Waiting on the Trickle Down

The following Op-Ed appeared in the December 25, 2013 issue of the Lawrence County Advocate under the title “‘Tis the season to examine our hearts.” Below is the original essay:

There’s a stanza to a song by a band called The Tragically Hip that goes like this: “Lining up, waiting on the trickle down / Something’s up, taking time to get around / Belly up, all the drinks are on the crown / It’s just a matter of trickle down.”

Humorist Will Rogers actually coined the phrase back in the 1920s saying, “The money was all appropriated for the top in the hopes it would trickle down to the needy.” But it was Ronald Reagan who embraced this supply side theory and made it his economic policy as president, even after his Republican challenger, George H.W. Bush, called it “voodoo economics.”

Barack Obama used the term to clinch his 2008 presidential campaign, highlighting the widely held belief that the latter Bush administration’s trickle down economic policies contributed to the painful recession. Not many would dispute the disparity between the wealthiest Americans, who enjoyed large tax breaks, and the middle and lower income people. During the recent recession, this gap between rich and poor became an even deeper crevice.

Recently, none other than Pope Francis has thrown in his two cents on trickle down economics. As his admonishment with the ideologues whose focus centered around social issues, he lashed out at the abuse of capitalistic practices and economic policies. In his words:

From 53: “Today everything comes under the laws of competition and the survival of the fittest, where the powerful feed upon the powerless. As a consequence, masses of people find themselves excluded and marginalized: without work, without possibilities, without any means of escape.

From 54: “…People continue to defend trickle-down theories which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naïve trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system. Meanwhile, the excluded are still waiting. To sustain a lifestyle, which excludes others, or to sustain enthusiasm for that selfish ideal, a globalization of indifference has developed. Almost without being aware of it, we end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own. The culture of prosperity deadens us…”

From 56: “The thirst for power and possessions knows no limits. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, whatever is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

From 58: “A financial reform open to such ethical considerations would require a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders. I urge them to face this challenge with determination and an eye to the future, while not ignoring, of course, the specifics of each case…The Pope loves everyone, rich and poor alike, but he is obliged in the name of Christ to remind all that the rich must help, respect and promote the poor. I exhort you to generous solidarity and a return of economics and finance to an ethical approach which favours human beings.”

The pope is not condemning Capitalism, but he is railing against the unbridled, under-regulated markets that practice exclusion and inequality and leave most of the world deprived of the spigot that delivers the trickle down. He recognizes the need to protect those things that cannot protect themselves, like the poor and the environment.  He is not saying for churches to handle this responsibility alone; he is charging politicians to work for these causes.

For many, he is a breath of fresh air, as the promise of spring that floats into a darkly ornate, stuffy room whose heavy door is thrown wide. No longer threatened by its own staleness, the room bids people to enter, to come and soak in the goodness that was meant for everyone to enjoy.

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