Wednesday, October 2, 2013

The Distribution of Wealth: Is the Game Rigged?

I read about the wide disparities in wealth distribution in these United States these days and I am chagrined.

The old arguments about how things have always been (as if that’s conclusive proof that they must ever be thus, as if slavery wasn’t abolished, as if women weren’t once chattel and now independent agents, as if change has never happened on this planet) are like dust in my mouth.

When it comes to economic inequality, what I’m thinking is this: can things be this uneven without the game being rigged?

Don’t statistical probabilities argue against that?  Maybe not.  I can’t say for sure.

But a rigged game is something we all understand.  And hate.  At least when we’re on the receiving instead of taking end of the rig.

When it’s the other way around, the thinking seems to be:  I got mine, you get yours.

That’s not theology.

It’s crap.

Because, first of all, you/we didn’t get yours/ours.

Not you-all-by-yourself-you anyhow.

Secondly, it isn’t ‘mine’.  Never was.  Never will be.

Thirdly, if you think it’s about merit and facts and not advantages and perspective, try this one on for size:   1 in 5 families in the United States receive food stamps.  Washington Blog

What’s your own reaction to that?

If you react with distrust and the assumption that a whole lot of folks must be milking the system, I’m guessing that you don’t receive food stamps or have a family member or friend whom you both love and respect who does.

If you react with sadness that there should be so much want in our country, I’m guessing that you either receive or have received financial help yourself in the past or present or have a family member or friend whom you both love and respect who does or has.

It’s the same fact.

But the conclusions we draw from it vary widely based on our own worldviews, formed by our own experiences.

It’s the same fact.

If you view this fact as evidence of individual moral failure, I’m guessing you’ve been raised on the idea of self-sufficiency, which carries with it the assumption that the need for help is a matter of personal failure and a matter of individual shame.

If you view this fact as evidence of collective moral failure, I’m guessing you’ve been raised on the idea of communal sufficiency, which carries with it the assumption that the need for help is a matter of collective failure and a matter of collective shame.

It’s the same fact.

No matter how you understand or interpret it, it is the same fact.

Which teaches me that I need to listen to others more if I would even begin to approach meaning and understanding, for the same facts bring forth a myriad of conclusions and opinions.  Our conclusions and opinions are not facts.  They may have value, but they are not immutable.  They do not stand as laws of the universe.  And unlike facts, they can change.

Thus it is my worldview, but not necessarily fact, that the disparity in wealth in the United States today suggests the ‘game’ of wealth accumulation is rigged.  That conclusion shapes how I understand my own wealth as well as yours.

It makes me cringe, since I am largely on the receiving end of benefits I did not earn, privileges I do not merit.  It makes me challenge myself since God repeatedly reminds me that to whom much is given (and I am one to whom much has been given), much is required.  It makes me question my ‘kind’ as I listen to the language of possession be translated to the language of entitlement.

But what if I’m wrong?  What if the ‘game’ isn’t rigged?  Does that change anything?  Does it make me more entitled?  Less?  Or, I suspect, not entitled at all?  Does my earning or merit, should it exist, lessen my duty to my fellow creatures to share the bounty?  I suspect not.  (No, I know not).

Because worldview or no worldview, the fact is that my very possession suggests that the ‘game’ actually is rigged – whether it’s by accident of birth, divine providence or unfair advantage, to paraphrase John Donne, whenever the bell tolls for thee, it also tolls for me.

It might be (I stress the might) different if there weren’t enough to go around.  But there is.  And that fact alone stands as an indictment when the reality is that ‘it’ is not going around.

In that reality, I stand indicted, convicted, guilty.  How could I be otherwise?


  1. Well said...again dear sister-friend!

    It is rigged...another sad thought...those who rigged it--or at least keep it rigged--continually try to convince the rest of us that it's not. SMH