Saturday, August 30, 2014

A Labor Day reflection

One of the conflicts we've had for years is the poor vs. the rich.  In ways that would shame Marx, we are told today that the rich getting richer while the poor getting poorer is an affront to human decency and a mockery of God's intentions for human relations.

Well, yeah.  If you support the unbridled accumulation of wealth by any means possible to the exclusion of all other priorities, you're running afoul of some pretty clear teachings in Scripture.  Outside of that, it doesn't do much for the common weal when wealth becomes the possession of an ever shrinking set of individuals.  Especially if those individuals increasingly don't share the values of the greater masses.

Now I'm not one to cast a longing glance across the waters toward Socialist Europe.  That's like looking to the Cleveland Browns for ideas for building a winning football franchise.  Nor am I one who thinks it works to strip the wealthy of their wealth and redistribute it.  I think if you run the numbers, you'll find that all the wealth of the wealthiest (however defined) would sustain Americans for about a day and a half.

Still, even without seizing the wealth of the wealthy, that little ugly fact that the middle class appears to be dwindle, and a shrinking number of Americans have enough to even get by, while a small set of wealthy continue to get ever wealthier, doesn't help the reputation of free market and capitalist evangelists.  Here's why.

In the classic movie The Ten Commandments, one of Pharaoh's high priests comes to complain to Pharoah about Moses.  Moses is being soft on the Hebrew slaves.  He gives them a day of rest, which they call 'Moses' Day.'  He allows them to raid the temple granaries!  At that point, Pharaoh (played wonderfully by Sir Cedric Hardwicke), casts a glance at the priest and quips, "You don't look any thinner."

And that's the problem with the rich getting richer.  It's not hard to see that the corporate answer to all the economic woes today appears to be: decrease quality and quantity while increasing prices and screwing laborers.  That's not really denied.  I work in a financial institution handling million dollar accounts, yet my salary barely equals what a kid bagging groceries would have made when I graduated high school.  And the prices and the quantity and the quality?  The old adage that the Free Market will right things and lead to superior products and services doesn't seem to be holding, as the market appears to be thriving under the 'Less for More' principle.

When this is pointed out, advocates of the FM and Capitalist economies fire back that it's all the Government Regulations.  It's taxes.  It's Washington policies and intrusions.  Fair enough.  I'm not an economist.  I'll assume that the government can mess the economy up as well as it can anything else.  But here's the thing.  While the consumer is increasingly screwed, and the workers are screwed, and the middle class rots, I notice that the richest aren't getting any thinner.  If these horrible government regulations are hurting anyone or anything, the rich make darn sure it isn't them, often by reacting to the government by shafting everyone else.

Really.  As corporations seem to move from 'here's our superior product or service at a lower price' to 'here's our inferior quantity at a higher price, now be damn glad we let you be our customers', it's not hard to see that those making such calls continue to thrive no matter how Americans, or America, struggle.  And that's where the whole 'war on the rich', while substantively baseless, still has a certain bite.  If there was a moral reaction, one would expect the rich to be hurt along with anyone else.  Or the rich to react by making sure everyone can keep up with at least the least.

But as it is, no matter what damage done, how many harmed, the country or the consumer hindered, the wealthiest rise above it all, sometimes by reacting to government intrusion in ways that trickle down to everyone and everything else but themselves.  And as long as they bellyache about regulations, while making sure that everyone but themselves are hindered by them, expect people to buy into the idea that taking out the wealthy will be some magic formula. It won't of course.  But that doesn't mean there's not some validity to the frustration.  And someday, we might end up losing everything as a result.

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