Why the U.S. Will Never Compete Successfully with China

Readings for the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time : Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31; Psalms 128: 1-5; 1st Thessalonians 5: 1-6; Matthew 25: 14-30

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy that Joe Biden won the presidency and that the reign of Donald Trump is more or less behind us. However, a Biden presidency is not going to cure what’s wrong with the U.S. economy.

That simple truth was underlined for me by Paul Jay’s interview of the brilliant economist and former Wall Street analyst, Michael Hudson who has written the insightful . . . And Forgive Them Their Debts about debt elimination and the biblical Jubilee Year.

Hudson and Jay discussed the de-industrialization of the United States whose economy has become dependent not on producing goods and services, but on the financial sector – on investments, banking, debt, stocks and bonds.

Industrialization vs. Financialization

Meanwhile, China, our country’s chief competitor, has a far healthier economic system that actually provides manufacturing jobs and a rising standard of living for its people. In our globalized economy, that’s possible, because industries are drawn to China by wages that are much lower than in the U.S.

Yet, even with low wages, the Chinese working class is prospering, because of the country’s centralized economy that provides health care gratis and free education for its people along with subsidized housing, food and transportation. Besides that, the nationalized Chinese banking system (absent the profit motive) can easily remedy any debt problems by simply writing down debts should that sector develop problems.

According to Hudson and Jay, catching up with China will be impossible for the United States as long as it continues embracing the neo-liberal capitalist model. For one thing, that arrangement finds it unthinkable to engage in long-term planning; it can’t see beyond projected returns on a quarterly basis. Among other liabilities, that makes it impossible, for example to cope with climate change, that demands anticipating weather events decades from now.

In fact, to actually compete with the centrally planned elements of China’s economy, the U.S. would have to follow systemic suit. However, its program of privatization, deregulation and tax reduction has America moving in the exact opposite direction.

Again, according to Michael Hudson, course correction would include the ideologically “impossible” steps of taming of wage spirals by:

  • Taking de facto central planning away from Wall Street and returning it into the hands of elected government officials
  • Raising taxes on the 1%
  • Nationalizing the banking system
  • Enacting a green new deal to provide productive, environment-saving jobs for the unemployed and under-employed
  • Providing free tuition for all post-secondary students
  • Forgiving the $1.5 trillion that students still owe for their educations, thus freeing them to actually buy homes, automobiles and other necessities
  • Nationalizing health care thus relieving both employers and employees from the burden of meeting the costs of medical treatment and pharmaceuticals

Both Jay and Hudson agreed that without some apocalyptic catastrophe and without transcending our hamstrung two-party system, the chances of taking such measures (even if Democrats had control of both houses of Congress) are nil. Consequently, China will continue to outstrip the United States economically and socially. Simply put, its system is more flexible than the neo-liberal model.

Today’s Readings

I bring all of that up because today’s readings contrast economies (like China’s) that prioritize the needs of people with those that primarily serve the already wealthy. The first type centralizes the role of women. The second is condemned in Jesus’ famous Parable of the Talents.

Here are my “translations” of the readings. You can find the originals here.

Proverbs 31: 10-13, 19-20, 30-31

Deeply centered women are the anchors of the world – far more than the superficially beautiful and apparently charming. The value of virtuous women is beyond precious jewels. They not only benefit their own families with food and clothing; they also recognize and share what they have with the marginalized and poor. In fact, homemakers should be paid for housework and given high positions in government.

Psalms 128: 1-5

Whether they know it or not, such women and those they care for are blessed. They are following the Divine Mother’s path. The gardens they cultivate (actual and metaphorical) overflow with rich foods. Face it: they are responsible for the very continuance and prosperity of the human race. The men in their lives should honor them accordingly.

I Thessalonians 5: 1-6

Women’s pregnancy processes provide an apt image for the Divine Mother’s New World that we all anticipate. The enlightened among us (as opposed to those living in darkness) can already feel that the labor pangs are about to begin. Alert and clear-headed, the light-bearers stand ready like midwives to assist in the birthing.  

Matthew 25: 14-30

Such assistance in service of our Mother’s New Reality calls for departure from business as usual – from a system that rewards the 1% who do no actual work, but who rely on investments that end up enriching the already affluent while further impoverishing and punishing the actually poor and exploited.

Parable of the Talents

As I was saying, the readings just reviewed are about economic systems – one that treats its beneficiaries like the family they are, the other that prioritizes money and profit. The first three readings from Proverbs, Psalms and 1st Thessalonians reflect the values of a tribal culture where women’s productive capacity was still highly valued.  

On the other hand, Jesus’ Parable of the Talents centers on the male world of investment and profit-taking without real work. The story celebrates dropping out and refusing to cooperate with the dynamics of finance, interest and exploitation of the working class. Taken together, the readings put one in mind of the contrast between China’s people-oriented economy over against the U.S. profit-oriented system.

More specifically, Jesus’ parable contrasts obedient conformists with a counter-cultural rebel. The former invest in an economic system embodied in their boss – “a demanding person” the parable laments, “harvesting where he did not plant and gathering where he did not scatter.” In other words, like neo-liberal capitalism itself, the boss is a hard-ass S.O.B. who lives off the work of poor women farmers like the one celebrated in the Proverbs selection. The conformists go along with that system to which they can imagine no acceptable alternative.

Accordingly, the servant who is entrusted with five talents (more than 2 million dollars!) gains 2 million more and the one given two talents doubles his money as well. 

Meanwhile, the non-conformist hero of the parable (like China) refuses to adopt a system where, as Jesus puts it, “everyone who has is given more so that they grow rich, while the have-nots are robbed even of what they have.” Because of his decision to drop out, the rebel suffers predictable consequences. Like Jesus and his mentor, John the Baptist, the non-conformist is marginalized into an exterior darkness which the rich see as bleak and tearful (a place of “weeping and grinding of teeth”). However, Jesus promises that exile from the system of oppression represents a first step towards the inauguration of the very kingdom of God. It is filled with light and joy.

Conclusion

In voting for Joe Biden on November 3rd, so many of us did so with a heavy heart. Yes, we understandably want our world rid of Donald Trump once and for all. And thank God he’ll soon be gone — at least temporarily.

But obviously, Trump is not the problem. As this reflection has suggested, the problem is a system that prioritizes the welfare of investors like the rich man in the Parable of the Talents. And we all know that Mr. Biden and his running mate have no intention of departing from that economic arrangement.

Biden and Harris can’t even imagine a mechanism that treats everyone like family members rather than as interchangeable clients.

Yet somehow, like Paul in the reading from Thessalonians, the enlightened among us can already feel that the labor pangs of the new world Jesus envisioned. Alert and clear-headed, we must commit ourselves to pushing the system in that direction – towards something reflective of Michael Hudson’s recommendations, towards the North Star Jesus called God’s Kingdom.

Hoping against hope, pushing the Biden administration down that path represents our challenge over the next four years.

How Marianne Williamson Won Thursday’s Debate (Sunday Homily)

Readings for the 13th Sunday in Ordinary Time: I KGS 19: 16 B, 19-21; PS 16: 1, 2, 5, 7-11; GAL 5: 1, 13-18; I SM 3:9; JN 6: 68C; LK9: 51-62

So, we all watched Thursday’s debate in which Marianne Williamson finally participated and showed the country who she is. And she was magnificent. She demonstrated what her spiritual guidebook, A Course in Miracles calls a refusal to be insane. She embodied that still small voice of conscience – the voice for God – that today’s liturgy of the word distinguishes from the world’s madness.

To begin with consider the madness we witnessed Thursday night. It was a perfect reflection of our insane country, of our insane world, of our insane electoral system. There they were: ten of our presumably best and brightest aspiring to occupy what we’re told is the most powerful office in the world. They shouted, talked over their opponents, self-promoted, bragged, and put their opponents down. They offered complicated “plans” that no one (including themselves) seemed to understand. They ignored the rules of the game, recited canned talking points, and generally made fools of themselves – and of viewers vainly seeking sincerity, genuine leadership and real answers. Except for that brief exchange about busing between Kamala Harris and Joe Biden, it was mostly embarrassing.

And then there were the so-called moderators who allowed the circus to spin so completely out of control. They issued stern warnings about time limits, frequently set them strictly at “thirty seconds,” but then proceeded to allow speakers to go on for three minutes or more. The celebrity hosts were completely arbitrary in addressing their questions unevenly. They repeatedly questioned some of the candidates and ignored others.  

Meanwhile, there was Marianne Williamson off in the corner almost completely out of sight and generally ignored by the hosts. When they finally deigned to notice her polite attempts to contribute, no one seemed to know what to do with her comments. There was never any follow-up or request for clarification. Instead, what she said seemed completely drowned out by the evening’s “excitement,” noise, general chaos, and imperative to change topics. It was as if she were speaking a foreign language. I mean, how do you respond to that “still small voice of conscience” that says:

  • Immigration problems should be understood in historical context; their roots are found in U.S. policy in Central America especially during the 1980s. Such comment invites further discussion. None took place.
  • Removing children from their parents’ arms is kidnapping; putting preschoolers in concentration camps is child abuse. Such crimes should be treated accordingly. What retribution did Marianne have in mind? The question went unasked.
  • Health care “solutions” should address environmental questions about chemicals in our foods, water, and air that make Americans sick. The response: “My next question for Vice-President Biden is . . .”
  • Government programs should be expressions of love, not fear.

As expected, the pundits who afterwards declared “winners” and “losers,” generally put Marianne in the latter category. Their criteria for that judgment were just what you’d expect: Who was louder? Who was more aggressive, more interruptive? Who spoke for more minutes? Who more effectively transgressed the debate “rules” and thereby showed leadership and dominance?

None of this could be further from the spiritual principles Marianne Williamson has espoused for the last 40 years. That spirituality, like Elijah’s, Elisha’s, Paul’s, and Jesus’ in today’s liturgical readings holds that the problems that plague our world have simple answers that have nothing to do with bombast, filibusters, or spectacle. However, the world rejects out of hand the solutions of that still-small-voice of conscience as unrealistic and “out there” in the realm of the irrelevant and impractical. Such blind dismissal is what Paul in today’s reading calls “flesh;” it’s what Jesus elsewhere rejects as “worldly.”  

So, in an effort to put Thursday’s debate in perspective, let me begin by describing where Marianne is coming from; then I’ll get to the relevant readings.

A Course in Miracles

For more than forty years, the foundation of Marianne Williamson’s life and teachings has been A Course in Miracles (ACIM). It’s a three-volume work (a text, 365 daily exercises, and a manual for teachers) that was allegedly (and reluctantly) channeled by Helen Schucman, a Columbia University psychologist and atheist in the three or four years leading up to 1975, the year of the trilogy’s publication. It has since sold millions of copies. Williamson has described ACIM as “basic Christian mysticism.”

The book’s a tough read – certainly not for everyone, though Williamson insists that something like its daily spiritual discipline (a key term for her) is necessary for living a fully human life bent on serving God rather than self. Its guiding prayer is “Where would you have me go? What would you have me do? What would you have me say, and to whom?”

Even tougher than the cryptic text itself is putting into practice the spiritual exercises in Volume II whose entire point is “a complete reversal of thought.” According to ACIM’s constant reminders, we are all prisoners in a cell like Plato’s Cave, where everything the world tells us is exactly the opposite of God’s truth.

To counter such deception, A Course in Miracles has the rare disciple (possessing the discipline to persevere) systematically deconstruct her world. It begins by identifying normal objects like a lamp or desk and helping the student realize that what s/he takes for granted is entirely questionable. Or as Lesson One puts it: “Nothing I see in this room [on this street, from this window, in this place] means anything.” The point is to liberate the ACIM practitioner from all preconceptions and from the illusory dreams the world foists upon us from birth. Those illusions, dreams and nightmares are guided by fear, which, the course teaches, is the opposite of love. In fact, ACIM teaches that fear and love are the only two energetic forces in the entire universe. “Miracles” for A Course in Miracles are changes in perception – a paradigm shift – from fear to love. For Marianne, Donald Trump’s worldview is based primarily on fear; her’s is based on love (which means action based on the recognition of creation’s unity).

According to Williamson’s guide, time, space, and separation of humans into separate entities are all entirely illusory. Such distinctions are dreams that cause all the world’s nightmares, including all the topics addressed in Thursday’s debate. For instance:

  • The illusion of time has us all living in past and future while ignoring the present – the only moment that actually exists, has ever existed, or where true happiness can be found. This means, for example, that inspirational figures like Jesus are literally alive NOW just as they were (according to time’s illusion) 2000 years ago. His Holy Spirit is a present reality.  
  • The dream of space has us taking too seriously human-made distinctions like borders between countries. Yes, they are useful for organizing commerce and travel. But the world as God created it belongs to everyone. It’s a complete aberration and childish to close off borders as inviolable and to proudly proclaim that “From now on, it’s only going to be America first, America first!”
  • Similarly, the dream of separation between humans has us convinced that “we” are here in North America, while refugees are down there at our southern border. According to ACIM however, “There is really only one of us here.” This means that I am female, male, white, black, brown, straight, gay, trans, old and young. And so are you. Others are not simply our sisters and brothers; they are us! What we do to them, we do to ourselves.

With such clarifications in mind, the solution to the world’s problems are readily available and far easier to understand than complicated health care systems or carbon trading. The solutions are forgiveness and atonement. But for ACIM, forgiveness does not mean overlooking another’s sins and generously choosing not to punish them. It means first of all realizing that sin itself is an illusion. It is an archery term for a human mistake – for missing the mark – something every one of us does.

Forgiveness, then, amounts to nothing more than realizing that truth and acting accordingly – as though the forgiven one were our Self (because s/he is!). In a world of complete deception, it means accepting the truth that the ones our culture blames – like immigrants, refugees, people of color, the poor, Muslims, and members of the LGBTQQIA community – are not only completely innocent. Accepting them as our very Self represents the source of our personal and political salvation.  

In this light then, prisons (for particularly dangerous people) become re-education centers for rehabilitation, not punishment. This means that even pathological criminals like Trump, Pence, Pompeo, and Bolton can helpfully be sequestered for a while and then returned to society as reformed, productive people. (I know that’s hard to believe; but it could happen!)

Yes, for Williamson, the goal of it all (of life itself!) is atonement – At-One-Ment – practical realization of a world with room for everyone with illusory distinctions either ignored, or played with, or celebrated in the spirit of party and game. Practically speaking, atonement looks like reparations not only to the descendants of African slaves, but to countries we have destroyed like those Marianne referenced in Central America – but also like Iraq, Afghanistan, Iran, Cuba, and a host of others. Instead of dropping bombs on them or applying sanctions, we should, in effect, be showering them with schools, hospitals, infrastructure, technological assistance, and money. It’s all part of the reparations due.

Imagine what that kind of foreign policy would accomplish and how much cheaper it would be than the trillions we’re now wasting on weapons and war.

As her books, Healing the Soul of America and A Politics of Love show, Williamson stood ready to share such convictions last Thursday night. But she was never asked. And we’re all poorer as a result.

Today’s Readings   

So how is all of that related to this Sunday’s readings? They’re about the contrast between the world’s wisdom – its way of debating, judging, condemning, and praising – and God’s way of interacting with one another and with creation itself. Check out the readings for yourself here and see what you think. My “translations” follow to clarify their cumulative point:

I KGS 19:16B, 19-21
 
We are called
To be prophets
Like Elijah
And his disciple-successor
Elisha
A wealthy farmer
Who understood
That God’s call
Required renouncing
Everything the world
Holds dear:
Family, possessions,
And independence
In order to
Comfort the afflicted
Afflict the comfortable
And feed the hungry.
 
PS 16: 1-2, 5, 7-8, 9-10, 11
 
For what ultimately
Belongs to us
Is not
The world’s
Corruption and condemnation
But the God
We deeply are
Who is our very
Food and drink,
The ability to see
Even amidst
The world’s darkness,
The source of calm,
Gladness, and health
Who shows
The path to life,
Joy, and unending delight.
 
 
GAL 5: 1, 13-18
 
As Elisha realized:
World and Spirit
Are completely opposed.
Paul terms
Those worldly values
“Flesh.”
It demands
Slavery and consumption
Of one another!
What God values
Is Christ’s “Spirit.”
Demanding
Nothing more
Than love
Of the other
Who is
(Believe it or not)
Our very Self.
 
I SM 3:9, JN 6: 68C
 
Deep down
We know
All of this
Is true.
 
LK 9: 51-62
 
Jesus did too.
So, on the way
To ultimate destiny
He rejected
The world’s spirit
Of xenophobia, revenge,
Ethnocentrism –
And Hell-Fire missiles.
Instead, he identified with
The homeless,
With life, not death,
And with the Spirit
Of Elisha
Who also
Left plow and oxen
For the sake of
God’s reign.

Conclusion

Please think about those readings in the light of what we witnessed on the debate stage a few nights ago. The other candidates represented what Paul calls “flesh” – you know: the world’s wisdom and way of doing things involving corruption, condemnation, devouring one’s opponent, xenophobia, and addiction to those Hellfire missiles. Meanwhile Marianne seemed bemused by it all. Her few thoughtful remarks said far more than the ones filibustering, pointlessly arguing, self-promoting.

As she says herself, Ms. Williamson is not in this campaign to run against anyone. She’s there to run with her fellow Democrats and to help Americans decide which candidate is best.

I think that candidate is Marianne. She deserves better consideration and a closer hearing than she received on Thursday. Like Elijah, Elisha, Jesus, and Paul, she is a voice for our Deepest Self. She was the winner.