Thursday, October 20, 2011

Rich vs. Righteous

My pastor delivered, as usual, a mostly wonderful message on Proverbs last week, using Gone With the Wind as illustration (he's doing a series with a movies theme). Much of the lesson centered on the importance of prizing spiritual treasure over material treasure.  At one point, the pastor turned to us and said, "It comes down to this:  Would you rather be rich, or would you rather be righteous?"

I haven't sent an email to him about this yet but I mean to.  The thing is, I do not think these two things are incompatible.  What's more, I would argue that you cannot become rich and stay rich without being at least a little righteous....unless your vocation itself is evil.  Drug dealing, for example, or bank robbery. 

I know this goes against the intuition of many these days.  So let me defend my opinion.

I listen to Dave Ramsey, the Christian radio talk show host/financial counselor, pretty regularly. He spends a lot of time  rebutting  the notion that the rich got that way by somehow having luck bestow wealth upon them, as if a million dollars was left in a basket on their doorsteps.  Most millionaires, according to Ramsey, get that way by sacrificing a lot early in their lives and careers.  They don't finance a car before they get wealthy, they drive a clunker.  They don't get a 30 year, variable rate mortgage, they get a 15 year mortgage with 20-50% they've scrimped and saved.  They don't use credit cards.  Until they have cash to budget more expensive items into their diets, they eat rice and beans.  In the meantime they are working like crazy.

Once again, I emphasize, this refers to MOST wealthy people, not all. 

Plus, the word "millionaire" means something very different now than it did then, say, in the eighties, when my college professors were complaining about the millionaires who paid only 1% of the taxes while the rest of us paid the remainder (sound familiar)?  Taking inflation into account, as well as the good economic health we experienced in the 80s and 90s, millionaires are all around.  If you think about it, all it takes for a family to have a million dollars is for it to have two wage earners starting out at something like  $40,000 each (getting raises to take them to maybe 60,000 after a few years) who bank 10% of their income, earning a very humble percentage of 7% or something like that, and to not take anything out until retirement.  Granted, they would need to be a disciplined family, but it's not all that unusual for families to earn $120,000 a year or $150,000.  So if  you want to categorize millionaires as the opposite of righteous, you are categorizing a lot more people as unrighteous than  you would have during the Carter administration. 

So why do I think most rich people are NOT evil?

First of all, in order to become rich, you need to do many things:  save, avoid buying things on credit, take good care of what you do own so that it lasts a long time, find bargains where you can, and invest wisely.  Not just in mutual funds, but in life.  Paying for an education that will earn you or your child a higher wage.  Taking care of the small business that you are likely to own, and keeping it and your skills up-to-date.  You need to avoid doing a lot too:  taking out loans, avoiding expensive habits (even smoking costs a small fortune each year), being seduced by nice cars or boats that you cannot afford until after you get rich. 

Secondly, you can't be greedy and profit.  I know this goes against the grain too, but follow the logic on this one.  If someone owns a small business, say, a dry cleaner, and decides she can get more money by doing something underhanded, she is unlikely to continue, or to do as much business as the dry cleaner's across the street.  Let's say she alters the solution she uses in some way to make it cheaper....or perhaps buys solution she knows is not the best.  If this alters the quality of the work done at her shop, people are going to vote with their feet for the cleaners across the street.  If she underpays her employees, they either won't stay or they will not do work of the quality they would if well paid.  If she overcharges customers, we're voting across the street again.  If she....or anyone else....desires some material thing so very much that she decides to buy it whether she has the cash or not, the interest she pays on a financed car/house/private jet/fancy unnecessary business upgrades will keep her from prospering.  Just like the rest  of us who have financed cars or other stuff before we really could afford them don't prosper. 

You can't indulge in gluttony as a rich or a poor person and prosper, because your health will suffer and that will keep you from working as much as you otherwise could,

In general, to become wealthy, one needs to be thrifty, generous, kind (at least to customers), patient, and hard-working.  All of which are righteous attributes.

No comments :