Tag Archives: Egalitarianism

The Entrenchment of Inequality

An engrossing article in the June 2018 issue of The Atlantic by Matthew Stewart, “The Birth of the New American Aristocracy,” exposes an America that still regards itself as egalitarian – providing equal opportunity for all – while making itself increasingly aristocratic. Being born of well-off parents is now the best bet for ending up in the same category as an adult. More so, if one is born of white parents who are well-off, staying in the economically advantaged category is a virtual lock.

The article’s length is stout – I’ve linked it here for purists. For the rest of you, read on for a pertinent summary!

Early on Stewart writes: “Imagine yourself on the socioeconomic ladder with one end of a rubber band around your ankle and the other around your parents’ rung . . . If your parents are high on the ladder, the band will pull you up should you fall; if they are low, it will drag you down when you start to rise. Economists represent this concept with a number they call ‘intergenerational earnings elasticity,’ or IGE, which measures how much of a child’s deviation from average income can be accounted for by the parents’ income.”

Zero IGE means there’s no significant relationship between parents’ income and the eventual income of their offspring, and that the rubber band is flimsy. An IGE of 1.0, on the other hand, means no variation whatsoever and a rubber band of unbreakable strength. Fifty years ago, the IGE in America was less than 0.3 – today it has increased to 0.5, which is higher than that of almost every other developed country. What it means: the American rubber band of today’s IGE is more taut than it’s ever been and the great American virtue of high social or economic mobility is a fairytale.

A robust economic mobility did exist two generations ago in post-WW II America – again, mostly for white people – but those who insist it yet exists today for all Americans risk a credibility problem. Either they are stuck in the past, or they champion a belief, as if religious dogma, that claims that those who haven’t made it in America are mistake-laden, lazy, on-the-dole, reprobate slackers. Of course, some perfectly fit the description. But most economically poor today in America don’t. And many of these who haven’t “made it” are working poor, many of these with children. And a large portion is elderly on fixed incomes.

A corollary to the above stated dogma in today’s faux-meritocratic America: Since the poor only have themselves to blame for their predicament, I – and certainly not my tax dollars – don’t have to help them.

Escaping poverty in America today is a complex process requiring discipline and will-power, but also access to opportunities that middle- and upper-class folks take for granted: social connections and infrastructure that provide ready access to childcare, healthcare, education, and money. Only 4 percent born into poverty make it to the middle class in today’s America. The lack of access to opportunities strengthens the downward pull of the rubber band.

Stewart pooh-poohs the much publicized divide between 1 and 99 percenters that emerged from the Great Recession of ten years ago. Instead he fingers the top 10 percent of wealth possessors, regardless of yearly income – $1.2 million net wealth (cash, stocks including retirement, house value, and other holdings minus liabilities) gets you into the top decile – as those who are most culpable, led by the top .1 percenters, in today’s entrenchment of inequality.

He includes himself in this culpable faction, and divides American society into three separate economic groups: .1 percenters, the next 9.9 percent (I combine these two groups into the top decile), and the bottom 90 percent.


The top .1 percenter class now tightly holds 22 percent of all American wealth, the highest level since before the Great Depression. It has pilfered the wealth holdings of the bottom 90 percent, now also holding 22 percent, the lowest level since during the Great Depression. Stewart’s class, the top decile excluding the top .1 percent, holds the remaining 56 percent.

Stewart comments: “The meritocratic class has mastered the old trick of consolidating wealth and passing privilege along at the expense of other people’s children. We are not innocent bystanders to the growing concentration of wealth in our time. We are the principal accomplices in a process that is slowly strangling the economy, destabilizing American politics, and eroding democracy. Our delusions of merit now prevent us from recognizing the nature of the problem that our emergence as a class represents. We tend to think that the victims of our success are just the people excluded from the club. But history shows quite clearly that, in the kind of game we’re playing, everybody loses badly in the end.”

The course of what has become rampant inequality in the United States, building steadily since the early 1980s, is not natural. As Stewart points out, tax cuts for the rich, the influx of huge money into politics, and the transfer of power from labor to capital have helped create the current trends of social and economic inequalities. These commitments, Stewart also points out, can be and should be reversed.

“The defining challenge of our time is to renew the promise of American democracy by reversing the calcifying effects of accelerating inequality. As long as inequality rules, reason will be absent from our politics; without reason, none of our other issues can be solved.”



Tim/T. Carlos Anderson – I’m a Protestant minister and Director of Community Development for Austin City Lutherans (ACL), an organization of fourteen ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) congregations in Austin. I’m also the author of Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good (Blue Ocotillo/ACTA, 2014) and There is a Balm in Huntsville: A True Story of Tragedy and Restoration from the Heart of the Texas Prison System (forthcoming on Walnut Street Books, April 2019).



1 Comment

Filed under Commentary

Income Tax – The Original Inequality Equalizer

Did you have a good time compiling and filing your taxes last month? As much fun as I did, I’m sure. Most Americans agree (link to Gallup poll) that it’s time for a change to the tax code.

T.R. Reid’s A Fine Mess: A Global Quest for a Simpler, Fairer, and More Efficient Tax System (Penguin, 2017) breaks down the complicated subject of income taxation with a cursory global compare and contrast of other countries’ taxation efforts with those of the United States. This type of formula worked well in his previous effort, The Healing of America (Penguin, 2009), exposing America’s inefficient and disjointed healthcare system. Reid invites us to see how other countries do healthcare and taxation and asks: What best practices can we adopt to make our systems better?

A bit of history: Property and consumption taxes (excise, duties, tariffs, and sales tax) have been around since colonial days. A temporary federal income tax existed during the Civil War. Corporations have been taxed since 1909. In the wake of the Second Industrial era’s Gilded Age, and its previously unrealized economic inequalities, the Progressive era birthed the federal income tax in 1913 via the 16th Amendment, empowering the federal government to tax Americans’ personal income. Only 4 percent of Americans – the country’s highest earners – paid an income tax that first year. I call the federal income tax the original inequality equalizer – those who had “the ability to pay” did so for the common good. It was only after WW II that a broader base of Americans paid federal income taxes. In 1927, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes opined: “Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society.” As our bridges and rails and other structures deteriorate, a collective reset on our attitude about taxes could help.

A bit of reality: Of the thirty-four richest countries in the world, as measured by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) in 2014, the United States ranked thirty-first in taxes paid at slightly more than 25 percent of GDP. Only in South Korea, Chile, and Mexico is there a lower tax burden than in the United States. Reid also reveals that US government spending is comparable low at 15.5 percent of GDP, ranking thirty-second among OECD nations. Reid says the dual argument that Americans are overtaxed and the size of government is out of control is fictitious. More genuine would be for Americans to admit that our societal DNA – “no taxation without representation” – makes us skeptical about paying taxes. We prefer to do some things with private rather than public funding. Americans privately give more to social programs and charities (than do citizens in other countries), but none of these good works fixes bridges or roads or public structures.

Reid explains that there have been major revisions to the tax code in 1922, 1954, and 1986. The mathematical symmetry of a significant change every 32 years targets 2018 as the year for the next reset to the code. While President Trump promotes a revision to the tax code as a major agenda item, a polarized and dysfunctional congress will make it difficult to attain.

The 1986 revision – a bipartisan effort – was widely hailed as a needed breakthrough. Reid says other countries adopted its main thrust of slashing income tax rates for the highest earners. The code has since, however, been overburdened with loopholes, breaks, and complexities. Yes, it’s a mess. The majority of US taxpayers hire professionals to do their taxes, and Reid says that the “Tax Complexity Lobby” (Jackson Hewitt, H&R Block, Intuit, and others) strenuously opposes innovations like pre-filled tax forms that save billions of hours and fees for citizens of Japan, Britain, Sweden, Spain, and Portugal.

Reid discusses three main options from his global survey: BBLR (broad based, lower rates), VAT (value added tax), and flat tax.

Quoting Reid on BBLR (all the hyphens are his): “The tax base – that is, the total amount of income, or sales, or property that can be taxed – is kept as large as possible, then the tax rate – that is, the percentage that people have to give to the government – can be kept low. Virtually all economists and tax experts agree that this is the best way to run a tax regime.” Remember Bowles-Simpson (aka the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform) from 2010? Even though it died in committee (it had its bipartisan supporters and opponents), it featured a BBLR approach to reduce the national deficit. A BBLR approach buttressed the 1986 tax reform law. One of its architects, former Sen. Bill Bradley, a long-time BBLR advocate, says, “The key to reform was to focus on the attractiveness of low rates, not on the pain of eliminating reductions.”

The two main deductions needing elimination in 2018, according to Reid, are well-loved by middle and upper class Americans: the mortgage interest deduction (MID) and the charitable contribution deduction. Reid claims the familiar rationale behind the MID – it encourages home ownership – is now passé; other OECD countries without an MID have home ownership rates similar to ours (about 65%). Reid also contends that Americans will continue to support charitable organizations whether there’s a tax break for itemized deductions or not. His rationale for this latter assertion seems mostly to be personal opinion. I do strongly agree, however, with his overall assessment: “Like the charity deduction, the benefits for home ownership are strongly skewed to the richest taxpayers.” This turns out to be – let me use a loaded phrase to make a point – government dole mostly for the well-to-do to the tune of $200 billion in 2016, with three-quarters of the MID tax break going to households that make more than $100,000/year.

Matthew Desmond, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Evicted (see my review here), goes farther than Reid and claims that the MID is greatly exacerbating American inequality. His NYT article of May 9, “How Home Ownership Became the Engine of American Inequality,” details the cases of four homeowners and three renters in various American locales. Desmond calls the MID “public housing for the rich.” That’s not all: “A 15-story public housing tower and a mortgaged suburban home are both government-subsidized, but only one looks (and feels) that way. It is only by recognizing this fact that we can begin to understand why there is so much poverty in the United States today.” Desmond’s work is provocative and well worth reading.

Reid says that 175 of the planet’s 200 countries employ some version of a value added tax (VAT). Essentially a sales tax on consumption, the VAT is applied to every stage of commercial production, not just to the final sale in a retail store. Two advantages emerge: there is less incentive to evade the tax for producers, and its collection is more steady. That it tends to be a regressive tax is its main disadvantage.

While praising its potential simplicity, Reid rejects the flat tax outright. He says it can work in countries where a polarity of income doesn’t exist (like the former Russian satellites in the last half of the twentieth century), but not in highly unequal societies like the United States. The flat tax takes in precious little income, and it further increases inequality. Slovakia and the Czech Republic initially utilized the flat tax but them dumped it as an oligarchy class gained prominence.

Reid additionally suggests that the US corporate tax rate be lowered (which would help deflate the current rampant incentive to avoid the tax), that our very richest citizens be taxed progressively, and that a financial transactions tax be implemented on Wall Street. He also says increasing the gasoline tax is a no brainer that can easily help bolster sagging US infrastructure.

Mr. Trump’s Treasury Secretary, Steven Mnuchin, has said the administration is confident that it can create a new tax plan that “pays for itself” with economic growth. Flat taxers, like Grover Norquist and Ted Cruz, spout the same type of fervor – that tax breaks will unleash economic growth like never before. This type of dogmatism has dutifully entered the realm of bogus cliché. The days of robust growth are over – see my five-part blog series on Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth – and it’s time for Americans to hold political leaders accountable to a responsible and sustainable understanding of economic development.

How a country structures its taxes matters for inequality, economic development, and social spirit – all these included in an understanding of common good. In the earliest days of federal income taxation, “the ability to pay” was recognized by Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt as a patriotic duty of the economically advantaged. The tax also helped America maintain some sense of egalitarianism. Today, with a federal poverty rate of 13.5 percent, the majority of Americans can claim status as economically advantaged. Taxes are what we pay for a civilized society – a tax code that is simplified, more equitable, broader-based, and progressive toward the top can help this society recover some much needed civility.


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an e-book. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide is now available. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más –está disponible en Amazon y el sitio web www.blueocotillo.com!



1 Comment

Filed under Commentary, Reviews

Listening to Other Voices

If only Jesus of Nazareth had a Twitter or Facebook account, he would have had so many more followers! I jest, of course; self-promotion, while not a modern invention, has reached a fevered pitch in the social media saturated twenty-first century.jesus twitter

Jesus did call upon many to follow him, but on occasion he also practiced something with which the human family has always struggled: listening to other voices.

Mark’s gospel – chapter 7 – tells of Jesus travelling to the foreign city of Tyre, four to five days walking distance to the north and west of Jerusalem. Presumably, Jesus travels to reach out to Jews living there. A woman, decidedly not Jewish, with a sick daughter engages Jesus. Desperate to the point of trespassing convention – women were not to address men in public – she wants Jesus to heal her daughter. He puts her off by saying that he has only come to serve and seek Israelites: “It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.” Not only was this an insensitive comment, it was arguably a racial insult.

The Syrophoenician woman, however, doesn’t flinch. “Even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Jesus, as if slapped in the face, acquiesces. He tells the woman to return to her daughter; she does and finds her daughter restored to health.

We assume that Jesus had everything figured out at the commencement of his public ministry, and that consequently he needed no further social or theological development. Listening to the voice of this foreign woman, however, Jesus had to reshape – in an instant – some of his understandings. She wasn’t a dog but a full member of the human family; and, God’s mission extended even to her.

Jesus was a committed social egalitarian before this encounter with the unnamed foreign woman; he became a stronger one after the encounter. A social egalitarian is a person who understands all others – those similar and those different – as equals in God’s eyes. Because of this conviction, Jesus spoke and interacted with all sorts of people: religious leaders, the well-to-do and powerful, the sick and excluded, common folks, women, children, and, yes, foreigners. Rarely did he exclude others.

Those who follow Jesus today – not on Twitter or Facebook – do best to heed his example of social egalitarianism, listening to the other and regarding the other as equal in God’s purview. It’s intriguing that in the twenty-first century world with myriad media for communication and connection, we still don’t know one another all that well within the human family. We yet rely on stereotypes and innuendo in our attempts to understand the neighbor who is different. These weak attempts at understanding contribute to many of the problems – from the inability of Congress to enact immigration reform to police brutality and the targeting of police – besetting our society.

We hear it said today that black lives matter. Absolutely they do, just as the lives of widows, orphans, the poor, and foreigners matter according to the divine language of the Hebrew and Christian Testaments. A good question for my fellow white readers who are Christian: Would you have the same type of worldview and outlook you currently claim if you had been born black or Hispanic or Jewish or Muslim?

A worthy goal in today’s modern age is to have a worldview and outlook that incorporates the wisdom of other voices. Authenticity requires being true to one’s own experiences. It also requires the responsibility of listening to others’ experiences. If your experience is the only one that matters, trumping all others, most likely you’re nothing more than a self-promoter.

Much more often than not, spending face and ear time with someone who offers a different perspective than your own makes the world a better place. In today’s America that suffers of too many hot spots of polarization, listening to other voices is difficult but necessary positive social action. Democrats and Republicans, gun owners and non-gun owners, rich and poor, blacks and whites, atheists and religious partisans, folks living in zip code A and folks living in zip code B – what would it be like to talk with and listen to one another rather than talk about others in negative tones and stereotypes?

Social egalitarianism – it sounds like a political party. Rather, it’s a spiritual commitment utilizing the gift of other voices that has the ability to improve our politics and common life. It’s truly what the one human family needs now.



This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBook/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!


1 Comment

Filed under Commentary

Why DOMA is Unconstitutional or America’s Grand Heritage of Egalitarianism

For those of us concerned about socioeconomic trends and their consequences, Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth is one of the most important books we’ll see in 2016. This blog post is the third in a series that touches upon the issues the book covers: inequality, economic growth, and poverty, among others. Click on links for first and second posts in the series.


Robert Gordon’s The Rise and Fall of American Growth (Princeton University Press), an economic history of the United States, highlights important moments of American egalitarianism. Yes, good ol’ American egalitarianism!

gordon book

In the current age of excess that exuberates in chest-thumping hyper-partisanship and the attitude of winner-take-all, the meaning and sense of egalitarianism seems forgotten. A biblical concept, egalitarianism is the cry of the Israelites wanting freedom from Pharaoh and slavery; we hear echoes of it when the apostle Paul, calling for unity in the nascent Christian community of Galatia, challenges the Galatians’ understanding of entrenched identities, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female . . .” The word itself comes from the French egal – meaning “equal”but it refers to much more than equal parts or measurements. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of dominance-subordination, or inequality. Egalitarianism is opportunity and access for rich and poor alike. Egalitarianism is blind to the advantages typically derived from social status, pedigree, and wealth.

“What Happened to Egalitarianism?” is the title of the third chapter of my book Just a Little Bit More. I reference anthropologist Christopher Boehm, who studies primates and their social relationships. Boehm looks for interplay between the competing spirits of egalitarianism and winner-take-all in our evolutionary relatives as he investigates the origins of morality in the human family. He speaks of the principle of “reverse dominance hierarchy” as a form of egalitarianism; he witnessed weaker members in a group joining forces to combat the dominance of alpha males.* I call this not survival of the fittest, but survival of the united. Egalitarianism is a sociopolitical phenomenon. A group or community engaged in the struggle for self-determination within a larger community or with a competing community seeks or maintains a sense of equality. The achievements of the civil rights era in the United States are a prime example of the workings of egalitarianism, as is the process that led to the 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the US Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

Gordon knows that America has a grand heritage of egalitarianism, starting with the Boston Tea Party and the revolutionary plea “No taxation without representation.” When Thomas Jefferson asserted in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal,” the divine right of kings (sorry, George III) took a decisive egalitarian kick to the groin from which it has not recovered.** The competitive spirit of winner-take-all is legitimate and necessary, and has benefitted American ingenuity, inventiveness, and innovation. The winner-take-all ploy becomes troublesome, however, when there is no mitigating force to keep its excesses in check. Egalitarianism serves as the mitigating force of winner-take-all (and vice versa, for that matter), ensuring that the values of equality and greater access for the many win out over unmerited privilege for the few.

Here are some other gems in the history of American egalitarianism, according to Gordon:

The Price Tag: John Wannamaker opened the nation’s first department store, Grand Depot, in Philadelphia in 1876. Whereas bartering and haggling dominated the ways of buying and selling prior to this time, Wannamaker believed all people were “equal before price.” He eliminated price breaks and discounts for the connected, favored, and powerful. A religious man, he believed that all as equals before the Creator meant “one price for all.” He was the inventor of the price tag, an egalitarian innovation that revoluti0nized the consumer age.

The Networking of  Utilities – Electricity, Heating, Telephone, and Sewer: It wasn’t until the mid-1930s that more than half of Americans lived in cities. A majority of these urban dwellings were constructed after the turn of the century, enabling the inclusion of indoor plumbing, electricity, heat, and telephone. As Gordon says, “Networking implies equality. Everyone, rich and poor, is plugged into the same electric, water, sewer, gas, and telephone network. The poor may only be able to afford to hook up years after the rich, but eventually they receive the same access” (p. 95). Because of American society’s relative youth, the networking revolution of utilities spread much more quickly than it did in older European societies. (The current tragedy of lead-laden water in Flint, Michigan is a shameful example of inequality in this land where we refer to these utilities as “basic.”)

Radio: Pittsburgh’s first department store, Joseph Horne’s, began to sell amateur wireless sets – radios – for 10 dollars in the fall of 1920. On November 2, 1920, KDKA in Pittsburgh made the first radio broadcast in American history by transmitting election results as Warren Harding defeated James Cox to become the nation’s twenty-ninth president. Twenty years later, 80 percent of American households had radios in their domiciles. (For sake of comparison, only 75 percent of American households today have Internet access.) Gordon says the invention and rapid diffusion of radio was an example of “striking egalitarianism . . . enjoyed equally by the richest baron or poorest street cleaner” (p. 193).

Both forces – cooperative egalitarianism and competitive winner-take-all – are legitimate and inherently American; our society shines best when neither force dominates, but when they hold each other’s excesses in check. Too much egalitarianism stifles drive and creativity; too much winner-take-all produces inequality and accompanying ill effects. In Just a Little Bit More, I argue that our much cherished democracy needs egalitarianism in order to function at its best. American egalitarianism has helped make possible the following: emancipation from slavery, women’s suffrage, the many acheivements of the civil rights era, same sex marriage, and other accomplishments. Egalitarianism is a main driver of social progress in American and beyond. May we continue to lift it up and advocate it.


*Christopher Boehm, Hierarchy in the Forest: The Evolution of Egalitarian Behavior, Harvard University Press (1999), pgs. 1-3.

**More than two centuries after Jefferson’s famous formulation, we’re still working on fully living out its implied intention.


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

isbn 9780991532827

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs.) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs.) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. It also contains discussion questions at the end of all eight chapter summaries.

Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.

The Spanish version of the Summary Version and Study Guide will be available in September 2016. ¡Que Bueno!

¡El librito de JaLBM – llamado Solo un Poco Más saldrá este Septiembre de 2016!


Filed under Commentary

Jesus 2016 – Social Egalitarian Party

The Donald leads, but is not a lock, on the Republican side of the presidential primaries. Hillary boasts similar standing on the Democratic side. What if Jesus were running for highest office in the free world?

Jesus asked his disciples “Who do you say that I am?” Peter spoke not only for his fellow disciples, but for the early church. His answer “Messiah” – God’s chosen one – has stood firm for two millennia. jesus politico

Jesus’s question hasn’t gone away. I answer it today like this: “Jesus, you are my social egalitarian Lord.”

Granted, social egalitarian sounds a bit silly. It’s about as silly as Jesus running for POTUS.

Bear with me, however, and let me unpack the phrase social egalitarian. Egalitarian is a biblical concept, as exemplified in Exodus 5 – “let my people go” – and Galatians 3 – “for you are all one in Christ.” Both the American and French revolutions were fueled by the concept. The word itself has been in use for some 150 years; its root is the French egal (equal), yet it goes beyond equal quantities, measurements, or values to a deeper reality. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of specific inequality—dominance-subordination. Egalitarianism is political in nature: a group or commu­nity engaged in the struggle of self-determination within the larger community or with a competing community seeks, at­tains, and maintains a balance or equity with its competitor. The spirit of egalitarianism opposes unfair advantages; it’s biblical and American to the core.

As for the social aspect of the phrase, we remember that Jesus was pretty good at spending time with all sorts of folks. He spent face time with religious leaders, the outcast, the well-to-do, the sick, the connected, the lame. He also spent time, oftentimes shocking his own disciples, with women and children. Additionally, while travelling, Jesus led his disciples through foreign territories. This was untypical behavior; Jesus’s disciples were accustomed to avoiding certain foreign areas and peoples.

While traversing boundary lands in Mark 7, Jesus and his disciples are confronted by a foreigner – a Syrophoenician woman. She knows something about Jesus and wants him to heal her daughter. Jesus shows typical human behavior in this encounter; he tries to put her off. He seems to know enough about her – that she is a foreigner.

“It is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

The dogs? That’s blatantly derogatory. This time, at least, Jesus’s reaction to a foreigner is no different than that of his disciples.

“But even the dogs under the table get to eat the crumbs that fall.”

It’s as if she says to him: If you are who they say you are, you need to pick your game up.

And he does pick up his game. “Woman, be on your way. The demon has left your daughter.”

Jesus was human. We tend to see Jesus as having an ever-present halo hovering over his head, indicating his perfect behavior and all-knowingness in all things. But that’s unrealistic and it’s not true to Scripture. To be human is to be limited. Like the rest of us, Jesus had to go through processes and experiences in order to learn and better understand the world and its peoples. This woman showed him something that he needed to learn. He was an advanced social egalitarian before this encounter with the woman; after the encounter, even more so.

To be a social egalitarian in American society today is to traverse boldly against the grain. It is to spend face time with those who are “other” rather than only interacting with those who look, think, and value similar to “us.” American society is highly segregated – perhaps not as racially segregated as in previous eras, but certainly so in terms of socio-economic differences. Unquestionably, wealth is a blessing and (more often than not) a reward for hard and smart work. Wealth can serve as a bubble, however, isolating well-off Americans from other Americans – those who work for minimal wages, have little or no health insurance, and/or struggle under debilitating circumstances.

Do you know anyone – on a friendship level – who lives in poverty? Or anyone who speaks English as a second or third language? Or anyone who practices a different religion than yours?

Politicians – regardless of party affiliation – who negatively stereotype “other people” (including immigrants) are not worthy of the highest office in the land. This society doesn’t need more separation into “us and them,” it needs more interaction between its inhabitants. This society is the world’s richest in terms of diversity, experience, and capabilities. It’s time for us to delve deeper to see where we can trust one another. Fear of the “other” might be good enough to win a party nomination, but it won’t do much good for the society as a whole.

Even Jesus didn’t want to have to deal with a woman who wasn’t part of his regular community. But as she confronted him, he stopped. He looked into her face and into her eyes – and was changed. This is the spirit of social egalitarianism. It is to encounter the other as an equal in God’s eyes and to act upon that conviction.

Jesus, my social egalitarian Lord. This is the one I will follow.


This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM, distributed by ACTA Publications (Chicago), is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

If you’re a member of a faith community – Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, or other – consider a book study series of Just a Little Bit More. The full-length book (257 pgs) is intended for engaged readers, whereas the Summary Version and Study Guide (52 pgs) is intended for readers desiring a quick overview of the work. Readers of both books can join together for study, conversation, and subsequent action in support of the common good.


Filed under Commentary

Same-Sex Marriage Legalized – Egalitarianism in Action

I’m a pastor of a national church body that is both progressive and traditional. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) approved, in 2009, a resolution to ordain gay and lesbian ministry candidates. This decision led a number of folks and congregations to leave the ELCA; overall membership has plummeted now to under 4 million members. At its inception in 1988, the ELCA had a membership of more than 5 million souls. The 2009 decision is not the sole factor to explain the church’s decline, but one of many including changing cultural values and increasing number of hours worked by Americans.


US Supreme Court – 2015

On Sunday, July 5, I preached on the recent US Supreme Court decision (Obergefell v. Hodges) to legalize same-sex marriage. The congregation I serve in Austin, Texas is dual-language, English and Spanish; we gather to worship separately in both respective languages each Sunday within a “one congregation” context. We have members in each worship group who represent either side of the gay marriage issue – traditional and progressive. The text of II Corinthians 12:9 – spiritual power reaching full maturity in weakness – served to remind our traditional-leaning members (most of whom were raised in the previous century and taught that homosexuality was wrong) about the hidden strength of spiritual power: It gives us the wisdom to sort out the things we can change from the things we need to accept. Our Christian tradition beckons us to love our neighbors and interact with them compassionately, even if their life choices and/or politics don’t agree with our own.

The Supreme Court decision, coming days before the 239th anniversary of the nation’s birth, gave me an opportunity to preach also on the egalitarian foundations, still alive and well, of our society. Egalitarianism, as I proclaim it, goes beyond equality to a deeper reality than simply equal quantities, measurements, or values. Egalitarianism emerges and comes to light from a situation of specific inequality—dominance-subordination. Egalitarianism is political in nature: a group or commu­nity engaged in the struggle of self-determination within the larger community or with a competing community seeks, at­tains, and maintains a balance or equity with its competitor.

The word egalitarian was coined during the Gilded Age (1870 – 1900) as the maturing industrial era created economic and social inequalities previously unknown.  While the word egalitarian is a very recent addition to most languages, the concept of egalitarianism is a deeply biblical and ancient one. From God telling Pharaoh through Moses “Let my people go!” to Paul proclaiming to the Galatians that “all of you are one in Christ Jesus” – egalitarianism, be it spiritual or secular, unites and liberates those who are subordinated by unjust domination.

The biblical record serves to buttress egalitarian­ism as a social value in secular society. As a political response to the dominance that a top-down hierarchy or majority can create, egalitarianism has played a major role in American history. Many immigrants came to America from Europe because the promised or imagined opportunity provided relief from social and economic domination. The abolition movement achieved success in the nineteenth century, as did the civil rights movement in the twentieth century, fueled by egalitarianism. Egal­itarianism is one of humanity’s greatest achievements be­cause of the opportunities it affords to those previously kept under thumb. Those seen to be individually weak join forces to stand up to or have equal footing with the strong and powerful. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin’s use of the egalitarian line “all men are created equal [sic]” in the Declaration of Independence has served both to restrict the haughty and to liberate the downtrodden. Egalitarianism best serves to eliminate unjust and unmerited privilege that debilitates minority populations. America’s slaves, indigenous, immigrants, minorities, women, children, handicapped, gays and lesbians have all achieved civil rights—sometimes through blood, sweat, and tears—because of egalitarianism.

scotus 1967 warren court

1967 Supreme Court (Thurgood Marshall joined in October after the June 12th Loving decision)

The 2015 Obergefell decision echoes the 1967 Supreme Court decision to legalize interracial marriage in all the land. According to Gallup.com, some 75 percent of Americans in 1967 disapproved of interracial marriage, and fourteen former slaveholding states did not permit it. The Loving v. Virginia decision helped move the nation away from some of its racist past, and toward a future of greater light.

Our Supreme Court justices and their decisions are not infallible, but oftentimes a wisdom derived from the radical phrase “all people are created equal” comes forth from their decisions. Both liberty and egalitarianism are founding and guiding principles of this society; their simultaneous cooperation and competition with one another (balancing out the other’s excesses) help this society live up to its stated convictions.



This blog and website are representative of the views expressed in my book Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. JaLBM is available on Amazon as a paperback and an ebook. It’s also available on Nook and iBooks/iTunes, and at the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing.

For book clubs, community of faith study groups, and individuals, the Summary Version and Study Guide of JaLBM is now available at the Blue Ocotillo website and on Amazon. It’s a “Reader’s Digest” version (fifty-two pages) of the full-length original with discussion questions at the end of each chapter. Join the conversation about social and economic inequality – without having to be hyperpartisan – and let’s figure out how capitalism can do better!


Filed under Commentary

“A Reasonable, Balanced, and Authoritative Public Word”


Professor Phil Ruge-Jones in action at TLU

Phil Ruge-Jones is a pretty bright guy. That’s not hyperbole; you can ask anyone who knows him or knows of his work. ELCA pastor, bearer of a Ph.D. in systematic theology, and professor of theology and philosophy at Texas Lutheran University in Seguin, Texas, Phil is also bilingual en el bendito Español. For close to twenty years, he and his spouse, ELCA pastor Lori Ruge-Jones, have been leaders in the biblical storytelling movement. As a matter of fact, Phil recently recited the gospel of Mark – in two one-hour sessions – for the theological conference gathering of the three Texas/Louisiana synods of the ELCA.

Phil recently took some time to digest Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good. Here’s what he has to say:

     “Anderson’s book is an extensive chronicling of the people, movements, and streams of thought that have led us on the quest to want just a little bit more. In the role of a theologically aware social critic, he reminds me of Niebuhr. He is deeply embedded in the Christian tradition, but has listened carefully to many other voices and thus speaks a reasonable, balanced, and authoritative public word. Anderson shows us the way back to the North American commitment to egalitarianism that has become lost over the last century.”

Just a Little Bit More describes the dominant American culture of the last thirty-five years – the confluence of commerce, materialism, consumerism – as a religion. It’s been a good religion that has clothed, fed, employed, and sheltered us. But it has a tendency to go too far and when the aforementioned pursuits become excessive, the religion breaks bad and the common good suffers.

Available as a paperback or ebook, Just a Little Bit More is an excellent resource for personal reflection and/or group discussion. Is social inequality the necessary price to pay for the uninhibited pursuit of wealth? Do social inequalities destroy democratic ideals? Is there a connection between the common good and God’s realm or kingdom? These questions, and others, await you in the reading of Just a Little Bit More.

Just a Little Bit More is available through the website of Blue Ocotillo Publishing, www.blueocotillo.com, and Amazon. Blue Ocotillo Publishing – paperback – $14.95 + tax (for Texas residents) + shipping. Ebook format available on Amazon, iBooks, and Nook.

Leave a comment

Filed under Reviews

George Will Doesn’t Know Anyone Who Is Poor

Denise, my wife, and I recently visited her parents in Champaign, Illinois. While perusing The News-Gazette, Champaign-Urbana’s daily, an article reminded me that the esteemed political columnist George Will, like my wife, hails from Champaign, hometown of the University of Illinois. Will’s father, Frederick, taught philosophy at the university. The newspaper article I looked at celebrated its famous son, reviewed his career (he taught at Harvard early on), and trumpeted his future book, a comprehensive analysis of conservative politics. It was a good article; Will gave some excellent quotes covering politics and presidents from TR to Obama that made News-Gazette writer Paul Wood’s job that much easier.

I’m not sure if I’ll read Will’s book when it comes out. I can remember in the 1970s and ’80s occasionally reading Will’s column in Newsweek. I didn’t have a chosen political self-identity at that point in my life. Political self-identity. According to a recent Gallup.com article, 26 percent of Americans identify themselves as Republican, 30 percent as Democrat, and a record 43 percent identify themselves as politically independent. I include myself in this last grouping. The hyper-partisanship present in both major parties is responsible for the lack of legislative progress on important issues (immigration reform, for example), and is simply characteristic of a society in regression. One of my previous blog post titles aptly describes the situation: “Blue Ruts and Red Ruts.”

My hometown daily, The Austin-American Statesman, runs a George Will column once a week. From the looks I’ve given those columns over the past couple of years, it’s apparent that Will now preaches more often than not to the Republican choir. He’s certainly not a lap-dog for the all the typical Republican causes – he was critical of the Bush-Cheney Iraq war, continues to be critical of the Nixon/Reagan-initiated “war on drugs,” and is an opponent of “too big to fail” Wall Street banks. However, his recent departure from ABC News (after a thirty year plus run) to partisan Fox News solidifies the perception that Will is simply speaking to the base, and not reaching out to independents or Dems. The A-AS also runs conservative political columnist David Brooks once a week; I read Brooks’ column every chance I get. Brooks intentionally writes for a wider audience and covers topics without having to make partisan political reference. Brooks’ presence on NPR also broadens his appeal (except to those, of course, on the far right).

A recent Will column, “Questions for attorney general nominee Loretta Lynch,” showcased some of his conservative wisdom: the bloated incarceration rates in America as unjust and expensive, and the rise of civil forfeiture – the seizure of property suspected of being involved with criminal activity – as unconstitutional. Will’s last point in the column, however, exposes a weak point symptomatic of today’s pockets-of-isolation American society.

    Many progressives say that the 34 states that have passed laws requiring voters to have a government-issued photo ID are practicing “vote suppression.” Does requiring a photo ID at airports constitute “travel suppression”? Visitors to the Justice Department are required to present photo IDs. Will you – we will be watching with a fine-toothed comb – plan to end this “visit suppression”? (Published in The Washington Post, January 9, 2015.)


Pew Research Center – 2014

I can’t substantiate the following assertion as I don’t know Dr. Will personally, but I’m quite confident of its veracity: George Will doesn’t know anyone who is poor. Today’s America is separated into socio-economic enclaves of like-minded folks. I’ve referenced Bill Bishop’s The Big Sort (Mariner, 2009) previously in this blog; he’s shown that unlike American neighborhoods of a couple of generations ago, today’s American neighborhoods rarely allow for a mechanic to live next door to a medical doctor. Furthermore, wealthier people increasingly do not interact with those who are economically poor, except in situations of work or service. And in these instances, first names and amicabilities are seldom exchanged. Even so, wealthier people certainly will talk derisively about people who are on the lower ends of economic markers – 2012 presidential candidate Mitt Romney’s infamous “47 percent” gaffe being the most indicative.

George Will doesn’t know anyone who is poor. Poverty rates in America by ethnicity: whites, 10 percent; blacks, 27 percent; Latinos, 24 percent. Republicans favor voter ID laws out of concern for voter fraud, which has been shown to be rare. Democrats, remembering an American history of voter exclusion by numerous categories and tactics, oppose voter ID laws out of concern for minority voter suppression. The economically poor, however, have had low voter turnout rates for decades and initial studies in this new era of voter ID laws do not show lower voter turnout rates among their ranks. But, it’s a plain fact that not everyone eligible to vote has a government-issued photo ID. Who are these? Generally, they are younger Americans, those not college educated, Latinos, and those living in poverty (regardless of ethnicity or age). It costs money to have access to a car and have an accompanying drivers license, to arm oneself with a handgun (its photo permit an acceptable form of identification in order to vote in Texas), or to have a passport (another form of ID acceptable for voting in most states with voter ID laws). Requiring a photo ID at an airport in order to fly? Yes, of course, that’s a necessity in the post-9/11 world. But, again, it costs money to fly. Generally speaking, people living in poverty don’t do a whole lot of cruising in cars to an airport, .22 pistol in the glove box, ready to hop on a flight – domestic or international.

And what about the requirement that visitors to the Justice Department have a photo ID to get in? Yes, of course, for the protection of all in the building, entry through a metal detector and the offering of a photo ID is a necessity (until iris-recognition biometric technology is perfected). And what percentage of Americans ever enter the DOJ headquarters in Washington, D.C.? Answer: an incrementally small percentage. The topic at hand is not access to a privilege – car or gun ownership, a seat on an airplane, or entrance to a tightly secured federal building. The topic is voting – according to the Constitution – “a right” conferred to all citizens. The right to vote is taken away from convicted felons, but living in poverty is not supposed to be an obstacle to the ballot. It’s easy enough for middle- and upper-class folks to comply with voter ID laws; the requirements of these new laws reflect middle- and upper-class lifestyles and values. The new voter ID laws were written by people who, like George Will, for the most part, don’t know anyone who is poor.

Getting voter eligible identification cards into the hands of those who don’t have a photo ID is a pragmatic solution. Of the 34 states putting the voter ID laws into practice, how many are allowing for a “grace period” (two years seems reasonable) so that the estimated 10-12 percent that don’t have drivers licenses can procure a government-issued ID in order to vote, complying with the new laws?

There’s no questioning that George Will is a brilliant scholar and commentator. His brilliance is tarnished, however, by something that plagues many well-to-do Americans: not having personal relationships with anyone living in poverty, their understanding of their poorer neighbors’ reality is jaundiced – often loaded with judgment and lacking of deeper insight and compassion.


My book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, is available at http://www.blueocotillo.com and wherever books and ebooks are sold, including Amazon.


Filed under Commentary

Piketty’s Capital in the 21st Century

Summers are meant for reading longish, thick works of non-fiction – correct? Alright, I know I’m so wrong with that take, but if you are an unabashed non-fiction junkie like me, you know there’s simply not enough time for experimenting with mediocre fiction. I remember reading Buckley’s Thank You For Smoking when it came out in the ’90s; a truly hilarious and well-written read that lasted . . . five days. I have read other good fiction since then, but – I got to speak the truth – I’m in the game for the longer haul. Reading great narrative history (Lansing’s Endurance and Branch’s Parting the Waters, as examples) and good social commentary is what we n-f zealots do all year long. Ain’t it a blast! Here’s the latest review of a non-fiction must read (or, at least, of which one must read a few good reviews).

Thomas Piketty is a French economist; his 2013 book Capital in the 21st Century (English translation, Belknap Press, 2014) is a best-seller in the States and Europe. He teaches graduate level economics in France, specializing in economic inequality. He taught for a short while at MIT in the early 1990s and then returned to Paris to continue his teaching career. I knew enough about Capital before reading it to understand that Piketty and I speak similarly of capitalism’s susceptibility to political intrigue and its (potential) consequent propensity to siphon wealth upward, favoring the wealthy classes. For awhile I was thinking that my book, Just a Little Bit More, could be billed as the local, indie, American (and shorter) version of Capital. But then I read Dr. Piketty’s tome – so much for the local indie angle. Just a Little Bit More covers a lot of territory, but it doesn’t do r > g, or other economic equations. Capital, for the most part, is economics through and through.

Piketty states early on that “the history of the distribution of wealth has always been deeply political, and it cannot be reduced to purely economic mechanisms.”* According to Piketty’s work with extensive data, the rate on the return of capital (r) typically exceeds the growth rate of the economy (g), thus r > g. Historically, the interest garnered by accumulated wealth outpaces the gains of economic growth by about 5% to 1.5%. Are you still with me?

Things are the way they are – the rich getting richer in the US, especially in the last thirty-five years – not because it’s naturally intended by capitalism, but because it’s been manufactured. Piketty’s r > g has been buttressed by policy. Income and capital gains tax cuts for the wealthiest among us, along with reduced rates for inheritance taxes, have all contributed to the widening gap between America’s richest and poorest. The United States was founded to be an egalitarian country where primogeniture was not practiced as it was in Europe. Primogeniture – family inheritance passed onto the first born male – enabled Europe’s staid aristocracy to maintain its power and place. The two great democratic revolutions (American and French) wanted to give meritocracy a chance; you move yourself upward economically not by inheritance or family connection, but by hard work, ability, and effort. The good ol’ American Dream: one has to work to attain it.

There’s been a slight uproar this past week (third week of July, 2014) as it’s been revealed that the late actor Philip Seymour Hoffman didn’t want his children to be “trust fund kids.” His estate, valued at $35 million, will go (after a significant tax bit since he was not married) to his partner, the surviving parent of their young three children. As if a cruel fate (I jest), their children will need to forge their way forward more reliant upon their relationship with their mother than with a choice inheritance. The new American Dream: just give it to me. Hoffman was apparently adamant of his conviction; his accountant was not able to convince him otherwise.  The following Piketty comment supports Hoffman’s suspicion of oversized inheritance: “Every generation must in some sense construct itself.”~

Piketty, benefitting from the vantage point of an outsider, recognizes an important attribute of American taxation and its history that many Americans overlook: progressive taxation serves the purpose of reducing inequality. And a society that is more so (than less) economically egalitarian has fewer social problems. (If you missed Wilkinson and Pickett’s The Spirit Level: Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger, put it on your reading list now – Bloomsbury, 2009.) Piketty reminds his readers that the great country that led the way in democracy and egalitarianism – America – was also one of the last Western nations to abolish slavery. US society maintains a certain schizophrenic attitude about equality and inequality – we tolerate and accept both simultaneously. “This complex and contradictory relation to inequality largely persists in the United States to this day: on the one hand this is a country of egalitarian promise, a land of opportunity for millions of immigrants of modest background; on the other hand it is a land of extremely brutal inequality, especially in relation to race, whose effects are still quite visible.”**

Inequalities based on individual talent and effort, Piketty asserts, are quite acceptable in democratic societies. But when the deck is stacked, so to speak, democracy is threatened. Whereas today in the Scandinavian countries, along with France, Germany, England, and Italy, the richest 10 percent own between 50 and 60 percent of national wealth – in the United States, the richest 10 percent claim 72 percent of America’s wealth, with the bottom half (the majority of these being women) holding just 2 percent. These figures for the European nations and the United States are similar to what they were at the end of the Gilded Age, shortly before the intervention of World War I.~~ Piketty also argues that the Great Depression was a similar type of intervention to counter the rising inequality of the Roaring ’20s. What is to intervene now and combat, as it were, this current era’s rising tide of inequality? The 2007-08 recession hurt most everyone’s bottom line, but the inequality gap is unaffected; it’s as wide now as it was before the recession.

Boldly, Piketty calls for an international tax on accumulated wealth. Obviously, as Piketty himself concedes, such a measure is highly unlikely to be implemented any time soon. Nonetheless, let’s have a conversation about it. There has been plenty of conversation about the “size of government” and the need to reign in the excessive growth of the public sector. (I agree; please read chapter 6, “Excess,” in Just a Little Bit More.) Inefficiency, redundancy, and waste – none of these are helping the cause of societal common good. But let us also converse and discuss – with some depth of argument – the plight of citizens living in and among social and economic inequality. Piketty says that inequality in America could reach record levels by 2030 if contributing factors (which include the meteoric rise of top salaries) continue unabated. “The egalitarian pioneer ideal has faded into oblivion, and the New World may be on the verge of becoming the Old World Europe of the 21st century’s globalized economy.”*** A highly inegalitarian society requires more attention (social programs) in order to maintain social and political order. A more balanced and egalitarian society requires less public attention to mend its ills and deficiencies. This angle of the debate on social inequality and social programs needs greater voice. Piketty reminds: “The primary purpose of the capital tax is not to finance the social state but to regulate capitalism.”~~~ In other words, to keep capitalism in check.

As a person of faith and a public religious leader, I understand Piketty’s warning about the perils of continued and increasing economic inequality as crucial and urgent. What kind of society do we want to live in and consequently pass on to those who follow us? One where the uncritical pursuit of more and more is encouraged as a way forward regardless of the increasing gap between the richest and poorest? Revolutions – many violent – have risen from such chasms. I will continue to work that we (and those who come after us) might live in a society where the value of egalitarianism is upheld for its own good and for the beneficial consequences it brings.


Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good (2014) is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website.


* Location 454 (Ebook markings – the first one I’ve read!)

~ Location 1493

** Location 2770

~~ Locations 4409, 4429, 4509 – Piketty claims that the 72 percent figure most likely is underestimated – meaning it should be higher.

*** Locations 4556, 9009

~~~ Location 9073


Interested in more summer reading? I also recommend Lawrence Summers’s “The Inequality Puzzle: Piketty Book Review,” available online and in the Spring 2014 edition of Democracy: A Journal of Ideas. A rec and a pun together – how good is that!

1 Comment

Filed under Reviews

Golfers – A Question of Form

Nearly flawless as a golf announcer, Jim Nantz and his dulcet tone define Masters’ broadcasts for this generation. Nearly flawless . . . his man-crush on former college roomie Fred Couples is a concern, especially as it approaches white-hot intensity every April once Magnolia Lane opens to the patrons. “Back in ’89 when Freddie had that closing 67, we all remember how . . .” No, Jimmy, nobody but you, Freddie, and his caddie remember. But since Freddie is so cool (and good), Mr. Smooth gets a pass on the man-crush. I do have one issue to raise, however, with no forthcoming pass for the Well-Pitched-One. It’s his word choice when he refers, over and again, to his current and distinguished CBS booth partner as Sir Nick Faldo. Really, “Sir”?


Nothing against the six-time major champion and World Golf Hall of Famer, or his fellow Brits. Faldo, as far as this American can tell, deserves the honor of knighthood (received in 2009) as much as any other subject of the British empire. His contributions to the sport and representation of his country merit prominent recognition. I understand that Nantz’s gesture of using his partner’s royally endowed title is done out of respect. And respect, of course, is in the golf etiquette rota.

Let me raise, however, a slight protest – American style. Respect can still be had without stealing a smidge of the Queen’s English. Sir does have proper and common usage in American English when relationships are hierarchical – US military, younger-elder – or when commercial service is rendered. But it is never used as a title, only as a generic address. Sir as title is the propriety of our English cousin-society where the monarchy, booted out of our society in 1776, yet survives.

Jim Nantz is a class act, no question. I don’t mind an initial and respectful acknowledgement of Sir Nick Faldo – one time is sufficient – at the beginning of the broadcast. But, when used over and again . . . does our boy Nantz fancy himself an aristocrat? Hanging out at Augusta National all these years, perhaps so. I don’t hear David Feherty, or any other commentator, calling their CBS colleague Sir Nick on the air. Feherty, a native of Northern Ireland, became a U.S. citizen in 2010. He understands his adopted country’s history, in this particular area, perhaps a bit better than the lead announcer.


Want to read on? The front side was pretty easy . . . back side tougher!

Here’s a word (I’m surprised to find out) with which many Americans are unfamiliar: egalitarianism. Along with the ever-popular liberty, egalitarianism is a founding principle of American society. Egalitarianism is shown forth by Thomas Jefferson’s statement in the Declaration of Independence “All men (sic) are created equal.” Egalitarianism does not refer to equal distribution of goods, per se; it refers to equal status and worth, socially and politically, accorded to all. Favoritism via gender, race, family name, or inherited wealth be damned! America is the land where oversized concentrations of power – whether it be a king, an overzealous military general, or a business titan – are kept in check. That is egalitarianism, and it’s American as apple pie.

The last thirty-five years have seen a steep rise in social and income inequality in the United States. In my book, Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good, I refer to the current time period as one of three recent short eras of excess. (The other two are the Gilded Age of late 19th century and the Roaring ’20s.) Like a pendulum that swings back and forth, American society has oscillated between eras of excess and relative equality. Said so well by Gilded Age critic Henry Demarest Lloyd: “Liberty produces wealth, and wealth destroys liberty.” Egalitarianism and liberty have worked together in this society to balance out the other’s excesses. Too much liberty exacerbates inequalities. Too much egalitarianism stifles creativity and growth. Eras of excess are a throwback, essentially, to the days and societies of an earlier Europe that many of our ancestors, with no chance to improve their economic or social status, left behind.

American society, where previously only white property owners had the vote, has struggled with what egalitarianism and liberty have meant for all of its inhabitants: indigenous, slaves, women, children, immigrants, and minorities. Today the struggle continues for what these two foundational principles mean for gays. Egalitarianism and liberty together are the proper form in our society. Relative balance, as evidenced in Nick Faldo’s swing when in his prime, holds it all together.


Just a Little Bit More: The Culture of Excess and the Fate of the Common Good is available at the Blue Ocotillo Publishing website. Thanks for joining me for this outing!





Leave a comment

Filed under Commentary