If you have been paying attention to the past few Democratic presidential primary debates or have had your ears open over the past five or so years, then you have most likely heard a politician or an activist decry the fact that rich people are making their money off of the backs of others.
I’m going to jump headlong into this thought.
First off, work is good. It gives you a sense of purpose, and more importantly, it puts food on the table, pays the bills, and allows you to do the nice things in life. Work isn’t slavery. It isn’t class struggle. It is simply work.
So why do we keep making it seem like work is a negative? Is it because we are raising a generation of people who don’t want to work? Is it the outcry for equality, as in equal outcome instead of equal opportunity? Or something else?
The 1% and the Other 99%
This may come as a shock to you, but there are poor people, there are rich people, and there is the middle class. That’s called the outcome of opportunity or the lack thereof.
Let me ask you this: What is wrong with being in the 1%?
We act as if that is something terrible. As if the 1% owe the rest of us something. “They do! They make their money off of our backs!”
No, they hire you to do a job, and you have every right to quit and go get a different one. Or you have the right to save up your money and start your own business. You have plenty of opportunities to do something else, even if that something else is nothing at all.
Capitalism doesn’t create bad people. Bad people can utilize capitalism to become worse, but the fact that they are free to make a lot of money doesn’t equate evil intentions.
“The top 1% make more money than…” And those numbers shift just about every time I hear that line. What does that matter? Have they not earned it legally? Yes, they have. And if they haven’t, then they should be either fined or put into prison for fraud or theft (and they often are). The fact is most have made their money the legit way in America, and we keep adding thousands of new millionaires every year (even Bernie Sanders recently joined the 1% club).
An article in The Balance recently stated that “the incomes of the top 1 percent of earners rose 400 percent between 1979 and 2005.” Of course, this was meant to come across like there was something wrong with it. But look at the other large growth numbers:
- The population in 1979: 225M
- The population in 2005: 295M
- 1979 GDP: $2.6T
- 2005 GDP: $13T
That’s a GDP growth of 500% compared to a 32% growth in population (correct me if I’m wrong on that). Since 2005, our GDP has grown by more than $6T, with a population growth of 35M. Rate of growth looks pretty consistent, even with that recession.
In 2009, there were less than 6 million millionaire households, now there are more than double that. Thousands of people in San Francisco are about to become brand new millionaires when a number of tech companies go public. America isn’t about old money. It’s about the constancy of new opportunities, despite what Elizabeth Warren or Sanders might convey.
Start Poor. End Rich.
That has been the American way for a very long time. Why? Well, we gravitated to the Adam Smith method of economics: free market enterprise. We declared our independence the same year his book The Wealth of Nations came out. We seemed to like it, and it has been the cornerstone of our economic policies.
I was recently telling my YoungLife kids during our newly minted Summer Series, that you have to start at the bottom. Low skill required work. Minimum wage jobs. Why? Because you have to learn how to work. Those lessons learned in low wage jobs during their high school and college years will be invaluable. They will learn the following, which will help ensure they will become good employees and keep good jobs in the long run:
- The importance of being at work on time.
- Doing your job and doing it well.
- Being respectful to your boss.
- Working with others in a business environment.
They aren’t there to make it big. They are there to learn what to do in order to make it big. It will also give them perspective in case they do. It is a lesson in humility. We need those early jobs. As Solomon repeated several times: “humility before honor.”
The fact is minimum wage jobs are designed for kids, not for adults. They aren’t designed for people in their 30s and up. But there are plenty of people who through circumstances that are too numerous to address have found themselves in a dead end job.
The question is what are they doing to get out of it? Go to any place where the wages are minimum and take note of those who are up in age. Rarely do you see someone who has simply fallen on hard times, especially in this current economy. I will say this, I remember during the Great Recession where I would meet people who were waiters or were working menial jobs and I knew that they were a victim of the recession. I knew it was a bad economy that had put them in a bad position. But I digress.
Those in their later years who are working minimum wage jobs typically (not always) have a number of things in common:
- They are poorly dressed, even when it is a uniform.
- Their hygiene is subpar.
- They don’t speak properly.
- They don’t look you in the eyes and smile.
- They comes across like they hate their job.
- Their attitude to customers and co-workers are often bad.
You may think, “Well, Dustin, they probably do hate their job. And their boss is probably rude. Maybe they weren’t raised right to take care of their hygiene.”
Eventually, we must stop making excuses for those who are old and are of a sane mind. We live in America where everyone has the opportunity to grow in their job, even if it’s WalMart, McDonalds, or anywhere else that the minimum wage seems to reign supreme.
We aren’t living in Upton Sinclair’s Jungle. We live in the US where opportunity is at everyone’s door at some point in time; although that doesn’t mean it will remain there. I believe that some people let those opportunities go by because they aren’t raised right, are too lazy, are too caught up in distractions and entertainment to focus on the future, or they simply missed out. This is why being in our kids’ lives or being a mentor is such a necessity. Help aimless kids not become aimless adults.
What About the Immigrants?
I will live shortly on this topic. Immigrants who come here aren’t typically here for the climate. They are here more often than not for economic reasons. They need work and work that will pay well, even if it doesn’t pay that well in American citizen terms.
We receive a lot of immigrants from Latin America—legal and otherwise—who work and send money back home. They work hard. Save up. And send back. These are called remittances. Believe it or not, these remittances make up a large chunk of those countries’ economies.
- Mexico: Remittances make up over 2% of their GDP. You may think, “Well, that isn’t a lot.” Their annual GDP is slightly above $1T, which means 2% is over $2B.
- Honduras: Over 20% of GDP.
- El Salvador: Over 20% of GDP.
- Haiti: Over 25% of GDP. (I know that’s the Carribean, and not Latin America.)
Are there a lot of immigrants in America who are poor? Yes. But keep in mind that when they come here, the reason usually isn’t for them. It is for their kids. It’s for the next generation. Solomon said that a “good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.” For many immigrants, coming to America and making it is fulfilling Solomon’s proverb. Leaving a corrupt and violent nation and turning the great United States of America into your home for your posterity is arguably the greatest inheritance you can give your kids.
I know most of you will agree with that. So if you agree with that, then start agreeing with what I said in the first place regarding those who have been here for generations. Work is work. The rich who employ workers to use their backs, or their hands and feet and legs and brain, are not criminals or cruel. They are rich because they made the most of an opportunity, and it may look otherwise, but them providing jobs, even minimum wage ones, is providing opportunity too.
So don’t decry the rich. If you want to be rich, heaven knows you can become it here. But for many of us, including me, I agree with Agur in Proverbs 30 where he says, “give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me.” So the middle class. Of course, that’s not for everyone, but maybe that will give you a different perspective whenever you hear someone try to demonize the rich for having a lot of money. Ultimately, who cares? Them having money doesn’t hurt you. In fact, for many, it helps.