Friday, January 26, 2018

The Inequality of Wealth: Pity the Rich

The poor you will always have with you
Jesus Christ, Matthew 26, 11
Jesus's claim that the poor will always be with us, has stood the test of time. After two thousand years, nothing has changed. Most people are still poor.

Which makes one wonder why people keep worrying about it. Oxfam, for example, has just announced that "Forty-two people hold the same wealth as half the world.

Sounds terrible doesn't it. Those greedy billionaires should be made to "share de wealf," as rioting protesters from London to Baltimore demand. And who would not be amused to see Mark Zuckerberg held upside down as his pockets were shaken out.

But what good would it do? Just as some people are congenitally mean and money grubbing, others are constitutionally incapable of saving a penny or accumulating a pound.

What is really surprising is that it takes 42 of the richest in the world to exceed the wealth of the poorest half of humanity. In all modesty, I had thought that I alone was richer than half of all humanity, not because I am rich but because half of all humanity has no wealth at all, at least not of the kind that would be called wealth by such as Mark Zuckerberg. Indeed, even in America, the world's richest country, most folk, by the time they reach retirement age, are said to have a net worth of little to less than nothing, their debts often matching or even exceeding their assets.

So if most people of the world's richest country have essentially no wealth at all, at a time in history when the accumulated wealth of the world has never been been piled so high, what hope is there, going forward, of proving Jesus wrong?

Yes, it would surely be good if everyone had at least a small nest egg, a few thousand dollars to tide them over a spell of involuntary unemployment or to pay for the funeral of a loved one without resort to the money lenders.

But saving for a rainy day is not in the nature of the ordinary human animal, which has more in common with your average university student than a penny-pinching entrepreneur. Normal folks, if they have a dollar, spend it. And if they can borrow another dollar, they will spend that too. Hence, in the US, a one-trillion-dollar student-loan mountain and a generation of near penniless retirees.

But who is to say that the financially feckless are unwise in the choices they make. Are not student days often the happiest days of a person's life? And is not the life of the successful entrepreneur a life of endless drudgery and petty economies combined with expertise in what H.L. Mencken described as a few mundane tricks of swindling.

Yes, the poor suffer. Their clothes may be shabby, their diet unhealthy, their life-expectancy limited, but still the Lord makes the sun rise not only on both the evil and the good, but also on both the poor and the rich, and he sends the rain not only on both the righteous and the unrighteous but also on both the poor and the rich. What is more, the poor care for one another, love one another and share with one another both their joys and sorrows.

Who then is well off? Your average Jill or Joe without a penny of financial wealth to their name or the young man to whom Jesus said:
If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor ... But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
So if a person has wealth, perhaps more wealth than half the World's population, they should not envied, although they may be expected to more generously help the poor. Rather we should pity the rich, their lives an endless struggle to accumulate possessions with which to burden their immortal souls, as their demise is impatiently awaited by heirs anxious to take up the burden of great possessions. For as Bill Gates, former world's wealthiest man said, "a hamburger is just a hamburger," and "after the first million, what difference does it make."

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