Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Pope Francis and the New Deal

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.)

Pope Francis recently wrote: "Just as the commandment 'Thou shalt not kill' sets a clear limit in order to safeguard the value of human life, today we also have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills...How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses 2 points?...As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world's problems or, for that matter, to any problems...I beg the Lord to grant us more politicians who are genuinely disturbed by the state of society, the people, the lives of the poor."

A medical professional in Texas recently wrote an article, "I watched my patients die of treatable diseases because they were poor," describing, well, it's pretty self-explanatory isn't it?

And we also know that the rate of suicide has increased, and diseases have needlessly spread, due to the Great Recession that began in 2008, and due to the subsequent austerity measures that have been crafted to punish the poor for the crimes of large financial institutions (see, e.g., "How austerity kills").

These things (and much, much more) bring two questions to the forefront: Are we allowing people to die to protect the fortunes of the 1%? And, if so, is this an intentional killing, or a killing that is occurring through apathy?

(WPA poster, image courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division.) 

The New Deal set us on a path towards more compassion for our fellow citizens. Programs were created to mitigate poverty (e.g., Social Security), to provide job opportunities for the unemployed (e.g., the WPA and CCC), to provide power to low-income rural areas (e.g., TVA), to build new hospitals (e.g., PWA-funded projects), and much, much more. And the beauty of these programs were that they not only helped the downtrodden, but they also set the stage for the greatest period of economic prosperity in American history. America's post-WWII economy expanded along New Deal roads, across New Deal bridges, inside New Deal buildings, and out of New Deal airports.

Unfortunately, since the "Reagan Revolution" began we have steadily moved away from New Deal policies and New Deal ethics. In their place we have adopted devil-may-care polices and ruthless attitudes towards those who need help (policies and attitudes so cruel, in fact, that they counter much of what Reagan wrote in his autobiography). If someone says, for example, "I've applied to 500 jobs, I can't find employment, and I need help," our collective response seems to be "tough sh#t parasite, no one cares about your problems! Stop asking us for help!" 

So, we should ask ourselves: Do we want an economy (and a system of ethics) of the type that New Deal policy-makers created, and of the type Pope Francis is advocating for? Or, do we want an economy based on greed, corruption, and white collar crime? I fear that we have chosen the latter and/or we don't have the courage or energy to create the former. In either case, the result is that we are allowing people to die needlessly. 

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