Money, ethics and the U.S. government shutdown

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SPO_051412_moneyThe issue of money and ethics within secular and theological communities has always been an interesting, controversial discussion. Despite the differing views, one thing remains consistent in that people are incredibly awkward and hesitant about money: how they spend their money, how much money they make, how other people should make and/or spend their money, etc. Why are personal finances such an unusually private thing if ethical spending is becoming more and more of a conversation piece?

The current U.S. government crisis has significant majorities opposing Republicans using a shutdown to go after the Affordable Care Act. In contemplating why, I found a blend of questions: Ethically, how should we be spending our hard-earned dollars? What companies should and shouldn’t we support? The first query hits at the core of an issue seemingly defined by a perspective on human nature that asserts we live in a just, equal society that shows no privilege to particular persons. With this assessment, people work hard for their money and are therefore lazy when money or struggle afflicts their life and they need any sort of help. As a constructivist, I am skeptical about the extent of personal hard work that nets a person’s income. I see a society that awards privilege, and thus money, based off of pre-ascribed values, so that the people within are working hard for money that has a set price attached to it. Instead of people prospering off of hard work, they end up maintaining rather than aspiring, if they can maintain at all. This shouldn’t be new knowledge; the class conflict between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat has existed since we’ve existed as a species. This desire to pretend we are better than others, building ourselves up off the backs of those considered less fortunate, is plaguing us.

In “Social Justice versus Social Equality: The Capitalistic Jurisprudence of Marcus Garvey,” Otis B. Grant states that “American law [can] be understood as a rational system of behavior based on economic interest, which [is] at best…skewed.” Garvey argued that (the privileged) had a monopoly on economic power that “through the selfishness of administration…caused the majority of the masses to exist always in want…What matters [then] is whether the law induce[s] rational behavior.” However astute I might find these remarks, I remember that we are always to resist the temptation to become one-sided and to reduce complexity to simple solutions.

So what are we to do about this issue of ethical capitalism? I find it disturbing that in a purported democracy, the citizens of this nation have little control over their fate. Some facets of citizenry are taking a proactive stand against the government’s failings, but I find the means of address problematic. The political action league, MoveOn.org, recently emailed thousands with the plea for them to go to their local office for legislative representation and tape a sign and a box of tea to the door in protest of the shutdown. This was disheartening to me. Have we as citizens really stooped to the level of tactics shown to us by some of our senators? As difficult as bipartisanship is, the beauty in the need for it is that we must compromise with each other. Cruel language and passive-aggressive tactics of complaint to our Senate representatives will only reinforce the faulty construct they hold of us. No compromise can begin unless we reclaim the art of conversation with each other; living into the sentiments expressed in this blog:

How…to try and explain to another person, who’s never met your love, the weight and importance of [your] being; all the things that you’ve loved…but which are impossible to relate without a universal measure that we both can adhere to?…Life is not fair, but true love is. And when we [enact] it, a moment in the pale shadow of its grace brings us together. Even strangers are more connected, and we are closer to each other and elevated to a purer version of ourselves. 

In her next article, Stembridge will address the issue of what companies one should or should not support.

Join us at 10 a.m., Oct. 5 for our next Coffee Talk for a conversation on Money and Ethics. The discussion will take place at Chairs Coffee.  Stembridge is a panelist.

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