Finance Reform a 'Historic Accomplishment': Wallis

Sojourners President the Rev. Jim Wallis applauded the Senate's passage of financial reform legislation yesterday, calling the event a "historic accomplishment."

"These principles - clarity, transparency, accountability, and protecting the common good against private greed - now give a stronger voice to Main Street in facing Wall Street," Wallis said. "And that's an accomplishment we should applaud."

The bill, which is the biggest financial overhaul in the country since the 1930's, passed the Senate yesterday by a 59-39 vote which included four Republicans.

Provisions in the bill include increased transparency and accountability in the financial market as well as a new protection bureau to defend consumers against fraud.

The bill's top negotiators, Senator Chris Dodd (D-Conn.) and Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.), predict that Obama will be able to sign the measure into law by Independence Day.

While noting that the legislation does contain "some weaknesses," Wallis said it is "nonetheless a historic accomplishment."

"Because of the excesses that led to the current Great Recession, in which millions of Americans lost their homes and jobs, the pendulum has once again swung from an era of an 'anything goes' mentality to more careful public oversight and government regulation," Wallis said.

"As the legislation now goes to a House-Senate conference committee, we must remain vigilant to protect the gains that were made."

Wallis has been one of the more vocal proponents of financial reform in the faith community, highlighting the matter in his most recent book Rediscovering Values: On Wall Street, Main Street, and Your Street.

Touted as a "moral compass for the new economy," Wallis' book points to modern day maxims such as "greed is good," "it's all about me," and "I want it now," as values that have driven the economy to the ground, and suggests replacing them with new/old values like "enough is enough," "we're in this together" and thinking not just for tomorrow, but for future generations.

"The twentieth century saw the creation and distribution of goods, services, and ideas with unprecedented efficiency and volume. But with these great advances, the moral weight of our decisions becomes greater than ever before," Wallis writes. "We need to determine whether the purpose of business and the vocation of our business leaders is restricted to turning a profit or if it can be something more."

Other leaders in the faith community sharing in Wallis' views include Pope Benedict XVI, who has voiced his support for increasing market regulations.

"The conviction that the economy must be autonomous, that it must be shielded from 'influences' of a moral character, has led man to abuse the economic process in a thoroughly destructive way," Benedict wrote in a 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate. "In the long term, these convictions have led to economic, social and political systems that trample upon personal and social freedom, and are therefore unable to deliver the justice that they promise."

In a message in April, Benedict said that the Great Recession has "demonstrated the fragility of the present economic system and the institutions linked to it…[and has] shown the error of the assumption that the market is capable of regulating itself, apart from public intervention and the support of internalized moral standards."

"This assumption is based on an impoverished notion of economic life as a sort of self-calibrating mechanism driven by self-interest and profit-seeking," he said. "As such, it overlooks the essentially ethical nature of economics as an activity of and for human beings."

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