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Session 1: Overview - How Inequality Drives Injustice

Workshop Goals

  • To introduce participants to each other and to get a sense of their histories and concerns.
  • For participants to get a broad overview, and to reflect on, the facts of current inequality and its many facets.
  • For participants to get a glimpse of recent scholarship on the fundamental role of inequality in the sweep of history and of global differences in inequality and its impacts
  • To generate a range of possible actions, both short term and long term, and of possible collaborations.
  • For participants to get a preview of the moral and social powers, as well as economic strengths, of a more egalitarian society.

(90 min total)

5 min:  Welcome and Chalice Lighting

10 min Sharing: our Concerns and Stories.

10 min: The Awful Facts

15 min: Historical Patterns of Inequality

5 min: Break

15 min: Deeper Impacts of Inequality

20 min: Brainstorming Activities and Actions

10 min: Debrief and Closing

Prior Readings

  •  “Introduction to Inequality”, pp. xi to xv, from Divided: The Perils of our Growing Inequality by David Cay Johnston. Or Inequality 101.
  • Very short videos: Distribution of Wealth and What Happens When We Raise the Minimum Wage.
  •  “Introduction”, pp. 5-11, from War and Peace and War – A Radical New Theory of History with Implications for Nations Today by Peter Turchin. Or the 16 minute video Turchin on History.
  • “The End of an Era”, pp 2-14, from The Spirit Level – Why Greater Equality Makes Societies Stronger by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Or the 17 minute video Wilkinson on Inequality.
  • “A Land of Promise”, pp. 5-12, from Land of Promise – An Economic History of the United States by Michael Lind.. Or the 6 minute video Lind on US Economic History.
  • “Bold Rule Changes to Break Up Concentrated Wealth”, pp. 97-118, from 99 to 1 – How Wealth Inequality if Wrecking the World and What We Can Do About It by Chuck Collins.Or the 8 minute animation Why Tax the Rich.

  • “Introduction”, pp. xi-xviii, from How Much Do We Deserve – An Inquiry into Distributive Justice by Richard Gilbert.


    Chalice Lighting: “Again I say unto you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God” – Jesus as told by Matthew

    Sharing our Stories and Concerns (10 min): Process and round robin introductions – name, very brief background relative to economic inequality (including class), motivation/concerns / goals very briefly. Note that this will be an introductory session, with plenty of time in future sessions to dig deeper. Optional in depth participant story.

    The Awful Facts (10 min): Now ask the group to name some of the “awful facts” of escalating inequality and have a person list these on flip chart paper. This list does not have to be comprehensive but rather suggestive. Then hand out a couple of pages of statistics on escalating economic inequality, to compare the actual numbers with people’s memories or impressions. Pay attention to both income and wealth inequality. Contrast executive pay to Walmart pay, billionaire wealth to bottom half wealth, taxes on working people vs the wealthy, small business versus big business, spending on lobbying and elections, unionization vs outsourcing, manufacturing vs
    services, the rise of the financial industry, etc.

    Historical Patterns of Inequality (15 min): Have the activity leaders give brief overviews of the role of inequality in two particular historical cycles or patterns, one in world history and one in US history. Then discuss these and try to relate them to the current world situation. Think about equality in early US society (outside the south) especially on the frontier, versus today's inequality in a globalized economy dominated by mega corporations. Think about the seemingly unlimited resources of the earlier era versus the huge impacts on natural resources and ecosystems that we see today and the growing battle over exploitation and control of what’s left.

    Break (5 min). Then another optional in depth participant story.

    Deeper Impacts of Inequality (15 min): Next have the activity leaders briefly describe two kinds of social dysfunction in the United States and the difference with more egalitarian countries. Think about why the US is dead last on so many measures among first world nations, and how this is related to inequality.

    Brainstorming Activities and Actions (20 min): Brainstorm activities and actions that your group might want to consider, recording them on flip chart paper. Don’t attempt to prioritize or analyze these at this time.  Some questions to guide this: Are there issues of inequality you are working on now? Are there class issues in the congregation or community that are hindering effective action? What could you do in your congregation or immediate community? Are there opportunities to partner with other groups to accomplish something in your area? What topics need more in depth study? What do you see as key state or national issues? Are there long term strategies your group could pursue? Consider the moral and spiritual grounding of possible actions and how they relate to your vision of the common good.

     Debrief (10 min): Is there anything that has moved you to want to know more or to do something to make a difference? How will the different backgrounds and passions of the people in the group affect how we move forward? Is there anything else that you’d like to share or reflect upon? Who will volunteer to be the coordinator for Session II and the activity leaders?

    Closing Reading: “American inequality didn’t just happen. It was created.” – Joseph Stiglitz

    Six Session Topical Outline

    Session I  Overview: How Inequality Drives Injustice
  • Sharing our Concerns and Stories
    • The Awful Facts
    • Historical Patterns and Impacts of Inequality
    • Deeper Impacts of Inequality
    • Brainstorming Activities and Actions

    Session II  World History:  The Deep Roots of Inequality

    • Origins of Debt, Money, and Inequality 
    • Inequality in the Rise and Fall of Empires
    • The Economics of Growth and Inequality
    • Class Barriers and Inequa

    Session III  The United States:  History of Inequality and its Consequences

    • Historical Cycles of US Inequality
    • Recent Escalating Inequality
    • Social Dysfunction and Inequality

    Session IV  Hot Topics:  Income, Taxes, Regulations, Trade

    • Minimum & Living Wages. A Maximum Wage?
    • Progressive Taxes
    • Regulatory Capture, Deregulation, Monopoly Power, Union Busting
    • Free Trade, Outsourcing, Race to the Bottom

    Session V  Dig Deeper:  Ownership, Democracy, Public Services

    • Ownership and Inequality
    • Democracy for Sale
    • Public Enterprise and Accountability

    Session VI  ConclusionAction Toward a Sharing Society

    • Discuss Possible Actions. Where’s the Energy?
    • Grounding Our Actions in UU Principles?
    • Who Are Our Allies? How Do We Organize with Them?
    • Develop Leadership and Solidarity Toward a Sharing Society


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