Makers and Takers


Who built the Great Pyramid of Giza, oldest of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World?  There seems to be general agreement that it was constructed as the tomb for the Egyptian Pharaoh Khufu (Cheops in Greek).  So, his is the name attached to it, and we might surmise it was built at his command.  I doubt, however, that he helped to move any of the stones from the quarry to the sight or put his shoulder to the task of setting even a single stone in place or, for that matter, the task of designing and engineering the project.  Probably the actual labor of constructing (making) this wonder was performed by slaves driven by taskmasters who may themselves have been slaves or just a half-step higher on the even more formidable pyramid of the Egyptian social hierarchy.

Presidential candidate Willard Mitt Romney has declared forty-seven percent of the people of the United States to be “takers” because they pay no federal income tax and, he says, take no personal responsibility for their own lives.  And why do they pay no federal income tax, even though most of them do pay state taxes, sales taxes, etc., and either pay or have paid throughout their lives payroll or self-employment taxes for Social Security and Medicare?  They don’t pay federal income tax because they don’t make enough money.  Most either work or else are retired or perhaps disabled from having worked all their lives, but Mr. Romney says they are takers.

He himself, on the other hand, has made piles of money (he won’t say how much or what federal income taxes he has paid) through asset management specializing in private equity.  His firm, Bain Capital, sometimes helped companies restructure and survive (partly by firing people), and sometimes loaded them with debt and walked away with hefty sums of money as they went bankrupt.  He calls himself and his kind of people “makers.”  The former employees laid off as part of Bain’s restructuring plans and those left jobless when some of those companies being helped went bankrupt became, through Bain’s helpful actions, takers.  They became takers of unemployment compensation and maybe of food stamps or even for a while, like Romney’s father at one point in his life, public assistance (welfare).

We are living through what I call the Walmartization of the American workforce, although Amazon might be almost as good a figure to represent what is being done to smaller businesses and to people.  Vast numbers of Americans are being kept financially marginal and dependent upon businesses that treat them as wage slaves without job stability, benefits, or collective voice.  Is this deliberately created dependency not a larger problem for the American people than dependency upon government safety-net programs which are, after all, our democratic way of sharing responsibility for each other in a free society?  The Mitt Romneys of our business world say people should be independent but do everything in their power to keep them dependent and subservient.

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Be a Refuge


Like fluttering birds, like scattered nestlings, so are the daughters of Moab at the fords of the Arnon. “Give counsel, grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive; let the outcasts of Moab settle among you; be a refuge to them from the destroyer.”
(Isaiah 16:2-4a NRSV)

While on vacation, I came upon this short excerpt from one of Isaiah’s oracles to the nations, in this case to the land of Moab. Relations between the two nations of Israel (Israel and Judah) and Moab were not always good, but Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, was a woman of Moab who emigrated to Judah with her mother-in-law Naomi. Ruth, a young widow, survived at first and provided for Naomi by gleaning in the fields.

The destroyer of lands and peoples comes in various forms: an invading army, a plague or epidemic, a negative change in economic conditions, a revolution or civil war, religious persecution, destruction of land by “development” or mining or some other “harvesting” of its resources. Then, as Isaiah describes in the reading’s context, there is no more rejoicing over the harvest and sometimes no refuge anywhere. In the 1980’s, thousands of people fled the slaughter in El Salvador and Guatemala to a land that did not want them (the United States) because their very presence and need for sanctuary gave testimony to the horrors of regimes our government supported for its own political and economic reasons.

Today, young adults (and some not so young) risk their lives to cross a river – not the Arnon but the Rio Grande – to flee from what to what? Why do they brave the brutality of coyotes (the human kind, not the animal) and the dangers of the desert to live in the shadows of fear in a land that offers them extremely hard work at low pay in sometimes unsafe or dehumanizing conditions? Why do they leave their families and communities to endure hardship and xenophobic hatred in a foreign land?

Mexican land reform provided plots of land for the campesinos (people of the fields, peasants). Changes in economic conditions have rendered those plots insufficient for subsistence farming, and now they may be sold to private concerns. So, the people’s land is being privatized, which moves it from serving those with little to adding more wealth to those who already have much. That’s much like what some people north of the river are trying to do to public education and Social Security: take them from the people so the wealthy can exploit them to add to their wealth.

The “destroyer” from which the poor are seeking refuge is the force of crushing economic changes.

“Give counsel, grant justice; make your shade like night at the height of noon; hide the outcasts, do not betray the fugitive; let the outcasts of (the current) Moab settle among you; be a refuge to them from the destroyer.”