September 2015 – Minutes

CLJP Minutes –September 8, 2015
Monticello Room, Westminster Canterbury

Present: Chip Sanders, Carroll Houle, John Peale, Hal Horan, Jean Hammond, Bob McAdams, Murray Milner, Phil Best, Betty Kenner, Bill Kenner, Dave Warren, Taylor Beard

Guests: Jean Hammond, Murray Milner (invited by John Peale)

Carroll Houle opened the meeting with prayer.

The Minutes of May 12, prepared by Horan with apologies for not providing the minutes one week in advance for members’ review, were approved.

Treasurer’s Report: Since the beginning balance of May 12, 3,791.52, Beard reported an income of 120.00 consisting of 60.00 dues each paid by Guy Hammond and Taylor Beard; there being no expenses, the resulting balance is 3,911.52.

Announcements:  John Peale recommended a book he is reading—The Two State DelusionIsrael and Palestine A Tale of Two Narratives by Padraig O’Malley

On Monday, September 21st, millions of people around the world will honor and celebrate the International Day of Peace, established in 1981 by the United Nations. At the same time streams of refugees are fleeing areas of conflict around the world, especially the wars in the Middle East. People honor peace, people see the need for peace, but wars rage on.

For Peace Day this year, we will learn about and honor efforts by some champions of peace to bridge the divides of enmity that fuel conflicts and wars. We will also hold a “Be the Peace” meditation in concert with thousands of similar meditations around the world. We will do all this in the Social Hall at Thomas Jefferson Memorial Church Unitarian Universalist, 117 Rugby Road in Charlottesville.

Our program will follow this schedule:

6:00 gather in the Social Hall

6:15 begin the “Be the Peace” meditation

6:45 close the meditation with a musical interlude

7:00 begin a panel conversation on Bridging the Divides of Enmity

8:30 conclude the event

Our panel will include:
Roy Hange who serves as co-pastor of the Charlottesville Mennonite Church and has worked with the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University.  Roy has spent many years in the Middle East and has extensive knowledge of the conflicts in that region.

Mary Reed who has worked to help AIDs victims in Rwanda, currently co-leads a program to help rebuild rural education in Cambodia, and resides most of the time at Thosamling, a Tibetan Buddhist nunnery in northern India.

Carroll Houle who, as a priest with the Maryknoll Fathers and Brothers of the Catholic Church, served in Tanzania for 21 years, in Kenya for 17 years, and at the United Nations in New York for 5 years.

This event is co-sponsored by the Interfaith Cooperation Circle of Central Virginia and the Charlottesville Center for Peace and Justice. The event is free and open to the public. Light refreshments will be served.

Program: Peale reminded the group that the members decided to focus on economic inequality at the May meeting for the 2015/seasons with the hope that a forum can be arranged in the Fall of 2016.  He then introduced Chip Sanders who gave a highly informative review of Joseph E. Stieglitz’s 2012 book, The Price of Inequality.

Sanders began by distributing two pages of charts tracing the rise of wealth inequality from 1910 to 2010 taken from Thomas Piketty’s Capital in the Twenty-First Century showing the widening gap between the top 1% of the population and the remaining 99%.  Among the points of interest are the parallels between the great depression of 29 and the great recession of 2008.

Sanders also gave as references the Wikipedia profile of Stiglitz and the Review article in the New York Times of August 3, 2012 by Thomas B. Edsall, “Separate and Unequal.”

Stiglitz gives several reasons for the inequality, among them:

  • the partial repeal in 1999 of the Glass-Steagall Act of 1933 which imposed a regulatory separation between traditional banking and higher risk investing activities;
  • “rent seeking,” “any excess payment a company or an individual receives because something is keeping the competitive forces from driving returns down. So the extra profits a monopolist receives because he has no competition is a rent.  So are extra profits that big banks earn because of the implicit backing of the government.  And the extra profits that pharmaceutical companies make because their products are protected by patents are rents as well.” (James Surowieki);
  • The Supreme Court ruling on campaign contributions which allow a huge flow of money into Congress making sure that laws and regulations favor high dollar contributors;
  • International trade that has made possible factories in developing countries and off shore tax avoidence;
  • Lowering of the tax on the wealthiest from 70% under Carter to 35% under Bush, as well as the disappearance, in most cases, of an inheritance tax.

The result is soaring profits for the few and stagnate wages for the rest;

  • An incredibly shrinking middle class—in prosperous times, the pie itself does not increase, only the 1% slice;
  • The disappearing American Dream of economic and social advance, it being easier for one to advance in other developed countries than it is here;
  • A financial community more involved in getting rich on wealth transfer (“rent seeking”) than in wealth creating and the potential to grow the economy;
  • A significant decline of the social contract as evident in the lack of investments that make for the kind of prosperity that raises other boats beside yachts.
  • Budgets are, after all, moral documents.

Stiglitz argues that this asymmetry is very harmful for the economy as a whole, since the very rich do not spend the kind of dollars on goods and services that those at the other end of society must, creating not only jobs but new businesses and enterprises as well.

Of course, the solutions that Stiglitz offers to redistribute the wealth—greater government involvement in regulations and better enforcement of those already on the books as well as higher taxes for the rich are policies the free market fundamentalists abhor, making the political challenge very difficult, if not impossible.

I close these minutes with the words of James Surowieki, financial editor for The New Yorker whose closing words in a review three new books by Stiglitz in the current issue of The New York Review of Books, September 24 I find to be in keeping with the spirit of Sanders’ presentation:

Of course, the political challenge in doing any of this (let alone all of it) is immense, in part because inequality makes it harder to fix inequality.  And even for progressives, the very familiarity of the tax-and-transfer agenda may make it seem less appealing.  After all, the policies that Stiglitz is calling for are, in essence, not much different from the policies that shaped the US in the post war era: high marginal tax rates on the rich and meaningful investment in public infrastructure, education, and technology.  Yet there’s a reason people have never stopped pushing for those policies: they worked.  And as Stiglitz writes, “Just because you’ve heard it before doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try it again.”

Upcoming meetings:

October 13 John Peale will give a review of Michael Sandel’s What Money Can’t Buy with the focus on the moral and ethical values the apply to economic inequality.

November 10: Social and individual impacts of economic inequality: effects on democracy and the common good; decreased economic and social opportunity; impacts on personal health; Presenter: to be decided

December 8: Effects of Economic Inequality in the work of Robert Reich, including recorded interviews. Presenter: Ed Murray

The meeting adjourned at 2:00 pm.

Respectfully Submitted

Hal Horan