“They trample on the heads of the poor as upon the dust of the ground and deny justice to the oppressed…and so profane My holy name” – Amos 2:7

One of the gratifying features of writing a weekly column is the diversity of oral and written responses that it elicits from a wide spectrum of individuals. Last week’s column, entitled “Government Finance and Economic Growth” with the quotation “the plans of the diligent lead to profit as surely as haste leads to poverty” from Proverbs 21:5, where I touched on issues of poverty reduction, was no exception. I received a response from a young colleague whom Bevan, my son, and I met in the Counterpart International family setting and who has recently relocated from Washington DC to Marseille, France.

She thanked me for changing her email address in my list so that she could continue to receive my weekly articles. In her preliminary remarks, where she described life in Marseille as an adventure thus far, she reported that Bevan had put her in touch with our cousin Richild Springer who lives in France.

She went on to say that: “I appreciate your ideas in this article, and indeed agree that
economic growth is important for the plight of the people of a nation. But I think a stronger indicator of the well-being of a nation is not the GDP, but the situation of the ‘least’ in the nation. I’m sure you have heard of Dr. Obery Hendricks…he spoke in DC and said the most poignant truth I have ever heard – treat everyone’s needs as holy”.

Hendricks is Professor of Biblical Interpretation at New York Theological Seminary and author of the new book The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Nature of Jesus’ Teachings and How They Have Been Corrupted. Hendricks suggests in the book that Jesus used seven political strategies—including “treat the people’s needs as holy” —to challenge the established order of things.

She continued: “In my opinion, pooling resources to increase growth in the private
sector increases the wealth of those already financially comfortable. The problem I see with investing in business is that ‘the least of my brothers’ gain very little. Yes, there are low-skill jobs such as custodians, sales associates, etc. However, in reality this is a
mechanism wherein a few at the top get rich while those working at the lowest levels of the company barely earn enough to live and support themselves and their children.

“I wish I could counter with a solution, but I can’t easily. Perhaps better fiscal responsibility from the top could allow businesses to raise the minimum wage. Investing more in social programs sounds like a great idea, but I have seen disastrous state-funded programs to ‘combat’ poverty and addiction in DC. However I just have to say I
think there is danger in focusing on a number as opposed to the people – because the number is not representative of many people’s plights”.

“I suppose what I want is a change in mentality. I would love to see us all approach life with the very challenging task (because it requires self-sacrifice and delayed gratification) of treating everyone’s needs as holy.

Corinne, thanks for your thoughtful response to my article. I empathise with what you have said about poverty being a more powerful indicator, about the plight of a nation, than GDP. We should therefore focus on alleviating poverty.

I have not heard of Dr. Obery Hendricks but empathise with the philosophy to “treat everyone’s needs as holy”. What do we mean by this and how can it be effected in reality? If we regard everyone’s needs as deserving special respect or reverence we are still faced with the reality of limited resources to address these individual needs. Even
if one might argue that resources are not limited in a holistic sense one would at least agree that there are not evenly distributed. Then, one is faced with taking advantage of opportunities which are available and grabbing them with passion. The capitalist society, if left unshepherded, will result in an outcome where “the rich become richer and the poor become poorer”. It is unrealistic to envisage a situation where the rich will stand by so that “the rich will get poorer and the poor will get richer”. After all, even if this were their noble intention, “money maketh money when we sleep”.

Our policy makers need to develop policies which allow the “poor to get richer as the rich get richer”, this can be done by giving everyone the opportunity to reach up and grab the next rung of the economic ladder and shepherding them to ensure that they get there. It will be a slow process. The wider the average wealth divide in a given country, the slower the process.

If one legislates an unrealistic minimum wage then businesses will close down and this will be counter productive. The secret really is for more and more people to become entrepreneurial rather than to seek a job, then you have greater control over your own destiny. Again, easier said than done, but worth a try. Investing more in social programmes is a good supporting mechanism but will not solve the problem on its own.