The Left's Bitter Fantasy about Capitalism
A left-wing acquaintance emailed me the following comment: "The fact that the rich are drinking champagne while the poor struggle to feed their children strikes me as simply wrong. This is presumably the position of the Church as well. Society has to allocate its assets somehow, and this extreme division seems immoral to me. A rich society like ours should at a minimum feed its people, provide them basic health care, etc. The extreme concentration of wealth happening now makes this impossible. This is a moral argument." He fancies himself a champion of the poor, of the underdog, of the lumpen-proletariat. To him, Christians and anyone who is on the right or even centrist have betrayed any and all ideals of benevolence and equal treatment of one's fellow men.
He is blissfully unaware that the U.S. from its founding has had mechanisms (poor houses and other welfare programs) for the indigent. We have to this day an incredible so-called "safety net" (which some would say actually encourages lack of personal responsibility). A pastor I know who works as a case worker for Good Shepherd, a Catholic charity, told this writer that he suggested to one of the welfare recipients who was a client of Good Shepherd that he should find a job, and that this would bring him a lot of satisfaction. The man replied that he was satisfied with receiving his many welfare benefits, and had no intention of looking for employment. Food stamps, Medicaid, Section 8 housing, government housing, disability benefits, WIC for baby food, and a host of ancillary services are available to those below the poverty line.
Neither party rejects the concept of welfare for the poor. But in New York City, when Rudy Giuliani became mayor, he started putting some rigorous welfare-to-work requirements into the various programs. These became models for cities throughout the country. Then, during the Obama administration, the welfare-to-work concept was downplayed, and work requirements were removed from the federal system.
Whatever one may think about our welfare systems, redistributing wealth is wholly different conceptually from providing for the needs of the poor. The idea of "redistributing wealth," the Robin Hood-socialist-communist ideal, as I call it, to me is inherently immoral because it takes away our liberty. If a person or family has an extra guest room in the house, no government, no group, no other individual should be able to tell that homeowner or condo-owner he has to take a homeless beggar off the street and put him in that room. We should do everything in our power to help others. Governments should establish charitable institutions. But the idea of government as Robin-Hood-on-jet-skis is an idea whose time must never and will never come.
Aristotle defended property rights against common ownership 2,500 years ago as he evaluated what was the best type of city-state in his volume on Politics. At the same time, the Old Testament aligned itself with property rights, although the fundamental political unit was the tribe, not the city-state. The New Testament in many verses re-affirms the right of ownership and of control over one's property and the assignment of wages to workers.
When the Pilgrims under the leadership of John Winthrop came to the shores of present-day Massachusetts, they briefly tried to build a community without private property, but many people did not produce, and others experienced resentment when those who were not applying themselves were taken care of at the same level of those who were more active and productive. The community re-evaluated its original set-up and decided to reinstitute private property, but with a Christian spirit of neighborliness and voluntary cooperation.
Then, hundreds of years later, during the socialistic administration of FDR and the New Deal, where demand-side economics attempted to undermine classical free-market concepts advanced by Adam Smith, the National Industrial Recovery Act, including its wage and price controls, was declared unconstitutional by a unanimous Supreme Court. Yet the Left continues to press for an agenda where private property is sacrificed on the altar of "equality" and "social justice" even though the greatest minds throughout the ages, including Aristotle, Moses, and Jesus, have repeatedly stated that the lack of control over one's property leads to tremendous social dissatisfaction and is legally and philosophically unjustifiable.
My bitter left-wing acquaintance continues to insist that Christians, Republicans, and other miscellaneous conservatives are hideous, exploitative monsters living in the England of Charles Dickens's day, or worse. In his gloomy fantasy world, the underclass of Americans are like the impoverished orphan children of Calcutta who wander the streets, bereft of all the goods of society. This writer challenged him in an email by asking, "You can't possibly believe that, can you? What kind of evidence is there to support such an extreme thought? Who are these evil men and women who are literally taking food out of children's mouths? What Republicans are taking away food from 'starving children'? What super-rich person is literally preventing children from eating?" The idea of the top 1% or top 0.1% of the U.S. starving children is a distortion, hyperbole. The truth is that many of the super-rich, like Bill Gates and Warren Buffett, and many others past and present, have given away a phenomenal percentage of their wealth.
The impulse of Christianity and the West is to help third-world families in desperate need, not to destroy people in the name of collectivization and redistribution of wealth. What about those starving "third-world" kids who are being fed by Feed the Children and World Vision, or Life Outreach providing fresh water for the poorest of the poor, all great evangelical Christian organizations? What about the U.S. Peace Corps and our providing the bulk of support for UNICEF, the United Nations organization that provides aid to children in the Least Developed Developing Countries (LDDCs)? Also, in the U.S. we have more than 40 million on food stamps plus all kinds of food pantry programs. Students can have free breakfasts and lunches at every school in populous New York City and elsewhere because of Department of Agriculture guidelines.
Any of us might enjoy a glass of champagne whenever we feel like it. Most Americans are not struggling to feed their children, including those of us above the poverty line, but not yet in the 1%. Are we craven monsters because we enjoy our cars, even though terrorists get some of the proceeds from gas spent at the tank? We don't need vows of poverty, nor do we need to feel guilty about "having stuff." Both are unwise extremes. However, charity and generosity remain virtues, and we should be wise and righteous stewards of the moneys and assets we have.