Jubilee Economics 

by Brad Cotton, 12-10-09

“Pharoah distributes H1N1 vaccine to all Egyptian first-born male children, Jews left unprotected”. I don’t recall reading this headline anywhere in Exodus but as the H1N1 flu was killing children throughout the U.S. and the world this October and November we did read headlines that Wall Street bankers, notably Goldman-Sachs, had gotten their shipments of vaccine. Goldman-Sachs took care of their own, receiving moreH1N1 vaccine than local hospitals and health departments. The Circleville Herald headline story of 2 December noted that for the Pickaway County Health Department the H1N1 vaccine was still not available for children between the ages of four and eighteen. Goldman-Sachs was bailed out with $23 billion of your tax dollars, paid their executives millions upon millions in bonuses while CEO Lloyd Blankfein said his band of robber barons was “doing God’s work.”

God’s vision of economic justice differs from Mr. Blankfein’s. After delivering the Israelites from sweatshop working conditions in Egypt God makes it abundantly clear that “there shall be no poor among you.” ( Deut. 15:4). The multiple Jubilee proclamations make it clear that no sharecropper underclass of debtors nor overclass of land owners would be tolerated . God did not deliver his chosen people from Egyptian slavery so that some would be economic slaves to one fancying himself as more chosen than his brethren. Every seven years land was not to be worked and any crops spontaneously growing were to be given to the poor, all debts were to be forgiven. Every forty-nine years during the Jubilee of Jubilee years all land was to be returned to its’ original owners . (Exod. 23:10, Lev. 25). God would tolerate neither robber barons nor Mr. Blankfein. God’s vision of economic justice is paramount throughout the historical and wisdom books and is especially central in the Prophets.

As a direct consequence of the Reagan Revolution, economic disparity is worse than it has been any time in our nation since shortly after the abolition of child labor early last century. The robber barons on the expensive first class decks of the Titanic April 1912 got lifeboats, the rest of us drowned. 45,000 of us die yearly from lack of health insurance, while health insurance and pharmaceutical company profits buy our legislators.

Throughout much of the post- World War II years the American middle class prospered under strong progressive taxation policies and strong unions. Larry M. Bartels notes with an overabundance of hard economic data in Unequal Democracy: The Political Economy of the New Gilded Age: “The share of income going to the rich remained remarkably constant from the mid-1940s through the 1970s and then began to escalate rapidly. For example the top 5% of taxpayers accounted for 23.0% of total income in 1981 but 37.2% in 2005. The top 1% accounted for 10% of total income in 1981 but 21.8% in 2005.” Similarly Douglas A. Hibbs from The American Political Economy: Macroeconomics and Electoral Politics laments that “Reagan succeeded in reversing the trend of increasing federal commitments to the poor and near-poor… … most important of all, Reagan achieved a dramatic redistribution of the federal tax burden from corporations and high-income classes to moderate and low-income groups.”

Like the teabaggers, but in an entirely more just and compassionate manner, I too want my country back. Can Wall Street, Goldman-Sachs, AIG, Mr. Blankfein feel the pain of those who lost their jobs and homes and healthcare when their fictional “credit default swaps” house of cards collapsed? Does Mr. Blankfein “hear crying out against you the wages which you kept back from the labourers mowing your fields? The cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord Sabaoth.”( James 5:4 New Jerusalem translation.) New York Times columnist Bob Herbert despairs in his column “ Safety Nets for the Rich”: “We cannot continue transferring the nation’s wealth to those at the apex of the economic pyramid—which is what we have been doing for the past three decades or so—while hoping that someday, maybe, the benefits of that transfer will trickle down in the form of steady employment and improved living standards for the many millions of families struggling to make it from day to day. That money is never going to trickle down. It’s a fairy tale. We’re crazy to continue believing it.”

In this Christmas season I ask how did we come to come to value Scrooge over Tiny Tim from A Christmas Carol? How did we come to honor Mr. Potter over the compassionate Bailey Brothers Building and Loan from It’s A Wonderful Life? Call Senator Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), tell him you support his work to break up the Wall Street monoliths. “Too Big to Fail” means “Too Big to Exist”. Teddy Roosevelt thought so. So did the Letter of James.

Brad Cotton
Convener Circleville Friends (Quakers)