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Written by Jim Jordal   
Thursday, 11 December 2008

CRUSHING THE MIDDLE CLASS (PART 4)

By Jim Jordal

Finally, Isaiah indicted leaders of his nation (Isa. 3:15) with the question asked by God: "What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor?" The use of the terms "crushing" and "grinding" implies that poverty literally pulverizes its victims psychologically, spiritually, socially, economically, and politically. Poverty renders them impotent to in any way affect the economic outcomes of their lives. In fact, it often seems as if the idea is to damage them so thoroughly that they will never rise again as a disruptive, possibly revolutionary force in society. And the unpleasant truth that some of the hopelessly poor attempt to escape their misery by turning to drugs, alcohol, gambling, conspicuous consumption and other troublesome behaviors is pointed out as further evidence of their flawed characters and valueless lives. By this stratagem the dominators manage to thrust blame for poverty upon the poor themselves. Seldom if ever do the rich and powerful connect the distress of the poor to the economic and political policies created by the ruling classes for their own benefit.

Isaiah further blames the leaders of the nation for "grinding the faces of the poor." In some respects this is the worst of all charges because it deals with denial of dignity to those people pushed to the margins of society by the domination system. It’s the "Lazarus" syndrome, with the poor lying outside the gate (meaning with no access to power) and receiving nothing but crumbs from the rich man’s table (crumbs being charity insufficient to solve the problem, but enough to maintain life at a subsistence level). It’s one thing to be crushed by poverty, and quite another to have your face ground into the ignominy and hopelessness of total destitution. The mental image is of a giant irresistible hand of the oppressors literally seizing the poor by the hair and grinding their faces into the stinking muck of their desperation and suffering.

Think about the situation of Southern blacks before the Civil Rights revolution: Doesn’t the description of being ground into the earth describe their hopelessness and dejection? Or consider the bread lines of the Great Depression and the depressed, downcast body language of those without jobs and without hope. Or go to a welfare office today and see those waiting for help—more discouraged, sad countenances. These sights hopefully lend meaning to what it means to grind the faces of the poor and, increasingly, the middle class.

That’s a major difference between poverty several generations ago and poverty today. Many older Americans grew up in poverty, but were able to maintain dignity and hope because they didn’t know they were poor, and because they knew that hard work would place their feet on the ladder to success. But opportunity like this is less true today than ever before. Education is no longer a virtual guarantee of financial success. Nor is it possible to find lifetime employment at decent wages in a large, successful business.

Isaiah’s question, "What do you mean by crushing My people and grinding the faces of the poor…" implies that God is questioning the intent of those who oppress and rightfully so. Do titans of finance and industry sit in their boardrooms deliberately plotting to crush the middle class and grind the faces of the poor? No, not usually. They do not contrive to crush anybody, with the possible exception of their competitors. But the decisions they make often have consequences extremely damaging to certain groups of less fortunate people unable to defend themselves. The powerful decision-makers defend these actions as necessary to make profits, coupled with the simple comment: "That’s business." If you asked them about the adverse consequences of their decisions on the average citizen, they’d probably exclaim, "That’s too bad! Someone will have to help them, probably private charity. But that’s the name of the game—some win and some lose."

In the global sense, free trade agreements such as NAFTA have probably done more to crush the poor of the Third World than any other recent events, with the possible exception of World Bank and International Monetary Fund "structural adjustment" requirements. But anyone protesting this crushing of indigenous groups by the globalization colossus is branded as an economic illiterate at best and socialist revolutionary at worst. But no matter what the labels, the marginalizing and impoverishing continues.

But is it really necessary that some lose in the game of competition? The way we play it, it is. And they don’t just lose—they lose big. But God offers a different way to produce and consume—that of Jubilee economics. Under principles of Jubilee, businesses would produce for the social good, with profit as a favorable—but not vital—byproduct. No one has to lose, they just do under the present world system.

 

Last Updated ( Thursday, 11 December 2008 )