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Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Pursuing Economic Justice

Your anger sits so deep within your belly that it feels like your entire body will explode. You want to hurt someone or something - even though you aren't typically a violent person. The protest in your throat is choked off by your clenched teeth and your rage boils past the level of simply being impotent. Below it all, there is the humbling, humiliating, devastating knowledge that there is absolutely nothing you can do.

There is something deep within the human spirit that cries out for justice. We've all had the experience of being unfairly accused or denied. We've all known what it means to find out that the American credo - if you work hard you'll get ahead - is built more on blind faith than solid fact. It hurts. It is a physical attack on the deepest nougat of human spirit.

If you are robbed on the street, you have a logical recourse - call the police. Hopefully, the robber will be tracked down and punished. If you are assaulted in front of your house, you have the same avenue of recourse. If you are injured at work through official neglect or disregard for common safety practices, you have the courts and the much vilified trial lawyers to fight for you.

But not all injustice is so blatant, and violence is not always needed.

During this year, some 45 million Americans will likely go without health insurance. While it may not be an immediate necessity of life to have such coverage, is there anyone who doubts that having access to modern medicine is necessary for sustaing life? If we truly desire a "culture of life", if we truly believe in "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness", how can we not see that the first step to ensuring these liberties, the first building-block of this culture, is the guarantee for any who are ill to seek treatment?

Forty years after we declared "War on Poverty" we still have one in four children who live in an officially poor family.

Yet, to be perfectly honest, to be poor in America is very much a boon when compared to the rest of the world. The Heritage Foundation correctly notes:

"In good economic times or bad, the typical poor family with children is supported by only 800 hours of work during a year: That amounts to 16 hours of work per week. If work in each family were raised to 2,000 hours per year--the equivalent of one adult working 40 hours per week throughout the year--nearly 75 percent of poor children would be lifted out of official poverty."

The answer, then, is simple, from that perspective - make fathers care for the children and make parents work full-time.

But reality, unlike the rarified air in think-tanks (right or left), is never simple.

The reality is that Welfare-to-Work has had mixed results. Every single success story needs to be glorified and honored - as it represents a true commitment by the state, the employers, and the family to move ahead. However, this does not mean that less successful people should necessarily be vilified for their failure.

And those who are not successful - those 50% that the State of Massachusetts found were in economically weaker condition after leaving welfare - cry out for justice. Tell me, if you work full time, and your child rarely sees you, and your body throbs in pain at night when you lay down and in the morning when you raise up, and you barely pay the bils because there is too much month at the end of the money, and you find that the plant where you sweep the floors, wash the windows and toilets, and pick up the trash is being moved to China because you make too much money - do you need anyone to tell you that you've been robbed?

Se la vie, the free marketers reply. In a changing and dynamic economy, some people win and some lose.

But is it just that the winners win so much and leave the losers losing even what little they clung to in desperation?

Then you drag your weary body to church on Sunday and you hear: "There shall no evil happen to the just: but the wicked shall be filled with mischief." (Proverbs 12:21)

It's as if King James were a founding member of the Heritage Foundation.

No evil? Are you kidding me? Good people are killed all the time! They are robbed and raped and shot and beaten and we are left standing holding our hands up helplessly searching the sky for compassion and crying "DO NOT FORSAKE ME!"

And God hears those cries for justice. He hears them, and, I believe, He answers them - just not with the sudden miraculous power to which we pin our hopes.

Instead, God sends prophets, judges, and social instigators to remind leaders of their calling:

"The God of Israel said, the Rock of Israel spake to me, He that ruleth over men must be just, ruling in the fear of God." (2 Samuel 23:3)

"He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD." (Proverbs 17:15)

In Phillipians, we are told:

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things."

Nine times in the New Testament, Jesus is described as being "just". So is Joseph, his earthly father, and Simon, the prophet whose death proclaimed the divinity of Christ, as was Joseph of Arimathaea.

Justice is important to God - and not just for murderers and thieves.

"Defend the poor and fatherless: do justice to the afflicted and needy." (Psalm 82:3)

"For I know your manifold transgressions and your mighty sins: they afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right." (Amos 5:12)

"Masters, give unto your servants that which is just and equal; knowing that ye also have a Master in heaven." (Colossians 4:1)

The entire purpose of the King of Israel was:

" therefore made [the LORD] thee king, to do judgment and justice." (1 Kings 10:9 and 2 Chronicles 9:8)

"a King shall reign and prosper, and shall execute judgment and justice in the earth." (Jeremiah 23:5)

It is not justice for a CEO like Lew Frankfurt of Coach, Inc to pocket just under $65 million last year when he could have easily lived on half of that and still provided health insurance for over 15,000 workers. It is not justice for Paul Evanson of Allegheny Energy to pocket $40.5 million last year when he could have easily given half of it back to his company and provided day care for one full year for almost ten thousand working parents.

It isn't justice. It isn't hatred for the rich to say that one percent of the population doesn't deserve and hasn't earned almost 40% of all assets in the country. Not when the bottom 40% own about one-half of one percent and the bottom eighty percent own a combined 15.6%.

I'll stop short of saying it's hatred of the poor to let things continue in this way. Instead, I'll say it's apathy. There's no reasonable way to claim that it's justice.

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