Michael Gerson of the Wa Po writes about the virtues that the current depression might engender:
But times of economic stress, it appears, can also be times of cultural renewal. "One reasonable hypothesis," argues James Q. Wilson, "is that the Depression pulled families together, and this cohesion inhibited crime." Many Americans who struggled through the Depression adopted a set of moral and economic habits such as thrift, family commitment, savings and modest consumption that lasted through their lifetimes -- and that have decayed in our own. The Depression generation controlled the things it could control -- including its own consumption and character.
We see hints of this type of reaction to our current recession, which has such clearly moral causes -- the burst of a bubble inflated by irresponsible debt, consumerism and unaccountable risk-taking. During an economic crisis, Americans return to a language of morality. Perhaps excess and recklessness are vices that deserve social stigma. Perhaps frugality and prudence are personal virtues as well as practices that prevent economic collapse. Perhaps there is a distinction between securing our needs and being dominated by our wants.
It has always been a quiet fear of capitalists that the success of free markets would eventually undermine the moral basis for free markets -- that decadent prosperity would dissolve values such as prudence and delayed gratification. "Capitalism," argued economist Joseph Schumpeter, "creates a critical frame of mind which, after having destroyed the moral authority of so many other institutions, in the end turns against its own."
But capitalism may be self-correcting in this area, as it is in many others. A recession causes suffering that can overwhelm hope. It can also lead to the rediscovery of virtues that make sustained prosperity possible -- and that add nonmaterial richness to our lives. Sometimes grace can arrive through an unexpected door.
I said something like that that in a sermon about six months ago here.