I enjoyed Jonathan Chait’s review of two books about Ayn Rand’s world in a recent New Republic. I have not actually read the books reviewed, but I, and members of my family, have been at various times exposed to and fascinated by Ayn Rand, from her first novel, We the Living, which is possibly her best, to Atlas Shrugged, which is basically Left Behind for capitalist atheists. [Insert links to Amazon.com for all books.] But it is the last part of Chait’s article that I need to respond to.
There are two propositions that I, being a person of wealth, will not accept:
- That I am in any way morally superior to those with lower incomes than myself.
- That my possession of this wealth represents an inherent injustice.
Concerning proposition 1, many will say, “Oh, that’s very well for you, you are of inherited wealth, therefore you are exceptional.” Well, admittedly in America only 10% of rich people are inheritors or “trustfunders,” and that’s not a bad thing. But 10% is still too many to be “exceptional.” (Personally, I think one person is too many to be “exceptional.”) And in the case of the first generation money that constitutes 90% of all wealth, some of it may be due to harder work and other virtues, and some of it may be due to talent and education, which are gifts, not virtues; and some of it may even be due to luck or God’s grace – we can be lucky in other ways than choosing our fathers – a thought which, Chait says, infuriates many conservatives.
Maybe I’m being Anglophile here. On British coins, there is the head of the reigning monarch, and her titles in Latin, plus the letters D. G. They mean Dei Gratia, the grace of God. And they mean that Elizabeth II is Queen not by merit of her moral superiority on the one hand, nor by injustice and robbery on the other.
From a Christian point of view, we must take all of this very seriously. We are all “rich kids” or “trustfunders” to God. I will say it again. Everyone who is reconciled to God has come on the basis of salvation won by Christ rather than their own personal merit. (Dallas Willard would hesitate to remind us that there is plenty of “effort” in the Christian life, just not “earning.”)
Another issue where this matters is at the local level. Because people have “incomist” attitudes that people who make less money than they must be inferior people, or at least undesirable neighbors, they see to it that housing regulations are made to make it difficult for people below a certain income to reside in a certain area, even in a smaller and cheaper house – usually these regulations forbid the building of the smaller and cheaper house. People who are against “big government” at other levels support local “big government” of this kind. So much for the “free market.” And if most communities make the choice that seems comfortable to them, the price of housing becomes high and many people cannot afford to live in our region.
The same applies to social services. If people who receive these services are inherently morally inferior, then they are undesirable, and so are the institutions – including the church – that might seek to serve them. I think you can guess where this leads!
We are coming up, in about five weeks or so, on a holiday called Thanksgiving. (Our Canadian friends have just passed it!) Whoever we give thanks to, it shouldn’t be ourselves! Some of these people, if they really want to act consistently with how they talk, should eat their Thanksgiving dinner in a hall of mirrors!
Related: Weathcare (The New Republic)