In the midst of an emotional-charged presidential election year, each political party has a strategy to secure the presidential victory. The vilification of the rich is a common theme trumpeted in the news today. Are the rich paying their fair share? Why the increasing, growing disparity between the rich and the poor? We can debate another time whether it is the greed of the rich or the current governmental policies, intended to correct the disparity, that are actually causing more disparity than closing the gap. This column seeks to address the fundamental question: does a society need the rich?
For the sake of full disclosure, I do not belong to the 1 percent. I am in the lower middle of the 99 percent. Most likely, I will never belong to the 1 percent in my life. Yet, for the health of our society, do we need the rich?
A fixed definition of rich seems to be elusive. First, we were told those making over $250,000 a year. Then we began hearing that anyone making over $150,000 a year was rich. For the sake of discussion, you pick your definition of rich and I will be fine with that. Again, does society need people who fit into your definition of rich? Or, should all Americans be economically equal? If we were all economically equal, what would that look like? What appropriate wage level would be assigned to all equally? Also, who would determine it?
God speaks clearly about wealth. The love of money is the root of all kinds of evils, and by craving money many have caused themselves much harm (1 Timothy 6:10). Acquiring wealth through immorality is wrong (Proverbs 10:2; 21:6). Yet, wealth earned in a God-honoring way is the gift of God (Ecclesiastes 5:19). Being rich in and of itself is not evil, but, depending how a person acquired that wealth or uses that wealth, then it could be determined to be evil or good.
There have been rich and poor in the world in all ages. Often the rich have been extremely abusive, exploitive and arrogant towards the poor. That will always be wrong, in all ages. It is a sin. Because some have sinned, does that disqualify all the rich from being beneficial to society? Do we need the rich?
Here are two ways in which the rich play an important, beneficial role in society. The rich can be thanked for the current American standard of living, which most people in America enjoy. When the first major appliances, cell phones, or flat screen TVs appeared on the market, most Americans could not afford them. The purchase price exceeded well beyond what the average person could pay. The rich were the only people who could buy them. As the rich purchased goods, manufacturers reinvested the profits, eventually making the product less expensive to purchase. If there were no rich to initially buy the expensive product, manufacturers would not have been able to produce goods at a cost at which most Americans could afford. If a manufacturer initially produced a product which most people could afford, it must of necessity be a low quality product. The rich have helped make quality products available for the average American, raising our standard of living.
The American society is built upon the division of labor. Most of us do not live on self-contained farms from which we can meet all our needs. If we all did, there would be no need for additional jobs in society to meet the needs we could not meet ourselves. We depend on others to meet some of our needs. In turn, the product of our labor meets others’ needs. Jobs are created to meet the needs of society.
Perhaps in the best possible world, we would all be self-employed and barter our services with others to meet needs that we could not meet on our own. That is not the world we live in. Most of us work for another, who compensates us for our labor. We, in turn, spend the money to purchase goods and services to meet our needs. Someone has to provide the jobs, to take the financial risk of providing a good or service. Poor people do not create jobs. Businesses create jobs. According to the United States Census Bureau statistic from 2008, there are slightly over 11.2 million firms with 1-19 employees, employing 142,365,284 people, the majority of employed Americans. Many of these small businesses would qualify as rich according to current political definition. The rich supply the vast majority of jobs in America.
Do we need the rich? Yes, yes I think we do.
Mark Hudson has been pastor of Medical Lake Community Church since 2001. Before that he served as a missionary in Germany, where he spent a decade planting churches.