Magna Carta and America
Our annual July 4 commentaries on the American Revolution
seek to highlight the role of common people in the Revolutionary process: women who refused to buy household goods
imported from Britain, a local blacksmith in western Massachusetts who led an
early sit-in-type revolt against British authorities in that region, lay people
who discovered they could preach during the associated Great Awakening period.
This year, 2015, marks the 800th
the Magna Carta and that event has a link with common people and contributes to
the American Revolution. Thus, it can be
our topic for this year's Revolution article.
The agreement between King John and a group of barons was sealed on June
15; this very first document was a group of "Articles of the Barons". It was recast and publicized on June 19 as
"Magna Carta", the Great Charter.
Just last Monday, June 15, 2015, there was a special commemoration at
Runnymede, and you have also perhaps read articles about the document which
have already appeared in major press outlets.
Obviously, I am not a historian, but on such a propitious occasion, I would
offer some thoughts.
Some of these current commentaries want us to downplay the
role of Magna Carta, and writers of those might take issue that I link the document
to "common people". Those
critics are in fact correct: we cannot
say that Magna Carta marked the foundation of democracy, nor that it represented
a granting of freedom to "common people". Not at all.
What it did was exact from a ruler an official statement that the
position of ruler was itself subject to expressed laws, that the actions of the
ruler could not be arbitrary and that the ruler could not impose indiscriminate
demands or fees on those ruled. In the
very beginning on June 15, 1215, the document applied to "any baron",
an elite group, to be sure. But the
scope widened immediately: just days later, on June 19, this became "any
freeman". While broader than
just the 40 barons, the group "freemen" was still not very large; the
vast majority of people came under various conditions of feudal servitude. Then, in the 1350s, during the reign of
Edward III, "Six Statutes" were enacted by Parliament that included
the phrasing "no man of what Estate or Condition that he be, shall be put
out of Land or Tenement, nor taken nor imprisoned, nor disinherited, nor put to
Death, without being brought in Answer by due Process of the Law." Thus, virtually everyone would now benefit,
and even common people had rights that had to be respected by rulers.
There's another important phrase in that quote, of
course: "due Process of the
Law". While those exact words are
not in Magna Carta, the concept is. In Article
39, it says, "No free man will be taken or imprisoned or disseised or
outlawed or exiled or in any way ruined, nor shall we go or send against him,
save by the lawful judgement of his peers and by the law of the
land." So here is the invention of
"due process". Article 40
further exerts a "rule of law": "To no one shall we sell, to no
one shall we deny or delay right or justice." Defendants can't get off by paying a bribe,
nor can anyone be held because they can't pay one. Note that from the beginning, from Magna
Carta itself, such even-handed dispensing of justice applied to everyone, with no
restriction to "barons" or "freemen".
There is at least one other major item in Magna Carta. The barons were upset with King John because
of the sudden and arbitrary imposition of "aids" and the high rates
of "scutage" he demanded.
Scutage is a fee a baron could pay instead of providing military
service. John spent lots of money, but
he lost lands and other resources in his conduct of various wars and
battles. The barons wanted some
protection from his consequently exorbitant takings. Thus, Article 12 reads, "No scutage or
aid is to be levied in our realm except by the common counsel of our
realm." And Article 14 goes on to
outline how representatives of the realm would be chosen for and given adequate
notice of meetings to design the required funding orders. This part was not particularly democratic in construct,
but it still formulated the operation of "no taxation without
Colonists arrived in North America carrying these rights
with them. In writing. Every one of the 13 colonies was organized as
a "company" granted land and legal right by the Crown. This was implemented through a
"charter". The charters
included clauses with some phrase granting due process of law. And more explicitly, they included statements
that the settlers and their descendants were entitled to the ancient rights of
English people. The charter of the
Virginia company was quite explicit: The emigrants and their children
"shall have and enjoy Liberties, Franchises, Immunities, . . . as if they
had been abiding and born, within our Realm of England." In Massachusetts Bay in 1629, the Charter
said settlers would "have and enjoy all liberties and immunities of free
and naturall subjects . . . as yf they and everie one them were borne within
the Realm of England." These
Charters thus granted the rights of English citizens to the colonists, and they
also established the practice of written constitutions.
American colonists' reliance on Magna Carta is easily
illustrated in a statement that Ben Franklin made to Parliament during the
wrangle over the Stamp Act. Franklin, a
representative for Massachusetts in the Royal Court in London, "was hauled
in front of Parliament and asked on what basis he called for the repeal of the
Stamp Act. The colonists, he answered,
could not 'be taxed but by their common consent [. . . based on their rights]
as Englishmen as declared by Magna Carta.'"
Several contemporary writers indeed point out that the Magna
Carta seems more revered in the U.S. than in Britain. One in particular is a British member of the
European Parliament, Daniel Hannan. In a
recent Wall Street Journal
article, he says, “Magna Carta has
always been a bigger deal in the U.S.”
He explains that the site at Runnymede went unmarked until 1957, and
when a memorial stone was finally erected, it was the American Bar Association
who sponsored it.
A New York Times
writer, Sarah Lyall,
highlights further the longstanding importance of the Magna Carta here. Just last month, she explains, the Supreme Court
cited Article 40 in one of its own decisions, on judicial integrity: “Upholding a Florida law that forbids judges
to solicit campaign contributions, Chief Justice Roberts … wrote: ‘This
principle dates back at least eight centuries to Magna Carta.’” Lyall further quotes William Hubbard, current
president of the American Bar Association: “The idea that the law comes from
the people, and it’s not the law of the king, is fundamental.”
Thus, while governments changed and revolutions occurred in
England and in America, the principles set forth in Magna Carta not only live
on but assist in our government and in protection of common people to this
day. Lyall quotes Hubbard in conclusion,
“To think that those principles have survived 800 years gives me great hope for
 All quotations of actual paragraphs of the Magna Carta
come from Nicholas Vincent: Magna Carta: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2012. Pages
111 to 124. There are 63 paragraphs in
the original document, one of which, number 35, actually establishes a standard
size for a glass of wine, "namely the London quarter," and also
standard measures of cloth.
 Sarah Lyall.
“Magna Carta, Still Posing a Challenge at 800.” The New York Times. June 14, 2015. http://nyti.ms/1QYLYGs.
Labels: American Society
Prayers after the Shootings in the South Carolina Church
A week ago, a young man shot nine African-American people in cold blood in a church in Charlston, South Carolina. We interrupted work we were doing to send an email to Ways-of-the-World readers. As the funerals for these dear people are about to begin, we post much of the text of that email here. Note that this was written just as people were first hearing about this awful act.
My own Bishop, Lawrence Provenzano of the Diocese of Long Island, has responded immediately, and I write just now to share his message with you all.
"From the Office of the Bishop:
The BBC reported this morning at 8 am, EDT [June 17], that "Nine people have been shot dead at a historic African-American Church in Charleston, SC, and a hunt is under way for a white gunman.
Police described the attack at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church as a 'hate crime.'
They issued surveillance images of the suspect and said he had sat in the church for an hour before opening fire.
Bishop Provenzano sends the following Pastoral Message to the clergy and members of the Diocese of Long Island:
Prayer. Deep, deep, soul-stirring prayer for the victims, their families, their church community, the city of Charleston, and for this nation!
Words can no longer suffice for the senseless hatred of this sinful act. Prayer and the witness of prayer by God's people must be our response.
I call upon our Diocese to pray with each other across parish lines, and neighborhood lines, and county lines.
Hold each other in prayer and witness to the unity in Christ we profess.
This is our response to hatred and sin.
The Right Reverend Lawrence C. Provenzano
Also included in that message is a note from the Brooklyn Borough President's office, which contains the information that among the dead is the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, who was also a state senator.
May Rev. Pinckney and all those killed rest in peace. May light perpetual shine upon them.
As we write this afternoon, June 24, Rev. Pinckney lies in state in the South Carolina Capitol Building.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church, People, Prayer
Earth Day and the Industrial Revolution in 3 Graphs
Day. Or it was three days ago. But what we write is still relevant to the
season. In any event, why would we begin
with a picture of world population growth?
Well, the number of people on Earth should have an obvious connection to
Earth Day. But the key to the immediate connection
we want to highlight is the blue line in the graph showing the beginning of the
Industrial Revolution. A neighbor of
mine, a gentleman who's fairly in-the-know about economic issues, stopped me on
the street the other day to ask if I understood how much difference the
Industrial Revolution made to the world's population. He had just learned this, he explained, in an
online course he had taken, and he was stunned.
So I figure if Steve is stunned, maybe some of you are too. So here's some of the story and why we pay
particular attention on Earth Day. It's
not just the numbers of people, but their standards of living that matter.
The key is
the bend in line. The world's
population was basically flat from the year 1 A.D. to 500 A.D. at about 200
million people; estimates show that by 1000 A.D., it was still no more than
250-300 million. Population reached
about 500 million by 1500 and 1 billion in 1800. Now, just 215 years later, there are about
7.2 billion people. The addition of the
last half of that, 3.6 billion, has taken only 45 years. So clearly some very dramatic things happened
around and after 1800.
think of the Industrial Revolution in terms of the cotton gin and other
machinery, but advances in health care and public facilities are also
important. As examples, Edward Jenner's
small pox vaccine came in 1798. John
Wilkinson, an Englishman, developed the iron pipe that made a new water supply
system in Paris in 1786. John Snow realized in 1854 that contaminated
water could contribute to the spread of cholera. Before this period, life expectancy at birth
hovered around 24 years in the medieval period and got to 35 in England by the
Century. By 1900, it
reached the late-40s and was about 80 years in 2010. In other words, death rates declined
markedly. This is so all over the world.
At the same
time, birth rates have also declined.
This latter factor has been pronounced enough that population growth
rates have actually moderated in recent decades. Big as the numbers are, they are no longer
Lucas, a consulting economist to the Minneapolis Federal Reserve Bank, has
written about these birth and death rate trends. As the Industrial Revolution took place,
along with accompanying gains in agricultural output and the improvements to
health, population did expand dramatically.
The gains in production supported the population growth. Thomas Malthus and other economists of his
day – around 1800 – began to fear that this population growth trend would
consume much of the earth's resources, leading to increased poverty. While there is quite justified concern over
that eventuality, Lucas offers some mitigating notions.
outset of the industrial and agricultural revolutions during the 18th
Century, most of society was agricultural, and as farmers obtained larger
yields for their crops and had healthier animals, they used their increased
income to enlarge their families, so they could produce bigger crops still. Living standards – income per person – thus
didn't change much at first. From 1700
to 1820, world GDP firmed from 0.2% growth per year to about 0.5%. But population had almost the same movement,
so each person was associated with about $665 worth of output in 1820, only mildly
larger than the $596 in 1600.
around 1820, that relationship shifted.
Those health improvements we mentioned before, clean water and similar improvements
to sewage disposal, made conditions much better in cities and people began
moving to them and doing more industrial work.
This coincided with diminishing birth rates, enough so that total production
gains were associated with more production per person; by 1900, that had nearly
doubled to $1,260. By 2008, the latest
year for which we have this specific calculation, world output per person was
just over $7,600, as seen here.
writing about all this because it's Earth Day.
What is the connection? As the
line in the above graph was moving definitively higher in the early 1960s, a
marine biologist named Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a book that grabbed everyone's attention about how
more people were using more of the earth's resources, much of that in an
ironically unhealthy way. For the first
time, many people came to understand that they could not just plow ahead
unconcerned about what they were doing to the earth and its environment. Would this new realization slow growth?
It took some
time, but progress in making the right use of the earth is taking place. Robert Lucas, in the material we reference
here, counters some environmental naysayers' arguments by highlighting the role
of technology. He points out that we
should use a theory of economic growth that embodies not just numbers of people
and amounts of consumption, but the application of technology, ingenuity and
prompted us to check out the amount of energy used in producing today's GDP compared
to some historical period. If GDP growth
just uses more and more energy resources, then the naysayers will be right;
succeeding generations of people will indeed be less well off because pure air,
clean water and all kinds of material resources will be scarcer for everyone.
found with some brief searching, is just 20 years' worth of information on
this. But it tells a positive, hopeful
story. Data from the World Bank show
that a fixed unit of energy would yield $5.40 of world GDP in 1990. By 2010, the same amount of energy made $7.20
1990, each dollar of GDP was associated with 0.5 kilogram of carbon emissions,
but in 2010, this had fallen to 0.4 kilogram.
Energy use per person has increased for the world as a whole, but this
is happening in middle income regions in Asia, the Middle East and northern
Africa, not in high income regions. In
fact, in many places per capita energy use has gone down; in the U.S., for
example, each person used 7,700 kilograms of energy in 1990, but just over
7,000 kilograms in 2011.
So perhaps Lucas
is correct. If we know and understand a
situation, we can quite probably find ways to deal with it. Thus, growth can continue to the extent that
we become more efficient in using energy, and we can even develop new energy
sources and/or improve the way we manage current sources. We can further reduce pollution without
severely restricting our general ways of life.
This isn't automatic, and we have to be mindful and deliberate in our
efforts, but we have a good shot at continuing to improve our lives and the
life of the Earth itself.
historical data on population and world GDP are based on Angus Maddison, The
World Economy: A Millennial Perspective.
Paris, France: Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2001 and 2006. http://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/development/the-world-economy_9789264022621-en. A pdf may be purchased or the book may be
read in an e-book format on that site.
Barnes & Noble and Amazon also have it available.
professor at the University of Groningen from 1978 to 1997 and a founder of the
Groningen Growth and Development Centre. He passed away in 2010. His data are recognized as the primary
compilation of long-term world-wide GDP and other economic and demographic
indicators; they are now maintained and made available in spreadsheets on a
site managed by his colleagues at that research center http://www.ggdc.net/maddison/oriindex.htm.
Data on the
relationship of energy to GDP, energy use per person and carbon emissions come
from the World Bank's World Development Indicators. The 2015 edition of these was published just
on April 14, 2015, and includes these energy data through 2011. See http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.6
"Energy production and use" and http://wdi.worldbank.org/table/3.8
"Energy dependency, efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions". Accessed April 24, 2015.
Labels: Economy, Environment, Science and Evolution, World
Businesses, Religion and the Law
freedom. We've learned during the last
ten days or so just how complex that notion can be. Enactment of a version of the Religious
Freedom Restoration Act – RFRA – in Indiana didn't bring praise from Indiana
churches, but instead outcries from the gay rights community that the law would
evoke discrimination of them in the Hoosier State. Elsewhere, on March 27, a woman in Richland,
Washington, had a summary judgment imposed on her by the State of Washington
because she would not, according to her Southern Baptist beliefs and practices,
furnish the flowers for the wedding of two men.
There are other examples and the whole controversy feels totally ironic
in this Easter Season. We want to go
through some of the history of the broader issues to understand them better; as
you know, I'm an economist, not a lawyer or historian, so I hope what follows
is as accurate as possible.
came to this land 395 years ago because they wanted to worship differently and
live by different rubrics than those required at that time by the Church of
England. One hundred and seventy-one
years later, in 1791, the concept that the people of the United States could
worship as they choose was written down officially in the Constitution's First
Amendment. Congress cannot
"establish" an official religion, nor can it "[prohibit] the
free exercise thereof". Indeed,
this is the first item in the First Amendment, ahead of freedoms of speech, of
the press, of association and petitioning the government.
In 1947, a
Supreme Court ruling extended the First Amendment applications of the
"establishment clause" from just federal government relations with
religions to those of state governments.
In that ruling, the State of New Jersey was allowed to pay for
transportation of children to parochial schools, under the logic that everyone
benefited when children could get to a school.
The payments from the state did not violate the
"establishment" provision of the Amendment; they were seen as
supporting the children, not the religion itself.
1990, the State of Oregon refused to give unemployment benefits to two Native
Americans because they had been fired for cause from their jobs at a drug
treatment center: they had smoked peyote in a religious ceremony. The Supreme Court agreed with Oregon, that
the use of the hallucinogenic drug was absolutely prohibited by state law. This case elicited an offsetting response
from the U.S. Congress in 1993, as it enacted the federal government's
"Religious Freedom Restoration Act" – RFRA. However, in 1997, after yet another Supreme
Court test, it was found that this law applied only to the federal
government, not to states. So state
legislatures began enacting their owns RFRAs; before the latest controversies,
19 states had these laws. The need for
such state laws apparently became more acute after the Hobby Lobby
ruling in 2014; this said that closely held
corporations as well as individuals, can assert religious rights. It, of course, pertained to the contraception
provisions in the Affordable Care Act.
Other small businesses now are relying on the federal RFRA as they argue
that their religious views mean they shouldn't provide goods and services for
same-sex weddings, but these and other religious practices may actually depend
on the existence of state-level RFRAs, which prompted Indiana and Arkansas to
want to pass them.
Friedman, writing in the Washington Post
last week, indicates that the surge of gay rights and rapidly spreading
legalization of gay marriage in particular in recent years has contributed to
the brouhaha over these two latest states' laws. Some states, including Washington, have
anti-discrimination laws protecting LGBT persons that may trump the assertion
of religious rights. Indiana has limited
versions of anti-discrimination laws, while it appears that Arkansas has
over the Indiana and Arkansas laws, while unexpected, has in fact helped
improve the legislation and those legislatures have quickly passed statements
that try to make clear that their RFRA laws do not constitute license for
people and businesses to shunt aside associations and transactions with LGBT
seems to leave some business owners in a quandary. And me, too, actually. Let's go back to the florist in Richland,
Washington, Barronelle Stutzman of Arlene's Flowers. She seems stuck. The Washington State anti-discrimination law
is evidently quite clear that businesses engaged in "public
accommodation" cannot "[c]harge a different rate or offer different
terms and conditions of service" to groups of people designated in the
law, which include "sexual orientation or gender identity". But the Southern Baptist Convention, to which
Ms. Stutzman belongs, is one religious group that continues to oppose gay
marriage, along with the United Methodist Church, many American Baptist
churches, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Mormons and the Roman
Catholic Church, among others. Her
immediate response has been to stop providing flowers for all weddings, and
that would appear to satisfy the law's requirements of treating all customers
the same way. Otherwise, it would seem
that in order to follow strictly her belief in her own church's position, she
would even have to close or to move to a state where gay marriage is not [yet]
acceptable. Indeed, the hoopla in
Indiana over the pizzeria whose owner responded to a newspaper survey that it could
not furnish food for a gay wedding reception did cause it to close, although it
was set to reopen today and wound up being supported by huge donations to a totally
independent crowdfunding site – at least one of which donations came from a gay
woman who operates her own small business.
freedom is complex. It is impossible for
specific pieces of legislation to allow for all the divergent possibilities,
which, as we see, involve different Christian groups with different
interpretations of Scripture along with other religions' practices, amid the
shifting structures of secular society.
"Freedom of religion means freedom to hold an opinion or belief,
but not to take action in violation of social duties or subversive to good
order." "Thus, the right
to have religious beliefs is absolute, but the freedom to act on such beliefs
is not absolute." At least in
the United States of America, though, we do strive to do it right and to
encompass everyone's beliefs.
 City of Boerne v. Flores (1997) Cited in
Ashby Jones, op. cit.
Research Center, "Where Christian churches, other religions stand on gay
marriage," March 18, 2015, http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/18/where-christian-churches-stand-on-gay-marriage/. For other background, also see http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/25/how-the-u-s-compares-with-the-rest-of-the-world-on-religious-restrictions/,
March 25, and http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/30/businesses-serving-same-sex-couples/,
March 30. All accessed April 7,
2015. The last item, survey results on
what people believe about whether business should be required to serve gay
couples shows a break in public sentiment of 49% for requiring them to do so
and 47% that businesses should be allowed to refuse such services. The text mentions two court cases, a baker in
Oregon and a photographer in New Mexico.
The text also shows a demographic breakdown of the survey results.
 Reynolds v. United States (1878). Cited in the Wikipedia article on the First
Amendment. See footnote 1 above.
Wikipedia article on the First Amendment.
See footnote 1 above.
Labels: American Society, Christianity, Government Policies
Toward Some Understanding of ISIS
We were inspired to plow through the lengthy piece in part
by the Obama Administration's care to avoid referring to ISIS as "radical
Islamists" or even religiously motivated. So the publication of some thoughtful
discussion defining the background and goals of ISIS looked to be helpful. And it does seem that fundamentalist Islam is
exactly what ISIS is about, according to Mr. Wood's commentary. The term "fundamentalist" is not
used here in any judgmental sense, but as a pure description of a group that
takes the Koran and the words of Muhammad quite literally.
Wood further describes that ISIS is concerned
mainly with a specific territory in Syria and Iraq, not with capturing or
destroying other parts of the world. So,
for instance, the Charlie Hebdo
attack in Paris in December was not an ISIS event, but apparently led by an al
Qaeda affiliate. Control over specific
territory is part of the definition of the caliphate ISIS believes it is, so
taking action in places far removed from that location is less important to
their mission. Eventually, spreading the
caliphate across the world is important, but only as an outward movement from
their present position.
State Department spokespeople have also suggested that the
most effective way to put down the evil of ISIS may well lie in social and
economic programs to promote the welfare of its people, to create job
opportunities for them perhaps. We would
agree with that to some extent. If the
populace of the ISIS region were prosperous, they might be less interested in
fighting against people they see as enemies.
However, Wood's material makes clear that economics is well down the
list of ISIS priorities. Its priorities
are better defined by religious rubrics and Sharia social arrangements. We'd guess that its adherents are genuinely less
interested in material prosperity and in devising projects to bring that about.
Finally, among the highlights we emphasize for you
here, Wood suggests that the Obama
Administration approach using air strikes and "proxy warfare" may
well be the best way to wear ISIS down.
A major armed invasion, rather than scaring them, could actually please
them: they believe an apocalypse is coming and a huge onrush of Western troops
might simply signal the start of that process.
We don't know enough to express reasoned opinions on these
views, but at least they now have some context and definition. If you have more elaborate thoughts, please
do share them. We ourselves are left,
this Lenten season, with a simple sentence that has been personal to us since
9/11: "Love your enemies and pray
for those who persecute you."
Putting a Face on Economic Inequality
Perhaps you have read the press
coverage over the past couple of weeks about James Robertson, a factory worker
in Rochester Hills, Michigan. Until two weekends ago, James walked every day, Monday through Friday, from his home in
Detroit to the factory, a total hike for him of 21 miles a day. He also traveled some segments of his commute
on buses, but they did not cover the whole route. James had had a car, a 1988 Honda, but it
broke down irreparably in 2005, and since he could not afford a replacement, he
began his daily walking routine. Despite
the burden, Robertson has had perfect attendance at work for 12 years, rain,
Over time, Blake Pollock, a bank vice
president who passed Robertson frequently, noticed this hardy walker along a
road where there obviously weren't very many pedestrians. He began picking Robertson up, and they
became friendly. Then, young Evan Leedy,
a computer science student at Wayne State University, learned about Robertson
and set up a crowd-funding site to raise some money to buy him a car. The hope was that they'd get about $5,000 to
purchase some good, reliable used one.
Instead, there is about $350,000. A story appeared in the Detroit Free Press
in the wake of all the interest, a car
dealer donated a 2015 Ford Taurus. Leedy
and Robertson were to have met last week with financial advisors to set up
trust accounts for maintaining the car and its associated expenses.
Robertson's job pays $10.55 an hour, well
above Michigan's minimum wage of $8.15 an hour but not nearly enough for him to
buy, maintain and insure a car in Detroit.
According to one insurance information website, Detroit has the highest
car insurance rates of any city in the country.
Those of us in New York and some other major cities have no real
appreciation for the life turmoil that can ensue when one's car breaks down in
car-centered locales. We have access to
prolific public transportation; they don't.
The only thing they can do is walk.
This Is Exactly What Trinity
Institute Was About
We relate this story after
attending Trinity Institute in late January.
The vignette highlights exactly the kinds of people whose situations
constituted much of the discussion there.
As we noted in our preview post, the subject was income inequality;
speakers mainly emphasized concerns over those at the low end of the income
In our example here, Robertson is
distinctive for getting befriended by people with sufficient means to help him
out of his tough circumstances. Such
personal attention is surely rare for folks in his position. A Trinity speaker, Rachel Held Evans, a
blogger on these issues, highlighted the fact that she herself has befriended a
couple of people in a low-income range.
Getting to know them closely gives her a special appreciation for them
as individuals just like herself but with the extra burdens of trying to get
along with insufficient resources. It
brings the poverty issue into sharp relief, rather than confining it to the
vague picture one gets just reading tables of numbers.
Some Commentary on What Being
Numbers and lists can be helpful,
though. Barbara Ehrenreich's
presentation brought us surprise and even shock as she listed a collection of
local ordinances in cities and states around the country that interfere with
the public's treatment of the homeless.
In some Florida cities, for instance, it is illegal to share one's own
food with homeless people on the street or in a park. Ms. Ehrenreich, who noted that she is not a
religious believer, expressed the opinion that such regulations hardly seem
Christian to her. We all agreed, and
quite audibly so. When introducing Ms.
Ehrenreich, Robert Scott, the director of Trinity Institute, spoke favorably of
the fact that her book Nickel and Dimed
remains a familiar
read on these issues even 14 years after its publication. Ehrenreich replied that while she is gratified
that the book is still read, she is very unhappy indeed that the problems and
circumstances she describes there in fact remain relevant after such a long
time. We again agreed. Further, some local jails actually bill
inmates for room and board expenses.
Would you believe??
Her presentation was part of a
session on "class" matters; she was obviously emphasizing the
difficulties that attend being poor, that is, the simple lack of sufficient
income. One of the panelists, R. R. "Rusty"
Reno, editor of First Things
, further argued that class comes first, that is,
social position and one's cultural orientation.
Without sufficient "social capital", people cannot be
permanently lifted out of economic poverty.
He was especially concerned about families headed by single
mothers. Few agreed with this viewpoint,
especially Reno's comments about single parenthood. Still, our own reading and even some material
we've written here indicate that such two parents in a home are important in
the improvement of the whole family's station in life.
These arguments brought the discussion to what might be done
to lift the lower classes into better life positions. Education holds a key place here. On the Friday evening, we watched Robert
Reich's film Inequality for All
, after which he answered questions from his
office in Berkeley, California, via Skype.
He suggests that most education efforts focus on advanced,
graduate-level work, and not enough on ordinary schooling for young children. We need education of all kinds. At the Saturday morning session on what we
can do about inequality, Nicole Baker Fulgham added weight to those views on
education, much as her work which we cited here
in early December relative to the racial concerns over the killing of
African-Americans by police in Ferguson, Missouri, and Staten Island, New York.
Plentitude Helps Everyone
Live More Sustainably
There are other facets to
improving quality of life and diminishing economic differences. Juliet Schor, author of True Wealth, was the
keynoter at that Saturday session; she brought attention to innovations in the
organization of economic activity, which lead to what she calls
"plentitude": collaborative grass roots efforts that involve urban
farming, food co-ops, small business financing through crowd-sourcing and
credit unions. In our example above, that crowd-sourcing tool indeed helped James Robertson get his
car. And one of the
efforts the Archbishop of Canterbury (who was another of the keynote speakers) has
promoted in own his local church-work in Great Britain is credit unions, which
can displace ultra-expensive payday lenders.
Other kinds of economic sharing include open-source software, like Linux
and Wikipedia, and forms of transportation, such as car and bicycle-sharing
Churches Provide Facilities
and Teach About Love
How can the church contribute to
all of this? At Thursday evening's
worship service, the Archbishop told us of efforts in Liverpool – one of
England's poorest regions – in which the Anglican bishop and the Roman Catholic
bishop worked together to set up relief efforts for unemployed coal
miners. At Saturday's panel
presentations, Nicole Baker Fulgham explained how the education efforts of her
group, the Expectations Project, are centered in churches, where tutoring and
after-school activities can take place, which deepen education
opportunities. Other speakers brought us
back to Rachel Held Evans's theme of befriending those with different positions
in society; churches' outreach efforts make this part-and-parcel of their
mission. At the same time, we were
admonished that when we ask questions about people's needs and desires, we have
actually to listen to their answers and be prepared to take actions toward
their fulfillment. That's part of
"loving our neighbors" and sharing in the Kingdom of God.
Walmart Announces Pay Raises!
And one final note as we were "going to press"
with our article, Walmart, the store everyone loves to hate, announced today
that they are raising the wages of thousands of their lowest-paid workers and
making their work schedules more orderly and predictable. This will hurt the company's profits in the
short-run, but it is in direct response to the current concerns about the
income gap. The Walmart Foundation also
announced a parallel plan to work with local community colleges and other
nonprofits to increase educational and advancement opportunities for their
employees. Social pressure is having an
effect. We'll talk more about these
actions – Walmart isn't the only one – as time goes on. All of everyone's commentary about inequality is having an impact!
Links to Presentations and
Besides the presentations, be sure to enjoy
the choir's anthem at the opening worship: "The Dream Isaiah Saw". https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/video/church-anthem-leaves-us-speechless
that its title among the individual links is "Church Anthem Leaves Us
Speechless" – and it did! Also, if
you need to be cheered up or have your spirit raised, watch the two Melanie
DeMore segments; Ms. DeMore is called a "vocal activist" and she is
indeed inspiring. First, for the Friday
morning session, https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/video/friday-melanie-demore-musical-gathering
and second, on Saturday morning, https://www.trinitywallstreet.org/video/saturday-melanie-demore-musical-gathering
. Watch the audience each time get into the
spirit of Ms. DeMore's songs. Regarding
the very last song, "Standing Stone", perhaps the way we began our
discussion here about James Robertson, who walked to work, means that a whole
collection of people around the country are "standing stones" for him
and they stood by him, wanting to help him get to his job every day.
Finally, just yesterday, February
17, we found more gifts from Trinity Institute in the form of a brand new course
from the website ChurchNext. It features
an introduction to plentitude by Juliet Schor and applications from community
and church groups. https://www.churchnext.tv/school/catalog/course/economic-equality-and-the-church-with-trinity-institute-for-groups
. We only just learned about ChurchNext
as we were preparing to attend Trinity Institute, and they have numerous
courses on a variety of church- and spirituality-related issues; not all of
their presenters are Episcopalian, but several denominations are represented,
giving a broad perspective. The cost is
quite nominal and the courses are very popular, involving online interaction
among participants. Barbara Crafton even
has a course on growing old gracefully, which coordinates with material in her
recent book, The Courage to Grow Old
Check it all out!
Labels: American Society, Christianity, Economy, Episcopal Church
Trinity Institute on Economic Inequality: a Preview
evening, January 22, through Saturday, we will be attending Trinity Institute
at Trinity Church in Manhattan. This
year's theme name is Creating Common Good
, and the majority of the discussion
will be about economic inequality.
Speakers are people you may well have heard of: Cornel West, Juliet
Schor and the Archbishop of Canterbury, to name a few.
of you are even attending via livestreaming into your own church or other
center. If you are at Trinity Church,
let's try to find each other.
afterward, I will write at least one article on the content. Friday's speakers highlight the problem of
inequality and Saturday's program emphasizes actions to try to ameliorate it,
such as better early-childhood education.
couple of facts on the broad topic:
For the five
years through 2013, Census Bureau data show the most unequal distribution of
income in the 60-year history of their calculations, measured by the so-called
Gini Index, a composite gauge of income spread.
The top 5% of households have just over 22% of total money income. Separate IRS figures show that the vaunted
"1%" paid 38% of the income tax in 2012. Median household income – that is, half of
households are above and half below – was $51,939, down 8% in
inflation-adjusted terms from the pre-recession level in 2007. The share of the population with income below
the poverty level was 14.5% in 2013. This
is an improvement from the 15% level of the previous three years; but in the
mid-2000s, ahead of the recession, the rate hovered around 12.5%.
Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development ("OECD") calculates
that through 2012, the U.S. has a wider range of relative income spread, that
is, a higher Gini Index, than 19 of the other 21 countries in that group. Only Mexico and Turkey had showed more
inequality in incomes. All but two
countries did experience steady or widening inequality over the previous 25
years, but only four countries showed a larger change than in the U.S.
A couple of
our own recent articles have spoken to related issues. We have noted a decline in labor force
participation and an associated phenomenon called "job
polarization". Compared to
historical patterns, people seem discouraged from seeking work, and some of that
discouragement may be associated with a decrease in job opportunities in the
middle-income range, such as factory work and office administration. At least some post-high-school education or
some re-orienting of high school course offerings toward mechanical skills
seems needed. We've also been concerned
about poverty, which came to specific attention in the recent police killings. Answers to this particular poverty situation
involve better education as well and some kind of business investment – or at
least business interest – in lower-income neighborhoods.
That type of
material will be the subjects of Trinity Institute presentations, so we'll see if
there are new, helpful solutions in the works.
Labels: American Society, Economy, Episcopal Church
Two New York City Cops Are Killed; Our Local Bishop Speaks
Just over two weeks ago, we posted commentary here [directly below] on the grand
jury decisions in the Ferguson and Staten Island police brutality cases not to
indict the police officers who killed two presumed criminals they were trying
to arrest. The demonstrations against
the police have continued since then, mostly in New York, but also in other
cities. It all came to a head this past
Saturday afternoon when a man drove from Baltimore to Brooklyn and proceeded to
shoot to death two cops sitting in their patrol car.
We were thinking perhaps that our blog post, in which we
advocate efforts to offer preventive help to, and lift up, people in
low-income, high-crime areas, skipped too many steps or missed the point of the
demonstrations altogether. They were,
after all, anti-police demonstrations, not necessarily outbursts from
demoralized people about their own seemingly powerless states of life.
Whatever the real goal, the situation got way out of hand
and led to the deaths of two ordinary cops doing a routine patrol job on a
Saturday afternoon. They were not taking
any actions and, as it happens, they weren't even white. One, named Wenjian Liu, is the son of
immigrant parents from China. The other,
Rafael Ramos, is Hispanic. Officer Ramos
was hardly a violent man; he was due to graduate later that very afternoon from
a program that trains lay chaplains for public service in crisis times just
such as this.
Feelings are heavy today in Brooklyn. The 84th
Precinct, the officers'
station, is our local precinct, the station house four blocks down the street
from where we live. We just now returned
from adding some flowers to a growing collection at the front door of the
Brooklyn is in the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island. Our Bishop, Lawrence Provenzano, happened to
have been in Brooklyn yesterday, making a long-scheduled visit at a parish in a
neighborhood not far away. Afterward, he
visited the scene of the shooting at Myrtle and Tompkins Avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant
and talked to local police and to the people of that community. Then when he got home last night, he wrote to
the clergy of the Diocese; the letter is posted
on the Diocese website
. His own pain
is palpable and he urges a second look.
Listen to some of what he says.
At Myrtle and Tompkins, I stood and
talked with police officers, people on the street and residents standing on
stoops or in the doorways of the Tompkins Houses. The police officers talked
about their fears and those of their families. They talked about being
accustomed to dealing with critical situations - homicides, rapes, domestic
disturbance, robberies, but not being able to rationally deal with "their
own" being murdered. At Myrtle and Tompkins people
talked to me about being scared by all the killings, the rhetoric all around
them, and now the possible negative reaction in the community following the
murder of the two officers.
It became clear to me today that
regardless of what happens next; what organizing goes on, what investigations
are launched, programs developed and rhetoric shared, the church . . . must not
engage in grandstanding, instigating, organizing, or even marching any
longer. People are scared, hurt, confused and bewildered. The place
of the church in all of this is not to seize the moment to be relevant or for
that matter prophetic. Our place in all of this for right now is to
incarnate peace - peace in language, peace in program, peace in attitude and
peace in church.
I am calling upon the clergy of the
diocese to be agents of peace in the neighborhoods and communities we serve.
Our young people need some assurance and security. Our young people of color
need to know that we will stand with them, that we will protect and guide them
in sensible and responsible ways. They need to know that we will teach them how
to stand up for their rights and stand with them when those rights are violated
without resorting to violence. Those who serve us and protect us need to
know that we do not wish them harm and that we see them for who they are and
aren't. The police need to know that we are allies with them in service to the
. . . . I am asking that we strive,
and teach and practice peace and peacemaking. I am asking us to put the needs
of our young people, their families and communities first. Violence cannot be a
response to violence. Hatred must be remedied by love - love incarnate, made
real by those who are called to be the Body of Christ.
May Eric Garner, Michael Brown,
Wenjian Liu and Rafael Ramos rest in peace. May their families know the
comfort and mercy of Jesus. And may the people of our communities find and know
We are struck by the strength of our Bishop's words. And there are more in his full
. As we work for peace in our
cities, perhaps our own suggestions for fostering more education and encouraging
business opportunities in low-income neighborhoods aren't too far-fetched after
all. They're long-run, to be sure, but
these situations will keep cropping up and need to be tackled at the base. We'll be following up soon with some more specific
ideas along these lines.
Meantime, may you all enjoy peace – and joy – for Christmas
and for many days after.
Labels: American Society, Episcopal Church