At Work & Economics 101 & Public Square & Theology 101

Should We Let the Rich Fail?

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Photo courtesy of Tony Fischer Photography.

Those who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.  For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

I Timothy 6:9-10

In order for the free market to work, we need a sound economic and political environment in which the rules of the game are equally applied to all. What we have seen over the past century is an abandonment of an equal playing field for one that favors the rich at the expense of the poor.

Special-Interests and Standards

The issue here, as Dr. Glenn Sunshine points out in a previous series, is righteousness and justice. Sunshine explains that special-interests face a great temptation to commit injustice for their own gain:

In a fallen world, the rich and powerful have historically taken advantage of their position to increase their privileges at the expense of the poor and weak—the widows, orphans and foreigners that are under special protection in the Law because of their vulnerability.

When we bail out large banks, or mandate which light bulbs people can purchase, we set a dangerous precedent: big money wins political favors and handouts. This favoring one group over another is especially harmful for the poor because it does not create an environment where they can be entrepreneurial.

Consider the Cash for Clunkers program. Cash for Clunkers protected new car makers at the expense of many other consumers and industries. This program took valuable used cars and destroyed them by pouring a sodium solution in the engine. This program benefited people who make new cars, but it hurt poor people who can only afford used cars. It also hurt mechanics, as they are the people who fix used cars.

This is an example of cronyism, which puts a damper on everyone’s ability to exercise their God-given creativity. Rather than lifting up the dignity of each of us through our work, cronyism institutionalizes greed. It creates an entitlement culture which begets more greed and more favor-seeking that only the rich can afford.

Economist Bob Lawson puts it well when he says in this video that,

Getting rich in America should be about creating value for people. Unfortunately, a lot of rich people decide that once they have their money they should protect it and they go to the government to get special privileges…If you provide a product that no one wants to buy, if your company fails, it should fail…When low income people have trouble and they lose their jobs—they lose their jobs… we need to hold that same standard to rich people. 

Why should Christians care?

As Christians we need to think about our role in bringing about flourishing and its implications for our participation in the public sphere.

Flourishing occurs when we fulfill our original job description, the cultural mandate, as given to Adam and Eve in Genesis. It is what we bring about when we use our gifts and talents to serve others by taking dominion over our natural and human resources. Flourishing is the glimpse of what could be when God restores the new heavens and new earth. It is characterized by well-being, thriving, and abundance.

As Hugh Whelchel pointed out yesterday, the free market is an arena where we can fulfill the cultural mandate. Market economies can foster the use of our creativity and provide opportunities for our God-given dignity to be realized through our work.

After all, as scripture tells us:

  • We are made in the image of God, giving us all intrinsic dignity (Genesis 1:26-28, 2:15).
  • We are created with purpose and creativity and are called to use our talents to further the kingdom (Matthew 25:14-30).
  • We are called to love and support each other (Matthew 22:36-40).
  • We are called to lift up the poor (Matthew 21:34-46)

Rigging the system in favor of one special interest group doesn’t affirm any of these truths. It doesn’t allow for flourishing to take place. Mandates and programs that favor one group over another deny our God-given dignity. They provide no chance for our creativity and talents to be utilized. They harm the poor by raising the cost for them to enter and participate in the market economy.

The hope here is that this is a solvable problem. It will require Christians to take a stand against cronyism. It also requires that we seek out God’s calling for our lives and live that out with intention, integrity and purpose.

Should we let the rich fail? Leave your comments here

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