The President’s Speech on the Economy

Aired earlier today on All Things Considered (MPR, KNOW, 91.1 FM).

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN.

Paul Tillich quote in Tillich Park, New Harmony, IN.

Today President Obama began a series of speeches about the future of the American economy. I hope he takes us back to the basics of what an “economy” is.

Economics is about a household and how to manage it. The household is a family, a state, a nation, a planet.

The English word “economy” comes from the Greek work oikos – the Greek word for house. The word “economics” derives from the Greek word oikonomia–the management of a household.

Before it is anything else, economics is a perspective, a frame of reference. Before it decides anything about household management, it knows that there is only one house. Good household management – good economics – pays attention to the wellbeing of the entire house and all its residents.

In America and elsewhere across the world, we are coming to realize that the planet itself is one house. What happens in one room of the house – one family, one city, one nation – affects what happens everywhere in the house. Paul Tillich caught the clear sense of it when he wrote that “Man and nature belong together in their created glory – in their tragedy and in their salvation.” That is to say, there is only one house.

The essential question of economics is not about systems – capitalism, communism, socialism, or something else. The essential question is spiritual, philosophical, and ethical. It’s whether we believe that there is only one oikos, one house; the subsequent question is about how best to manage it for the wellbeing of all its residents and the fragile web of nature without which the house of the living would not exist.

Very often what we call ‘economics’ is not economics. It’s not oikonomia. It’s something else. It assumes something else, and when we forget what an economy and economics really are, we enshrine greed as the essential virtue, ignoring and imperiling everyone else and everthing in the one house in which we all live.

I dream that the President will preach the old Greek common sense: that in his own way, he will reclaim the essential premise of an economy and the ethical task of economics. By bringing the Greek origins to our television sets, headsets, and iPads, he can call us to move forward out of the partisan houses of nonsense.

There is only one house.

2 thoughts on “The President’s Speech on the Economy

  1. I agree. The president knows what must be done. He speaks of the one world economy… the one house we all occupy. He was elected twice because the majority of Americans want his plans. We all know who is obstructing his plans. It is the same people who obstructed Clinton and Carter. There are the words that no president has wanted to deliver to our TVs, headsets, and iPads… the open declaration that Republicans have made the decision that our country shall now and always be led by the rich and powerful, for the rich and powerful, that Republicans think the only logical step for the rest of us to make, is to follow the instructions of our betters. Republicans think that their obstruction is patiently doing the right thing. The president wants to find a way to avoid… revolutionary… reaction to the obstruction. He wants to speak reasonable calming words. I, the old man down the road, feel confident in speaking the words that the president will try to avoid: the extreme Right Wing has illegally seized power in a slow motion coup d’etat.

    What can the president say that will cause an effective non-violent reaction to the take-over? The smart ass Democrats who say, “he’s the president, it’s time to stop the talk and act” are a little too impatient I think. Carter and Clinton and Obama have done a magnificent job of keeping the country on course thus far… on the road to wisdom. American people, the majority, have managed to overcome suppression of votes by Right Wing state governments, and to avoid most mistakes like the 2010 loss of the House of Representatives. President Obama visualizes a continuation of his plans by way of the elections of 2014 and 2016. He hopes to enable the next president, another Democrat, to move us to peacefully defeat the slow motion Right Wing coup. I think that we should all try our best to get off our easy chair and do something to help the president. Right, the world has been through this before. We should know very well by now that the Right is always wrong.


    • Thank you, Bob. I so often wonder how the President manages to “avoid…revolutionary…reaction to the obstruction” and to “speak reasonable calming words.” I watched Cornel West the other night rip Obama, Holter, and other African-American office-holders for being the new plantation managers. He was talking about the military-financial-surveillance-corporate complex and the death of children killed by American drones – INNOCENT children – who, like Trayvon Martin, happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He criticized the President for saying, in the Martin case, that Trayvon could have been him, but does not see – or will not admit that he sees – that he could have been one of the children killed by an American drone.

      I’ve scratched my head many times. The President is a magnificent human being, in my opinion. He represents the best of traditional mainline liberal Protestantism – Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the prophetic voices of the black church. He sees the world through the lens of Christian realism (Niebuhrian theology and ethics). As you say, Bob, he can only take the rubber band so far without breaking it. I pray for his safety every day. Jim Wallis’ book is subtitled “Why the Left doesn’t get it and the Right gets it Wrong”. Bingo!


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