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How wealth circulates in economy and society can reflect justice and compassion

In playing the either-or, right-wrong, left-right, capitalist-socialist polarized mindset in the political campaign, confusion about realities can be skewed. It’s been evident as candidates have recently bandied about the sound bite, “spread the wealth.”

Discussion ranges from decrying redistributing of wealth as “socialism” to realizing that all taxes, subsidies, loopholes, lobbying, spending, producing and consuming spread, redistribute, circulate or share wealth.

When those with the wealth call it “class warfare,” they seek to stir fear generally, “redistributing” their own fear of losing the chunk of wealth they hold. It’s like nobles convincing peasants to fear something that would actually help the peasants.

In 2004, according to figures of the Federal Reserve Board, the top 20 percent of the population held 85 percent of the financial wealth—stocks, bonds, trust funds and business equity—the middle 40 percent held nearly 15 percent of the wealth, and the bottom 40 percent own just 0.2 percent.

In the Jubilee Year described in Leviticus 25, debts are forgiven, slaves are freed, lands lost are returned and community torn by inequality is restored.

Today’s disparity in wealth as ownership is neither sustainable nor healthy, even for the super wealthy. With massive sums held in investments, with windfall profits and with excessive salaries for a few, the cycle of greed that redistributes more wealth to the wealthy few eventually bursts.

Just as children may not readily share toys, those with the most wealth may not want to share it. We need regulations to assure that more of the wealth is shared and is circulated so poverty is eradicated.

The 80 percent who have just 15 percent of the wealth need to realize that a healthy economy spreads wealth among everyone.

It does not assume that those with less wealth are less deserving or of less human value.
Taxes and tax cuts redistribute wealth. Welfare for the rich or poor, no-bid contracts with built-in profits, pork projects, bills Congress passes, Social Security, interest on debts, weapons spending and dumping money into wars are some of the ways governments redistribute wealth.

The question is, in what direction is the distribution?

To those who have much, much is expected in generosity and gratitude for the blessings—such as sharing it justly with workers who help create the wealth.

Our faiths talk of loving, caring, sharing and even giving until it hurts.

The five percent some foundations may release from endowments for grants or humanitarian aid and the two to three percent individuals donate on average to churches and causes are something and help, but imagine what a biblical tithe would do.

Many Pacific Islanders, such as Tongans, circulate wealth in gifts that may seem to be like interest-free loans. Tongan culture understands that “wealth is not what you keep, but what you give away.”

Tongans share what they have, readily passing wealth in money, food and gifts to friends, family, community and church for education and other needs. A recipient passes on part of the money, food or gift off the top before folk in our culture might consider it fiscally wise. If Tongans can’t give a lot, they give a little. By pooling resources, a little becomes a lot. It’s like a microenterprise loan or like the early Christian community that assured that everyone had enough.

It is wealth and security for the whole community, not based on accumulation, but on relationships and respect.

In these troubled times, we might learn from faith models and Pacific cultures.

At least within the faith and nonprofit communities, we might take heed and generously circulate the wealth we have within and beyond our circles.

Mary Stamp - Editor