South Georgia Mar. 9, 2005 edition
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
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
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.
Back to the Top
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
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
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
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.
Back to the Top
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
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
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.
Back to the Top
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
Back to the Top