The 1% Myth

“In the United States, wealth is highly concentrated in a relatively few hands. As of 2007, the top 1% of households (the upper class) owned 34.6% of all privately held wealth, and the next 19% (the managerial, professional, and small business stratum) had 50.5%, which means that just 20% of the people owned a remarkable 85%, leaving only 15% of the wealth for the bottom 80% (wage and salary workers). In terms of financial wealth (total net worth minus the value of one’s home), the top 1% of households had an even greater share: 42.7%. These are drawn from the careful work of economist Edward N. Wolff at New York University (2010).”

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Nobody disputes the fact that the wealthy have … wealth!  *DUH!*  What is disputable is whether or not those at the top stay at the top (they don’t).  There are a few, of course, who do.  But just as many of those are life-long Democrats as there are Republicans.  I think you could easily make the case that wealth distribution is fairly “Normal” across party lines.  I don’t know of any research that shows one way or the other, so it’s purely speculation.  What is it we are really talking about here?  Is it money?  Is it “Standard of living” or some mythical notion of “Success?”

As our Pastor pointed out the other day, there are no trailers behind the hearses.  So what conclusions can we draw from the inequity of wealth distribution in this country and in the world?  Is it a bad thing?  Jesus said we would always have the poor.  What does that imply?  Does it mean that there will always be those who “Hoard” resources and take food out of the mouths of poor people?  Or does it mean there will always be those who are too lazy, or too sick, or too somehow incapacitated to work?  I think it’s an “And / both” answer on all counts.

There are definitely those who are deemed “Wealthy” and yet they give, of their time, their resources, often everything they have is devoted to trying to make a difference.  Bill & Melinda Gates are a good example.  They took much of their wealth, formed an organization and now they run that institution trying to make an impact on disease, on hunger and on educating folks in the “Third world.”  Then, there are those who give nothing, you could argue that the wealthy run the spectrum from those who are loving and give, to those who are selfish and take.

At the same time the poor, some have no choice and are barely existing, and some choose that life-style by being lazy or slothful.  Homelessness in America is a problem and has been for some years.  But there will always be those who choose that life-style for the simplicity of it.  They like having no attachments, being rootless and wandering from place to place living on next to nothing.  Maybe it’s because they can, maybe it’s because they like begging.  Maybe it’s simply an ego trip, maybe it’s because they are mentally unstable.  Who knows?  But, far and away, if you add up all the poor people in the world, most of them are poor because of regional economic conditions in the Third world for the most part.

We must face facts, there are in reality very few people in the world who have a steady income.  There are even less who have money in the bank.  The first statistic I ever saw on this actually came from Patch Adams at the Gesundheit Institute:  “The world’s richest 360 people have the same amount of money as the poorest 2.4 billion people.”  That’s absolutely astounding!  The most amazing thing about it was where I found it though.  I was amazed that at the time I first read that I had been a Christian for some years, and I didn’t hear that in the church!

Wouldn’t that seem to become the imperative to go on mission’s trips and “Save the world?”  Isn’t that exactly what Jesus was talking about?  In my opinion it is!  How can we then not act when confronted by these things?  Well, attacking the 1% is definitely action, but is it misplaced?  Those in the Occupy Wall Street movement may be trying to change the world, but it seems a bit to me like trying to move a locomotive by pushing on it with all your might.  It might be done eventually if you get enough of your friends, but why not just build a locomotive factory and learn how they work and start moving them down the tracks yourself by telling them to move?

There’s tons of talent in those folks who are part of the OWS movement.  There’s tons of talent in the Tea Party too.  There are those in both groups who care, many care a lot.  What is it we’re fighting for, or against?  In general, you don’t get very far when you fight against things.  What you have to do is to have a new idea, or an old idea with a new implementation strategy.  Well, we have Jesus.  Jesus is our King!  We look to Him for guidance and answers to life’s problems.

What did Jesus say to do?  Live peaceably in our society legally doing things that we can do.  We can assemble, we can argue, we can protest, but in reality, in a capitalist society, we ought to be trying to make businesses that work.  We ought to be looking for ways to provide services that folks need.  We can make money that way and use money to feed and clothe the poor, so instead of stealing the money from the rich, we get them to legally pay for it instead.  The 1% know they can’t take it with them.  They know that they can change the world, but many don’t know how.  It’s up to us to help them figure that part out.

I would urge everyone reading this to find some way to get involved, then to find ways of getting those who have money to contribute to it.  Give of your time and let those who have the resources give of those.  This is my new strategy for 2012.  I’m going to commit to raising money this way for things like rebuilding Haiti, fighting abortion, spreading the Gospel.  I’d love to see hatred and disease and hunger stamped out too, but we gotta start small with these ideas and build on them.

That said, who wants to start a Non-profit?  Jesus said “Store up for yourselves treasures in Heaven where moths and rust do not destroy.”  It’s a much more worthwhile investment to put your efforts into the Kingdom of God instead of the Kingdom of man.  This earth is passing away.  All we see here, all there is here will be gone in an instant.  Invest wisely.  I think those who have “Material” wealth are deceived by it.  Proverbs tells us it can “Grow wings” and be gone in an instant.   Chasing after it is clearly “Vanity” as Solomon said.

Building the Kingdom of God is investing in the spiritual well-being of those around you, whoever you come in contact with on a daily basis.  Help them learn and grow to become Christ followers is better than getting “Rich” any day.  That’s why I think chasing after the 1% is a silly thing.  The Tea Party, on the other hand, wants a fiscally responsible government that will respond to the will of the people, rather than answer to “Special interests.”  It starts with us.  We must all be responsible for our own behaviors.  If we want others to follow us because we’re following Jesus, then we must be responsible too.


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