What About the “Common Good”?

If you have been watching the news this week you know that Congress is once again in a battle over the budget.  It seems Friday, March 1, 2013 is the deadline for a 2 percent budget cut across the board.  While the majority of our Congressional members might agree that budget cuts are needed, they can’t seem to agree on the “what” and “how” of it.  The general population is getting tired of hearing about these battles and has been pleading in various ways for Congress to get its act together and work on behalf of the common good.  Here in lies the problem.  Not everyone who represents this fine nation in Congress is concerned about the “common good.”  It has been made clear over the past year that our bipartisan Congress is off balance—leaning toward the right fiscally, with the result that 1% of the US population has experienced an inordinate and obscene increase in wealth over the past 30 years.

Our US forefathers understood this danger when they put together the plan for a self-governing democratic capitalistic society to be run by the people and for the people.  Having paid a dear price to be set free from a class based hegemonic monarchical social and political system the founding fathers of our nation envisioned a society where individuals could be, and would be, treated as equals and provided equal opportunity to strive and thrive.  However, it was clear from the start the pairings of democracy and capitalism could create debilitating tensions that needed to be addressed.

Fundamentally, democracy is based on the ideal of political equality.  Every citizen is to have the same potential to influence what government does regardless of their financial status.  In the marketplace, however, money matters very much.  Markets are directly related to “effective demand,” what consumers can and will purchase with real dollars.  The consequent result for the US democratic capitalistic structure is that while the rich and the poor are equal politically, they will not be equal economically.  This combination could lead to two undesirable extremes: 1) mob rule by asset-less democratic majorities; or 2) oligarchic rule by the affluent.  Thus, government’s role is to oversee the enterprise through the creation of regulatory policies that prevent runaway markets and taxation that assures a sustainable distribution of wealth and resources for the whole population.  In order to achieve these goals political theorists have created models that focus on the creation and sustaining of a strong middle class.  The theory being that the middle class vote will regulate what goes on in the economy, i.e., the median voter will correct rising inequality in wealth as well as poor economic performance.[1]

Unfortunately, this system has not worked well for the US over the past 30 years.  During this time we have experienced a constant shift toward highly conservative tax policies and market deregulation.  While these phrases “conservative tax policies” and  “deregulation” sound positive, and we have been trained to believe this is true, the reality is the constant movement toward more conservative policies has led to our current economic condition in which the rich (the top 1%) are getting richer and the middle class and the poor are losing ground.

Some key terms must be addressed here: conservative, progressive, and liberal.  These terms get used frequently in our world and are often applied to differing fields of study with varying results.  For example: if I say I am fiscally conservative with regard to US national economic policies I am throwing my hat into the camp of the wealthy and saying I will vote on their behalf so that they will have reduced taxes and experience fewer regulations for their market enterprises.  If, however, I say I am fiscally progressive I am announcing my commitment to regulated markets, i.e., markets that will have limits set on their growth potential, and a higher tax rate for the wealthy, i.e., incremental rate increases applied in a stair step fashion to higher income levels.  If I declare myself a fiscal liberal, then I am committed to the progressive agenda plus the creation of social programs that will care for the immobilized members of our society.

All of the national policies and decisions mentioned above are the responsibility of the US Congress and those of the State are ruled on by the State Legislature.  What has been happening nationally is the concern for this blog.  Our nation has experienced a constant conservative policy shift for 30 years that has resulted in runaway markets and an ever widening economic gap between the rich and the rest of us.

Should Congress allow the current plan for budget cuts to engage on March 1st, we will see significant negative effects for our national infrastructure and for education.  Representative Bill Pascrell (Rep 9th district of New Jersey) spoke well today (Feb 26, 2013) when interviewed in tandem with Trey Radel (Rep 19th district of SW Florida and Tea Party supporter) on CNN.  Radel emphasized the need for efficient government; Pascrell agreed, but emphasized the concern for the “common good.”  In Pascrell’s words, “we believe in surgical cuts, not 2% across the board.”  In other words, Pascrell believes we need to cut the budget in strategic ways so as not to bring further harm to the middle and lower classes so as to work on behalf of the “common good” of the entire nation.

Fundamentally, we cannot cut our way out of deficit or recession, but must create a strategic balance between “surgical cuts” and increased revenue.  What can you and I do?  We are still a democracy.  Every US citizen has political equality.  We must exercise our political equality in every way imaginable.  Call and write your state Representatives and your Senators.  Flood their offices with appeals and requests.  Form grass roots groups that voice the need for equity and justice for ALL people.  There cannot be too many voices speaking at this time—there is power in numbers.

“Take Care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.”  (Luke 12:15)

 

LeAnn Snow Flesher, PhD

Academic Dean and Professor of Old Testament

American Baptist Seminary of the West


[1] Jacob S. Hacker and Paul Pierson, Winner-Take-All Politics: How Washington made the Rich Richer-and Turned Its Back on the Middle Class (New York: Simon and Schuster, 2010), 74-78.

 

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