Monday, December 31, 2012

Living with Luke (5): 1:56-80

            Luke the Evangelist is traditionally symbolized by a winged ox or bull –
             a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.                                                                                                        The ox signifies that Christians should be prepared to sacrifice themselves in following Christ.

1:56-80: The Birth of John and Zecariah’s Restoration

56 Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, and then returned to her home.
57 When the time came for Elizabeth to have her child, she gave birth to a boy. 58 Her neighbors and relatives celebrated with her because they had heard that the Lord had shown her great mercy. 59 On the eighth day, it came time to circumcise the child. They wanted to name him Zechariah because that was his father’s name. 60 But his mother replied, “No, his name will be John.”
61 They said to her, “None of your relatives have that name.” 62 Then they began gesturing to his father to see what he wanted to call him.
63 After asking for a tablet, he surprised everyone by writing, “His name is John.” 64 At that moment, Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.
65 All their neighbors were filled with awe, and everyone throughout the Judean highlands talked about what had happened. 66 All who heard about this considered it carefully. They said, “What then will this child be?” Indeed, the Lord’s power was with him.
67 John’s father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and prophesied,
68 “Bless the Lord God of Israel
    because he has come to help and has delivered his people.
69 He has raised up a mighty savior for us in his servant David’s house,
70     just as he said through the mouths of his holy prophets long ago.
71 He has brought salvation from our enemies
    and from the power of all those who hate us.
72 He has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
    and remembered his holy covenant,
73         the solemn pledge he made to our ancestor Abraham.
He has granted 74 that we would be rescued
        from the power of our enemies
    so that we could serve him without fear,
75         in holiness and righteousness in God’s eyes,
            for as long as we live.
76 You, child, will be called a prophet of the Most High,
    for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way.
77 You will tell his people how to be saved
    through the forgiveness of their sins.
78 Because of our God’s deep compassion,
    the dawn from heaven will break upon us,
79     to give light to those who are sitting in darkness
    and in the shadow of death,
        to guide us on the path of peace.”
80 The child grew up, becoming strong in character. He was in the wilderness until he began his public ministry to Israel.

Elizabeth delivered her son in due time.  Friends and neighbors celebrated the news that Elizabeth and Zechariah’s disgrace had mercifully been removed by the Lord.  However, Elizabeth baffles her community’s expectation that the boy would be named after his father by declaring, “No, his name will be John” (v.60)!

Here is something new and unexpected.  “None of you relatives have that name,” they object.  And they turn to Zechariah, hand him a tablet on which to write his choice for a name.  Astonishingly, he too says the boy is to be named John (v.63).  With that, his tongue is released and he can speak again, praising God.

Perplexed friends and neighbors sought to decipher the meaning of this oddity and the character of this newborn’s life.  For “the Lord’s power was with him” (v.66).

Something about this child and his name signaled that more was up with him than simply the reputation of Zechariah and Elizabeth.  There was more here than meets the eye.  John knew what it was.  He knew there was another disgrace, the disgrace of the nation still in exile in its own land, that this child would be involved in undoing.  What he could not believe about the birth of his own child and the removal of their personal disgrace, he now believes about the larger disgrace of the nation he will help remove.

Believing Zechariah now joins the ranks of the prophets being “filled with the Holy Spirit” (v.67) and utters an oracle.  This oracle, called the Benedictus from the its first word in the Latin translation of the Bible, the Vulgate, shows how thoroughly Zechariah has now embraced the full significance of Gabriel’s announcement to him. Its two parts make this clear.  The first, in vv.68-75) focus on the great savior God will raise up for his people.  Indeed, so certain is God’s deliverance that Zechariah speaks of it in the past tense, as a completed action:

-“raised up” (v.69)
-“brought” (v.71)
-“shown” (v.72)
-“remembered” (v.72)
-“granted” (v.73)

This anticipated yet certain deliverance of Israel is due “to the solemn pledge (God) made to our ancestor Abraham” (v.73).  It always come back to the promise to Abraham (Gen.12:1-3) and the covenant that flowed from it.  In that covenant, God committed to make Abraham and Sarah’s offspring a blessed people who would in turn bless the rest of the world.  So serious about this is God that in Gen.15 God enacts a covenant ritual in which he alone assumes the responsibility for all he has promised to and through Abraham and makes himself liable for their non-fulfillment!

Further, Zechariah alludes to the exodus from Egypt as precedent for such a certain hope (see Ex.5:1-3 for example).  “He has granted that we would be rescued from the power of our enemies so that we could serve him without fear (vv.73-74).  

In the second part of the Benedictus Zechariah turns to his son and the God has for him to play in this great deliverance of the people.  He is to “prepare” (v.76) for the messiah by announcing to the people that God’s light will dawn to draw them and his messiah will lead them on the great New Exodus promised long ago and long-awaited, especially in chs. 40-55 of the prophet Isaiah.

This “light” will entail the forgiveness of the people’s sins.  Forgiveness of sins sounded a quite different note for Luke’s readers (and for Isaiah’s readers too) than it often does for us.  We are so used to hearing this good news as good news “for me.”  That is, we hear it as my personal sins have been forgiven and I am assured of a relationship with God now and in the hereafter.  Biblical readers, especially a people enmeshed in a terrible exile on account of their sins as a people and from which they could not extricate themselves, would hear such a declaration as astonishing good news – their God was about to graciously forgive their failure to be the people of Abraham (see above) and reclaim them from exile and restore them to their divinely appointed vocation!

Personal forgiveness and new life are an implication of this good news but not that good news itself.  The latter is addressed to the people of God and tells them God is doing a new thing.  He is acting to set all things right again, and this new thing begins with John the Baptist preparing them for messiah’s arrival.  He is the one who will “guide us on the path of peace” (v.79).  And “peace” is the great Hebrew ideal of “shalom” – the dream God had for his creation from the very beginning.  That’s what God is up to in and through Jesus and his offer of forgiveness is the call for his people to reclaim both the privilege and the responsibility (and the response-ability!) of their part in this cosmic drama!

(Dis)Arming the Disciples (by Drew Strait)
Dec 31, 2012 @ 5:15 By scotmcknight

So many want to appeal to Luke 22 to show Jesus was not against guns, but Drew Strait subjects that counter-appeal to an examination:

(Dis)Arming the Disciples? Jesus’ View on Sword Control in Luke 22

The tragic events in Newtown have left our nation riddled with grief, and the use of semi-automatic weapons in this most recent mass killing has once again brought the issue of gun control to national prominence. Within the church, too, this horrific tragedy has prompted serious soul searching. What should the church’s response be to the incessant violence carried out by individuals armed with guns? While mourning the loss of innocent children, I’ve found myself joining other Christians who are mourning the church’s assimilation to America’s gun empire. How have things come to this? Isn’t the church supposed to look “different” than the violent kingdoms of this world? Is it true that the church represents a stumbling block toward better gun control in our nation?

If recent debates about gun control are any indication, it seems that the church is divided into two camps: those who want to proliferate guns as a strategy for confronting violent behavior in our nation and those who want to melt America’s guns into plowshares. As a proponent of the latter, I’ve been surprised by Christian gun owners who are using the disciples’ possession of swords in Luke 22 to argue that Jesus encouraged the disciples to arm themselves.  So the argument runs: Jesus commanded the disciples to sell their cloaks and buy swords; therefore, Jesus encouraged his followers to bear swords for personal protection. Put another way, since Jesus told Peter to put his sword away after lopping off the ear of the high priest’s servant—but didn’t ask Peter to “discard” the sword—therefore Jesus supports the right to bear swords (i.e., guns).” To that end, I’d like to revisit Luke chapter 22 in its first-century context.  

To begin, it is critical to recognize that the disciples’ wielding of swords fits the contours of the first century Jewish story.  Unlike our situation in America, Israel was living under the hegemony of Roman power, with its burdensome system of taxation and unprecedented military might. Jews responded to Rome’s occupation of Israel in different ways. Some created strict ritual laws to separate themselves from the pollution of Rome’s presence; others collaborated with Rome and earned prestigious positions of power. Some withdrew to the desert to start Israel over because, in their mind, apostate Jews and the Roman army had defiled Jerusalem; others resisted Rome with banditry and organized terrorist tactics through kidnappings and spontaneous stabbings with concealed daggers. Still others created the concept of a “fourth philosophy,” which urged Jews to affirm that Yahweh is King rather than Caesar (Jos. Ant.18.23-24; Acts 5:36-37). The Israel that Jesus was born into was hardly the Kingdom society his ancestors longed for. The presence of Rome was a daily reminder that the voice of the prophets had yet to be fulfilled.

Despite these different strategies for negotiating Roman power, one thing was clear: for the Kingdom of God to arrive, Rome had to go. And for many, that meant violence initiated by Yahweh and/or the people of God themselves. Many of Jesus’ peers, in fact, dreamed of a day when Yahweh would overthrow Rome much like he did the ancient Egyptians in the Book of Exodus.  They longed for Yahweh to initiate a second exodus even greater than the first, a climactic intervention that would finally—at last!—inaugurate the Kingdom of God and restore Israel to political independence under the reign of Yahweh alone. But Israel was growing impatient: talk of a violent revolution was brewing among the disenchanted.

It is here, under Israel’s growing anti-Roman sentiment, that Jesus’ insistence on enemy love takes center stage. Rather than add fuel to the revolutionary fire, Jesus resisted Rome through what N. T. Wright calls a “doubly revolutionary technique” of turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and taking up our crosses. For Jesus, the evil of Rome would be defeated not through personal armament but through a revolution of God’s love displayed on a Roman cross. That Jesus was aware of Israel’s building conflict with Rome is evident when Jesus arrives in Jerusalem and prophetically warns Israel of its coming destruction:

“As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God’” (Luke 19:41-44).

Instead of threaten Rome with the wrath of God, Jesus weeps. He weeps because he recognizes that Israel has overlooked the things that make for peace. As George Caird once memorably said, “The nation [of Israel] must choose between the way of Jesus and all other possible alternatives, and on its choice depended its hope for a national future.”[1] For Jesus, the hope of Israel’s future was inextricably bound up with the way of peace: the way of peace heralded by Zechariah (Luke 1:79); the way of peacemaking blessed by Matthew’s beatitudes (Matt 5:9); the way of servanthood in contrast to the gentile kings (Caesar!) who lord their power over others (Luke 22:25-26); and, not least, the way of the cruciform God who took on the form of Isaiah’s suffering servant and was obedient even to the point of death. Revolutionary violence against Rome had no place in Jesus’ vision for God’s coming Kingdom. And those who chose not to follow Jesus out of the dangerous narrative of revolutionary violence ended up surrounded by the Roman legions and, ultimately, destroyed, along with the Temple in AD 70.

With this background in mind, Jesus’ words and actions in Luke 22 are brought into dramatic relief. Despite Jesus’ many attempts to shape the disciples’ minds into the peaceable Kingdom, their confusion over the aims of Jesus becomes clear at the Lord’s Supper. After making a “new covenant” with the disciples by reinterpreting the passover meal around his own sacrificial death, Jesus warns them that the hospitality they have experienced thus far is going to change to hostility after Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion.  Jesus’ prediction of Peter’s betrayal sets the stage for the coming drama. To prepare the disciples for the intensity of what is about to come, Jesus uses exaggerated and over-the-top language called hyperbole. And this is where the talk of swords comes into play.

Jesus first recalls the hospitality the disciples experienced during their missionary travels: “’When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?’ They said, ‘No, not a thing’” (Luke 22:35). Then comes Jesus’ use of hyperbole to signify coming hostility: “But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one” (Luke 22:36). That Jesus is using exaggerated language is indicated by his command to sell one’s cloak and buy a sword. To remove your cloak in the first century meant to walk around in your underwear. Imagine that: Jesus’ disciples walking around half naked while wielding a sword! But what is more telling is that two verses later the disciples reveal that they are, in fact, packing heat: “Look, there are two swords here!” (Luke 22:38). There is a long tradition of translating Jesus’ response as, “it is enough.” However, how could a few disciples wielding two swords take on the devil and Rome’s possession of Jerusalem? Their revolutionary talk is foolish! To the contrary, Joseph Fitzmyer, followed by others, argues that Jesus’ response “it is enough” (ikanon estin) is actually an idiom that means: “that’s enough!” Rather than encourage the disciples to arm themselves, Jesus is disarming the disciples’ violent mentality with the sense of “enough of that nonsense!”

But the disciples still don’t get it. When the crisis actually arrives in Gethsemane and Jesus is arrested, one of the disciples wields his hidden sword and strikes the servant of the high priest. Jesus immediately responds, “Enough of this!” (eate eos toutou).  True to his teaching on enemy love, Jesus proceeds to heal the servant of the high priest, which indicates Jesus’ vision for bringing new creation to this world, not the destructive power of violence. Matthew’s version of Jesus’ arrest provides an even more telling response by Jesus: “Put your sword away! Those who take up the sword will die by the sword!” (Matt 26:52). Jesus is disarming the disciples’ violent mentality, showing them that God’s kingdom is drawing near through the way of the cross.

One final point needs to be made here: to my knowledge we do not have a single shroud of evidence that early Jesus followers carried swords with them as they expanded the church to the ends of the earth.  What we do know is that they imitated Jesus’ life and teaching by taking up their crosses (Acts 7;   Pliny, Ep. Tra. 10.97). At the beginning of Luke’s second volume, the disciples ask Jesus one final question before Jesus ascends into heaven: “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” (Acts 1:6). The passage is telling—the disciples are still waiting for Jesus to overthrow Rome. Jesus quickly corrects the disciples and commissions them not to violent resistance in an apocalyptic scenario but rather to missional witness empowered by the Holy Spirit in “Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). And that, friends, is the work of the church. Our vehicle for bringing God’s kingdom to earth is not the sword—or the gun—but our witness to Jesus’ resurrection, empowered by the Holy Spirit.

When Luke 22 is read in its first century context we get a profound picture of the world’s Savior disarming his followers in anticipation of his triumph over evil on the cross. What might this mean for the church today? Aside from conversations that need to happen in congress, I am wondering how we as the church can lead the charge in disarming our nation’s surplus guns and propensity toward violence (both here and abroad)?  Jesus had to disarm the violent mentality of his generation—what would it look like for us to disarm ours? It is time for pastors to say “enough of this!” And maybe for some this means using our creativity to make a safe space for Christians to melt their excess guns into plowshares. Whatever the solution is, may our pastoral leadership help to “guide our [nation's] feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).

Sunday, December 30, 2012

“Why, God?” Asked the American People, and Would Not Stay for an Answer

The number one column on the New York Times website right now is Maureen Dowd’s “Why, God?” It features counsel on the problem of evil, in the wake of the Newtown shootings, from a priest friend of hers, Rev. Kevin O’Neil.

Amid his admirably kind, gentle, and humble remarks on the evils of our time, and every time, is this key admission: “I believe differently now than 30 years ago. First, I do not expect to have all the answers, nor do I believe that people are really looking for them.”

Nor do I believe that people are really looking for them.

I don’t think most people are really looking for them, either. A few straws in the wind:

Has Prof. Alvin Plantinga of the University of Notre Dame, arguably the most important thinker about the problem of evil in our lifetime, been prominent in the news media, on all the talk shows, in all the bien-pensant columns? I haven’t seen a trace of him.

My cousin Kent Annan, who helps to run the worthy Haiti Partners organization (which my wife and I support), has spoken to sold-out rooms at the Urbana Missionary Conference on this question the last couple of days, so clearly people are interested in the issue in some respect or another. But, as Kent himself would be the first to say, he is not a theologian or a philosopher, and his wonderful book, After Shock, is much more a cri de coeur than anything approaching a theodicy. That’s what IVCF/IFES decided to put before their searching university students.

When a Christian church in Newtown did bring in a resource person to speak to the issue, they brought in…not an answer-giver, but another reassurer, popular author Philip Yancey–another good man who trades in fellow-feeling much more than he offers substantial constructive reflection.

And, yes, I’ve written a book on the question that has sold fairly well over a decade, and my phone has been completely silent. No one–no one locally, no one regionally, no one nationally–wanted to discuss the issue with one of the few Canadians who has written a reputable volume on the issue of God and evil.

I wonder if our lack of substantive engagement with the problem of evil is due to our tacit realization, which perhaps Brother O’Neil recognizes, that if we did ask God a serious question about why the shooting happened—or why, now, two separate innocents have been pushed in front of NYC subway trains—God might return to us a serious answer:

Don’t look at me.

I didn’t replace a horrible system of dungeon-like mental health hospitals with the opposite disaster of ‘mainstreaming’ clearly deranged people into the general population. I didn’t release people in obvious need of high-quality treatment into the care of incompetent or even abusive relatives or friends, nor did I grossly underfund the attempts of decent caregivers to cope with the vast problems they heroically undertook.

I didn’t spread 300 million guns—yes, just think about that number for a moment, if you dare—throughout American society, with such lax laws that all sorts of people (and I do mean ALL sorts of people) could get their hands on them.

I didn’t decide not to pay for adequate policing, security screening, emergency training and equipment, and other means by which such nightmares could be reduced.

I had literally nothing to do with Newtown, or those poor victims in the New York subway. So why ask me?

No wonder we don’t ask God, not seriously, not extensively: not pulling up a chair, not reading a good book (or the Good Book), not listening to a qualified speaker, and not giving The Question of Questions the attention it deserves.

Even when violence erupts unavoidably in front of us, we refuse to think hard about what is actually happening, in an appropriately broad frame of reference, and what it all tells us—about ourselves, about how we have run things, about God, and about how God runs things.

We certainly don’t want to look any harder than easy, quick, simple solutions, whether more rigorous gun registration (Jeffrey Goldberg mounts a brave, scary attack on that idea from the left) or putting an armed security guard in every school (the NRA’s “answer”).

We don’t want to look at our own stinginess, our systemic disregard for the mentally ill and their caregivers, or our reflexive (and therefore too easy) recourse or resistance to the state.

We certainly don’t want to look at what it might mean theologically for God to allow us to do so much harm to ourselves and others: What possible agenda could God have that is so huge and so important that it could warrant such a program of dangerous freedom? What would it mean for us to live our lives in the light of that agenda?

Nah. Let’s just be there for each other. Let’s just do that One Thing That Will Solve the Problem. And then we can just get back to business as usual. Like Pilate so badly wanted to do.

Some Thoughts on “Javertism” in the Church (2)

    In my last post I suggested three forms of Javertism, a moralistic and legalistic version of “Christian” faith symbolized by Inspector Javert in “Les Misrables,” that afflict much of the church in our time. In this post we’ll look at the second form, a legalistic view of justice.

    By “legalistic” I mean an approach to living the faith governed by a retributive view of justice.  Retributive means that we deserve what we get and get what we deserve.  If I do this, I suffer consequence X.  If I do that, I suffer consequence Y.  A tit for tat kind of justice. 

    Faith lived under a retributive view of God’s justice always leaves us in the dock, always under threat of accusation and judgment for any misstep.  Such a faith leaves us focused on ourselves and our performance in a way that can easily become narcissistic.  Moralism is inevitable under a retributive view of justice.  As is the pride and exclusivism we looked at the previous post.

    In order to cope with the pressure of God’s (presumed) legalistic or retributive justice, we tend to thin out the meaning of morality to external observance and practice in order to be able to manage our relation to God successfully.

    And perhaps the worst consequence of legalism is that it renders us more and more impervious to grace.  Jauvert himself is the parade example of this. He believes he must be held responsible his failures and face the consequences.  Jauvert cannot accept the grace Valjean extends to him. Retributive justice leads to hell!

    The good news is that retributive justice is not God’s justice.  God’s justice, his “righteousness,” is his passion to set all things right.  In other words, God’s justice is restorative.  God’s justice is not an impartial tit for tat impersonal adjudication.  Hardly, God’s justice is his impassioned determination to make all things right!  It is divine love in action.  God’s justice is to see that we don’t get what we do in fact deserve.  Rather, God’s justice sees to it that we get precisely what we don’t deserve – grace.

    Now this doesn’t mean anyone gets away with anything or is not held accountable for what they do.  Jean Valjean is the living proof that transformation comes through facing up to who we are and, by God’s grace, will be.  We are held accountable under grace but not for judgment but for change! 

J├╝rgen Moltmann works this out for an understanding of final judgment that takes judgment with utter seriousness but grace with even more.  Justice of any kind demands some reckoning for deeds done, especially the horrific, heart-searing deeds of monumental terror and destruction.  They simply cannot be passed over, denied, or ignored by God.  That would not be just in any fashion.  However, Moltmann claims, that God’s justice being ultimately restorative, these deeds are dealt with by allowing the victims to confront their victimizers and work their way to reconciliation.  As this happens in all the innumerable ways, large and small, the result is finally God’s new world where all is as God intended it to be.

It thus becomes clear the difference it makes whether one adopts the Western view that justice is retributive or the biblical view of a justice that is restorative and healing.

The four business gangs that run the US

Date  December 31, 2012

IF YOU'VE ever suspected politics is increasingly being run in the interests of big business, I have news: Jeffrey Sachs, a highly respected economist from Columbia University, agrees with you - at least in respect of the United States.

In his book, The Price of Civilisation, he says the US economy is caught in a feedback loop. ''Corporate wealth translates into political power through campaign financing, corporate lobbying and the revolving door of jobs between government and industry; and political power translates into further wealth through tax cuts, deregulation and sweetheart contracts between government and industry. Wealth begets power, and power begets wealth,'' he says.
Sachs says four key sectors of US business exemplify this feedback loop and the takeover of political power in America by the ''corporatocracy''.

First is the well-known military-industrial complex. ''As [President] Eisenhower famously warned in his farewell address in January 1961, the linkage of the military and private industry created a political power so pervasive that America has been condemned to militarisation, useless wars and fiscal waste on a scale of many tens of trillions of dollars since then,'' he says.

Second is the Wall Street-Washington complex, which has steered the financial system towards control by a few politically powerful Wall Street firms, notably Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and a handful of other financial firms.

These days, almost every US Treasury secretary - Republican or Democrat - comes from Wall Street and goes back there when his term ends. The close ties between Wall Street and Washington ''paved the way for the 2008 financial crisis and the mega-bailouts that followed, through reckless deregulation followed by an almost complete lack of oversight by government''.
Third is the Big Oil-transport-military complex, which has put the US on the trajectory of heavy oil-imports dependence and a deepening military trap in the Middle East, he says.

''Since the days of John D. Rockefeller and the Standard Oil Trust a century ago, Big Oil has loomed large in American politics and foreign policy. Big Oil teamed up with the automobile industry to steer America away from mass transit and towards gas-guzzling vehicles driving on a nationally financed highway system.''

Big Oil has consistently and successfully fought the intrusion of competition from non-oil energy sources, including nuclear, wind and solar power.

It has been at the side of the Pentagon in making sure that America defends the sea-lanes to the Persian Gulf, in effect ensuring a $US100 billion-plus annual subsidy for a fuel that is otherwise dangerous for national security, Sachs says.

''And Big Oil has played a notorious role in the fight to keep climate change off the US agenda. Exxon-Mobil, Koch Industries and others in the sector have underwritten a generation of anti-scientific propaganda to confuse the American people.''

Fourth is the healthcare industry, America's largest industry, absorbing no less than 17 per cent of US gross domestic product.

''The key to understanding this sector is to note that the government partners with industry to reimburse costs with little systematic oversight and control,'' Sachs says. ''Pharmaceutical firms set sky-high prices protected by patent rights; Medicare [for the aged] and Medicaid [for the poor] and private insurers reimburse doctors and hospitals on a cost-plus basis; and the American Medical Association restricts the supply of new doctors through the control of placements at medical schools.

''The result of this pseudo-market system is sky-high costs, large profits for the private healthcare sector, and no political will to reform.''

Now do you see why the industry put so much effort into persuading America's punters that Obamacare was rank socialism? They didn't succeed in blocking it, but the compromised program doesn't do enough to stop the US being the last rich country in the world without universal healthcare.

It's worth noting that, despite its front-running cost, America's healthcare system doesn't leave Americans with particularly good health - not as good as ours, for instance. This conundrum is easily explained: America has the highest-paid doctors.

Sachs says the main thing to remember about the corporatocracy is that it looks after its own. ''There is absolutely no economic crisis in corporate America.

''Consider the pulse of the corporate sector as opposed to the pulse of the employees working in it: corporate profits in 2010 were at an all-time high, chief executive salaries in 2010 rebounded strongly from the financial crisis, Wall Street compensation in 2010 was at an all-time high, several Wall Street firms paid civil penalties for financial abuses, but no senior banker faced any criminal charges, and there were no adverse regulatory measures that would lead to a loss of profits in finance, health care, military supplies and energy,'' he says.

The 30-year achievement of the corporatocracy has been the creation of America's rich and super-rich classes, he says. And we can now see their tools of trade.

''It began with globalisation, which pushed up capital income while pushing down wages. These changes were magnified by the tax cuts at the top, which left more take-home pay and the ability to accumulate greater wealth through higher net-of-tax returns to saving.''

Chief executives then helped themselves to their own slice of the corporate sector ownership through outlandish awards of stock options by friendly and often handpicked compensation committees, while the Securities and Exchange Commission looked the other way. It's not all that hard to do when both political parties are standing in line to do your bidding, Sachs concludes.
Fortunately, things aren't nearly so bad in Australia. But it will require vigilance to stop them sliding further in that direction.