“As long as people think they have a chance of getting to the top, they just don’t care how rich the rich are.” I cannot help but wonder how true this statement is. The fairytale we most want to believe is that it is possible to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. It is the universal myth we hold most dearly. And there are just enough compelling stories to keep the myth alive.
I am a Canadian, so I got up at 4 AM to watch to royal wedding. Kate Middleton, the great granddaughter of coal miners, grew up to become a princess. If it could happen to her, then it must be possible.
The truth isn’t nearly as fun or compelling. You are more likely to be struck by lightning than to move beyond the status you were born into.
The correspondents of the New York Times wrote a book, Class Matters, on this very topic. Their conclusion: people who are born into poverty are destined to remain there. When access to education, healthcare and healthy food is not equal then bettering your living conditions becomes almost impossible.
When people of faith start talking about these issues then something uncomfortable begins to happen - faith and politics start to intermingle.
It doesn’t take a New Testament scholar to figure out that Jesus was concerned about the poor, the widow and the orphan. These were the people at the bottom. When we ignore those whom society defines as the least, we choose to be less Christian.
Why do I say all this? Because things like taxation are Christian issues. Giving tax breaks to the rich probably isn’t what Jesus would recommend. Trickledown economics doesn’t work. Cutting social welfare programs may save federal money, but it isn’t Christian. Reducing spending on education will only ensure that those with wealth improve and the poor will stay poor.
What would it look like to apply the biblical idea of jubilee to our tax policy? Do the rich really need to keep getting richer? What is so wrong with the upper class becoming middle every once in a while? Could the government play a missional role in helping everyone get through the “eye of the needle?”