Tuesday, April 17, 2012

What We Tolerate

Tax Day today.  A day to reflect on what it means to be here, in this land, with these peoples, being a nation. 

"Jerusalem Market" by Ann Wellman
This morning's New York Times includes a geeky, but devastatingly important piece on French economists Emmaunel Saez (UC Berkeley) and Thomas Piketty (Paris School of Economics).  They've built careers around the analysis of income distributions and tax policy.  It's well worth a look.  Written by Monica Davey, the piece examines how their work interprets the partisan sniping over the so-called 'Buffet Rule.'

Here's a sampling:

"Both [men] admire, even adore, the United States, they say, for its entrepreneurial drive, innovative spirit and, not least, its academic excellence: the two met while researchers in Cambridge, Mass.  But both also express bewilderment over the current conversation about whether the wealthy, who have taken most of America's income gains over the last 30 years, should be paying higher taxes.

"'The United States is getting accustomed to a completely crazy level of inequality,' Mr. Piketty said, with a degree of wonder.  'People say that reducing inequality is radical.  I think that tolerating the level of inequality the United States tolerates is radical.'"

Monica Davey's article goes on to show how income inequality now (2004-2012) most closely resembles inequality in the 1920s, leading into the Great Depression.  It's a sobering piece.  Saez and Piketty recommend raising tax rates on the wealthiest far beyond the Buffet Rule (30%) to as high as 50% or 70%.  Anything less, they say, makes little difference in the larger scheme of things.

Just as sobering is this piece on the "Alternet" site, examining the surge of 'suicide by economic crisis' in Europe.  What does our tolerance around this nastiness say about the West?  Our morality?  Spirituality? 


Thinking about all this theologically--and even biblically--I can't help thinking about Pharaoh's Egypt and the 'pyramid-ing' of the ancient egyptian economy.  You remember the pyramid?  A very few at the very top, with most of the wealth, all of the control, the political leverage.  And a huge conscripted class working to lay the bricks, build the playgrounds of the very rich.  It seems clear, at least in our Judaeo-Christian story, that the God of our ancestors partners with the conscripted class: to liberate, to free, to imagine a promised land of opportunity and community for ALL.

This Tax Day, maybe we should all be reading Exodus 2:23-25.  "The Israelites groaned under their slavery and cried out.  Their cries for relief from their hard labor ascended to God.  God listened to their groanings.  God understood" (from The Message).