(Originally posted August 31, 2008)
I used to wonder why God made Ten Commandments instead of nine.
After all, the Tenth Command seems fairly repetitive: “You shall not covet…anything that belongs to your neighbor.” Rule Number Eight already mentions stealing, so why specifically prohibit envy, too? There are several possible reasons. First of all, ten was probably just a nice, even number. The Nine Commandments would simply sound wrong. Nine would certainly appear less important than a complete set of ten. Moreover, if you wanted to write the rules down on two stone tablets, including five on each tablet would make common sense. After all, including five rules on one tablet and four on the other would necessitate different font sizes between the tablets. Otherwise, an awkward blank space would remain on one.
Recently, however, our troubled times have revealed to me a far deeper reason why God included the Tenth Commandment. Simply stated, God thinks the prohibition against improper greed bears repeating!
There are two types of greed. The first type of greed involves inaction – the “hoarding” of property. An individual demonstrates this first type of greed when he fails to share his wealth despite some obligation to be generous. Whether hoarding is even technically wrong seems A bit questionable. That is, refusing to give charitably seems more “not-right” than explicitly “wrong.” Regardless, the issue remains fairly vague. On the other hand, the second type of greed involves clear-cut action: The unlawful taking of property. This latter type of greed (stealing) is fairly clear-cut, whereas the former (hoarding) is somewhat greyer. Consequently, two of the Ten Commandments address this latter type of greed, whereas none of them deals with the first type.
Leftists often criticize successful companies for their “greed.” Sadly, Adam Smith originally played right into this unfair criticism when conceded that free markets utilize human “greed” to create wealth. Certainly, self-interest does drive capitalism, but calling it “greed” is highly misleading. The desire to create honest wealth hardly qualifies as greed. Rather, greed involves either (1) hoarding or (2) stealing. The drive to produce wealth is something else altogether. Most people call it “ambition.”
If ambitious, successful businesspeople do not exemplify greed, then who does? Basically, the greedy are losers in life who would steal wealth from others instead of generating their own. Whenever they lack the capability to steal overtly, they covet wealth discretely and dream of the day when they can physically take money from others. They are leeches. We imprison some of these scoundrels in our county jails. Others we nominate to run for president.
Overall, politics today have embraced envy. I was watching Barack Obama’s nomination acceptance speech last night, and the word demagogue kept coming to mind. In my estimation, about three fourths** of Obama’s speech enticed Americans to covet. Here are just a few examples:
1. “I’ll make it easier for the American people to afford these new cars.”
2. “I will make certain those [health insurance] companies stop discriminating against those who are sick…”
3. “[I]f you commit to serving your community or your country, we will make sure you can afford a college education.”
To fund this great Democratic give-away, Obama promised to raise taxes on corporations and on the wealthiest Americans, who already pay the most: “Now, many of these plans will cost money,” he explained, “which is why I’ve laid out how I’ll pay for every dime – by closing corporate loopholes and tax havens that don’t help America grow…” In blunt terms, Obama would seize wealth from the more successful segments of society. His Marxist supporters already understood this fact, of course. Most of them already knew the target of their envy. They are hardly innocent. In fact, the angry reaction from the audience after every reference to property rights felt somewhat disturbing. Obama mentioned this brief explanation for his plan, not to inform his supporters, but to prevent any arguments by critics that he misunderstands math.
At this point, the lightweight thinkers will doubtless argue, “Who cares, Drew? I like coveting. God is dead anyway. The Bible is irrelevant.” Fortunately, the folly of covetousness stands naturally apparent to all intelligent humans, even without the Bible. That is, the right to private property is self-evident. Merely consider the fruits of envy – chaos and poverty. The Soviet Union bore these fruits in abundance. Inevitable consequences demonstrate the foolishness of promoting theft.
Specifically, robbery works fine as long as there are people to steal from, but what happens when large numbers succumb to thievery? After a certain tipping point, individuals realize that their wealth is unsafe, and they stop wasting their time producing wealth. Consequently, after strangling every golden goose he can find, the Marxist once again begins rotting away in poverty. He lacks marketable skills. Even if he had skills, he would be afraid of success because success would invite theft. Such a bleak world can come about whenever we confuse our morals. By condemning ambition as “greed” and punishing it with theft, we kill ambition and destroy productivity. At that point, the question of “hoarding” becomes a non-issue – because no one has any wealth to hoard or to give away.
Instead of attacking ambition, let us condemn covetousness. Instead of advancing the wishy-washy concept of “hoarding” as a justification for theft, let us assault greed in its most explicit form – coveting the wealth of others. Let us eliminate such wicked enticements toward envy from the public discourse. That is change I could believe in.
** Whereas three-fourths of the speech dealt with distributing goodies, the remaining 25% consisted of attacks against John McCain and promises to enact miracles, such as eliminating the demand for Middle Eastern oil in ten years without drilling.