Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” is relevant these days, with many in Congress playing the role of Scrooge before he was visited by the Christmas spirits. Dickens was greatly concerned about the plight of children forced to work under dreadful conditions. He was outraged by the widespread societal injustices that played a role in creating a high level of poverty.
Pope Francis recently echoed these ideas when he expressed concern about unfettered capitalism. The Pope also called on world leaders to address poverty and growing inequality. Specifically, he said:
“In this context, 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.
“To sustain a lifestyle which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. ….”
This description applies to many of us, particularly many in Congress. For example, the recent budget compromise allows emergency unemployment benefits to expire for 1.3 million. Millions more will lose their unemployment benefits in 2014. Future pension benefits for Federal workers and veterans will also be reduced.
Note the compromise ignores the possibility of increasing revenue by closing corporate tax loopholes or by increasing the highest marginal tax rates that impact only the super wealthy.
In addition, in the new Farm Bill, Congress is likely to push for cuts in food stamps instead of reducing or eliminating tax subsidies to giant agricultural corporations.
Unsurprisingly, Congress is pushing for reductions in benefits from Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, programs that are especially crucial for many in the lower economic classes.
Clearly Congressional actions play a major role in increasing inequality. Contact your representatives and voice your opposition to cuts in these programs. I think Dickens and Pope Francis would both say “bah, humbug” to Congress.
The Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center’s “Peace Train” column runs every Friday in the Colorado Daily.