A Return to Traditional Values (No, not those), part 4

Now, where were we? Ah, yes. Values.

As a person who falls slightly to the left of center on the political spectrum, I’ve struggled for years to reconcile my view of the role of government vs. the role of the church. Politically, I believe that there needs to be cooperation between the private and public sectors. I do not believe government is the enemy nor do I believe that it has all the answers. It functions as a fairly efficient delivery system in some areas (Medicare) and not so much in others (DMV).

However, I have this pesky Bible thing over here on the side that speaks very clearly about the role of the church in taking care of the poor. We need to be doing WAY more in this regard and for a long time I’ve thought that in some way, the government taking over that role has been something of an economic equivalent of the “rocks cry out” thing, and the reason that it’s not going all that well is that the wrong people are doing it. I was right on one count. The wrong people are doing it, but it’s more that just church or government.

There is a third entity that I have not given enough weight to in years past but as I began to think more about traditional values and their perceived decline, it occurred to me that there is one major cause for the behaviors associated with the demise of these values and that is economic injustice. Please don’t think I’m saying that all poor people commit crimes and if we would just give them money they would stop. It’s not that simple.

It turns out that God cares a lot about how we operate our businesses. I did a search for businesses and employers and turns out there are some things we need to look at again. Here are a few examples:

Deuteronomy 25:13-16
“Don’t carry around with you two weights, one heavy and the other light, and don’t keep two measures at hand, one large and the other small. Use only one weight, a true and honest weight, and one measure, a true and honest measure, so that you will live a long time on the land that God, your God, is giving you. Dishonest weights and measures are an abomination to God, your God—all this corruption in business deals!”

Proverbs 11:1-3
11 God hates cheating in the marketplace;
he loves it when business is aboveboard.

2 The stuck-up fall flat on their faces,
but down-to-earth people stand firm.

3 The integrity of the honest keeps them on track;
the deviousness of crooks brings them to ruin.

Proverbs 16:10-12
10 A good leader motivates,
doesn’t mislead, doesn’t exploit.

11 God cares about honesty in the workplace;
your business is his business.

12 Good leaders abhor wrongdoing of all kinds;
sound leadership has a moral foundation

Ezekial 28
You had everything going for you.
You were in Eden, God’s garden.
You were dressed in splendor,
your robe studded with jewels:
Carnelian, peridot, and moonstone,
beryl, onyx, and jasper,
Sapphire, turquoise, and emerald,
all in settings of engraved gold.

In much buying and selling
you turned violent, you sinned!

By sin after sin after sin,
by your corrupt ways of doing business,
you defiled your holy places of worship.
So I set a fire around and within you.
It burned you up. I reduced you to ashes.
All anyone sees now
when they look for you is ashes,
a pitiful mound of ashes.

Hosea 12:6-8
What are you waiting for? Return to your God!
Commit yourself in love, in justice!
Wait for your God,
and don’t give up on him—ever!

7-8 The businessmen engage in wholesale fraud.
They love to rip people off!
Ephraim boasted, “Look, I’m rich!
I’ve made it big!
And look how well I’ve covered my tracks:
not a hint of fraud, not a sign of sin!”

Acts 16:18-22
16-18 One day, on our way to the place of prayer, a slave girl ran into us. She was a psychic and, with her fortunetelling, made a lot of money for the people who owned her. She started following Paul around, calling everyone’s attention to us by yelling out, “These men are working for the Most High God. They’re laying out the road of salvation for you!” She did this for a number of days until Paul, finally fed up with her, turned and commanded the spirit that possessed her, “Out! In the name of Jesus Christ, get out of her!” And it was gone, just like that.

19-22 When her owners saw that their lucrative little business was suddenly bankrupt, they went after Paul and Silas, roughed them up and dragged them into the market square. Then the police arrested them and pulled them into a court with the accusation, “These men are disturbing the peace—dangerous Jewish agitators subverting our Roman law and order.” By this time the crowd had turned into a restless mob out for blood.

In the last 5 or so years we’ve talked a lot about whether or not we should regulate businesses, particularly banks. I won’t bore you with a whole history of the banking system but I will tell you that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act of 1999 was the biggest blow to the regulation of the banks and led to the financial crisis in 2008. It repealed much of the Glass-Steagall act from 1933 that kept us from having any major recession for almost 50 years. During the same time as banks were being deregulated, the Moral and other conservative evangelical groups were beginning to align themselves closely with the Republican party, mostly over the issue of abortion. The Republican party is also the party of deregulation. Small government, or little to no government involvement in business, is the goal of conservative politician and coincidentally, they are the ones who have benefited financially. 

Large banks and businesses have become deified as “job creators” and if you want to regulate them or make them answer to any government agency, you are considered unamerican. The truth is, we have tangled up capitalism with democracy and Christianity and the Church has bought into this lie that businesses don’t have to be accountable.

The thing is, these businesses aren’t creating jobs. Oh, things are getting better, for sure. But the same businesses who are asking to be called “job creators” are doing what they can to cut jobs while making record profits and paying no income taxes.

Large corporations are making more money than ever before but are doing whatever it takes to avoid paying taxes and taking care of their employees. According to Bloomberg:

“The largest U.S.-based companies expanded their untaxed offshore stockpiles by $183 billion in the past year, increasing such holdings by 14.4 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg .

Microsoft Corp. , Apple Inc and Google Inc each added to their non-U.S. holdings by more than 34 percent as they reaped the benefits of past maneuvers to earn and park profits in low- tax countries. Combined, those three companies alone plan to keep $134.5 billion outside the U.S. government’s reach, more than double the $59.3 billion they held two years earlier.

The build-up of offshore profits — totaling $1.46 trillion for the 83 companies examined — is increasing because of incentives in the U.S. tax code for booking profits offshore and leaving them there. The stockpiles complicate attempts to overhaul the tax system as lawmakers look for ways to bring the money home and discourage profit shifting.”

In 1980, CEOs typically  made 42x the income of their average worker. In 2011 it was 380x. As illustrated in the above graphs, lower wage jobs have grown the most over the last two years, the majority of which pay minimum wage or barely higher. Minimum wage has not been raised in years and has not kept up with inflation. People who work full-time at minimum wage live well below the poverty line and must still get government assistance to put food on the table.

Here’s some info on the minimum wage:
$10.74 – How much the federal minimum wage would be if it had kept up with inflation over the past 40 years. Instead, it’s $7.25.
$15,080 – The annual income for a full-time employee working the entire year at the federal minimum wage.
0 – The number of states where a minimum wage worker can afford a two-bedroom apartment working a 40-hour week.
3 – The number of times Congress passed legislation to increase the minimum wage in the last 30 years.
19 – The number of states (including the District of Columbia) which have raised their minimum wage above the federal level of $7.25.
10 – The number of states that annually increase their state minimum to keep up with the rising cost of living.
67 – The percentage of Americans that support gradually raising the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour to at least $10.00 an hour, according to an October 2010 poll.
64 in 100 vs. 4 in 100 – What are the chances an adult minimum wage worker is a woman vs. the chances a Fortune 500 CEO is a woman?
76 – The percentage of Missouri voters that voted to increase and index the Missouri minimum wage in the 2006 ballot initiative.
$2.13 – The federal minimum wage for tipped employees, such as waiters and waitresses, nail salon workers, or parking attendants.

We’re told that this is all about “the market”. We pay CEOs crazy amounts of money because “that’s what the market will bear”. And that’s supposed to be the right answer. It’s fine. You know…the market.

I love this new pope so much that I might convert. Recently he said:

Condemning the “new tyranny” of unfettered capitalism and the “idolatry of money,” Pope Francis argues in a newly circulated apostolic exhortation that “as long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems.”

The pope has taken a side, not just in his manifesto but in interviews, warning: “Today we are living in an unjust international system in which ‘King Money’ is at the center.”

He is encouraging resistance to “the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation” that creates “a throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people.”

Yeah. What he said.