During the epic argument over whether UUs liked people who have money too much or not enough that we had at Peacebang a couple years back, I responded to some of the more radical "rich people are evil" arguments by pointing out that the average household income in America is usually pegged at something like $40,000* and that if your household makes more than the average income in the United States, then clearly you were rich and should be giving the excess to the poor.
Upon being challenged that money meant different amounts different places, I pointed out that, worldwide, about half of all people have running water. If you have running water, you're rich.
Oh yeah, and if you were making choices that improved your lifestyle but lowered your income, shouldn't you really be making more profitable choices and giving the money away?**
TheCSO and I do make more than the average household income. We have running water and we do not give all our excess to the poor. I admitted as much throughout the thread, emphasizing that I was making a point that the rich aren't a "they," the rich are an "us."
Anyway, there's an article in Salon making a softer, more reasoned version of my points and it's really good. Also, there's lots of stuff about Peter Singer, which is usually good for a tiff in the comments.
*Just looked it up, it's more like $50,000, or was before the economy crashed.
** This argument sounds a bit saner when I phrase it the way I did in the post:
I don’t actually have an objection to a social safety net, and I do want to relieve suffering.
But I, politically and theologically, don’t know what to do with the idea that:
Anne wants to be an artist and sacrifices and scrimps to make art. She’s a starving, but well-respected artist.
Brian wants to be a professor and keeps himself a poor student for years on end. His students love and respect him even if he has to live on campus because of a state education salary freeze.
Carrie wants to be a mom and has five children, who bring untold fulfillment and joy to her life.
Dave wants to be a stockbroker and works night and day to make that happen. He makes some wise trades and is very successful.
Everybody got where the are because of the choice they made. But taking care of the poor is Dave’s, and only Dave’s, job, because he’s the “rich” one.
The worldwide median income is about $5,000. We’re all rich by that standard.
For me, it comes down to a question that others have struggled with far more heroically than I do: How much comfort is OK for us to allow ourselves in a world where people are suffering?
Should Anne quit painting and start designing advertisments and send the extra money she makes to charity? Should Brian give up his research and teach in an inner city school? Is Carrie expected to donate her kids’ college funds to feed the hungry?
How do I justify throwing parties in a world where people are starving?
I don’t have an answer. But at least I’m willing to apply they question to myself, rather than deciding that struggling with it is the province solely of “The rich.”