Saturday, March 16, 2013

The New "Gilded Age" and a New Pope

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:  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:


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.



Leviticus 23:22

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.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Captive Audience: The Telecom Industry and Monopoly Power in the New Gilded Age

As mentioned in the prior post, I became aware of Ms. Crawford’s book recently when I caught part of Moyers & Company where she was interviewed.  It was a fascinating dialogue and I look forward to reading her book. 


To begin, I think Ms. Crawford’s title is fascinating.  The concept of a new gilded age with monopolies, dramatic disparities in standard of living, and unfettered power of the rich is one that seems to be discussed more and more in recent years. I will elaborate on that concept in a coming post.


However, beyond references to a “new gilded age,” Ms. Crawford several raises interesting points.  She notes the monopoly that internet and cell phone carriers enjoy.  She describes the economic disincentives such monopolies create to upgrade the existing infrastructures to give us all faster, more reliable services. She compares internet and cell phone service to traditional utilities to argue for more government involvement to ensure more widespread access to these services that have become so important to modern life. 


Ms. Crawford observes that the United States really helped create these modern communication technologies, but through complacency and governmental neglect, we as a country have really fallen behind.  She gives specific information of how other industrialized countries have made internet and cell phone access an infrastructure priority.  Such countries recognize that cheaper, faster, widespread access is critical to economic development.  We thus risk falling behind in terms of economic development because we don’t have such infrastructure.


Moreover, beyond economic issues, Ms. Crawford also makes a good argument that such access is also becoming critical to a functioning democracy since technology has become more the norm for modern communication.  She points out that those who don’t have access to those communication media are shut out of participation in civic discourse.





Luke 9:46-48


They started arguing over which of them would be most famous. When Jesus realized how much this mattered to them, he brought a child to his side. “Whoever accepts this child as if the child were me, accepts me,” he said. “And whoever accepts me, accepts the One who sent me. You become great by accepting, not asserting. Your spirit, not your size, makes the difference.”