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The tale of the wealthy bludger

  • 09 October 2008

We do not blame the poor for being poor, or suggest that it is because they are lazy or incapable of earning a living. Likewise, is it altogether hard work and enterprise that has made the wealthy rich? Could there be bludgers among the wealthy?

Not many of us have the stamina to look privilege squarely in the face. We have created an economy where we all feel vulnerable. We are familiar with the injustices we personally have to deal with and we feel threatened to even acknowledge the wider picture of disadvantage, let alone do anything about it.

There is a biblical story in which a rich young man chooses to maintain his material wealth rather than give it up to follow Jesus. The tough message is not so much that he loved his wealth and refused to share it. Rather it refers to the problems surrounding his inherited wealth.

In Jesus' time the rich were the people who had the power to manipulate the political and religious structures. They would take over your lands when circumstances forced you into debt.

So it was not just his wealth that was out of kilter but the way he obtained it. Gospel teaching often avoids that lesson, and instead goes for the soft option, citing the story as an injunction to make tax exempt donations to the charity of our choice.

We are all familiar with the concept of affluenza, the 'consumerist mentality' as posited by Clive Hamilton. The economic situation that has unfolded in recent weeks shows how vulnerable even the wealthy are to the nature of the economy.

To say people are driven by greed is not the whole picture. When there is such an ever-widening discrepancy between rich and poor, no one feels secure. Everyone feels as though they are holding on to their way of life by a mere thread.

So it is fear as much as greed that propels people into consumerism. Greed is a product of the vast differences in wealth, and not necessarily a major cause. 

Think what would happen if we lavished attention on disadvantaged areas. If we demanded better schools and facilities from the government. If we put church resources into these areas. We all know the consequences. With better livability more people would be enticed to live in these areas, thus pushing up real estate prices and simply forcing the poor onto another forgotten