I hear a lot about the ever-widening gap between the rich and the poor. Every time I hear that phrase, the person employing it simply assumes that it is tragically wrong. I don’t remember ever hearing an argument about why it is tragically wrong. Every person whom I have ever heard or read employing that phrase assumes that it should be self-evident to all who hear that such a widening gap is a sad moral commentary on the economic injustices of our age.
Why is it a tragedy for the gap between rich and poor to widen? I think most people assume that one of the following is true:
(1) If a rich person gets richer, he must be taking from what little money the poor have in their possession;
(2) If a rich person gets richer, he must be taking away money that the poor could potentially have.
Sure, these things have happened before, but does it necessarily follow that a rich person always gets richer at the expense of a poor person? Far from it. On the contrary, many rich people get richer because they experience greater productivity in their businesses, which in turn creates more jobs, which in turn employs more people, some of whom might either be poor or might be on their way toward poverty without that job opportunity. In addition, greater productivity in one business generally has positive economic ramifications for other businesses (those that are not competitors, I mean). If Wal-Mart does well, all of the businesses that supply Wal-Mart benefit from it. You get the idea.
So it does not bother me one iota when someone mentions the widening gap between the rich and the poor. Until it can be proven to me that such a situation is owing to abuse of the poor, I see no social tragedy to lament. The doctrine of human equality upon which the ideals of our society are based is not a doctrine that entails equal economic outcomes. It refers to equal rights, and wealth is not a right. We are all equally God’s image bearers, but that does not mean that we should strive for the ideal of a society with equal economic outcomes. Now, Scripture is clear that those with money should share (voluntarily!) with those who have less. There are moral obligations there. But as a pure economic reality, I see absolutely nothing wrong with a wide gap between rich and poor.
Most people, I think, tend to assume that there is only so much wealth to go around. There is one big pie out there, and the more of it you take, the less there is left for me. But that is not true. Wealth is created by productivity. Through the provisions of goods and services, we have the power to stimulate economic growth. We don’t need government to come in and cut the poor a bigger slice of pie. What we need is a bigger pie.