Marx wrote over 150 years ago that the capitalist system would collapse on its own in the near future, torn apart by cycles of boom and bust that would grow in intensity until the whole facade fell in. He might have been a guilty of some overstatement, or I might be guilty of misunderstanding the nuances of his central thesis. I am no economist, and certainly not a Marxist, but the latest global downturn shows no signs of abating in the near future. Recently Ireland, formerly thought to be an economic tiger, has had to come mewling to the EU for a bailout, and Portugal and Spain look set to follow suit. The American economy still struggles with plus 10% unemployment – enough to provoke a backlash at the ballot box in November – and other Western economies are not faring much better.
Yet the very rich don’t seem to be suffering much, as a recent Canadian study shows. In fact the top 1% of the rich take a whopping 30% of our country’s wealth, squeezing the middle class lower on the economic ladder. This is not the anomaly that it seems to be, but rather a return to the historic economic picture that has characterized mankind since Babylon. Those of us who have grown up in a post war world would be advised to study human economic history. The middle class, from which democracy and civil liberty arose, is a relatively new institution, and might already be passing away as suddenly as it appeared. As many of Christian liberties are tied up with civil liberty and democracy, Christians in particular ought to pay attention. To be obsessing about gay marriage and abortion policy while quite literally the farm is being sold right under our feet, is particularly near-sighted and naive. We are being played by clever politicians – the window dressing of the rich – while the store is being robbed.
I could go on, but there is plenty of information out there about this and you don’t want this sound like a screed anymore than I do. Besides, I am more interested in what the proper Christian attitude ought to be. The first thing is to realize how this will affect your children, and seek to ameliorate the damage. Know that they are being played just as you are. The distractions of sport and entertainment, the drive to buy trinkets and squander what precious little resources they have; your children are just as much under pressure to do this as you are, and they both more susceptible and less able to help themselves.
That is where our responsibility comes in. Those of you who are middle class contemporaries with us have lived through the most egalitarian economic times in all of recorded history. We have been financial comfortable in a way that this coming generation will never know. We owe it to them to help them get established. They basically have no chance otherwise. When we were starting out a house cost about a year’s gross family income. Now it is three to five times a family’s gross income. We paid the 5% necessary in downpayment to get a first mortgage without having to borrow a cent. Now the downpayment is 20%, and the house prices are astronomical. Your children will not even so much as get a foot in the door if you are not prepared to help.
Secondly there is the propaganda angle to deal with. The rich will tell you that they have made it on their own and that if our children were strong and independent they could too. But that is a huge lie. In order to get started in business the rich lean heavily on their parents who understand that they only way to be rich is to start rich. The fiercely independent young buck fighting through odds to make it in the world is just another marketing idea of the rich to keep the poor in their place. Only the poor and middle class get no help. That is why they remain poor. We have to help our children and especially help them to see through the propaganda. The Bible teaches that parents are to lay up for their children, not the children for their parents (2 Cor. 12:14). Be a Biblical parent: help your children get started in life.
Thirdly you have to teach your children the value of money. The rich buy assets with their money, the poor buy liabilities. You have to show through your example that buying assets is the way to go. Don’t indulge in trinkets yourself; be self disciplined and instruct your children to be the same. They may not listen at first and you may have to bail them out of their nonsense before they ‘get it.’ So bail them out. Presumably they have learned their lesson and are ready to choose a more rational route through life. You don’t have to leave them in poverty as punishment. Surely ‘not provoking our children to wrath’ (Eph 6:4) means helping them financially when they need it, and most importantly, not rubbing your help in their faces either.
Finally, be patient and loving. Know when to offer to help and when to be supportive. Keep strong in yourself and keep fighting to be healthy and industrious. Yes, it turns out that life is a lot longer and harder than we imagined when we were younger. ‘Do not be weary of well doing,’ since it is not only for your children that you labour, but for the Lord (Gal 6:9). Be informed about the world and the forces that are seeking your hurt and the hurt of those that you love, and be proactive in your response. Seek to educate yourself and others around you, for these are important issues and there is something for you to do. Commit yourself to be an agent of change to as many people as you can help, and may the Lord help you.