Friday, July 28, 2017

Distribution of Wealth

My friend learns that Tony and I helped in a refugee camp. She asks questions, we dialogue, and within a few short minutes, we come to an easy consensus of our own blessings amidst universal suffering.

She then expresses a frustration shared by many people, a frustration that has toppled governments, created Robin Hoods and justified the guillotine. She says, "Doesn't it just aggravate you that all these celebrities and ultra rich people have so much money when so many people are poor. Why do they have to build those million dollar mansions?"

I think of her house and my house, and how they would appear excessive to a person living in a  dirt floor, cinder block, and corrugated roof house. Wouldn't our homes look excessive? Wouldn't our two car and stocked-fridge lives cause disgust among some?

"Don't you just hate it?" she waits for my agreement.

I wonder what her solution for this disgust is, and I think of Nobel Prize winning economist Milton Friedman and a paraphrase of his belief that the only way to completely redistribute wealth equally is to eliminate the desire for it.

I can't agree with my friend and she is disappointed in my answer, "I'm not disgusted because the unbalanced wealth that disgusts you came from free enterprise that has created the nation that allows us to live so well."

When we take away incentive, if people know their wealth will be confiscated and redistributed, ambition, innovation and consequently, money, disappears.

Once again I'm exposed to someone's assumptions that since I'm willing to help the poor, I must despise the rich. It seems to be springing up in more than a few conversations. The lovely, educated, Australian cook at the refugee camp is disgusted too. She's upset that 85% of the funding for refugees comes from NGO's. "The government is only carrying 15%." Tony and I, however, are happy that private monies are helping a tragedy for which in-debt governments can't handle. The rich, the blessed, the sector that leaves people in disgust, have to be helping out, making relief possible. Thank goodness someone is earning enough money to help those who aren't.

When I saw old film clips of Bernie Sanders on the Civil Rights picket line, I gave him a second look. When I heard him harangue certain families for their excessive wealth, I turned away.

The call for wealth redistribution is as old as the Bolsheviks, the Maoists, the French Revolutionists. In each case, I can't say the old regime was better than the new, but the upheaval, the deaths, the losses couldn't have been worth it. Yes, the wealth and power was redistributed, but to whom? The recent turmoil in Venezuela was caused in part by a redistribution of land and wealth and nationalizing the oil industry.  A different friend tells me about her proud communist friend, from one of the only five remaining communist countries, whom she met a decade ago. She's an elite member of the party who freely travels, wears designer clothing, and her child attends an American university. Sounds like the same old system of privilege and wealth. The tragedy is in how the communist party member earned hers.

So no, I'm not disgusted by people who might live in a too-big-house. They have a responsibility and so do I. We may even live and give the same way--only theirs may be more. Hallelujah.

Where much is given, much is expected, and so we give in proportion to what we have; part of living this belief is not supposing that if someone has an abundance, assuming they are not giving and it's our job to disparage or resent their status. We only have to look inward when tempted by judgement and ask ourselves "Am I giving freely of what I can?" The Savior understood this concept better than us all and it's why he valued the widow's mite as much as he demanded the rich man to give all he had--giving all he had may have been in proportion to what he deemed as the symbolic widow's mite.

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