On Monday, Bishop Gene Robinson of the Episcopal Diocese of New Hampshire gave an interview to ThinkProgress arguing that Occupy Wall Street’s critiques of the American economy track closely with the moral arguments against wealth and power put forward in the Christian and Hebrew scriptures. In that same interview, Robinson also discussed how Americans understand their country’s economic identity, and defended the 99 Percent Movement from the charge that it is anti-capitalist:
In an odd sort of way Wall Street has become anti-capitalist.
What we are talking about is a protest against those people who have actually preyed on the capitalist system, who have used the capitalist system in what I would call an immoral way to make vast sums of money while actually producing nothing.
So the Occupy Wall Street folks are not protesting good pay for good work, or even wealth for those who contribute to employment and to the production of important things or even services. They are protesting this almost heretofore unheard of manipulation of the financial system to benefit a very very few people at the expense of the many, and in particular the most vulnerable.
Robinson’s assessment that Wall Street has become a threat to the healthy functioning of America’s capitalist markets is backed up by the economic facts on the ground. The American financial industry now accounts for approximately one third of all corporate profits in the country, while providing only one tenth of the value added in the economy — an enormously skewed result. At the same time, the outsized pay packages offered by Wall Street entice a disproportionate amount of high-talent individuals, leaving fewer for other fields such as science, medicine, engineering, and so forth. Many of America’s most intelligent new workers are being used by Wall Street to essentially invent new ways to game the financial system without increasing productivity in the overall economy.
As Dean Baker, the co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research, has put it, the purpose of a financial sector in a capitalist economy is to allow economic actors:
…to borrow money to buy a home or start a business, but it is not an end in itself. While spending more on health and housing may make us better off, spending more on finance is evidence of an inefficient financial system. An efficient financial system is a small financial system.” [Emphasis added]
Instead, Wall Street has become bloated and wasteful — and as 2008 demonstrated, it has become so dysfunctional as to become a literal existential threat to the national and global economy.