Posts tagged with: wealth

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, December 28, 2006

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
posted by on Friday, October 27, 2006

“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."

It is one thing to create wealth by using our gifts. This is a matter of knowledge. It is quite a different thing to know what to do with the wealth that has been created. That is where wisdom comes into the picture. Rev. Zandstra, a Senior Fellow with the Acton Institute, examines Warren Buffett’s recent gift of $31 billion to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and offers words of hope that the Gates Foundation can use this wealth with wisdom, making a difference in the lives of those they seek to help.

Read the full commentary here.

Ron Sider, The Scandal Of The Evangelical Conscience: Why Are Christians Living Just Like The Rest Of The World? (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 144 pp.

“Summing Up Sider’s Legacy”

Ron Sider’s recent book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Conscience, is a noteworthy achievement. One the one hand, it represents an almost complete shift away from left-leaning government-oriented solutions to social and economic problems that characterize the first edition of his popular Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger. This movement had already become apparent by the time Sider released the twentieth anniversary edition of Rich Christians, in which he embraced increased access to markets and capital investment as necessary components of solutions to global poverty. In Scandal, Sider explicitly acknowledges this perspective, as he writes of “the stunning success of market economies in producing ever-greater material abundance.”

Sider is thus able to recognize the basic goodness of creation: “Historic Christianity has been profoundly materialistic. The created world is good. God wants us to create wealth and delight in the bounty of the material world.” A key part of Sider’s project is to properly and relatively value the material and temporal in light of the spiritual and eternal. Thus he rightly notes that “historic Christianity also placed firm boundaries on this materialism. Nothing, not even the whole material world, matters as much as one’s relationship with God.” (more…)

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, April 13, 2006

When I was in college, living in the dorms, friends of mine would play a game called bigger and better. In this game, they would take an object–something that they owned–and trade it up for something that was worth a bit more to them, but worth a bit less to the person that they were trading with.

This is a perfect example of a market economy. You have something that you can trade, somebody else has something that they can trade, and both parties are better off for the transaction. My friends could go out with a pen and come home with a couch for the dorm. Don’t get me wrong, they weren’t always this successful. It usually involved a little bit of time, but it made for a fun Saturday afternoon.

Then I found this website, a blog, where a man documents his game of bigger-and-better. He started out with a little red paper-clip. Right now he’s looking to trade one year in Phoenix (which includes one year free rent in the heart of downtown Phoenix. [If needed, the apartment can also come fully furnished] and roundtrip airfare for two from any major airport in North America) for something bigger-and-better. His goal is to own a house at the end of his game.

A small example of how having something of little value to yourself doesn’t mean that you can’t leverage what you have on the market to find something of greater value to yourself.