Foundations of the Earth – Part II

Dano Jukanovich

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How “powerful” were they…really? The 1% do not have so much power, nor do the .1%. Multinationals are relatively tiny – even the biggest with conglomerate controlling interests in various others. Governments are still the big boys on the block.

And by government, we are making a leap here to include Central Banks. Walmart is the largest single company, by Revenue, in the world, generating $500 billion in 2014. Apple is the largest company in the world by Market Capitalization or Net Worth which equals $500 billion as of 25 June 2015. Each of the three richest men in the world, Carlos Slim, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet have Net Worth of somewhere around $50 billion. Compare these behemoths to the size of the US economy which generates around $17 trillion in Revenue. This is over 30 times more than the largest multi-national and 300 times as much as the wealthiest billionaire. The combined financial and non-financial assets controlled by the United States federal, state, local government and quasi-government agencies (comparable to Apple’s Market Capitalization or Bill Gates’ Net Worth) is easily more than $100 trillion or 200 times that of the wealthiest multinational. The people who turn the dials of the US economy and other leading economies and in so doing, the global economy, are at the pinnacle of power. 

From 1914, four central bankers in particular, were at the helm of the global economy and played an important part in leading the world into economic collapse and a war that cost an estimated 80 million lives. At the Bank of England was the “neurotic and enigmatic” Montagu Norman. He had previously plied his trade at the family commercial and investment banking businesses. The “xenophobic and suspicious” Emile Moreau was at the Banque de France. At the Reichsbank sat the rigid and arrogant, but also brilliant and cunning, Hjalmar Schacht. And finally, at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, Benjamin Strong, whose veneer of energy and drive masked a deeply wounded and overburdened man. These four men oversaw the borrowing and inflationary policies during and after World War I that would lead to the Great Depression and unprecedented destruction of World War II.

In the midst of the inter-war period economic struggles, the Lords of Finance convened in New York in 1927 to collaborate on a best way forward for the world economy. In an effort primarily aimed at supporting the British Pound, but also with the intention of bringing stability to the system in general, Strong supported reducing the US interest rates from 4.0% to 3.5%. Some economic historians look back on this meeting among the Lords of Finance as the point of no return on the world’s trajectory toward the Great Depression. In spite of the decision being reversed six months later, the damage had already been done with acceleration of the bubble in the US stock market.

By 1928, Strong died at the age of 55; Moreau had retired by 1930; Schacht resigned in 1930 and was moving toward Hitler and the Nazi Party. And sadly, Montagu Norman, the last remaining member of what had been known as the “most exclusive club in the world,” had a nervous breakdown in 1931 just as the world was in its second year of the worst economic crisis in history. 

These were the most powerful of men who sat at the controls of the global economy of the time. They were flawed but genuinely aimed at what was best for their own citizens, while simultaneously realizing they couldn’t ignore the interests of other nations. They don’t deserve all the blame as the wheels of the German Reparations struggle were set in motion at the Paris Peace Conference and it was their successors during the Great Depression who failed to right the ship and avoid what didn’t have to be an inevitable descent to World War II. Nonetheless, Norman, Schacht, Strong and Moreau failed miserably. 

All the money and power in the world, even when wielded by the most capable people who aspire to make the world a better place, still fails to bring peace and prosperity; fails to end Injustice. We think that if these people were smarter or had better data; if they were more Just and less self-seeking; stronger physically, mentally and emotionally; if they were more politically savvy and built “coalitions of the willing;” the outcomes could be different. Maybe, but history doesn’t seem to support that hope. 

One of the most entertaining but disturbing dialogues in Ancient Hebrew Scripture is between a man named Job, and God, where God finally tires of Job’s blaming and complaining and calls him to account saying,

“Who is this that darkens counsel by words without knowledge?

Dress for action like a man;

I will question you, and you make it known to me.

Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?

Tell me, if you have understanding.

Who determined its measurements – surely you know!


Or who shut in the sea with doors

When it burst out from the womb,

When I made clouds its garment

And thick darkness its swaddling band,

And prescribed limits for it and set bars and doors,

And said, ‘Thus far shall you come, and no farther,

And here shall your proud waves be stayed?”

This acerbic one-way dialog with God challenging Job goes on for pages and pages. Part-way through, Job tries to recover, asking for mercy saying, “Behold, I am of small account; what shall I answer you?” God does not relent, but continues verbally eviscerating Job. Finally, Job is so beat down that he comes to the end of himself and says to God: “…I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” Job in his brokenness declares aloud, admitting to anyone listening that he is not up to the task.

The Way and the Means

I’m not up to the task of leading my kids toward a life that is “happy” and “productive” let alone one that involves doing Justice. I’m not up to the task of challenging my business colleagues to seek a vision that goes beyond just generating profits, to include serving suppliers, customers, employees and the community. I’m not up to the task of creating stories that encourage their hearers to value something beyond themselves. 

Recently, my friend Joe Mukanwa was finishing his mural paintings that were bringing life to the drab walls of a rural manufacturing facility in Rwanda. Part-way through the day, he almost stumbled into the little restaurant where we were all eating. Wearing his paint-stained clothes, he slumped into a chair and ordered his food. When we mentioned he looked tired and asked how the paintings were coming, he responded in his Francophone broken English, “…the spirit has left me.” He meant he was not feeling “inspired,” but knowing Joe, the word “inspired” actually had a deeper meaning for him as if it were some cosmological force outside himself that had come into him or worked through him to create the stories told by his murals. And without that force, the art was limited to his training, his intellect, his eye for detail and beauty, his paint and his brushes. 

“Doubting Thomas” is famous for his struggle to see how life is going to play out in the face of existential crisis – the death of his teacher and leader and imagined savior. Jesus responded to Thomas saying, “I created you. I know you better than you know yourself. I love you without any requirements or conditions. I am that somebody you’ve been searching for.” Like Hrag Hamalian of Teach For America or Benjamin Strong of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York or Joe Mukanwa, Thomas wasn’t up to the task of teaching students in inner city LA or averting the Great Depression or creating art. He wasn’t ready until he understood relative to what reference point he would define himself.

We can change the world. We can right Injustices. We can listen to what our patients are saying with their stories, root out and heal their ailments while helping them see the fullness of life beyond their own. We can create businesses that will outlast themselves through their employees, suppliers, customers and community. We can nurture that damaged and fearful child to a life full of confidence and joy. We can teach our students to share simply because their classmate is valuable regardless of the favor he might or might not return. We can win Martin Luther King’s double-victory over our oppressors. We can lead our parishioners toward intimacy with one another and God. We can write stories and make sculptures that inspire us to be our best selves. We can be diligent and disciplined in our commitments to value others even ahead of ourselves. However, sooner or later we will reach our pain threshold and we will realize like Job, that we are “of small account.” Without some of Joe Mukanwa’s “spirit,” whatever we do to change the world will be a childish and mostly futile exercise in painting by numbers.

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