Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter has put the issue of wealth in the forefront of my mind the last few days. In my opinion, the biggest problem facing our nation is income inequality. I say this because I believe that almost all our other problems are directly related to it. Name any hot-button issue, abortion, racism, election fraud, gerrymandering, taxes, education, immigration, etc., and a direct line can be drawn between it and income inequality. Income inequality is particularly relevant to the world and biblical views of Christians. The fact that the overwhelming majority of Christians tend to vote for conservative Republicans is extremely obvious and, to me at least, troubling. The GOP’s platform is built on policies that support and nurture income inequality. This is true of every hot-button issue I laid out a couple sentences above, which I will address in more detail in a subsequent article.
Any Christian should know that Jesus was consistently on the side of the poor when it came to income inequality.
I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me. (Matt. 25: 34–35).
A certain ruler asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; Honor your father and mother.” He replied, “I have kept all these since my youth.” When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “There is still one thing lacking. Sell all that you own and distribute the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” But when he heard this, he became sad; for he was very rich. Jesus looked at him and said, “How hard it is for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” (Luke 18:18–25).
A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd, he could not, because he was short in stature. So, he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore tree to see Jesus. When Jesus came by the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.” So, Zacchaeus hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, “He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.” Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, “Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.” Then Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a sone of Abraham.” (Luke 19:2-10)
There are many other examples, but you get the point. Doesn’t it make you wonder why so many Christians vote for a political ideology that is so slanted toward making it easier for the mega-wealthy to become wealthier and so much harder for the poor to catch up?
A big part of the problem, I believe, is that our brains are not wired to comprehend enormous sums. Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter for $44 billion really made me push myself to better understand what that really means because, most of the time, the number part of these kinds of stories just doesn’t really compute—not to any realistic degree, anyhow. So, I did some research and put things together in a way that I (and hopefully you) can better relate to:
While most of us can’t even fathom what the number 44 billion (44,000,000,000) looks like, Elon Musk certainly can. To him, that’s about half a year’s income. To most of us, it would be the equivalent of buying a new car. Buying a new car is a big purchase for most of us, of course, but it’s something I’ve done several times in my lifetime. I don’t like to complain about my wealth because I live comfortably and don’t want for anything. But let’s examine my wealth compared to others, including Elon Musk…
By the time I retire in five years, I will have made a grand total of somewhere around $2 million dollars in my entire life. My income, combined with my wife’s similar income puts us easily in the top 10% of America’s households. We have it better than 90% of Americans. That fact astounds me! But let’s take it a step farther. I know, personally, a handful of people who make more money in one year than I will have made in my lifetime. Even these people I know, who most would consider very rich, will make less money in their lifetimes than Elon Musk makes in a single day.
Get this through your head. People who make $1-10 million dollars per year would have to work tens of thousands of years to begin approach Elon Musk’s net worth.
My household income, which is higher than over 90% of Americans, is farther away from Elon Musk than the Earth is from the Sun.
This makes it easier to understand how the richest three Americans hold more wealth than the bottom half of Americans (3 > 165,000,000).
I posted a version of my thoughts on this the other day on social media and one of my family members shared another way to help comprehend wealth inequality. Here is what he said:
“Most people simply don’t understand big numbers. You’re exactly right here, Shane.
A way I’ve explained it before is the idea of making a dollar per second.
If you lived life and made a dollar every single second of every single day (not work hours, all hours), then you would become a millionaire in 11.5 days.
That’s a lot of money, but it isn’t crazy.
A billion is literally a thousand millions, but again that doesn’t mean much because the numbers are beyond normal reckoning.
11.5 days = $1 Million
over 31 YEARS = $1 Billion
Trying to catch Musk or Bezos? You can’t. Making a dollar every second from birth to death just isn’t in the right arena. It would literally take 8-9 millennia to reach Musk’s $273 billion. Our “absurd” situation just doesn’t make money fast enough.”
What would Jesus think about income inequality in America today? It’s a problem, by the way, that is getting exponentially worse by the day.
Another key part of our American income inequality equation is the fact that I believe most of us like having someone below us on the income ladder. It’s not something that is pleasant to think of ourselves, but if we are honest, the idea of keeping up with the Joneses and staying ahead of the Smiths is stitched into our DNA. I think Lyndon Johnson said it best when he talked about this topic as it applies to race:
“If you can convince the lowest white man he’s better than the best colored man, he won’t notice you’re picking his pocket. Hell, give him somebody to look down on, and he’ll empty his pockets for you.”
–Lyndon B. Johnson
I think he hit the nail on the head there. As long as we can feel like we are doing better than most, we will turn a blind eye to how far behind we really are.
Income inequality, consciously or not, pits us against our own brothers and sisters in a competition to grab up our share of the scraps that fall out of the pockets of people so wealthy we can’t even comprehend it.
What do you think Jesus would have to say about that?