The Good of Affluence
Written by Douglas Wilson
Wednesday, October 27, 2010
As Rodney Stark has shown, one of the great contributions of the first Christendom was the development of free markets. And I would want to maintain that one of the great results of the next Christendom will be the restoration and preservation of them. Free markets are the economic expression of the apostolic teaching that we are to serve one another in love.
Wealth is the ability to summon the labor of another, and to enjoy the fruit of that labor. Back in the olden time, the opulent could do this by owning a bunch of slaves, or servants with no options, which meant that one man’s wealth meant another man’s lack of it. In such settings, wealth and poverty really were a zero sum game — if one person got a larger piece of pie, then somebody else got a smaller piece.
But in a system of free markets, God has given us the gift of being timeshare servants, and the privilege of being timeshare bosses. A young woman can save up her tips waiting tables, and go out with her friends to another restaurant and be waited on. We can do this because of division of labor. One guy makes roast beef sandwiches for 8 hours a day, and I can rent his service for 45 seconds of that time. Again, back in another time, getting a roast beef sandwich would have taken half the day. “In 1900, the average American spent $76 of every $100 on food, clothing and shelter. Today he spends $37” (The Rational Optimist, p. 34).
Many whiners spend a lot of time complaining about this state of affairs for some reason, and unfortunately many Christians have accepted the idea that we should express our ingratitude with a similar attitude, but in the name of Jesus. They like to use the words sustainable and Jesus in the same sentences. But Jesus Himself pointed out how easy it was for us to miss the need to give thanks (Luke 17:17-18). All political and economic wisdom must begin with true gratitude.