capitalism stock money wealth

Wealth: Spread it or Share it?

Progressives are often advocating social policies that spread the wealth around. They defend this by explaining that shared wealth is a symptom of a just economic system. The Bible has plenty to say about the relationship between people in economic systems, and when there are vast disparities between the wealthy and the poor, God is not pleased. So progressive Christians are constantly arguing for laws that redistribute the wealth from the rich to the poor.

Here is an important distinction that might make things more clear: spreading the wealth is very different from sharing the wealth. As a Christian, even a libertarian one, I’m not against sharing wealth. As a follower of Jesus it is my responsibility to share the blessings of wealth with others, and it is my responsibility to encourage others to do the same. The calling of a Christian isn’t to simply be blessed, but to live what was Abraham’s original purpose: “blessed to be a blessing.” If we have it, we should share it (it’s only ours to steward anyway!).

However, spreading the wealth can be seen as a different sort of action altogether because it requires a third party confiscating the wealth (and its accompanying responsibility for stewardship) from one person and redistributing it to another. As a means of building a just economic system, it falls short because it requires only aggression and force, not willing participation. While it could be said that some people within such a system wish to share, the mechanism of spreading the wealth ought not be ignored as we evaluate the institutions we seek to achieve our goals.

Progressives tend to use an ends-based justification for their social agenda, pointing to end results as the litmus test for whether or not a policy is legitimate; if it “works,” then it’s a good policy. Libertarians lean toward a means-based ethic that largely regards things such as aggressive coercion as inherently immoral, and thus regard such mechanisms of social change as off-limits.

Yet even if we agree that the ends justify the means, the end results under the above scenarios actually yield different results. In an economic system where shared wealth is a value by all of its participants, is it not safe to believe that such a society is more just and relationships among members of society are more robust than under a “spread the wealth” system? Could we not all agree that the very act of sharing builds a just economic system even more glorifying to God than a mere system that “gets the job done”?

It may be true that God is pleased merely when poor people are fed and nobody is in need. Yet a deeper truth is that when relationships are made through sharing and working together, God is even more glorified because such an economic system is whole at the core, not just in its structure.

It is two different things to advocate the sharing of wealth and a spreading of the wealth. If we are going to be concerned about the relationships between the rich and poor, it is likely futile to place our hopes in an institution that divides and builds resentment between the people it promises to unite.