The backbone of the Fund must be the regular contributions of every believer. Even though such contributions may be small because of the poverty of the donors, large numbers of small sums combine into a mighty river that can carry along the work of the Cause.
(The Universal House of Justice, Messages 1963 to 1986, p. 179)
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this commentary do not represent a position, official or otherwise, of the Baha’i International Community, its Administration, the National Spiritual Assembly of Baha’is of the United States, or the Baha’is of Sacramento, California.)
The Sacramento Bee recently published an opinion piece written by Cynthia Tucker of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that made the case that a “Strong jobs bill is key to economic recovery” because tax revenue is created when Americans are “put back to work”. After all, Franklin Delano Roosevelt did just that with the WPA (Works Project Administration) as part of his “New Deal”. Thirty years later, Lyndon B. Johnson initiated the “War on Poverty” as part of “The Great Society” domestic programs which included Medicare, Medicaid and federal funding for the states’ education systems through the Department of Education. In keeping with those wide sweeping measures that created tremendous changes in America, some current economists and government officials propose returning to those ambitious, federally funded job creation programs to (hopefully) reverse the downward slide of the economy.
There is deeply entrenched ideological opposition to spending more federal dollars for job creation when the national debt is rising unfathomably out of control. Anti-government spending proponents maintain that federal job creation programs will increase the federal deficit, and require a substantial increase in taxes for American workers. They propose tax cuts for businesses and taxpayers that will stimulate the weakened economy by relieving their tax burdens, therefore freeing more money for jobs in the business sector, and increasing taxpayers personal income for consumer spending. The tax cut proponents are also in favor of reducing national and state budget expenditures, and transferring some of the government services to private businesses.
Both methods, and the closely related versions of them, have been implemented over the years by elected officials representing a myriad of political opinions. The efficacy of these measures remains the subject of bitterly contested debates in Washington. Perhaps issue is not whether one approach is more effective than the other, and should be enacted as has been in the past, but whether (or not) an entirely different solution to America’s economic woes could be examined as a possibility.
So far, the elected officials of the United States have not seriously considered any alternative methods of re-building a healthy economy, other than the variants of the previously mentioned plans. The fact that both approaches have led to the present financial disaster seems to elude those who work in Washington and in the state capitols. Perhaps the time has come to consider a very different model for economic prosperity.
At present, there are more than 5 million Baha’is in the world living in 100, 000 localities all over the world. According the U.S. Census Bureau’s World POPClock Projection, the world’s population as of June 1, 2010 was approximately 6,824,455,499. Obviously, Baha’is occupy a small percentage of the world’s population. Yet, in less than a hundred years, this relatively small number of people have established a World Centre, beautiful pilgrimage sites in Haifa and Akka, Israel; created an international community and an administration that serves its members and built Houses of Worship on every continent that are available to everyone, regardless of religious beliefs or the lack of.
Additionally, the Baha’i World News Service reports that there are currently 600 ongoing social and economic development programs operating all over the globe, and several thousand smaller projects that have fixed end dates. All of the activities are completely funded by the members of the Baha’i International Community. (Contributions to the Baha’i Fund is considered to be a privilege; anyone who is not a Baha’i cannot donate money for Baha’i endeavor.) How does such a tiny community manage to fund such projects all over the world successfully? The answer is simple–universal participation.
Very few Baha’is are affluent, in fact, most live in impoverished nations. Yet, every 19 days, Baha’is contribute whatever they can to the Fund, even if it the equivalent of an American penny (or less). However, if five million people gave one penny to the Fund every 19 days, it is conceivable that these pennies would form, as the Universal House of Justice states, “a mighty river” of available money. Fortunately, Baha’is who do not live in impoverished areas contribute more than a penny every 19 days.
Imagine the potential for economic recovery and growth in the United States if a similar system were enacted, that is, if every adult, regardless of economic status, were to contribute 1-2% of their net income in order to not only reduce the national debt, but also pay for the much needed services provided by their government. Even the homeless can gather at least $1 to help fund the services that they use for subsistence.
The county of Sacramento can be used as an illustration. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s state and county quick facts page, the current population of Sacramento county is estimated to be 1, 400, 949 people (463, 794 live in the city of Sacramento). Without subtracting the number of adults who are disabled or the 12.1% of adults who are currently unemployed, 55.9% of Sacramento county’s population is between the ages 18 to 65. This percentage represents approximately 783, 130 adults who could potentially contribute 1-2% of their net yearly income to offset the budget deficits of both Sacramento county and city, and help restore desperately needed public services within the area.
Of course, critics representing both sides of the political spectrum would immediately and vehemently denounce such a proposal. Adjectives such as “naive”, short-sighted,” “unconstitutional”, “preposterous” “simplistic” or even “evil” might be used. Customarily, any suggestion for change in the economic structure that does not reflect a familiar political viewpoint would be summarily rejected.
This method, however, bears at least contemplation, discussion and the inevitable contested debate. Regardless of how unconventional it appears, universal participation in funding Baha’i activities has been, and continues to be, effective. Perhaps it would do the same for local, national and global economies.
An oft-quoted Chinese proverb says “when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” Unfortunately, that teacher is often disaster. Human beings would rather grasp tightly to that which is familiar, even if it is no longer viable. Those few souls who are willing to at least maintain open minds often have to stand aside and watch helplessly as disaster renders its terrible lesson.
For more info: Baha’i Topics: social and economic development The Baha’i Faith sacbee.com