Friday, May 15, 2009

Woe is comes Socialism!

Last week I was surfing through the evening talk shows and came to the opening remarks by Sean Hannity. His first statement was “Welcome to Barack Obama’s SOCIALIST America.” Silly little man. I doubt that he would know a real, live socialist if one ran over him in a Mack truck. This was like most of his other sputtering that would not stand up to the light of scrutiny. He gives genuine conservatism such a pathetic face.

But he is mouthing what a growing number of folk are beginning to say. There is an economic philosophy known as socialism. But that is not what is at play here. While the extremely wealthy speak of “redistribution” and “spreading the wealth around”, the real issue is an uncomfortable resistance and unwillingness to seriously discuss the growing gap between the very wealthy and those who are not, which is resulting in a nation of increasing inequality and, for many, declining opportunity. The disparities in wealth which have arisen over the past three decades and how that is now resulting in socialism would be laughable if it were not so disturbing. Since the 1970s, the share of income going to the top 1 percent has doubled and the share for the top 0.1 percent has tripled. More than 40 percent of total income goes to the wealthiest 10 percent – the biggest share of the pie in at least 65 years.

I’m talking here about those individuals and corporations who have profits in the mega-millions. I am not talking about those folk from the middle or upper-middle classes who have worked hard, saved up a solid egg nest, and want to live comfortably in their retirement years, have something to give to their children, and maybe to the charity of their choice. I’m talking about those from any field of endeavor who make incredible amounts of money and want to hoard it. They are the ones speaking loudest about socialism and Sean Hannity is in that category.

Speaking in stereotypes can be dangerous, but sometimes they are true. Observation of a good number of very wealthy individuals would note their creative thinking, their hard-charging drive and their ability to develop outstanding programs. But it would also reveal that many of them cannot find their “uh-huh” with both hands. They oversee vast efforts. But they could never do it without assistants who do the grunt work, secretaries who make everything happen on time, and wonderful custodians who make the work setting shine like a hospital corridor.

So this is my suggestion about “passing the wealth around.” It’s called appreciation and fairness. Pay those assistants, who carry heavy loads, some really remarkable salaries. Let the secretary’s pay scale be one of the best in town. And the custodians? Ah, yes, pay them a hefty amount so that they can live in comfort and send all of their kids, regardless of how many they have, to good colleges. Offer really good healthcare insurance to everyone in the company. Build preventive health features into the workplace. Give really good vacation packages. And, while the CEO’s are at it, pay a fair tax amount. Stop sending it to tax havens off shore or getting caught up in welfare for the wealthy by using every loophole imaginable to hoard and extend one’s greed. And the really wealthy could still go home with a million or more each year. Why must their salaries and benefits number in the tens or hundreds of millions?

This pays it forward. This makes for sterling work environments. This sets basic fairness. And it is not socialism. It is simply caring and gratitude for those who help in all the endeavors.

Many of those who scream “socialism” also are prone to use a fair amount of God-talk. You know: a Christian America, prayer in public schools, family values. Those topics that one would be hard pressed to find that Jesus really said very much about. He did speak often and firmly about the idolatry associated with the material and the need to share one’s life and goods. That idea is usually explained “away” by the mega-million group.

We just can’t have a Jesus talking about “spreading the wealth around."

1 comment:

  1. I agree that the charge of “socialism” can be used as an incendiary and inflammatory battle cry of the right and sometimes for the wrong reasons. If painting Obama’s America as “socialist’ is simply a subterfuge to divert attention away from business practices that are in reality, illegal or simply imprudent by a plutocratic aristocracy; then yes, I say the charge is based on less than admirable intentions. Glibly hurling the “socialist” appellation on all government activities, as Hannity espoused is shortsighted; however, branding “free enterprise” and capitalism as inherently flawed due to the recent economic fluctuations is also overstated. The extraordinary challenges we face now in our economy have raised the ante. Bernie Madoff’s scheme was not a failure of free enterprise but rather a deceptive and insidious criminal act. The mortgage crisis has and will in my estimation reveal some disturbing illegalities.

    The dangerous junction as you state is the imposition of theological approval for some sort of ‘spreading the wealth” or perverse justification of economic or political policy. Throughout the centuries, both the throne and the altar at times have been instruments of oppression, abuse, and manipulation of the powerful to control over the masses. At the heart of these misguided institutions has been an attempt to thwart the diversity of individual epistemic privilege and exploit workers to protect the aristocratic or plutocratic interests. The disparity of wages issues, just treatment in the workplace and healthcare concerns all have standing in this debate; I however, wish to be mindful of the delicate balance of liberty, justice and stability upon which we all tread.

    Noble prize economist James Buchanan stated that the modern age was born in the 18th century as the recognition how “the rule of law, stability of private property, and withdrawal of political interference with private choices, could unleash the entrepreneurial energies that latent within each of us”. More than anything this economic crisis has caused me to question the appropriate levels of “political interference” in our private choices. For those at the top who have cheated, lied and abused the system, I must defer and say that we need to ensure that the rule of law is enforced. The aspect of “socialism” or to put it in Buchanan’s term “political interference” that I do wish to rebuff and be mindful is that which stunts dreams and aspirations. We cannot guarantee equality of outcomes, but we need to be ever vigilant that our system continues to promote equality of opportunity with legitimate boundaries of liberty to realize God’s unique gifts within each one of us.