What might theology and theologicans have to contribute to the key economic debates in the Congress early in 2011?
There are basic issues underlying (and largely ignored or sidestepped by both parties) the budget and economic policy generally. These have mostly to do with the relationship of employer and employee in the private sector. And these are issues that theology can and ought to speak to in so far as it seeks a relevant and indeed compelling role in daily life in the US (as well as elsewhere). Let me offer an example in relation to the federal government's collection of income tax revenues - in millions of current dollars - from individuals versus corporations over the last half century (profits or net revenues are what is meant by corporate income):
Year Total Individual Income Taxes Total Corporate Income Taxes
The US federal governments tax revenues drawn from incorporated businesses (the largest part of the private sector in terms of sales, employment, etc.) was once equal to or even 50% larger than revenues drawn from individuals. That was during the Great Depression and World War 2. For the last several decades corporate taxes have been around 25 % of what is raised from individuals. This has nothing to do with efficiency or any other rational economic objective; it has everything to do with corporations using chunks of their profits to shift tax burdens off of themselves and onto the mass of Americans.
This raises basic questions not only about how budget debates are conceived and narrowly limited in scope, but also about social justice. The tendency in the US now to discuss budgets only in terms of what/who gets cut rather than including real debate over who pays what portion of the state's income is likewise a reflection of corporate preferences re their tax burdens. And much the same applies to the distribution of tax burdens between the top 10 % of individual income earners and the rest of us. And when expenditure cuts are discussed, why the focus on programs of mass social benefit/safety net? A huge portion of state outlays concern (a) explicit subsidies to businesses from sugar producers to military suppliers, (b) implicit subsidies to providers of medical care, devices, and drugs, and so on that seem off the table in these budget discussions, and so on.
Then too, consider more pro-active responses to federal budget issues. A proper mass transit program undertaken by the government could simultaneously and very significantly (1) reduce foreign oil dependence and thus the trade imbalance, (2) air and other forms of pollution, (3) deaths and injuries from car accidents, the nation's #1 cause of those disasters, and (4) save on massive wastes of materials and labor for private vehicles. A proper government program of this sort could make money for the government and so address its budget problems also (much as mass transit operations can and do generate revenues for governments elsewhere). The government can help the private sector adjust (e.g. transferring workers no longer needed to make cars to make mass transit vehicles instead, etc.), but lets remember that just as private corporations make their profit-driven decisions without regard for their effects on the federal government's budgets, so it becomes necessary for the government to have at least some freedom to do what is inconvenient for private corporations and what requires them to find and make adjustments thereto.
Yet none of such considerations and options are allowed into congressional and even most media discussions, and for obvious undemocratic and unethical reasons that theologians could - and I think should - speak to.