I have been focusing on economic issues in recent posts. The last few focused on an author who has flagged economically polarized access to technology. Her book’s title incorporated the idea of a “new gilded age.” That phrase is actually something I’m hearing more and more lately.
We as a nation tend to be uncomfortable with class distinctions, so we tend to ignore them and act like they don’t exist. But in recent years, the income and wealth gap has drastically widened to the point that it is being noticed even in the mainstream.
Beginning in 2004, former senator John Edwards a few years ago adopted the rhetoric of the “Two Americas” when campaigning for the White House. The notion was that some Americans are rich and powerful, while others are economically vulnerable, living paycheck-to-paycheck.
More recently, the Occupy Movement attempted to raise awareness of the divide between the very privileged and powerful, as opposed to the rest of us. The terms “the 1%” and “the 99%” have been adopted into the wider culture, not just the few who camped out in urban centers to protest economic polarization.
Years of de-regulation of industry, a concentration of tax cuts for the most affluent, government bail-out of businesses deemed “too big to fail,” and legal developments like the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United opinion are all cited as reasons for this emerging focus.
As I was doing a little research for this post, I found an interesting website: http://www.hermes-press.com/gilded_age.htm. I don’t agree with everything in it, but it is thought-provoking.
Further, former Secretary of Labor under President Clinton, Robert Reich also wrote an interesting article on Mitt Romney as the epitome of plutocracy and the new gilded age: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/robert-reich/mitt-romney-bain-capital_b_1644856.html.
Last week, the Roman Catholic Church (the largest Christian denomination in the world) elected a new pope. He comes from a developing nation, Argentina. And he is the first pope to take the name “Francis.” He has indicated he chose that name due to inspiration by St. Francis of Assisi, who ministered to the poor and the outcasts of his day. Pope Francis I has said he “would like a poor Church, and for the poor”
I am encouraged by this new pope. In the last American presidential election, both candidates vigorously fought to be viewed as the champion of the middle class. In recent years, however, it has become passé and out of fashion to speak of the poor. Politicians typically don’t even mention them. Out of sight, out of mind.
I am hopeful that this new pope, however, will bring attention to the plight of the poor worldwide. I am encouraged by his emphasis on simplicity and humility, and hope that he is a prophetic role model to the affluent of the world to not overlook the needs of the poor.
When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left; leave them for poor people and foreigners. The Lord is your God.