This’ll probably be the last entry I make on this for a while, since I’ve pretty much said what I needed to say in the earlier parts and in other postings.
Before I get to the “meat,” I need to submit a very important caveat. I’ve tried on this blog to use Scripture to back up what I believe re: politics and pop culture. Indeed, the Bible should be the lens through which I see everything. I don’t think I’ve posted anything on the blog so far that didn’t have Scripture quotations. However, on this posting, I don’t have as much Scripture to specifically back up the case for the claims I’m making here. The Bible only addresses economics as a subsidiary of its larger issues, i.e. our relationship with God and our relationship with people. But since we’re supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves, we need to know how best to love them. It does no good to feel love towards someone and at the same perform actions which don’t help them or even cause harm.
I think I’ve made it clear over the prior postings on this issue that I think that any emphasis—actually any concern at all—on “income inequality” is not just ineffective in its supposed purpose (helping the poor among us), but that it’s extremely destructive. It’s bad enough if the person expressing said concern is talking about the income gap between person A and person B, in which the speaker doesn’t have a personal interest in the issue. But it’s far far worse, like a spiritual cancer, for anyone to be concerned about the income gap between rich person A and themselves. For the life of me, I can’t see why this isn’t an egregious flouting of the Tenth Commandment.
But even if it’s the case of a supposedly disinterested concern, it’s still very bad. Let me appeal to people like that for a moment. You can honestly claim that you’re not raising this concern because of personal interest, but because you care about the poorest among us. I believe you. I’m going to give you the benefit of the doubt and stipulate that you actually want the best for the “least of these.” But my dear sibling in Christ, you’re not helping them at all. To any degree that you raise this issue, you’re encouraging people to disobey the 10th commandment. You’re offering them poison for their souls. Instead of helping them, you’re harming them.
Now, having said all that, I need to clarify some things. Income inequality is not an issue I’m concerned about at all. But I am sorely concerned about income mobility. I want people in sustenance-level poverty to get out of that situation. I also don’t want wealthy people to stay wealthy if they maintain that wealth by having some type of sweetheart deal with government. And the good news is that this is still largely the case in the United States, according to the ultra-conservative Right-Wing New York Times. According to this article, the rates of people getting out of the bottom quintile of income in the U.S. has held pretty steady over the last few decades. This latest article by humanprogress.org lays out the case for the converse: The top one percent of earners in the U.S. tend not to be there for very long at all. In 2005, the IRS published a study of its records for taxpayers from 1996 to 2005. Here are some of their findings:
· Income mobility of individuals was considerable in the U.S. economy during the 1996 through 2005 period with roughly half of taxpayers who began in the bottom quintile moving up to a higher income group within ten years.
· About 55 percent of taxpayers moved to a different income quintile within ten years.
· Among those with the very highest incomes in 1996 — the top 1/100 of one percent — only 25 percent remained in the group in 2005. Moreover, the median real income of these taxpayers declined over the study period.
· The degree of mobility among income groups is unchanged from the prior decade (1987 through 1996).
· Economic growth resulted in rising incomes for most taxpayers over the study period: Median real incomes of all taxpayers increased by 24 percent after adjusting for inflation; real incomes of two-thirds of all taxpayers increased over this period; and median incomes of those initially in the lower income groups increased more than the median incomes of those initially in the high income groups.
Ideally, I want to see lots and lots and lots of income mobility. I want people to have no outside barriers on advancing in their standard of living. Despite my earlier stated political beliefs, I believe that there are some things which government can do to remove some of those barriers: A better education system (using Free Market principles like competition) and dealing with crime decisively. I also think that the government can improve the situation by getting out of the way of human productivity and ingenuity. Some examples off the top of my head include not handing money to dysfunctional people and easing up on licensing requirements for jobs which don't really need them (like hair braiding or providing a taxi cab service).
But I have to be honest here. In a society that kinda sorta approaches a Free Market System, most of the barriers to income mobility are internal, not external. Internal barriers are personally dysfunctional behavior. This would include financially poor decisions, not sticking to God’s plan re: sexuality, getting addicted to something, and not making the most of opportunities to make yourself more marketable in a changing economy. Or maybe someone was raised in a house that’s dysfunctional, and obviously they’re going to be affected by that into adulthood. The government can do little or nothing about that. There has to be an internal change.
My friend, to the degree that you focus-or encourage others to focus-on income inequality, you’re fomenting personally dysfunctional behavior. You’re hindering income mobility, which is the real issue. We need to be extra careful that any external barriers be removed by government. But we can’t forget about the internal barriers.
What can we do as believers? Well, the obvious solution is the heart-changing Good News of Christ. Once Jesus gets hold of someone’s heart, part of the change he’s going to effect is from a dysfunctional personality to a fully functioning person. For example, in Paul’s words, they’ll “steal no longer, but [will] work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need.” We share this Message everywhere we can in every way we can.
Naturally, we also offer physical help to those in need, whether they accept the Good News or not. But we do it in line with Scriptural guidelines, not being enablers of self-destructive behavior.
Again, I have to ask you, as my sibling in Christ, do you do you want to just feel good by making meaningless or even harmful gestures, or do you really want to show love to your neighbor?