall Street strategist/financial television commentator (Columbus) and an academic (Hendrickson) at Grove City College, Pa., a liberal arts Christian college that offers undergraduate degrees in business, education and the sciences, ably pick apart the complex series of events that led to the Great Recession — which still exists for millions of Americans — and the fixes that policymakers cobbled together to save capitalism as we (except China) know it.

The book is well-researched, well written and for the most part is easy to read. 

No-one comes away from the Great Depression without stain. Not policymakers in Washington DC and in Brussels, not Freddie Mac nor Fannie Mae, and certainly not the ‘brainiacs’ on Wall Street who created the fiendishly opaque financial instruments known as derivatives. The authors also point the finger at the “get rich quick” citizenry who flocked to buy property and flip it for a profit in the misguided belief the millennial property bubble never would burst.

Columbus and Hendrickson pepper the book with biblical quotes, mostly from the Old Testament, that seek to provide a human face to a monolithic structure that underpins world financial markets. People are good and bad, scrupulous and unscrupulous, open and honest, and in some cases, like Gollum from Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, slippery and deceitful. 

The authors avow that the Great Recession has left a bitter taste in the mouths of the American public and among many Europeans.This taste boils down to the word “trust,” the lack of which has scared many investors away from financial markets and thrust many ordinary Americans into joblessness. It also engendered the Occupy Wall Street movement, which could yet be a force to be reckoned with.

Yet as things change and lessons are learned, so they are quickly forgotten. Markets have rallied, Congress has cracked down on Wall Street (maybe too harshly), the big banks still overpay their top executives and the Federal Reserve maintains interest rates at dangerously low levels. 

Patrick Kelly is a freelance writer with a background in commodity market reporting.

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