Friday, February 25, 2011

God and Wealth

Jesus taught that you cannot serve God and wealth, and admonished his disciples to seek first God's kingdom and its justice (Matt. 6:24-34).

Kevin Drum's latest piece in Mother Jones looks at the decline of the labor movement and the consequent realignment of the Democratic Party with corporate business interests.  The result has been economic policies that increasingly concentrate wealth and income in the hands of the richest 1% of the U.S. population, who now control nearly 35% of America's net worth.  So much for the United States being a "Christian nation."

Writes Drum:  The bottom 80%  of Americans now lose a collective $743 billion a year thanks to slow wage growth.  The top 1 percent gains $673 billion.  See a pattern?  We are living through a new Gilded Age, with few institutional centers of power to counterbalance the self-interest of economic elites.

This is terrible for democracy because only the interests of a tiny segment of the citizenry are represented in the political process.  In fact, we now essentially have rich people representing rich people in Congress.  The median net worth of American families is $120K, while the median net worth of members of Congress is $912K.   Nearly 50% of Congressfolk are millionaires, while the typical American's chance of being a millionaire is 1 in 22.

For progressives this increasing inequality is a matter of justice that is ultimately bad for the economy as well.  Even genuine conservatives should recognize that this is a recipe for social disorder - witness the revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East, with autocrats bribing their citizens with billions of dollars in order to stay in power.  Our plutocrats aren't even willing to do that.

In the long-run, of course, bread and circuses will not placate people's hunger for a more equitable distribution of wealth and income based on real political participation and economic opportunity.  It isn't just about money.  It's about freedom and dignity.  It's about seeking first God's kingdom and its justice.

Drum concludes:  The heart and soul of liberalism is economic egalitarianism.  Without it, Wall Street will continue to extract ever vaster sums from the American economy, the middle class will continue to stagnate, and the left will continue to lack the powerful political and cultural energy necessary for a sustained period of liberal reform.  For this to change, America needs a countervailing power as big, crude, and uncompromising as organized labor used to be.  But what?

That is the question.  Christians, however, should be as invested as anyone in becoming the answer.  Remember the earliest churches?

All who believed were together and had all things in common.  They would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.  Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people.  (Acts 2:44-47)

Sounds like economic egalitarianism to me.