I was in a debate in which we considered this hypothetical situation: imagine that all the wealth in the world were collected in one place and evenly redistributed to everyone. At this starting point, would we stay an egalitarian society for long? I argued no: the formerly poor would find new ways to squander their wealth, while the formerly rich would invest and build it. For wealth is not just money, but also education, culture, habits, and networks. The rich aren’t just rich by accident — they (we) have spent a lifetime learning how to accumulate wealth. Of course, there are different ways of doing so, which led me to draw up the above 2×2 matrix. Conservatives often point to the upper-left and lower-right corners of the matrix, saying that anyone can pull themselves out of poverty with a combination of hard work and frugality. The implication is that the poor are bad people for not doing so. But that conveniently ignores the lower-left corner. I would argue that anyone who is considered money-rich by any measure has committed at least one of the “bad” things in that list. For anyone living in the U.S. — rich by the world’s standards — that would be #3, profiting from our nation’s forefathers who first took lands from the Native Americans and then set up a series of dictatorships to ensure a steady supply of resources. Is it any wonder that Jesus also said it’s harder for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God than a camel to pass through the eye of a needle?
How does one make it into the “Blessed are the poor” category then? Living lazy and squandering money as listed in the lower-right go against common sense and just about the entire book of Proverbs. That leaves only the top-right corner. Don’t be attached to what you have. Sell your stuff. Be “poor”. Live simply. Give generously. And follow Jesus.