Monday, October 3, 2011

The Great Prosperity and the Great Regression

There is a fascinating info-graph on the New York Times website, which can be found here.  There are a lot of nuggets to be gleaned from the graph, but let me make just a few observations.
1. For those who are wealthy: There is a disturbing lack of correlation between the increase in productivity  and the increase in wages.  Perhaps there is more data that is relevant here, but it appears that those who have access to resources are leverging those resources in such a way as to hoard profits. 
James' words to the wealthy are strong: "Look, the pay you have held back from the workers who mowed your fields cries out against you, and hte cries of the reapers have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.  You have lived indulgently and luxuriously on the earth.  You have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter" (James 5:4-5).
2. For those who are "poor": Do not envy the wealthy.  It is easy to lament one's condition when one compares oneself to the very wealthy.  But the wealthy have troubles of their own.  Consider: Do you believe that greater access to wealth would increase your spiritual maturity?  Or do you believe that the odds are greater that more wealth would tempt you to be drawn away from God and more in love with the material world (Prov. 30:7-9)? 
3. For all of us: Our increasing level of debt is a symptom of a culture that refuses to deny itself anything. 
Some will see this chart as symptomatic of the greed of the wealthy.  Others will see it as a sign of our economic misfortune.  I see in it the signs of a nation that has jettisoned not only biblical principles but human wisdom as well.


Tina B. said...

This is just another reminder that the answer to corporate or individual greed and the problem of poverty can only really be addressed by challenging those in our culture with the truth of the gospel and praying for transformed lives in all spheres of society.

Dan H said...

I appreciate John Piper's thoughts on amassing wealth and lavish retirements as an attempt to create heaven on earth by a culture that has otherwise rejected God and heaven. I heard an interview with the author of a book entitled "Money, Greed, and God - Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem". I am convinced that the solution to our problems as a society/culture/world isn't capitalism - Jesus is. And the problem isn't capitalism either - we are.

Philip A said...

I completely with your scriptural exhortation on these points. And I surely know no more about this data than you, but I had an additional thought.

I think one must be very careful with associating an increase in productivity with a matching increase in worker effort, as the graph strongly implies. The rate of technology adoption (e.g. cheap computers, robotics, etc) increased starting in the eighties and continues today. I find it easy to believe that automation could provide an 80% improvement in productivity without requiring any additional worker effort (probably less). Without knowing how NYT defines "productivity", the graph could mean literally anything.

Also, a rise in productivity means that more goods are produced, but NOT necessarily that the value of each individual good is higher

Not that I necessarily disagree with your conclusions. The second and third set of graphs strongly suggest that the upper two classes have a strong influence over their own income (i.e. increasing it). Likewise, the average income graph line does not follow inflation, strongly suggesting that workers are not being paid as much in year-adjusted dollar value as in the past.