Not Worried?

“I’m not worried about the poor. We have a safety net for them.”

Mitt Romney

February 2012

These unfortunate words, spoken off the cuff, have exposed Romney’s fundamental ideology on class.  To suggest that nothing more than a safety net is needed for the poor gives evidence of the dehumanization they currently experience in our nation–a dehumanization that will not end should Romney become president.  An introductory course in economics will teach us that capitalism runs off a basic structure of supply and demand.  The free market is set up so that my neighbors and I can create a supply for any demand and in the process make money.  The more we do this, the more the money flows.  At the same time, the free market is intended to allow and even encourages competition.  Theoretically, when healthy imagination is coupled with a creative spirit we ought to experience a well-heeled economy.  We ought to see entrepreneurs grabbing hold of opportunities and creating products to fill the gaps and meet the needs.  Theoretically, when healthy competition is in play we ought to see goods and services that are solid, dependable and affordable.  Unfortunately, in today’s economy we are seeing entrepreneurs closing up shop–or worse yet never opening a shop.  Something has gone awry with the system.

Case in point: in the small town I grew up in, LeSueur, MN, a young entrepreneur with a great imagination saw a possibility and started his own company.  He created Frog Tape; the green tape you see advertised today that when moistened creates an immediate seal disallowing seepage.  This tape is marvelous for painting projects when one is trying to create a clean straight line.  The product was created, tested, perfected, and marketed.  The company grew slowly, but eventually the brilliance of the product caught on and they were off and running.  The green Frog Tape was soon in serious competition with 3Ms blue tape known by all as the key to a successful painting project.  Frog Tape was giving 3M’s blue tape a run for its money.  All too soon the president of Frog Tape received notice that he was being sued by 3M for creating a product too similar to their patented blue tape.  In the initial court hearing the judge ruled on the side of Frog Tape noting the originality of the idea and the freedom the company had to continue with their enterprise.  But, 3M was not done.  They continued to press the point over a period of many years until they had exhausted Frog Tape’s resources. In 2004 the Frog Tape patent was sold to a much larger East Coast company.

The Frog Tape story is but one example of the wealthy overcoming the little guy.  About three years ago I was in the market to buy a condo.  I had a large down payment, nearly 25%, and yet could not get anyone to offer me a 30 year fixed mortgage.  I could only get a variable mortgage that would balloon up in 5 years at which time I would have to refinance. I walked away from the deal.  A few months later the bottom fell out of the housing market and everyone who had these variable ballooning mortgages was stuck.  Since then I have talked with others who have had the same experience, except that they signed the document and have now lost their homes.  These events raise many questions in my mind.  How is it that in a free market society someone with a brilliant idea cannot hold on to the rights to it?  Why is it that mortgage companies were allowed to create deals destined for bankruptcy? 

Our capitalistic free market economy is running off a Darwinian ideology of the survival of the strongest.  In the long run It is okay for 3M to run over the creator of Frog Tape because they are bigger and stronger.  It’s okay for people to lose their houses in bad mortgage deals because the companies making the deals are bigger and stronger.  This is the ideology that was exposed by Mitt Romney when he ‘accidentally’ gave us a window into his soul the other day.  In other words, it’s  okay that our nation functions off a Darwinian ideology as long as we have a safety net for the poor.

As an ordained American Baptist minister and a liberation theologian who has studied the Bible from a faith-filled academic perspective for more than 20 years; and now does comparative studies with Jewish interpretations of the Hebrew Bible and Muslim interpretations of the Qur’an–I have to disagree with this Darwinian ideology.  In the Hebrew Bible the people of God are taught that a faithful Jew cares for the widow, the orphan, and the foreigner.  In the New Testament the faithful Christian is told the second greatest commandment is “to love your neighbor as yourself.”  In the Qur’an the faithful Muslim is told that “love of neighbor” (one of the fundamental ideals of Islam) means the person next door should never go hungry as long as you have food in your own house.  I wonder what the book of Mormon teaches on this point.

A society that does not value and nurture its own is destined for destruction.  Remember the wars in Central America?  Remember the Arab Spring?  Are we even aware of what’s going on in northern Panama right now? 

About 80% of our nation’s population is either Christian, Muslim, or Jewish.  Yet, we function off a Darwinian ideology.  Capitalism is an economic and political system not an ideology.  The machine can be driven for good or for ill depending on the ideology of the driver.  Think about it.

 

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

American Baptist Seminary of the West

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