Time to Break Silence

Written by: Terry Link

Primary Source : Possibilitator, December 11, 2016


Well I haven’t exactly been silent in recent years, but I think the circumstances we are in call for being unafraid to stand up to forces that are dragging us toward our collective demise, but also to offer alternatives that redirect us towards a more just and peaceful future. It will be 50 years in April, when Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his most radical and courageous speech at Riverside Church in New York City. In fact, it occurred one year from the day of his murder in Memphis. That speech , where he came out against the Vietnam War, brought him all kinds of hate mail, even from within the civil rights movement from some who believed he was jeopardizing that work.

He chose that title inspired by a recent statement from Clergy and Laity Concerned, a group that was sponsoring his speech, which opened with, “A time comes when silence is betrayal.”

The truth of these words is beyond doubt, but the mission to which they call us is a most difficult one. Even when pressed by the demands of inner truth, men do not easily assume the task of opposing their government’s policy, especially in time of war. Nor does the human spirit move without great difficulty against all the apathy of conformist thought within one’s own bosom and in the surrounding world. Moreover, when the issues at hand seem as perplexing as they often do in the case of this dreadful conflict, we are always on the verge of being mesmerized by uncertainty; but we must move on.

And some of us who have already begun to break the silence of the night have found that the calling to speak is often a vocation of agony, but we must speak. We must speak with all the humility that is appropriate to our limited vision, but we must speak.

The increasing evidence of climate destabilization and its acceleration demands that we act, as King suggested then “with the fierce urgency of now.” We can’t ask that the necessary sacrifices be borne by those already struggling to survive or to find some basic level of security. Our situation has been manufactured in significant part by those who gorge at the consumptive trough.

The Trump regime appears to be handing power to those who have been gorging. Four billionaires so far for cabinet offices, most of the rest are multi-millionaires. We have apparently so idolized profit driven market over the past forty years, that even noted theologian Harvey Cox has equated it to God. The unrestrained drive for profit over everything has accelerated both climate change and growing income inequality both domestically and globally. And of course they are linked. If we want to address either of these urgent crises we must tackle runaway private profit.

Cover: The Market as God in HARDCOVER

We need to move towards more equal sharing of the gifts of this planet with a strong commitment to care for the life forms we share it with. We can do this. Herein are a series of possibilities. They aren’t the only ones , I’m sure, but I offer them in hopes of moving us towards solutions that will address the dual crises before us.

We need to peg maximum salaries to reasonable ratios of the median household income. That income,  which marks the point at which 50% of the population earns more and 50% earns less in the U.S.  is $51,939 for last reporting year (2014).  I believe it is totally reasonable that in 2016 median household income should provide a family adequate housing, access to health care and education, nutritious and ample food, affordable utilities and transportation. Remember that this is household income, not individual income.

Some possible policy examples might be as follows:

1)      For an organization to receive nonprofit status and the benefits it accrues from it, no employee of that organization should make more than three times the median household income.  That’s nearly $156,000 which should be more than sufficient for anyone working for an organization that is not designed  to reap ‘profit’, but rather is supposedly committed to some aspect(s) of the common good. This includes schools and churches.

2)      Government employees should not make more than two times the median household income.  A commitment to work on behalf of fellow citizens should also carry with it a status.

3)      Private sector employees should not make more than 10 times the median household income. This should apply for all for-profit enterprises and includes professional athletes, musicians, actors, etc.  The city of Portland just took a step in this direction, by passing a policy that companies that pay CEOs more the 100 times their lowest paid employee, will not be eligible for contracts with the city.

I offer the specific ratios not as fixed thresholds, but as starting place for the necessary conversations we need to have as a human family in the face of the pending crises. I would like to see the specific thresholds set democratically at least every five years.  As inequality is reduced in future years, these ratios should be reviewed. If the median household income stays at $50,000 that household would have an income of $250,000 over five years. Someone making ten times that amount would $2.5 million over the same period thus increasing their wealth difference from $450,000 to $2.5 million over that same time. In other words the disparity grows. The intent is to both curtail the increase in inequality, but also to be able to provide a better social safety net, while investing more in the prudent stewardship we need to enact to preserve the healthy functioning of our ecological services.

One could address this differently by applying a more progressive income tax like the one we had during our greatest growth from the 1940s and 50s. With the demise of the progressive income tax, reduced corporate taxes and the increase in exorbitant salaries for the 1 per cent we have not only drowned government services in the bathtub, we have shredded the social safety net and destroyed or severely damaged the ecological health necessary for us to thrive. With the election of Mr.Trump and his wealthy coterie of greedy advisers and cabinet nominees we are now at the “fierce urgency of now.” If these possibilities don’t work, we need to come up with some that do, and in a hurry.


Labels: climate change, income inequality, policy, Trump

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Terry Link
Terry Link is a retired MSU librarian, former founding director of the MSU Office of Campus Sustainability, and co-founder and former chair of the American Library Association’s Task Force on the Environment. He recently served as associate editor for the two-volume encyclopedia, Achieving Sustainability: Visions, Principles, and Practices(Gale/Cengage 2014). He has also served as executive director of a regional food bank and as a county commissioner. Currently he is president of Starting Now, LLC, a sustainability consulting firm, a Senior Fellow for the U.S. Partnership for Education for Sustainable Development and serves on numerous non-profit organization boards.
Terry Link

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