The poor will always be among us…
That is of course part of a famous line out of the Bible, and it is not the whole quote and the quote itself is of course written in slightly different ways depending upon which version of the Bible you read and, of course, I am referring to the Holy Christian Bible.
There is argument as to what exactly it means or what the significance of it is. I am not about to wade into some kind of theological discussion — I am not qualified.
But I have some thoughts nonetheless, not about what the verse means, but about the fact that the poor will always be among us.
One thing I have thought of for a long time is that it is impossible for everyone to be rich in material things when most of our resources are limited or finite. You can’t have more than others — which pretty much is what we mean by being rich — unless someone else or some others have less. So there you have it, the idea that if we all just worked harder and kept our noses to the grind stone we would all be rich is just not so (and what do we work at when there is no work offered?).
But poor is a relative thing. Yes, we do have real poor people right here in the good old USA. But so many people who think of themselves as poor don’t know what poor is. Just ask anyone who is still alive and lived through the Great Depression. Or if you were to ever meet anyone surviving from before those times you would really learn the truth. No free cheese, no nothing. No government programs.
Don’t get me wrong. Government programs for the poor are necessary. Before Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society, many poor people — and yes, even white folks — picked fruit and vegetables in squalid conditions, sometimes with nowhere clean to sleep or even use the restroom. And then there were employers who would take poor folks in and give them some work and even some housing in return they got slavery from those disadvantaged. I know — I did not suffer this fate, but I witnessed it.
But if you were to go to a system where everyone shared that would be dismal — study, look at photos and documentaries of the drab lives people lived in East Germany under communist rule — free health care, but a super drab existence — no thank you.
And communes. The hippie idea of the 60s. Well the way that works is the industrious work and the lazy get to share even though they do little to nothing. The lazy will always be among us.
But there is a role for cooperation. As an example, farmers can join together in a cooperative to get better price leverage in buying fertilizer or marketing their products while running their own operations privately.
I don’t know how cooperatives work when workers buy out a failing company. I mean I don’t know the track record. I am familiar with at least one paper mill up in Oregon were the workers bought it out to save their jobs, but they could not manage any better in a disappearing market. It went under.
Capitalism really, to me, is the natural way. Even though it is often subverted giving unfair advantage to some, in its purer form it simply responds to demand. I have it, you want it, you are willing to pay the price. I win because I get the price, and you win because you get what you need and/or want. Of course there has to be some regulation on all that for obvious reasons — unfair trade practices, the tendency for some to skimp on safety and quality, and pollution concerns, and so on.
But now we are back to the poor will always be among us: that is why we have to have social programs — not socialism, but social programs. And I don’t think private elements or even churches should or can carry the whole burden on that. One problem is that they usually want control or unfair advantage of some kind as a price for their charity, which can hold the disadvantaged as prisoners. But those entities can and will always play a role. Government has to have a role, but the debate will always be how much.
The poor will always be among us — how much we tax ourselves to alleviate their suffering is the question.
I did not address spiritual or moral wealth. I don’t see much of a connection there with material things or money. Didn’t Jesus say something to the effect that it would be easier for a camel to be threaded through the eye of needle as to see a rich man go to heaven? Yeah I don’t know exactly how to interpret that one either.