The Common Good

Is it Really Better -- Even Financially -- to Give than to Receive?

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100304_051214_arrests_0053Whatever your political affiliation and opinions on health-care reform (really, just put them aside for a moment), I hope you'll consider the questions Jim raised in his important blog post on war, health care, poverty, and debt.

Our current situation reminds me of a peaceful protest a few years ago in Washington, D.C., in which I was arrested along with Jim and about a hundred others, including sage activist Mary Nelson. I remember before our arrest Mary delivering a fiery "sermon on the sidewalk" where she said something like this:

We're reversing the inspired words of Mary, the mother of Jesus, in Luke 1:53. We're sending the poor away hungry and filling the rich with more and more good things!

After I had been handcuffed, the police officer who was escorting me to the transport van asked, "You people are really polite. What's this protest about?"

I replied, "We're protesting that we're cutting taxes for the rich and cutting services for the poor."

He replied, "Wow. That's great. Somebody in this town has to stand up for the poor. Thanks for what you're doing!"

Reading Jim's piece also brought back to mind the old trickle-down economic theory on which the Republican tax cuts were based: invest in the rich and the poor will be helped automatically. Shouldn't we re-evaluate how effective that huge "investment in the rich" has turned out in light of the investment banking crisis and the ensuing economic crash? We not only invested hundreds of billions in the richest Americans via tax cuts, but then we bailed out their investments with hundreds of billions more. This strikes me as a time to scrutinize a lot of our old economic platitudes in light of what reality has been trying to teach us in the last couple years.

Could it be that the rich would benefit more in the long term from wise investment in the poor than by investment in themselves? Could it be that to compute the full cost of the tax cuts for the rich, we should include the costs of bailing out the big banks and other financial institutions in which their tax cuts were invested? Could it be that it is actually better -- even financially -- for our richest people to give than to receive? I know it sounds crazy. But sometimes the foolishness of God turns out -- on balance sheets, even -- to be wiser than the wisdom of human beings.

Brian McLarenBrian McLaren is an author and speaker whose new book is A New Kind of Christianity: Ten Questions That Are Transforming the Faith.

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