Monday, November 7, 2011

I'm part of the 99%

I am part of the 99%. I’m one of the people in our country that has less than the top 1%.

So what? (and please, read this with the sarcasm I intend!)

Before you begin throwing rocks at me, let me add a few disclaimers:

1. I know some in our culture have made money through less-than-scrupulous means. The Bernie Madoff’s of the world should be dealt with. I am not advocating “anything goes”.

2. I know some corporations have acted in less than scrupulous ways, and should be dealt with. But, remember that “corporations” don’t do anything. People within the corporations do things.

3. I know the poor need legitimate help, appropriate to their situation and according to biblical principles. I am not advocating we ignore those truly in poverty, here or abroad.

4. I know we face some serious economic questions. College education is expensive, and the crisis of school loan debt is real. Medical costs and medical insurance costs are high. I don’t have any easy answers to these questions. I simply do not want to convey that I am minimizing these or other real social issues.

5. I know the tax code is a mess and needs serious re-working.

So, then, why do we throw rocks at the top 1%? Maybe because we feel it’s “not fair” that they have more than the 99%. Or, perhaps it’s because it’s much easier to throw rocks at a small group to which we don’t belong than to look at ourselves.

Why don’t we get upset with the top 50%? Or the top 25%? Why don’t we demand they give up some of their money?

I recently looked at the 2010 census data concerning income. Did you know that roughly 50% of the households in America make more than $60,000 per year and slightly more than 25% earn more than $100,000 per year? (25% is roughly 20 million families). If these top 25% would each just throw in an extra $1,000 per year, we’d have an extra $20 billion in the whatever-the-money-should-go-to fund.

But whether we throw rocks at the top 1%, or top 25%, or top 50%, the fundamental flaws behind the rock-throwing are the same. Here’s what I see behind the scenes:

1. A belief that wealth is inherently evil. Another verison of this is "I believe if they have more wealth than me, it's particularly bad". The Bible does not teach wealth is evil! (see my previous post, cleverly called “Is Wealth Inherently Evil?”).

2. A belief that saving isn’t good - at least, we should rethink our 401(k) plans and such. The Bible does not teach against saving. In fact, Proverbs 13:22 says, “A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children” and Proverbs 30:25 commends the ant for preparing in the summer for their later needs. Saving is not condemned in Scriptures.

3. A belief that we should redistribute the wealth of those who have to those who do not (key problem, though, is how do you define “those who have”?). Some, wrongly, claim Acts 2:44-47 as normative for culture today. However, the difference between voluntarily pooling resources within the church to care for the needs of the church and a government or some other external agency forcibly redistributing resources is huge. We’ve seen two examples of this (forced redistribution) that have been found wanting and have created more problems than they solved. One is called welfare, the other is called socialism. Nowhere in the Bible is the Acts 2 circumstance prescribed as normal. The norm in Scripture is to work for what we get (e.g., 2 Thess. 3:10-12)

4. Closely related is a belief that corporations are generally bad (if not all, then at least many) and should give away their earnings. One person recently wrote that "Maybe God’s dream is for the bankers to empty their banks and barns so folks have enough food for today.” (By the way – if you know who said this, (a) don’t post his name, and (b) I’m not criticizing him, just using a statement he made to make a point). Keep in mind that many corporations are useful and have nothing morally questionable attached to their reputation. (If you don’t think corporations are useful, check out the name of the manufacturer of the computer or phone you are using to read this post!). Corporate decisions are made by and carried out by people. So, if a corporation is involved in something questionable, call the people involved into accountability and picket the specific company directly! Without corporations, we’d have far less wealth in our country to worry about. We’d have little to redistribute.

Okay, having said all that, what is the heart of the issue?

It’s not business; it’s not wealth; it’s not the 1% (or the 25% or the 50%).

It’s the heart.

Greed and its ugly twin sister materialism are at the heart of the problem. It’s not wealth that Scripture condemns; it is greed and “the love of money”. And greed isn’t defined by what someone has; it’s defined by what he thinks about what he has, whether a little or a lot.

Let’s quit throwing rocks at those who have; let’s quit demanding that they give their stuff to us. Let’s look in our own wallet and choose to be selfless and generous with what we have. Let’s challenge those with whom we have influence to be generous. Let’s help young people learn to stay out of debt (I’m convinced consumer debt puts too many people in the “I don’t have enough to make ends meet” category) and help those in the debt mess learn how to get out. Let’s get out of our comfort zones and help those who need help – in ways that really meet their long term needs.

We have some real problems in our culture. Most, however, we can solve by beginning at home, not by throwing rocks at Wall Street or at the 1%.

I am part of the 99%. I am part of the solution.