By Brad Lowell
Earlier this month Pope Francis condemned the “tyranny of unfettered capitalism” followed a few days later by the announcement that retiring Walmart CEO Mike Duke will leave the company with a retirement package valued at $113 million, which is 6,182 times greater than the average 401(k) balance of a typical Walmart worker.
In an 84-page document, known as an apostolic exhortation, the Pope attacks the “idolatry of money” and urges politicians to guarantee all citizens “dignified work, education and healthcare.”
The Pope also assailed trickle down economics and “an unfettered free market which leaves the poor with no means to support themselves.”
The announcement of Duke's retirement package seems to confirm the Pope's condemnation. It's difficult to understand why anyone needs $113 million for their retirement, particularly when many Walmart workers rely on food stamps and Medicaid to help make ends meet.
Christopher Harress, writing in the International Business Times, says that up to $1 billion in national and state funds are spent annually to subsidize the lowest paid Walmart workers. A recent study done by Democrat staff members in the House of Representatives estimates that the cost to the taxpayers is more like $4 billion.
With these obvious inequalities why is it that so many Americans have adopted a philosophy that Obamacare should be abolished, the food stamp program needs to be slashed, taxes for the wealthy need to be reduced, unemployment benefits need to be reduced, etc., etc.?
An answer might come from George Lakoff, a professor of Cognitive Science and Linguistics at the University of California at Berkley, who writes that conservatives have as their moral principle individual responsibility, not social responsibility. He says the conservative point of view is that “if you haven't developed the discipline to make it on your own, then you should fail--and if you can't afford health care, so be it.”
The word at issue between liberals and conservatives, according to Lakoff, is “redistribution.” “This is a fundamentally moral issue, and the major political framings reflect two different moral views of democracy itself.”
Contrasted with the conservative position of “individual responsibility,” Lakoff says that the liberal view of democracy goes back to the founding of the nation when the idea was that citizens cared about other citizens and worked responsibly through government to provide public resources for all. “From the beginning that meant roads and bridges, public education, hospitals, a patent office, a national bank, a justice system and controlling the flow of interstate commerce.”
Lakoff echos the Pope's view that the flow of wealth should guarantee the affordability of health care as a basic moral principle of democracy.
Some conservatives see the Affordable Care Act as being a redistribution of wealth and thereby bad.
When looking at the economy of rural America and the distribution of wealth, we see few local entrepreneurs who are growing the economy and creating wealth. And with the growth of online purchasing there will be fewer and fewer bricks and mortar shopping outlets. Congress should at least pass a law to allow the states to collect sales tax from these online shopping outlets.
What will help rural economies and small businesses the most is a less expensive health care insurance system. It is without a doubt a moral obligation to provide health care for all of the citizens of this country and the Affordable Care Act at least is an attempt to do just that.
If companies like Walmart can afford to pay huge salaries and retirement packages to their executives, then these companies can afford to provide a living wage along with health care insurance for their employees.
For small businesses providing health insurance it is a more complicated task.
Obamacare offers at least some hope that eventually we will be able to increase wages and hire some much needed additional staff.