April 22, 2013
It’s a tough time to be rich in America.
Radical Islamic Terrorists (RIT) get softer treatment – in political circles, and in the national press – than those treacherous Rich People (RP). RITs can always point back at the Crusades (11th-13th Centuries) as justification for their actions. RPs have no excuse; they’re just thieves in designer duds who ripped off their victims and then retreat to the Hamptons to gloat.
It’s a good thing we’re not among either of them, huh? “Rich” is the club that everyone wants to join… but no one wants to admit they’re in. What does it take to be among ‘em?
“The question of how much people need to feel rich has been studied for ages, and just about every study comes to a similar conclusion: people need twice their current net worth or income to feel wealth. The findings are remarkably consistent, no matter the wealth or income level. People worth $10 million say they would require at least $20 million to feel wealthy, while those with an income of $40,000 a year inevitably say they would feel wealthy with $80,000.” (Robert Frank/CNBC)
Ken Stern wrote in the current Atlantic Monthly about the relationship between one’s place on the income/asset ladder and participation in philanthropy, based on his new book, With Charity for All. The world separates into segments using money as the measure, and the numbers don’t lie. “In 2011, the wealthiest Americans – those with earnings in the top 20% – contributed on average 1.3% of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid – those in the bottom 20% – donated 3.2% of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deductions, because they do not itemize deductions on their income tax returns.” (Stern)
He revealed that the 50 largest charitable gifts in 2012 – given by those top-tier folks – told an interesting story: none went to causes serving the people who are down-market. Thirty-four went to educational institutions like Harvard and Berkeley; the rest went toward fashionable causes like the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Rich folks’ giving benefits their niche on the pyramid, mostly…
Use God’s metric: the “rich” are people who have more than they need to fund their reasonable lifestyle, today… and are then faced with decisions about what to do with their “wealth” – the surplus. Spend it? Hoard it? “Give it” to perpetuate the privileged? Any counsel on that point, Jesus?
“I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings. Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. So if you have not been trustworthy in handling worldly wealth, who will trust you with true riches? And, if you have not been trustworthy with someone else’s property, who will give you property of your own? No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money… What people value highly is detestable in God’s sight.” (Luke 16)
Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, recently pulled back the curtain with fresh research: the more you have, the more unethical you’re likely to be… and the more out-of-touch with real need you become. Isolation from real need may cause RP to have low empathy with those in real need.
“Hi, I’m Bob” (“Hi, Bob!”); “and I’m ‘rich,’ because I have more than I need.” The government would just call it my 401k, but God sees it as me having more-than-I-need, today. My cultural pull is toward stinginess; my biblical gravity draws me toward generosity. Rich Christians are more likely to be in denial than in sync…
May God find me trustworthy, by handling what I have knowing it’s really His; my attitudes and actions give evidence of what’s going on in my heart.