Ridgewood Adult Education

I started teaching adult education at the Unitarian Society of Ridgewood a few years after we arrived there twenty years ago, and for some years served as the chair of the Adult Religious Education Committee.  Along with several classes I taught alone, Deedee and I also co-facilitated a course for several years on “Economics and Making a Living,” where we read a range of books about economics, politics, and ecology.  Here's a description of some of the work we undertook during that time, followed by a response to the 1998-2000 Study/Action Issue on "Economic Injustice, Poverty & Racism:"

Economics, Social Justice & Making A Living:
Where We’ve Been

The following are most of the books we’ve read during the previous two years of meeting together.  We have placed most of these (complete with our markings, in some cases!) in the Unitarian Society Library in the board room, in case anyone wants to check them out or browse to see what ground the group has covered.

The End of Work: The Decline of the Global Labor Force and the Dawn of the Post-Market Era, Jeremy Rifkin, 1995.  “Jeremy Rifkin warns that the end of work could mean the demise of civilization as we have come to know it, or signal the beginning of a great social transformation and a rebirth of the human spirit.”

Economics Explained:  Everything You Need to Know About How the Economy Works and Where it’s Going, Robert Heilbroner & Lester Thurow, 1994.  “Helibroner & Thurow sweep away the debris of economic theory to expose the political and social choices lying just below it.”  -- Robert B. Reich, former Secretary of Labor

The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Michael Novak, 1982.  “In this groundbreaking book, Michael Novak offers one of the most significant and refreshing appraisals of capitalism in recent times.  A leading neo-conservative thinker, Novak challenges the almost universal assumption that capitalism – because of the prosperity it brings – is without the moral and spiritual underpinnings of socialism.  Novak argues convincingly that, in fact, by virtue of its distinctive spirit, democratic capitalism is not only pragmatically superior but morally more sound than any other system of political economy known to man.  That spirit, says Novak, consists of a novel trinity – a political democracy, a market incentive economy, and a liberal, pluralistic, cluture – that, based as it is on respect for individual freedom, provides a broader vision of human possibility than that offered by any other societal alternative.”

When Corporations Rule the World, David C. Korten, 1995.  “This is a ‘must-read’ book – a searing indictment of an unjust international economic order, not by a wild-eyed idealistic left-winger, but by a sober scion of the establishment with impeccable credentials.  It left me devastated but also very hopeful.  Something can be done to create a more just economic order.”

One World, Ready or Not:  The Manic Logic of Global Capitalism, William Greider, 1997.  “In One World, Ready or Not, a national bestseller, William Greider focuses his incomparable reportorial skills on exposing the myths and the realities of the global economy in terms of human struggle.  Drawing on in-depth investigations and interviews with factory workers, corporate CEOs, economists and government officials around the world, he contends that the global economy is sowing “creative destruction” everywhere:  while making possible great accumulations of wealth, it is also reviving forms of human exploitation that characterized industry one hundred years ago.  Greider warns that if the systems isn’t reformed it will threaten not only our middle-class lifestyles but also social peace in rich and poor countries alike.”

The Ecology of Commerce, Paul Hawken, 1993.  One of our favorite books, this discusses in detail how business can benefit from orienting themselves toward responsible growth and respect for other humans and the earth.

The Growth Illusion:  How economic growth has enriched the few, impoverished the many, and endangered the planet, Richard Douthwaite, 1992.  “Douthwaite shows the real nature of undirected economic growth, and suggests that rather than striving for constant expansion nations can build stable economies in which resource consumption is kept at a sustainable level.  In The Growth Illusion he suggests how the undoubted power and flexibility of the capitalist system can be better directed toward society’s ends.”

Study/Action Issue 1998-2000;  Economic Injustice, Poverty & Racism

Ridgewood Unitarian Society Economics Discussion Group

Response to the UUA Commission on Social Witness  3/1/99


The following response was written by members of the Adult Religious Education course on “Economics, Social Justice & Making a Living” led by Paul Sprecher, and was drafted by Barrie Peterson with editing by Bob Fouchaux, Ed McCabe, Glen Meiers and Paul Sprecher.



We have been discussing the impact of the following significant economic changes on social justice in our society:


·    The increasing globalization of the economy, with the attendant downward pressure on the wages of those at the bottom of the economic ladder and the increasing economic insecurity at all levels of the economy;

·    The growth of temporary work, usually without benefits or security, such that, for example, Manpower, Inc. is now the largest single employer in the country;

·    The growing inequality of compensation and incomes as a result of excessive rewards to the top and the “Winner Take All” structuring of compensation; and

·    The growing strength of capital and the attendant focus on technology over people as the rich gain increasing power in the marketplace as well as in the war of economic ideas which has increasingly promoted a public discourse discouraging collective action and making “the market” the sole significant determinant of value in the society.


Opportunity for Action


Improved labor market intermediaries are needed to assist modestly-skilled people with few networks and without job search expertise find and keep family-supporting, benefited jobs.  UU congregations can participate in solutions such as:


·    Encouraging interfaith responses to hunger and homelessness to include economic development job creation or employment services;

·    Aiding efforts by leaders of non-profit organizations, public bodies and unions to create employment services which include health insurance and career advancement opportunities; and

·    Challenging corporate practices further splitting the job market into benefited high wage vs. substandard jobs.


These actions should tap UU members’ business skills and career counseling talents.  They will aid the disproportionate numbers of women and people of color caught in the growing contingent workforce.  They will aid employers who do provide decent pay and benefits and training opportunities by raising standards, pressuring “low road” employers to do better.  Finally, these efforts will begin to address the growing public policy dilemma of income gap and the growing numbers of workers without health insurance who are cut off from skill development.