Imagine that you suddenly became a millionaire somehow. You’ve got $20 million in the bank, and you bought a big house with an abundance of unused bedrooms.
Imagine further that as you are settling into your new house, you look out your window and notice the family of six next door is being evicted from their dilapidated dwelling. The landlord is unceremoniously dumping the family’s belongings onto the lawn and locking them out of the house.
The family walks over to your house and knocks on the door to ask for help. Is it moral to refuse to help? Is it moral to have security throw them off your property? “I earned this money fair and square,” you might say. But that wasn’t the question. The question was whether or not it is moral to refuse to help when you know you can.
Admittedly, this is a simplistic parable. But I think it does illuminate the moral situation of those who continue to hoard obscene amounts of wealth when there are people literally dying from a lack of access to healthcare because they just can’t afford it.
Not to mention all the ways that hoarding wealth is destroying the planet, which inordinately affects the poor.
People are suffering and dying because they don’t have access to resources that others are using to purchase another boat. My contention is that this is immoral.
Last year Jeff Bezos became the richest man in modern history. It’s super hard to avoid using Amazon, but the ugly truth is that Bezos made (and continues to make) his fortune on the backs of underpaid and exploited workers.
We are weirdly obsessed with rich people. We lionize them when we should be calling them to account. They are hoarding massive amounts of wealth that they spend on frivolous projects because they don’t know what else to do with it. All while avoiding taxes to pay for the common good.
There is some evidence that this is changing, which is good. (Although people did still “donate” money to Kylie Jenner to get her into the billionaire club.) There is also at least one rich person who realizes they are a big part of the problem of modern society, and they ought to use their wealth to reduce the ravages of economic inequality.
But I think a strong argument can be made that it’s simply immoral to be that rich. There is a long history of Christian opposition to this kind of hoarding, dating at least back to the Apostle James:
Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.James 5:1-6
The Apostle James also gives us a scenario much like the one I outlined above:
Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.James 2:15-17
I read a story awhile back about a top automobile executive named George Romney (yep, Mitt’s father) who turned down several big annual bonuses because he thought no one should be paid more than $225,000 per year ($2 million today). It made me think about what a “maximum viable income” would be for me. Some amount after which I’d simply give away 100% of the income to people who need it.
I’m sure it’s more difficult to make these decisions when one actually has a lot of money, but I think making some kind of commitment up front helps to mitigate the corrosive effects of wealth. Jesus did say, after all, that wealth itself was “deceitful.” It’s tricksy, in other words. It whispers lies. When one has it, it’s very difficult to inherit the kingdom of God. Why would one want more of that in their life?