equity

From the Archives: November 1993

DESPITE APPEARANCES, economics is in essence a very personal and fundamentally moral discipline. It is nothing short of the web of our material relationships with one another and with the natural environment. Economic relationships have personalities and personal histories. Inescapably, these relationships physically manifest our social and spiritual values.

Our language expresses this duality. “Values” are both moral principles and economic measures. “Equity” is defined both as a financial interest in property and as fairness or justice. The root of “property” is also the root of “propriety.” But perception and practice often reflect a division between them.

Many of the economic problems confronting us can be understood as the result of neglected or broken relationships. Americans ... have a tendency to polarize public and private interests and, in our case, to mythologize the private sector and ignore the community as a genuine economic actor.

If it will, the church can play a critical role in healing these divisions. It has a unique contribution to make: philosophically, by drawing on its theology of creation, its understanding of the individual in community, and its preferential option for the poor; practically, because it is the largest and most widespread non-governmental institution and one of the few stable institutions in low-income communities. 

Chuck Matthei was president of Equity Trust when this article appeared.

Image: Sprouts planted in gold coins,  / Shutterstock 

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Creating Equal

WE OWE A lot to Anne-Marie Slaughter. Last summer, the Princeton University professor’s Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” kicked off an overdue, protracted national-scale debate on the difficulty of juggling the demands of professional success and committed parenting, the likes of which we haven’t had in a while. Shortly after Slaughter’s polemic hit newsstands, Marissa Mayer, just 37, was named CEO of Yahoo!, becoming the youngest CEO of a Fortune 500 company at the time and stirring controversy when she revealed that she was seven months pregnant. (Months later, she banned telecommuting companywide and was sharply criticized by some as being “anti-parent.”)

Then, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg got in on the action, publishing in March the ambitiously titled Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead. In the following months, it sat at the top of bestseller lists, with staggering sales triggering multiple printings. Sandberg, one of the wealthiest women in the world, donates all related profits to her newly established nonprofit, also called Lean In, encouraging women to form consciousness-raising Lean In Circles, in which they’ll discuss money and maternity.

Suddenly, there was a lot of estrogen in the air. A year into this cultural conversation, we’re still trying to make sense of what it all means.

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Fairness for Whom?

It’s a good sign we’ve entered the election silly season when pundits are arguing against “fairness.” What’s next, apple pie? (Motherhood, of course, is already a battleground of the “mommy wars”—Lord help us!)

The Democrats are trying to take the pro-fairness side of the debate, in particular around the issue of tax rates for the wealthiest Americans. The so-called Buffett Rule—named after billionaire Warren Buffet, who pointed out the injustice of his paying a lower tax rate than his secretary—became a key talking point the week before April 15.

Here’s how President Obama put it: “Right now, the share of our national income flowing to the top 1 percent has climbed to levels we haven’t seen since the 1920s. And yet those same people are also paying taxes at one of the lowest rates in 50 years. That’s not fair.” (The Occupy movement arguably deserves most of the credit for that framing of the issue.)

The president’s political opponents were quick to dismiss the focus on tax fairness as campaign rhetoric aimed more at the fall elections than any meaningful policy goals. It’s a safe assumption that pretty much anything between now and November has that partisan goal in mind, and—perhaps not surprising—fairness polls well.

But the critics didn’t stop there. Conservative columnist Charles Krauthammer, for instance, called the Buffett Rule “nothing but a form of redistributionism,” and said that focus on the tax fairness issue “is an exercise in misdirection.” Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said that having the rich pay a higher tax rate “won’t take a single person off the unemployment line.” (It also won’t end the war in Afghanistan, he didn’t add.) Others brought out the tired accusation of “class warfare.”

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