First I would like to thank the committee, in particular Brian and Ann, for pointing out to me at one of our earlier meetings how as a committee we could arrive at unity on this issue of where to place our efforts for peace and social action. I subscribe to this. Patience and listening are what is required, and I fully intend to adhere to these.
I don’t, however, believe that this precludes my laying all my cards on the table from the start. I wish to be clear where I stand on these issues
I feel we have been going about this piecemeal.
Let me explain: it is as if in 1850 some member felt strongly that the meeting needed to protest the breaking up of slave families for its inhumanity while another member voiced his concern over the brutal corporal punishment that slaves were subject to. Better still, a third says, to oppose the overloading of slave ships with its inevitable consequence: the death of half the cargo.
Now each of these is a worthy cause but are they not merely symptomatic of the real evil – slavery? It is slavery that is intolerable and that they must go after. In our case, in 2015, it is poverty that is the endemic evil that we should declare our opposition to, just as have the Pope and the President. Anyone following the newspapers and the public polling knows that the single issue that most concerns the American people (60%) and that will be the central concern of the 2016 election is the growing inequality of incomes in this country that threatens our democracy. Poverty is not an inevitable condition of capitalism. There was a period right after the Second World War that lasted well to the mid 1980s when the disparity of incomes in this country was at a tolerable level. Subsequently, the weakening of labor unions, globalization, and the loosening of restrictions on business practice and the accumulation of capital has reversed the good direction in which we were going and brought our economy to an alarming level of inequality with the consequent effect of increasing poverty.
What has been done can be undone, with sufficient good will and persistence. And we Quakers are in a strong position to do it . Prevented from going to university and into the professions because of their refusal to swear oaths, 19th--century Quakers became tradesmen. There is a solid tradition of successful and highly trustworthy business men and women among us: e.g. Barclay’s Bank, Bethlehem Steel, Cadbury Chocolate, Carr’s Biscuits, Huntley and Palmer, John Hopkins University, Lloyd’s Bank, Strawbridge & Clothier department store, Waterford Crystal; the list goes on. We are an integral part of the capitalist system and, being in the middle of it, neither too rich nor too poor, ideally located to point out its faults and their corrections. The Episcopal Church in which I was raised is too closely associated with the moneyed class in this country to be useful; the Catholic Church too embedded among the poor to be credible or objective (although the present Pope seems determined to make a go of it). I am asking that we shoulder the entire issue of poverty in this country as our burden, with all its concomitant evils, which should subsume many or most of the concerns of our membership. It is a disgrace, easily comparable to slavery, that must be stamped out through reducing income disparity to a tolerable level. Why not investigate how this can be done, make it our cause?
I would propose that, as a committee, we take a little time to examine the condition of inequality of wealth in America today, its root causes and what can be done about it, under the following headings:
- The Rich, the Super Rich and the Extent of the Disparity
- Poverty in America: The Disgrace and Hopelessness of Being Poor
- Has it Always Been Like This and Can Anything Be Done about It?
- Why Should We Quakers Particularly Concern Ourselves?
I would be prepared to talk on each of these topics for about twenty minutes, to be spread among as many of our regular meetings as you care to assign me.
For those who are curious about how one might go about reducing the inequality between rich and poor, I recommend the books I am currently reading (see the Annotated Bibliography above).