Trickling down.

It has become abundantly obvious in recent years that “trickle down” economics doesn’t work. Here’s the redoubtable Elizabeth Warren voicing it in respect of the States; the Thatcherite revolution here has produced exactly the same phenomenon. In both countries, the concept that if you give the rich tax breaks, these “wealthy creators” will distribute the money and it will naturally flow down to the lowest levels and thus benefit everyone has been demonstrated not to work, not just not to work well, but not to work at all. We have had a thirty year experiment, and this is a failed theory.

What has happened is that the rich have become substantially richer and everyone else has become relatively poorer. Both the States and here have managed to produce the fabled “rising tide” which is supposed to lift all boats, i.e. the economy has improved. The only boats which have lifted have been those of the rich, strongly indicating that there’s something deeply wrong with the metaphor; I’ve seen it suggested that it wrongly assumes that we all actually have boats – in which case I’d comment that the working class have no boats and are drowning, the middle class have boats with a huge hole in them and are bailing like mad just to avoid drowning.

Unfortunately, there will be some people who read this blog who will still agree with, in the States the Republicans and in the UK the Conservatives, and say that we just need to get more money into the hands of the rich (or the bankers) and suddenly the theory will work. I have also heard it said that the definition of insanity is keeping doing the thing which hasn’t worked time and time again and expecting the result to be different this time (this is a twelve-step concept, so addiction may be a factor here…). I have no idea how to persuade these people otherwise; they seem to think the theory is so neat that it has to be true, no matter what the evidence shows.

In passing, I have my own theory, which is that “trickle up” economics is what actually works; if you give the poor tax breaks, or a living minimum wage, or better benefits, given a little time all the surplus money will be back in the hands of the rich anyhow. This is not, of course, to say that taking this to extremes (for instance raising minimum wage to some ridiculously high rate or taxing the rich 110%) would work; it almost certainly wouldn’t, though Sweden did manage to operate with marginal tax rates that high for quite a while.

For completeness, I mention that Karl Marx predicted many years ago that trickle down economics would not work, and it seems that in that, he was right. However, his competing economic theory has also been tried, and there’s absolutely no evidence that that works either.

However, it strikes me that there is something which does obey the “trickle down” principle, and that is unmerited good fortune. Every so often a story goes around about someone on the streets who is given something and who promptly gives some or all of it away to others. The picture of the winning gambler who expansively treats everyone around him is a cliche, so often does it happen.

This fortune doesn’t have to be in the form of money or things, either. I know that (for instance) when I’m driving and someone lets me into a stream of traffic, it’s far more likely that I’ll then let others into it in my turn. Small acts of kindness have a tendency to replicate themselves.

In the Lords Prayer, we thank God for our daily bread, and one implication is that this is given to us by God rather than something we earn. A well-known hymn says “All good things around us are sent from heaven above, so thank the Lord, O thank the Lord for all his love”. I contrast this with the ideas of libertarian economics, which revolve round the “wealth creator” keeping everything they create, anything else being an infringement of their liberties by “the state”. In the Christian view, we are the lucky recipients of the grace of, among other things, our daily bread; in the libertarian view we have created the wealth to buy it, and woe betide anyone asking us to be grateful for the ability to have done that or to spread our good fortune around.

As another aside, there is a strong positive correlation between feeling grateful and feeling happy, which comes close to making me feel sorry for the Libertarian!

Now, as it happens, I do not eat courtesy of handouts (though I have in the past for a while), and I could take the Libertarian view and say that I’ve worked hard and “created the wealth” on which I’m now living in semi-retirement (although to be fair, I have inherited a fair amount of it…). Yes, I have worked hard, but I had a number of entirely unmerited advantages. I was born with a reasonable intellect and without serious physical or mental impairment. I have always had family money on which I could if necessary call. I have been lucky in being in the right place at the right time on occasion, and in having contacts which have opened opportunities and friends who have supported me in difficulty. None of that has been “worked for”. There are countless people who have worked just as hard as I have or much harder and who have far, far less than I have. People who have not received unmerited good fortune. People who are not intellectually agile, or relatively healthy, or from a well-off family, or blessed with some amazing friends, or who have just been unlucky. Oh, I’ve had some bad luck as well, and I didn’t work for that either, and as a result I’ve been in some difficult times and I’m not in quite as wonderful a situation as I might have been in, but broadly I’m OK, and I’m lucky to be that way.

So I’m happy to have some of this good fortune trickle down from me, and if the government (which is representative of the society in which I live) wants to make some of that trickling compulsory, how can I remotely complain, when I don’t deserve it in the first place?

“Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24) “And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” (Micah 6:8). Justice and mercy tend to go together, and mercy is akin to graceso I will pray “let mercy and grace roll down like waters”, rather than just trickle down.

Hell, no…

Watching the third episode of the excellent “Wolf Hall” last night, (caution – spoilers below) I was struck by the statement of James Bainham, a barrister and enthusiastic reformer, while cataloging doctrines with which he did not agree, that he found no scriptural justification for the concept of purgatory.

I use “enthusiastic” there with a double meaning: the usual one, and the uncomplimentary meaning understood by Wesley when he described people as “enthusiasts” – too much emotion, too much displayed, and not enough calm reason. Bainham is seen in the episode interrupting a reading of scripture in Latin at as church service by quoting the same text in English from his (banned at the time) copy of Tyndall’s translation. He ends up in jail for the second time in the episode, and is then burned alive.

Ironically, a few years later Thomas Cranmer, seen at this point as supporting Bainham’s arrest, was himself imprisoned and eventually burned for his beliefs, which by then included all those avowed by Bainham. The regime had changed, and Henry VIII’s elder daughter Mary was imprisoning and burning protestants as her father’s and brother’s church had done to Catholics.

I asked myself if I would have had the courage or foolhardiness to do as Bainham did. I not only don’t believe in Purgatory as not being supported by scripture, but I don’t believe in Hell as conventionally portrayed on exactly the same basis. To explain why would take a blog post of its own, but suffice it to say that whatever awaits us after death, everlasting torment is not a possibility I contemplate as being possible.

I do, however, attend a church which is theologically conservative, and I don’t any more keep my mouth firmly sealed about what my views on this and a number of other doctrines on which I’m not exactly orthodox. However, I’m not noisy about it, and certainly wouldn’t interrupt a service. Nonetheless, I keep anticipating a request to go elsewhere, which is as far as I’d expect this church ever to go – a previous church did invite me to leave when under intense pressure I did actually share my views on a point of doctrine.

Then, in one of those coincidences which part of my subconscious wants to tell me is divine action, a link appeared on my facebook feed describing the case of Rev. Carlton Pearson. A pentecostal minister, he found that his study of the Bible came to the same conclusion as mine, that there is no Hell-as-eternal-torment and that everyone, irrespective of beliefs, is saved. (I might mention here that I have some sympathy with the ideas of Jerry Walls as described by Richard Beck, who contemplates a purgatory-like state after death – Richard’s whole series on universal salvation is well worth a read). Rev. Pearson was roundly condemned by the pentecostal and evangelical authorities and lost over 90% of his then large congregation overnight. 500 years ago, I’ve no doubt he’d have been burned too. Of course, they don’t do that these days. Not, at any event, in the first world.

He did, however, lose a lot – and I was heartened to learn that he hadn’t admitted error and returned to the fold, had persevered, and as at the time of that broadcast had a growing congregation again. I have less to lose – I would merely lose some friends and the opportunity to be of service. That, I think, would not be sufficient to make me recant – as Cranmer initially did, though he famously withdrew his recantation on learning that he was not going to be pardoned anyhow.

No, I think I can do no other than state that the concept of a God who would ordain and maintain a place of eternal agony into which you could fall merely for having the wrong intellectual concept is not one which resembles in the slightest the God whom I experience. I think it’s a wrong, damaging and anti-scriptural concept.

But of course, no-one is going to be condemned to flames in this world or the next for thinking otherwise…