December 16, 2010
Poor Jim Wallis is almost beside himself.
In an article published in The Huffington Post, Wallis’ class warfare rhetoric pours forth without stint or measure, spilling over upon those of us who have the audacity to believe that when a person earns money legally, it should not be unduly confiscated by the government.
Here is a sampling of Wallis’ careful, nuanced, ruminative, above-the-fray language:
- “higher tax rates on the very rich”
- “the very wealthiest Americans”
- “Goldman Sachs traders”
- “hedge fund gamblers”
- “a handful of very rich people”
- “There is socialism in America, but it’s only for the rich.”
- ” … fighting the people whose greed, recklessness, and utter lack of concern for the common good have led us into this terrible crisis”
- “casino gamblers on Wall Street”
- “More tax breaks and benefits for the very wealthiest people in America is not only bad economics and bad policy; it is fundamentally immoral.”
Anyone for the barricades?
These huzzahs of indignation, full of stereotyped Leftist boilerplate, reflect either ignorance of how the economy grows or else a bitter ideological conviction that wealth is wrong and that the wealthy are ontologically evil.
Neither proposition is appealing, or convincing. After two years of massive federal spending and micromanagement of the economy (to the point where a President of the United States actually fired the head of General Motors), job losses have climbed and we are now facing the prospect of actual deflation.
Wallis would be more credible if he would simply announce what everyone who has ever read his books or op-eds has known for decades: He is a man of the Left and a highly partisan Democrat. His claim to be “post-partisan” and a man of neither Left or Right is as hollow as it is insistent.
Consider this statement, near the end of his piece - President Obama “waited too long” to “counter the distortions of the Republicans who clearly don’t mind adding huge sums to the deficit as long as it benefits their wealthy patrons.”
Ah, now I understand: Republicans opposed allowing tax rates to go up because they want to do favors for “their wealthy patrons.” Sort of like Wallis’ donor George Soros, perhaps?
Or perhaps they opposed allowing rates to rise because they believe that no poor man ever created a job. Or because they know that capital investment by those who earn the most is essential to those Wallis claims to champion, lower- and middle-income Americans. Or because they realize that a tax increase on those who pay the most in taxes to begin with is both unfair and, as a matter of economic policy, plain nuts during a time of economic duress.
Playing on populist indignation is cheap only if it is a rhetorical ploy. Wallis – along with others like Tony Campolo and Brian McLaren – actually believes this stuff. That is why Wallis uses the language of moral outrage to advocate policies that demonstrably don’t work. If he cares as much as he protests that he does for “the poor,” would he not support policies that produce jobs for them?
“Socialism failed to deliver the bacon or the paradise. Capitalism delivered the bacon but not the paradise,” wrote University of Maryland economist Robert Nelson. Excellent point, but it should be said that no economic system ever will deliver paradise. Only God can do that, and will not do so in an age throbbing with the falls curse.
However, capitalism – properly understood – never claims to be the precursor to the Millennial Kingdom. It is a system of commerce, not a pathway to salvation. Christians should, and mature ones do, get that.
Materialism, acquisitiveness, greed, human and environmental exploitation, raw consumerism: These are the sins not of a system but of those who misuse it or whose confidence in its possibilities is misplaced.
Capitalism offers great financial reward for thrift, creativity, risk-taking, and shrewd marketing. It can, practiced properly, dignify labor, strengthen families, and foster a higher standard of living for everyone. John F. Kennedy was right: A rising tide lifts all boats.
The way to ameliorate the excesses of capitalists themselves is not by jettisoning the system that permits its own abuse. No economic system in history has produced the prosperity, medical innovation, or the quantity or quality of food and clothing and housing and transportation or improvements of virtually everything that can be conceived, designed, produced and utilized than capitalism.
The challenge for Christians and for a moral society in general is to encourage generosity in place of greed, fair pay for honest labor, liberty instead of constrictions that impede wealth-creation, appropriate and wise regulations that discourage injustice but not opportunity, including the simple act of hiring an employee because your business is beginning to grow.
That challenge is unmet when one demonizes his fellow citizens with puerile epithets (to Wallis, “Wall Street” seems to be an obscenity) instead of pondering seriously how to address inequity, job loss, and economic disadvantage.
Wallis’s hatred of the prosperous is visceral, grounded in his unrepentant Students for a Democratic Society ideology, such that he cannot juxtapose his loathing of the wealthy with the fact that only the well-off produce employment.
Thus, he clings to the mythical belief that only the central government has the wisdom to allocate resources wisely, assigning to the state a benign omniscience the Bible assigns only to God.
I know that the LORD will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor, says the Psalmist (140:12). Christians, who are called to imitate their Lord, should do this on His behalf. But the way to do so is not by continually lamenting over the state of those in need while advocating policies that hurt them. Its to find what works, and apply it ethically and effectively.
Sadly, this simple premise seems to have eluded Jim Wallis for far too long.
Unfettered capitalism, unrestrained by any regulation? No. But capitalism that, under what the Founders called ordered liberty, can thrive? For the sake of those on the downside of advantage, yes. Indeed, yes.