Acton Notes - President's Message

A widespread assumption among people who associate with the religious left is that the rich are not in good standing with God, and therefore society should expropriate some portion of their wealth and share it with everyone else. That is part of the idea behind the Occupy Wall Street movement too.

But is it true? We only need to look at the parable of the talents to see that the Bible is more focused on the means and motives behind amassing wealth than the wealth itself. The master gives a certain number of resources to three servants and watches to see what they do with the resources. The one who invests it and brings back far more than the other enjoys the most praise.

This is a parable, so its primary purpose is not to teach economics or investment lessons. Nonetheless, an embedded presumption in the story is that the increasing and building wealth is not necessarily evil. It might even be praiseworthy. What about other Gospel teachings that seem to suggest that wealth comes with dangers? Again, we need to take a balanced look at this. Materialism is a problem that can afflict all classes in society.

Rather than issue blanket condemnations of wealth - which strike me as unjustified - we might consider the obligations that are attendant on everyone who lives amidst material plenty. We have an obligation to give to the poor. We must support our houses of worship. We should plan well for the future rather than merely consuming for the day. We must always be honest and truthful in our business dealings.

None of these moral strictures obligate states to pursue massive European-like wealth redistribution schemes. Too often, this ends up only feeding an overfed political and bureaucratic class at the expense of everyone else, whether rich or poor.

The Occupy movement should be focused on expanding opportunity for everyone in society rather than just taking money from one group in a pointless exercise of envy. At the Acton Institute, we believe in this opportunity society so that the one percent can eventually become the one hundred percent. Thank you for supporting our work.

Rev. Robert Sirico, President