Category Archives: Economic Justice


The Game is Rigged

Every day, banks create money out of thin air. Private bankers make decisions that reduce the purchasing power of our savings and take on risk that can harm the value of our homes and destroy our communities.

Greg Coleridge, a freedom struggler who works as the Director of the Northeast Ohio AFSC, is one of the best thinkers on economic justice. He has created a succinct summary of how the money system works against us, democracy, and rewards elite bankers.


Also, here is a good primer on fractional banking:

KhanAcademy – Fractional Reserve Banking

PS – If you know a student studying math and they have haven’t discovered the Khan Academy – pass on the the website to them!!!

Khan Academy

Super Lessons

A year ago, comedian Bill Maher stirred the pot by suggesting that Superbowl fans were duped socialists!{{1}} His argument relied on a common misunderstanding of socialism (that socialism = the redistribution of wealth), hinged on the fact that the 32 NFL owners evenly re-distribute their revenue, and played on the apparent hypocrisy of freedom loving American capitalists loving the socialist NFL.

This comedic piece and the reactions it received {{2}} reveal the inadequate understanding too many people have of our economic system. They simply know “free markets” are good and “socialism” is bad. Misinformed, they are unable to fully or responsibly participate in self governance.

As followers of Jesus, we are compelled to learn how our economy works. We need to know: 1) we have a mixed economy; 2) a “free market” is as real as the tooth fairy; and 3) the market is not some invisible force that will solve all our problems. (Future blog posts will expand on these basic economic facts.)

Today, rather, than take the Maher piece too seriously, let’s take advantage of the opportunity humor presents – to see our world in a new light. In this light and with a community organizing perspective, I observe three important lessons that inform our work for justice.

Lesson 1: Community organizing focuses on power – the ability to act. Maher’s piece sketches who has power in the NFL (the owners), how they use it (for their economic interests), and how it is balanced and imbalanced. The 32 NFL owners have agreed to combine their power to negotiate TV and labor contracts and to create a highly structured economy. By acting collectively, they increase their power in relationship to other actors.

Lesson 2: Community organizing understands our society consists of three sectors: public (government entities), private (market entities), and civic (relational entities – families, faith communities, service organizations, etc). The collective power of the owners, a market enterprise, is used in a variety of ways to influence the public sector to act on their behalf.{{3}} For example, in 1961 the NFL secured anti-trust immunity from Congress which enabled it to negotiate TV deals in a monoloplistic manner. In some cases, the NFL owners use their power to benefit themselves at the expense of the civic sector. The deal the Cincinnati Bengals extracted from Hamilton County to build its stadium illustrates this point.{{4}}

Lesson 3: Community organizing works for effective government of, by, and for the people. The NFL is an example of an organization with effective governance of, by, and for its main participants. The owners have highly structured and regulated rules that determine how they make decisions, allocate resources, and adjudicate disputes. There are regulations for the administration of the league and for the play on the field. These regulations do not stifle competition nor stunt innovation; rather they insure a level playing field, generate trust in the league, foster transparency, and advance fair play.

We can be better lovers by learning to build our power, act in the public sphere to balance the private sector, and work for effective governance.

[[1]]WARNING: Language
* Huffington Post – New Rule: Americans Must Realize What Makes NFL Football So Great: Socialism

* Youtube version – Irritable Bowl Syndrome[[1]]

[[2]]One from the right:
* – Sorry, Bill Mahrer, the NFL is Not Socialist

One from the left:
* – Bill Maher Calls Out Right Wing Hypocrites Who Hate Obama But Love NFL Socialism

A few from the middle / sports world:
* – Did You See This? The NFL = Socialism
* – Why the NFL Really Stands for Capitalism
* – The NFL is Not Socialist
* – Baseball vs Football Which Sport Is More Fair[[2]]
[[3]]Is the Superbowl a Socialist Enterprise?[[3]]

[[4]]Wall Street Journal – A Stadium’s Costly Legacy Throws Taxpayers for a Loss[[4]]

Loving Better by Living Simple

The power of sin to distort and confuse is demonstrated by the fact the simple living spirit was co-opted for commercial gain by a large cog in the materialistic system. You may recall the “priceless” commercials. The original featured a father and son attending a baseball game – 2 tickets $28, refreshments $18, souvenir $45; real conversation – priceless.

Simple living betrays the lie of this commercial. We can experience what is most valuable – the deep connection in our relationships – without buying it. Simple living helps us see clearly that rather than working extra hours to buy “stuff” (tickets, refreshments, and souvenirs); we might work less and have more time for relationships.

Simple living is about turning away from the evil materialistic system that turns us into blind consumers, encourages us to love things, and spends $150bn to seduce us to buy stuff. In turning away from the materialistic system, we turn toward Jesus and the abundant life that Christ offers us. We limit our participation in the unjust system, thus contributing to economic justice and proclaiming good news to the poor.

Simple living is both an orientation and a set of practices that assist us in following Jesus, loving better, and resisting the pull of the materialistic system. Initially, it is primarily personal and ordinary; making decisions about routine tasks: What to eat? Where to shop? How to spend time?

At a deeper level, we realize we participate in a global economic/political system as a consumer, worker, investor, and citizen. Our ordinary decisions have broader effects that either magnify or minimize this system. Good lovers of Jesus pay attention to both aspects – their personal practices and their economic/political participation.

As an orientation, simple living is about living life with a purpose. It is a recognition that our life is not ours, but a gift from God. We serve as stewards of this gift and are responsible for how we use our time, talents, and resources.

As a practice, simple living is about assessing the decisions we make about our time, money, talents and possessions. It is about evaluating our priorities and comparing them to our decisions and actions. It cultivates our awareness of the ways the system encourages us to overcommit our time and to acquire too much stuff. It sustains our commitment to un-clutter our lives of stuff.

Like following Jesus, simple living is not a predefined path, but a journey taken in partnership. The 5 markers of a loving relationship – increased zest, greater clarity, greater ability to act, increased respect, and deeper connection – help guide us. Living simply brings clarity and deepens our relationships. At first it can be overwhelming; but over time it liberates us to follow Jesus more fully.

Additional Resources:
Surprisingly, it appears there are slim resources online for Simple Living. Perhaps it best ambassadors limit their online time.

Best resource I found is this forum which is current, active, and has a wide range of topics related to Simple Living:
Simple Living Forum

Best practical advice comes from a brother practicing Zen and blogging about it:
Simple Living Simplified: 10 Things You Can Do Today to Simplify Your Life

Simple Living Manifesto: 72 Ideas to Simplify Your Life

You can find a lot of resources for Christians and congregations, though it will take a little bit of work navigating around the site.
Alternatives For Simple Living

* * * * * * * * * * * *

For a good laugh, the iconoclast George Carlin performed a stand-up piece at Comic Relief (1986) on “Stuff.” He gets right to the heart of our love of things.
WARNING: Language and adult themes.
George Carlin – Comic Relief 1986 – Stuff

Preach Good News to the Poor

Following Jesus compels us to participate in Jesus’ ministry. Central to that ministry are the life giving actions that bring hope and material relief to those who are hurting, suffering, or oppressed. In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus states his creed and roots it in the prophetic tradition quoting Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.”

Often times, Christians and others question why following Jesus leads me to be a community organizer, to be engaged in politics and economics, and to work for justice? For me, the answer is obvious given Jesus’ life, ministry, teaching, life, death, and resurrection. Jesus was engaged in the politics and economics of his day; he worked for justice.

He preached good news to the poor! He died on a cross – the death of a political insurrectionist.

Preaching good news – being an evangelical – is rooted in being in relationship with the poor and working with them for justice. Further, Jesus proclaims the “acceptable year of the Lord” – the year of Jubilee – when material inequities are minimized, debts are forgiven, and people are given a new economic start!

In the US, many of our neighbors are facing increasing economic insecurity, real wages for the middle-class have been stagnant for 30 years, and economic inequity is at an unsustainable imbalance.{{1}}  For those neighbors who are unemployed, underemployed, or working for meager wages, there are consequences beyond financial vulnerability. There is grief, a loss of dignity, stigma, and devastating strain on marriages and families.{{2}}

In these economic times, to follow Jesus, to love our neighbor we are called to place ourselves in the small gap between our neighbors and the powers and principalities of the economic/political system that is bearing down with a crushing weight. We are called to advocate for a foundational family value: sufficient wages so that parents have the ability to provide food, shelter,  and clothing; and have enough time and energy to be fully present to and emotional available for their children.

To spiritually divorce ourselves from these realities, to claim our faith to be apolitical is to detour from the path Jesus leads us to follow.

In an upcoming blog, I will outline specific ways followers of Jesus can love their neighbors in the ordinary, gritty decisions we make as consumers and investors; and in strategic actions we take for justice in the political/economic system of our society.


[[1]]The Limping Middle Class – Robert Reich – New York Times[[1]]

[[2]]How a New Jobless Era Will Transform America – Don Peck – The Atlantic[[2]]


Honor Martin – Occupy DC

This year, as we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., I invite you to hear a few of his words anew:

“The time has come for a return to mass nonviolent protest.  Accordingly, we are planning a series of such demonstrations this spring and summer, to begin in Washington, D.C.  They will have Negro and white participation, and they will seek to benefit the poor of both races.

“We call on the government to adopt an economic bill of rights to avoid the continued polarization of the American community and ultimately the destruction of basic democratic values, we must have national action – compassionate, massive, and sustained, backed by the resources of the most powerful and the richest nation on earth.

“We will use a massive nonviolent movement to address the economic issues – the right to live, to have a job and income.  Once the demonstrations start in Washington, we feel, there will be spontaneous supporting activity taking place across the country.

“We are calling our demonstration a campaign for jobs and income because we feel that the economic question is the most crucial that black people, and poor people generally, are confronting.

“We need an economic bill of rights: 1) guarantee a job to all people who want to work and are able to work; 2) guarantee an income for all who are not able to work.

“We need to put pressure on Congress to get things done.  We will do this with First Amendment activity.  If Congress is unresponsive, we’ll have to escalate in order to keep the issue alive and before it.  This action may take on disruptive dimensions, but not violence in the sense of destroying life or property:  it will be militant nonviolence.

“We need this movement.  We need it to bring about a new kind of togetherness between blacks and whites.  We need it to bring allies together and to bring the coalition of conscience together.

“We have through massive nonviolent action, an opportunity to avoid a national disaster and create a new spirit of class and racial harmony.  We can write another luminous moral chapter in American history.  All of us are on trial in this troubled hour, but time still permits us to meet the future with a clear conscience.”

These words are quoted or paraphrased from King’s article Showdown for Nonviolence that was published posthumously in Look (April 16, 1968); 12 days after King was martyred.  It is unsettling to realize that we have squandered over 40 years wandering in the wilderness.  May we heed Martin’s call and turn to God’s pillars to lead us to the promise land.

I believe it is time to:

Fulfill King’s vision of a Poor People’s Campaign.

Plan to Occupy Washington, DC this spring.

Revisit FDR’s Economic Bill of Rights that includes, “the right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation.”  Let’s be clear, this is more than a minimum wage, a living wage, even a family supportive wage!

Watch for Occupy the Dream’s next action.