by Bill Barclay
Jesus of Nazareth said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:25).
Let’s think about this for a minute. It is a statement about inequality. After all, one is only rich or poor, in material goods, by comparison to others. Jesus’ statement is one of the most stinging criticisms of huge inequality in a very few words that I know of. And it is not alone in the Good Book. According to a friend of mine, there are over 2000 verses in the Bible about our responsibility to those who have less, who are hurt by inequality.
More than two millennia later, Senator Bernie Sanders opened his presidential campaign by saying:
The issue of income and wealth inequality is the great moral issue of our time, it is the great economic issue of our time and it is the great political issue of our time.
Sanders is the only presidential candidate that is taking on – defining – his political vision and goal in terms of dramatically reducing inequality.
Now we all probably have a pretty good idea of what Sanders meant when he said that income and wealth inequality is the great political issue of our time. An example: Sheldon Adelson, a billionaire whose wealth comes from running casinos, plans to spend $150 million – that’s million – on the 2016 presidential election.
And most of probably have a good idea of what Sanders meant when he said that income and wealth inequality is the great economic issue of our time. We’ve heard, by now, much about the extent of economic inequality that afflicts the U.S. I won’t bore you with more facts and figures, but instead I want to leave you with one image that underlines Sanders’ message.
Do you know how long does it take for the typical CEO of a large company to be paid – I’m not going to say “earn” – to be paid, the same amount of money as his (and is almost always a he) average worker will make during the entire year? How many days or weeks does that CEO have to work to get the same income an average employee will need a whole year to earn?
Think about this for just a minute and, in your mind, write an answer.
Here is the answer: Until just about lunch time on the second working day of the year.
I don’t think that Jesus would be very happy about that. I know that I’m not.
But what about Sanders’ claim that income and wealth inequality is the great moral issue of our time? This may seem less obvious – but he’s right.
Income and wealth inequality is the great moral issue because this inequality insulates political leaders from the consequences of immoral acts. One example: Rick Snyder, the governor of the state of Michigan, decided to take over the poor, largely African-American city of Flint. He didn’t think that the people of Flint could be trusted to run their own city; he knew better than they. He appointed an emergency “city manager” who chose – deliberately chose – to switch the Flint water supply from Detroit‘s lake water to the Flint River. The Flint River is full of corrosive water the leached the lead out of the pipes and into the drinking water of the city. Now, lead poisoned water is bad for all of us but it is especially bad for young children whose brains are still in formation. And Rick Snyder knew about it but wasn’t worried – because the people of Flint didn’t count in his political calculus: many are very poor.
Income and wealth inequality is a great moral issue because it allows the mayor of Chicago to oversee a school system where teachers I’ve talked to have told me they’ve had to supply toilet paper to the bathrooms their students use. Mayor Emanuel can oversee the closing of more than 50 public schools – while sending his own children to the University of Chicago’s private Laboratory School. Tuition for each year: $30,750 for grades 6 through 8.
Finally, income and wealth inequality is the great moral issue because it has left the U.S. as the only high income, wealthy country in the world that is unwilling to invest in the well-being of our families and children from the day they are born. Every other wealthy country – and many such as India, Turkey or Mexico that are much poorer than us – provide paid maternity leave. And many require the father to take part of that leave. That’s a good thing.
Paid leave gives parents the chance to bond with their new born children at the earliest age. And they can do so without risking loss of jobs and income. For the U.S. not to have any such policy is a moral failing of our political leaders – from both parties. This failure on the part of our elected leaders is shameful, and it is only possible because the very rich, the 1%, really don’t care about the lives of the rest of us. This failure says more about our leaders’ commitment to family values than all the high flying rhetoric you hear from them every four years when an election is coming up.
Bernie Sanders is committed to changing this, to building – with us – an economy that works for all. That’s why he should be our next president.
Editor’s Note: On February 7, three DSA members (Bill Barclay, Paul Sakol, and Peg Strobel) and an organizer for IIRON (James Nelson from Illinois/Indiana Regional Organizing Network) were invited to talk at three African American churches on the West Side of Chicago in the Austin neighborhood. This is excerpted from Bill Barclay’s presentation.