When the Dollar is the Bottom Line

Some news items, all from this past week:

(1) Richest 1 percent of Americans are collecting biggest share of household income since the ‘20s

“In 2012, the incomes of the top 1 percent rose nearly 20 percent compared with a 1 percent increase for the remaining 99 percent….. Economists point to several reasons for widening income inequality. In some industries, U.S. workers now compete with low-wage labor in China and other developing countries. Clerical and call-center jobs have been outsourced to countries such as India and the Philippines. Increasingly, technology is replacing workers in performing routine tasks. And union power has dwindled. The percentage of American workers represented by unions has dropped from 23.3 percent in 1983 to 12.5 percent last year, according to the Labor Department.”

(2) Left With Nothing 

“On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb. Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go. All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill. …..

As the housing market soared, the investors scooped up liens in every corner of the city, then started charging homeowners thousands in legal fees and other costs that far exceeded their original tax bills, with rates for attorneys reaching $450 an hour….. One 65-year-old flower shop owner lost his Northwest Washington home of 40 years after a company from Florida paid his back taxes — $1,025 — and then took the house through foreclosure while he was in hospice, dying of cancer. A 95-year-old church choir leader lost her family home to a Maryland investor over a tax debt of $44.79 while she was struggling with Alzheimer’s in a nursing home.”

(3) The Cost of Cash, for the Rich and the Poor

“It’s easy to forget that cash is costly to access, until you’re paying an A.T.M. fee or spending time riding a bus to a check-cashing window when you could have been working. Now, a study published on Monday morning has quantified the cost of cash, and who gets hit the hardest. The unsurprising answer: low-income people. …. The reason for the difference is that wealthier people and lower-income people tend to access cash differently. Wealthier people are more likely to have bank accounts, which means that they can visit an A.T.M. run by their bank without paying a fee; the same goes for cashing checks. Lower-income people, meanwhile, disproportionately use check-cashing services, which are known for their high add-on charges. Plus, employers have started compensating low-paid, hourly workers with prepaid cards that come with huge fees.”

(4) GE, IBM Ending Retiree Health Plans in Historic ShiftThis is who we are becoming as a nation. 

“America’s biggest employers, from GE to IBM, are increasingly moving retirees to insurance exchanges where they select their own health plans, an historic shift that could push more costs onto U.S. taxpayers.”

All of the above ought to make us think about what kind of country we’re becoming and where all of this is going to take us in the future.  Luke 16:13 puts God’s challenge to us this way: 13 “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”

When we value $ over people, then we value $ over God’s commandments.  All of these news stories should make us wonder whether this is becoming the case here.  Don’t get me wrong, I know there are lots of people who have good hearts and who do care for and help others.  But when the “money worshipper mindset” becomes too acceptable, the whole society is at risk, because that’s when the $ can too easily become the bottom line in defining our values. That’s when the $ becomes the ultimate result of what we’re all about, when the $ becomes the main theme of how we live our lives. It doesn’t happen all at once, but the mindset just kind of seeps into our everyday lives, through the constant barrage of advertisements, telling us we need things that we certainly don’t, through shows continually suggesting that we really do need more and more stuff, like I always feel after watching HGTV, through the constant parading of the “rich and famous” as smart people who we should admire and emulate, and the constant portrayal of poverty as the fault of the poor, and so on and so on.

The news items above make me think that our country is becoming the Ferengi of the world.  For those of you who are not Star Trek fans, the Ferengi are a race of unscrupulous people who will do anything for $, described as “greedy, misogynistic, untrustworthy little trolls.”

I once threatened to write a book about how our values become twisted when the $ is the bottom line. Here’s a start:  When the $ is the bottom line, pharmaceuticals and health care, good schools and healthy food– necessities for people to live whole and healthy lives–are abundantly available to those with abundant $,  and difficult to attain for those with little $– and no wrong is seen in this.

Maybe you’d like to share some examples of what you see happening when the $ is the bottom line.