Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Tension: Wealth versus Poverty

The scripture says the poor will always be with us. The distribution of goods in this world follows something like the Pareto Principle ("20 percent of the people have 80 percent of the enchiladas" — well something like that.)
We tend to be very myopic about wealth, thinking of it primarily in terms of material goods. That is a very narrow and unsatisfactory view. The "Pursuit of Happiness" or felicity is the way the Declaration of Independence terms one of the innate rights of man conveyed by the creator. True happiness is not found in material things. To discover that that is true you only have to look around you at things like the suicide rate among the rich (here's a link about the rich mentally ill) Frequently the poor are happier than the rich because the rich actually live emptier lives. The more that wealth immunizes you from reality the less real things become.
We also have a problem because the rich are often stigmatized for being rich, especially the children of the rich who inherit fortunes that they did not earn. There is a guilt something like survivor's guilt about being wealthy and never having done anything to earn it.
Another problem is the notion that if one is rich it must be upon the backs of the poor as if wealth is a zero-sum-game. It's not, but for those engaged in the blame game it is easy to suggest that it is.
Wealth follows work given creativity and insight and leadership. I don't want to appear a Social Darwinist or a Randian for I am neither. However, success necessarily attends effort that is meaningful and productive. All too often people give up and allow themselves to enter a victim state (the mentality that the world is against them and nothing they can do will fix that) — such a state is a self-fulfilling prophecy. I've always like the Marine Corps saying: "When the going gets tough, the tough get going." When I was in school I was taught that work was the fulfillment of human potential. We have trivialized work and made it all labor and that is a true poverty.

No comments: