I saw Melvin Brag’s first installment on ‘Radical Lives’ last Sunday. It was about the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 and its spiritual leader John Ball. So here, briefly, are the facts. After the Black Death had taken about half the population of rural England, there were not enough peasants to do all the farm work that was needed. The Lords on the estates often acceded to the demands of the peasants for better conditions, and sometimes gave them their freedom. But as the population started to recover (35 years later) many people feared that these hard won conditions would be lost. In 1351 there were laws passed that prevented the peasants from demanding more money, in a time of shortage of labour. Then the wars with France were financed via a ‘poll tax’ which fell most heavily on the peasants. After the peasants took the tower of London, king Richard 11 acceded to all of the peasants demands, then because they were made ‘under threat’ revoked all his promises and cruelly executed the leaders of the revolt and later sent out troops to kill others (One event describes 500 being killed, another 1500).
I was outraged. Here, in times when ‘the market’ is held up to us as the ‘be all and end all’ of most things, we find way back in 1381 people doing the same thing: protecting their own power and ‘contriving evil by means of law’ (Ps 94:20)We see, even then, blatant examples of people with power unwilling to submit to ‘market forces’. Instead, they use their excess of power to change the rules to keep them rich and to keep the poor poorer.
I was reminded of our present circumstances. Since the early eighties, when we have had a return to ‘the market’ in Anglophone countries the difference between the highest paid and the lowest paid workers has increased hugely. While sending hardly anyone in the banks to jail because they are ‘too big to fail’, the burden of the resultant austerity has fallen on the poor. There is an increasing demonization of welfare recipients. There is an ever more oppressive surveillance of them in order to prevent welfare cheating because they are misusing ‘our money’, when it is ‘our money’ that was spent in the billions in order to bail out the banks. More, the downturn in the economy, and the loss of employment that goes with it is born mostly by the poor and unemploued who are blamed for their fate, not the rich. We privatise profit (let the rich keep it) , and socialise debt (we all share it, even though it is not our fault). I am reminded of the adage ‘The Rich do what they can while the poor suffer what they must.’
We are told that the rich must be paid such high remuneration because they would ‘go elsewhere’ if we don’t. There is a ‘global jobs market’. Well I say ‘Let them go.’ Being a financier or a CEO is not rocket science. If they went, there would be plenty of good people who could take their jobs and do them just as well for less.
More than this, the current flow of people who are seeking asylum in many nations in the West is simply another example of the operation of the ‘global jobs market’. Like the government of Richard 11, we pass draconian laws to prevent the global jobs market for poor people (which enables us to maintain our lifestyle) while at the same time facilitating the ‘global jobs market’ for rich people (which enables them to maintain their lifestyle).
The research shows that after a certain amount of money, that lets us live ‘comfortably’ (about US $60,000) ‘happiness’ does not increase.
The real trick, according to Daniel Kahneman, who proposed this idea, is to spend time with people we like. You can see a clip of him here. <http://www.mymoneyblog.com/happiness-is-earning-60000-a-year.html>
Even modern day economics tells us that if all the money is too concentrated among the rich, they cannot spend enough of it, and so it does not ‘circulate’, making the large majority of us poorer. There needs to be enough money in ordinary people’s hands for there to be a demand for the goods and services provided by those who produce them.
I think that Christians have a good alternative to this ‘punish the poor and support the rich’ way of thinking, because living before the face of God, gives us an alternative picture: of a fairer world where, as we have seen in the gospel reading of the last Sunday, everyone is fed, and there is even some left over.
The psalm for this morning’s prayer talks about the fact that ‘The fool has said in his heart that there is no God’ and it is this absence of living before God that makes it possible to do corrupt things. The psalm goes on ‘Are all evildoers devoid of understanding who eat up my people as men eat bread and do not pray to the Lord?… Though they frustrate the poor man in his hopes surely the Lord is his
refuge. O that deliverance for Israel might come forth from Zion!’ The Lord’s Prayer asks God to give us our ‘daily bread’: not much more.
Living life before God in Christ gives us a world that is very different from the one in which we live now. ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as tit is in heaven.’ It is a world in which everyone, rich and poor alike are aware of their own capacity for corruption and greed. (There is enough evidence of that among rich and poor).’Forgive us our sin, as we forgive those who sin against us.’ But it is a world in which we believe that we all belong to one another, and that it is an offence to God that some of hoard so much, while others go hungry. Believing in the idea that there is a limit to what we need and that we only need ‘enough’ is the product of a group of people who are not covetous of other peoples goods. The advertising industry depends on making us covet our neighbours goods, so that we will then go out and consume more. But again ,the psalm says ‘The Lord is my shepherd, there is nothing I can want’. ‘Save us in the time of trial and deliver us from evil.’
Christian life in the early days of the Church was popular among the poor, even though it was dangerous because the members of the Church loved one another. They helped the widow and the fatherless. A person could not be baptized without obvious testimony from their sponsor that they were helping others. Christian life is not just about ‘spirituality’. It is also a practical economic programme based on what life looks like when we live our lives before the face of God in Christ.