I recently walked into my bank to deposit some money into a savings account. What a disappointment! Interest rates keep dropping as our government tries to dig itself out of what most economic observers say is a serious recession. The ups and downs of the market in recent years highlights just how precarious wealth and financial success are in this day and age. Fortunes are made and lost in the blink of an eye. Suffice it to say it’s hard to have a sense of security.
So much of the market depends on peoples’ ability to have faith and trust. The way money works is virtually virtual. Like God, it rarely, if ever, is seen and can turn on people quickly. I never thought it was so ironic that on our dollar bills say, “In God We Trust.” At its core the strength of our economy is based on faith. OK, maybe not faith in God but in the idea of faith itself. When we put our money in the bank we have faith that people will follow suit. Each time we deposit a dollar we have faith that our money actually does exist somewhere. Most importantly, we are constantly having faith that our government can back up our money and keep it secure.
Before he achieved national recognition for his work, “Bowling Alone,” Harvard professor Robert Putnam wrote a work, “Making Democracy Work: Civic Traditions in Modern Italy”–a comparative study of regional governments in Italy which drew great scholarly attention for its argument that the success of democracies depends in large part on the horizontal bonds that make up social capital. For Putnam, there is direct correlation between trust and economic success. Trust is the lynchpin of healthy societies and stable economies.
Trust does not just require a belief in God, but rather in people and the institutions they create. Faith requires one to move beyond themselves and take a risk on something we are not certain of. As H. Richard Niebuhr explained in “Faith on Earth: An Inquiry into the Structure of Human Faith,” faith is not just some metaphysical category but something that all of life and living is grounded in. When we look at our economic woes we realize that to be successful even the greatest materialist still needs to believe in something. I just hope there are a few believers still investing their money.