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Views & News Online  
Copyright © 2005, John R. Taylor
Alternative News & Editorials

South Georgia Mar. 9, 2005 edition

Meritocracy & the Growing Wealth Gap

by Taylor McKenzie
The Congressional Budget Office says the income gap in the United States is now the widest in 75 years.

While the richest one percent of the U.S. population saw its financial wealth grow 109 percent from 1983 to 2001, the bottom two-fifths watched as its wealth fell 46 percent. The world's 200 richest people more than doubled their net worth in the four years to 1999, to more than $1 trillion, an average $5 billion each. Their combined wealth now equals the combined annual income of the world's poorest 2.5 billion people. Just three Americans - Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen plus Berkshire Hathaway's Warren Buffet - have personal wealth greater than the combined GDP of the world's 41 poorest countries with their 550 million citizens.

Domestic trends mirror that global divide. The financial wealth of the top one percent of Americans now equals that of the bottom 95%, according to New York University economist Edward Wolff. The wealth of the Forbes 400 richest Americans grew an average $940 million each over the past two years. That's a per capita increase of $1,287,671 per day or $225,962 per hour if earned over a 40-hour week (43,876 times the $5.15 per hour minimum wage). Their combined wealth now approaches one-eighth of the GDP. Just one-fifth of their 1999 increase in wealth would have been sufficient to bring every American up to the official poverty line, leaving each of those 400 with an average increase in their capital of $10.2 million per week

Citing those facts and figures, James Lardner, who heads Inequality.org, says "there is no way you can deny the power of money." He, along with Bill Moyers, Barbara Ehrenreich and numerous other leaders, activists and institutions hope to bring some of these startling facts "to the front burner of politics."
Members of United for a Fair Economy (who include billionaires and the wealthiest of our country, such as Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), are calling for the estate tax to remain, despite its scheduled elimination in 2010 following phased-in declines. Buffett says the estate tax helps to keep America's "meritocracy" in check. Repealing the estate tax could create an aristocracy based on wealth, he says.
As taxes on wealth, or non-earned money are disappearing, what is left to tax is wages and salaries. Now the theory is that all that non-earned worth will be saved and invested in job-producing efforts, leading to a better life for all. But the more wages and salaries are treated different from income-earning wealth, the greater the difficulty of amassing discretionary wealth to save and invest.

Does our system still support meritocracy? Generally, no. As there are fewer and fewer jobs at the top, and as the wealthy seek better jobs for their own children, schools for the public deteriorate, and private school hold the ticket to those preparatory schools that afford the networking possibilities for competition in the job market. See the old Christopher Jencks literature on daddy paying for you to meet the "right people." This difference from pre-school upwards, means that the children of the poor will get fewer chances to enter the competitive market, since they will not have been given the early competitive skills that would get them there.

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The usual suspects

We have for suspects this week an entire family, or at least all the kids. We feel sure the parents played a part, if nothing more than raising the children, but there is much evidence against the children. No one in the family is talking, and the events were a while ago, but we think we have put together what happened.

The family we suspect of Christ like actions is the Leet family of Adel, and more particularly the children, Kelly, Amy, Alison, and Ryan. The time was eight or ten years ago, when all of the children were teenagers. Bruce, the patriarch of the clan, had worked hard and provided a comfortable life for his family. One December, or it may have still been November, the Leet family went to visit a family they knew from church. Let's call them the Jones, not their real name. This family had several children, and Kelly Leet was broken hearted when she saw that there were little or no presents under their tree. Upon returning home, Kelly could not forget the poor children they had left at that home with a barren Christmas tree. She thought how on Christmas morning they would awake and have no toys, or clothes - no presents to unwrap. Seeing all the presents under her own tree made her feel even worse. How unfair this is she thought. What can be done about it?

Bruce and his wife Elian had raised their children in a prayerful home. They had taught the children that God was real, and He loved them and wanted them to be happy. They had taught them that their Father in Heaven answered prayers. Kelly went to her room, and knelt, and poured out her heart to her Heavenly Father. What could she do to help give those sweet children a happy Christmas? In answer to her prayer she felt a feeling deep within her heart that told her that the real meaning of Christmas was giving, not receiving. But those poor children had nothing to give. Then the thought formed in her mind as if it was put there by someone else; but I have a lot to give! She walked into the den and looked at all the presents under the tree. "I have a lot to give!" she thought. She sat on the floor and started pulling her gifts out from under the tree. The family she wanted to help had seven or eight children and two of them were boys. "I wonder if Ryan would give some of his presents," she thought. And then she remembered than some of the girls were much younger than her and her gifts would not be right for them. She knew what she had to do.

"You want us to do what!" the three younger Leet children asked in unison. You want us to give all our gifts to the Jones kids? In this materialistic world, a greater sacrifice could scarcely be imagined for teenage youth, but all three said, "sure, this will be great." We could make gifts for each other, that don't cost money, one sibling offered.

After talking with their parents, the plan was set. The parents would find out what the gifts from others were, so they would know which of the Jones kids were best suited for it. They would retag all the presents with the right names and have the missionaries for the church delivery the gifts to Bro. Jones. No one but the missionaries would even know where they came from. The Jones children would think they came form their parents or Santa.

Some of the gifts the Leet children had received were special gifts, things they really wanted or needed, like the latest, greatest video game Ryan had so wanted. "Do you want to just keep the video game," his mother asked. "No," Ryan answered, "if we keep the best stuff it'll be like being half selfish. They will really like the game." So that Christmas, and perhaps many more, the Leet children gave away all the gifts.

We did not ask the Leets for permission to print the story, and if we had they would not have granted it. What they did they did not do "to be seen of men." Not a one of them has even said they did this thing, and though it has slipped out, no one readily talks of it. Because of this we have had to use our best guess about some of the details and who did what, but the most important points are correct.
It is not our desire to undo what they did by making it public, and it is not our intention to heap public praise on them, they don't want it, although they do deserve it. It is our intention to set them as an example to us all.

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What is Meritocracy? And do we have one?

A meritocracy is a system in which the primary determining factor in one's success or failure is that's person's merit, as opposed to birthright or inherited wealth, as in an aristocracy. This nation was founded by men who believed in merit based rewards and were opposed to the inherited wealth and power of the European aristocracy. Is America still a meritocracy? Let us explore.

Let us assume that the richest families in American have an average of one child. The wealth of four grandparents is passed down to one grandchild. If a wealthy family left 1.5 million dollars, (the amount which is excluded form any estate tax in 2005), to their heirs for four generations, and it grew at an average of 8% annually, that wealth will have grown to over $343 billion. That wasn't million, it was billion. Now we did not take into account living expenses, but we can assume that these people worked and earned enough to live without spending their inherited wealth. What has happened here is that the large wealth, 1.5 million dollars, of sixteen progenitors has passed down and grown to leave one heir an astronomical fortune, 343 billion dollars. This is how the rich get richer!

Now let assume that the poorest families in American have an average of five children. The negative wealth, (poverty), of sixteen progenitors is passed down to 10,000 penniless descendants. This is how the poor age poorer!

So we can see form these 32 people, (16 rich, and 16 poor), that in five generations the number of poor has grown from 16 to 10,000, all with no wealth, and the number of rich has declined from 16 to one, who would be so rich that he or she would be the richest person in the world were he or she alive today.

Mathematics has no agenda. It is a science neither liberal nor conservative. Whether you are paying interest or collecting it, math will give you the same answer. If our assumptions were correct, then the above sasneareo is exactly what will happen. Of course in the real world, a few of the poor would slip past and become rich and a few of the rich would squander their inheritance, but these would be relative few. Why has this not happed already, you may ask. Well to a degree it has. There are families of hundreds and sometime thousands of individuals who all extremely rich from the inherited wealth of many generations ago. The Rockefellers, de Ponts, and Vanderbilts are names we have all heard of.

This is not the first time that America has looked as if it was about to succumb to what might be termed the British temptation. America witnessed a similar widening of the income gap in the Gilded Age. It also witnessed the formation of a British-style ruling class. The robber barons of the late 19th century sent their children to private boarding schools and made sure that they married the daughters of the old elite, preferably from across the Atlantic. Politics fell into the hands of the members of a limited circle-so much so that the Senate was known as the millionaires' club.

Yet the late 19th and early 20th centuries saw a concerted attempt to prevent America from degenerating into a class-based society. Progressive politicians improved state education. Philanthropists-many of them the robber barons reborn in new guise-tried to provide ladders to help the lads-o'-parts (Andrew Carnegie poured millions into free libraries). Such reforms were motivated partly out of a desire to do good works and partly out of a real fear of the implications of class-based society. Teddy Roosevelt advocated an inheritance tax because he thought that huge inherited fortunes would ruin the character of the republic. James Conant, the president of Harvard in 1933-53, advocated radical educational reform-particularly the transformation of his own university into a meritocracy-in order to prevent America from producing an aristocracy.

Back then, with no reliable birth control for the rich and a high infant mortality rate for the poor, the danger was not so great as it is today. Even if the rich married only the rich, with family size averaging over ten children, fortunes were divided, not concentrated. The rich did often utilize the practice of willing the lion's share of their wealth to the eldest son in order to not too greatly divide their family fortunes, but the siblings were seldom disinherited entirely. At this same time the poor were, for a number of reasons, producing less descendants.

Today the assumption of less than one children per family for the richest of the rich and five children per family for the poorest of the poor is correct.

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Know Religion

While many of the humanists and atheists would have us believe that religion is outdated and irrelevant in today's world, the fact is that the overwhelming majority of the world's inhabitants have very strong religious views. Most of the good actions, and sadly, many of the bad, are done for religious reason. In this country we as a nation have strayed far from our religious roots. Views & News will present an essay on a different religion each week.

We will be as subjective, opened minded, factual, and fair as possible. Nothing in any essay is in anyway intended as an endorsement of any particular religion. If you would like to dispute, correct, or add to anything presented, please submit these to us. Christian and non-Christian religions will both be covered and we will select their order by what we deem as relevant and interesting at the present time. Religions that are very well known, will be presented after those we know little of as a matter of course.
If you have missed any of our past essays on Islam, Jehovah’s Witnesses, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or the Anglican Church, you can read them online at viewsandnews.ucan.us.

From the pamphlet “What is a Presbyterian”:
"Suppose four people came walking down the street, a Roman Catholic, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist. Question: How could you tell which person was the Presbyterian? Answer: You couldn't.
Presbyterians look pretty much like anyone else. We are a church of much diversity in background, race, age, and culture. Traditionally, however, Presbyterians have exhibited certain characteristics.

A European monarch once said, "I'd rather face ten thousand bowmen armed with spear and arrow than one Presbyterian armed with predestination and providence." Predestination has nothing to do with fatalism, but refers to the assurance that God's mercy and forgiveness are gracious gifts. Our salvation depends on God's grace, not on our works, and thus cannot be lost. Providence refers to the assurance that we and all creation are under God's watchful care.

The net result of holding these assurances has often been to make Presbyterians literally fearless. We do not fear death (we are in God's hands). We do not fear life (God watches over us). We do not fear the powers of evil and oppression (God is with us). Thus freed from anxiety about salvation, Presbyterians are freed for living life in the world before God, honoring God in all things, combating evil and oppression with confidence and hope.

The motive for a Presbyterian's worship and action in the world is not the effort to win salvation; that is God's gift. The motivation for worship and action is gratitude for God's grace shown in Jesus Christ. Presbyterians confess Christ as Lord and believe in their hearts that God raised him from the dead. They view Christ as the true Word of God and delight in the Bible as the holy witness to that Word.
Presbyterians have a strong need for God. They have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ but also have an abiding sense of being the community of God's covenant people. God comes close to us in Jesus Christ, but Presbyterians never lose sight of the fact that God is GOD!, the awesome, powerful, holy Creator of the universe, worthy of our worship, devotion, and obedience.

In times past when Presbyterians arrived in a new place, they would usually build a church, a school, and a hospital, in that order. The right worship of God is paramount; education is necessary so that we may serve the world in God's name; as Jesus came healing, so do we bind up the wounds of the world.
The European monarch mentioned above had nothing to fear from the Presbyterians as long as he ruled justly and did not oppress the poor. If he did violate God's intention for justice and care, then he had much to fear. Presbyterians believe that God's care extends to every corner of creation. We are stewards of that care; we are ambassadors for Christ, preaching good news, yes, but also opposing injustice, oppression, and evil wherever we find it. A Presbyterian can be very active in the world in God's name. This is what Presbyterians mean by "mission." Because God cares about all parts of society and every nation and people in the world, so do we. Mission is local, national, and worldwide, but it is the same mission: bringing the good news to all creation.

A Presbyterian thinks about his or her faith, wants to understand worship; reads the newspaper and reflects on the meaning of God for the world. From time to time, Presbyterians write down what they believe in a formal statement called a "confession." This does not replace Scripture; it is meant to interpret Scripture for a particular time. Scripture always remains primary.

One other thing about Presbyterians: When they have a policy or an action to consider, they pray, talk, talk, talk, and then they vote. Presbyterians probably take more votes than any other religious group. Lay and clergy votes count just the same. The Holy Spirit lives in individuals but works through the community. Presbyterians do not think alike and may disagree on any given issue. Sometimes being a Presbyterian may come down to this: thinking hard on a certain issue; advocating a certain policy or action; losing the vote yet continuing faithful support and life in the church."

And from the Pamphlet “Who Are We Presbyterians?”:
Presbuteros, the Greek word meaning elder, is used 72 times in the New Testament. It provided the name for the Presbyterian family of churches, which includes the Reformed churches of the world. Both Presbyterian and Reformed are synonymous with churches of the Calvinist tradition.

In America, the first presbytery was organized in 1706, the first synod in 1717; the first General Assembly was held in 1789. Today's Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was created by the 1983 reunion of the two main branches of Presbyterians in America, separated since the Civil War: the Presbyterian Church in the U.S. and the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. The latter had been created by the union of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. and the United Presbyterian Church of North America in 1958.

The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is distinctly a confessional and a connectional church, distinguished by the representation of elders-laymen and laywomen-in its government. The church has a membership of 2,609,191 in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Presently there are 11,295 congregations, 20,858 ordained ministers, 979 candidates for ministry, and 111,789 elders.

WE BELIEVE in the Great Ends of the Church, as set forth in our Book of Order. "the proclamation of the Gospel for the salvation of humankind; the shelter, nurture, and spiritual fellowship of the children of God; the maintenance of divine worship; the preservation of the truth; the promotion of social righteousness; and the exhibition of the Kingdom of Heaven to the world."

WE BELIEVE in a theology of mission, as expressed in the Westminster Confession of Faith. ". . . Christ hath commissioned his Church to go into all the world and to make disciples of all nations. All believers are therefore under obligation ... to contribute by their prayers, gifts, and personal efforts to the extension of the Kingdom of Christ throughout the whole earth."

WE DO mission and its related functions in "good Presbyterian order" through the structures of our General Assembly, synods, presbyteries, and local churches, which provide accountability in a connectional system. The chief agencies of the General Assembly are Office of the General Assembly; General Assembly Council, which coordinates and provides services for all of the agencies; Mission Support Services; Congregational Ministries Division; National Ministries Division; Worldwide Ministries Division; Board of Pensions; Presbyterian Foundation; Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program; and Presbyterian Publishing Corporation.

WE DO mission-locally, nationally, globally-by setting priorities for our available resources, guided by the emphases given by our General Assembly, the annual meeting of clergy and lay commissioners who represent the presbyteries of the church. Through the General Assembly, all Presbyterians have a voice in setting directions for mission and, through their General Mission Giving, have a vital responsibility in carrying out what the General Assembly has mandated.

Our style for doing mission is biblically based and historically appropriate. It builds solidly on our past commitments and mission experience, but it also adapts to newly emerging needs and to changing relationships in a sensitive manner. Mission in the United States is decentralized as much as possible, determined by and administered at the appropriate level of the 16 regional synods, the 171 presbyteries, and the more than 11,000 congregations. Beyond our borders, we engage in mission and relations in partnership with churches and ecumenical bodies of 90 countries and territories in Latin America and the Caribbean, Africa, Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, East Asia, and the Pacific.

Our witness, corporately and individually, is rooted in the gospel ministries of preaching, teaching, healing, and in Christ's example of advocacy for the poor, the hungry, and oppressed.

As far back as 1837 the General Assembly declared that the church, by its very nature, is a missionary society whose purpose is to share the love of God in Jesus Christ in word and deed and with all the world. Witnessing to the good news of Jesus Christ throughout the world, Presbyterians engage in mission activities, seek to alleviate hunger, foster self-development, respond to disasters, support mission works, preach the gospel, heal the sick, and educate new generations for the future. In partnership with more than 100 churches and Christian organizations around the world, the missionary efforts of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) involve approximately 800 volunteers and compensated personnel. A host of other dedicated workers includes: mission specialists and contract associates; Presbyterian Church members working for overseas employers, recognized as having strategic roles with missionary intent; binational servants, who advocate the insights of one culture while living in another; overseas Christians enabled by Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) funds and ecumenical planning to go in mission with congregations and presbyteries in the United States.

The 1998 General Assembly mission program allocation for the national and international work of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) is approximately $121.5 million. Besides annual receipts from congregations and income from endowments, additional special funds are received each year that make particular ministries possible. These include funds received through Selected Giving Programs and the Special Gifts Program, through the Hunger Fund, Presbyterian Women's Birthday Offering (spring) and Thank Offering (fall), and through four special church wide offerings: One Great Hour of Sharing, divided among Presbyterian World Service, Self-Development of People, and the Presbyterian Hunger Program; the Christmas Joy Offering, which assists church-related racial ethnic schools and retired church workers; the Peacemaking Offering to support peace education and peacemaking efforts throughout the denomination; and the Pentecost Offering to support ministries with youth and young adults and children at risk.

Presbyterians are facing the 21st century with a vision of ministry that is vibrant and inviting and reflects the love and justice of Jesus Christ.

The denomination has set four mission priorities for the next phase of our life as the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.):

Evangelism - We are called to invite all people to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, by working for growth and renewal of individuals and congregational families of faith.

Justice - We are called to redress wrongs in every aspect of life and the whole of creation, working with the poor and powerless, whom Jesus loves, even at risk to our corporate and personal lives.
Spiritual Formation - We are called to study and reflect on Holy Scripture, praying with one another for insight and clarity, so that the Holy Spirit might mold our lives more and more into the likeness of Jesus Christ, the living word.

Partnership - We are called to forge a vital partnership with one another, marked by mutual respect, openness, daily repentance, and forgiveness.
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Meritocracy & the Growing Wealth Gap


The usual suspects


What is Meritocracy? And do we have one?


Know  Religion


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