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Archive for February, 2013

Who Receives Mercy?

fr-mikhail-maleyev-hieroschemamonk-sampson-sievers-2001-e1275178690722The drunkard, the fornicator, the proud – he will receive God’s mercy. But he who does not want to forgive, to excuse, to justify consciously, intentionally … that person closes himself to eternal life before God, and even more so in the present life. He is turned away and not heard.

-Elder Samson Sievers

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Aevrage Household income before taxes.

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Thousands of lettuce heads mature in a greenhouse near E. 55th and Woodland.

Thousands of lettuce heads mature in a greenhouse near E. 55th and Woodland.

Ideastream
February 26, 2013

The impressive series of greenhouse canopies covering three-and-a-half urban acres in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood provide the perfect environment for growing. Not just for the three million heads of lettuce and three-hundred-thousand pounds of herbs that Green City Growers will produce there each year. It’s also nurturing the idea that food can provide economic sustenance.

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Stirring

I know, it isn’t yet March. It is far too early to get spring fever.

But with my job, outside most of the day, I can’t help but see the signs.

pIMG_2145_Female_CardinalThe bulbs have shot their brave green shoots up out of the earth for weeks now. As I mentioned, the cardinals started singing again a couple of weeks ago. The other day I got close, about ten feet, to a couple of them. The female is unfairly characterized as plain, as when seen from a distance, or flying, as is most common, she looks drab. But up close she is a beauty: red crown and beak, red in the wings and tail, and shades of gold and green in her feathers.

imagesAnd yesterday I saw my first crocuses, up but not opened. And I saw aconite, the little yellow flowers that are the earliest of all, a few days ago, and snowdrops yesterday.

Crocus-sieberi-ssp-sublimis-Tricolor-01North and west of us it has been snowing, pretty wildly in some places, but here we have had cold rain. The weather reports predict snow by this afternoon, and more as the weekend approaches. It’s still winter, and winter weather can continue in Ohio well into March, or even April, Eliot’s ‘cruelest month”. We could still get a bad snowstorm.

But I see the signs; life is stirring. Spring is coming, whatever our senses tell us. As in mid-Lent we can feel Pascha approaching, so even in the snow we can feel the flowers hidden beneath the white.

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wal-mart-image

There is this, from Mother Jones:

Just how rich are the Waltons? According to the latest edition of the Forbes 400, released yesterday, the six wealthiest heirs to the Walmart empire are together worth a staggering $115 billion. This marks the first time in American history that one family has controlled a 12-figure fortune. While the nation’s richest person is still Bill Gates, the sixth-, seventh-, eighth-, and ninth-richest Americans are all Waltons.

To put that in perspective, here’s a chart of things the Waltons could afford to pay for:

Then there is this:

WAL-MART

And then there is this, from the blog Walmart 1%:

Fact: Walmart is a Job Killer

  • Walmart store openings destroy almost three local jobs for every two they create by reducing retail employment by an average of 2.7 percent in every county they enter.[1]
  • Walmart cost America an estimated 196,000 jobs – mainly manufacturing jobs – between 2001 and 2006 as a result of the company’s imports from China.[2]

Fact: Walmart Jobs Are Poverty Jobs

  • Walmart workers average just $8.81 hour.[3] This translates to annual pay of $15,576, based upon Walmart’s full-time status of 34 hours per week.[4] This is less than 70% of the poverty line for a family of four.[5]
  • Walmart pays less than other retail firms. A 2005 study found that Walmart workers earn an estimated 12.4% less than retail workers as a whole, and 14.5% less than workers in large retail in general.[6] A 2007 study which compared Wal-mart to other general merchandising employers found a wage gap of 17.4%.[7]
  • Last year, Walmart slashed already meager health benefits, leaving more workers uninsured.[8]

Fact: Taxpayers Are Paying the Price for Walmart

  • Despite all the damage they have done to US workers and communities, a 2007 study found that, as of that date, Walmart had received more than $1.2 billion in tax breaks, free land, infrastructure assistance, low-cost financing and outright grants from state and local governments around the country.[9] This number has surely increased as Walmart continues to receive additional subsidies.
  • Taxpayers Subsidize Walmart’s Low Wages and Poor Benefits – In many states across the country, Walmart is the employer with the largest number of employees and dependents using taxpayer-funded health insurance programs.[10]
  • A few examples:
    • In Arizona, according to data released by the state in 2005, the company had more 2,700 employees on the state-funded plan.[11]
    • The company also topped the list in their home state of Arkansas, with nearly 4,000 employees forced onto the state’s plan according to data released by the state in 2005.[12]
    • In Massachusetts, in 2009, taxpayers paid $8.8 million for Walmart associates to use publicly subsidized healthcare services.[13]
    • Although national numbers are not available, if the cost to Massachusetts taxpayers is adjusted nationwide, the cost would be roughly $1 billion.[14]

And finally, there is this, from Addicting Info:

  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages force employees to need approximately $420,000 per year, per store, totaling $2.66 BILLION annually in food stamps and other taxpayer assistance…to survive.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost the country HUNDREDS OF MILLIONS of dollars in payroll tax deductions for Federal, State, and Local taxes.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost our communities the ability to hire and retain important public service workers like firefighters, police officers, maintenance workers, and teachers.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost our communities with their increased need for those same public services they are underfunding.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages and lack of covered benefits cost taxpayers over $1.02 BILLION a year in healthcare costs.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost taxpayers as much as $225 MILLION in free and reduced price lunches for school-age children.
  • Walmart’s intentionally low wages cost taxpayers over $780 MILLION in tax deductions for low-income families.

So the Sam Walton heirs are almost unimaginably wealthy, a wealth produced by the labor of their underpaid workers, many of whom depend on the State for health care and even food. How would a just society respond to this situation? Here is the Catechism:

2405Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.189

And here is Paul VI:

If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.

If that applies to “landed estates” it should surely apply to corporations. In a just society this ill-gotten gain would be expropriated and those who came by it in such an immoral way would be imprisoned. Tempering justice with mercy, we could forgo the prison sentence and the Waltons could be left with enough to live lives of frugal comfort.

Their vast wealth should be redistributed to their workers, and Walmart should be remade into a worker cooperative. But as a democratic behemoth would still be a behemoth, each department -hardware, clothing, etc.- should be restructured as a small cooperative.

But as we live in a corporatocracy rather than a just society, we at least should support Walmart employees in their efforts to organize a labor union and to wrest a living wage from these criminals.

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“…should we fall, we should not despair and so estrange ourselves from the Lord’s love. For if He so chooses, He can deal mercifully with our weakness. Only we should not cut ourselves off from Him or feel oppressed when constrained by His commandments, nor should we lose heart when we fall short of our goal…let us always be ready to make a new start. If you fall, rise up. If you fall again, rise up again. Only do not abandon your Physician, lest you be condemned as worse than a suicide because of your despair. Wait on Him, and He will be merciful, either reforming you, or sending you trials, or through some other provision of which you are ignorant.”

– St. Peter of Damascus

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Growth of real hourly compensation for production/nonsupervisory workers and productivity, 1948–2011

Economist Dean Baker:

“If workers at the bottom had continued to share in the economy’s growth in the years since 1968 as they had in the three decades before 1968, we would be looking at a very different economy and society. If the minimum wage had risen in step with productivity growth, it would be over $16.50 an hour today. That is higher than the hourly wages earned by 40 percent of men and half of women.

It shouldn’t seem strange that the wages of workers at the bottom rise in step with productivity, after all they do for many other workers even when the work has not in any direct way become more complex. For example, when a realtor is selling a $400,000 home rather than a $200,000 home it does not necessarily require any greater effort or skills. After all, if we were talking about the years of the housing bubble, it may just be the case that the same home had doubled in price. Yet, the commission will be twice as much.  

There would be similar stories in many other occupations where the growth of the economy by itself would tend to make wages rise. After all, it is not obviously more difficult or time-consuming to sell 1000 shares of stock or credit default swaps at prices that are twice as high, yet the commissions going to the brokers are likely to be twice as large.

Doctors, lawyers, and other highly educated professionals have also been positioned to benefit from the growth in the economy. We have left those at the bottom out. This has been by design and nowhere is that more clearly the wage with a minimum wage that has been set at level that has not even kept pace with the cost of living.

As a practical matter we couldn’t possibly raise the minimum wage any time soon to $16.50 without serious disruptions to the economy. One result would also be higher prices in the economy. Of course this is also the result of having doctors who average $250,000 a year and Wall Street bankers who can pocket many millions of dollars a year. Their income is a cost to everyone else.

Somehow the issue of higher prices and inflation is an important point when we discuss the wages of people getting $7.25 an hour to wash dishes but it is not supposed to enter into polite conversations when we talk about the most highly paid workers. That is a political choice, not an economic one.”

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