“There shall be no poor among you” 

( published 7 Feb. 2012 Circleville Herald )

Government can be too big. I had a Chinese roommate during the Tiananmen Square "Occupation" Spring of 1989. Our apartment was often full of his friends, helping via fax machine from their compatriots still in Bejing to get the truth out. I was elated as the Chinese "Occupiers" built a model of the Statue of Liberty. I despaired with my Chinese friends when the government tanks rolled in Tiananmen in the night, literally crushing to death idealistic students and hopes for democracy. Images of the young man confronting a Chinese Army tank with his body are as moving as any of the human spirit confronting tyranny.

On the other hand, government, that is, you and I banding together to set some ground rules for fair play, is the only player that protects us from the tyranny of no-holds-barred capitalism. Pre-civilization, might makes right and he with the biggest skull-bashing club rules. Amos, Micah, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Jesus spoke against the exploitative landowner/peasant economics of their times. Leviticus 25 gives explicit governmental directives for the regulation of oppressive economic power by landowners and lenders. Deuteronomy 15:4 dictates “There shall be no poor among you.”

In U.S. history the era of the “Robber Barons” 1880-1930’s, the corporations hired literal skull-bashers to crush unions, bought politicians, pocketed enormous profits, polluted with abandon, injured workers without care and sold tainted meat until Upton Sinclair published "The Jungle" and other “muckrakers” exposed the human suffering of unregulated capitalism. I have referred in previous columns to my grandfather Hiram Cotton, age 12, shoveling coal in the boilers of Great Lakes freighters in 1912 while the Supreme Court refused to rule against this form of economic child abuse. I have written of the film "Titanic", a morality play highlighting the self-congratulatory Robber Barons of industry who were escorted into half-filled lifeboats while the common folk were locked below to drown. We the people, Teddy Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, unions, liberals, Democrats, acting through government; we birthed the American Dream by forcing capitalism away from barbarism, towards civilization.

We are in the second Robber Baron era. Since Ronald Reagan, we have suffered under the insane theories of the Austrian school of economics that lets the biggest bullies loose in the schoolyard. Somehow the 99% of us, the bullied masses, are supposed to benefit when Mitt Romney pays taxes at lower rates than Main Street pays, when health insurance companies can toss you overboard when your care threatens profits, when corporations can dump billions of untraceable dollars into any election they choose, when 4 million families lose their homes while the deceptive Wall Street bankers get no-strings-attached cash giveaways.

Thankfully since the “Occupy” movement has shone a flashlight ( a thousand floodlights are needed) on the criminal Wall Street darkness, and since even Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich have questioned the ethics of the winner-takes-all, scorched earth capitalism of Romney’s Bain Capital, sources as right-leaning as USA Today question “whether the private equity racket is good for the economy as a whole… … this combination [corporate friendly tax law] creates a potential gold mine for private equity firms that load up companies with debt. In the short term, they can shield their companies’ operating profits from taxation. Over time, if things go well, they can make a killing when they sell. And if things don’t go so well, they can walk away shielded from liability, leaving employees to fight in bankruptcy court for what’s left of their livelihoods, pension funds, stock ownership plans, and faith that the world is treating them fairly. This is fundamentally wrong.” ( USA Today editorial 16 January 2012)

We know, the folks I see everyday in the emergency department suffering, working two jobs, struggling to make it, at risk of drowning in Titanic’s icy waters with no health insurance, know that that the American Dream of equal opportunity for all was mugged and left in the alley. Mugged by “trickle-down” economic theory, held as unquestioned Gospel by the Republican Party. Mitt Romney thinks you are just envious. Herman Cain, before speaking locally at Ohio Christian University said you are just lazy. Rick Santorum, like all fundamentalists, be they religious or economic true believers, denies the facts—Santorum denies that 50,000 Americans die yearly as the health insurers deny them care. Senate Republicans, our own Rob Portman among them, tried to gut the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, one of the few all-too-weak reforms to come out the mortgage meltdown by filibustering Ohioan Richard Cordray’s appointment to head the agency.

Private charity, that is, rescuing drowning Americans as they wash downstream won’t do it. We need justice, that is, we go upstream to see who is pushing our neighbors in the river and stop them. For justice, we need to act together against the bullies. Acting together against the bullies is government, and it is so American. Our founders thought so, and so did we in ending the first Robber Baron era. Our nation needs justice again.

---  Brad Cotton