By Lee Van Ham
Redistribution moves money from one sector of society to another through structures that change money’s flow. A non-economic example of structural change happened to the Chicago River when in 1900 it was changed to flow out of Lake Michigan instead of into it through structural changes. Tax law provides structures that affect the flow of money. Lower taxes on wealthy people and corporations cause money to flow to their benefit and at the expense of the rest of society. Conversely, if taxes are raised on wealth, the benefits flow to lower-income people.
The Jubilee economy has built-in structures of redistribution. These structures ensure that people experience functioning community with economic justice for all. Community “busters” such as land ownership and long-term debt are not permitted in a true Jubilee economy. In our current growth economy land and property ownership as well as long-term debt gradually create a huge divide between having less and having more. A Jubilee economy has the goal of Earth community instead of wealth accumulation.
An overlooked part of the story of the birth of Jesus speaks powerfully to redistribution. Mary speaks directly to redistribution in her “song” which is called “The Magnificat” because of the opening words in Latin, “My soul magnifies the Lord.” Though her song has been given over 200 musical settings one part is totally ignored by all sectors of the economy. Though Mary is not given credit for her economic insight, listen to these direct words on redistribution:
…the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
The following is from The Liberating Birth of Jesus, a book I wrote in 2019.
The specialness of the poetic lyrics flowing from Mary in that moment has been recognized by many. Hundreds of musicians have put all or part of Mary’s poem into their compositions, often calling them the “Magnificat,” (in Latin) the first word from Mary’s lips. An article in Wikipedia lists 233 composers and their compositions using these lyrics. (“List of Magnificat Composers,” Wikipedia, accessed 9-15-2019.)
But economies, businesses, and governments have shown no such enthusiasm. What has inspired artists has left cold other powers that be, intent, as they are, on prioritizing ways to accumulate wealth and consolidate control at the expense of other more vulnerable people such as Mary and Joseph. The lyrics are nothing such egos can compose or emulate. Mary’s words come from a soul connected to a sacred paradigm of equality, justice, and sharing—what we need urgently to be living today….
We cannot but apologize to her for ignoring that part of her exultation. We have ignored what gave her the greatest reason for her joy. Mary sang in joy as she imagined her child advocating for a different distribution of God’s abundance, a distribution through which all would have enough. This part of her song is not heard in the stories of Christmastime. Redistribution of wealth in any direction other than upward violates the commitment and economic model of the corporations running the world. But no corporation or empire has embraced Mary the economist.