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Archive for the ‘The Economy–Wealth & Poverty’ Category

The Public Goods Deficit


by: Charles Derber and June Sekera on January 10th, 2014 | 2 Comments »

Deteriorating roads are just one sign of our public goods deficit. Credit: Creative Commons/Virginia Department of Transportation

In The Affluent Society, one of the most influential books of the twentieth century now in its fifty-fifth anniversary year, the eminent economist John Kenneth Galbraith highlighted the bizarre and potentially catastrophic coexistence of “private opulence and public squalor.” Galbraith warned that American society was in grave peril because of a deficit that we lack even the language to discuss today: the deficit of public goods. Correcting that crisis should be at the top of our collective New Year’s Resolution list.

Galbraith wrote that “It is scarcely sensible that we should satisfy our wants in private goods with reckless abundance, while in the case of public goods we practice extreme self-denial.” As early as the 1960s, he was struck in an affluent America by the decline of public goods, including quality public education, highways and public transit, air quality, consumer protections, and basic public services.


A Corporate Coup


by: on December 10th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

Flush the TPP.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) met the week of December 3 in Bali, Indonesia, where anti-WTO demonstrators took over the streets. On the first day of the talks, demonstrations were held around the world to mark the Global Day of Action Against Toxic Trade Agreements. A particular focus for protesters here in the United States and in other Pacific Rim nations was the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, or TPP, a so-called “free-trade agreement” that would consolidate corporate power over member nations. The TPP has been called “NAFTA on steroids.” It has also been called “a corporate coup” and a “corporate power tool of the 1%.” This week, at the Trans-Pacific Partnership Ministerial in Singapore, where negotiations were to be finalized, TPP negotiators failed to meet the end-of-year deadline promoted by the United States.

Why are the WTO, NAFTA, and free-trade agreements such as the TPP “toxic?” Because they put trade (or rather, the free flow of capital) above all else, because they cover far more than trade, and because they give corporations the power to determine what laws a country can or cannot have. They are vehicles through which corporations make and enforce rules for governments to follow.


A Swiftian Proposal from an Author Facing Homelessness


by: Burton Wolfe on December 9th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Using factors described below, it is manifest that the 46+ million “poverty class” statistic issued by the U.S. Census Bureau is bogus, and the true figure is 150 million. Clearly, these deadbeats (myself included) are the ones responsible for the U.S. Government deficit of 17 trillion dollars that is wrecking the nation. We 150 million losers have become a pain in the brain and backside of all the productive citizens who do not need government assistance or assistance of any kind. We 150 million lowlifes have become especially aggravating to the most important Americans, the Rich ladies and gentlemen, who are understandably fed up with having to look at increasing numbers of these filthy wretches begging on the streets and with having to pay more taxes to feed these undeserving deadbeats who cannot make enough money on their own to justify their existence. Now, before I present my “Modest Proposal for Preventing the 150 Million Poor from Being a Burden to Their Fellow Americans and for Making Them Beneficial to the Public and Especially the Rich Ladies and Gentlemen,” I have acknowledgments to make.


Religion and Utopian Economics


by: Sigfried Gold on December 4th, 2013 | 2 Comments »

Economic and power relations are the place where any set of lofty religious or humanistic ideals come to ground, where the rubber hits the road. And for those atheists who care about making a better world (rather than just making religious people look dumb) this is a place where atheists and the religious can help each other face a most formidable, perennial, intractable challenge: how to structure institutions for the benefit of their members or the public at large while discouraging exploitation and the use of institutional power for the private gain of trusted leaders.

My current favorite of the atheist religions–which don’t generally consider themselves religions–is Nonviolent Communication or NVC, and I was confirmed in my positive regard for the NVC movement when I came upon this piece by Miki Kashtan on Tikkun’s blog addressing crucial questions of money, higher values and inner peace. Kashtan attacks the problem of money in a mode of full-fledged utopian dreamery, offering ideas and experiments that point toward the reform of our society’s whole economic exchange structure. She summarizes some of her intentions thus:

In how I engage with money and resources, I continually strive to move closer to my vision of how I want to see these operate in the world at large. I aim to move from considering exchange value to valuing people and life; from seeing relationships through the lens of exchange to participating in a flow of generosity; from allocating resources based on output equity to caring for everyone’s needs; from making things happen based on the ever-s-subtle coercion of money incentive to complete and wholehearted willingness; from thinking about our merit to sharing our gifts; and from wondering about what someone “deserves” to contributing to everyone receiving all we need. (Miki Kashtan, personal communication)

But I want to focus on a specific problem she raises: how can she offer her services as a trained NVC teacher and practitioner in a way that is consistent with her values? She is, from what I can gather, in considerable demand in the NVC world, but many of the people and organizations who would like her help have little money to pay for it. Does she sell her services only to those who can afford it? No, that would not fit her values. But how can she meet her own financial needs otherwise?


Student Workers Face Intimidation on the Eve of a Historic Strike at the University of California


by: Amanda Armstrong on November 19th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

This Wednesday, November 20, could be defined by one of the largest labor strikes in the history of the University of California. Custodial, food service, grounds, and health service workers affiliated with AFSCME 3299 are planning to strike on all UC campuses. They are forming picket lines to contest the stark acts of intimidation they faced from supervisors prior to a work action some of them undertook last spring to preserve safe staffing levels at UC hospitals. A number of workers were pulled into private meetings with supervisors and threatened with consequences if they joined the strike.


Student workers gather on the steps of Sproul Plaza at UC Berkeley. Credit: Susie Levy.

Graduate students and undergraduate tutors affiliated with the UC Student-Workers Union (UAW 2865) have announced that they will strike in sympathy with AFSCME service workers on November 20. This brings the total number of UC workers who could strike this coming Wednesday to 35,000. A strike of this scale, composed of an unfair labor practice (ULP) strike and a sympathy strike, is historically significant, as labor analysts such as Joe Burns have argued that the re-emergence of the sympathy strike is key to the revitalization of the U.S. labor movement and of broader social movements against inequality and the precarious conditions of labor and life faced by the majority of the population.

Those who manage the university have recently taken steps to thwart and discourage Wednesday’s historic strike. At UC Berkeley, Vice Chancellor George Breslauer recently sent an email about the strike to all department chairs and deans. In the email, Breslauer incorrectly and misleadingly asserted that graduate students are not legally permitted to strike because their contract negotiations with UC management are still ongoing. He also instructed department chairs to inform graduate students in their departments that they must teach on Wednesday and that all changes in work routines should be approved by the chairs in advance of November 20. Breslauer has thus facilitated the dissemination of inaccurate and coercive information to professors and graduate students alike, and deputized department chairs to enforce a baseless and likely unlawful message to graduate student instructors: thou shalt not strike.


Rejoice: Openly Socialist Candidate Wins Seattle City Council Seat


by: on November 18th, 2013 | 1 Comment »

(Flyer for Sawant/ Credit: CC-BY-NC-SA by Natalie Woo)

It’s true. Seattle elected a socialist candidate to its City Council. Kshama Sawant, a 40-year-old community college instructor and immigrant, is the kind of socialist spiritual progressives can feel delighted about. She ran on an Occupy platform of raising the minimum wage a hefty $5 to $15/hour, instituting rent control, public ownership of utilities, expanding paid sick leave, increasing citizen oversight of police, and taxing millionaires. She even said, under prodding, that one could make a case for nationalizing Amazon and Boeing; it wouldn’t happen, and she wasn’t running on it, but one could make an argument. And she was still elected.

How did she do it?


Reclaiming Entrepreneurship on the Path to Economic Justice


by: Chris Rabb on October 31st, 2013 | Comments Off

(Credit: Creative Commons)

Too often, capitalism is conflated with democracy, and entrepreneurship is conflated with high risk and profit-maximization. However, a much higher-risk proposition is for us to let these assumptions and vagaries persist; to let these memes continue undefined and unexplored, and to let those who benefit from this obscurity dominate the narratives about what is best, most just, and most feasible for a nation to thrive amid great systemic traumas.

American capitalism is not in crisis, but capitalism as we know it can only breed crisis as long as the financial wealth it creates is owned by fewer and fewer capitalists, dissolving the kinds of community wealth that all just and stable societies need the most.

The solution is not to diversify the ethnicities of those who are among the capitalists; rather, we must expand the very definition of capital itself to reflect a more humane interpretation of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


Campaign Financing Is Legalized Bribery (Not to Mention a Violation of the Torah!)


by: on October 18th, 2013 | 3 Comments »

I was reading the Torah a couple months, well actually I read it every week as part of my Sabbath practice, but a couple months ago the Torah portion focused on bribery and stirred me to thinking (the Torah has that effect on me!). Specifically, Deuteronomy 16, sentence 19, states that “You shall not judge unfairly, you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.”


This simple little sentence has a lot to say about our current political structure, wouldn’t you say? “Don’t judge unfairly.” What could that possibly mean? Well, I take it to mean that we should not judge others lest we understand the path they have walked. This speaks to me about being empathic.

What about “you shall show no partiality”? Well that seems obvious enough, if you are a judge or have a position of power that allows you to make decisions that impact others, don’t be partial. Don’t let your biases get in the way of making sound decisions grounded in the facts. But it can also be applied in more mundane situations – as a teacher, parent, friend, lawyer, etc. When I read this as applying in all circumstances (the Torah does not seem to limit its application), what I take it to mean is to find a path of compassion, look at the situation from all sides, don’t assume one person is right and one wrong. That’s rather powerful. Reminds me of Rumi’s poem:

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
 there is a field. I’ll meet you there.

 When the soul lies down in that grass,
 the world is too full to talk about.
 Ideas, language, even the phrase “each other” doesn’t make any sense.


Were the Shutdown Republicans Prophetic (After a Fashion)?


by: on October 17th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Ted Cruz and Sarah Palin at shutdown rally: Prophets in their own minds?

During the 16-day government shutdown, Tea Party Republicans rose above, or somewhere beyond, earthly politics. Their aim was to stay true to their principles, to be faithful, not necessarily effective. At their meeting behind closed doors on Tuesday, House Republicans began not by calling themselves to order, but by singing all three verses of “Amazing Grace.” In other words, the shutdown Republicans were prophetic in their own way.

By this, I don’t mean they accurately predicted a future state of being. If their stance foreshadowed anything, it was probably some dark days ahead for the GOP. But they were prophetic in the sense that they exhibited the style, if not the substance, of ancient biblical prophecy.


The Sacred Heart of Jesus is not an ATM Machine


by: on October 16th, 2013 | 5 Comments »

Today in the Roman Catholic church we celebrate the feast of St. Margaret Mary Alacoque, a 17th century French nun. Jesus not only appeared and spoke to St. Margaret Mary, a nun of the Visitation order, He let the nun, like St. John the Beloved at the Last Supper, rest her head on His heart. Some outside of the Catholic church mistakenly believe that we Catholics worship the saints. Nothing could be further from the truth: we venerate the saints. Indeed, every Christian, Catholic or not, whose Christian life has been enhanced by devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus has great reason to thank St. Margaret Mary Alacoque.

I’ve been thinking a great deal about St. Margaret Mary today, not only because it’s her feast day, but because I think if the nun lived in the world today, and in this particular money-obsessed country, the poor woman would have had to go on Xanax. The financial exploitation of Jesus Christ not only occurs in every region of the United States of America, it is has become entirely normative.

Equally devastating, American Catholic bishops, who otherwise never hesitate to inject themselves into any number of modern-day events and issues, remain largely mum about the galloping spread of the total lie that is called the “prosperity gospel.” For decades, as televangelists have reinvented, refocused, and altogether sharpened their tool of spiritual destruction known as the prosperity gospel, Catholic bishops have been out to lunch. Perhaps the reluctance to forcefully challenge the purveryors of this naked distortion of Christ’s teaching is rooted in fear: How can Roman Catholic bishops throw stones at prosperity gospel preachers when some of them are living in glass mansions themselves?

Yet I think it is important to emphasize to all spiritual progressives, regardless of faith tradition or no tradition, this particular point: When Roman Catholic clergy, and I would include Mainline Protestant clergy also, keep mum in the face of the spread of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” your lives are undoubtedly impacted as well. For if we, in the name of religious freedom, consent to living in a society where Jesus Christ can be turned into a personal ATM machine without anyone standing firmly against it – or at most just give a roll of our eyes at the practice – don’t be surprised when you find yourself living in a society that is simply brimming with people who are trying to turn you into an ATM machine as well.