opinion header

What a Country

April 2013

We American people just demonstrated to the world how cooperation and collaboration work in a functioning democracy focused on an existential goal. United, we set our various differences aside and in an incredibly short span of time absorbed a death dealing blow and accomplished a commendable task. At every level, from the common citizen in the street to local city police to state officials to the FBI to federal leaders, we pulled together. Some may argue that it has been one of our country’s finest moments.

If so, I also believe it raises once again the thought I know all of us feel: why can’t our government leaders on a day-to-day basis act with the same sense of goodwill and resolve? Why do our Senate and House of Representatives repeatedly bog down in the battle to bring equitable financial justice back into our economy?

In other commentaries I have persistently complained about the lack of mature leadership at the highest reaches of the American financial community and the government. It is my personal conviction that the tragedy of 20 to 30 million of our fellow citizens having lost their jobs and income is every bit as important as our ability to counter terrorist attacks.

Terrorism is often fed by situations of poverty. People driven to terrorist extremes frequently justify their actions on two ideas: they see one group of people, such as ourselves, as being unjustly wealthy; and they blame the poverty of their own nations on our success. Many countries appear to believe this. This is not rational, but it is effective for their leaders’ purposes. I don’t know that this motivated the Boston bombers. But that’s not the point I am trying to make.

The point I am trying to make is that the unfair burden of financial poverty so many Americans must bear is every bit as dangerous to our country’s safety and integrity as the violence of terrorists. We would do well to remember Gandhi’s words: “Poverty is the worst form of violence.”

When our own country allows 20 – 30 million of our fellow Americans to lose their jobs and incomes, while our wealthiest amass larger and larger fortunes, our nation’s integrity deteriorates. Corporate financial leaders demanding millions in personal pay while firing thousands of American workers walk on ethically fragile and dubiously patriotic ground. Their executives demanding million dollar incomes, while millions of Americans survive on hundreds of dollars a month, exhibit detestable judgment and greed.

Federal workers averaging $75,000 a year salaries, while our national average income is only $50,000, occupy ethically questionable financial positions. Is it logical or fair for citizens with $50,000 average incomes to pay bureaucrats $75,000 each to shuffle the paperwork of government? Does it make sense for working Americans to bankroll congressional retirees’ lucrative lifetime financial benefits, while many Americans must make do with nothing, or at best Social Security plus a still tenuous medical support system?

I don’t directly fault government workers. They have a job to do. Many of them, particularly in law enforcement and the military, just showed their value to us. I do fault all financial leaders, and all government leaders – and I fault all of us citizens, because we do not demand an organized means to share the work of our economy in some equitable fashion with all of us. Work shared fairly with all Americans is as necessary to safeguard our country from terror as military defense and homeland security. I suggest the wealthy should note that work, fairly shared among all Americans, is also equally vital to their continued financial well being.

Until next time, From My Corner, this is your ally in mischievous dissent, Howell Hurst.


Return to Opinion Page