Crossville Chronicle, Crossville, TN

February 11, 2014

Lion and the Lamb: Living in different worlds

By Ted Braun
Chronicle contributor

CROSSVILLE — Oxfam is an international alliance of 17 organizations that are working in 94 countries to build a future free from the injustice of poverty. Last month, on January 20, Oxfam released an astonishing report: the 85 richest people in the world now have as much wealth as the world’s 3.6 billion poorest people who comprise about half of our planet’s entire population.

The report goes on to state: “Wealthy elites have co-opted political power to rig the rules of the economic game. ... Policies successfully imposed by the rich in recent decades include financial deregulation, tax havens and secrecy, anti-competitive business practice, lower tax rates on high incomes and investments, and cuts or underinvestment in public services for the majority.”

A document prepared for last month’s World Economic Forum in Davos details the pernicious impact that widening inequality is having in both developed and developing countries, helping the rich undermine democratic processes and drive policies that promote their interests at the expense of everyone else.

Oxfam challenged those gathered at the Forum to pledge six things: (1) Support progressive taxation and not dodge their own taxes; (2) Refrain from using their wealth to seek political favors that undermine the democratic will of their fellow citizens; (3) Make public all the investments in companies and trusts for which they are the ultimate beneficial owners; (4) Challenge governments to use tax revenue to provide universal healthcare, education, and social protection for citizens; (5) Demand a living wage in all companies they own or control; (6) Challenge other members of the economic elite to join them in these pledges.

Unfortunately, the prospects are that there won’t be many nations or global corporations willing to make such a pledge, given their high regard for self-interest and the importance of giving priority to profits over people, not to mention being committed practitioners of good old-fashioned greed. It seems that most wealthy individuals and corporations have found ways to escape paying taxes, one of the main ways we have of joining together in a community’s efforts to support our common life and structures.

For instance, stock options, dividends, and performance pay of corporate CEOs are all either tax-deferred or untaxed or taxed at the capital gains rate. The “Double Irish” is one of the favorite CEO ways of tax avoidance: shifting revenue to Bermuda tax havens, and then employing tax loopholes to bring the money back to the U.S. without paying taxes on it. The top twenty richest Americans, with a total net worth of almost two-thirds of a trillion dollars, have taken wealth from the public or from employees, or through low taxes or untaxed inheritances.

Mike Rivage-Seul, a liberation theologian and former Roman Catholic priest who recently retired as director of Berea College’s Peace and Justice Studies Program, reminds us how important the taxes of the wealthy can be: “In 1998, a UN Development Report said that a tax of 4 percent on the world’s richest 225 people would provide enough resources to feed, clothe, house, cure, and educate the entire Third World. To the wealthy, such taxation is unthinkable. As a result, 30,000 children die of absolutely preventable starvation each day.”

Rivage-Seul also points to the fallacies about poverty commonly subscribed to by the rich—that the blame for poverty lies with the poor, and that the solution to poverty lies in reforming the poor and educating them for the hi-tech jobs that will emancipate them from poverty. Recently Pope Francis has been reminding us that economic questions--considerations of social justice and equality—are central to the Christian faith and that the dream of the poor and dispossessed of the earth for a redistribution of the world’s resources and common wealth is also a Dream of God.

Rivage-Seul goes on to state, “In the eyes of Pope Francis, tolerating such needless deaths is sinful, and runs entirely contrary to any pretensions of those identifying themselves as ‘pro-life.’”

What does being “pro-life” in such a world mean to you?

• • •

This column by local writers is dedicated to the theme that the lion and the lamb can and must learn to live together and grow in their relationship toward one another to ensure a better world of peace and justice.  Opinions expressed in “Lion and Lamb” columns are not necessarily those of the Crossville Chronicle publisher, editor or staff.  For more information, contact Ted Braun, editor, at 277-5135.