The Things You Read…
I opened my local newspaper today only to find several letters commenting on a recent article. The author, Richard Metz, had given the facts concerning American poverty. It is a joke if you compare it with the poverty experienced around the world. It also challenged government spending “for the poor.”
Now, most letters went along the lines of expected leftist ad hominem attacks, “You are only a rich guy who do not care for the poor.” We can surely dismiss the attacks without comment; they do not deserve further attention.
But it is interesting to read some of the views expressed, only if to marvel at them. For starters, one letter decries Mr. Metz for being worried about the redistribution of wealth because Mr. Metz might have considerable wealth himself. Oh, my, is it wrong for one to want to keep his property? Of course one who has something has a moral claim to preserve it and one who wants to take it away from others has no moral claim. These facts hold true regardless of amount possessed!
The same letter mentions a “safety net” created for the poor. No one has a problem with having a safety net as long as it does not become a hammock. The problem is not the goal of helping others but the means and the ends. Redistribution of wealth is not possible because most wealth is earned and government confiscation and bureaucratic meddling, hurts the very people it attempts to help.
The fact remains that the incredible waste in government bureaucratic compassion through programs is ineffective and it incentivizes permanence in the condition of poverty. The poor who are entrapped there are victims of systems that simply do not understand poverty and use the poor for power. Many of us simply think that a better economic understanding serves the poor better and that de-centralized economic decisions empower people and communities. As the causes for poverty are complex it is not a matter of lacking in compassion if one thinks that government re-distribution and welfare spending serve the poor better.
Another letter says, “There is no argument that our poor are probably better off than those in say, Cuba or Guatemala, but it’s all relative: We are not a Third World country.” “Probably”? But of course it is relative! In other words, absolute deprivation is not the kind of poverty we see in this country. It is only poverty relative to a society with the best standard of living in human history. That is why the average poor person has a standard of living that would be the envy of most middle class Europeans. It is precisely because poverty is measured differently here that we have lost a sensible appreciation of real poverty.
We could go on with other statements but let me finish with a letter mentioning Christianity and Judaism being for redistribution of wealth. False. One might say that leftists who are Jewish or Christian may see an alignment but that is based on their leftist presuppositions and the world view they affirm and through which they interpret the Bible or Christian history.
The writer cites Leviticus 25 as supporting redistribution of wealth. People are often prone to muddying the water when arguing. They conflate and confuse terms and avoid context to defend a position. Even a cursory reading of Leviticus 25 helps us see that the Jubilee was not a matter of government redistribution of wealth.
The Jubilee did not entail debt forgiveness or redistribution of wealth. Instead, ownership of land remained with the family who had inherited it from God. In verses 29 to 34 we see that some land did exchange hands and only in the country side, not in the cities do we see some exchange of land but by far, Jubilee kept all land in the hands of their rightful owners, the families that owned them.
Finally, the author mentions Matthew 19:16-26 where Jesus tells the rich young ruler to sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor. It is here that we see an equivocation on the meaning of redistribution. If by redistribution you mean that I can take my own property and voluntarily give it to others, well, hail to redistribution! After all, I can do with what is mine as I please. But Jesus did not say to the young man that a government structure was going to force him to give his property to others. In fact, Jesus indirectly spoke of a market economy here. Look, Jesus asks the young man to take his things (private property) and sell it (market activity). As a result, he would get money (profit). Only now he should give it to others out of internal conviction, not external imposition. If anything, Jesus is telling us to engage in capitalist transactions!