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Saturday, September 17, 2011

What is meant by Economic Justice?

Some would hold that economic justice poses no issues at all.  Economic justice for them is whatever is determined by the market.  If the CEO makes $100 million a year and the shipping clerk makes $10/hour, that’s all determined by the market so thus represents economic justice.  For those holding this view the status quo is virtually always equivalent to the realization and actualization of economic justice.  This week it was reported by the U.S. Census Bureau that poverty is on the increase:
·        --The official poverty rate in 2010 was 15.1 percent — up from 14.3 percent in 2009. This was the third consecutive annual increase in the poverty rate. Since 2007, the poverty rate has increased by 2.6 percentage points, from 12.5 percent to 15.1 percent.
·        --In 2010, 46.2 million people were in poverty, up from 43.6 million in 2009—the fourth consecutive annual increase in the number of people in poverty. (U.S Census Bureau)

The views held on economic justice depend greatly upon the experience presented to one over the course of their lifetime.  One of my earliest memories is reading an elementary book about migrant workers in Florida. (I was reading in the back seat of our car with my parents in front.  We were returning home from a Florida Methodist Annual Conference.)  Living in rural areas, I have seen migrants working in the fields with barely a subsistence level of income.  I have seen them living in camps and have empathized with their children in raggedly clothes who are constantly on the move and out of regular school.  Since food is a necessity for everyone, the lesson this has always impressed on me is that income distribution is not always just however much it may be “determined by the market.”  While migrant labor is deemed essential, a wage adequate to maintain and advance their families is not.  I am cognizant of many “low end” jobs all around me.  These are extremely low paying jobs with few or no benefits.  When the business cycle takes a downturn, they are the first to feel the impact, not infrequently being laid off.  My life has also touched the lives of people who through no fault of their own—because of disabilities, for example—cannot work but obviously must have an income of some sort.  In my view, economic justice cannot be whatever the market determines for “the market” is made up of individuals with prejudices and vested interests and is inherently colored by its political cocoon.  One important lesson for me has arisen from an indelible fact—I was a witness to economic discrimination against blacks.  There is no point in trying to convince me that market forces are pristinely mechanical and outside the influence of attitudes, opinions, prejudices, assumptions, vested interests, and—in short-hand—politics.  There is a very real reason for calling it a “political economy” and not merely “economy.”  One cannot be truly free until one is free from the want and fear of poverty.

Today I heard Andrew Young mention a phrase that I cannot shake: “the evolution of freedom….”  To me, providing a laboratory for that is what America is all about.  No one will ever have all the answers.  But hopefully we will never sacrifice our freedom, our responsibilities, and our sacred destiny on the altar of a mechanical incarnation of “the market.”

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