Income Inequality: 10 Simple Principles for Building Wealth
Liberté, egalité, fraternité was one of the slogans of the French Revolution in the late 1700s and became the official motto of the French Republic a century later. It means, of course, “Liberty, equality, fraternity” (i.e., fraternity in the sense of “brotherhood,” not Animal House).
Everybody is for brotherhood, naturally, but it strikes me that liberty and equality might have trouble coexisting. That slogan can be true if you mean equality under the law. But it is egregiously impossible if you mean that the state can and should guarantee equality of education, income, or wealth. The only way that there could be equality of wealth is if the state seized all private assets and redistributed them. The only way there could be equality of income is if the state seized control of all businesses and arbitrarily set all salary levels the same, determined by some central committee. Unless you are pining to live under Stalinistic Communism, you wouldn’t favor that approach, and so I conclude that you are prepared to live with inequality of income and wealth. But people can still envy, of course.
Some people have given up on the belief that you can better your life by hard work, discipline, self-control, deferred gratification, and saving.
The book of Proverbs teaches us that individual effort matters, that deeds and habits have consequences, both good and bad, and that the Lord himself intervenes in people’s lives to bless or punish. As long as there is liberté in our society, there will not be egalité:
- 22:4 “Humility and the fear of the LORD bring wealth and honor and life.”
- 13:11 “Dishonest money dwindles away, but he who gathers money little by little makes it grow.”
- 11:25 “A generous man will prosper; he who refreshes others will himself be refreshed.”
- 13:22 “A good man leaves an inheritance for his children’s children.”
Did you know that 52% of all Americans have absolutely no savings? Instead of envying people with greater wealth or greater incomes than yours, I suggest that you spend your energy taking care of your own business and building your own wealth. Here are my ten simple principles:
- Recognize that all you possess now and will ever possess came from God and still belongs to God. You are his employee, holding his goods in trust for him, commissioned to use them for his agenda.
- If, like St. Paul, you choose to live a chaste single life, have at it. Otherwise pursue a good marriage partner and stay married. A happy marriage is a great anti-poverty program.
- Defer having children until after you are married.
- Do not drop out of school.
- Take the money you would have spent on gambling and lottery tickets and make steady payments into an annuity. There is almost no legal and moral way to get rich quickly. But you can build wealth slowly; time and compounding are your friends.
- Spend less than you earn.
- Get a financial advisor you can trust already in your 20s and let her or him help you set up a financial plan. Stick to it.
- Live generously. Enjoy investing in ministry and in helping people. God likes seeing you do those things and will send more resources.
- Hate debt. Pay it down as fast as you can. Credit cards are like crystal meth—if you can’t pay off the balance each month, cut them up before the outrageous interest rates eat you up.
- Build as big a friend network as you can. Social capital is capital too. Join and get active in a Christian congregation.
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