My grandparents were immigrants who arrived with little more than the clothes on their backs, but their poverty and godliness propelled a work ethic that paid off in my family. I never lacked the essentials, for which I am deeply grateful. My grandparents and parents loved us and spent time with us, so we always “felt rich.”
The “Occupy” movement, which started on Wall Street in the U.S., has spread to Canada as well. On one hand, I sympathize with the “Occupy” protesters in Canada because “between 1980 and 2005, the median real earnings of Canadian workers stagnated, while labor productivity rose 37%” (International Productivity Monitor, Fall 2008). This is, in part, the result of international trade agreements that have allowed cheap overseas labor to compete with our own work force. Yet those trade agreements have also improved our exports, resulting in jobs and making imports cheaper, as a trip to Wal-Mart reveals.
Furthermore, although our standard of living has stalled, global improvements have gone through the roof. It’s bittersweet for those of us who are unemployed, but this summer the United Nations reported that by 2015 the overall poverty rate is expected to fall below 15 percent, well under the 23 percent targeted in the Millennium Development Goals.
For instance, in East Asia (including China and India) the number of people rising above extreme poverty (less than $1.25 a day) between 1990 and 2015 is estimated at 775 million. Do we comprehend how valuable that is? Interestingly, it is largely trade liberalization and global spending that are responsible for this—the same ingredients that created the wealthy 1 percent against whom the Occupiers are protesting.
While I sympathize with the Occupy movement, I respectfully disagree with their basic premise that the rich should be taxed more. Here’s why.
- First, the world as a whole has gained a great deal from the work ethic and intelligence of the rich. The economic pie is bigger because of them (as is, apparently, our greed to have a slice we haven’t earned). We benefit from the wealthy because their companies and spending employ the rest of us, and their taxes contribute far more than I ever will. In fact, the rich are not only taxed at a higher rate than I am, but they’re also taxed indirectly through corporate taxes, since most of their wealth is generated corporately.
- Second, the rich became wealthy because we purchased the products, services, and entertainment we needed or wanted. And they offered it to us in an intensely competitive global economy, ensuring that we weren’t hosed at the till.
- Finally, comparisons of wealth are all relative. Of course the richest 1 percent have more than I do, but so do the poorest in Canada compared to the poorest in India. Should we tax the poor here to benefit the poor there, just because there is a great disparity? The poor here would protest, “But I worked hard for that!” Indeed. So have the rich.
Each of us, rich or poor, seeing the needs of the world around us, can determine before God what we should both spend and give away for the greatest good. Many of the rich in the developed world already give generously, for which we can be thankful. As for me, I take to heart what Paul told the Thessalonians: “. . . make it your ambition to lead a quiet life: You should mind your own business and work with your hands . . . so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody” (1 Thess. 4:11-12).