A VERY WISE MAN who celebrates a birthday this week once said, “The love of money is the root of all evil.”
A stunningly direct statement, short, succinct and easily digestible. Strange that in this era of bumper–sticker ideology so few people pay attention to it.
Note it’s not money itself that’s the problem, but the love of it. That’s an important distinction, and I’ve had an epiphany about it lately.
I’ve spent a lot of time over the years criticizing the religious right wing for what I saw as forcing their morality on people. But whatever else you may say about religious conservatives, at least they possess moral values of some type.
Today’s politics, by contrast, are now dominated by libertarian “free market” advocates who seem to know the dollar cost of everything but the true value of nothing.
Whether you agree with them or not, you must admit that evangelical Christians begin every debate from a clear moral position, and for the most part they cannot be bought.
But have you ever tried arguing with someone whose only religion is money? Who views any and all taxes as theft, and every single thing government does, from police to firefighters to environmental regulations, as too costly?
I have, and trust me, it’s exhausting. You can never really win, because in real life everything worth doing costs some amount of money, and not everything goes according to plan.
And that’s what these people are looking for: A world where nothing costs a dime, people are unfailingly rational, no one gets old or sick or finds themselves broke and alone, and there’s no need for compassion or conservation or community effort of any kind.
We as a nation obviously need to bring our budget under control. Countries do collapse under the weight of debt, and America could be next to fall. The problem comes when we make budget decisions in a moral vacuum, with no measure of the human cost.
Just over the past month I’ve seen the following crazy things done in the name of money:
• Medical treatment for sick Ground Zero first responders on 9/11 voted down because it costs too much;
• Unemployment benefits for jobless people voted down because they cost too much;
• “Experts” who will never have to rely on a Social Security check telling us that Social Security costs too much;
• And a new Georgia governor who says education costs too much and will get further cuts. (Is it possible to rank lower than 50th in a country with 50 states? We’re about to find out).
The list goes on. Everything boils down to money, and nothing and no one is immune.
Well, almost no one is immune.
Corporate America just finished its most profitable quarter in history. Baseball players almost no one has heard of now routinely get $100 million contracts without a peep of disapproval from the fans who can’t afford a ticket to see them play.
Americans continue to be obsessed with the sex lives and clothes of fantastically wealthy actors, as well as with the “reality” of idiots who are paid millions for being their idiot selves in front of the cameras.
Yet we’re told the things we actually need cost too much for us to have.
As we’re distracted by the penny–wise, pound–foolish rhetoric of the deficit hawks — many of these “free market” advocates having never met an earmark in their own district they didn’t like (cough cough, harbor deepening, cough cough) — take a look at what’s really happening to our republic.
Or should I say, our banana republic:
We have greater wealth inequality than at any point in U.S. history, with a bigger gap between our richest and poorest citizens than Nicaragua, Venezuela, and Guyana!
(For more perspective, read the excellent letter this week from Stephen Saunders.)
There’s a real human cost to this fundamental inequity, this hoarding of extreme wealth while others are told to go without:
Of all developed nations, America has the worst infant mortality, worst access to health care, fastest–falling educational levels, highest drug use, highest violent crime, highest incarceration rate, and highest teen pregnancy rate.
Two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was very clear that we shouldn’t let money get in the way of doing the right thing. That was actually quite a radical position at the time.
My Christmas wish is that it would be a less radical position today.