Inequality in the United States Symptomatic of a Shattered Social Compact


The gross inequities in our society continue to bedevil our leaders amidst continuing Occupy Wall Street Movement protests around the nation. Republicans and conservatives continue to pursue actions that further widen the gap between rich and poor, the powerful and the powerless, the dominant race and minority racial and ethnic groups. Even the very old and the very young are now targets.

A Wall Street Journal editorial today calls for reigning in pension plans for public employees with the argument that they cost too much and are too “rich” for taxpayers. This is yet another “race to the bottom” strategy where you identify somebody in the former middle class who still has something and you take it away from them. Instead of asking why government workers have such good pension plans we as a society should be demanding that the rest of us have them.

Meanwhile back at the right-wing dude ranch known as the Scott Walker Administration in Wisconsin, some sixty thousands of the working poor and the elderly stand to lose BadgerCare, the States’ health insurance program for people who could not obtain a health plan through their employers nor pay for such a plan on their own. Two hundred thousand stand to have their coverage changed in ways that will deny them full access to the care they need. The State of Wisconsin was about to receive thirty-eight million dollars from the Federal Government to begin planning for implementing the Affordable Health Care Act in the State. But Walker opposes Obamacare and so he refuses to accept the money and do the planning necessary to implement the law in Wisconsin. Instead, he seeks cuts in the BadgerCare program to further pursue the mania for balancing budgets. A report by Citizen Action of Wisconsin noted that the real trouble is rising premium costs for everybody. Private insurance companies have raised their rates one-hundred-eighty-two percent just since 2000 and at that rate placing Wisconsin eighteen percent above the national average. And rates differ widely in different regions of the State. Milwaukee’s rates are twenty seven percent higher than in Madison and so it goes. The State Insurance Commissioner believes this is fine and dandy; that the insurance industry is doing a good job providing efficient and cost effective health care to all.

A Heritage Foundation report released just this past summer notes that the poor of the twenty-first century live better than their let’s say eighteenth century counterparts. Even the poorest Americans might have a cell phone, a microwave oven and cable television according to data derived from the 2005 U.S. Bureau of the Census. Yet, this report misses the mark. We do not live in the world of two centuries ago, nor do Americans participate in a society in a developing nation without all of these things, where fresh water and any kind of regular healthy food and clothing and shelter in the most immediate sense is the issue. That too is a gross inequality that extends globally to our brothers and sisters.

Ronald J. Sider writing in his book Generosity: A New Vision for Overcoming Poverty in America goes to the Judao-Christian scriptures to capture the sense of what the real issue is here. Quoting Leviticus: 25:35-6 “If members of your community become poor in that their power slips with you, you shall make them strong . . . that they may live with you.”

Much of what drives the Occupy Movement is not just money or material possessions. It is the knowledge that the power relationships in our society that permit all of us to be full participants in the democratic process have been seriously compromised. We all can’t be CEO’s, President of the United States, members of Congress and the like.

But under the rule of law we can and must be guaranteed the equal protection of the laws and that means equal treatment under the law. Ask anyone who has gone through the foreclosure process with the banks about that.

This is not about an Obama-led Socialism that will take away what the wealthy have earned by merit and by exercising the good self-discipline and individual responsibility that bring great rewards in the America our founders created under the Constitution. Materially having exactly or nearly exactly the same as the next guy is counterproductive and simply the other end of the extremity of the crisis we are living under today.

Sider also writes: “In a fallen world, powerful people will almost always take advantage of weak neighbors. And money, especially in a market economy is power. Therefore, great extremes of poverty and wealth threaten justice and democracy.”

This fallen world is one where the social compact forged in the modern technologically driven twentieth century has been fully abandoned by conservatives. It is so marked a characteristic of their politics today that many cannot even see that a healthy, fully functioning middle class in America where those very people fully participate in the democratic process and feel that their leaders are responding to their participation is missing. Further, a strong middle class and care for the least among us is simply good business. Customers anyone? That is what the poll that only nine percent of Americans support or endorse the performance of the United States Congress shows us. These are the people who care for the social compact we know as the American Dream in trust for the rest of us.

They know the power relationships between the very wealthy and well connected, the great masses of the American people who from the time of Jefferson have been trusted to govern themselves, and the poor find themselves cast out of the Hebraic dictum in Leviticus for leaders to ensure that everyone in the community may live together have broken down completely.

The gross inequalities in America today threaten the democratic process. Corporations are human beings with apparently more rights and power than the rest of us. The top one percent of income earners in the United States receives almost the entire attention of the Republicans who protect them from making any contribution to those less fortunate to be strong and live with them. Nothing symbolizeds the disparity in the power relationship here than gated communities where whole segments of the population are barred from entering. It recalls the biblical story in Luke 16:20-26 of a certain beggar named Lazarus, who lay full of sores at the gate of a wealthy man who ignored him all of his life. Lazarus ate the crumbs from the rich man’s table that were left for the dogs and they licked his sores. Lazarus ended up being taken to heaven and given a place with the great patriarch Abraham and being comforted while the rich man died in hellish torment.

Struggles for Justice asks the Tea Party, Republicans, and conservatives to re-commit to the social compact and return to a healthier, more democratic and participatory democracy. Our very Republic and the Constitution that establishes it as well as the well-being of so many people depend upon it.

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