A Principled Approach to Tackling Inequality

File photo of a rubbish collector carrying a bag on her back as she walks past a construction site near a recently finished residential complex in Hefei

By Graham Simon

gs-1308Income inequality has come to the fore as the most pressing economic and social issue facing the world today. According to Credit Suisse’s Global Wealth Report 2013, 0.7% of the world’s inhabitants possess 41% of its wealth, 10% have 86%, and the poorest 50% hold a mere 1%.

A new book by French economist Thomas Picketty, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, has topped the bestseller lists. Picketty’s central thesis, supported by a wealth of historical data, is that over time the relative gains to owners of capital in peacetime economies are significantly higher than the returns to labor. His book proves beyond doubt what everyone has long known – the richer get richer while the poor get poorer, at least in relative terms. Pope Francis tweeted in April that “Inequality is the root of social evil.” Christine Lagarde, the head of the IMF, recently added her voice to the debate, warning that rising inequality threatens global financial stability, democracy and human rights.

While all may agree that inequality can tear nations apart, there is no consensus on the solution. Policy proposals to reverse inequality center upon taxation and redistributive measures. These are inevitably contentious. When owners of wealth, who came by their riches honestly, legitimately and, in their opinion, deservedly, are forcibly dispossessed through taxation or government fiat, resentment arises. If those same governments then expend the proceeds wastefully or corruptly, this resentment only deepens.

But there is another approach. It requires a basic understanding of economics and the application of some principled thinking.

Understanding Economics

The starting point of economics is scarcity. With scarcity comes the need to make choices. The economic cake is not infinite in size and there are a lot of hungry mouths to feed. The two perennial questions nations seek to address are how best to make the cake bigger and how to divide it up.

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The Sin in the Garden of Eden and Where America Is Headed

10Commandments

By Bruce Sutchar

bruce_sutcharGrowing up Jewish, I never understood original sin. I can remember my non-religious parents equating original sin with something that Christians believed, regardless that the story is wholly contained in the Book of Genesis. For those growing up in the 1950’s, the baby boomer generation continued the age-old tradition that no one ever talked about sex.

I remember in eighth grade we had a sex education class. This left me with the understanding that parents could conceive a child even though they slept in twin beds (just like all the TV parents on “Leave it to Beaver” or “Father Knows Best”).

I remember a friend telling me that when he was 14 he had visited a 13-year-old girl in her home when her mother was not there. The mother then called his father about the matter. One day his father, while sitting in the backyard mentioned the fact to him as he was walking by. He said, “Now that you are older you have to take more responsibility.” My friend was so embarrassed that he just kept on walking. And that was the only conversation that they would ever have concerning sex.

I grew up in the era before AIDS. In my generation, gonorrhea and syphilis were the only dangers from unprotected sex. I remember in high school several boys in my class had an experience with a prostitute and were so that maybe they had contracted syphilis. I also had one friend who was frightened to death that his date might have gotten pregnant (I grew up with a group of friends who never drank even beer or smoked, so imagine the impact of the above two incidents)

As I entered college, like every one of my best friends, I was still a virgin (how does that compare to the average high school graduate today?). I remember being so disappointed because one of the elders in my fraternity, whom I really looked up to, had to move out of our fraternity house because he had gotten his girlfriend pregnant.

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Let’s Hear It for the Dysfunctional Family

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A review essay of the 2013 films “American Hustle,” “August: Osage County” and “Blue Jasmine.”

By Kathy Winings

kathy-winings-2If it were not for animated films, I’m not sure our children would see anything in today’s popular media that would recommend the beauty and value of marriage and family. Too many films that received Oscar nods this year portrayed marriage and family as either a lost cause or totally dysfunctional. I’m referring to three where either the film or its lead actors were nominated for the 2014 Academy Awards: “American Hustle,” “August: Osage County” and “Blue Jasmine.”

The acting in each was Oscar-worthy. However, anyone watching those films would come to the conclusion that the American family is lost forever and there is little hope of anyone reclaiming the ideal God envisioned for marriage and family.

Set in the 1970s, “American Hustle” portrays a con artist, Irving (Christian Bale), and his girlfriend, Sydney (Amy Adams), who spend their days setting up Ponzi and get-rich-quick schemes. Unfortunately, they get caught in a sting operation led by an FBI agent (Bradley Cooper). To avoid charges, Irving suggests he can help the FBI set up a major undercover operation that will expose a mafia boss and local politician. An elaborate operation is set up to catch the newly-elected mayor of Camden and a major mafia boss in the act of defrauding the citizens of New Jersey. There are plots and sub-plots with so many twists that the viewer isn’t quite sure until the very end who is crooked, who isn’t, who will end up in prison, and who will walk away.

But the sub-theme running throughout the film is the relationship between Irving, Sydney and his wife Rosalyn (Jennifer Lawrence) and young son. Irving views himself as a good husband and father, despite that he’s a con artist and has a mistress.

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Perverse Incentives: When Uncle Sam Becomes Dr. Ruth

Capitol in Shadow copy

by Richard Panzer

Richard_PanzerEvery area of life involves choices that have a moral dimension. Whether we enter careers in business, education, government, science, health, art, or religious ministry, each one of us needs to be aware of incentives that could bring us closer to or further away from the original purpose that motivated us to begin with. After all, each system has its own openly stated, or sometimes hidden, incentives.

In this context, the recent article by Scott Simonds provides a valuable discussion about the role of government and its benefits to society. He makes compelling arguments, and certainly there are many dedicated people doing important work in government service, but if one looks closely, it also becomes apparent that governmental incentives can lead to the opposite of what any fair-minded person would want.

The federal Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF, or welfare) program, where substantial benefits are offered to mothers with dependent children based on one main condition — that the mothers not be married — is just a small part of a larger, disturbing pattern.

Simonds expresses doubt that religious agencies would be able to take on the burden of caring for the needy in this country. Maybe so, but when Uncle Sam gets involved there are often strings attached. Consider government actions that force religious organizations that do help those in need to choose between following government regulations and the dictates of their faith. Catholic adoption agencies in Massachusetts, Illinois, and Washington, DC, have been forced to shut down because they believe that, all else being equal, it is best for orphans to be placed with an adopting mother and father who are married. Isn’t that what most Americans believe? Isn’t that what you and I believe? Even if not, shouldn’t there be room for diversity in adoption agency policies? After all, isn’t the goal to help more, not less, orphans find loving homes? How does shutting down faith-based agencies help needy orphans?

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Crossing the Jordan: From a Led to a Self-Governed People

Journey to the Heartland of Mongolia

By Peter Stephenson

Peter StephensonWithout serious reform, the Unification Movement cannot be a role model for Cheon Il Guk and is in no position to guide any people or society.

We are a movement that teaches the Principle, but do not reflect the Principle. In evangelical outreach the most apt motto for our movement would be, “Do as we say, not as we do.” Our most fundamental error has been the belief that following directions trumps the Principle and exempts us from its requirements. Our operating philosophy has been to channel all energies into the single purpose of convincing the leading lights of the world that Rev. Moon is the Messiah, assuming that everything would take care of itself once we had achieved this.

Our obsession with this “shortcut” has blinded us to the reality that people and the world do not work this way. Ultimately, people don’t prioritize the teachings that make the most sense. The idea that we could just theologically strong-arm them into believing was always going to fail.

Nomadic vs. Agrarian/Settled people

We are nomads. Nomadic people are foragers and opportunistic hunters who work an area while the pickings are good and after exhausting those resources, move onto to other lands. This lifestyle does not promote population growth and it is all such people can do to even maintain their numbers as the harsh existence of the nomad ensures a high loss rate.

The historic and even current, evangelical attitude of the Unification Movement has been nomadic in nature as we sought only to invest in those who were short-term prospects — what we euphemistically refer to as “prepared people.” There are only a small percentage of any society who are of this type though and if we track our world movement’s activity over the past 50 years, we can discern this nomadic behavior of exhausting the resources of a particular region before moving on to other lands.

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The Freedom Society: Headwing Thought or Tea Party Politics?

PPP

By Scott Simonds

SSimonds_1The Freedom Society philosophy as explained by Kook Jin Moon pits private ownership and free enterprise against big government. He argues that:

  • Government has undermined the role of the family and community by using tax money, expropriated by coercion, to provide welfare benefits to undeserving people promoting a cycle of dependency;
  • The free market system is self-governing and government oversight is unnecessary;
  • Government is in an “archangel position,” an instrument of the devil that usurped the positions of God, parents and individuals as free agents.
  • The role of government should be limited to lawmaking, a justice system and defense. Every other function should be managed by the private sector.

These positions, minus the theological jargon, are those of the far right on the political spectrum, advocated by Tea Party proponents like senators Rand Paul and Ted Cruz, and governor Sarah Palin, among others. However, these are not the views of our founder, Rev. Sun Myung Moon.

One way to understanding Rev. Moon’s perspective on global politics and economics is to examine his vision for a restored United Nations. He cultivated relationships with representatives of the world’s religions which led to the creation of the Interreligious Federation for World Peace (IRFWP). He fostered relationships with political and civic leaders, from both sides of the aisle, with the common values of faith, family and freedom, under the banner of the Federation for World Peace (FWP). In 1999, this process led to the creation of the combined Interreligious and International Federation for World Peace (IIFWP). In 2005, to further the effort to renew the United Nations, IIFWP became the Universal Peace Federation (UPF).

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