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Posts Tagged ‘redistribution of wealth’

I suppose it might be difficult for some members of the extreme right wing to accept, but God did not invent Capitalism.  Another fact, equally hard to accept for the extreme right wing is that Jesus did not condemn Communism.  I know.  It’s hard to believe. After all, if Jesus was alive today, wouldn’t he be a Capitalist?

Of course there is the difficulty of some of the things Jesus is quoted as saying.  I am referring to expressions like, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven”. Or, “Sell all you have and follow me.”  I wish I could find a Republican extreme right wing Christian who could explain these discrepancies to me, because I just can’t figure it out. And, since the Christian right wing seems to be exclusively Republican, I figure they must know the truth about this.  Please feel free to explain this to me.

Meanwhile, I’ve been wondering.  Have you noticed in our Capitalist economic system, where everybody supposedly has an equal chance to be a millionaire, how it seems sort of like the system is sort of rigged in favor of the people who already have a lot of money?  For example, take a look at our laws on taxing estates – that’s what is left over when you die.  Under the administration of President Bush the tax on estates of less than $3.5 million was reduced to zero. Yes, zero dollars.  The wealthy can pass on their gains to their heirs and pay absolutely no tax on anything under three and a half million dollars.

What about income tax?  Surely the wealthy pay their fair share there, don’t they? Well, under President Bush’s “tax cuts” the tax on the wealthiest Americans dropped by almost 40% while the tax on the poorest Americans dropped less than 1%. Our American tax system favors the wealthy. Why? Well, for one thing who do you think writes the tax code? It surely isn’t the poor people. Senator Kerry is the richest man in the Senate, worth close to a billion dollars.  A lot of the Senators are worth many, many millions of dollars. Overall the median (not the average) net worth of U.S. Senators was $1,700,000 in 2007. For Congressmen it was $684,000.

President Obama has talked in the past about restoring the tax rates to be the same as they were under President Clinton.  At that time the wealthy paid a larger share of the country’s tax burden.  However, since his election there hasn’t been much talk about tax reform, even though one might think that recirculating some of that tax money might help to stimulate the economy.  I get the impression that Congress is not too eager to vote for a tax increase on their own pay. So the money of the wealthy just continues to sort of clot up in their bank accounts.

Here’s something to consider: the bonuses for the bankers on Wall Street are growing astronomically while everyone else’s salary is just sort of keeping up with inflation. Goldman Sachs employees will receive bonuses of about $700,000 apiece this year. How fortunate for them!  And even more so because of George Bush’s tax cuts:  they will have to pay very little tax on their bonuses. Aren’t you glad for them?

Meanwhile, average Americans are continuing to lose their homes to foreclosure.  Millions are out of work and can’t find a job.  One can only ask one question: is this right? I don’t mean in a legal sense – of course it’s legally right – the laws of our country have enabled this. The question is this: in a moral sense, is it right? The thing I find it hard to understand is how the “Christian” right – those diehard Republicans who claim to be true Christians and just love the George Bush style of government – reconcile this with the teachings of Jesus. Are we reading the same Bible here?

It’s a simple question. Are the Capitalist values of America and the resulting coagulation of wealth for a very small number of people in America, at the expense of the vast majority of people, compatible with the teachings of Jesus? A simple yes or no will do, but if anyone can explain how they truly are compatible I would love to hear the explanation.

And here’s a second question for the Republican “Christian” right: if you cannot answer my first question then why do you call yourselves Christians?  I would love to hear that answer too.

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It is John McCain’s greatest fear: the redistribution of wealth.  He’s not the only one who is afraid of course, there are plenty of other people like him.  They have made their fortunes one way or another, and they are damned if they are going to share it with anyone.  Good Christians all, I suppose.  It’s a touchy subject for the very wealthy – they would rather we talk about something else, like lowering taxes or the right to bear arms or freedom of choice in health care.  All good subjects, no doubt, and all emotional trigger issues that are guaranteed to distract the easily distracted from something they would rather not dwell upon.  America has become a country polarized by unequal – very unequal – distribution of its wealth.  Current estimates are that the total wealth of the United States is about $53 trillion. That is a lot of money.  The thing that John McCain would prefer that you don’t know or dwell upon is that, of this amount, about $18 trillion (a bit more than 1/3 of all the wealth of the U.S.) is owned by only 1% of the population.  The other thing that Johnny doesn’t want you to think about is that at the other end of the spectrum, the total wealth of almost half the people in the country – add up the wealth of 150 million Americans – is only about $0.5 trillion, i.e. less than 1% of the total wealth of the country.  Of course John McCain and the other rich folk think this is perfectly OK – and let’s talk about something else, can we? Like freedom, or the enemy, or taxes, or big government, or something.  Anything else. This is America, right?  Anyone and everyone has an equal chance to be a billionaire, don’t they?  So stop whining.

I am reminded of a new song written by a very good Irish songwriter, Jimmy McCarthy, called The Sky Road.  It tells about a young man named Danny who, I suppose, left Ireland long, long ago – centuries ago.  It starts like this:

Danny’s made his mind up

He’s leaving for America

He’s leaving for America

Leaving all of us behind.

He says there’s nothing here not drenched in beer

In blood and retribution

And the wealth distribution’s

Been weighing heavy on his mind.

Allow me to put this in a little perspective:

In the aftermath of nearly a thousand years of defending itself from constant invasions from England, Ireland finally fell to Oliver Cromwell’s extraordinarily savage attacks in the mid-1600’s. (This was at exactly the same time that English colonists were busy taking America from the Native Americans in the “New World”).  Ireland now belonged to England (soon to be called The British Empire) – all of it.  Mostly,  Ireland belonged to a very small number of people – the English aristocracy.  They had promptly declared it to be  illegal for any Irish person to own land in Ireland.  There was little for people like Danny to do except leave, particularly when the potato crop failed in the mid-1800’s, and the Irish starved to death, literally by the millions.  All the while, the English-owned plantations in Ireland continuously exported massive amounts of food (beef, pork, butter, grain, and so forth) to England.  It’s a story of genocide not usually taught in our American schools, is it? One can only wonder why…

The society in Ireland before the famine in the 19th century had become polarized into two classes: a small but enormously wealthy upper, aristocratic class, and a very large class of poor, landless laborers who worked for the aristocrats.  For all practical purposes, nineteenth century Ireland was a feudal society – and the English aristocrats were delighted with that.  The important thing to note here is that the aristocratic class, those who had attained their wealth through theft and murder, hadn’t the slightest care about the welfare of the poorer class. Good Calvinists, they felt justified because they believed it must be God’s plan – otherwise things wouldn’t be that way, would they?

Today, in America, a nation of equals (at least theoretically), we find ourselves in the midst of an argument about health care. Is it a right for all?  Should it be paid for by taxes? Why should the wealthy pay for the medical needs of the poor?  The Wall Street Journal has leaped into the fray calling our Congress “reckless” for even considering higher taxes on the wealthy in order to pay for a health care plan. We are hearing commentators talking about possible class warfare and the evils of the coming wealth redistribution.  The important thing to note about all this talk is that the extremely wealthy people in America, the ones who have benefited the most from the Bush tax cuts and the elimination of the estate tax, feel entirely justified in tightly grasping and hoarding their billions of dollars while they do absolutely nothing to help those who are suffering.  After all, this is surely God’s will isn’t it?  Otherwise it wouldn’t be this way.  And therefore, aren’t these wealthy people demonstrably God’s elect? Surely they have no need or obligation to help the poorer people – let them help themselves.  Didn’t John Calvin say as much?  Christianity at it’s best.

I can still hear John McCain’s voice from the campaign trail as he warned about class warfare and wealth redistribution.  He is typical of the new class of would-be American aristocrats.  Content to sit back and do nothing while they watched the people of New Orleans drown, they are equally happy to bomb the people of Hanoi or Iran or anywhere else that suits their needs.  This new society of American aristocrats, led by their genius, George W. Bush, are without a conscience, caring only for their own wealth and intent on deceiving the American people that health care for all is the worst thing that could happen in America.  The fact that their Republican political party has aligned itself with the so-called “Christian” churches in America is an extraordinary irony.  Never mind “What would Jesus do?” What would Jesus say?

History has shown time and again that when a society becomes extremely polarized, and a small number of very wealthy people dominate, an unstable society is produced.  It is always the case that the poorer people suffer under the domination of the wealthy and that the wealthy use all their power and wealth only to amass even more wealth. We are in such a situation now.  For the past eight years, the extremely wealthy have used their power to enrich themselves, while in the process bringing the world’s economy to its knees.  The extremely wealthy have used their power to rewrite our tax laws so they could significantly decrease their tax burden while simultaneously increasing the tax burden on the poorer people.  We need only to look at the catastrophe of Czarist Russia to see what happens when a large poorer class is continuously abused by the wealthy few. It is the lesson of history  that has occurred over and over again.  And this lesson is what our current American aristocracy fears the most, which is why we hear the cries of “class warfare” and “wealth redistribution”.  Even so, they won’t relent.  They don’t believe they should subsidize anyone’s health care, and so they propagate their lies about European health care – which is in fact, far superior to U.S. health care.

In the end, the struggle is not about freedom and values and patriotism;  it’s all about money and wealth.  And greed.  Lots of greed.  The wealthy American class has tried mightily to convert us into an aristocratic society – and they have succeeded.  Now they want to keep it that way.  It’s worth remembering that two hundred years ago, when Danny left Ireland for America, he had a reasonable hope of being treated fairly in a new country where the English aristocracy didn’t already control everything.  However, our situation is different from Danny’s.  If we quietly allow our fair country to continue to spiral downward into a John McCain/George Bush style aristocracy, where only a very small number of people own all the wealth of the land, we won’t have anywhere else to emigrate to, because there is no other America.  This is it.

It is time for the vast numbers of ordinary people in the United States to stand up against the lies of the wealthy, otherwise they must inevitably surrender and forever live under the heel of this new and heartless American aristocracy.

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In 1783, as the American Revolutionary War came to an end and four years before work began on drafting the U.S. Constitution, two brothers, George and William Penrose started a crystal making company in Ireland.  They called it Waterford Crystal, named after the Irish town in which they lived.  A little more than 200 years later, in 1986, Waterford Crystal acquired Wedgwood, an English company famous for its china.  Yesterday, after almost 250 years of combined operations, it was announced that Waterford Wedgwood is being placed in receivership, i.e. they are bankrupt. A month ago the company was in talks with an American consortium that planned to move Waterford’s operations to Indonesia, where labor costs are cheaper.  It is said that Waterford management opposed moving Irish jobs to Indonesia though, and the talks fell through.

If you drive across America’s southland, states like Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia, you can’t help but notice the gigantic, new, gleaming bright, automobile manufacturing plants. They all build cars for foreign automobile companies like Toyota and BMW.  They pay their American workers much less than the U.S. automobile manufacturers in the northern cities like Detroit and Grand Rapids.  Last month, General Motors, the recipient of a huge government bailout, announced that they are opening a new manufacturing plant in China where they will begin mass production of the Chevrolet Cruze.

It’s all part of a process outlined in Tom Friedman’s bestseller, The World is Flat.  Except, the world isn’t really flat – well, not yet anyway. There are still mountains and valleys and quiet corners of the world where excellence still prevails, even though it costs more. Waterford, Ireland is one of those places.  The question is: can Waterford prevail as the flood waters of globalization sweep over it, or is globalization an unstoppable economic tsunami flattening everything in its path until all the earth’s mountains are leveled and the valleys are filled everywhere with the same monochromatic sand and beach-washed debris?

Remember Pan American World Airways?  Remember Trans World Airlines?  How about Eastern Airlines, or any of the many other airlines that disappeared after President Reagan deregulated the airline industry?  Remember how the airlines actually served hot meals and your knees didn’t get crushed by the seat-back in front of you?  Remember when you could buy a television with a name like RCA or Zenith and it was actually built in the USA?  These and so many more companies are gone, either sold to foreign companies or simply vanished due to intense price competition from abroad.

The world is getting flatter, and that is good for some people – especially those who live in the economic low-lying areas, like China and Indonesia.  However, for the most part, America has been the economic high ground, and now, slowly but surely, as our businesses embrace globalization, the economic high ground beneath us is eroding.  It is, as John McCain likes to say, the redistribution of wealth – except, of course, he was referring to the redistribution of the rich people’s wealth by taxation and not the redistribution of the  wealth of the middle and poorer classes by the globalization of the rich people’s businesses.

Whether you buy Waterford crystal or Wedgwood China or not, whether you care about Irish jobs or not, whether you can remember the glory days of American aviation and manufacturing or not, listen for a brief moment as the Church bells of Waterford toll for their ancient crystal making industry, because they also toll for you.

Slan, Waterford.

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