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Poverty & Economic Justice

Pope John Paul II said, "If the aim is globalization without marginalization, we can no longer tolerate a world in which there live side by side the immensely rich and the miserably poor, the have-nots deprived even of essentials and people who thoughtlessly waste what others so desperately need. Such countries are an affront to the dignity of the human person." He further sad, "Ethics demand that systems be attuned to the needs of man, and not that man be sacrificed for the sake of the system."

The U.S. has 5% of the world's population and uses 40% of the world's resources. The wealthiest countries--Europe, the U.S., Canada, Australia, Japan--use 65% of the world's electricity. 2 billion people live on less than $2 per day. 1.3 billion people worldwide struggle to survive on $1 per day or less. To think about economic justice from a comfortable place in the world's richest nation, it requires a stretch of unpleasant imagination to think what genuine poverty is like. To be poor in America is still relatively wealthy compared to some people in some places on our planet. And to be poor in America, the richest nation on Earth, is unthinkable, unacceptable and avoidable. (Since 2003, 1.1 million more Americans have fallen below the official poverty line.) We need to find the clarity and compassion to look at the national and global class structure and how the powerful governmental and military organizations enforce that structure, and begin to find ways to chip away at that monolith.

It is necessary to recognize how such great poverty has happened. "If we are serious about ending poverty, we have to be serious about ending the system that creates poverty by robbing the poor of their economic wealth, livelihoods and incomes. Before we can make poverty history, we need to get the history of poverty right. It's not about how much wealthy nations can give so much as how much less they can take." (Vandana Shiva, physicist, prominent Indian environmental activist, and Right Livelihood Award winner.)

On the surface, it would seem that the global economy has increased the wellbeing of the world's countries. But this is only if you measure a country's total income growth. If there is a huge growth in the income of the upper 20 percent of the population, without counting the dramatic declines in the incomes of the lower 80 percent of the population, you can cover up what's really happening. The Occupy Movement is the most current expression of the revolutionary fervor that recognizes the brutal and ultimately self-destructive juggernaut that is the global economic oligarchy for what it really is. It is not only the social fabric of communities that is unravelled by huge-scale corporate domination, but ecological systems as well. The answer is in building local, human-scale economies that support people, communities, and restores the environment on which they depend for their livelihoods. It is hard to act out of compassion when the scale of our enterprises is so large that the chains of cause and effect are hidden, leading us to unwittingly contribute to the suffering of other beings.

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