A continuation of a conversation on Facebook, prompted by the quotation below, in which thoughts about these two links were asked…
www.usdebtclock.org – US National Debt Clock
xkcd.com/980/huge/ – xkcd: Money Chart
“Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor…”
One thing to remember is that money is simply a social construct that represents good and services, and the social value placed on these goods and services. In fact, economics as a whole is the systemization of values.
What the US National Debt Clock indicates to me is that there is a grossly unjust correspondence between useful and beneficial input of goods and services into society and output. For instance, the third largest budget item is on “defense/war” – this economic investment does not increase prosperity; in fact, building B2 bombers (represented in the xkcd chart in the bottom-right hand corner of the millions box) is not a constructive and beneficial use of funds. The cheaper alternative is to not war. Another example, which costs a bit more than the “defense/war” budget item is “credit card debt”. Again, this doesn’t input anything useful into society. Charging an individual to borrow money that they do not have does not create systemic prosperity – the more economical alternative is to create a culture of education that facilitates sound long-term economic planning at the level of the individual and community. How can we fund a legitimate need, like health care – an investment that will surely produce fruits (for healthy human beings contribute to societal well-being) – when we are, instead, funding fruitlessness?
The xkcd Money Chart is brilliant. At a certain level, it is a chart of values (the same way that the Manhattan skyscraper profile is a map of the depth and strength of its underlying bedrock). Money is simply the unit used to indicate this value. The wealth of the 1,200 richest people is roughly a bit more than the annual spending of the United States. US spending on nuclear arms during the cold war is roughly more than US spending on health care. The cost of flowers for William and Kate’s wedding is about equal to the annual income of individuals in the wealthiest 1% of the US; while the cost of Kate’s dress is more than what the wealthiest 10% of individuals make annually. It’s interesting to look around and make comparisons about how money is being spent.
Clearly, there is tremendous inequality and injustice. The solution is not found in fine-tuning manipulation of the same system that created the problem – not through “political passion, conflicting expressions of class interest, or technical recipes”. Rather, what is called for is “a spiritual revival, as a prerequisite to the successful application of political, economic and technological instruments”. As consciousness of the inherent oneness of humanity is raised and as understanding of the spiritual nature of a human being, a creation that mirrors forth divine attributes (like generosity), is fostered will the peoples of the world be empowered to creatively and together address the challenge of injustice. Understanding the nature of the individual as spiritual and the nature of humanity as one entity can be achieved through a process of spiritual education – through “meetings that strengthen the devotional character of the community; classes that nurture the tender hearts and minds of children; groups that channel the surging energies of junior youth; circles of study, open to all, that enable people of varied backgrounds to advance on equal footing and explore the application of the teachings to their individual and collective lives”. So we see the spiritual solution to economic injustice.
“Tell the rich of the midnight sighing of the poor…To give and to be generous are attributes of Mine; well is it with him that adorneth himself with My virtues.”
The Bahá’í perspective on the spiritual solution to economic inequality:
“…not through sedition and appeal to physical force—not through warfare, but welfare. Hearts must be so cemented together, love must become so dominant that the rich shall most willingly extend assistance to the poor and take steps to establish these economic adjustments permanently….For example, it will be as if the rich inhabitants of a city should say, “It is neither just nor lawful that we should possess great wealth while there is abject poverty in this community,” and then willingly give their wealth to the poor, retaining only as much as will enable them to live comfortably.”
“Fighting, and the employment of force, even for the right cause, will not bring about good results. The oppressed who have right on their side, must not take that right by force; the evil would continue. Hearts must be changed. The rich must wish to give! …The spiritually awakened are like to bright torches in the sight of God, they give light and comfort to their fellows.”
One reply on “The Midnight Sighing…”
Briefly, according to Abdu’l-Baha, wherever one finds great wealth, if one looks closely one will discover abject poverty nearby. Marx wrote that the accumulation of wealth at one pole entails the accumulation of misery, slavery, toil, ignorance, brutality, and mental degradation at the opposite pole. He attributes this process to the constantly diminishing number of tycoons or magnates of investment capital who corrupt the democratic process and monopolize the evolving laissez faire market. This unites the citizenry who labor without a fair share in the profits and fruits of their labor, increasing the numbers and deepening the identity of the proletariat by the very system of corporate exploitation itself. Some might say that the wealthy elite might do well to share enough of the profits to appease and setback revolution. And this is called charity. Charity is a weapon of war that serves to legitimate the social order that oppresses the majority and maintains them in a unjust status quo. Otherwise however, it is ironic how suffering inexorably leads to the unity of the world. Ironically, evil creates and galvanizes the very forces of good that in the end vanquish evil from the face of the earth. Paulo Friere explains how it is oppression itself that gives to the oppressed the identity that unites them. In fact it is through shared experiences and shared travails that those who are disenfranchised acquire not only their unity but also their spiritual sensitivity which sensitizes them to the fact that humanity is one, and that justice follows from a Divinely-Authored Revelation that we can all aspire to, a common set of values in which all feel equally represented and equally responsible. The growing income and wealth inequality which has become such a popular subject of public discourse recently really just adds one more element to the impending process of the unification of the peoples of the world under the various forms of suffering to which almost 2 centuries of human injustice have driven us. This includes the oppression of women by a patriarchal world order, the squandering by materialistic and corporate exploitation of the national resources of so-called developing countries, the devastation that is beginning to be wrought and is destined to engulf entire cities as a result human-induced climate change, and the abject poverty in which millions subsist being the price for luxuries enjoyed by the elite western minority who build scarcity into the very economic system that robs the world of its resources and concentrates it in the hands of a few hundred corporate owners. The major plan of God serves to drive out of humanity its corrupt, individualistic, competitive, consumer culture and to force it to recognize the transcendent origin and end to its existence as well as an underlying unity and solidarity that impels us toward global justice and prosperity.