I’ve been displeased by the increasingly caustic claims — led, unfortunately, by the President — that greedy millionaires and billionaires are the root cause of all that ails our economy. It’s a dangerous lie that ought to be beneath someone of President Obama’s intelligence and character, but in politics, lies are often useful for deflecting attention from failures of policy, strategy or character.
The truth, and every politician and economist knows it, is that even if you confiscated 100% of all you could get from US millionaires and billionaires, you’d make only a small dent in the US budget deficit. And that for only a single year; once you’ve killed the golden goose, you get no more golden eggs.
Inciting anger towards corporations and the rich is a way of diverting attention from the inconvenient truth that Washington has long been a slobbering drunk when it comes to spending. And, what’s worse, it owns the keys to the booze cabinet.
All this careless rhetoric against the wealthy has elevated envy to a virtue. The Occupy Wall Street movement is rooted in envy, one of the deadliest of human sins. After all, the goal of OWS, and the deranged children it has spawned in Oakland, DC and elsewhere, is to tear down capitalism (a greed-based system) and remake society around an envy based system instead. These young idealists and anarchists imagine a society where everyone gets a piece of what everybody else has, where no one will ever be allowed to stand higher than the next guy.
Capitalism succeeds because it allows someone with good ideas and a strong work ethic to rise above the average. It appeals to the competitive desire in most of us to improve, to do better.
By comparison, OWS-style egalitarianism can only succeed if we all agree to pull down those high achievers and make certain that everyone is merely average.
In that, the OWS movement shares an alarming amount of DNA with the French Revolution, and is attempting to live out its high-sounding creed in the streets: Liberty, Equality and Fraternity.
How long will it be before they start lopping off the heads of the wealthy in Zuccotti Park?
A system based on greed, or to put it more kindly, on improving one’s lot in life, in no way rules out the possibility that I can freely choose to give away some or all of my wealth to help others. In other words, if greed plays a part in my internal motivations to get ahead, my conscience might still be pricked to consider the poor, moderate my greedy ways and share what I have with others. And, in fact, many Americans do just that.
A system based on envy, however, knows nothing about moderation. For the system to work, I must always be on the lookout for those who are doing better than I am, and I must always insist that they give me some of what they have. Envy becomes my reason for being; measuring myself against others becomes my full-time obsession.
Blame-shifting becomes an art form in such a system. In a capitalistic system, if I don’t have enough I can usually look to myself and think of ways to improve myself by working harder, taking a second job, changing careers, etc. In an egalitarian system, if I don’t have enough, it can only mean that someone somewhere is secretly hoarding more than he needs. I become obsessed with rooting out inequality and focus all of the blame for my troubles on others, conveniently absolving myself of any responsibility.
It’s attractive to blame others for my woes. There are many societies around the world built on just such egalitarian, envy-based systems. They tend to be unhappy places, where everyone feels vaguely dissatisfied with their lot, and each one is constantly suspicious that my neighbor is holding something back, or else I would surely be doing better.
Proverbs 14:30 calls jealousy “a cancer that eats away the bones.” The tenth commandment warns that we sin against God when we covet what belongs to our neighbors. In Romans 13, Paul writes that all sin, including envy, is ultimately a failure to follow Jesus’ command to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. “Love,” Paul says, “does no harm to others.”
Is it harmful to take the excess wealth from those who are rich and spread it around? The prophet Micah in the second chapter seems to say so. He condemns Israel for seizing their neighbor’s lands, belongings and homes, and for stealing the inheritance that rightly belongs to their neighbor’s children. Yes, God has plenty to say about the corrupting powers of wealth, but he seems to be no fan of involuntary fiscal confiscation as an alternative.
James goes further, blaming envy and jealousy as the root cause of many of the divisions he saw in the church, and by extension, in society at large:
What is causing the quarrels and fights among you? Don’t they come from the evil desires at war within you? You want what you don’t have, so you scheme and kill to get it. You are jealous of what others have, but you can’t get it, so you fight and wage war to take it away from them. Yet you don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it. — James 4:1-2, NLT
“You don’t have what you want because you don’t ask God for it” means that our lives will be in balance once we look to God for our needs — not government, not Wall Street, not the rich, not my neighbor, but God.
The OWS movement is all about implementing envy-driven schemes that permit us to take what doesn’t belong to us, so that others foot the bill for my life needs and life choices.
Our politicians have foolishly incited the mob to make a virtue of envy. The heart’s appetite for what it wants and doesn’t have knows no limits. President Obama and his supporters would be wise to stuff this violent genie back into the bottle now, while they still can.