Income Inequality

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A recent PBS article stated, “The richest 1% of the world’s population now controls 50% of its total wealth.” Often we here messages like that in America, “[1] Income inequality has become a hot-button issue in the last ten years. Meme makers feast off the clever one liners that tap into our emotions.

Americans are fond of feeling bad for others. We feel good about feeling bad but we don’t often think well about why we feel bad and what we should do about it.  First, let’s define what we’re talking about because not all inequalities are equal. There is relative inequality and absolute inequality. Relative inequality compares one person’s wealth with another. This is what most of us complain about. Humans have a nasty habit of wanting what other people have. In fact, we can be quite satisfied with what we have until we see someone with more.

An old joke tells about a poor peasant whose better-off neighbor has just gotten a cow. In his anguish, the peasant cries out to God for relief from his distress. When God replies and asks him what he wants him to do, the peasant replies, “Kill the cow.”

The joke illustrates an important point about human nature: the line between clamoring for justice and envy can be very thin.

Chuck Colsen referenced studies that show that, given a choice between making 25 percent more than their neighbors or making 25 percent less, people will choose to make more than their neighbor, even if making 25 percent less than their neighbor is more realized income. In other words, many would choose to make $50,000 per year if their neighbor made $37,500 rather than to make $60,000 if their neighbor made $75,000.

With this in mind, the first thing we should look at when addressing wealth gaps, is our own heart. Envy is a sneaky adversary. Some of our outrage is really thinly veiled jealousy and we need to call it as we see it.

Does a socialist economy eliminate envy? Ironically, a Soviet friend of resident scholar Dr. John Williams – Anton Borishenko – recently argued that jealousy runs rampant in a socialist economy.

Anton illustrated his point with a sad little joke. A genie grants a Russian peasant one wish. But there was a catch. Whatever the genie granted the Russian in question would be granted twice over his  neighbor. The man responded with is request, “Blind me in one eye.” “Envy is rampant here,” sighed Anton, “and capitalism cannot afford envy.”

Charles Murray explains the difference of inequality between a socialist economy and free market economy in his book, The Pursuit of Happiness. In a capitalist economy, one can earn enough money to purchase a car. By so doing, he or she can “innocently” acquire a car. At the worst, some may criticize the purchase as extravagant or a waste.  In a socialist state, such a purchase invites very different reactions. “Whom does he know that I do not? How did he manage to jump the line? Why should he be granted a privilege denied me? What has he done to deserve a car when I do not?”

Socialism does not eliminate envy; it simply creates a powerful ruling class with few ladders to economic advancement. What ladders exist, are often built through corruption. Envy is encouraged and entrenched. Winston Churchill said, “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

Dealing with our envy is the first step in dealing with income inequality.

[1] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/wealthiest-getting-wealthier-lobbying-lot/

 

A Birthday Wish for America

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Dear America,

Happy 239th Birthday! You’ve been an interesting and unique experiment. Your first birthday was marked by a Declaration that laid the foundation for a nation unlike any other. Those signers of your first birthday card founded you upon the idea that rights came from God and the role of government was to preserve them for the people. Your peers thought that rights came from the rulers, kings, emperors and dictators. What a difference that idea makes.

Continue reading “A Birthday Wish for America”

Never Surrender: Preserving the Sacred Freedom of Conscience

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As we mark another July 4th holiday where we honor this great nation, I want to share one of the reasons I think America is worth fighting for.

From the start, the men who signed the Declaration of Independence paid a high price. These were not perfect men, but the majority of them loved God and loved freedom. They were well-spoken men of means and education.  They had financial security and solid reputations.  But they valued liberty and freedom more than all else.  Twenty four were lawyers, eleven businessmen, nine were farmers. As a result of signing the Declaration of Independence, five were captured by the British and tortured as traitors, twelve had their homes ransacked and burned.  Nine died in the revolution.  Two lost sons during the war.

Why would they take such a risk?  These weren’t the impoverished people of the nation rising up.  This was the upper class and educated, they stood to lose the most!  Why?  The last sentence of the Declaration of Independence tells us.

“And for the support of this declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our lives, our fortunes and our sacred honor.”

We find ourselves in a precarious spot as a nation.  Historians have alerted us to the familiar signs of national decay that preceded other great empires.  Egypt, Babylon, Greece, and Rome fell, not because of an overpowering force on the outside, but an eroding of national morals on the inside.

We are fortunate to live in America. Many have given their present, so we could have a future.  We don’t have to give up everything to build a nation; that was done before us.  But we stand as stewards upon the shoulders of their sacrifice.

Every nation derives meaning and purpose from some unifying quality—an ethnic character, a common religion, a shared history. The United States is different. America was founded at a particular time, by a particular people, on the basis of particular principles and ideas.

It has become unfashionable to call her unique among the nations, yet America is unique in history because its founding principles are unique. America is not a perfect country.  Far from it.  America is not sinless through history.  Yet we are unique. France and America both endured a revolution. We inherited George Washington who refused to be King and they got Napoleon who set himself up as emperor.  Why?  Because the principles upon which each nation was founded were different.

America was founded on freedom – especially freedom of conscience.

During ancient times and the Middle Ages, governments legislated not only proper social conduct, but also what a person could and could not believe.  

A crucial step along the way of religious and political freedom was a little event in history called the Protestant Reformation.  It was the Protestant Reformation that provided the socio-political context in which the United States was established.

Martin Luther planted a great seed when he stood before the court and told the authorities that it was wrong for anyone to act against his or her conscience in religious matters.  For Luther, God alone had authority over people’s consciences. He drew from the Biblical understanding that a person lives their lives in different, yet coherent spheres, the social and the spiritual – the Creator/Redeemer distinction.

God has given authority to civil government – the power of coercion. Civil law is meant to keep order for all people — to force people to behave.  Spiritual conversion is designed to redeem all people who have broken God’s laws. America is now debating this founding principle.

Can government force you to behave against your conscience? Luther would say no. Not any more than the church should force you to convert. If forced conversion is wrong because you cannot force a belief, than forced behavior is wrong if it violates the conscience. If an atheist baker believes that teaching children about God and hell is immoral, (See Richard Dawkins – a Brit, ironically) should he be obligated to bake a cake celebrating first communion or confirmation? Should he be forced against his conscience? (How evolution produced a conscience is for another blog post.) Should private citizens – and the companies they create — be forced to pay for abortions? Should doctors be forced to perform them? In the name of tolerance, we have become less tolerant.

We are moving toward dangerous territory. The territory of tyrants who wield power with no fear of the God who delegated that authority. Not only are they trying to force behavior, they want to force belief. They use the power of coercion, name-calling, bullying, and other forceful tactics to bring about compliance. My warning to this generation: Be mindful of what you surrender, the freedom of conscience was purchased by the blood of those who have gone before you.

May God bless America!