The Insidious Insinuation of Income Distribution: Satan’s Tool to Fuel Envy and Covetousness
Lies rarely stride openly in the light.
Lies prefer to hide in suggestions and to lurk in insinuation. Satan, when deceiving Eve, didn’t announce he was lying; he suggested God was. He insidiously insinuated that God was withholding some great knowledge or power from Adam and Eve – God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil
(Genesis 3:5). It seems the suggestion that we are missing out, that something is being kept from us, is a powerful suggestion that holds great sway over humanity.
This is especially apparent in conversations on money. Consider one powerful, misleading, and oft-repeated insidiously misleading phrase: income distribution. Do you see it? It’s subtle (as insidious insinuations are!). What is the phrase saying? Income is distributed. That thought plants an idea deep in our psyche that leads to resentment, entitlement, and straight-up covetousness. How? Keep reading.
While “income distribution” is true in a statistical sense, like we might speak of the distribution of hair color or skin color across culture, it’s not true in a true-to-life sense. To understand this point, consider our hair/skin color analogy. Nobody believes that a mystical storeroom of these traits exists somewhere that some agency or entity is distributing. And nobody bemoans the injustice of unfair hair/skin color distribution.
The same is true for income distribution. We can speak in a statistical sense of income distribution across culture, but we must understand that, strictly speaking, income is not distributed; most of the time, income is earned. Someone provides a good or service that someone else is willing to pay for, whether that be lawn care, medical care, a pickup, or a cell phone.
People provide goods/services that some people are willing to pay a lot for (or a lot of people are willing to pay a little for) – Tesla, Apple, General Mills, Wrigley’s, etc. They earn income. And this produces income disparities. In other words, some people end up with more money. And that, in and of itself, is not a social injustice. Earned income that produces financial disparities is not inherently unjust. This truth is foundational. It reflects reality. Reality does not guarantee equal results.
Reality does not guarantee equal results.
But this foundational truth is obscured by the innocent-sounding phrase “income distribution” because it makes it sound like some people are unfairly grabbing a bigger piece of the income pie or that someone or some entity in unfairly giving some more.
Is it true that sinful man is sometimes guilty of lying, cheating, and stealing to get more? Yes! Can disparity in results be the result of injustice? Yes! And that should be justly punished under the law, but the reality of income disparity is not inherently unjust any more than some students getting straight A’s and some getting straight D’s is inherently unjust. In the real world, some people earn more income (and some students get higher grades). And they earn more either because they work harder or because they provide a good or service that people are willing to pay for.
This greater wealth brings greater responsibility (and greater opportunity) to be generous and to help those with less, but it is a separate question whether the mere existence of income disparity requires governments to redistribute money, especially because the income was never “distributed” in the first place; it was earned!
Notice the progression here: if you begin with the insinuation that income is distributed rather than earned, then you will see income disparities (differences in outcome) as a social injustice, and you will advocate for that income to be re-distributed equitably (through government force). We’ll return to this shortly.
Thomas Sowell, the renowned cultural commentator, economist, author, and thinker, explains the verbal sleight of hand in “income distribution” in his tour de force Discrimination and Disparities:
The key trick is to verbally collectivize wealth produced by individuals and then depict those individuals who produced more of it, and received payment for doing so, as having deprived others of their fair share. With such word games, one might say that Babe Ruth took an unfair share of the home runs hit by the New York Yankees (146).
Appreciate what he’s saying. Through the phrase “income distribution,” earned income is removed from the people who earned it, baked into one giant income pie, and then evaluated on the basis of the size of the slices on each person’s plate. The pieces are not equitable (evenly proportioned) and this is deemed unjust. [Never mind the question of what good or service they produced and how valuable it was to the people purchasing it.]
As Dr. Sowell points out, complaining of income distribution as a social justice issue isn’t true to life any more than complaining that Babe Ruth took a bigger piece of the home run pie than the rest of the Yankees. He didn’t take homeruns from any of his teammates; he earned them. There is no income pie to be evenly cut and distributed. The pie is a lie. It’s a statistical truth, but not a lived reality.
The pie is a lie.
There are individual producers and workers and earners with disparities in income for dozens upon dozens of reasons, just like there are disparities in grades and homeruns. Some of the reasons may be ignoble (lying, cheating, stealing, etc.), but the mere existence of income disparity is not proof of injustice and it is deceptively misleading to frame the question in terms of income distribution.
Further, it fosters grievance, envy, and covetousness, making those with less believe they are victims of an unjust system where income is not re-distributed equitably. It creates a people fixated on the lie of the pie, always believing they’re being cheated or defrauded.
This is what lies beneath socialistic systems of government that see income disparities as a social injustice to which they must bring justice through equitably re-distributing earned income. They must take from those with a bigger piece of the imaginary pie and redistribute it to those with a smaller piece, an action akin to taking Babe Ruth’s inequitable home runs and redistributing them evenly to his teammates, or taking A’s from the straight-A student to distribute equitably among his or her classmates.
Understand what’s happening here. If we accept that income disparities exist because of unjust income distribution (if we accept the lie of the pie, that the pieces weren’t divided equitably), then, in order for there to be justice, we will elevate a governing class to forcibly redistribute it equitably.
So, in order to overcome an inequality in economic outcome, we will produce a dangerous inequality in power. People will lose the freedom to make their own decisions about their own lives. They will lose the ability to agree mutually on the terms of their transactions. Results will be forced by government. So freedom is lost and power is given to a governing class. That’s socialism.
Freedom is lost and power is given to a governing class. That’s socialism.
Such a system built on a false understanding of reality (that income disparities demonstrate injustice), fueled by envy and covetousness (as people fixate on their piece of the imagined pie), and governed by power (as ruling elites divvy up the fictional pie), will not and cannot work. It is a war against reality, an exacerbation of man’s covetous sinful nature, and a dangerous transfer of power to an unchecked ruling class.
As creatures (beings created by God), we must yield to the Creator’s reality, to the world as it really is. Outcomes will not be equitable for dozens upon dozens of reasons. Where there is injustice, we should work to bring justice, but we must not start with a lie.
Disparity in results does not demonstrate injustice – not even in Heaven! We are saved by grace, but Scripture is emphatic: works will be rewarded in Heaven (not with Heaven, but in Heaven). In other words, disparity in rewards will exist in Heaven (and there is no injustice there!).
Check out Paul’s words, for instance, in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15. And the Lutheran Confessions teach:
For as it is God’s will and express command that the faithful should do good works, which the Holy Spirit effects in the faithful, so God allows these works to please Him for Christ’s sake and promises a glorious reward for them in this life and in the life to come (Formula of Concord, Solid Declaration IV: 38).
Justice, then, is not found in redistributing a fictitious income pie. Justice begins by acknowledging reality as it is (being vigilant against insidious insinuations!) and in treating each individual equally under the law. Want to visit more on this? Come visit with me. – Pastor Conner
 It’s not that people don’t embrace lies and parade them in pride; they most certainly do! The lie, though, is typically hidden in insinuations and suggestions like “we are sexual beings,” “identity is anchored in one’s internal sense,” “different outcomes is evidence of social injustice.” Lies hide in these false foundational beliefs.