Spirit Quest

 

The Spirit of the Invisible Hand moves to share the wealth

'The trickle down theory works best in the Cayman Islands'

By The Rev. Dr. Hanns F. Skoutajan
True North Perspective

The gap between the rich and the poor is widening into a chasm. It is evident throughout the world but also here in Canada.

“Earnings among the richest fifth of Canadians grew 16.4 per cent between 1980 and 2005 while the poorest fifth of the population saw earnings tumble 20.6 per cent over the 25-year time period, Statistics Canada said in its 2006 census release on income and earnings. Earnings among people in the middle stagnated.” (Tavia Grant, the Globe and Mail, May 30, 09).

She goes on to say that, “there are now more lower-income children than there are seniors.” Do we recall promises to end child poverty by the year 2000? There is, of course, plenty of visual evidence of this growing discrepancy. My concern is not only with economics but with the morality of the gaping space between the haves and the have nots.

“There’ll be pie in the sky, by and by,” as some of us less pious kids used to sing. Theories or predictions of some sort of court of final justice, and I emphasize the word “final,” have been largely discredited. The Last Judgment as described in the Gospels of the Bible has been redefined. That judgment day is not in the future but in the present, some  believe. Certainly there are many so called fundamentalists  among the poor, most especially in third world countries where they still hold to the inerrancy of the Bible. They believe that all humanity will on that final day face the Judge who will then separate the sheep from the goats. The poor will have their reward in the in heaven.
 
Few, if any of the masters of today’s coffers are terribly worried by that prophecy. Their offshore accounts skyrocket beyond what they can possibly spend on mansions, life styles, or the yachts at anchor on the Cote d’Azur, and testify to this lack of fear of a vengeful God. One of those pleasure cruisers, I have been told, is not going to be attacked by pirates. It has a security crew made up of some pretty nasty and heavily armed goons.
 
Some of the billionaires have experienced pangs of conscience and have given over huge sums of money to worthwhile causes. This is not new. Andrew Carnegie (1835 - 1919), who developed the Carnegie Steel Corporation among other powerful business ventures, left his mark on many a small community in the form of libraries that bear his name. Magnates such as he have donated large endowments to the arts, to health facilities, universities and other very worthy causes. They are highly honoured for their generosity.
 
It begs the question: where did all their money come from? What is the system that allows the few to amass enormous wealth? It is called capitalism, famously supported by the economic theories of the late Milton Friedman and popularized in the novels of Ayn Rand, such as  Atlas Shrugged. In my youth young people were encouraged to read “rags to riches” books and persuaded that if only we worked hard enough we would be richly rewarded. We have been assured that a rising tide lifts all ships, but not if they are overcrowded, rusty and leaking. The trickle down theory works best in the Cayman Islands.
 
Some believe that capitalism is blessed in the parable of Jesus who said that “to those who have more shall be given and to those who have little even that which they have shall be taken away.”(Mark 4 : 25) However, what Jesus was speaking about was faith, that those who have faith, their faith will be strengthened but that for those of little faith even what they have will wither.
 
Jesus used the analogy of wealth because it was very obvious to the people of his time, most of whom were very poor. It was obvious even then that the rich got richer at a cost to the poor. Jesus  in no way blessed the economic system of his time. He himself was poor and counselled the rich young ruler to give away his wealth if he wants eternal life. He walked away sadly because he had so much (Luke 18: 22). One wonders what he would say to those of wealth in our day.
 
The poor have often been blamed for their lot, that they were too lazy, too unwilling to take risks, or perhaps just not mentally endowed “to make it.”  The cycle of poverty is hard to break. Of course some few have managed it. Sheer luck cannot be entirely ruled out.
 
I have been criticized for being untutored in matters of economics and commerce. That may well be the case although I have read the works of economists such as John Kenneth Galbraith and am acquainted with the theories of John Maynard Keynes which undergirded President Rosevelt’s  New Deal. It was once again dusted off to fight the recent recession, but only with weak resolve.  As a student of theology I also acquainted myself with  R. H Tawney (1980 - 62), Religion and the Rise of Capitalism.  In his book The Acquisitive Society (1920)  he argued forecfully that the accumulation of wealth and property is indefensible unless it is tied to some obligation to overall social betterment.
 
What sticks in my craw is not so much wealth but the gap, the growing disparity and the morality that allows it. We have recently witnessed a crash akin to what happened in 1929 and yet many of those responsible have emerged richer than ever while thousands have lost their homes.  To be credible, capitalism must reform itself radically and become a means that truly lifts all ships.
 
The revolt of the masses in Egypt had to do with the gap in both wealth and power. The vast majority of Egyptians are poor, making less than $2000 a year while their rulers have billions stashed away in safe havens. Nor do they have a share in power. Democracy was denied and elections were a fraud. The  elite were protected by a ruthless police force and kept in power by foreign  states who feared a destabilization of the country that might  send it into the arms of some religious, read Islamic, power as was the case in Iran.
 
Whatever the outcome of the Egyptian turmoil, people have come to expect more and will demand more. That popular movement cannot be halted as it spreads even beyond Africa and the Middle East.  If it fails, it fails only for a time. Undoubtedly it will break out again elsewhere. As I write, Mubarak has stepped down but that is only a partial victory for the people. The ex-President has gone to his mansion at Sharm El Sheikh on which he has over the years lavished much of the money he stole from the Egyptian people.
 
What gives me hope is the belief there is a spirit alive working for equality and freedom, for a sharing of the wealth of the world.  There is indeed an Invisible Hand that as Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet  “...  shapes our end. Rough-hew them how we will.”