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Economic Justice

This page indexes items from 2007
2005 - 2006 >>
2002 through 2003 >>
1999 through 2001 >>

Rise in global food prices cause for alarm

Presbyterian Hunger Program encourages donor nations to address problems with trade policies, neglect    [1-20-11]

from the Presbyterian Hunger Program

Louisville, January 19, 2011 — Food prices around the world are at record highs, leading to tension and violence reminiscent of 2008, when high prices led to dozens of food rebellions.

“We are alarmed at the rising prices. If they continue to rise, the numbers of hungry people too will rise,” said Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the Presbyterian Hunger Program.

Meat and sugar prices are especially high. Rice and wheat prices are not as high as they were in 2008, but bad weather could cause a spike. Corn prices, which have risen sharply, are the exception due in part to U.S. policies supporting corn-based ethanol. The Environmental Protection Agency could reduce pressure on corn (and meat, as livestock is a major consumer of corn) prices by suspending the biofuel mandate.

“The United States and other donor nations must come through on their promises to increase funding for agriculture in Africa and other places where family farmers have been hurt by trade policies and neglect both by domestic governments and international development over the past decades,” Farrell said.    More >>

Ask Your Representative to Co-Sponsor the Jubilee Act Today

from the Witness in Washington Weekly, published by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) on December 29, 2009

The Jubilee Act for Responsible Lending and Expanded Debt Cancellation (HR 4405) cancels impoverished country debt, prohibits harmful economic and policy conditions on debt cancellation, mandates transparency and responsibility in lending from governments and international financial institutions, and calls for a U.S. audit of debts resulting from odious and illegitimate lending. 

The bill was introduced on December 17, 2009 with strong bi-partisan support. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA), the bill's lead sponsor, was joined by original co-sponsors Rep. Barney Frank (D-MA), Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, and Rep. Spencer Bachus (R-AL), the committee's Ranking member. Other original co-sponsors include Rep. Judy Biggert (R-IL), Rep. Emmanuel Cleaver (D-MO), Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez (D-IL), Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), Rep. Donald Payne (D-NJ), and Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR). 

Send a message to your Member of Congress today to urge him/her to be an early co-sponsor!  

The passage of the Jubilee Act in Congress will urge the Obama Administration to make a new deal on debt in which poor countries have a chance to fight poverty instead of paying off huge debts.  

The reintroduction of the Jubilee Act of 2009 will expand eligibility for 100 percent debt cancellation without harmful economic conditions to 65 impoverished countries in the Global South.  

To help ensure passage of the Act, join Jubilee USA's Change Not Chains Campaign.

General Assembly Guidance:

The 211th General Assembly (1999) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) voted to:

2. Endorse and support the Jubilee 2000 campaign, which calls for the definitive cancellation of international debt in situations where countries with high levels of human need and environmental distress are unable to meet the needs of their people in a way that benefits ordinary people and facilitates their participation in the processes of debt relief and setting priorities in ways that do not perpetuate or deepen poverty, which acknowledges the responsibility of all parties, and which is transparent and participatory in order to prevent recurring cycles of indebtedness. 

3. Call upon presbyteries and congregations of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to support the goals of the Jubilee 2000 efforts by sending statements of support to key policy makers in the U.S. government and multilateral lending agencies. 

4. Direct appropriate program areas (Hunger Program, Peace Program, Women's and Men's ministries, Worldwide Ministries Division, etc.) to give leadership for education and mobilization to promote awareness and action concerning the need for debt relief for impoverished countries, including the preparation of a study guide for congregational use by the 211th General Assembly (1999).

For some earlier background discussion of the idea of Jubilee and justice >>

On the passage of an earlier legislative action >>

Increase in U.S. hunger spurs faith groups' reaction

Direct relief, systemic changes are needed, says director of Presbyterian Hunger Program    [11-19-09]

by Bethany Furkin, Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE - This week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reported that 17 million American households (49 million people, or 14.6 percent of the population) were food insecure in 2008, the highest number since the government began tracking food insecurity in 1995.

The number of children affected by hunger also increased, according to the report. In 2008, 506,000 households (1.3 percent of households with children) experience very low food security. This was up from 323,000 households (0.8 percent of households with children) in 2007. ...

For the Presbyterian Hunger Program, these numbers reflect a "tragic reality," given that the United States produces more than enough food for everyone, said Ruth Farrell, coordinator of the program.

"Hunger is a complex phenomenon with economic, political and social causes," she said. "Congregations feed hungry people in their neighborhoods, but month after month, many of the same people and new ones will line up for help. Jesus responded with compassion to those in need and at the same time questioned the very structures that caused inequities. Be it greed, ignorance, historical reasons, wastefulness, climate change or unjust market systems, we cannot tolerate hunger."

Largely funded by the One Great Hour of Sharing special offering, the hunger program supports congregations working to respond to hunger holistically.

Farrell urged congregations to inventory their hunger and poverty ministries to assess whether programs both alleviate hunger and try to attack root causes underlying hunger. For assistance or discussion, contact the hunger program at (888) 728-7228 x5388 or by email.

For the full story >>

We care about social justice, right?

Well, try the Social Justice Quiz 2008

Bill Quigley, a human rights lawyer and law professor at Loyola University New Orleans, offers a little quiz to see how much we see the issue through the eyes of those who have much less that most of us.

He introduces the quiz:

We in the US who say we believe in social justice must challenge ourselves to look at the world through the eyes of those who have much less than us. Why? Social justice, as defined by John Rawls, respects basic individual liberty and economic improvement. But social justice also insists that liberty, opportunity, income, wealth and the other social bases of self-respect are to be distributed equally unless an unequal distribution is to everyone's advantage and any inequalities are arranged so they are open to all.

Therefore, we must educate ourselves and others about how liberty, opportunity, income and wealth are actually distributed in our country and in our world.

The first two questions:

    1. How many deaths are there worldwide each year due to acts of terrorism?

    Answer: The US State Department reported there were more than 22,000 deaths from terrorism last year. Over half of those killed or injured were Muslims. Source: Voice of America, May 2, 2008. "Terrorism Deaths Rose in 2007."

    2. How many deaths are there worldwide each day due to poverty and malnutrition?

    A: About 25,000 people die every day of hunger or hunger-related causes, according to the United Nations. - Hunger and World Poverty. Every day, almost 16,000 children die from hunger-related causes - one child every five seconds. Bread for the World. Hunger Facts: International.

Try the quiz for yourself, and see what you might learn.

When Is Growth a Good Thing?

Distributive Justice in the Age of Globalization

by Gene TeSelle, Witherspoon Issues Analyst

Here’s an additional look at the growing rich-poor gap in a global perspective. (The current issue of Network News focuses on that, but we ran out of time and space to include this important ...)

There are some who think that government should never interfere with the operations of the market but simply let the "invisible hand" work its magic. But it is obvious that wealth carries with it the power to affect the market in important ways. And governments often reinforce the influence of private wealth. So there are many others who think that government has an obligation not only to stop favoring the most powerful but to create a regulatory framework that will encourage the market to act in constructive ways. But what considerations should shape government policy?

In recent decades there has been much discussion of John Rawls' A Theory of Justice (1971), and specifically of his "difference principle": inequities of distribution are justified only if they benefit those who are least favored. This is a restatement of the older notion of "Pareto efficiency" or "Pareto optimality," a distribution which should not be changed to make some better off if it will make others worse off.


This has recently been put to practical use by Thomas Pogge, a German who received his Ph.D. at Harvard under Rawls, taught in Australia, taught more recently at Columbia, and is now at Yale. He has written several books about Rawls and his theory of justice. Recent publications include World Poverty and Human Rights (2002) and Global Institutions and Responsibilities: Achieving Global Justice (2005).

Most recently he published an article on "Growth and Inequality" in the global economy. (It can be accessed online in Dissent Magazine). Picking up on a point made in The Economist, he noted that economic growth is benefiting China and India more than other countries. At first glance this seems to mean that large numbers of poor people are benefiting from that growth. But he points out that the statistics ignore the profits that leave these countries and go into the pockets of foreign investors. Even more important, they fail to ask how the profits are distributed within those countries.

Pogge then looks at figures on economic inequality in a wide range of countries. He divides their populations into "deciles" (tenths of the total population) and charts their relative share of per capita income. Japan and the Scandinavian countries have the least inequality. But in many countries — oil-rich Nigeria and Angola as well as the U.S. and China — disparities have increased dramatically in recent decades.

If the lower "deciles" in these countries had simply maintained their proportion of total income, their economic situation would have improved, and they would have been spared the marginalization and loss of power that they have experienced. Globally, he finds that doubling the wealth of the bottom 40 percent would take only 1.55 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent. Doubling the wealth of the bottom 80 percent would take only 15.3 percent of the wealth of the top 1 percent.

So he concludes that the problem of world poverty "is both amazingly small and amazingly large." Raising the world's population above the World Bank's poverty level of $2 a day would cost $300 billion annually, less than 1 percent of the global product, less than what the U.S. spends just on on its military. But it would do much to alleviate death, disease, and suffering worldwide.

Whether we emphasize the positive obligation to help others in need, or the negative obligation of "Pareto optimality" not to make their situation worse, it turns out to be a cost-effective way to meet the minimal demands of distributive justice.

The Reverend Dr. King’s Last Issue – Wage Justice
from the Witness in Washington Weekly, published by the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), January 14, 2008

NOTE: The forthcoming issue of Witherspoon’s Network News will focus on just this issue, within a the wider concern for the growing gap between the wealthy and the poor in the US and around the world, under the title of “The Other Inconvenient Truth.” We will post it here (in PDF format) as soon as it comes off the press.


As we prepare to honor the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. this weekend, the year 2008 is important for remembering this prophet of our time. This year is the forty-fifth anniversary of Dr. King’s now famous, “I Have a Dream” speech. The year 2008 is also fortieth anniversary of Dr. King’s assassination, of his last speech, of his last march.

In 1963, the Reverend Dr. King led the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom and stood in front of the Lincoln Memorial to deliver his “I Have a Dream” address. A key demand of the march was “a national minimum wage act that will give all Americans a decent standard of living.” Certainly, Dr. King did not dream that the value of the minimum wage would be lower today than it was in 1963.

In March and April of 1968, nearly forty years ago, the Reverend Dr. King was marching with the striking sanitation workers in Memphis, Tenn. The paramount issue of that march was wage justice – a fair wage for a day’s work. On March 18, 1968, at the historic Memphis rally, Dr. King said, “It is criminal to have people working on a full-time basis . . . getting part-time income. We are tired of working our hands off and laboring every day and not even making a wage adequate with daily basic necessities of life.”

The year 2008 is an important anniversary for wage justice issues. This is the seventieth anniversary of the enactment of the very first minimum wage, with the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938. This is the fortieth anniversary of the highest value of the minimum wage, when the 1968 wage floor reached a value of $9.60 per hour in 2007 dollars.

On March 31, 1968, on Palm Sunday in the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, Dr. King said, "this is America's opportunity to help bridge the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The question is whether America will do it. There is nothing new about poverty. What is new is that we now have the techniques and the resources to get rid of poverty. The real question is whether we have the will." Today, the unconscionable gap between the haves and have-nots is significantly wider than it was then. The minimum wage, which was worth $9.60 in 1968 (in 2007 dollars), is an impoverishing $5.85 today.

The year 2008 is a sad year for wage justice issues, for even though the federal minimum wage was increased last year for the first time in ten years, it remains shockingly inadequate as a wage to provide low-wage workers with a livelihood. Families continue to choose between health insurance and grocery bills, paying for gas to drive to work or paying for rent to stay in their homes. On July 24, 2007, the minimum wage increased from $5.15 to $5.85 per hour. On July 24, 2008, it will increase to $6.55 and on to $7.25 a year later in 2009, falling shamefully short of Dr. King’s dream, and the value of the 1968 wage which, even then, was not adequate to keep people out of poverty.

The year 2008 is, lastly, a hopeful year for wage justice issues. We observe a federal holiday in honor of Dr. King and pray that his message of justice for workers will be remembered as we read and listen to his sermons this weekend. People all across the country will advocate at all levels of government for living wages, not just minimum wages, and will seek to build the “will” of which Dr. King spoke. This year is a great building year for wage justice issues.

So, as we observe the Reverend Dr. King’s birthday this weekend, let us consider a commitment in 2008 to wage justice issues. Visit for more information on minimum and living wage campaigns and to find one near your home, and visit to send a message to your legislators that we must do better for low-wage workers in 2008.

General Assembly Guidance:

The 217th General Assembly (2006) of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A) wished to “communicate to all members of Congress its desire that legislation to increase the minimum wage be swiftly passed and at least reflect the increase in the cost of living since the last minimum wage increase in 1997, with the goal of a wage level sufficient to lift full-time workers out of poverty. Additionally, middle governing bodies, local congregations, and individuals are encouraged to support efforts to increase the minimum wage at federal, state, and local levels as well. Presbyterians are also encouraged to take advantage of the resources and advocacy opportunities of the National Council of Churches’ Let Justice Roll campaign.

Resources for this article were adapted from the Let Justice Roll Living Wage Campaign

US income gap widens, income share of the richest hits record     [10-16-07]

The gap between America’s richest and poorest is at its widest in at least 25 years, with the wealthiest taking home a record share of the nation’s income that exceeds even the previous high in 2000.

According to recent data from the Internal Revenue Service, the richest 1 percent of Americans earned 21.2 percent of all U.S. income earned in 2005. That is a significant increase from 2004 when the top 1 percent earned 19 percent of the nation’s income.

See the Reuters report on CommonDreams >>

On economic ... justice?

2005 incomes, on average, still below 2000 peak

The New York Times reported on August 21 that the latest government statistics indicate that "Americans earned a smaller average income [per capita] in 2005 than in 2000, the fifth consecutive year that they had to make ends meet with less money than at the peak of the last economic expansion." And this occurred while many Americans were having to pay a greater share of their health care costs, and found their retirement benefits being reduced as well.

A few other bits of information:

The growth in total incomes was concentrated among those making more than $1 million. The number of such taxpayers grew by more than 26 percent, to 303,817 in 2005, from 239,685 in 2000. These individuals, who constitute less than a quarter of 1 percent of all taxpayers, reaped almost 47 percent of the total income gains in 2005, compared with 2000.

The article >>

The Minimum Wage increase starts today ...
but it’s not much

The Presbyterian Washington Office puts this adjustment in perspective, and suggests urging Congress to work toward a more just minimum wage.

The Minimum Wage Increase Starts Today

"You shall not withhold the wages of poor and needy labourers, whether other Israelites or aliens who reside in your land in one of your towns." – Deuteronomy 24:14

On July 24, 2007, the federal minimum wage will increase for the first time in ten years, from $5.15 an hour to $5.85. This increase is the result of a federal minimum wage increase that was passed by Congress in May and signed into law by the President 60 days ago. This desperately needed raise will take effect over 2 years, increasing to $6.55 on July 24, 2008, and again to $7.25 on July 24, 2009.

The federal minimum wage has been stagnant at $5.15 an hour for ten years, over which its real value has dropped over $1.30, so this increase represents a desperately needed increase for low-wage workers. This raise will make a huge difference in the lives of millions of workers whose annual before-tax income will increase by more than $1,400. This new minimum wage, however badly needed, still falls far short of the mark and does little to help the working poor climb out of poverty.

In 1988, the 200th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) "urge[ed] the President and Congress of the United States to raise the minimum wage to its historical level of 50 percent of the average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage and provide for regular increases that will keep the minimum wage at an adequate level to lift people out of poverty"(Minutes, 1988, p.364). The "average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage" has been falling over the last two decades, as the value of the minimum wage has decreased, and dragged down the overall average. However, even given this decline in real value, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ "Employment Situation: June 2007" report, the average non-supervisory, nonagricultural wage last month was $17.38. If the 1988 General Assembly policy were applied, the minimum wage LAST MONTH would have been $8.69 an hour, not $7.25 in 2009.

This wage increase is an important first step toward making sure that workers have enough to support their families, but it is obviously an inadequate wage with which to support a family, or even a single household. As the costs of housing, health care, transportation, fuel and food all continue to rise, most workers’ wages have not, and families must increasingly rely on services like housing assistance and food banks to supplement their inadequate income, and on emergency rooms to provide health care because insurance is not affordable.

A vision of the common good and a just society demands that all people have the right to work for living wages, not poverty wages. The federal minimum wage has too long kept U.S. workers living in poverty, not climbing out of it. Click to send a message to your members of Congress calling for a just minimum wage.

Talking Points for your Message:

bulletI write as a person of faith to congratulate Congress on passing the first minimum wage increase in 10 years, and to further call on you to pass a federal minimum wage that will help workers climb out of poverty, not trap them and their families in it.
bulletI believe that it is our responsibility as a society to ensure that all people are able to make a decent living to support themselves and their families.
bulletFamilies will never climb out of poverty, and we will never reduce the need for government-sponsored human-needs programs, unless workers earn enough to pay for housing, health care, food, fuel and all the other basic necessities.
bulletThe minimum wage increase that is taking effect this summer is an important first step, but still falls far short of the mark of reducing poverty.
bulletThe current minimum wage will increase this summer for the first time in ten years, but the increase is so small and the action comes so late, that workers require much more to ensure a wage that they deserve.
bulletI call on you to support a federal minimum wage that will keep workers out of poverty, not keep them in it.
bulletThere is still work to be done. Please do not let this small increase distract you from accomplishing an adequate wage for low-wage workers.

The Witness in Washington Weekly is published weekly by the Washington Office, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), 100 Maryland Avenue, NE Washington D.C. 20002, (202) 543-1126 For more information about the content of this article, please email us at If you would like to receive this information directly, please go to


Two calls for a "New Marshall Plan"

Cornell president and Network of Spiritual Progressives both urge this big step forward     [6-7-07]

Witherspooner Betty Hale recently told us of the commencement address by Cornell's president, David Skorton, calling for the creation of a "New Marshall Plan" to alleviate the gaps between rich and poor nations, and much more.  He urges universities to spearhead this move, using their capacities for research and innovation to benefit a world in crisis.

bullet Skorton's commencement address >>
bulletExcerpts from the address >>

At the same time, the Network of Spiritual Progressives is putting forth a similar call, rooted not in academia but in the growing conviction among people of faith that the world must begin learning to operate on the basis of generosity rather than selfishness and fear of the other.

bullet The NSP statement >>
bulletExcerpts from the statement >>
IMF faces confidence crisis   [4-16-07]

While leaders of the World Bank debate what to do with Paul Wolfowitz, their embattled president, the IMF and World Bank are facing a deeper challenge , which the think-tank Foreign Policy in Focus calls a "confidence crisis."  The essay begins:

As International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank officials engage in their joint semi-annual meetings in Washington, the Fund has a nettlesome new task: convincing its shareholders (most of the worlds governments, represented at the meeting by Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors) that the institution should continue to exist.

After some 30 years of making "bail-out" and "structural adjustment" loans to indebted and impoverished countries in return for their adherence to a long list of neo-liberal economic reformstrade and investment deregulation, privatization, tightening access to credit, and rapid budget cuts and public-sector layoffs, to name a fewthe IMF has been confronting a crisis of confidence for the past two years. Demand for its services has been shrinking. Its reputation has never recovered from its disastrous interventions in the East Asian and Argentinean financial crises (1997-1998 and 2001-2002 respectively).

The full essay >>


Some blogs worth visiting

PVJ's Facebook page

Mitch Trigger, PVJ's Secretary/Communicator, has created a Facebook page where Witherspoon members and others can gather to exchange news and views. Mitch and a few others have posted bits of news, both personal and organizational. But there’s room for more!

You can post your own news and views, or initiate a conversation about a topic of interest to you.


John Shuck’s new "Religion for Life" website

Long-time and stimulating blogger John Shuck, a Presbyterian minister currently serving as pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Elizabethton, Tenn., writes about spirituality, culture, religion (both organized and disorganized), life, evolution, literature, Jesus, and lightening up.

Click here for his blog posts.

Click here for podcasts of his radio program, which "explores the intersection of religion, social justice and public life."


John Harris’ Summit to Shore blogspot

Theological and philosophical reflections on everything between summit to shore, including kayaking, climbing, religion, spirituality, philosophy, theology, The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), New York City and the Queens neighborhood of Ridgewood -- by a progressive New York City Presbyterian Pastor. John is a former member of the Witherspoon board, and is designated pastor of North Presbyterian Church in Flushing, NY.


Voices of Sophia blog

Heather Reichgott, who has created this new blog for Voices of Sophia, introduces it:

After fifteen years of scholarship and activism, Voices of Sophia presents a blog. Here, we present the voices of feminist theologians of all stripes: scholars, clergy, students, exiles, missionaries, workers, thinkers, artists, lovers and devotees, from many parts of the world, all children of the God in whose image women are made. .... This blog seeks to glorify God through prayer, work, art, and intellectual reflection. Through articles and ensuing discussion we hope to become an active and thoughtful community.


Got more blogs to recommend?

Please send a note, and we'll see what we can do!


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