Economy

Note to GOP: Jesus Wouldn't Have Destroyed the Middle Class

Our everyday choices are fraught with moral complications. We can do the right thing or find a scapegoat to blame and make the immoral decision.

Over the weekend I was reminded of the parable of the Good Samaritan. This intricate story provides us with an invaluable lesson of communal responsibility.

A lawyer tries to test Jesus by asking who is his neighbor after being told to love them as himself.   

‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them...

Instead of following this concept, our collective values are evolving into the abyss. In our current economic crisis we should be ushering in a new era of reform and good will. 

Nearly all 50 states are facing a budget shortfall impairing local and state programs. As a result, necessary programs are being slashed. Workers are being asked to take furlough days or even being laid off. In states such as Wisconsin, Ohio and others, the promised benefits of public employees are being blamed.

In reality the last few decades have seen local mom-and-pop shops being closed down by cheaper and more efficient big-box stores. They require less of a local workforce and funnel the profits into their banks miles away instead of filtering their way through the state. Furthermore, the promise of keeping services while being able to cut taxes is akin to being on a diet and eating cake for breakfast. The math for the calories does not add up and neither does the revenue for the state. The public officials acting for the state have sold citizens a bill of goods. 

Similar means are being undertaken with the federal government but on a much larger scale. The Bush-era tax cuts were extended for two years at the end of 2010 with the idea they could somehow help the economy recover, despite the previous eight years showing otherwise. Federal employee wages were frozen and there are constant rumblings of entitlement reform. The beltway narrative consists of a message that social security benefits need to be cut; yet it doesn’t contribute toward the national deficit, which happens to be the reason given for the needed cuts. The logic is nonsense and is merely misplaced priorities by our elected officials. It makes no sense when judged through a moral compass that we cut programs that millions of people benefit from instead of closing tax loopholes or cut unwanted programs in the defense budget. 

The Fortune 500 corporations have the ability to rev up or cut off the economy.  Big banks went unchecked and nearly brought the entire world to its knees. They did this for a short-term gain of massive profits. Now they are sitting on nearly $2 trillion and much of it could be used to hire people and stimulate the economy in a way that could be unprecedented. Corporations instead set their sights on quarterly reports and stock prices. They do what benefits their bottom line and their shareholders. If they can cut costs by laying off a few thousand people, they will do it. If they can cut a corner by shipping manufacturing plants to China or Mexico, they have done it and will continue to do so. 

What we are left with is 30 years of stagnant wages for the vast majority of American workers; a wealth gap that is ever increasing toward a monopoly for the top 1 percent; a 9 percent unemployment rate and a 16 percent underemployed rate. These are people who want to work full-time and support their families but are left out in the cold because of a poor economy and misplaced priorities by all three entities.   

Our country is essentially leaving the middle class at the side of the road. They have been beaten and robbed by the rich and no one is acting as the Good Samaritan.  The middle class has taken a punishment trying to achieve the American Dream by working hard only to have promises broken, only to see their toil reap rewards for a select few. We are coming to the point where the middle class is taking its final breaths on a dirt road while those who can help walk by trying to go unnoticed.   

The fact of the matter is the middle class is too heavy a load for just one entity. It will take all three to carry the middle class toward safety. When an economy begins to shrink our first instinct is to tighten our belts instead of collectively trying to expand and keep the economy at bay. By following the downward spiral, we are only perpetuating the trend and not breaking it. We are not doing well for the people a downward economy will affect the most. 

Each of these systems has a moral obligation to help. The point of Jesus’ parable is not just a Samaritan helping a downtrodden Jew -- albeit they were essentially sworn enemies -- it is also the fact that the priest, as well as the Levite, walk by without a whisper. All three should have treated the victim as a neighbor and loved him, as they want to be loved.  

Our everyday choices are fraught with moral complications. We can do the right thing or find a scapegoat to blame and make the immoral decision. The beaten and the robbed need assistance and state and federal governments and corporations have the ability to provide it. But will they choose to be good neighbors?

Aaron Krager is a former seminarian, former campaign consultant, current writer on my own site and of course twitter.