Amos & Ephahs (338)

I first read Robert Merry’s work in his wonderful 2005 book: Sands of Empire: Missionary Zeal, American Foreign Policy, and the Hazards of Global Ambition. In that book, he made a compelling case for why our foreign wars end up thwarting the very values and outcomes we desire as a nation. Merry now writes for The American Conservative, an online publication I read regularly. He wrote a recent column that turns his astute observations about American foreign policy to the domestic crisis at home between our two rival political cultures. The election of Donald Trump isn’t the problem, Merry argues. He just exploited the pain many people were experiencing. Although Merry sees Mr. Trump as “supremely unfit for his White House job,” he contends that the election was but a symptom of far deeper crisis in the soul of America.

Merry believes the crisis is caused by how out of touch the prevailing elites of our rival political cultures are with the lives of most people in this country. Merry quotes economic consultant David M. Smick, author of The Great Equalizer, who described what happened after the Great Recession at the end of the last decade. Smick says it was “the greatest transfer of middle-class and elderly wealth to elite financial interests in the history of mankind.” This further exposed and accelerated the growing income disparities between these elites and the rest of the country. Merry says this has “contributed significantly to the hollowing out of the American working class—once the central foundation of the country’s economic muscle and political stability.” The recent proposals for tax and health care policy changes, if adopted, will further the accelerate the disparity and serve to create even more instability in our country. For much of the country, modern democratic capitalism is simply not working for them anymore. This isn’t capitalism’s fault, per se. It’s the fault of those who manipulate the system (without any consequences) for their benefit at the expense of others.

The prophet Amos spoke eloquently about people enduring persistent economic injustice. Amos, prophesying in 8th Century B.C. Israel, condemned the elites who manipulated the poor through debt and financial deceit. Amos writes: Hear this, you that trample on the needy, and bring to ruin the poor of the land, saying, ‘When will the new moon be over so that we may sell grain; and the Sabbath, so that we may offer wheat for sale? We will make the ephah small and the shekel great, and practice deceit with false balances, buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, and selling the sweepings of the wheat.’ The Lord has sworn by the pride of Jacob: Surely, I will never forget any of their deeds (Amos 8:4-7).

The ephah was a measuring unit for grain. By making it small, the elites were deceptively selling less grain than they promised. Likewise, in making the shekel great, they were overcharging their customers while underdelivering what they promised. Making the ephah small and the shekel great, in other words, was the way the elites in Amos’ time increased the financial disparity between them and the rest of the people. No culture can endure such disparity forever. It creates social and political instability and eventually more pain and suffering for more people.



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