Common Good and Wealth

The Common Good & The Wealthiest People

The 2013 Forbes 400, highlighting the wealthiest people in the world is out. Although there is much that can be noted in the publication there seems to be nothing more noteworthy than how the wealthiest people are getting wealthier, the poorest are getting poorer and the gap between the two is widening. Why is this? Is it because rich people are smart and poor people are stupid? Of course not. Is it because poor people don’t have a work ethic, of course not? Then why? It is partly because we have strayed from the fundamental concepts of American Capitalism – The Common Good. In this blog I bring us back to our roots.

Adam Smith, a Scottish political economist and philosopher, wrote The Wealth of Nations in 1776. This landmark book, fully titled An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was written during the years of strife between Britain and its colonies and published the same year as the American "Declaration of Independence." The Wealth of Nations became the foremost manifesto on American capitalism.

Smith was appointed professor of logic at Glasgow University in 1751 where he became chair of moral philosophy in 1752. During his years at the school, Smith lectured in ethics, rhetoric, jurisprudence and political economy. In 1759, he published Theory of Moral Sentiments, which is often considered the psychological foundation of The Wealth of Nations. In this work, Smith explained that human beings are driven by passion, but at the same time, regulated by reason. From this observation, he concluded that human involvement in economics is "led by an invisible hand...without knowing it, to advance the interest of the society." In other words the foundation of American Capitalism was not founded upon personal greed or gain but rather upon societal advances, i.e. the common good. Whenever a select group of people feels entitled to make choices around their own comfort, convenience and preferences that have an adverse effect on the masses, that decision has become un-American.

Here in Eastern North Carolina and around our nation we are faced with a very important decision regarding investing modestly for the common good or selfishly protecting the benefit of a few. Our community failed this test recently by running off a large employer prepared to make infrastructure investment and provide jobs because a select group of individuals were more concerned about self than community. This concept of the common good does not just happen, like keeping a park free from litter depends on each user picking up after him. The common good is as old as the writings of Plato and Cicero.

G.K. Chesterton said it well in 1909 when he stated, “The first principle of democracy is this: that the things common to all men are more important than the things peculiar to any man.”

John Adams, a Founding Father and the second President of the United States, wrote in 1776, “Government is instituted for the common good, for the protection, safety, prosperity and happiness of the people; and not for the profit, honor, or private interest of any one man, family, or class of men…”

Despite the propaganda of conservative and fundamental pundits, politician and talk show hosts, when the wealthiest invest in the communities of the poorest, it is not Socialism or Marxism nor some sick take from the wealthy but give to the poor scheme but rather it is defending the foundation of capitalism and increasing the scope and span of free enterprise.

I am a Pastor. My business is people and my business is God. We are the largest church in our city and as such have more resources than many other churches. We fund the start up of new churches called Church planting. This is the same concept as company “A” funding the start up of company “B.” This is good for our individual church because it enlarges the base of churches. The larger the base of churches the more resources we control. The more resources we control the more influential we are. The more influential we are the more financial, social and political clout we have. When a company invests in housing, construction and infrastructure they are enlarging the base of business and as a result reducing the influence of government.

Giving promotes capitalism while withholding supports socialism. By giving we spawn new enterprise. By withholding we promote an undercapitalized market place and force people onto government programs, subsidies and a government controlled system.

Until the wealthiest people put “skin in the game” by investing in the poorest most marginalized communities in our nation America will forever be only a fraction of what she was founded to be. I welcome your feedback and thoughts.

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