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Carol Anne Costa: Disparity & Self Honesty

Thursday, December 05, 2013

 

Carol Anne Costa believes everyone could benefit from heeding the words of Popes Francis and Leo XII.

A convergence of 3 stories broke last week and have prompted me to think about them in a totality as opposed to the singular impact of each happening. They speak to the common good, reciprocity, and the state of wages and the worker. At first blush they are a curious mix but I believe they speak loudly to many troubles we collectively face. A Thanksgiving reflection was released within the mission and vision statement of the pope in Evangelii Gaudium, the Apostolic Exhortation of Pope Francis. Black Friday was a well-covered story revealing fans, critics, and worker protests.

Stephen Beale and Kate Nagle exposed a story of high salaries in Providence, which is still reverberating throughout Rhode Island. The story and investigative reporting revealed the salaries of Providence’s highest paid municipal workers. In the wake of the piece, many emotions have stirred. It has garnered much reaction from those seeking office and thus started a conversation that at times is divisive. But it does provide a starting point for an honest conversation about disparity, labor, and compensation viewed through many facets including the Pontiff’s feelings on wealth, wages, working, and treatment of the poor. Right now you are thinking to yourself, what the heck is she talking about? How can these issues be related or even mentioned in the same column? Indulge me and I will attempt to connect some dots that seemed immediately present to me.

Lessons of Social Justice

Not since Pope Leo XII’s encyclical 1891 Rerum Novarum has there been a more insightful directive from the Vatican on class, labor, disparity, and social justice in modern times...until now, with the release of the new Pontiff’s Evangelii Gaudium (meaning the Joy of the Gospel). The 85-page document is a good read even if you're not Catholic, as it speaks directly to us as consumers, workers, and citizens. Considering Francis’s thoughts as well as reflecting on Rerum Novarum has forced me to consider the modern day issues of disparity, workers, and fairness with a multifaceted approach. The salaries of Providence municipal Workers and the protests of the working poor are directly impacted by each of the Pontiff’s points of wisdom.

It is very easy as a Democrat and a progressive (both titles I wear proudly) to cast all of the indictments of disparity onto big business, the 1-percenters, Wall Street, and the extreme right wing. But alas, the salary story and its followups, as well as worker protests at big box stores have allowed me to be honest and cast the shadows in other directions. This is not comfortable for me, but sometimes looking into an issue with new eyes and the new wisdom of persons truly dedicated to serving the poor like Popes Leo XIII and Francis, can allow opinions to become less targeted. I have had to come to grips with the fact that disparity lives on both sides of the political divide.

Yet, the working poor still struggle, as evidenced by not only by the Black Friday protests and rabid consumerism but also—according to Kate Nagle’s research—as the per capita income in the City of Providence totals a meager $21,628. The gulf between high paid municipal workers and the people they serve helps to create resentment and too often a place from which neither side can retreat either rhetorically, literally, or otherwise. The chasm of understanding is as wide as the wage divide… and growing.

A Multitude of Antagonists

The municipal workers and their salaries mentioned in the above story did not get here alone, and all the gasping and whining in the world will not make the substantive and moral changes that are imperative to deliver a more equitable future for all. Pope Francis engages us in the chapter entitled "Some Challenges of Today’s World": “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. Money must serve, not rule!” This is where I believe much of the disconnect resides. Let me be clear: I hold no animus for the earners, as they operate in a system designed by political and union leaders of many affiliations and through many generations (who dare I say did not look to the future but merely to the next election or contract). I am pretty certain the compensation packages and perks were not a one-way negotiation as well as being traditionally ratified by public bodies in the public forum.

I have heard the feedback of folks calling names and stamping the salaries with words such as “lavish” and "hefty". Let’s be honest, the men and women mentioned serve the public and oftentimes, the neediest and poorest people in society. I know I have not done it, but I guarantee it is not lavish to run into a burning building or to carry a victim to safety. So let us be fair and treat the people who do the service on our behalf with respect, even if we disagree with the state of their pay today.

I do however ask them this: when is enough, enough? Only they themselves can answer that question. It is so simple to train public wrath on the folks earning the overtime and negotiated benefits that total up to what many consider sizable compensation packages. But let's look at this in the light of history and accompanied by common sense and honesty.

Another perspective

These salaries did not happen overnight; they evolved through numerous administrations and over many negotiating tables, and they are not exclusive to Providence. To vilify only the recipients is an imperfect response and a simplistic approach to a many layered issue. Many more hold culpability: the political leaders who seek reelection, as well as the unions who are merely doing their jobs by the pushing weak-kneed politicians into places that they simply must have known the money could run out, but not in their term of office. I also lay blame with the apathetic public who abstain from the debate when it is ongoing.

The historically successful bargaining and political strategies combined with public lethargy have led us as members, taxpayers, and citizens to essentially loot our own store. The collective bargaining agreements which have evolved these packages to their present state have largely been forged with no eye to the distant future but eyes keenly trained on the immediate future, on both sides of the table and both sides of the political spectrum. Although negotiated agreements made at the time appear businesslike transactions, they simultaneously carry a large moral burden for everyone.

In Rerum Novarum, sections 45 and 46 in part, read, “Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner." He states further, “If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this. We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable." Pope Leo speaks of being fair to labor, paying fair wages, and giving jobs and confidence to the working class poor. I find bargains fraught with indifference to their impact are counterintuitive to the common good, and we all suffer.

Time to Reset

Perhaps the time has come to seriously weigh the morality of “the bargain”; to take the advice of Pope Leo XIII and allow for fair wage and collective bargaining in order to build confidence and the spirit of humankind. At the same time, we must heed the words of Francis, when he speaks of the idolatry of money: “One cause of this situation is found in our relationship with money, since we calmly accept its dominion over ourselves and our societies. The current financial crisis can make us overlook the fact that it originated in a profound human crisis: the denial of the primacy of the human person! We have created new idols.” he continues, “The worldwide crisis affecting finance and the economy lays bare their imbalances and, above all, their lack of real concern for human beings; man is reduced to one of his needs alone: consumption.”

The idolization of money and power is visible on the left and the right of politics and only with honesty and morality can we move to make the world better for ourselves and our progeny. The task ahead is filled with hard choices and only if each looks inward may we all find direction. Many of those seeking office are quoted as desiring a comprehensive review—I only hope it is followed by action rooted in fairness, morality, and honesty. And may the workers also consider as Pope Leo advises: to be sensible and practice thrift in order to secure a “modest” income.

 

Carol Costa is a public relations and community outreach specialist; she has experience in both the public and private sectors. She is the Chairwoman of the Scituate Democratic Town Committee and has extensive community affairs and public relations experience. She previously served in the Rhode Island Judiciary for nearly 17 years. Carol also enjoyed a successful development stint at the Diocese of Providence as Associate Director for Catholic Education and is currently a public housing manager. Her work has been published in several local outlets including GoLocal, Valley Breeze, The Rhode Island Catholic, and Currents Magazine.

 

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Comments:

Killary Klinton

There will always be the wealthy and the poor. That is because there are those who will work hard to succeed and those who will not. Even the Bible tells us this.

If this pope believes in income redistribution, he is a lost soul and Catholics should be forewarned.

KK

Remember Benghazi 2012 and when Hillary said to congress, What difference does it make?

Dave Barry

Mrs. Costa worked in the RI judiciary for 17 years. She knows what outlandish salaries are because there are few more outlandish than the judiciary.

Art West

We certainly don't need the pope subtly agitating for governments to steal more from some of the people to give to other people. What moral right does the pope know that I don't?

Kendall Svengalis

While well-meaning, Pope Francis is seriously misguided on matters economic. When he uses terms like "trickle down economics" he falls into a trap that has ensnared many who failed to do their homework and study economic history, including politicians, historians, and journalists.

There is no economist or politician who ever advocated something called “trickle down economics,” in other words, the idea that if you just lower taxes on the rich the resulting revenue will “trickle down” to the poor. I defy anyone to produce the name of someone who has advocated such a theory.

What a number of administrations have advocated and implemented is a reduction in income tax rates in order to grow federal revenues. This was successfully accomplished in the 1920s, and under Presidents Kennedy, Reagan and Bush II. The resulting tax rate reductions resulted in increased revenues, increased the percentage of the total tax burden paid by the so-called “rich,” and stimulated economic growth. Lowering marginal tax rates not only fosters economic growth but it causes high earners to move wealth out of tax-free vehicles into more economically productive, but taxed, activities.

It was President Kennedy who said “it is a paradoxical truth that tax rates are too high today and tax revenues are too low and the soundest way to raise the revenues in the long run is to cut the tax rates now.” That was back in the today when the Democrat Party had a modicum of common sense, rather than being consumed by leftist ideology as it has been since the 1972. Reagan did what Kennedy did and revenues rose dramatically.

But it is central to the Democrat message to conflate Republicans and the “evil rich,”
because, by doing so, they distract voters from the real dynamic—that their party has become the party of government and the public employee unions, of crony capitalism, elitists and special interests, of command and control, and the enemy of freedom.

“The “trickle down” mantra serves the needs of Democrat campaign rhetoric, but bears no relationship to the truth of economic experience. It is central to the simplistic Democrat message that they be perceived as champions of the poor and middle class and enemies of “greed” and “rich Republicans.” Ironically, in doing so, they advocate policies that are less likely to enhance economic growth and grow federal tax revenues, or help the poor and middle class. But rhetoric and perception win out over reality.

The Pope also maligns the “tyranny” of the markets. But it is market economies that have brought the highest level of economic prosperity to the world. No economic system than the free market can make that claim. It is not perfect, but it surpasses all systems, that have come before, while comporting with human liberty.

No honest person should disparage the ”rich” on the grounds they are stealing from the poor. This is fallacious reasoning. The economic pie is infinitely expandable.
One man’s success is not the cause of another man’s lack of it. The poor are poor because either they cannot work or don’t want to work. There is near universal agreement that society should help those who, through no fault of their own, cannot work, or are aged or infirm. But what we have witnessed under this administration is a substantial increase in the numbers who choose not to work because the government makes it possible for them to do so. And to compound matters, the government-induced recession makes it even more difficult to find work, providing a rationale for even more citizens to ride in the wagon rather than helping to pull it.
And this comes at a critical juncture for recent college graduates who find their dreams of employment and economic success put on hold indefinitely.

Pope Francis is like many other people who venture forth from their area of expertise to pontificate (forgive the pun) on matters of which they have no greater knowledge than the average educated person. It’s one reason why we need to keep religion out of public policy considerations. In the Pope’s case, this is nothing more than warmed over liberation theology coming out of South America, and it’s harmful to the very poor he professes to help. Let Augustine’s “City of God,” triumph, but let us not give undue power to the “City of Man” to “fundamentally transform the United States of America” into a European socialist welfare state.

Leftists, many of whom are irreligious, agnostic or atheistic, are nevertheless quick to use Jesus as a cudgel to advance a socialistic welfare state in the name of “compassion.” But Jesus did not come to bring about a heaven on earth of the kind many Marxist, socialist and fascist philosophers and politicians would attempt to impose based on misguided and unworkable economic theories. What Jesus advocated was individual human compassion, a compassion of the heart, for which government is a poor and largely ineffective instrument, and can be a tool of monumental oppression as we witnessed in unprecedented scale during the 20th century. And “Progressivism,” so-called, is nothing more than a reformulation of the fascist ideas and policies that Mussolini and others advocated in the early part of the 20th century, as Jonah Goldberg has elucidated so well in his book “Liberal Fascism.”

Miss Costa has hit upon one reality: the income gap between the poor and more highly paid government workers who use their coercive union power to extract higher and higher wages and benefits from taxpayers. Take the rich and the concept of “social justice” out of the equation and you can better isolate the problem manifest in municipalities like Providence, or Detroit. In both cases, the public employee unions have used their power to coerce workers and, with their forced dues, buy politicians to control both sides of the bargaining table to the detriment of the middle class who pay most of the, yes, regressive, property taxes to support them. And it’s not just wages, but pensions that private sector workers only dream of, but for which they are on the hook. In the case of Detroit, those salary demands, and corrupt Democrat politicians, have brought the city to bankruptcy. And, not surprisingly, the union members want the city to make good on its pension promises when they were the ones who voted for those politicians and those unsustainable union contracts. No doubt, they want Obama (i.e. the American taxpayer) to bail them out.

Papal encyclicals need to be taken with a grain of salt, particularly when they are based on a faulty understanding of economics and economic history and a lack of clear-headed analysis. Rhode Island, which is already an economic basketcase because of Democrat politicians and policies, has nothing to gain by following his public policy prescriptions which diminish free markets and enhance the power of the government class.

Ultimately this is the bankruptcy of the modern Democrat Party and the various ideologies that complete for the public’s allegiance. It is axiomatic that the more government does for people, the less they will do for themselves, eventually lapsing into a state of indolence and dependency. Ultimately, despite the, sometimes, good intentions of the government class, and its ideological allies, society will collapse as individual initiative, enterprise, and private charity atrophy. There is no way in which government can hope to overcome the diminution in individual effort that its policies actively discourage.

Art West

Kendall,

Whew, that commentary is cogent and spot-on.

I hope everyone reading Ms. Costa's article will carefully consider what you have written.

Stephen DeNinno

Hey Svengali, you may want to do a little independent research on some of your claims.....Economic recovery, NOT the tax cuts led to increased revenue. Even though Reagan is exalted today with Reaganomics, you will find, if you add in inflation, national growth, and percent of GDP and Government spending, you will find the tax cuts did little for revenue growth. Now the tax raise of 93, with Clinton, and coming out of a recession, raised revenues twice as much as the tax cuts of Reagan, and Bush II. The tax cuts of especially Bush, have caused the opposite effect on the country. Generating the biggest income gap since 1929, and you know what happened next don't you?

Art West

Stephen,

Yes, and FDR pretty much kept the depression going with wild spending and big taxes. It was the demands of WWII that forced the country into ramped up industrial production, which effectively ended the depression.

Stephen DeNinno

My point Art, is someone on here again gives information that economist have proven wrong. I am not advocating for higher taxes, just the truth about our "tax cutting presidents"

Johnny cakes

“I also lay blame with the apathetic public who abstain from the debate when it is ongoing.”

Don’t blame the public. You have the forum, use it. How many people have even heard of the Apostolic Exhortation, or what the pope said? The “free press” has buried it. Do you think this was just an oversight, or not newsworthy? People are ignorant and apathetic because the mass media works hard at keeping them that way - filling their heads with shit. The blame lies with you in the electronic and print media - dumbing people down.
The Journal didn’t even mention Evangelii Gaudium, but they are all over the story: “Disgraced priest to wed daughter of pope’s advisor,” and “Pope forms panel on abuse.” Do you think these stories and the space they received were chosen at random?

“The chasm of understanding is as wide as the wage divide… and growing.”

You bet! With all the foreclosures that have occured in Rhode Island, why has so little been written which would give voice to those who have been victimized - yes, victimized. This is not newsworthy? How about putting a face on all the long-term unemployed, or those who are on food stamps and trying to cope with the cuts. These people are deliberately kept from the consciousness of the public. Ask the average person what is the number one priority for America, they will tell you it is putting people back to work. However, putting people to work is not even within the lexicon of those who rule.

As the Pope said: “Human beings are themselves considered consumer goods to be used and discarded. We have created a ‘disposable’ culture which is now spreading. It is no longer simply about exploitation and oppression, but something new.”

Redd Ratt

I'm just happy gay bashing, contraception and abortion rights aren't the only thing the church is talking about. I have less dislike for the catholic church than before. Lets see the Pope start selling some of that art and redistributing the money to the poor.




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