Advent justice

Today’s Psalm is written as a people’s prayer for a just king. It reads, in part:

Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people,
and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.

When a people can’t find justice in their everyday lives, that people will look for salvation in a person. I remember some years ago Coretta Scott King saying in a speech — though I can’t find the reference — that we should not be looking for a new Martin Luther King, but that we should be doing the work ourselves. I think of these words when I read this psalm. It’s not the job of one person to inspire and achieve justice — not one preacher, not one president. It’s all our jobs. And we’re not doing enough. This, too, is a message of Advent.

As Nicholas Kristof pointed out in a recent nytimes.com editorial, “[One] percent [of the US citizenry is now] controlling 24 percent of American income in 2007. At a time of such stunning inequality, should Congress put priority on spending $700 billion on extending the Bush tax cuts to those with incomes above $250,000 a year? Or should it extend unemployment benefits for Americans who otherwise will lose them beginning next month?”

Here’s another take, from Bob Herbert, who calls it “A Sin and a Shame” that U.S. corporations are sitting on piles of cash instead of hiring workers back, cash generated when they took the opportunity of the recession to slash payrolls: “They threw out far more workers and hours than they lost output,” said Andrew Sum, professor of economics. “Here’s what happened: At the end of the fourth quarter in 2008, you see corporate profits begin to really take off, and they grow by the time you get to the first quarter of 2010 by $572 billion. And over that same time period, wage and salary payments go down by $122 billion.” That kind of disconnect, said Mr. Sum, had never been seen before in all the decades since World War II. In short, the corporations are making out like bandits. Now they’re sitting on mountains of cash and they still are not interested in hiring to any significant degree, or strengthening workers’ paychecks.

Former President Bill Clinton hints around that it is the fault of the government for not being clear enough about where things are going for companies to be confident about hiring and spending money.

With all due respect, that’s a bunch of crap. Companies are sitting on money because it makes their company performance look better, their stock offerings more attractive, and their leaders’ take-home fatter.

There are no regulations in place to stop this accumulation, and no nerve to create such regulatory structures when it is the “corporate citizens” who are paying for elections.

I’m not an economist or a political scientist; I don’t know what the answer is. But I do know no one king can change things. It will take most of all of us engaging in an informed, stubborn, smart struggle.

I’m not sure where or how that’s going to happen. But I can’t let my not knowing stop my hoping, and working. There is a sure justice coming, as sure as this morning’s dawn. I may not see it, but I believe it. I’ll pray for it, and I’ll vote for it, given the opportunity.

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