Category Archives: political

The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

This post is part of a synchroblog on extreme economic inequality. The list of participants will be posted at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

Extreme Income Inequality is a hot topic in theU.S.

There are numerous reports, studies and books on the subject.  All presenting overwhelming evidence that income inequality is reaching never before seen levels in our country and around the world.

A Census Report finds that nearly half (1 in 2) of Americans are poor or low income.

A report from the Congressional Budget Office last October found that between the years 1979 and 2007 the average real after-tax household income for the bottom 20 percent rose 18% but the top 1 percent of the population saw their incomes rise 275%.

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development reported in May 2011 that “the gap between rich and poor in O.E.C.D. countries has reached its highest level for over 30 years.” TheU.S.had a gap of 14 to 1 between the richest ten percent and the poorest ten percent.

Extreme income inequality is a fact and so is the possibility that it could prove economically and socially disastrous.

Before I go any further I want to address the idea of extreme income inequality and point out that what we are talking about is not “income inequality” but “EXTREME income inequality”.

Many people don’t understand the extreme income inequality that is occurring because that kind of wealth is beyond what most of us can imagine.

Here are a couple of illustrations that helped me understand the kind of exteme conditions that are occurring.

If you made a dollar per second, every second, you’d be making $3,600 per hour and you’d be a millionaire in 11.5 days.  But, it would take you 32 years to become a billionaire.  If Bill Gates had made his fortune at $3,600 per hour he would have had to be earning that rate of income for 1,600 years.

Or… let’s say you earned $29,000 per year (which is the median income in theU.S.).  If you made $29,000 a year and never spent a single penny of it you would need to earn that much for 34,482 years in order to save a billion dollars.

And yet, there are people in the U.S. who make a billion dollars a year, every year, while the majority of people make “extremely” less than that (obviously if the average income in the U.S. is $29,000 per year).

In 2007 Forbes reported 400 people had as much wealth as half of our population. The combined net worth of the Forbes 400 wealthiest Americans in 2007: $1.5 trillion. The combined net worth of the poorest 50% of American households: $1.6 trillion.  

Now that we have an idea of the extreme income inequality that is occurring let’s look at why it matters.

Studies are revealing that many social problems are related to extreme income inequality.  A society being too rich or not rich enough does not seem to be the problem.  The problem is large gaps between the richest and poorest.  Whether it is a country, a state or a neighborhood extreme income inequality seems to affect everyone in the community negatively.  Physical health, teen pregnancy, imprisonment, education, trust, life expectancy, mental health, obesity, creativity, murder, innovation – whatever was measured seemed to prove extreme income inequality increases the problem.  Physical and mental health are worse, teen pregnancy is higher, more people are imprisoned, people trust other people less, life expectancy is lower, more people are obese, creativity and innovation decrease, murder rates increase as income inequality increases, people are less content. This doesn’t happen just for the poor but for everyone.  For example, countries that have the largest gaps have rates of mental illness that are five times higher than countries with the smallest gaps and that includes everyone; a baby born in the U.S. is twice as likely to die before turning one year old as a baby born in Japan where the gap is significantly less; and the average life expectancy for an American is three years shorter than for a Swede who lives in a country that enjoys a lower rate of inequality.  AND if you subtract the poor from the analysis the scores don’t change.  Extreme income inequality is like a pollutant that spreads throughout society.  For more detailed information check out The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett (or here’s a Ted talk by Richard Wilkinson that does a good job of summarizing the info in the book).

In addition to all the social ills, extreme income inequality is not good for the economic condition of a country.  (Again, I am not talking about “income inequality” but “EXTREME income inequality”) Billionaires contributed to both the Great Depression and the recent depression. When money becomes mostly concentrated with a small percentage of the population less money is pumped back into the economy because the richest will invest the majority of their money. The increased investment levels vs the decreased money entering the market place leads to inflated bubbles and riskier investments which eventually lead to market crashes. Trickle down economics doesn’t work in the midst of extreme income inequality. The book The Trouble With Billionaires: Why Too Much Money At The Top Is Bad For Everyone by Linda McQuaig and Neil Brooks is an excellent resource for more on this.

And finally, extreme income inequality is bad for everyone because obviously the rich will primarily use their wealth to help themselves socially, economically and politically.  A vicious cycle occurs where the super rich push for new laws and loop holes that allow them to become even richer, which allows them to push harder, and that makes them even more rich etc. etc. etc.  Mega rich billionaires represent a very real threat to democracy as their voices are heard much louder and clearer than the average citizen’s voice is ever heard. For example, the most advanced, lucrative investments are limited to “accredited” investors.  The average person may think that indicates some kind of license or education or certification.  No, “accredited” investors are the rich.  The rich have created investments that only they can invest in!  In other words, the “game” is rigged so that the rich can unfairly keep getting richer at the expense of everyone else.

Social ills, economic collapse, political corruption are all caused by extreme income inequality but the rich don’t want you to believe it and they have the power and money and connections to get all sorts of information out to you to convince you that extreme income inequality is not a problem.  Or sometimes they will tell you that extreme income inequality doesn’t even exist or that it isn’t increasing.   “It’s not bad for you”  “It has always been this way”  “It doesn’t exist”  I’m sure you have heard some or all of those. However, overwhelming evidence is beginning to reveal these kinds of statements as a last ditch effort for super rich individuals and big corporations to maintain the status quo.

Solutions to the problem will come in a variety of forms. Ending special tax breaks for the rich.  Fairer investment regulations.  Improved assistance programs.  Better public educational systems.  Campaign reform.  Reformed corporate regulations. Enrichment of opportunity enhancing programs.  However, the first step is admitting there is a problem and the evidence in the U. S. and around the world indicates that more and more people are coming to grips with the fact that extreme income inequality is a significant problem and that something has to be done about it.

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Be sure and check out the other contributions to this month’s synchroblog:

Marta Layton – Fear Leads to Anger. Anger Leads to hate …

Kathy Escobar – Pawn Shops, Empty Refrigerators, The Long Hill Up

Carol Kuniholm – Wondering About Wealth

Glenn Hager – Shrinking The Gap

Jeremy Myers – Wealth Distribution

Liz Dyer – The First Step Is Admitting There Is A Problem

Ellen Haroutunian – Economic Inequality: Coming Back To Our Senses 

K.W. Leslie – Wealth, Christians, and Justice

Abbie Watters – My Confession

Steve Hayes – Obscenity

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Three Things Tuesday

(1)  This is hilarious no matter what you believe.

(2)   “the Bible explains the mystery of Christ’s work in a whole ‘kaleidoscope’ of models, metaphors, theories or stories of salvation, each reflecting a different aspect of this very deep and far reaching problem of ‘sin’ in us and in this world” – Steve Burnhope.

For those of us who have struggled with reconciling the theory of penal substitution with a God of love the idea that there is more than one legitimate atonement theory is a sigh of relief.

Check out this article:

Steve Burnhope: “Culture, Worldview and the Cross: Penal Substitutionary Atonement and 21st Century Mission”

(3)  I thought this was an interesting graph showing the National Debt as a percent of GDP.   Not only does it give a better perspective of our national debt than just throwing a dollar figure out there but I thought it was surprising to find out that the National Debt as a percent of GDP has increased mostly under the Republican Party during the last 60 years.

Why Not. Bart?

Rush Limbaugh: Mindreader

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Conservative commentator Rush Limbaugh got all worked up Friday by this fake quote attributed to the Columbia University thesis of President Barack Obama.

 “… the Constitution allows for many things, but what it does not allow is the most revealing. The so-called Founders did not allow for economic freedom. While political freedom is supposedly a cornerstone of the document, the distribution of wealth is not even mentioned. While many believed that the new Constitution gave them liberty, it instead fitted them with the shackles of hypocrisy.”

Conservative author Michael Ledeen had posted the phony quote on his blog last Wednesday. Ledeen reports that he found it on another site and didn’t notice that it was tagged as satire.

The Rush Limbaugh Show did not properly fact check the quote and rushed to the airwaves with it so Limbaugh could use it as a launching pad to berate President Barack Obama.

Do you think Limbaugh apologized to his listeners and to Obama when he realized it was a fake quote? No. He said what he did was okay because that’s how Obama thinks anyway.

It seems that Limbaugh can now read minds. That power is going to make his job a lot easier.

Take A Flying Leap

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Sometimes I wonder how people take some of the leaps that I witness. 

For instance, a friend on facebook was talking about someone who said “God wants to strike her dead because she castrated him by supporting gender inclusive bibles.”  And recently someone said they didn’t understand how I could call myself a Christian if I thought feeding the homeless was as important as sharing the gospel (I didn’t even get into the discussion with her about how I probably didn’t share her definition of “the gospel”).  But the most unbelievable leap I have witnessed lately is this one:

Many conservatives are complaining that President Obama’s upcoming September 8 speech (which will be televised and presented during school to all elementary students) about “persisting and succeeding in school,” along with classroom activities about the “importance of education,” will “indoctrinate” and “brainwash” their children. Conservatives have compared Obama’s address to Chinese communism and the Hitler Youth, while also calling for parents to “keep your kids home” from the “fascist in chief.”

It makes you want to say “go take a flying leap” – but it looks like they already have!

A Christian Perspective On Health Care Reform

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(image of Creative Rescue Organization public option t-shirt)

This post is part of a synchroblog on Christian approaches to health care.

When it comes to the current health care reform debate I am totally dumbfounded that conservative Christians (for the most part) are against a public option and/or a universal health care plan.  I understand how Christians can fall on both sides of the abortion issue or both sides of the same sex marriage issue (for the record I am pro-choice but not pro-abortion and I am in favor of legalizing same sex marriage) – but I do not understand how they can be against a public option and/or a universal health care plan and not have it conflict with their faith. 

I know that there is contention over the issue of abortion but perhaps it should be considered that many of the private insurance carriers to whom we pay premiums presently cover abortion care.

I think the “socialistic” argument  is bunk.  We have medicare/medicaid and public schools – they are federally funded to educate and care for others and no one calls them socialism. 

The other arguments I hear seem to mostly have to do with individual rights and conveniences and it seems that those arguments fly in the face of the Christian faith.

Do I have scripture to support a public option and/or a universal health care plan?  No, I don’t – but neither is there scripture to oppose such a thing (although many twist and turn and contort scripture to support their position).  Although there isn’t a specific scripture that I can offer up to support a public option and/or a universal health care plan I would go so far as to say that it seems much more likely that the heart of scripture would support such a thing.  Scripture repeatedly calls us to care and provide for the poor and the sick, to give up our own rights, to put other’s interests above our own, to take action to help those less fortunate, to protect the most vulnerable, to share one another’s burdens, to be a voice for the oppressed and the weak.

From a Christian perspective it seems we must look at this from the perspective of the needy, of the poor, of the uninsured…and I don’t think we will hear many (if any) needy, poor, uninsured people rallying against a public option and/or universal health care plan.  From a Christian perspective it seems we must look at this from the perspective of Christ, the one who identifies himself with the least of these. 

Check out the other synchroblog participants:

How Healthy is Your Health Care? by Steve Hayes

Self-evident truths and moral turpitude by Steve Hayes

Christian perspectives on health care by Ellen Haroutunian

The Christian’s responsibility to healthcare by KW Leslie

Baby steps towards more humane humanity by Beth Patterson

Is Healthcare a Right  by Kimber Caldwell

Clowns to the left? Jokers to the right? Stuck In The Middle by Phil Wyman

Its Easy To Be Against Health Care Reform When You Have Insurance by Kathy Escobar

A Christian Response To Health Care In America by Jeff Goins

Carrying Your Own Load by Susan Barnes

Caring For Human Dignity by Lainie Peterson