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Sunday, March 24 , 2019, 3:25 pm | A Few Clouds 63º


Randy Alcorn: Passing Through the Needle’s Eye

It's easier for a camel to get beyond its hump than for government to curb its wasteful spending

We are told that the Great Recession is officially over, but like a bad burn the pain continues long after the flame has been removed. Among Americans, the agony is felt disproportionately. It is reported that 45 percent of Americans are virtually unaffected by the recession and, further up the economic food chain, the top stratum is not only entirely insulated from economic pain, some have benefited from what has become the worst economic calamity in 70 years.

Randy Alcorn
Randy Alcorn

Among the remaining 55 percent of Americans who have and continue to suffer from the financial conflagration, the severity of pain varies. Some have only been singed while others have incurred third-degree burns. This disparity of suffering has churned up lingering resentments that are now beginning to erupt into what has handily been described as class warfare by those most at risk from such hostilities: the economic elite.

Even though the very rich now hold a greater proportion of the nation’s wealth than almost any time in history, they are still a tiny minority of the population. The more wary among them understand that even the biggest bull can be brought down by hungry dogs — if the pack is large enough. All the money being spent by the elite to control the halls of government is insufficient if too many among the lower economic stratum suffer hardship too long.

The grumbling over wealth disparity is growing toward a crescendo calling for higher taxes on the rich and even limits on executive pay. But while plucking some of the plumage off the fattest geese may salve some of the resentment and anger, it would not pull the nation out of economic torpidity. And, even if the rich were taxed into extinction, then what?

For 70 years, the Soviet Union tried collectivism in which no one could aspire to greater wealth than what the state would permit. Socialist Great Britain found that taxing the rich at exorbitant rates only drove them away. These attempts at wealth redistribution were disastrous failures.

The rich create wealth. That is typically how they got rich. Get rid of the rich and the opportunity to get rich and see how much wealth there is to distribute to anyone.

Christian theology says that it easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven; a rather broad condemnation of the rich and not entirely deserved. Among the rich there are many who quietly go about doing great good with their wealth. They aid the less fortunate; they endow the arts, education and medical science. Moreover, their head for business provides employment for millions while producing goods and services for millions more. It is not unfair or evil that a few people are rich and many are not. What may be unfair and evil, however, is how the riches were attained.

The problem with any economic system is unbridled greed. Both collectivism and free-market capitalism are perfect on paper but in practice are undone by greed. A healthy economic system requires careful steering to keep from crashing. There are constant adjustments that need to be made, usually subtle but sometimes big — like health-care reform. Vilified by free-market purists, health-care reform is simply a corrective reaction to the homicidal greed of the health insurance industry. There need to be rules of the road that every driver observes, otherwise greed dangerously unbalances any economy.

Americans have come to expect an increasingly affluent lifestyle. But, as we are seeing, such expectations are upsets waiting to happen. Not everyone can live in an oversized McMansion, drive a Lexus and vacation in Europe — but the opportunity to do so must be universally available to avoid class warfare. The economic elite preach the virtues of free-market capitalism because they need the under-classes to keep the faith. The less well-off must have hope that they, too, can rise up the economic food chain. Bread and circuses worked in Rome, but are inadequate to stave off social upheaval in modern America.

If politicians are good at anything, it is saving their own skins. They will check their wind socks and change allegiances faster than an Afghani warlord. But before the howling proletariat has them go after the rich, consider where greed has most unbalanced the economy — profligate, uncontrolled and self-indulgent government spending. Pork-barrel projects, misbegotten military and domestic crusades, mismanaged social programs, and grossly over-compensated public employees have left our federal and local governments teetering at the precipice of bankruptcy.

Increasing taxes will not remedy government greed and financial mismanagement, because it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for government to curb its wasteful spending.

— Santa Barbara political observer Randy Alcorn can be contacted at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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