Wednesday, January 04, 2006
Setting Up a Fair System
Entrenched, generational poverty results when a nation's economic system is unfair.
Most of us don't like to think in systemic terms.
We prefer stories about individual achievement and the "self-made" man or woman. Most of us don't even recognize how systems affect individual and group outcomes.
We ignore the systemic to our peril.
The manner in which wealth is created and distributed in the United States makes it imperative that we continually look at the systemic forces at work in our economy. Any serious concern about overcoming poverty will lead us to analyze these forces and attempt to develop responses that bring more fairness to our national economy.
Consider this fact. In 2004 the ratio of CEO pay to worker pay in large American companies was 431 to 1.
If the national minimum wage had grown at the same pace as executive pay since 1990, the legal minimum hourly wage would be $23.03 instead of the current anemic rate of $5.15 per hour.
No one is suggesting that minimum wage be set that high. Our federal leaders have been so slow to adjust the wage level that several states are now doing so on their own.
However, it does make sense for everyone when state and national governments take steps to compensate low-income working Americans in other ways through fair and sound public policy decisions. Such policy moves (including fair tax policy, Earned Income Tax Credits, child care subsidies, educational funding and assistance with decent housing) result in changes to our system that benefit those at or near the bottom of our economy.
Why do critics object to redistribution of assets to benefit the bottom, but never complain about systemic policy decisions that redistribute wealth for the benefit of those at the top?
Critics always object that those at the top are earning their way, while those at the bottom pay little no federal taxes and thus, deserve no consideration.
Few ask questions about the systemic advantages built into our economy that are enjoyed by the rich and that promote the inordinate growth of their wealth.
We need to take our eyes off individuals and pay more attention to how the system works for some and fails for others.
Faith and fairness demand no less.