THOUGHTS ON SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC JUSTICE

FULL POST: Social and economic justice have been in the news lately. Here are some quotes from Nelson Mandela, the Pope, and President Obama that appeared in the news over the last week.

Nelson Mandela [1]

Overcoming poverty is not a task of charity, it is an act of justice. Like Slavery and Apartheid, poverty is not natural. It is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings. Sometimes it falls on a generation to be great. YOU can be that great generation. Let your greatness blossom.”

Gandhi rejects the Adam Smith notion of human nature as motivated by self-interest and brute needs and returns us to our spiritual dimension with its impulses for nonviolence, justice and equality. He exposes the fallacy of the claim that everyone can be rich and successful provided they work hard. He points to the millions who work themselves to the bone and still remain hungry.”

Pope Francis [2]

“… some people continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. … Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor … as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. … In the meantime all those lives stunted for lack of opportunity seem a mere spectacle; they fail to move us.”

 How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion. Can we continue to stand by when food is thrown away while people are starving? This is a case of inequality. Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.”

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. Consequently, they reject the right of states, charged with vigilance for the common good, to exercise any form of control. A new tyranny is thus born, invisible and often virtual, which unilaterally and relentlessly imposes its own laws and rules. … To all this we can add widespread corruption and self-serving tax evasion, which have taken on worldwide dimensions. The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market … Behind this attitude lurks a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God.”

President Obama

President Obama spoke about the issue of growing income equality, saying “dangerous and growing inequality and lack of upward mobility … has jeopardized middle-class America’s basic bargain — that if you work hard, you have a chance to get ahead. I believe this is the defining challenge of our time. … I am convinced that the decisions we make on these issues over the next few years will determine whether or not our children will grow up in an America where opportunity is real. … The problem is that alongside increased inequality, we’ve seen diminished levels of upward mobility in recent years. … The idea that so many children are born into poverty in the wealthiest nation on Earth is heartbreaking enough. But the idea that a child may never be able to escape that poverty because she lacks a decent education or health care, or a community that views her future as their own, that should offend all of us and it should compel us to action. We are a better country than this. … we can make a difference on this. In fact, that’s our generation’s task — to rebuild America’s economic and civic foundation to continue the expansion of opportunity for this generation and the next generation.” [3]

 

These thoughts have particular resonance for me during this holiday season. Perhaps they do for you as well.


[1]       Common Dreams, 12/7/13, “Mandela quotes that won’t be in the corporate media obituaries,” http://www.commondreams.org/headline/2013/12/06-0

[2]       Pope Francis, 11/24/13, “Evangelii Gaudium,” as published in The Washington Post

[3]       President Obama, 12/4/13, “Remarks by the President on Economic Mobility,” http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2013/12/04/remarks-president-economic-mobility

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