It disturbs me when fellow conservatives make insensitive comments about the poor. Many of them are too busy making money to read much history, but, if they did, they would know that Marie Antoinette did not live long after she dismissively said, “Let them eat cake!”, when told the peasants had no bread. Whether or not she really did say that is irrelevant – people believed she said it and she soon had an appointment with Madame Guillotine!
128 years later the Russian Revolution began with a bread riot in the capital Petrograd (now Saint Petersburg). Both the Bourbons and the Romanovs lost their thrones.
It’s the height of arrogance for us to think that, because we have supposedly matured to a better form of government, it cannot happen here. When people are hungry, they won’t care about constitutional niceties. If they are not fed, they will get violent and will then turn on those with the food.
Marie Antoinette might have survived if she had been familiar with the economic Rule of Inequality, an economic law by which you can accurately predict the likelihood of civil disturbance right up to and including revolution. Simplified, what it says is that the greater the gap between rich and poor, the more likely revolution becomes. And, if there’s a revolution, the wealthy will lose everything, so the wealthy do have a definite interest in the welfare of the poor.
A nineteenth century Conservative leader of Great Britain saw this clearly. Benjamin Disraeli wrote the novel “Sybil; or the Two Nations” in 1845. He was extremely concerned about the increasing gap between the haves and the have-nots. Disraeli showed that Conservatives can do a great deal to help the poor.
China has tried to address this problem. Frightened at the prospect of revolution as the wealthy rather vulgarly display their wealth in front of peasants who barely eke out a living. The Chinese government is trying to rectify the imbalance.
The only industrialized nation in the world that has a wider gap between rich and poor is the United States. Yet, in the last election, the issue of poverty was not even addressed.
Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, sounded rather like the late decapitated French queen when he talked of the “47%”, the voters who depend on government, saying they would never vote for him. Even the Democratic leader, the current president, had nothing positive to say about the poor. They are largely forgotten.
The United States and China are not the only countries with this problem. It is a worldwide phenomenon that has already caused riots and revolutions in some countries.
Jesus Christ said: “the poor you will always have with you” (Matthew 26:11). That’s very true. The Rule of Inequality refers, rather, to the widening gap between rich and poor, a gap we see widening with almost every announcement on the economy.
As a fiscal conservative, I do believe government should live within its means. But if, as some suggest, government programs like food stamps, WIC (food for Women, Infants and Children), Medicare for the elderly and Medicaid for the really poor, are abolished or greatly reduced, this could trigger off the revolution Marie Antoinette did not see coming!
Put bluntly, abolishing food stamps will mean riots in the streets of our big cities. Again, that’s how the world’s worst revolution started, in Russia in February 1917.
This does not mean, either, that government programs are the best way to alleviate poverty. The New Republic magazine showed two decades ago that the Salvation Army is far more cost-effective in caring for the poor, than is the federal government.
But that’s a separate issue. The reality is that the poor do need help – or we will all suffer the consequences.
Conservative churches in the United States never seem to address this issue. They tend to focus on abortion and same-sex marriage, both of which are unbiblical. But they should remember that a major reason for God’s condemnation of ancient Israel and a reason why He let their nations be brought down, was because they exploited and neglected the poor. Maybe a reason why churches won’t address this issue is because too many of their members are involved in exploitation – people who appease their conscience by making generous donations to the church!
Note the following condemnation of supposedly dedicated people who fast, but oppress the poor while they fast. “You seem eager for God to come near you. Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Yet is not this the kind of fasting I, your Lord, have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice…to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe them?” (Isaiah 58: 2-7).
Also note: Prov. 14:31 Anyone who oppresses the poor is insulting God who made them. To help the poor is to honor God.
One way in which the poor are exploited is through usury. Millions of people are heavily in debt. It’s too easy to say that they brought it on themselves. It would be better to look at what the Bible says. What many Christians do not realize is that usury, the charging of interest, is condemned in the Bible. “If one of your brethren becomes poor, and falls into poverty among you, then you shall help him…Take no usury or interest from him….” (Leviticus 25:35-36). In stark contrast to this biblical instruction, our cities are full of “Cash Advance” stores that charge exorbitant rates of interest. The more interest people have to pay on loans, the less money they have to spend, hence the recession!
It wasn’t until 1694 that a Christian country, England, allowed interest to be charged, when the Bank of England was founded. Before that, Christians were not involved in banking. That was the preserve of Jews. This practice often led to pogroms against the Jews. In York, England, in 1190, all the Jews in the city were killed, when town officials stirred up the people in order to get out from under their own debt obligations.
Today, we see people’s debts constantly rising. Student loan debt is at an all-time high. Many students will never be able to pay off their debt and will never be able to buy a house, marry or start a family. In spite of this, our society encourages people to get deeper into debt.
What’s needed is a biblical Year of Jubilee. The peoples of ancient Israel were instructed to cancel all debts once every fifty years. You can read about this in the Book of Leviticus, chapter 25. The result of the Year of Jubilee was that nobody could become too wealthy or too poor. Instead of the Year of Jubilee, we have a depression or a recession approximately once every fifty years. The Great Recession of 2008 was brought on by too much debt. We have not been able to get back to where we were before 2008 and we won’t be able to until we cancel all debts.
It’s an ancient idea but it remains the best way forward for western nations today!