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Thursday, 18 August 2005

HOW MASSIVE CONCENTRATIONS OF WEALTH CURSE THE EARTH

By Jim Jordal

For the vineyard of the Lord of hosts is the house of Israel, and the men of Judah His delightful plant. Thus He looked for justice, but behold, bloodshed; for righteousness, but behold, a cry of distress. Woe to those who add house to house and join field to field, until there is no more room…

Isaiah 5:7-8a (NASB)

Woe to those who enact evil statutes, and to those who constantly record unjust decisions, so as to deprive the needy of justice, and rob the poor of My people of their rights, in order that widows may be their spoil, and that they may plunder the orphans.

Isaiah 10:1-2 (NASB)

Then I looked again at all the acts of oppression …being done under the sun. And behold, I saw the tears of the oppressed and that they had no one to comfort them; and on the side of their oppressors was power, but [the oppressed] had no one to comfort them.

Ecc. 4:1 (NASB)

In these passages Isaiah pronounces woe upon greedy land speculators who, acting in violation of Mosaic Law requirements that original land allocations remain with families, had begun to acquire large estates through use of questionable legal processes. The damaging effect of this sinful action was to increasingly concentrate wealth in the hands of a few at the expense of the poor, who then lost their major bulwark against poverty—the familial right to inherit land.

In advanced industrial, technological societies today it is not usually land that provides protection against poverty. Today we depend more upon gainful employment, savings, investments, insurance, and an underlying legislated safety net to provide economic security. But the message is the same: Action by rich, powerful manipulators of law and finance to deprive citizens of their basic right to a decent existence is still sin, deserving of Divine judgment.

God does not require absolute economic equality for all people, nor is He against wealth. What He does demand is that wealth not be acquired by fraud or oppression, that it not be used to further oppress the needy, and that it not become an idolatrous substitute for faith in Him.

Great fortunes often hint more of fraud, manipulation, oppression, and shady legality than of diligence, innovation, wisdom and foresight. You may be familiar with the so-called "Robber Barons" of American history exemplified by John D. Rockefeller, Cornelius Vanderbilt, and Andrew Carnegie. These captains of industry, better known as greedy pirates to their victims, amassed great fortunes through diligence, foresight, and willingness to take great risk. But they also practiced cutthroat competition, union busting, manipulation of the law, favor-currying with governmental officials, and whatever other questionable actions it took to build their empires.

Maybe they deserve the accolades of history as true pioneers acting in an era of almost uncontrolled free enterprise. Perhaps their certainly unethical, if not illegal, activities in pursuit of success can be forgiven because there existed no better examples or standards. But can we ignore the cries of the laborers whom they robbed or killed, the families who cried for justice, of even the competitors who were swindled or overpowered by reckless, brute economic power?

And what of great fortunes today? Even though they may be free from taint, they still threaten our basic institutions and values. Obviously, if an increasing percentage of total wealth is concentrated at the top of the income pyramid, there must be less available for bottom groups.

Perhaps the greatest curse upon the earth arising from extreme wealth is the arrogance and pride that too often accompany great wealth. Some favored people believe their good fortune is well deserved since they are smarter, more diligent, more willing to take risks, and even luckier than normal people. What they fail to realize is that their wealth is a product of the work of others, and of favorable societal conditions for the creation of wealth that are not of their own making. Unfortunately, their inaccurate perceptions of economic reality often transfer to the poor, whom they consider to be lazy, immoral, unable to effectively manage their own lives, and therefore undeserving of legitimate shares in the economic pie.

This attitude is perhaps most visible in several Latin American countries such as Haiti, where a few families own and control almost the entire country. The arrogant attitude displayed by these people allows no recognition that their wealth is paid for by the sweat and blood of suffering peasants and workers. When the impoverished in their countries seek their rights as human beings, these prominent paragons of virtue call out the police and army to put them down, usually with American political support, direct aid, or with troops trained for their nefarious deeds by the School of the Americas (now renamed due to pressure) at Fort Benning, Georgia.

From a purely economic viewpoint, excessive concentration of wealth is dangerous because it allows too few persons to make market decisions affecting everyone else. Thus we have union-busting activity, price manipulation, virtual slave labor, monopoly power, environmental degradation, and a host of other practices damaging to economic democracy and justice.

There will always be income differentials defined by some as unfair and even oppressive. What we need is to make sure they do not arise from unethical, unfair, and unscriptural practices, but from legitimate differences in human abilities and diligence.

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 22 November 2006 )