Of Plutocrats and Christmas Trees
There is no such thing as a “self-made” millionaire. Of course there are many creative people who have used their talents and skills to be innovative and to grow very rich in the process. Many like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs have created amazing products and services that have made our lives much easier and in turn, these have made them exceedingly rich. But a few years ago Forbes Magazine published an article on “Rags to Riches Billionaires” in which the claim is that billionaires “made their fortunes from scratch, relying on grit and determination, and not good genes” (Forbes Magazine 2007). The assumption was that you don’t need anyone, or anything else when you have the brilliant talent of a self-made millionaire!
But this argument overlooks some fundamental issues that these billionaires need to acknowledge before they proudly promote themselves beholden to no one but their own ingenuity. Although many are college dropouts, all of them enjoyed the privilege of school systems that taught them to read and write. All of them lived in nations where there was respect for law and order. Their nations enjoyed the protection of an independent judiciary where their business contracts and patents would be protected and enforced. They had access to a health system and to nutrition that ensured their personal well-being. They were indeed, blessed of the Lord long before they became rich. Without all these invisible assets they would never have been able to succeed.
In a recent book, political commentator Chrystia Freeland tells of her interviews with some of the wealthiest 0.1 percent in the world. In “Plutocrats: The Rise of the New Global Rich and the Fall of Everyone Else” she provides interesting insights into the arrogance of some of the super-rich who see themselves as deserving victors in a cut-throat world. Many of her subjects look down on the poor who should have “picked themselves up by their bootstraps” and made something of their lives (as they had done). The plutocrats portray a sense of persecution for their wealth, comparing the Occupy Wall street movement attack on them to the Kristallnacht attacks where Hitler persecuted the Jews (Politico, 2014). In the meantime their enormous wealth obtains political influence for them, and this in turn begets even more wealth and while the super-rich get very much richer the poor get very much poorer.
According to a recent Oxfam report the wealth of the richest 1% in the world will overtake the combined wealth of the other 99% of the global population by 2016 (Oxfam, 2016). This explosion in inequality comes at a time when 1 in 9 people don’t not have enough to eat and more than a billion people live on less than $1.25-a-day.
This brings me to my Christmas tree analogy. There’s a significant difference between a Christmas tree and a grape vine. It would be absurd of a Christmas tree to boast about the gifts that hang from its branches, or about the splendor of its decorations. These shiny trappings do not reflect on the quality of the tree, but on the wealth and creativity of the householder who decorated the tree. Grapevines are different. The quality of their fruit is directly related to the quality of the vine. Unfortunately the so-called “self-made millionaire” is more like a Christmas tree and not a grapevine. The wealth is not “self-made”; it is bestowed.
“Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth” (Deuteronomy 8:16-18 English Standard Version). We are what we are by GRACE. Whatever assets we may possess, be it wealth, influence, intelligence, good looks or the talent to make beautiful music, we need to remember that we are custodians of the assets the Lord has entrusted to us.
Let us use our assets wisely and allow the grace of God to produce the fruit of gentleness, love and kindness in our character.