11/20/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

What About Josephine the Plumber? A Call for a Moral Economy

While "Joe the Plumber" became a person of great concern to both presidential candidates this week, what about his cousin Josephine? Josephine wants to be a plumber, but she is having a hard time breaking into this traditionally male field. While Joe is certainly deserving of concern, Josephine is having an even harder time paying her bills, caring for her children, and taking classes to learn plumbing, so she can get out of her low paying service job as a cook in a fast food restaurant.

While both candidates talk about their economic plans, neither one talks much about his economic ethics. While many voters seem eager to discuss the morals of abortion, not many are talking about the morals of the US economy. While the private choice about if, when, and how to give birth has entered the public arena, choices about the economy that determine the public good of thousands are being presented as matters for private individuals.

What we need now, more than ever, is informed public discussion about creating a moral economy, one that serves all the people of this great country. What does a moral economy mean? A moral economy recognizes the interconnections between all its constituent parts: health care, energy, social services, education, entrepreneurship, technology, security. They are all inter-related. They all require money. They all affect the quality of life we share together. We cannot solve the health, education and environmental challenges facing us today without focusing on the economy.

A moral economy recognizes that all people in this country are interconnected, because we are all part of the same social and political system. We might not like each other very much right now, but we are all in the same US boat together. If the boat is leaking on my side, your side is going down, too. While social conservatives demonize liberals, and liberals make fun of fundamentalists, the honest truth is that we are all in this together. Don't forget that government 'r' us.

As the Los Angeles Times reported this week, it is the most vulnerable people that will suffer worst from the global financial crisis that the United States has helped to create. This includes the most vulnerable people here in the US, Josephine as well as Joe the Plumber, along with the most vulnerable people in places like Darfur and Indonesia.

A moral economy recognizes that those who have benefited most have an ethical obligation to help those who have suffered the greatest from globalization.

This is not communism. It is not even liberalism. It is economic ethics.

To learn more about creating a moral economy, see, for example, the Longview Institute (, which promotes public policy focusing a moral economy, personal freedom, and social and economic justice. The Highlander Research and Education Center ( works with grassroots leaders on a wide variety of social concerns, including civil and human rights, economic justice and workers' rights, international peace and solidarity, and youth leadership.

When you vote, think about which candidates will work to create a moral economy in the face of the current global financial crisis facing us now.