Friday, June 19, 2015

More Comments From My Trip To Cuba

I have received more comments from readers concerning my trip to Cuba. From the comments I could pretty much distinguish between those readers who were more politically progressive and those who were more conservative. The more progressive comments expressed a curiosity about specific aspects of the Cuban people – their life, culture, education, health, and arts. The more conservative concentrated their comments on Cuba’s system of government, especially the socialistic economic system, or on a general defense of capitalism to the point of stating that capitalism is biblical (thus Christian?) and socialism wasn’t.
I’ve heard it said there is a Christian basis for capitalism. But one can find biblical verses to support socialism as well. Often, I hear quoted as a biblical reference that supports capitalism, “God helps those who help themselves.” That quote is from Benjamin Franklin’s Poor Richard’s Almanac not from the Bible.
There are really two major economic systems: socialism and capitalism. One of the “Aha” moments I had while in Cuba was recognition of the singular flaw in both of these major economic systems.
In the U.S. we do not have a true capitalistic system. We have a government-assisted form of capitalism just like Europe. The only difference is that our government-assisted capitalism is designed to support corporations and their shareholders. In Europe, their government-assisted capitalism is generally designed to protect the “little guy.”
But both socialism and capitalism have this one flaw: These are theoretical systems.  Everybody in the society has to subscribe to the system – and I mean everybody; every single person – for it to work. 
What happens when people don’t? They are beat down to a pulp. In fascist or communist governments with a socialistic form of economy, this “beating down” often takes the form of physical violence. Dissidents are threatened, hurt, imprisoned, and even killed. We in the USA and other major capitalistic countries like Spain and England have also done this when we dealt with colonists, with native Americans, with unions, and others. Governments were called in through their control of the National Guard to support the industrial community.  All you have to do is read about the miner/trucker/longshoremen strikes here or read Oliver Twist or A Christmas Carol to see how society was skewed to support those fully engaged in the practice of their version of capitalism.
I remember a lady from France in Saint Augustine, where she would spend the winter, who could not understand why people would put up with “bad food” in grocery stores. The “good” food, i.e., organic, was very expensive or unavailable. In the course of her comments she made a poignant statement: “Here in the U.S. people seem to be afraid of big business and the government. In Europe big business and the government are afraid of the people.”
But generally, we “beat down” those who don’t participate fully in our economic systems by marginalizing, taxing, and controlling their behavior in inhumane ways to prevent their “drain” on our resources.  When I was a Street Minister in Trenton, NJ in the late 1960s I worked with these marginalized folks. People trying to use their incentive to add to their income, were taxed at a 100% rate! If the social worker found out that they were earning an additional $75 a month from taking in ironing, for example, they would have the family’s benefits cut by $75. Additionally, they would be blamed for “trying to cheat the system.” It was insane. Poor people often hold menial jobs and are dependent on public transportation, while factory jobs are moved to the outskirts of urban areas increasing transportation costs and travel time – both of which can become unbearable to someone earning the minimum wage.
Abortion restrictions apply mainly to those who are dependent on government assistance. Wealthier folks will find a way to take care of their daughters – they’ll send them away for an abortion or send them away to a “private school” to have their baby and give it up for adoption. The poor family simply has to take care of their child (or the teenager and her child) – further impeding the family’s attempt to climb out of their economic hole. But we don’t want to teach sex education or have contraception available. We want them to be forced into having their babies, and it’s the children who will suffer. Poor children will have improper diets and inadequate health care and do poorly in school. After all, it’s difficult for children to concentrate in school when they are hungry or ill. It is almost a self-fulfilling prophecy or a perfect circular argument: We don’t need to spend time and money on the poor because they only end up in menial jobs and are a “drain” on our economy. See! We haven’t spent money on them and, sure enough, they are not amounting to very much. Case proved. Case closed.
I’m reminded of a quote from the Code of Hammurabi. It was the source of the overriding legalistic system in Mesopotamia circa 2,000 BCE. This was the time of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the Old Testament. Many of the practices we read about in Genesis stem from this Code of Law: The legal treatment of Ishmael, Abraham’s son by Hagar who was Sarah’s handmaiden; Abraham’s treatment of Sarah as his sister rather than as his wife; the codes and practices of inheritance.  All these were from the Code of Hammurabi, which had as a major tenet: “The first duty of government is to protect the powerless from the powerful.
We need to stop believing capitalism, as an economic system, is some form of a gift from God. It is what it is – an economic system. So is socialism. Socialism needs to adapt in order to honor, support and encourage the efforts of the individual. Capitalism needs to always be aware of and tempered by the practice of protecting the powerless from the powerful. When this is not done we end up with a system where 10% of the population owns more capital that the remaining 90%. That becomes a moral issue, and, if not addressed, will become the downfall of our democratic society, as we know it.
Although these messages are mostly for me, thanks for listening. As always – feel free to forward this message to your friends, family, and those accompanying you on your spiritual journey.
#3 June 2015
Copyright 2015

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