Posts tagged with: wealth

Blog author: jballor
Friday, February 23, 2007
By

Anthony Esolen, from the March issue of Touchstone:

The most bountiful alms that the rich can give the poor, apart from the personal donation of their time and means, are lives of virtue to emulate. It is their duty. But when they use their means to buy off the effects of vice, or, worse, to celebrate it, that is an offense against those whom Jesus called ‘little ones,’ and no amount of almsgiving can lighten the millstone.

Read the whole thing (HT: the evangelical outpost).

ON SECOND THOUGHT, the reality of the situation is probably a bit more complex than the editorial above indicates. That is, there is a cyclical and reciprocal dynamic in the popularization of any trend, as it moves from sub-culture to the mainstream. Very often the rich are dependent on the poor for determining what is “cool”. The rich and famous are typically derivative and dependent in this sense. Just as often the newest trend is wearing a trucker hat or grunge as it is Dolce & Gabbana.

Take the case of rap music. An underground, urban, and grassroots phenomenon has become mainstream. And in any such transition, there are disputes as to who is loyal to the movement itself and who has simply latched on to cash in on the mainstream popularity. Thus, for instance, the dispute between Eazy-E and Dr. Dre in the mid-90’s about who is a real “G.”

This dynamic does underscore the truth of Esolen’s observation about the “disconcerting sameness” between rich and poor. Wealth and power certainly do not by themselves confer any special moral standing or integrity, and as our namesake quote from Lord Acton indicates, they can often be the occasion for greater and more comprehensive corruption.

Blog author: jballor
Monday, January 29, 2007
By

The business of philanthropy education, teaching people how to give their money away, is a growth industry, according to Business Week (HT: The Wealth Report).

It seems that wealthy kids often have trouble realizing and meeting their moral duties to be good stewards of their inheritance. “With my inheritance, I felt a sense of guilt and responsibility,” says Jos Thalheimer, 24, whose great-grandfather founded the American Oil Co. (Amoco) in 1910.

John Stossel’s recent “Cheap in America” program examined this phenomenon, contrasting the attitudes of Fabian Basabe, the “male Paris Hilton,” with Ben Goldhirsh, son of a publishing mogul.

Basabe, it seems, is unwilling and uninterested in doing good: “I’m going to live forever, by the way, so I’m going to have a lot of time to work and get involved.”

Goldhirsh, by contrast, “used the inheritance to start his own magazine, ‘Good,’ and donates subscription fees to charity. His father taught him that work, and charity — not money — is the route to happiness.”

In his latest TCS Daily essay, Arnold Kling writes, “As we get wealthier, we also become enhanced physically, cognitively, and morally, leading to a virtuous cycle of improvements to the standard of living.” Does affluence leads to moral progress?

I don’t think there’s any necessary connection, and there’s plenty of counter-evidence, not least of which are the moral atrocities of the 20th century. But what about more mundane examples? In today’s WSJ, Kay S. Horowitz writes about the exploits of female celebrities, who model and exemplify “the first rule of contemporary American girlhood: to show that you are liberated, take it off.”

Indeed, in examining the link between wealth and morality (if there is any link), one need perhaps look no further than Paris Hilton, the wealthy heiress who exercises minimal moral reasoning and personifies the phrase “idle rich.”

Horowitz observes, “Why men have become more discreet than women, assuming they have, is one of those cultural mysteries that is yet to be solved.”

The sixth-century monastic John Climacus, reflecting the moral insights of his time, wrote this: “The great concern of the good Lord for us is shown by the fact that shyness acts as a curb on the shamelessness of women. For if the woman chased the man, no flesh would be saved.”

In the words of Alexandra Pelosi, daughter of the current Speaker of the House, “if you give me the choice of Paris Hilton or Jesus, I’ll take Jesus.”

Blog author: jballor
Thursday, December 28, 2006
By

Our series on the year in review continues with the third fourth of 2006:

July

“Isn’t the Cold War Over?” David Michael Phelps

I’ve got an idea for a new sitcom. Titled, Hugo and Vladi, it details the zany adventures of two world leaders, one of whom (played by David Hyde Pierce) struggles to upkeep his image of a friendly, modern European diplomat while his goofball brother-in-law (played by George Lopez) keeps screwing it up for him by spouting off vitriolic Soviet rhetoric and threatening all of Western civilization with his agressive (but loveable) arms sales and seizures of private oil companies….

August

“Wealth, Envy, and Happiness,” Jordan J. Ballor

This natural tendency to compare our financial status to others is an expression of money envy, which also finds expression, at least in part, in the concern about income disparities….

September

“DDT Breakthrough at the WHO,” John Couretas

Africans are hailing a major shift in policy at the World Health Organization: A recommendation for the limited, indoor use of DDT to control malaria….

“Christian consumption has gone far beyond the book as millions use their buying power to reinforce their faith and show commitment to the Christian community,” reads an article in the current edition of USAToday (HT: Zondervan>To the Point)

According to the piece, “Nearly 12% of Americans spend more than $50 a month on religious products, and another 11% spend $25 to $29, according to a national survey of 1,721 adults by Baylor University, out in September.”

There has been a great deal of media attention paid to the Bible market in particular in the past few weeks. Here are some examples from Publisher’s Weekly, The Wall Street Journal, and The New Yorker (HT: Reformation21).

Much of this phenomena flows from the affluence of the North American church, which itself entails a responsibility to be good stewards of those resources. As Ron Sider has poignantly reminded us, the way the church approaches the responsibilities and opportunities of wealth and affluence shouldn’t mirror the broader culture’s.

Reading through the parable of the sower in Matthew 13 the other day, I was struck by the danger of the third type of seed, that which “fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants.” In Jesus’ explanation, “The one who received the seed that fell among the thorns is the man who hears the word, but the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.” Let us pray that the church in North America doesn’t fall prey to the temptations of the penultimate, but rather produces an abundant harvest for God.

If you’ve read any of David F. Wells’ books on this subject, such as God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams, you know that he shares these concerns.

Gary Becker and Richard Posner examine the increasing gap between the rich and poor in terms of wealth and income. This gap was most recently highlighted in a report that “the richest 2% of adults in the world own more than half of global household wealth,” and the richest 1% hold 40% of wealth. The report was issued by the World Institute for Development Economics Research of the United Nations University (PDF).

Becker seems to accept that wealth inequality is essentially a problem, and seems at pains to show that “the inequality in wealth appropriately defined is not nearly as large as the report might suggest, and wealth inequality in the world has almost surely become smaller over time, not larger as some in the media reported.”

Posner acknowledges that income inequality is increasing in the developed world and in some rapidly developing nations, but seems less concerned. He raises three possible negative social consequences of “the existence of a stratum of exceedingly wealthy people.”

Of the three, the third I think is the most important and real: “Huge personal wealth may play a disproportionate role in political competition. Personal wealth confers an enormous advantage on a candidate, but also permits a person who does not want to be a candidate to exert an influence on candidates and policies.”

I don’t think income or wealth inequality in itself is necessarily negative, and so I tend to agree with Posner’s emphasis rather than Becker’s. The problem comes when the economic power of the wealthy is used to disproportionately skew policy in their favor at the expense of less economically powerful classes. But as a whole, I think the concern about wealth disparity is more due to its effect on subjective well-being, or happiness, and the resulting envy that is engendered.

But, as Ron Sider of Evangelicals for Social Action admitted in a recent debate with Rev. Sirico, the concern for policy-makers should not be primarily the happiness level or sense of subjective well-being of citizens, but rather how the poorest of the poor are doing, whether the objective floor of material well-being is being raised or not.

Sider has said that he would not be concerned with an increasing gap between rich and poor so long as the living standards of the poor were also increasing (so long as that increased concentration of economic power does not manifest itself in corruption of the political process, via rent-seeking, et al.)

People are much more likely to vote with regard to their subjective sense of well-being, however, so that politicians are easily manipulated into catering to their constituency’s sense of happiness rather than appealing to their objective betterment.

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 27, 2006
By

“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV).

When Bank of America Philanthropic Management noticed that “the wealthiest 3% of American households responsible for nearly two-thirds of charitable giving,” it decided to study philanthropic giving. (The top 5% paid 54.4% of taxes in 2003.)

Passed on by Don’t Tell the Donor, “Bank of America today released the initial results of the most comprehensive survey to-date of the philanthropic behavior of wealthy Americans. The Bank of America High Net-Worth Philanthropy Study was conducted by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Bank of America.”

Among the key findings:

  • “Giving back” is more important than “leaving a legacy”

  • There is a surprising correlation between donations of time and dollars
  • Wealthy donors report that even major tax policy changes would not impact their giving
  • Entrepreneurs are especially generous donors
  • Charitable giving increased over the last five years
  • Wealthy donors support a broader array of causes

    Can you find the tension in the lead sentence from this WSJ story on the annual Communist Party meeting in China? Here it is:

    “China’s ruling communist elite opened an annual meeting that will focus on policies for spreading the nation’s newfound prosperity more evenly and on President Hu Jintao’s attempts to further consolidate his power.”

    It still amazes me that so many people still think that centralizing political power is both an effective way to spread out wealth and one that is therefore socially desirable. The first assumes that wealth is a zero-sum game and the second assumes that the negative consequences and corruptions of concentrated political power are less harmful than economic gaps.

    But as even Ron Sider has come to realize, the focus should be on how the poorest of the poor are doing, not on how big of a gap there is between rich and poor.

    Matt Gritter, a first-year M.A. student at Calvin Theological Seminary reacted this way when he heard Sider say this in last week’s debate with Rev. Sirico: “I know that Sider has been arguing for a decrease in this gap, but to hear him say that he would not mind the gap increasing if it meant that the poorest of the society would be better off was a bit of a shock to me.”

    Rev. Robert A. Sirico

    Rev. Robert A. Sirico

    On Monday, October 2, Acton President Rev. Robert A. Sirico debated the President and Founder of Evangelicals for Social Action, Dr. Ronald J. Sider on the campus of Calvin Theological Seminary. The topic of their exchange was Wealth and Poverty in Light of the Gospel: How Can Christians Work Together if We Disagree? The event was jointly sponsored by Calvin Seminary and Western Theological Seminary.

    Their spirited exhange is now available online in both video (streaming video РReal media format NOTE: the presentation begins about 6 minutes into the video) and audio format. Both the video and audio appear courtesy of Calvin Seminary.

    Dr. Ronald J. Sider

    Dr. Ronald J. Sider

    You can also review a responses to the debate from the Kruse Kronicle, and an overview of the event from the Kerux, Calvin Theological Seminary’s student newsletter. And as always, your thoughts and reactions are welcome in the comments section below.

    Update 8/5/2013: A reader informed us that the media files originally linked in this post have since gone offline. To make amends, I’ve re-posted the audio, which you can listen to via the player below:

    Mark Whitehouse reported in the September 25th issue of the Wall Street Journal that the living standards of average Americans will have to be adjusted downward in coming years because a larger share of our national debt is going to debt-service. He writes,

    That means Americans will have to work harder to maintain the same living standards—or cut back sharply to pay down the debt.” Catherine Mann, a senior fellow at the Institute for International Economics notes, “Our net international obligations are coming home to roost. It’s as if on our personal MasterCards we have run up large obligations and never had to make personal payments. You can’t believe that is going to last forever.

    I am not a professional economist but such news makes me wonder how we will really handle these things as a nation when the spend-spend-spend spigot is finally turned off. The pay day is coming, maybe sooner than later. Our prosperity is always one really bad cycle from a serious implosion and then the country will either adjust corporately, and grow stronger morally and spiritually, or it will begin to break down in ways that could be alarming over the long term. Let us pray that we learn how to adjust sooner than later. Churches that spend so much on themselves, and their upwardly mobile lifestyles, should take note. The kingdom calls for sacrifice and frugality, not lavish expenditures on empire building.

    John H. Armstrong is founder and director of ACT 3, a ministry aimed at "encouraging the church, through its leadership, to pursue doctrinal and ethical reformation and to foster spiritual awakening."