We also know that back then, it was usually difficult to get ahead financially. The idea of “upward mobility” in society was essentially non-existent, and most people remained in the socioeconomic category of life into which they were born.
On this point, Historian D.E. Oakman of Pacific Lutheran University in Washington insists that “for the majority of the population, after they had paid their taxes, there was barely enough to eat.” There were few “rags to riches” stories in the ancient world, Dr. Oakman has noted, and most of the rich became wealthy through inheritance, patronage, or corruption. Thus, if you were “rich” back in biblical times, people were automatically suspicious of you because you probably got that way by oppressing the more vulnerable.
This “rich versus poor” dynamic remained in place throughout the world for several centuries. Even for several hundred years of England’s history, society consisted of the rich land owners (the “Lords” who owned the territories) and the poor (the “serfs” who were essentially enslaved to the land owners). This didn’t change, until the ideas of giving every citizen the opportunity to own property, and to sell their skills on the open market, became a societal norm.
These ideas were central themes in philosopher Adam Smith’s work “The Wealth Of Nations,” which, interestingly, was published the year our nation was founded- 1776. Likewise these ideas of individual liberty are also at the epicenter of our United States Constitution. And after almost two hundred and fifty years of American history, we now know this: while neither “upward mobility” nor a “middle class” existed when Jesus walked the earth, today our American-styled economic system of capitalism has enabled both of these possibilities to become realities, and to flourish.
So would Jesus support Barack Obama’s “tax the rich” policy? He would likely call on all Americans to be more caring of the poor. He might also remind us that, the last time he was on earth, government tax collectors were a source of oppression (anybody remember the story of Zaccehus from Matthew Chapter 5?).
Charity is not the same as government wealth redistribution. And if Jesus were on earth today he might urge all of us – President Obama included – to stop repeating the same old mistakes.
Austin Hill is an Author, Consultant, and Host of "Austin Hill's Big World of Small Business," a syndicated talk show about small business ownership and entrepreneurship. He is Co-Author of the new release "The Virtues Of Capitalism: A Moral Case For Free Markets." , Author of "White House Confidential: The Little Book Of Weird Presidential History," and a frequent guest host for Washington, DC's 105.9 WMAL Talk Radio.