Archive for the ‘Sociology’ Category
Having a “Sterling” reputation has come to mean something else. Despite our rampant denial, racism is still a systemic mountain in our society that our faith has not yet moved.
Blogging my thoughts:
In packing boxes while getting ready to move, I found some notes jotted down during the writing of my dissertation that I did not throw away:
In my dissertation, I worked with four of Luther’s most popular pamphlets: Sermon on the Ban, Sermon on Good Works, The New Testament, that is, the Holy Mass, and the Freedom of a Christian. In analyzing these pamphlets I found that they follow the same regular pattern in critiquing the church of that day for the wealth and power of the hierarchy, the exclusion of the Christian laity from the spiritual estate, the fact that cardinals, bishops and priests did not consider it their duty to preach, unless called to do so with a different call above sacramental ordination. These factors, among others, brought opposition to the hierarchy of the spiritual estate.
In the Great Peasants’ War of 1525, the peasants were looking to improve their lot. They could work as peasants on the level of being feudal serfs but they could also work as peasants, like farmers as the equals of burghers and the common man.
Patrick Collinson, in The Religion of the Protestants works with the concept of elective affinity comparing laws. He wrote that the many laws of that day were not like the ones the Puritans would have attempted – for a severe and legally enforced religious and moral discipline. The laws in Luther’s days amounted to an unjust legally enforced exploitation of the peasants. A complicity of the laity and clergy existed in undermining the severity of the Christian moral mandate. Karl Holl would also have argued that the legal practice of the church ban was not used for moral discipline. It was used for debt collection for the spiritual estate and control of the laity.
I think that Holl is convincing in arguing that Luther emphasized the conscience and the intensification of the Christian moral mandate. But Luther’s mandate is more than that of a religion of conscience. With conscientia – according to Steven Ozment, heart, soul, and spirit have to be included as well, to grasp Luther’s anthropological concepts referring to the whole person, (and I add) in terms of maturity and creativity as well. Luther’s concept of spontaneity refers to being moved personally, but who cannot see that it is involved with initiating and sparking social movement for justice as well – rather than merely the justification of the person? Thus Luther’s theology should also include shalom or the Russian concept of sobornost. This idea is not one of a collective emotionalism or an enhancement of religious pleasure, but the experience of a new social and personal harmony and creativity in the further approximations of the Kingdom of God, the Beloved Community – or what Luther describes as “the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance” – (to patch in some of my later work) – while realizing that the Christian state is a historical problem not yet at all solved. Basing it as Luther does on reason and law, rather than a particular faith and Gospel, should not preclude greater and greater approximations of justice.
How can justification merely apply to an individual person? That ignores the historical reality of the social dynamism unleashed by Luther: the Wittenberg Disturbances came first, then the Knights’ Rebellion, and then the Peasants’ War or the Revolution of the Common Man as Peter Blickle would have it.
I like to relate Henri Bergson’s first order feelings and reactive ones. A charismatic social movement as well as a charismatic personal response can issue from a first order “feeling,” that is, not a reactive feeling – but a feeling that initiates new thoughts, feelings, and actions.
So Luther experienced justification by faith as an individual; the peasants wanted justification by faith in terms of social justice. I was thinking in those terms when I wrote against systematic racism and justification not by race, but by grace. What would constitute justification on a social level? The way a whole and mature person can be described as self-aware, autonomous, with quality relationships, etc., the basic ingredients of social justification should also be worked out, as Luther attempts to do in the third part of his pamphlet on Christian Freedom.
 Patrick Collinson, The Religion of Protestants: the Church and English Society 1559-1625, (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1982), p. 241.
 Luther’s thinking is holistic. When he refers to the anima, soul, cor, heart, spiritus, spirit, and conscientia, conscience, he always refers to the whole human being from a certain aspect. Steven Ozment notes that for Luther this totus homo is operationally united. Ozment, Steven, Homo Spiritualis: a Comparative Study of the Anthropology of Johannes Tauler, Jean Gerson, and Martin Luther (1509-1516) in the Context of their Theological Thought, (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1969), pages 89, 95, and 100.
 See the Third Mini-Lecture On Christian Freedom for Our Redeemer in South San Francisco. The existential rapture also applies to individuals and in face of personal realities can seem far-fetched. It is some flight of the imagination to take it to a collective level.
 Bergson, Henri, The Two Sources of Morality and Religion, (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1935, 1954).
“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet and the Existential Rapture, March 6, 2013, Midweek Lenten Service
Midweek Lenten Service
Themes in the Life and Thought of Luther
March 6, 2013 at 7:00pm
“The Freedom of a Christian,” Luther’s best-Selling Pamphlet
and the Existential Rapture
Luther wrote one pamphlet after another in the movement that became the Reformation. He was the first author whose writing publications numbered in the millions especially when his New Testament came out in 1522 and when his translation of the whole Bible came out in 1534. Illiterate peasants learned how to read by reading it, while discovering that the old believing priests had never read it and did not know what was in it.
Luther never received any income from his many writings, while he kept printing presses humming in many cities and it seemed that the printers did not let his ink dry before they already took his work to their presses. They were making real money with Luther’s work. (My lecture, “Notes on a Rereading of the Freedom of a Christian” online in my website has gotten over 10,000 hits, but I have also not made any money with it.)
Other than the New Testament and the whole Bible, “The Freedom of a Christian” was Luther’s best-selling pamphlet. It came out in 38 editions in his life time. He noted that it contained the “whole sum of a Christian life.” Of the 38 editions, ten were in Latin and 22 were in German. It turns out that we only know the Latin version in the English translation, while the popular German one is shorter, more simple, spiritual, and direct, much like his Small Catechism. For example, you will find such gems such as “One who hears the word becomes like the word, pure, good, and just” and “What is the word that gives such abundant grace and how shall I use it? The answer: it is nothing but the preaching of Christ in accordance with the Gospel, spoken in such a way that you hear your God speaking to you!”
Right now this version is only available in Philip and my book, Luther’s Spirituality.
Luther organizes his pamphlet into three parts:
Part One: Points 1-19: the inner person or the soul
Part Two: Points 19-24: the outer person or the body
Part Three: Points 25-30: the relation of outward persons. Part
Three undertakes describing the vision and shape that Christianity would give to a society.
Luther begins right at the beginning with the tension of opposites. And these opposites bring about growth, development, and even movements in society. What was the Reformation itself but a historical movement? Some opposites we can think about are men and women, church and state, – which are supposed to be opposites, but sometimes the church doesn’t challenge the state and the society the way it is supposed to.
Luther’s tension of opposites begins right at the start in his two contradictory statements presenting the tension between freedom and responsibility:
A Christian person is a free sovereign, above all things, subject to no one – [let me add by faith].
A Christian person is a dutiful servant in all things and subject to everyone – [let me add by love].
It is important to understand this tension of opposites and the growth and development it brings about, to later understand what I call the existential rapture.
Let me just highlight three themes that stand out in this Luther pamphlet: the one called the marvelous exchange; the second, more than just being Christians, Luther challenges us to become Christs to one another; and the third, the joyful economy.
In the marvelous exchange, Luther says that the gracious and righteous, bridegroom, Christ, and the bride, our dreadfully sinful soul, get married and become one body. In the exchange, we receive the sinless, virgin birth of Christ from his Mother Mary and he receives our sinful, human birth. We receive his immortality, while he takes on our mortality. So in exchange for our birth, we get the new birth of Christ, in exchange for our poverty, we get his riches, for our sin, we get his righteousness, in exchange for our hatred, we get his love, for our death, we get his eternal life. (Think of the way nuns wear a ring saying they are married to Christ. Luther has every believer’s soul as the bride married to Christ, the bridegroom.)
The tension of opposites again stands out, because Luther calls our soul a whore, whom the sinless and pure Christ takes as his wife, so that she becomes a wonderful woman, happy house-mother, and wife. Now not to be sexist, we could also say the whore-monger of our soul, through this exchange, becomes a wonderful man, happy house-father, and husband. You can see how Luther places extreme opposites into tension. Prof. Timothy Wengert from our Philadelphia seminary had a funny way of presenting the marvelous exchange. When as a student he married his wife, she had a beautiful new BMW and he was driving an old wreck. After their marriage, he drove the BMW and she drove the old wreck: a truly marvelous exchange.
Secondly, Luther does not only promote us into the priesthood of all believers, but into a Christhood of all believers. (I just read in this month’s Lutheran how Stephen P. Bouman up in ELCA Chicago offices now speaks of all believers being missionaries and our churches becoming centers of mission: He writes, “Every ELCA baptized missionary (each of us is one).” So more than just being Christians and wondering haphazardly what that could mean for today, we are challenged to grow and mature into the full stature of Christ.
As Christs we lay down our lives for our friends. We love our enemies. We don’t project our sins on others, but take their sins upon ourselves and act as if they were really our own. That is the genuine love, which is full of forgiveness, because in our divine vicarious suffering, evil and sin are overcome by the divine power of Christ. Like in the marvelous exchange, Luther is providing another description of how our sins become forgiven.
Thirdly, Luther declares the Freedom of a Christian from the Babylonian Captivity of our Church. The third part of his pamphlet is his sociological section and in it Luther describes the internal Kingdom of Christian Freedom in terms of the circulation of grace for the common good in the joyful economy of abundance. (That’s a mouthful! It comes from my dissertation.) We have an economy of scarcity, while the giving and sharing taught us by Christ lead to a joyful economy of abundance. That is why we gather around the Table of the Lord for Holy Communion. The circulation of grace means that whatever Christ has done for us, we do for our neighbor. Christ of course suffered and died for us. Even the new selves that we become in Christ are not for ourselves but for those in need. Our righteousness is not our own but belongs to our sinful neighbor, whose sins we try to cover in order to forgive. Having died to ourselves in our baptisms, all we have, all our possessions, even our own lives now belong to God and we are now free in the Holy Spirit to share them where needed, because we have so much more and all our needs are provided for by God. So Luther’s “Freedom of a Christian” actually declares the Good News that Christ leads us out of our Babylonians Captivity into the heavenly Kingdom of freedom; except, don’t forget the tension of our earthly state with all its duties and responsibilities.
Finally, the existential rapture is about our inner persons or souls, which Luther places in tension with our bodies, our external selves. This rapture is what we mean when we say in the Great Thanksgiving: “Lift up your hearts!” So what I am describing from Luther’s pamphlet is not at all like the rapture where you are lifted up and out of here, like in Hal Lindsey’s Late and Great Planet Earth. But one where we are promoted right here in our responsibilities and the contributions we make in our lives. We are being lifted up in our internal selves, spiritually, for a strengthening to undergo suffering for the sake of the love, ministry, and service that we provide for others. The saints are like the stars, who grow from being invisible to the naked eye, to sixth, fifth, fourth, and ever greater magnitudes of brightness, from glory to glory, as St. Paul would word it in the Bible (2 Cor 12:18).
So in the tension of opposites we grow and mature from one level of maturity to another. Carl Gustav Jung, the great psychologist, talks about the tension of opposites bringing a transcendent function that overcomes our psychological problems and brings about our health. Now the ascent comes about through faith and the descent comes about through love and that’s why we speak of falling in love. Faith makes us into a king, while love makes us into a slave to the one we love. Remember the song? “If they made me a king, I’d still be a slave to you!”
According to Luther in our ascent we first receive the first-born status. That is good for me since I’m the eleventh child and you will receive it too, even if you are the baby in your family. Next in our ascent, we receive the nobility of the spirit. In our spiritual royalty we become kings and queens; today we would say mayors, governors, and presidents. At one point we could not even take care of ourselves, but we grow and provide for a family, then a congregation, perhaps, then watch over and shepherd a whole city, guide a nation, become a leader of countries in the world, just like John Kerry now that he has become the Secretary of State. Next we ascend into the priesthood. Luther saw priests as higher than nobility, because they interceded for others in prayer and God listened to them. From priesthood one ascends up into being a Christ for others and then one goes up into God. Talk about having self-esteem. If you ever feel low and down and out, just remember that! Luther maintained that coming out of baptism, every believer became more than a priest, bishop, and even a pope. [Don’t forget you have to believe this. Luther had a slogan: Glaubstu so hastu; glaubstu nit, so hastu nit! Believe it and you have it. If you don’t believe, you won’t have this gift.)
But then we descend falling in love through all these levels until we arrive below the least of these, finding ourselves emptying the bed pan of an elderly person in a hospital, bending down to tie the shoe laces of a child. The ascent takes place to give us the strength to love and suffer and serve. Paul and Silas are in prison, beaten and bruised, chained with their feet in stocks. Ascending above themselves in faith, they started praying and singing hymns while the prisoners listened to them. Then, when the earthquake shook open all the doors, the jailer, the prison warden was about to commit suicide, Paul shouted to him not to harm himself because they were all still there and no one had tried to escape. The warden knelt trembling before them and asked, “What must I do to be saved?” and became a believer in God. He then washed their wounds, gave them food, and ate together with them. (Acts 16:16-34) This is the strength that we receive from on high.
Luther begins his pamphlet by saying that we are completely sovereign and full of freedom and completely enslaved and subject to everyone at one and the same time. He ends his pamphlet with the famous words:
Christians do not live in themselves, but in Christ and in their neighbor—in Christ through faith one ascends above oneself into God. From God one descends through love again below oneself and yet always remains in God and God’s love. As Christ says, in John 1:51: “You will see the heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”
Now that paragraph concludes the popular version of “The Freedom of a Christian” while it is buried two thirds of the way into the more intellectual Latin version of this Luther writing.
 This edition of “The Freedom of a Christian” is available in Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, (New York: Paulist Press, 2007), p. 268 and p. 72.
 Stephen P. Bouman, “Blinded by the Light: We Must Be like Paul,” The Lutheran, March 2013, Vol. 26 No. 3, p. 17.
 Philip and Peter Krey, editors, Luther’s Spirituality, page 90.
From Greedy Takers to Self-Denying Givers: a Sermon for Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, California November 11, 2012
Shepherd by the Sea, Gualala, California
November 11, 2012
1 Kings 17:8-16 Psalm 146 Hebrews 9: 24-28 Mark 12:38-44
From Greedy Takers to Self-Denying Givers
The lessons for today are about stewardship. The secular principle of psychology goes: self-realization by self-acceptance. That can keep a person quite self-absorbed. The Christian principle goes: self-acceptance for the sake of self-giving. Our self-acceptance becomes possible, because as unlovable and unacceptable as we are, God in Christ has loved and accepted us and given us all things in heaven and earth as spiritual gifts and blessings. What we therefore receive from God, as givers, we share with others. With that a circulation of grace continues that brings life, the life of Christ to our church, our community, our society, our whole country and world.
Look at our first story! King Ahab had brought the fertility worship of Baal into Israel. With that an angry Elijah prophesied three years of drought and famine in the land. Probably to escape the hand of Ahab, he fled to Sarephath, a village just south of Sidon, where God had commanded a widow to nourish him.
I wrote a children’s song about the story. It’s called, “God Will Provide.”
Elijah met the widow
Picking up sticks
upon her path.
“Bring me some water,”
“and don’t forget
to bake some bread.”
“The little I’ve left
will make one bread;
Then my son and I
will soon be dead.”
“Have some faith
and put God first
and God will fill
your hunger and thirst.”
“Your flour and oil
will never run out,
that’s what sharing
is all about.”
never have enough,
and those who share
have more to spare.
Those with a lot,
will always want more.
Those with a little
will help the poor.
Seek ye first
the Kingdom Above
and God will provide you
with food of love.
The food of love
Will never run out
Because that’s what
Sharing’s all about!
The Widow of Zarephath was much like the widow who offered her two mites in the temple. A little flour and oil is all she had and the prophet wanted her to give it to him, requiring her to have faith, because he promised that God would see to it that her flour and oil would never run out. Death by starvation was staring her in the face and what was harder for her than her own death, was that of her son. Giving is the test of our faith. It is a tangible way to see if our faith is real or not.
The surprising outcome of her giving was not only being sustained throughout the drought and famine, but her son suddenly died and Elijah resuscitated him and turned the utter tragedy of her life into joyful motherhood once again.
Giving is healthy self-denial and dying to oneself makes the wonder of life and the fullness of God’s grace and glory become revealed to us in the law of love that includes the very least, the least of these.
How else can you explain the way Jesus sees the widow throwing in two mites and showing that she gave more than all the wealthy and bountiful offerings pouring into the treasury of the temple? God’s blessings are involved and because of them, a little becomes a lot and a lot can become a little. The background of power and prestige can make what appears to be giving into taking, so we should not be fooled by appearances. What the rich gave was no sacrifice at all, while the widow did not know where her next meal was coming from. In those days kings provided for widows because they had no property or income and were reduced to begging and gathering sticks like the widow of Sarephath. She really gave more than the widow Jesus pointed out, because she gave the prophet her last meal, which separated her and her son from starvation.
Jesus gave us even more, as Hebrews points out. He gave his life in his once and for all sacrifice. Like Luther says, he purchased us not with silver and gold or money, but with his own precious blood. God had to look at us, who are so angry and ungrateful and ask, “What do you want, blood?” And in our sinful and selfish way, we said, “Yes.” Then Jesus went to the cross and shed his blood for us, so that we might start coming alive to God and alive to our neighbors and those in need and continue God’s circulation of grace, which brings sustainability. The food of love never runs out. We share and the deeper our faith goes, the more our faith increases, the more we can give and share and in consequence, receive God’s blessings.
Our Psalm says, “Don’t put your trust in rulers; in mortals, in whom there is no help.” The systems and policies that administrations put into place are important, but the real flow of the circulation of grace in our lives depends upon our faith in God.
For example, one grain of corn placed and planted into the ground, dies. Notice that it is sacrificed because it is not eaten. Out of it a ten foot plant grows with six to eight ears of corn that can be husked with many hundreds of kernels of corn on each ear. Jesus would say, “Those who have ears to hear, let them hear!”
So whether we take the outcome of the Obama and Romney campaigns as good news or bad news, the really good news is the outcome of the campaign of our Lord Jesus Christ. But we also know that systems are important and bring with them a great deal of injustice, so greater approximations of justice are called for. The Gospel of Jesus Christ makes clear that widows, orphans, strangers, and the poor need to be protected from the voracious, who try to swallow up their houses. I wonder about reverse mortgages, sometimes. We should be wary, because the elderly are vulnerable.
What God requires of us is to become people who deny ourselves and die to ourselves in order to become givers and not takers.
Jesus was also comparing the joyful sacrifice of the widow with the voracious appetite of the greedy hypocritical scribes. I would like to point to other people and call them greedy, but then I do a double-take and look at myself. Why does my heart sink and why do I get perturbed when a beggar approaches me? I give him a dollar. Then I’ll turn around and pay fifty to sixty dollars on a meal for my wife and me at a restaurant.
When I give, it is so hard on me and I measure it so carefully. When I use money for myself, I often don’t even consider the limit. I’ll put thousands into the stock market, where I’ve lost them, thinking they would make me more money. If I had only given it away, I’d have some real treasure in heaven.
Selfish people never have enough. We always want more. When we can deny ourselves, we can share and even have more to spare.
I know a woman who was on welfare, back when I ministered in Coney Island. Without pay, she would clean the whole church and then decorate the altar so that everyone could see how much she loved the church. Her son worked for the telephone company, was in the union, and received a high salary. He would come to his mother for help when his money ran out. I kid you not!
So let’s hear Jesus out. For it we have to identify with the scribes. Although I want to, it would be hard for me to identify with that poor widow, in any case. The scribes were different because they could read and write, while the common people in those days couldn’t. They were professional and had more knowledge and power and they used it to their own advantage. Our self-interest is naturally stronger than our concern for other folks and helping them. So like with us, their greed went unchecked. Acting religiously, they were devouring widow’s houses.
The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember in Coney Island in the Eighties, in the time under Ronald Reagan, Mario Cuomo, and Mayor Koch, how homelessness suddenly spread from the Bowery, where it had been notoriously contained for a long time, yes, now spread throughout the whole city and then throughout all the cities of America. That was when homelessness began. Here’s one reason: There were many S.R.O.’s in Manhattan and the other boroughs. Single room occupancies, where large numbers of the poor lived. The owners of these buildings wanted to convert them into condominiums. They dumped all the people into the street, renovated, and sold each apartment, which had been a rental, for hundreds of thousands of dollars, charging a monthly maintenance fee almost as high as the previous rent. Their real estate now brought in mega-bucks, but the homes of millions of people were devoured in that greed. Mayor Koch blamed the churches for being so hard hearted that we did not take in the homeless! Meanwhile their policies were sending countless people into the street.
Then we watched hurricane Katrina take out almost all the houses of the great City of New Orleans. Just a little later, the deluge of greed from Wall Street infected what used to be called, “real estate.” Everyone wanted equity income on their houses and were speculating by flipping them for profit and the banks were putting questionable mortgages into speculative derivatives and millions of houses went under water. Being “under water” was not a figure of speech for New Orleans, but being under water was just as real for the millions of people, who have been losing their homes by foreclosures each year since the Wall Street debacle.
It is our greed that has devoured all those houses across our country. We learned to live with the inhumane condition of homelessness. What goes around comes around. From homelessness going across the country, it has gone to the disaster in New Orleans, to the millions who have lost their homes in this great recession, to the new disasters now striking us in lower Manhattan, Statin Island, and the New Jersey shore. When we’re under one blanket, it’s not right to pull it over ourselves and expose other to the cold.
Perhaps unchecked human greed and selfishness can be compared with the fertility religion of Baal that Elijah fought, where parents would commit human sacrifice of their children to assure them of prosperity. Because of his protest, Elijah had to leave Israel quickly to escape the wrath of Ahab.
Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. The voracious appetite of our greed needs to be checked by self-denial and dying to ourselves so that we come alive to God and alive to the love and sharing and giving of the new life in Christ. Our conversion, because of God’s acceptance of us, changes us from takers into givers.
Giving is really a test of our faith. In baptism, not our house, but we ourselves go under water, in self-denial, in dying to ourselves, dying to greed and all the other vices and sins, so that God lifts us up out of the water into our new selves, into a wonderful world filled with love and compassion, sharing and self-giving. Then grace will abound even on a deeper level than just giving money.
Money, of course, can really be our secret god that we believe in and cling to for dear life. What we discover is that it robs us of our life and of the human value of our lives. When we cling to and trust in the one true God, then we check our greed, we deny ourselves, we die to ourselves, and to sin, our separation from God, who even gave his only Son, so that we would not perish but have everlasting and abundant life.
After baptism we find ourselves in our new selves and we enter the wonderful new world that Jesus proclaimed, where sharing and self-giving become the new order of the day, where the first come last and the last come first. This new world becomes filled by grace and truth. The grace of God begins circulating amongst us, and we come alive receiving a world full of God’s gifts and blessings. And new houses will be built first for the poor and needy and then the millions in the middle class, who have lost them. Homelessness will recede until it becomes contained in the Bowery once more and everyone will figure out how addictions and insanity can be healed to bring shelters to them as well. The greed for the almighty dollar will decrease and faith in God will increase, because everyone will experience the self-giving and sharing that real faith brings. Then widows and orphans, the poor and the strangers in our land will lead us further into the life of giving and sharing that mark the children of God. Amen.
Blogging my thoughts:
“Under Chinese, a Greek Port Thrives: An Overhaul in Piraeus May Be a Model of What Greece Must Aspire To.” (New York Times, Business Day, Thursday, Oct, 11, 2012, pages B1 and B7.)
Reading this article today made me realize that the Third World-ization of the Greek workers (and of course our own) was going on. The Greeks leased half of the Port of Piraeus to the Chinese and kept the other half for themselves. They sold the container freight business to the Chinese and they kept the other half, a third of which is more lucrative passenger traffic with the rest for containers. The state-run port which had been languishing has now seen its Chinese portion of the port flourish. They have hired 1,000 employees, while the Greek side has hired only 800. The Chinese company Cosco paid Greece $500 million for their half of the port and made a profit of $6.47 million on sales of $94.2 million, while plowing a great deal of their profit into the expansion of their side of the port, which will make it into one of the 20 largest container ports in the world. The Greek side is also trying to modernize in its own way, but previously they have had three debilitating labor union strikes.
Some of the Greek long-shore men and dock workers made $181,000 a year with overtime, while the workers on the Chinese side, as if they are in another country, make less than $23,000 per year. The union demands that nine people work a gantry crane, while the Chinese company uses only four. Way up in the cab of the crane, 49 feet in the air , should the heater break down, even if the operator’s hands become stiff from the cold, the worker is expected to continue working, even if a life threatening accident could result. One Greek worker came down to warm his hands and was fired.
No use repeating every detail in this article. If some union workers with overtime were receiving $181,000 a year, the management was certainly getting many times that sum in salaries. It would be interesting to know what the Chinese management and CEO was receiving in salary compared to the workers who “received typically less than $23,000.” The Cosco CEO noted that thousands of workers were applying to Cosco for jobs, even though “they work 24-7, 365 days a year.”
“Casting a glance at the Greek side, [the CEO] added, ‘Maybe in other terminals people work less. In any case, if it’s so bad, thousands of people would not be applying to work for Cosco.’”
What he fails to mention is that 24% of Greek workers are unemployed and workers are desperate and powerless. On the Greek side, the union agreed to a 20% pay cut.
The point of my rehearsing these economic facts is that the whole society ought to share in the lowering of a standard of living and not only the workers. There is a painful conversion of the worker taking place, in which hard work will not bring in a living wage, while the management and owners multiply their profits many-fold because of their saving on labor. Now the Greek European workers are not merely competing with Third World workers of other countries, but those workers right in their own country working for Chinese wages. I’m sure that the Chinese workers in China make even less. But remember that those that own the corporations and their management are pocketing huge profits that come out of the pockets of workers, who cannot compete with Third world workers. Huge profits accrue when corporations can pay them 23 cents an hour, when they had to pay the European worker $23 an hour.
Unions were always a stop gap fighting against that kind of exploitation and sometimes what they fought for represented all workers: week-ends off, time and a half for over-time, child labor laws, paid holidays, sick leave, etc. Now unions cannot even help the unionized, because in their dis-empowerment, they split the labor force here and cannot compete with global capital’s exploitation of divided and immobile local and national labor forces. Capital has no trouble crossing borders, while workers are arrested for illegal entry.
Third World workers ought to have jobs with living wages and benefits just like our workers. That huge profit from the wage differential between 23 cents and $23 an hour that goes into the pockets of the super-wealthy should be taxed for the sake of ameliorating the decrease in the western workers’ standard of living and another portion should be added to the Third World workers’ income in order to improve their wages and the conditions in which they work. They should not have to live in barracks away from their wives and children. Then they would also not be locked up in factories as if in prisons, being burned to death when fires break out. Fortunes should not be made by visiting misfortune on so many people. In a time of recession, in a time of war, all should have to sacrifice and not just the poor workers. During a war, of course, soldiers sacrifice their lives, while munitions and armament producers make a killing!
Blogging my thoughts:
The Op-Ed page in the New York Times today was pretty inspiring. Milos Forman, the film director of “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” showed how those who claimed President Obama was a socialist didn’t know what they are talking about. He described socialism as he had experienced it and there is no comparison.
He argued that we had to keep in mind the melody of our country and how some harmony is required for us to make it. “But if just one section, or even one player, is out of tune, the music will disintegrate into cacophony.”
I don’t want to blame one party for the gridlock in Washington, because the real reason for the chasm between different political ideologies is the chasm that has grown between the rich and the everyday people of our country. In the words of Chief Justice Brandeis, “We can have democracy or the great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.” Our representatives in Washington are caught in the social forces, the money, that is, issuing from our social and economic inequality.
In their piece Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer compare the economy to a garden and argue that it is not a rational machine. Harmful economic activity needs to be weeded out and healthy economic activity needs to be supported. Taxes and government spending is like watering the garden, when it spent for education and health, and is better compared to the circulation system than money that just goes down the drain.
In my blogging I have compared taxation to pruning of trees and bushes in order to make them bear fruit for the common good rather than wild, destructive, and contradictory growth.
Liu and Hanauer argue that
“Under the efficient market hypothesis, taxes are an extraction of resources from the jobs machine, or more literally taking the money out of the economy. It is not just separate from economic activity, but hostile to it. This is why most Americans believe that lower taxes will automatically lead to more prosperity. Yet if there were a shred of truth to this, then given our historically low tax rates we would today be drowning in jobs and general prosperity.”
The authors argue that jobs come from the organic feed-back loop between consumers and business, which requires a thriving middle class. The severe concentration of wealth kills middle class demand and jobs do not trickle down but emerge from the middle out. “To spend tax dollars on education and health is to circulate nutrients through the garden.”
“True, not all spending is equally useful, and not every worthy idea for spending is affordable. But this perspective helps us understand why the most prosperous economies are those that tax and spend the most, while those that tax and spend the least are failures. More important, it clarifies why more austerity cannot revive an already weak private economy and why more spending can.“
After the misguided Bush tax cuts (and the two wars) we lost 8 million jobs beginning our Great Recession. Money that could have renewed our infrastructure was in part lost in the Wall Street bubble with irrational derivatives and credit default swaps, where more weeds like Bernie Madoff and other Ponzi schemes were hiding among the wild growth in our financial sector, which made up 47% of our economy. The other part of the tax cuts, I believe, made our government have to buy bonds and increase the debt by loaning money from those who would have had to pay it in taxes. Thus our government has been taken hostage by those who should have paid taxes.
To pay taxes is a patriotic duty and serves to socialize our inherent selfishness. The tithe, which means giving the first ten percent of income to the church or charities, demonstrates one’s faith in God. Paying our taxes demonstrates our good faith as citizens of our commonwealth. It brings harmony into the garden of our economy. Liu and Hanauer argue well that their garden approach to the economy is pro-business and not at all anti-capitalist.
To me it seemed that politicians first promised tax-cuts in order to bribe voters into voting for them against their own interests. Now with Grover Norquist’s no tax pledge, which so many have signed, what seemed irrational has attained the level of insanity, unless one believes in anarchy. (Norquist merely wants to shrink government down enough to drown it in the bathtub.) Governor Pat Brown running against Ronald Reagan wondered, if he hated government so much, why he would want to be the president. It was like an anti-Catholic wanting to become the pope.
The huge deficits that Reagan and George W. Bush left because of their tax cuts show that they were using both to dismantle big government. When Reagan talked of the corner drugstore he was avoiding mention of the huge pharmaceuticals. Privatization does not give more power to the common person and get the government off an individual’s back, but places us into the power of the corporations. As the state governments get into trouble and city governments here in California go bankrupt, more and more public facilities have to name themselves directly after corporations. A change of pitchers now requires one to hear about oil change or what not. You pay to see a movie and you have to watch commercials and the movie contains commercials in the feature. The market is colonizing our life world in places it has no right to be.
Why did FDR create big government? In order to bully the huge corporations into taking our national interests into consideration. Where is the allegiance of global transnational corporations, except for their own private wealth?
Public citizens standing up for public interests and the commonwealth have to take a stand against all this privatization. Private armies, private jails, private schools! If we could sell California’s state government to Google, it could take care of our deficit in a jiffy. Why not let Google become one of the fifty states? What’s in the name “California”? Why not privatize it? The CEO of Oracle just bought an island in Hawaii.
We have just been into downsizing, where hatchet men fired whole departments to replace them with temporary workers. There is an army of unemployed, making workers have to do the work of three or more laid off workers. Should you complain, there are ten other workers standing in line for your job. Then there is the out-sourcing of labor and the remark from a CEO in the down-sizing time: “We don’t owe you a living?” For the sake of mega profits, productive workers were laid off in droves. Are the people there for the sake of the corporations or the corporations there for the sake of the people? Pray tell.