Why Are We Offended by the Top 1%?

David Brooks writes in the NY Times (appearing online 9/21/12) that America needs bold entrepreneurs with grand, expansive ideas. He worries that America’s current dissatisfaction with the wealthiest 1% of our society may be hampering some of our most creative wealth-builders.

He is right: We need people with grand ideas and enough skill to make them real. Our concern, if I may dare to speak for others, is not simply that some people generate wealth while pursuing productive ideas but that some seem to generate wealth without any productive ideas whatsoever. In part their wealth comes from buying and selling other peoples’ ideas and productivity without adding any value of their own.

More offensive to me are three kinds of wealth that are detached from any real productivity. One is the nearly unimaginable pay and bonuses being granted executives, such as the insurance executive here in Minnesota whose annual income was disclosed a few years ago to be just under 100 million dollars each year, even while fewer and fewer Americans were able to afford ridiculously high health insurance.

A second kind of wealth detached from productivity is that of profits being stashed in foreign banks or companies avoiding contributing their fair share of taxes by setting up fronts abroad. That money is sheltered, hoarded, withheld from the common good. It came out of the pocket of the poor and the middle class and is not returned to them in any meaningful form.

A third way in which we see wealth without productivity is in the way many large corporations and financial institutions serve stock holders rather than customers. In the midst of the terrible financial crises of the past few years, for example, the government gave or loaned a great deal of money to the Bank of America, which used the money for buying other institutions even while refusing to add enough employees to process the papers for people needing to refinance their home loans.

I do not believe there is any meaningful advantage to having multiple millions of dollars unless one donates the majority of it to charities, communities, or causes. The sheer greed of wanting more and more reflects a heart self-destructively addicted to toxic wealth.

Yes, Mr. Brooks, we need creative entrepreneurs but we do not need companies or financial leaders whose primary motivation is sheer greed.

If the essence of capitalism, as some seem to argue, is the creation of wealth, then surely we can see that capitalism and Christianity are mutually exclusive. When capitalism is divorced from moral values, it becomes an enemy of the human spirit. This is not an economic problem so much as a moral problem. And American capitalism seems in need of a great deal of repentance.

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About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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