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An Inside Job: Our Best and Brightest, Not Illegals, Pushed Us To the Brink of Financial Disaster

Greg Erlandson is the president and publisher of Our Sunday Visitor.

They did it again. They distracted us with all their talk of illegal immigrants stealing our jobs and draining our resources. They told us how we had to put up barriers, distrust anyone who wasn’t American. They made us suspicious of others, just the way they did in the past with blacks and Jews, Italians and Irish.

We talked about walls to keep those people out and keep us safe, and we let commentators on talk radio and cable television whip us into a frenzy over the folks they said threatened America.

And once again, the fingerprints on the knife in our back belonged not to the poor and minorities, but to the best and the brightest.

Instead of statues of a bull and bear on Wall Street, we should erect a Trojan horse, because what’s pushed America to the brink of financial disaster was not all those illegals coming in and “stealing” our jobs as busboys and janitors and underage laborers in meat-processing plants.

This was an inside job. It was made in America. It was all the hotshot brainiacs, our best college grads, the brokers and bankers pulling in bonuses that weren’t just in the hundreds of thousands but in the millions.

These were the people who have been most blessed by this country’s abundance, and these were the people most driven by greed. They weren’t minimum-wage workers trying to put food on their table and give their children an opportunity to obtain a high school diploma. They weren’t the day laborers on the city streets hoping for a job or the field hands bent double from hoeing the weeds on corporate farms.

These were the people who drove Manhattan delirious come bonus time, the folks who bid up the prices on luxury condos, who went to restaurants competing to serve the most expensive hamburgers in America, who vacationed at the toniest resorts and who, if they had children, sent them to only the best prep schools.

These were the people whose patterns of consumption were lauded in the Style section of The New York Times, the same paper that now excoriates them on the editorial pages.

These were the people who saw themselves as “Masters of the Universe,” and the irony is that some of these same folks—now working for the government—are supposed to be crafting the nation’s exit strategy from this financial debacle.

We don’t know where this will all end. The number of people who have lost their houses and lost their jobs is already a scandal, but what the future holds, we don’t know. Will other financial institutions fall to earth? Will the taxpayers have to pay even more to cover up the bad decisions of the best and the brightest?

And will our nation with its trillions of dollars worth of IOUs to countries like China and Saudi Arabia—both made unbelievably wealthy by our voracious consumption beyond our means—have the fortitude to stick to our promises, pay our bills and not sacrifice the poorest among us while doing so?

Greed has permeated our society. In most cases, it led us to make some dumb financial decisions based on bad assumptions, and the results will be defaults on home mortgages and car loans and credit-card debt. But the greed of those most materially blessed who were leading some of our most powerful financial companies is what is most shameful, and has done the most harm.

I know people who are in this country illegally. They pay their taxes, they work two or three jobs at minimum wage and send money back home to support impoverished family members there.

Yes, they broke the law. Yes, a country has the right to enforce its laws and protect its borders.

But Americans have taken their eyes off the ball. We have not been done in by the strangers among us. We have been done in by our own.

Never has it been more true: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

Reprinted with permission from Our Sunday Visitor.


Houston Catholic Worker, Vol. XIII, No. 6, November-December 2008.