Weeping and Wailing About Wealth

A Most Unpopular Bible Verse

Ed Raymond

I have been listening to religious sermons for almost 78 years since I passed to my “age of reason” at seven, so I have “analyzed” about 4,000 sermons give or take, 20 year’s worth delivered by Roman Catholic priests and 58 year’s worth delivered by Lutheran ministers. I think I have a sharp ear for the turn of a phrase or a potent verse. I swear on a stack of King James’s I had never heard James 5:1-6, this eye-and-ear catching Bible verse about the subject of wealth, preached from the pulpit. I wonder why. Was it too strong? Would it upset those with the bucks who filled the collection plates? I was doing a little research this week about wealth and how often the subject is mentioned in the Bible—and there it was. It is more direct than most--particularly more than the one about the camel being able to pass through the eye of a needle:

“Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming to you. Your wealth has rotted and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver is corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. You have lived on earth in luxury and self-indulgence. You have fattened yourselves in the day of slaughter. You have condemned and murdered the innocent one, who was not opposing you.”

 One might think that 91% of our 535 elected to the Congress of the United States would have poor people constantly in mind as they develop policies to “enrich” the lives of their constituents. They claim they are Christians. Of the 293 Republicans in Congress, 291 profess they are Christians and two are Jews. Of the 242 Democrats in Congress, 204 say they are Christians. Among the other 38, Democrats claim 28 Jews, three Buddhists, three Hindus, two Muslims, one Unitarian Universalist, and one very lonely “unaffiliated.” One could also think that 495 politicians with values based on strong Christian messages in the Bible might remember and actually follow some of the Bible verses that pertain to the human condition. After all, the poor are mentioned more than 2,000 times in the Bible, and are specifically described 446 times in 384 Bible verses. Money is mentioned 140 times, and words such as gold, silver, wealth, and references to financial “transactions” are found 2,350 times. Generally, money and wealth are castigated as the root of most or all evil. (Incidentally, the Bible has only seven references to homosexuality.)

The American Dream Is Turning Into An American Nightmare For Our Grandchildren

Will all of these Christians in the Congress be able to restore the American Dream for our young? Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts summarizes our problem better than most: “For nearly 50 years, as our country got richer—and as our families got richer, our country got richer. And then about 30 years ago our country moved in a different direction. New leadership attacked wages. They attacked pensions. They attacked health care. They attacked unions. And now we find ourselves in a very different world from the one our parents and grandparents built. We are now in a world where the rich skim more off the top in taxes and special deals, and they leave less and less for our schools, for roads and bridges, for medical and scientific research—less to build a future.”

Actually the idea of the American Dream was created in 1931 during the Great Depression by historian James Truslow Adams. He defined it as “that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone.” It was a rather bizarre idea in a time when we had 25% unemployment and most people were selling apples  while eating the grapes of wrath. But research by Stanford University indicates that 92% of the children born in 1940 had higher pretax inflation-adjusted household earnings at age 30 than their parents had at the same age. They were doing much better. Those who were earning less at 30 were usually the children of well-off executives who had married well—or had married or become doctors, lawyers, or professors.

Economic growth slowed during the late 1970’s because of shortages and high prices during the Carter energy crisis. Good well-paying jobs were harder to find. So children born in 1950 started to dream less by 1980. Then came the Ronald Reagan revolution that concentrated on “Me! Me! Me!” and “What’s in your wallet?” The greatest economic inequality experienced in American history had begun. Senator Warren gives us the who, what, and why. Unions and pensions were set on the path of destruction by Republican policies, huge tax cuts for the rich, corporate globalization, technological changes, and a terrific slowdown in educational attainment. We led the world in the 1970’s in the ratio of young adults graduating from college. At the last survey of industrialized countries we ranked 16th. Consequently only 50% of 36-year-olds today make as much money as their parents did. If the  “weeping and wailing” One Percent hadn’t hogged 99% of the profits from a doubled Gross National Product over the last 30 years, 80% of the 1980 babies would now be making more than their parents!

Civil And Economic Wisdom From Cicero Over 2,000 Years Old

Senator Marcus Tullius Cicero was an intellectual and politician of the Roman Senate before the time of Christ. We probably could use his counsel during our time of the know-nothing, crotch-grabbing, psychopathic Donald Twitter Troll. In his political treatise “On Duties” he described how we have responsibilities in each role we play. He advises as we move from role to role in our professional lives each one has specific responsibilities. As an example, the mission of all universities is to educate and it is the responsibility of professors to teach the truth. The mission of a news organization is to examine all events, particularly those that involve duplicity and deception, and tell the truth about them. Danielle Allen of Harvard University uses the lessons of Cicero in her article “How To Defend America The Indivisible”: “The mission of an American citizen is to defend America, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all…This, too, entails a dedication to truth….America looks at patterns of racial and socioeconomic residential segregation and inequalities in access to housing and transportation and seeks reinvestment in public infrastructure such as transportation and housing that will connect communities now separated. America welcomes strangers and recognizes that those who have put down roots here…have earned our regard. We can defend America the indivisible by telling the truth.” Truth has been very short, particularly in the last year.

James Lenz’s article “Will Civilization Destroy Science?” in the Star Tribune points out the varying responsibilities of citizens as they move from one role to another. Otto and Viola Schmitt were married in 1937 after he received degrees in physics and zoology and she received a degree in mathematics. They both worked at a secret laboratory for five years in the field of magnetic electronics developing sensors for our Navy that would help in the detection of Nazi submarines. Their work opened up the North Atlantic to Allied shipping that led to D-Day on June 6, 1944. They joined a research staff at the University of Minnesota in 1947 working in the field of electromagnetic properties. From this research the two played important roles in the development of medical electronic pacemakers, resulting in the establishment of Minnesota’s medical device industry that still leads the world. The industry now has 6,500 factories worldwide. Medtronics, born and raised in Minnesota but has now “headquartered” in Dublin, Ireland, to hide profits in a tax haven, employs 98,000 and has annual revenues of  $31 billion. Otto and Viola devoted their lives to science, working in University of Minnesota research labs for over 40 years. Otto never got rich from his 63 patents, although he invented a circuit known as the Schmitt Trigger which is used in almost all computers. Many of his ideas are incorporated in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines.

The Difference Between Science And Business

Look what research and development out of University of Minnesota labs staffed by competent scientists has done just for the field of medicine and the economy in 70 years. But today corporations are not interested in long-term gains. Business CEOs seem interested only in next-quarter profits, not for what the business will be in 10 years. Mergers and acquisitions are greater than ever. The U.S. had 7,507 publicly traded corporations in 1997. We now have only 3,500, most of them interested only in returning money to ravenous shareholders and CEOs--and then hoarding cash in tax havens instead of investing in America. They are not investing in research and development that could enhance the society it operates in—and their bottom lines. We must prepare for a time when science has created a situation that was described, fallaciously (but probably accurately) by management consultant Warren Bemis: “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching the equipment.” Actually manufacturing is still a large sector of the U.S. economy (tied with the finance sector)—but employs far fewer workers than in the past.

Business and government must get over its short-term thinking about next quarter profits. The robots are multiplying fast. We must remember the question asked by a president of a union after he was shown a plant that used robots in the manufacture of car engines. After the manager bragged about the automated assembly line, the union president asked him: “How many cars are these robots going to buy this year?”  Corporations must think long-term to survive. It’s quite evident that Sears-Roebuck, K-Mart, and Macy’s didn’t. Research and development demand long-term support if we are going to depend on inventions and innovations that add to the economy like the basic research conducted by Otto and Viola Schmitt.

What, in the end, is the ultimate goal of the scientific community? It is to serve the common good. We are presently funding stadiums, coaches, and athletic directors who coach 100 players for our short-term entertainment instead of R&D. Most players will major in “Sports Management” because they only think of advancing to the National Football League. Billions of dollars are spent on the Roman Empire Syndrome for the Masses instead of basic research. Priorities, priorities..