“Thou shall not covet”, for those who have forgotten, is one of the Ten Commandments found in the Bible’s 20th chapter of the book of Exodus. It doesn’t rank up there in popularity like say “Thou shall not kill”, “Thou shall not lie” or “Thou shall not steal”. In fact, it is listed dead last – the 10th on the list.
Few pastors, priests or rabbis have taken to expounding on the forgotten commandment as of late. It’s not surprising that we seldom hear from our country’s spiritual thought leaders about the significance it should have in our daily modern lives. In fact, it’s taken quite a beating in recent years. It is increasingly becoming an accepted idea by many who harbor a sense of entitlement, a right if you will, to take what another has earned – and to do so without the slightest moral twinge or hesitation.
But recently, the Biblical precept was diluted even further by a new morality articulated by President Barack Obama in his State of the Union Speech, and more recently during our nation’s Annual Prayer Breakfast, calling on the haves to "pay their fair share," telling the have-nots “Thou SHALL covet.”
Indeed, the President’s profligate spending on wealth redistribution programs backs up his words and his philosophy.
No wonder the Obama Administration has taken federal spending to record levels –spending a record $3.6 trillion this past year, and adding $5 trillion dollars to the national debt total of $15 trillion. And yet, there is little job growth to show for the incredible amount of spending, but it should come as no surprise.
The unfortunate truth is that this mischievous, wrong-headed approach does not render the sought-after results. That is, this demand for absolute equality of income morphs into a neo-inequality of opportunity. Last year, 49 percent of Americans received some sort of government assistance. That is 44 percent more people receiving assistance than the year President Obama took office, according to Investors.com.
At the National Prayer Breakfast in Washington, D.C. on Thursday, President Obama stated that his policies coincided with Jesus’ teachings, quoting biblical verse, “for unto whom much is given, much will be required”. Never mind Jesus is referring to private, personal charitable giving, as opposed to the government stealing away your free will and deciding for you[L1] . In fact, his policies are more aligned with the policies of the Roman Empire of Jesus’ day – a time when coercive and confiscatory measures oppressed individuals and thwarted the people’s economic prosperity.
Indeed there is much for government to do, but taking from the private sector to stimulate other areas of the same private sector is not, and should not, be one of those responsibilities. Those of us who have any modicum of reverence for the U.S. Constitution and seek to raise the least among us up from conditions of poverty and dependency must draw from a new intellectual well. We must also have the moral courage to confront the spread of statist oriented policies that are turning old and proven mores and principles on their head. For isn’t it true that the more we subsidize poverty, the more poverty we get?
To be sure, a new vision of increased liberty and economic freedom must be universally applied – by those who currently live under the poverty level, to those who enjoy life at the top of the economic pyramid. After all, there is very little moral difference between public welfare and corporate welfare. And in fact, businesses too should succeed or fail based on the value they provide to their consumers, and not based on their ability to influence the political system.
Let’s accept that life is not fair. And although social, cultural and political variables may dictate a person’s lot in life to some extent – given time, freedom, and personal perseverance individuals can indeed improve their condition in life if they so will it. Most times, when people are free to endeavor and aspire on their own, they are capable of achieving amazing things. I know this as a proud American, and as a proud son of entrepreneurial parents who empowered themselves to rise up and into the middle class through their hard work – not thanks to any government program.
But let’s face it, government policy, no matter how well-intentioned, can make matters far worse.
Now, I realize that this notion of self-discipline and personal responsibility is beginning to seem out of date – and that the poor cannot be expected to help themselves – but we must not succumb to this futile mental disposition. The appropriate response is to help ourselves, and help others succeed as we personally see fit and as our values dictate – not as the government or central planners dictate; and we should never assume we’re “entitled” to anything.
Certainly there comes a time in an individual's life when government help could help to get them back on their feet, I'm not referring to that. I'm referring to the temptation we simply adopt a lifestyle of dependence (that leaves our children worse off), the sense that we can live off other people's hard work when we are fully capable of living off our own labor and talents (Regardless of our present condition.)
I’m reminded of Condoleezza Rice’s past remarks to graduates of Vanderbilt University, “Let’s be very clear. Merit alone did not see you to this day. There are many people in this country, many from your hometown, some even from your own high school, who are just as intelligent, just as hard-working, and just as deserving, but for whatever reason, they didn’t have that one teacher that inspired them, or parents who made it possible, and they didn’t enjoy the opportunities that came your way. Don't ever forget that when you leave here. Don’t ever forget that just because you deserve something it doesn’t mean that you’ll necessarily get it. And don’t ever assume that just because you got something, it meant that you deserved it.”
Regardless of where you start out in life, America's free market system and the value we place in our individual liberties have been the greatest equalizers. However, increased equality of opportunity also requires perseverance, hard work and a strong sense of personal responsibility which has so characterized the American Experience since our country’s founding.
As has been said “Many of the great achievements of the world were accomplished by tired and discouraged men who kept on working.” I couldn’t agree more.