Acton Institute Powerblog

# It’s that time of year

Time for the annual spate of “gap between rich and poor increases” stories in the MSM. There are a number of problems with the judgmental assumptions implicit in these kinds of stories.

For example, there is a zero-sum view of wealth that pits individuals against each other. It’s essentially the “pie” view of money and wealth: if I take a piece, there’s that much less available for others. This is the distributivist economic model. This is a fundamentally flawed economic model that does not adequately account for the creation of wealth via free exchange.

But there’s an even more obvious phenomenon that makes such “news” stories so mundane. It’s been referred to as the “miracle of compounding interest.” Because of this, it should be no surprise that the gap between rich and poor continues to widen. In fact, assuming the laws of mathematics, we can say that it ought to continue to widen.

Let’s use an overly simple but instructive example. Say that person A has \$1,000 in capital to invest while person B has \$10,000. Relatively speaking, person A is poorer than person B, with a difference of \$9,000.

If both persons invest their money, and get a return roughly equal to inflation, say 2% (compounded quarterly), in fifty years A will have \$2,711.52, while person B will have \$27,115.17. The gap between the two has exploded from a mere \$9,000 to \$24,403.65!

But is there anything fundamentally unfair about this? Change around the capital investments, the rate of return, and the time period, and you can quickly get into astronomical numbers. But why is this news? Just because there are big numbers with lots of zeroes?

Given this economic reality, it would really be news if the gap between rich and poor didn’t increase.

Jordan J. Ballor

Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is director of research at the Center for Religion, Culture & Democracy, an initiative of the First Liberty Institute. He has previously held research positions at the Acton Institute and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, and has authored multiple books, including a forthcoming introduction to the public theology of Abraham Kuyper. Working with Lexham Press, he served as a general editor for the 12 volume Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology series, and his research can be found in publications including Journal of Markets & Morality, Journal of Religion, Scottish Journal of Theology, Reformation & Renaissance Review, Journal of the History of Economic Thought, Faith & Economics, and Calvin Theological Journal. He is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary and the Henry Institute for the Study of Christianity & Politics at Calvin University.