The Common Good

A Parable for Christmas

Sen. Jim DeMint recently released a plan to cut the federal deficit with $4.2 trillion in spending cuts. And guess what he wants to cut? 

 Sen. Jim Demint (L) and Ebenezer Scrooge (R)Photos via Wiki Commons,http://bit.
Sen. Jim Demint (L) and Ebenezer Scrooge (R) Photos via Wiki Commons,http://bit.ly/Collage by Cathleen Falsani for Sojourners.

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Seventy percent of the cuts would come from safety net programs that assist low-income people, including eliminating the earned income-tax credit and child tax credit.

Even an analyst for the American Enterprise Institute objected, saying, "It's comprised completely of spending cuts and no tax increases, but then targets the lower-income programs while sparing the big middle-class programs. They could have designed a spending-cut program that was more balanced …”

The news brought to mind a parable from the mid-1800s.

In the opening scene of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge is approached by two earnest gentlemen. "At this festive season of the year, Mr Scrooge,'' said the gentleman, taking up a pen, ``it is more than usually desirable that we should make some slight provision for the Poor and destitute, who suffer greatly at the present time. Many thousands are in want of common necessaries; hundreds of thousands are in want of common comforts, sir.''

To that appeal, Scrooge replies, "Are there no prisons?'' When assured that there are, he asks again, "And the Union workhouses? Are they still in operation?'' Again, the answer is yes. He persists, "The Treadmill and the Poor Law are in full vigour, then?'' Once again, he is assured that both are very busy

Having gotten past those questions, the gentleman tries again. "A few of us are endeavouring to raise a fund to buy the Poor some meat and drink, and means of warmth. We choose this time, because it is a time, of all others, when Want is keenly felt, and Abundance rejoices. What shall I put you down for?''

Scrooge emphatically replies, “NothingI wish to be left alone. Since you ask me what I wish, gentlemen, that is my answer. I don't make merry myself at Christmas and I can't afford to make idle people merry. I help to support the establishments I have mentioned: they cost enough: and those who are badly off must go there.''

With one last effort, the gentleman says, "Many can't go there; and many would rather die.'' To which Scrooge contemptuously replies, "If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.''

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"At this festive season of the year” in 21st century U.S., we face the reality of tens of millions “in want of common necessaries” and “common comforts.”

More than 13 million people are officially without a job, an additional 2.6 million people want jobs and are available for work, but have given up looking. 8.5 million people are working part time because their hours have been cut back or because they are unable to find a full-time job.

Every 10 seconds a homeowner receives a foreclosure notice, one homeowner in every 136 has in hand the notice that will end their dream of homeownership. 

A record number of Americans — nearly half — are living in poverty or are getting by on earnings that classify them as low income. As poverty rises, a growing number of families are struggling get enough food. One in 45 American children is homeless – that’s 1.6 million children living on the street, in homeless shelters or motels, or doubled up with other families.

And, to the question, "Are there no prisons?'', in fact, there are. The U.S. now has the highest incarceration rate in the world, and holds approximately 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. More than 2.4 million Americans are in prison, and 5 million are on either probation or parole. And, despite “debtor’s prisons” being illegal, as joblessness, low wages, and falling home values push more Americans into debt, the U.S. debt-collection industry is using arrest warrants; borrowers who can't or don't pay their debts can be sent to jail in more than one-third of states.

But faced with that reality affecting more and more Americans, the response of many politicians is the contemporary equivalent to Scrooge’s. 

Are there no churches and charities? We have a deficit to reduce, how are you going to pay for it? Why should we have people dependent on government?

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