Friday, April 8, 2011

Picking the Pockets of the Poor

As I await word about whether leaders can cut a deal to prevent a government shut down in another hour, and as I contemplate the battle looming behind it about how to reduce the federal deficit, I want to scream. Even if they cut a deal to keep the government running this evening, what comes to my mind are words of a verse from Woodie Guthrie's song, "Pretty Boy Floyd," that dates back to the Great Depression."
As through this world I've wandered,
I've seen lots of funny men;
Some will rob you with a six gun;
Others with a fountain pen.
Instead of ranting, I want to share the words of Jim Winkler, General Secretary, General Board of Church & Society of the United Methodist Church. Those of you who know me, know I am sometimes in sharp disagreement with the Church. But in this article, I think Winkler accurately describes (factually and theologically) how what is happening now is nothing less than "Picking the Pockets of the Poor" and calls the Church to get on the right side.

Between1947 and 1979 the income of the poorest 20% of people in the United States grew by 116%. The lowest income growth during those 32 years took place among the richest 5%. Their income grew by 86%. In other words, the poor gained a little on the rich.

Just 400 people have as much wealth as half of the population.

This changed dramatically from 1979-2008. During those 30 years, the poor saw their income shrink by 4% while the rich gained 73%, far more than the rest of the population.

The richest 1% in the United States owns 33.8% of the wealth. Just 400 people have as much wealth as half of the population.

The Central Intelligence Agency points out that income distribution in the United States is more unequal than it is in Guyana, Nicaragua and Venezuela. I find this interesting. When I was in college the maldistribution of wealth in Latin America was frequently cited as an example of the failure of that part of the world.

What has happened?

So, what has happened? Have the poor simply become lazy and stopped working? Of course not. It’s rare any longer to run into a couple in which one spouse stays at home. People work more and longer hours than before for less money. The rich are hoarding the wealth and income. God frowns on this. 

Interestingly, to question the growing gap between the rich and the poor is often denounced as an attempt to provoke class warfare. I suppose if I were rich and didn’t want people to raise questions I might try to shut them up by suggesting they were simply envious. After all, who wants to have questions of justice raised?

The minimum wage has been largely stagnant over the past several decades. A superstar pay structure has emerged in the business world. A sense of entitlement exists among the rich. Those who have not succeeded financially are scorned.

I’ve never understood how Christians could prefer the rich over the poor, but many do. You don’t have to read very far into the Bible to learn that God sides with the poor and the oppressed. By the third chapter of Exodus, God is telling Moses: “The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

As an African history major in college, I studied the struggles for freedom from the colonial rulers throughout the continent. My heroes included African liberation leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Samora Machel, Patrice Lumumba, Kwame Nkrumah, Julius Nyerere. Many African leaders were training in Methodist mission schools! We did a better job of teaching freedom and justice in Africa than we did in the United States.

The budget deficit

On Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., where the United Methodist Building is located, the news is all about the fight over the government’s budget and the huge deficit connected to it. No one is talking about having the rich carry their share of the burden or reducing the vast sums of money spent on war, weapons and spies.

Instead, a new plan has been unveiled by House Finance Chair Paul Ryan (R-Wis.). His plan is to cut health care and food for the poor, as well as education, job training, low-income housing, and Social Security, to name but a few of the punishments designed for those on the bottom. The rich would get more tax cuts. Rep. Ryan would further skew the distribution of wealth and power in favor of the rich.

God sides with the poor, not because they are more virtuous than the rich, but because that is God’s way of healing the pain in the human family. If your preacher is not talking about what is happening in the world around us, it is either because that preacher sides with the rich or is too scared to exercise his or her prophetic responsibility. It’s time for the community of faith to be heard.
Date: 4/6/2011



Milo Thornberry said...

This from my wife with her permission:

The piece by Winkler is good but it’s not just the church that has closed eyes. We all have and continue to look away. It’s going to take more than complaining and more than a pen. WE put the politicians in office. WE continue to allow a broken election system to speak for us. WE allow government officials to be paid boo coos of bucks while beggars stand on street corners and we didn’t care enough or squawk loud enough when Obama allowed the tax cuts for the rich. As long as we remain comfortable – that means all of us who have just enough to feel comfortable – the inequality will continue and our do nothingness will make it happen. It are US, all of us, who allow this. Pointing fingers and saying it’s the politicians, it’s the church, it’s the rich, it’s whoever and whatever without looking in the mirror and saying it’s “you” only perpetuates the status quo. It’s also not just the rich even though they can buy their way anywhere. It’s every economic class –and we do have a class system, if you will a caste system – and in each we have found a comfort that makes us indifferent. It wouldn’t surprise me to see uprisings in our own streets sooner rather than later. Lybia and Egypt are only small samples of what might happen really big right here in our own back yard. Is it going to take that for us to assume responsibility for our own irresponsibility? Hmmmm!

dan said...

I second Connie's comments, above. She says it well.

Being outside the USA for 20 years, living a happy peaceful life in Japan and Taiwan, liviing in two very nice non-Christian, non-Judeo-Christian countries, no make that two very nice non-Judeo-Christian-Islamic i look back at my dear old USA today from afar, i see a sick, paranoid, divided country that i cannot even recognize as my old stomping grounds. I cannot understand what has happened but it is deeply sad and tragic. Who to blame? Like Connie says, we are all to blame, finger pointing does not do the trick. How to fix things? I really see no way to fix America, it has become a sick, decadent and FAT AND OVERWEIGHT country that has lost its way -- did it begin with Reagan rightwing stuff or with Jimmy Carter stuff, I don't know....but sometime in the last 20 years the USA went off course and it has never recovered and i do not see a recovery anytime soon or even if ever. I think it's over. Gone with the wind. All the fingerpointing has led to even more fingerpointing. I will not point fingers here. i just say in my deep sadness for what has happened to America, what a sad sad END has befallen her.....the power will surely pass in next 20 years to communist CHINA, that ogre over there, and it won't be a pretty picture for the West or the world at large. I do not think the END is nigh or near, but i think the West is kaput, over, finished. All this screaming and fingerpointing and false values....oops, do i sound like an Old Testament prophet here? SMILE -- well, they don't call me Jonah for nothing, er, Daniel......

RIP, America, [1776 - 2008]

dan said...

but i did like this part of the post:

''....a verse from Woodie Guthrie's old song, "Pretty Boy Floyd," that dates back to the Great Depression."

As through this world I've wandered /
I've seen lots of funny men / Some will rob you with a six gun / Others with a fountain pen....