Give Your Possessions to the Poor and Drink the Best Wine First

Those two sayings sum up the life of following Jesus.  Jesus told a young rich man who wanted to follow him, to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor.  Why did he say that?

First, because the poor needed it.  The rich man wanted to sign up to assist Jesus in his mission, part of which was to proclaim good news to the poor.  Think about that–if you are poor, what better news could there be?

“Some Wall Street wizard cashed in all his chips just before the crash–and he wants you to have the profits.”

Second, the young man’s possessions were dragging him down. What Jesus was really saying to him was

“Right here and now, I’m setting you free.  You don’t need all that.  Let it go.”

The second saying, “Drink the best wine first” wasn’t said by Jesus; it was said about him.  Jesus attended a wedding, maybe of one of his sisters, and when they ran out of beverage, he turned water in to wine.  If you’ve ever been to a wedding, no doubt you heard the preacher say, “Our Lord adorned this manner of life with his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee. ”

The caterer said, “Woah!–everybody else serves the best wine first, but you saved the best wine for last.”

I’m not a connoisseur of wine–I didn’t grow up in California or France–I grew up in Carrie Nation territory; but I take turning water into wine as a metaphor.  Jesus wants us to enjoy life.  His presence is a celebration.  He didn’t tell people to give up their possessions because he wanted them to live an austere, ascetic existence.

He knew that possessions can possess us and keep us from enjoying life to its fullest.

Income Redistribution (Voodoo Economics -3)

In spite of the claim by advocates of Reaganomics that “the rising tide raises all ships,” the poor and middle class have seen their incomes fall during the recent economic boom.  Several policies of the “Reagan Revolution” have led to this kind of income redistribution from the poor to the rich.

The War on Unions:  Corporations are organized and the power structure is centralized; and in an economy with any substantial rate of unemployment, they have a tremendous power advantage.  Organizing and representation gave some power back to the workers.  During the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s union membership was strong enough to create a healthy middle class.  Even non-union workers benefited from the prevailing wage standards negotiated by the unions.

While many city and state governments during this period were rife with corruption, no one called for the abolition of government.  Yet anti-union forces used the fact of corruption in union leadership to discredit the concept of collective bargaining.

One of Ronald Reagan’s first acts as president was to destroy the air traffic controllers union.  Reagan had a legal and public opinion advantage in that the controllers were public employees and their strike was illegal.  Still, it was an impressive victory; people thought it couldn’t be done, because the air traffic controllers were a small corp of highly trained professionals, and the nation’s airline industry depended on their work.

The victory over this professional union emboldened private employers to break unions.  Frank Lorenzo took over Continental airlines and used the bankruptcy courts to cancel that airlines union contracts.  Now after more than thirty year of union-breaking activity, the percentage of employees in unions has fallen to 12 percent, down from 12.5 percent in 2005. Those figures are down from 20 percent in 1983 and from 35 percent in the 1950s.  (NY Times)

One union that remains strong, the teacher’s union (the NEA) is the constant target of attacks from conservatives, including candidate McCain.

Exporting Jobs. Under “free trade” agreements, factories have been closed and jobs have been shipped overseas.  According to Jim Webb of Virginia,

Because of a perverse part of our tax code, moving manufacturing plants overseas is actually a profitable exercise for companies that wish to avoid paying corporate taxes (Roanoke Times).

Much of this “free trade” is hardly free or fair.  Countries such as China are unencumbered by enforceable environmental or child labor laws.  We export jobs to China and they export smoke and smog to California.  Further, many other competing countries have national health care, in effect subsidizing one of the highest costs American manufacturers face.

The result is that the ratio of the pay CEOs receive to that of average workers has skyrocketed in comparison with our own past history and international standards.  In 2007 the compensation for top executives “averaged 344 times the average U.S. worker’s pay. Thirty years ago, the ratio was about 35 to 1″ (Kansas City Star, Thursday, Sep 25, 2008).

“According to The Wall Street Journal, in 2006, the CEO to average worker pay ratio was 11 to 1 in Japan, 15 to 1 in France, 20 to 1 in Canada, 21 to 1 in South Africa, and 22 to 1 in Britain” (Pepperdine).