A righteous sermon about the haves and have-nots

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Is there a pulpit handy? Because this unreconstructed Puritan, sick and tired of greed and fed up with poor-bashing, feels a sermon, if not a rant, coming on.

Man in suit holding cashThe text for today is Timothy I, chapter 6, verse 10. You know the one, much beloved of yesterday's grandmothers: it's about the love of money being the root of all evil. The verse then suggests that those who covet money pierce themselves with many sorrows.

Far be it from me to disagree with Holy Writ, but there are more than a few CEOs in this world that appear to love money to an inordinate degree, but give no sign at all of being pierced through with sorrows. There is, of course, nothing wrong with money in itself. The real problem with money, it goes without saying, is that many, many people have not got enough of the stuff.

I'm certainly no economist, and often wonder how reliable Internet information is: it probably needs to be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, but financial facts and figures are interesting, to say the least. And while comparisons are said to be odious, they are also mind-boggling.

In America, Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, received a salary of more than $40 million in 2012. He is apparently a devout Christian, so I wonder whether he ever worries about Matthew chapter 19, verse 24. You know that one, too: it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than it is for a rich man to enter into the Kingdom of God.

But Tillerson is just one example of the stupendously rich: the 400 richest Americans now own more wealth than the GDP of India. In contrast, vast numbers of their fellow citizens have less than $1000 in their savings and cheque accounts combined, hardly surprising when one considers basic wages.

Federal law in the USA makes $7.25 an hour a compulsory salary, (about $10 in Australian currency), but the states can decide their own rates of pay, with Washington DC having the highest at $10.50. Struggles to bring the basic wage up to $15 have, as far as I can gather, so far failed.

Australia's basic wage is $17.29 an hour, and the highest paid executive in the country is CSL's Brian McNamee, who is currently earning a mere $19.11 million, while the average CEO takes home $4.84 million, 63 times the average earnings. Less than a year ago, America's Economic Policy Institute reported that the top CEOs in the country were earning 300 times the wage of typical workers.

 

"A friend comments that I am often narky in my attitude and comments. I agree, but there is such a thing as righteous indignation."

 

The riches of Greece's top earners are shrouded in mystery, usually of an off-shore type, but many pensioners are now struggling on about 400 euros a month; my two Greek-based sons have had their salaries cut three times, and are bracing themselves for another 'haircut'.

A friend comments that I am often narky in my attitude and comments. I agree, but there is such a thing as righteous indignation. And I become indignant when I read that American CEOs are earning ten times the amount they did 30 years ago. The story is probably much the same in Australia, and these high-flyers seem to walk away with the loot even if they've done a pretty bad job. The rich get richer, and the poor get poorer, and never more so than today.

Human nature does not enjoy change, and it is this tendency that American Senator Bernie Sanders, for example, is battling, as he fights against power groups who revel in the status quo. But resisting change can have dire results, as the French and Russians learned in 1789 and 1917 respectively. Far better to be a Robert Owen ((1771-1858), the Welsh-born spiritualist social reformer who established the New Lanark mill in Scotland. Owen genuinely cared for his workers, paid them properly, housed them, tried to reduce the number of their working hours, and educated their children.

Owen lived in a different world, and we cannot travel back to it. But we can still take heed of Owen's values; we can also become more aware of the effects of inequality, and the necessity to take action against it. Perhaps we can start by taking heed of a recent White House study, which concludes that action against poverty reduces crime by 3 to 5 per cent.

 


Gillian BourasGillian Bouras is an expatriate Australian writer who has written several books, stories and articles, many of them dealing with her experiences as an Australian woman in Greece.

Main image: Shutterstock

Topic tags: Gillian Bouras, Bernie Sanders, inequality


 

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Margaret Thatcher once said, "the problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other peoples money"and this is unfortunately the problem for the Greeks. Trivia questions : which European member spent more money in absolute dollars on military equipment between 2002 and 2012 ? Which European member has the most modern airforce in the European Union by age ? The answer is of course Greece. They have spent money they dos not have and have a fiscal system that has systematically encouraged dishonesty, theft and tax avoidance. Hard to blame anyone else for that hardship and certainly not the people that have lent them money to change their economy. In the ultimate face slap, the Greeks now have no control over their own finances or fiscal controls. Thank goodness they are sitting in a low inflation environment where they can possibly restructure it. One point of correction : Brian McNamee is not Australia's highest paid CEO. He left CSL in July 2013.
Luke | 23 May 2016


We need more "rants" such as this! Why is this not more of a top priority especially in the lead up to the election? The Spirit Level (Wilkinson & Pickett) should be compulsory reading for all politicians and it is time Australia had its version of The Equality Trust - https://www.equalitytrust.org.uk/
Mike Fordyce | 23 May 2016


Have even middle class, let alone the filthy rich in any country ever heard of TITHEING. Even the poor can do a good turn to another without money involved.
maria fatarella | 23 May 2016


Thanks for a very poignant, though disturbing article Gillian. But we need to be disturbed about these issues and have our awareness heightened if the rest of the world is to challenge these excesses, though it would be unrealistic to believe that we humans will 'change our spots' that quick. Never the less knowledge must be the forerunner to legislation in democratic societies, and the US is one such society, albeit lopsided with greed and want, not to mention Greece and others.
John Whitehead | 23 May 2016


Luke makes an interesting point about banana republics spending gazillions they don't have on the most expensive military hardware, whose need and utility is highly questionable. I wonder if they were also committing billions to buy a new front line fighter that is a decade late in delivery because the company can't make it work, and all studies show that it will be shot down by almost anything else it comes up against too? Not to mention 12(!) submarines.
PaulM | 23 May 2016


Let's not call it narkiness. Let's call it salt. Mark 9:49 or so. Salt is a good thing......Have salt in yourselves. We need to be speaking out and hearing 'out. The rich find it impossible to enter the world of the poor and that is where they miss out on the kingdom that Jesus said is 'among you'. I bet Robert Owen got a good taste of it.
Angela | 23 May 2016


Perhaps Luke could explain why the wealthy classes in Greece remain secure behind their high fences or on their luxury yachts while the labourers are out of work and the small business people are out of customers. Was it the labourers and small business people who spent "other people's money" on military armaments the nation does not need?
Ian Fraser | 24 May 2016


What Luke forgets of course is it is usually the ordinary bloke who 'pays the price' for bad government decisions and it is the poorest of these people who suffer most. I think Bouras is suggesting the wealthy could be doing more to help.
Stephen | 24 May 2016


I have probably said this before - but during my close to two decades living and teaching in Japan I came across the maxim which says that one only needs enough. Gillian is right to point out that excessive and unmerited wealth - generally built upon the hard work of the multitude of underlings - or on the unscrupulous selling-off of company parts - and the residualisation of entire communities - is abhorrent. When I hear or read of CEOs being paid millions for a job description which basically did NOT exist two decades ago I find my heart palpitating in disgust. Unimpressed am I with these scoundrels. I am with Maria above who makes reference to tithing - something I practised within my narrow fundamentalist protestant sect throughout my teenage years - starting with a guinea cheque received from the Rural bank of NSW when I was just 12 years old - and proceeding through to the third year of my university study years until I quit that membership aged 19. I think a double tithe on all salaries beyond $500,000 - we could have a conversation in our society about the basket of approved charities to receive these monetary amounts - but the payment would be automatically deducted. Beyond a million I think the tithed percentage could be at least 30%. I wonder what Greece has to do with the subject matter of Gillian's essay apart from the fact that it is where she lives and that two of her sons have already suffered several cuts to their civil servant salaries. Here in Australia we have foreign companies paying little to no taxes on the billions of dollars of sales from their products - supported by governments receiving huge "donations" to their political coffers! The level of corruption in Australia is breathtaking - yet finger-pointing always seems to be elsewhere!
Jim KABLE | 25 May 2016


Well said Gillian. I cannot see how this gross inequality can be changed without resorting to revolution but who knows. Perhaps some of these incredibly rich people could be shamed into helping others and we could see greed and avarice changed into something more humane. How to do it is another matter.
Maggie | 26 May 2016


There is a dreadful heresy abroad in Modern 'Christian' America called Prosperity Theology. It is remarkably similar to a tenet of Classic Calvinism. The core belief is, because 'I' am a good person, God has blessed me with wealth. Those who are not 'good' include the poor. Jesus never condemned wealthy people per se - provided their wealth was honestly acquired. Nor was he a political revolutionary. He did not put forward the theory that the government confiscate wealth although he supported paying religious and state taxes and giving charity. The parable of Dives and Lazarus puts paid to Prosperity Theology IMHO. Congratulations Gillian. You have demolished Prosperity Theology without specifically mentioning its name. You don't have to name it to see it.
Edward Fido | 03 June 2016


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