Everyone wrings their hands about disparity of wealth. The truth is, there will always be wealth disparity in a capitalist society, and rightly so. It’s unavoidable. The flip side alternative is socialism—to each according to his need and all that jazz. So the disparity focus is a red herring. The real question is whether there is economic liberty.
If you’ll pardon a side-bar, I’d like to have a quick theological discussion with SDS.
First, I don’t mind a little disparity of wealth. I believe in equality of opportunity and that society has a duty to show a bit of humanity to everybody, even if they’ve epically screwed up their opportunities. Asymmetrical results aren’t inherently a social problem—but when there are patterns in that asymmetry1 it’s a good sign that we haven’t gotten the equality of opportunity right.
My question is where the objection to the “to each according to his need” jazz comes in. If you’ll allow me to quote a familiar passage from Matthew 25:2
1 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
To me, this looks a lot like “to each according to his need.” The hungry need food. They’re given food. The stranger needs an invitation. They’re given an invitation. Etc.. While I wouldn’t claim that this is a requirement for how all the resources should be distributed—I think it’s quite clear that in a society that tries to follow this particular teaching there shouldn’t be a whole lot of unmet needs.
I think the first part where SDS and I would disagree is on whether the “to each according to his need” is an individual virtue or whether social (and yes, government) priorities should reflect this belief.
I don’t quite understand why SDS would feel it applies to individuals but not society as a whole. Does he believe that the mandates in the Bible are solely about individual virtue and God is totally okay with all manner of social ills so long as our hearts are in the right place? (Though that doesn’t quite make sense—because if we’re totally okay with all manner of social ills, it seems like strong evidence that our hearts aren’t in the right place. And if the Bible doesn’t make demands on society, community, and government, how do you read the Old Testament?) Alternatively, is the implication that there is some higher teaching on individualism or tax cuts or free market capitalism that trumps the Biblical teachings? Because there really isn’t.
Sorry for getting a bit snarky toward the end. This is just something that seems so crystal clear to me I have trouble understanding how people read things differently. If your gospel is Every Man for Himself, I get it. But theoretically SDS and I are sharing a sacred text. What are we reading so differently?
For example, the net worth of the median white family is roughly seven times the net worth of the median non-white family. ↩
Sorry everybody. What I’m doing here is a bit like proof-texting where somebody cherrypicks a convenient biblical verse to support a controversial proposition. In this case, I feel okay with it because the proposition that the Bible admonishes us to care for others really isn’t controversial. I think SDS and I are in complete agreement on this—at least as it applies to individuals. ↩