Banks are seen as depositories, where valuable assets, such as money, are stored and protected. Those deposited assets are then loaned out to those in need, expecting repayment with interest. In a purely economic sense, banks make growth possible. Without investment capital people could not easily buy houses or cars and businesses couldn’t get started, expand, or make capital improvements.
Well, there is another bank in America; a bank that I think is every bit as important, and maybe more important as any First National or Union Trust. It is the moral fortitude and good will that the people in this country deposit in their government. People invest their trust, their belief, their efforts, and their good will in their community, state, and country and the governments that function within those distinctions. Those government entities bank that ephemeral capital and reinvest it in their people in the form of good government, fire and police services, national defense, and in the myriad of other ways that government interacts with its citizens.
Many people see the relationship between government and the governed as primarily economic, an exchange of the citizen’s money for government services, a situation where the pooled resources of the many create greater possibilities than any individual efforts could initiate. The sum being greater than the parts. However, the economic exchange between a government and its citizens is best accomplished on a semi-voluntary basis, with adequate justification for the exchange. While not normally noticed, it is the moral bank that provides the necessary support mechanism for all of these economic banking efforts and its exchange of capital between the government and its people, whether on a local or national level. As a result, for everything to succeed, people need a heart for the process.
When the moral bank has large withdrawals, as when politicians become corrupt or when the spending by the government is unjustified in the eyes of the citizens, or the economic exchange between the government and it citizens is seen as unfair or immoral, then the withdrawals from the moral bank, if not stemmed and corrected, can cause the underpinnings of the economic banking system and the relationship between the government and its citizens to become unstable. This is true even if enough money is pouring in.
We can see some of this in the catastrophic events leading up to and causing the Great Depression, when a great distrust of government spread throughout the country. Cycles of boom and bust occur regularly in a capitalist economy so that recessions are part of the fabric of economic life, but a severe depression has at its root corruption and governmental mismanagement, which when coupled with a drastic withdrawals from the moral bank of its people the economic problems are exacerbated to the extreme.
Recently, as the divide has widened between those who work and invest their trust and efforts in their communities, and those who prey on those communities, either as criminals, whether drug dealers on the corner or morally bankrupt stock manipulators and economic con men in Wall Street or big business, or as a morally corrupt government bureaucracy, such as what some people believed happened during the previous administration, the trust of the populace erodes. Then people begin to stop depositing in the moral bank and hoard their trust in the mattresses of family and friends, while the relationship between the government and its citizens becomes increasingly unstable.
It seems to me that the moral bank of this country is radically depleted. Some would disagree, but I think the general pulling together caused by September 11 has only been an artificial and temporary bolstering of the moral bank. It is as if people have put some of their trust in, but kept their hands still on it, ready to yank it back at a moment’s notice.
So, what happens then if the moral bank collapses in insolvency? Will we die as free country? Will we go through a slow (or maybe fast) decline in which no one seems capable of pushing the rock of trust back up the mountain of shared failure. Will a spiraling government despotism leach out that last bit of moral capital from an exhausted citizenry until the governed no longer support their government, even on simple level?
There is a Greek story about the philosopher Diogenes who looked throughout his life for an honest man, but supposedly never found him. If Diogenes went looking for honest government in this country, government that would build on the trust deposited in it, would he find it? Good question.