6.7.09

Part of the Solution: Stop Hoarding


Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, your heart will be also.

Most of us would condone a savings account. Most of us would condone a 401k. Most of us would actually greatly approve of winning the lottery and receiving yearly payouts in figures comprising, oh, six digits at least. And most of us wouldn’t mind stashing at least some of that under the mattress. Or in the sock drawer.

And why not? After all, it’s like Donna Summer said, she works hard for the money. And so do we. So hard for it honey. And if we’re toiling away (some harder than others, admittedly), wiping the sweat off our brows, don’t we have a right to tuck some of those earnings away, securing for ourselves a stable financial future? Don’t we then have a right to a secure life? Dave Ramsey and Suze Orman say we do, as well as the CEOs of other financial investment firms - some of whom believed in it so much themselves that they decided their own financial security was a heck of a lot more important than their little peon investors’ (many of them now having to dine dumpster-side, ala carte).

Anyway, I’ve been thinking lately about how much money there actually is in the world to go around. Governments only print so much you know. They really can’t just print currency willy nilly. Well, one government that I can think of tried it, then people stood in lines just to pay one million Mark for a loaf of bread. It didn’t work out as planned.

So if the amount of money floating around on the planet is limited, and people (or even nations) are hoarding large percentages of it by way of investments and assets (like, say, the yacht sitting in the St. Tropez harbor) in order to secure their livelihood and future, then others will obviously be left to contend with a less bright future, or even present. This Ponzi scheme we have all heard about is a prime example. One man decides his existential security can only come through something like 65 billion dollars, leaving scads of people to fight for their very existence while they make do with food stamps. There’s only so much to go around, and if a small minority hogs it, then a larger majority loses. And that always hurts.

I realize that my thinking is simple. It’s been a long time since I took economics in high school. And I realize that my thinking might sound a bit, um, social, a curse word in America for sure. But, to myself, I have begun to explain a lot of the world’s problems through this lens. Oppression simply always comes as the price for someone’s security gain, leaving a trail of food banks, human rights violations, and, sometimes, even graves in their wake.

What are we to do?

Well, I think we need to find out security in other places. And I think God might be a good place to start. He was, after all, the one who said that we should watch how He feeds the birds, and that we shouldn’t worry because we are worth even more than they are. Call me an idealist, but I’m thinking that if we find our true, spiritual security in God, then we might be more willing to liquidate our assets and spread the existential security more evenly.

Not that that’s easy. And certainly not that I’m an example. I hoard in my own wacky ways. Just the other day, at Goodwill, I totally snatched up that brand new with tags West Elm woven hyacinth throw pillow. That pillow had my name all over it, and I wanted it for our family room. Did we actually need it? No. (Does anyone, really?) But now it rests beautifully on our family room armchair. And beauty is something I need to make me feel secure. So I hoard things from Goodwill that maybe other people need more than I do, at that price particularly. Maybe it would help if I found more beauty in God’s creation, instead of my own? Maybe I would feel more secure observing the birds and stuff?

Maybe it’s worth a try?

Anyway, for this week’s Part of the Solution, I don’t have any facts or figures for you. I don’t have any bullet points with steps to take. Just some musings and thoughts to hopefully start a dialogue about where our true security comes from, and how that might be an effective, long term remedy for our planet’s ills.



13 comments:

  1. In theory, money saved in a bank is used by banks to lend, which, if loaned to someone who doesn't have 200000 laying around, enables them to buy a house. If it's to a business, it is used to allow a business to put more people to work.

    In fact, Japan brought themselves out of a very tough situation (losing a World War) by encouraging saving.

    I'm not saying nobody should give to the poor, of course, but I am saying that saving does have positive benefits for those in the lower and middle classes.

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  2. James, thanks for your comment. I agree that savings can certainly be a benefit to lower and middle classes. I've just been thinking lately that saving (and spending) can turn into hoarding, when we're saving money we don't actually need or tying up that capital in stuff we don't need - perhaps we're robbing someone of the chance to have something they actually need. For example, to achieve the American dream one must have a house. A big house. But, to afford the mortgage payments on said big house, two to three jobs must be worked. Now, what if a smaller, more afordable house had been purchased? Either in cash or with a much lower mortgage? Then perhaps only one job would be needed, freeing up two other jobs for those who need them. This is only one example of my line of thinking lately. And these are just thoughts. Not answers or even completely formulated opinions,but thoughts.

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  3. Based on that explanation, I see where you are coming from, and I agree. In fact, my wife and I took a much cheaper house than the mortgage company offered us, specifically because we wanted to just have one income, which is what we are doing (she works a few hours a week while the kids are in school, but we are not dependent on her to work, as you point out. Besides, as a physical therapist, she's working in a field where demand is so high that she is helping the problem, not putting anyone out of work).

    It sounds like a digression, but it's not. I saw quite a few people over the last few years get caught up in the "I have to work two jobs because of my mortgage and two car payments" mentality, and it's like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.

    I thought from your first post that you were one who was saying that everyone should just give all their excess to the poor, and not save anything. Some people believe that and say it, not realizing that if everyone did that, we'd have more poor people, not less.

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  4. Hey, I randomly found your blog today and I'm glad that I did. Very interesting stuff. I'm a conservative blogger and seminary student in Chicago (rjmoeller.com). Keep up the good work!

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  5. i've been thinking about things like this lately, and sometimes i think, "oh, the world will think i'm crazy." but then maybe i would be doing something right. i'm naive and young and don't really know much, but i'm beginning to realize more that we are all one people as a whole, rather than individual countries. shane claiborne said in his book "the irresistible revolution" that he doesn't believe that God made too many people and not enough stuff, and i think that is such a good point. thank you for continuing to stir up my mind about how i should be living my life in the future! it's such an important thing to do in a world overflowing with material excess.

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  6. I don't think we should pit savings against hoarding; although there is one can spring from the other.

    It's also God honoring to invest in the arts. Beauty is part of the Kingdom of God.

    I think the reason the Bible doesn't offer us percentages and principles is that God wants us to wrestle with out hearts and determine what true generosity and sacrificial giving means for each individual.

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  7. Now, what would a parody of a George Harrison song have to say about that? Here's the answer.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_m6qC6FCiY0

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  8. James you said I thought from your first post that you were one who was saying that everyone should just give all their excess to the poor, and not save anything. Some people believe that and say it, not realizing that if everyone did that, we'd have more poor people, not less. and i have to totally disagree.

    That is EXACTLY what Jesus told us to do. Jesus and his disciples did not save anything. When he sent them out he told them not even to bring a change of clothes. Jesus never, ever preached anything even closely resembling what we as Americans think is the ideal thing to do with our money. We literally are supposed to give everything we have.

    If we as a church followed this, we wouldn't have "more poor people" because we'd be providing for eachother. Jesus wanted NO one to be poor, and no one would be if we all shared. Sounds crazy right? Well God's wisdom is supposed to sound foolish to the world, that's what makes it so awesome. If our ways with handling money look just like the worlds ways than something is seriously wrong.

    James, I highly suggest you check out some of Shane Clairborne's books, especially his new one, "Jesus for President", I really think it would challenge you.

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  9. I disagree with you about Jesus saying we should give everything away. There's hoarding, which is sinful, and there's wisely saving, and there's nothing wrong with that. Like I said, it benefits more poor and lower-working class people when the ones with excess do some saving.

    Then there's that parable of the talents.

    I heard a long talk by Claiborne once. Not my cup of tea.

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  10. I have recently been flipping out. My job ends in 8 weeks. My lease ends in 8 weeks. And I'm an English major.
    There's room for worry, for sure. And I had a serious conversation with God about His goodness. If I've trusted Him before, if He's taken me this far, He'll still be good. And I should always trust Him more than money. For real.

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  11. I think the problem with this entire line of thinking is the assumption that we are playing a zero sum game. You have forgotten basic economics if you think, in America, for you to have more somebody else must have less. History tells us different. If there was only so much wealth to go around the world could not sustain a growing population. We can make wealth. America does it every day. What we need in America is not more givers, its more doers. Where you have opportunity you should take advantage of it.

    That being said I think as Christians we should give sacrificially. The most responsible thing we can do is to give all we can while actively participating in the greatest wealth producing system the world has ever seen. God provides for animals by providing a habitat suitable to sustain life. The ones who won't or can't hunt still die.

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  12. Kim,

    I take you to mean that saving money isn't bad, but hoarding tangible assets (ie treasure, or stuff). As James points out, saved money is lent at interest for mortgages and businesses. Of course there are other ways to capitalize businesses and homeownership, and we should consider participating in those.

    Emily,

    Thanks for your radical witness to the life (and kenotic death and resurrection) and teachings of Jesus. If He embodied full and abundant life, and He did that without the first material possession, what can we do but pick up our crosses and follow him?

    James,

    You offer three counterpoints to Emily. On your first point, Jesus doesn't ever teach His disciples how to save and invest; He does constantly teach and exemplify a life of really uncomfortable sacrifice. On your second point (and also @Chris), saving does indeed trickle down a little bit to the working class, but this isn't what Jesus prescribes for the blight of poverty. And third, come on, the talents? Why do you qualify and spiritualize the straightforward utterances of Jesus about wealth, and take as normative the example used in the parable of the talents? Help me out here.

    Anyway, Kim, good article. I hope we're all part of the solution, or at least part of the precipitate.

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  13. I've been out of town, so my reply may not be seen, but here goes:

    Obviously, I know the point of the parable of the talents wasn't about saving vs. spending or giving. But in course of the story, it seems apparent that wise investment of funds was a good thing.

    As for the original point, I meant to say that money saved isn't just about being loaned to people; it's loaned to businesses which either buy new equipment, hire more people, build some new facilities, or something similar. All these actions result in new jobs. This ends up benefitting hard-working people in the lower- to middle-income ranges. If we didn't save money, a lot of people would suffer. That's not hoarding. It's wise investing. This is economics 101. Some don't like it, but it's reality.

    Jesus clearly told us to give to the poor, and give we should. But in the present Western system, if everyone gave all they had and didn't save anything, the result would be economic disaster for those who need the most help.

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