It continues to amaze me that there are Christians –both preachers and politicians- who seem to be much more interested in defending the honor and the interests of the very wealthy than they are to lending support to the less advantaged ones among us. Their priorities are the opposite of those reflected in scripture (James 2:1-7; 5:1-5). They will speak up for low taxes on the rich but not defend livable wages for the working poor. They will call for deregulation on businesses but not stand up for better consumer or environmental protections. They sound much more like the devotees of Ayn Rand than disciples of Jesus Christ.
An online Forbes article by a Rand admirer appeared last month entitled, “Give Back? Yes, It’s Time For The 99% To Give Back To The 1%.” While he makes no claim to be a person of faith, many economically conservative Christians sound much like him. In the article author Harry Binswanger claimed, “Voluntary trade, without force or fraud, is the exchange of value for value, to mutual benefit. In trade, both parties gain. Each particular individual in the community who contributed to a man’s rise to wealth was paid at the time.” What he neglects to acknowledge is that force takes place in both direct ways and indirect ways. To hold that anyone voluntarily works full-time for less than a livable wage stretches the word “voluntary” to the point of absurdity.
People who take such jobs do so because they are coerced by desperation. Those who take advantage of desperate people and those who support a social arrangement that allows such to take place are, indeed, agents of exploitation. It is a morally bankrupt idea that people who work for wages that cannot sustain them and their families have been paid in full. Denying the reality of exploitation does not make it any less real and destructive.
“There are those who are pure in their own eyes yet are not cleansed of their filthiness. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!— there are those whose teeth are swords, whose teeth are knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, the needy from among mortals” (Proverbs 30:12-14). To maintain nothing more is owed the working poor by others who benefit from their ill-paid labor is to sanction the ravaging of the weak by the strong. Anything resembling justice is nonexistent in such an arrangement.
Yet Binswanger makes the very tired claim that the 1% are the “wealth-creators” and “job-creators.” Never mind that the real job creators are the consumers with enough money to purchase items and service, thereby requiring more people to be employed to fill the demand. The role of entrepreneurs, while important, is secondary. Still, according to Binswanger, “It turns out that the 99% get far more benefit from the 1% than vice-versa.” Well…not so much.
This Ayn Randish valorizing of the 1% gives them credit where credit is not due. First of all, a careful look at the majority of the very wealthy –as represented in the Forbes 400 list- will show they did not achieve their over-abundance all on their own. Over 20% of them inherited enough wealth to make the list without raising a hand to do anything. Nearly two thirds of them came from exceptionally prosperous families from which they benefitted. Further, the very rich spend less than 2% of their money on new business start-ups. As a class they are not heroic risk takers.
Regardless, as a fawning advocate for the self-congratulatory 1%, Binswanger gushes, “For their enormous contributions to our standard of living, the high-earners should be thanked and publicly honored. We are in their debt.” He neglects to note that the standard of living for large majority of the population has been declining while the wealth of the 1% has been piling dramatically higher. The standard of living for the middle class is higher in most developed nations where the level of inequality is considerably lower than in the U.S.
The standard of living for so many in the U.S. is stagnant or declining but not because the 99% haven’t been working hard. They are working more hours than anywhere else in the developed world. The real reason is one identified by the prophet Micah long ago: “The powerful dictate what they desire; thus they pervert justice” (Micah 7:2-3). Laws have been put in place that advantage the already advantaged and disadvantage everyone else. Yet with the audacity that only arrogance can inspire, Binswanger writes,
Here’s a modest proposal. Anyone who earns a million dollars or more should be exempt from all income taxes. Yes, it’s too little. And the real issue is not financial, but moral. So to augment the tax-exemption, in an annual public ceremony, the year’s top earner should be awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
I have another proposal. How about a 90% tax rate on those “job creators” on all income over a million dollars a year if they don’t create jobs paying a livable wage? And perhaps we should have a public ceremony to give them a booby-prize if their job-creating talk isn’t matched with action.