The Curse is Upon You Rich!?
"It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of heaven." Jesus does not shrink from clear words, neither in Matthew's Gospel, addressed to the disciples after the brief dialogue with the rich young man who sadly slinks away nor in the provocative field speech in Luke. There the Son of God and Son of Man formulates his critique of society even more outrageously: "Woe betide you, you rich, because you have no longer to expect any consolation!"
But who wants to hear that? It is long since customary to dismiss in a blasé way such unpleasant truth as "envy debate", as if Jesus had been the greatest envious sod of mankind when he had a serious talk with people. If not as denigration, today such a lecture would at best be tolerated as public insult by a man who had not the faintest idea of economic laws. An unworldly Jesus who in the relevant talk-shows would be easily made the laughing-stock by the financial and economic experts: Look, that - economically stupid - man there!
No wonder that already early in Church history the repression began. Jesus' uncomfortable words about wealth and the wealthy belong to the most tabooed ones of the "Good" message. Not only the people likes to ignore them, particularly lastingly also its leaders, whether in the feudal-secular or feudal-sacral office. Today's financially powerful wellness-success preachers of Protestant mega-churches are in no way inferior to the Cardinal families and prince-bishops of the past.
In decisive issues one even as an average earner cannot do much with that message of Jesus for one's life. We are no longer like he was under the impression of the imminent Second Coming of Christ, i.e. under the "superstition" that God's rule begins immediately. Already for 2000 years Jesus' disciples have had to accept that the earthly life simply goes on as before, so that you have to make provisions in order not to perish. When God's salvation is not forthcoming, who then can blame us that we with the help of our banks take care of a little welfare?
Billionaires - God's Chosen People?
The theology on poverty nevertheless remained a constant stumbling block. Religious communities, for example, which got rich, obsessed with showing off and arrogant from time to time had to go through the radical fire of renunciation in order to become spiritually, with the help of reforms, once again able to survive. But the worldly man is no monk. Where are the healthy balances or limits for us?
Sometimes even theology did not exactly know that - and played many a trick on itself. In Calvinism e.g. the theology of total poverty before God's grace turned into a theology of wealth of earthly goods. How? The sociologist Max Weber has tried to explain it: Man who is only by grace predestined to eternal salvation wants to experience here on earth whether the happiness of heaven or the misfortune of damnation will meet him. But what can you judge it by? There is an indicator: well-being, economic success. The efficient person is therefore the saved one. So it becomes understandable when psychology hurries to the assistance of anxious man in order to improve the earthly success rates, so that the eternal success can already now be seen from them: Through efficiency you achieve grace that does not depend on performance [leistungsfrei]. For Weber there is no long path from the faith in predestination to the U.S. capitalism, from the spirit of Christianity to the spirit of modern economy.
According to that view the millionaires and billionaires could regard themselves as God's particularly chosen ones, as his favourite children. The immense capacities of global financial mobility, electronically pulsated in fractions of seconds around the globe, make it possible that not a few people can by now actually also materially live on pure grace, on pure doing nothing. For money from a certain amount almost automatically increases - by speculation, administration that you best leave to others. Just as the physical gravity attracts mass and with compressed mass develops even stronger forces of attraction, from a certain amount wealth potentizes itself of its own accord.
It is interesting that most of the super-rich still live in the economically most successful Christian cultural area - and that their numbers are sharply rising, while other civilizations, especially Japan, China, India, South Korea and the Arab countries are considerably catching up. On its business page the "Zeit" (September 4th) threw light on that special global 'growth' phenomenon: According to that currently 1200 billionaires live in the world with a fortune of in all 4.400 billion dollars, compared with the previous year a fourfold increase. In addition there are eleven million millionaire households. "A new class has emerged: Children of globalization, rich beyond all measure." And very young! In order to be able at least a little to assess the dimensions of the unimaginable it has been worked out that such a super-rich had to spend e.g. for parties, meals, sports, journeys ... every hour about 200.000 dollars just to avoid to become even richer. Even stock-market crashes or snowballing prices make no difference to those people. They have so much money that it doesn't matter to them at all whether a petrol filling of their luxury yacht costs 60.000 or 600.000 euros.
"Spiegel Online" notes: "The trend is that the assets of the very rich households worldwide have increased more than those of the less wealthy households. And the assets are still extremely unequally distributed.
0.8 percent of all households are millionaire households - but they hold 35 percent of the worldwide managed assets." With the wealthy the "Christian" West is at the top, led by the United States. There there are about 3.1 million millionaires. Japan follows with almost 800.000, then in Europe Britain with more than half a million, Germany with about half a million. France and Italy follow. Outside Europe the "poor", "Catholic" Brazil has enormously caught up with more than two million millionaire families. Orthodox Russia too improves from year to year. Meanwhile more than 130.000 millionaires live there, in Hindu India more than 140.000. Communist China outdoes most states of the capitalist West with nearly 400.000 millionaires. Compared to the rather small population the Arab oil States are the richest of all.
That means: Regardless of religion, of spiritually moulded asceticism-ideals the greed for wealth increases on an unimaginable scale in the civilizations shaped by Christianity, Islam, Hinduism or Buddhism and Confucianism. Still the so-called elites almost exclusively gain by the material thrust. The traditional economic idea that wealth sometime will somehow trickle through downwards - the speech is of the "trickle-down effect" - proves to be outdated, a heresy. The exponentially growing power of those at the top is accompanied by a permanent expropriation of the financially weaker. Within the major economic systems special economic cycles develop which scarcely any longer communicate with the whole, where wealth basically only serves wealth and outwardly intensifies displacement processes.
He who has little gets less and less in real purchasing power and real assets. The richer can occupy for themselves more and more: from educational opportunities over estates to residential property. The especially fatal thing is, however, that wealth does not only make luxury goods, in which anyway only the richest are interested, more expensive. On the contrary, inflationary outbidding and high yield expectations have also an effect on simple basic products for people. The massive global increases just in food prices are also due to the fact that food companies expect higher profits while simultaneously cutting back resources, that is, areas under cultivation. For one meanwhile prefers to invest in agro-industrial complexes, which for example grow crops for fuel and let expect corresponding profits. Against it, the mere food agriculture is neglected in many parts of the world, because the big investment firms there do not expect the big money and therefore do not invest anything there.
Some economists suspect that we globally have less to do with a poverty than with a wealth problem. Capital is distributed in a way that it evades the justice of performance and the justice of opportunity. Admittedly it says that performance must be worth it and that mere redistribution was economic nonsense, because it paralyzes one's own initiative and brings people up to passivity. But de facto we long since find ourselves up against a redistribution of gigantic proportions - less from the very bottom to the top than from the middle to the very top. The richest therefore have the benefit of an economically absurd redistribution policy, as it is a reality. That's why the richest need no longer perform anything and can, in pure passivity, let their money "work".
When the Middle Shrinks
The "Zeit" says about that: "Many causes, one effect: All over the world the middle is shrinking while the extremes are growing: poor and rich." But that means that the conventional middle-classes, which sustain our democratic societies and take care of the necessary equalization of burdens, are gradually waning. The Hamburg weekly refers to studies by the American economist Robert H. Frank according to which "by their frantic urge to spend the maximum wage earners drive the middle classes into a corner". Upper average income earners already
A different side is the excessive addiction to showing off and the intoxicating feasting among the new "elites". There already milieu contrasts build up among the rich themselves. On the one hand there are still - at least in parts - the old rich orientated towards culture and moral, but on the other hand the almost vulgar plebeian climber types without decency, morality and education increasingly gain in influence. While the millionaires of yesterday do not seldom personally live modestly and as responsible entrepreneurs try to invest their money so that it creates jobs with good salaries, the new type of super-rich squanders its exponentially increased income by pure luxury consumption: party, party, party with celebrities, celebrities, celebrities. Such nouveaux riches buy, among other things, football clubs with football millionaires for their own prestige, as a hobby, like a model railway. Bread and Games - while the people is being calmed? But how long does such a game work - both, for the players and their secret or hysterical admirers?
A psychotherapist of the super-rich, Byram Karasu, says about that trend: "The problem begins for many after the first five billion: What is the meaning of life? Initially, the only purpose was to get to the very top. Then the earning of more and more money becomes a game ... I reconcile them with themselves, with their wealth and with their mortality."
Even the impressive foundation boom with which many rich put up a memorial to their philantropy is meanwhile viewed sceptically. Quoted is Thomas Druyen, the Düsseldorf researcher on the wealthy, who praises the "economy of generosity" but suspects: "If we were able in Germany to obtain an optimal philanthropic readiness, it will be no more than ten percent of the income. With it we cannot compensate for the social problems."
That is probably the decisive reason for the current political unrest in many wealthy countries. In Germany that is reflected in the fragmentation of the party political scene and in the factional disputes in the once large people's parties. The loss of the middle has begun in many places. To regain it is the urgent, great topic not only of the social democracy, which is just experiencing severe turbulences. It is the same problem of our Christian democracy, which, judged by its heydays went down in such a way that it hardly gets beyond meagre 35 percent at the federal level. A grand coalition would have had the chance to look not only after a new centre but to draw up a new policy for the old centre. Such time windows do not open for too long a time.
Indeed, the at the beginning mentioned uncomfortable words of Jesus remain also topical for practical politics, as well as the no less tabooed statement in Article 14, paragraph 2: "Property obliges" of the Basic Law, which has been formulated in responsibility before God and men. In detail: "Its use is also to serve the welfare of the general public." The success of the economic, financial and social policy will more and more depend on that article of the Basic Law.
The social question has long since broken down national borders. How social market economy can be globally realized under changed conditions - that is the great challenge of national and international politics. On it increasingly depends the inner as well as outer peace. Globalization is no fate. The allegedly unchangeable economic laws are no laws of nature. They are man-made and drawn up - like all other political laws as well. So it will remain exciting how world foreign, world financial and world trade policy come together and change into a real world social policy. To continue to promote the totally overheated, dreadful state of affairs of excessive billionaires and millionaires cannot be the goal of a sound policy. Its centre remains the honest citizen oriented towards performance and willing to educate himself who supports democracy. It is him who is to earn decent money by decent work, because he wants to live decently and in no way indecently to feast, let alone to laze about.