Wednesday, March 01, 2006

True Wealth

At a recent bible study, the matter of "true wealth" as discussed in the Bible was the topic of the day. It got me thinking about the matter of wealth storage, wealth stability, portability, the associated risks, and so on. I came up with a sort of "wealth continuum," going from the most transient forms of wealth to the most stable. It looks something like this:


Food, consumables
Fiat Currency
Tools, Capital Improvements
Gold, Land
Knowledge, skills
Friends, Family, Social Goodwill
The LORD's Goodwill


Each of these forms of wealth have differing degrees of volatility and reliability. I shall discuss each in turn.

Food, Consumables

Then he took the seven loaves and the fish, thanked God for them, brok them into pieces, and gave them to the disciples, who distributed the food to the crowd. Matthew 15: 36

But, of course, some of them didn't listen and kep some of it until morning. By then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Exodus 16: 19-20

These are things that you buy, you use, and you're done. Food is the clearest example. You buy food, and you'd better eat it. If you don't, it'll spoil, and become useless to you. It is obviously not a place for investment, though you can't really get away from buying these things. And, of course, it is vulnerable to disasters, such as pest infestation or other contamination, and, of course, theft.

Fiat Currency

This is a more storable and portable form of wealth than consumables, but it spoils with time, as well. A fiat currency is generally managed in an inflationary style, so as time goes by, its value goes down. The sooner you spend it on something, the better. A poorly managed currency is even more vulnerable; sudden spikes of inflation can wipe out one's savings. It's probably even more vulnerable to theft than food and consumables.

Tools, Capital Improvements

This is a better investment than just holding money. One can buy tools to multiply one's labor, or one can invest in other kinds of capital improvements. One can buy shares in manufacturing operations. If one invests wisely in this category, one can do well.

However, there are many disasters that can take away this form of wealth. A sudden shift in the market can ruin a business. A fire can destroy it. Tools and machines wear out, rust, and go obselete. These things can be stolen, or vandelized. Poor management can ruin a business. A constant input of labor, both of the mind and of the body, is needed to maintain capital wealth, as well as a constant input of more capital, for maintenance, replacements, and updates.

Gold, Land

These are things that if one owns them, his wealth increases without any effort except for that which is necessary to keep his claim. Gold generally goes up in value against currencies. Land goes up in value. An investment in real estate is a sure investment. So long as an area's population increases (and this is pretty much inevitable, so long as our food supply continues to be greater than the population's needs), land and gold will increase in value. And that class that has control over their people's land is the class that rules. Gold does not tarnish or rust.

However, gold can be stolen. Land is more sure than gold, but it is dependent upon the stability of the regime that protects land claims. Both are vulnerable to shifts in government policy. And, of course, there are situations that require one to make a choice between one's land and one's life--a bad choice to have to make.

Knowledge, Skills, Wisdom

Wisdom or money can get you almost anything, but it's important to know that only wisdom can save your life. Ecclesiastes 7:12

Because of this, I will do wonders among these hypocrites. I will show that human wisdom is foolish and even the most brilliant people lack understanding. Isaiah 29: 19

I was uncertain whether to put this one before or after gold and land. I decided to put it after, since it is not something that can be taken away (except by madness) once it is acquired. It is something that can be used regardless of the situation. If one is trained as an engineer, one can either command a high salary designing solutions in a mature economy, or trade it for lesser things in a more chaotic situation. These things are useful, and do not wear out, rust, and cannot be taken away.

However, it can go obselete. A skilled blacksmith is driven to poverty by mass-production of metal goods. A skilled farmer who does not keep up on developments in his field will be competed out of the market by an agressive agricultural corporation. A computer programmer must constantly learn new techniques and languages, as the old ones go obselete. Obsolescence is the thing that hurts knowledge and skills.

Friends, Family, and Social Goodwill

I am reminded of "It's A Wonderful Life," wherin George Bailey, highly blessed in all the previous areas (particularly knowledge and skills) is failed by all those areas. Some money is lost, and no amount of skill or wealth or anything can save him. He stood to lose his business his house, and his very freedom. It drives him to suicide (and we'll discuss the intervention that prevents that in the next section), but his friends and family come through for him.

When hard times come, when all the previous forms of wealth fail, having people to fall back upon helps. If a friend is helped out in a time of need, he's likely to help in your time of need. If your house burns down, you can stay with a friend. If you don't have enough money to buy food, a friend is able to help. If your entire base of wealth is destroyed by a hurricane, a friend is able to help.

However, friends die. Friends lose their wealth, too. Sometimes, friends betray you. The more friends you have, the safer you are, but there are things that can drive away even the most loyal of friends. Friends can fail you.

The LORD, The Kingdom of God

Store up your treasures in heaven, where they will never become moth-eaten or rusty and where they will be safe from thieves. Matthew 6: 20

There is one friend that never fails. He is called by many titles, but here, Redeemer and Provider are probably the best ones to use. God is the ultimate source of all wealth. It is he who created the earth from which all our wealth springs. It is he who blesses us with the gifts that enable us to produce wealth. It is he who blesses us with stability, or curses us with instability, which affects the ability to retain wealth. And it is he who can save us when nothing else can.

Food and consumables are made by him, and sometimes miraculously provided, from the manna of the ancient Israelites to the loaves and fishes served up by Jesus and his disciples. Money may belong to Caesar, but the value it represents belongs to God... and I have seen the miracle of the fishes and loaves work in my own financial life (HOW exactly I manage to be okay when I'm living from check to check, and then a financial emergency strikes, can only be answered by Him). Without the skills he grants us, our tools are worthless, but he can provide us with opportunities to gain new tools when our old ones are lost.. He made the land; we are but sojourners in it, and gold is worthless if he is not with us. Skill and knowledge come directly from Him, as do opportunities to profit by them. And those who sincerely follow Him are the best of friends, the most reliable of family, and even when they are destroyed in body or otherwise unable to help, He can help us, in ways we cannot even imagine.

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