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/

 

Baking the Socialist Pie

Recently, an older gentlemen asked me to give him insight into the mystery of the millennial generation supporting a Socialist like Bernie Sanders. “Why would anyone do that?” he asked, “Don’t they know their history?” I believe the groundswell of support for Bernie Sanders (accepting his own party’s leadership) is due in part to ignorance of history and economics.

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The Politics of Income Inequality

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Income inequality has become one of the big issues of our time. However, our national and local leaders promise help, but what they’re preaching is not helping anyone. Politicians promise “job growth” and “income growth” but government is not a job creator. The governments’ role is to keep the peace and punish lawbreakers. When a government official promises you “better jobs,” or “higher wages” they are lying to you. Governments don’t create wealth. They only redistribute wealth that others have created.

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The Dignity of Labor

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As we celebrate Labor Day weekend, I want to remind us of four key concepts about labor we too easily forget.

1. Work brings pleasure into the world.

Ecclesiastes 3:9-13 tells us that a worker should enjoy the fruit of his labor.
“What profit has the worker from that in which he labors?  I know that nothing is better for them than to rejoice, and to do good in their lives, and also that every man should eat and drink and enjoy the good of all his labor—it is the gift of God.”

When we experience some legitimate pleasure, we are eating the fruit of someone’s labor. When we sit down to an enjoyable meal at home or in a restaurant, we enjoy the fruit of labor.  When we sit to enjoy a sporting match, we enjoy the fruit of someone’s labor. When we sit to take in a concert, we enjoy the fruit of someone’s labor.  There is nothing like eating a fresh chocolate chip cookie my daughter baked, while I watch my son cut the grass!

2. Work alleviates pain.

 When we go about God’s business of destroying the works of the devil, we help a lot of hurting people.  When God’s people serve in hospitals, nursing homes, repair shops, agriculture, and hundreds of other noble occupations, they are doing much to alleviate pain around the world.  Jesus denounced the Pharisees for their rebuke of healing on the Sabbath.  He appealed to the power of work to alleviate suffering, “You hypocrites! Each of you works on the Sabbath day! Don’t you untie your ox or your donkey from its stall on the Sabbath and lead it out for water?  This dear woman, a daughter of Abraham, has been held in bondage by Satan for eighteen years. Isn’t it right that she be released, even on the Sabbath?” Luke 13:15-17

3. Work brings meaning to our lives. 

God worked and called it good.  When we do good work, it brings meaning to our lives.  Chuck Colson, in his book, “Why America Doesn’t Work,” he shares a story about the Nazi concentration camps in Hungary during World War II.  The camp guards would have the men move piles of rocks from one place to another each day.  The work was completely meaningless.  He writes,

“The futile labor continued, and in the days that followed dozens of prisoners went mad and ran from their work, only to be shot by the guards or electrocuted by the fence. Their captors didn’t care, of course. Indeed the commandant of the camp had ordered this monstrous activity as an ‘experiment in mental health’ to see what would happen when people were given meaningless work.  After seeing the results, he smugly remarked that at this rate there soon would be “no more need to use the crematoria.”  

We were created for rulership.  That’s why people without lives become busybodies – if they are not actively involved in partnering with God in their calling, ruling their part of the world for God, they will look to rule other people’s lives.

4. Work is not a curse but rather a partnership with the Divine – Worship

Ephesians 6:7 tells us to, “Work with enthusiasm, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people. Remember that the Lord will reward each one of us for the good we do, whether we are slaves or free.” God designed us to live and work as co-laborers with Him.  We messed up this partnership by turning away from God.  This introduced the curse.  The curse is not the field, the curse is the thorn.  The curse is not the machine but rather the sand in the gears. God worked and is still working. Humans are created in God’s image, which means we are workers.  We are created to cultivate and exercise dominion.

In the Jewish culture of the Bible and even today, work and a trade plays an important role.  The word for work and the word for worship are the same word: Avodah. Jewish Rabbi’s would have the education of a college professor and yet they would have a trade.  The father would say, “If you don’t teach your son a trade, you teach him to steal.”

In the Greek culture of the New Testament, it was not like that.  They thought work was a curse of the gods.  Their word for work came from a Latin word for “punishment” (ponos).  They had a two layered view of work. The first layer consisted of manual labor meant for slaves and the tradesmen, the second higher level was for the thinkers and rulers.

Christianity changed all this.  Christianity brought dignity back to labor. Christianity was always a working man’s faith. Jesus was a carpenter and a Rabbi.  Rabbi Paul, brilliantly educated, but also a man of trade

If work loses this vertical dimension, it will degenerate into predictable patterns.  We will return to the Greek dualistic stratification that we have seen arise in communism. We will have corruption in the marketplace as those in power fail to remember that to whom much is given, much will be required.  Without the awareness that we are working with and for God to bring blessing to the world through our labor, we see the exploitation of labor, stealing from employers, and jealousy of those who have more than us.

Labor is so fruitful, I coach those who are unemployed to serve somewhere.  It brings them a positive momentum that attracts employers.  If they sit around and collect unemployment without serving, they lose this momentum and the opportunity for blessing and meaning.  God created us to work.  And work brings meaning, blessing and beneficial resources to our lives!

For more on work and wealth creation see my website — http://www.creatingkingdomcapital.com/