Saturday, February 08, 2020

Time and Chance (22)

A significant number of baby boomers are blowing their way through their kids’ inheritances, and they’re doing it guilt-free. Some do it with the blessing of well-off children who don’t need anything, but the justification is usually something along the lines of “Hey, you only live once” or “We worked hard for it! Why should someone else enjoy it?”

You can argue the morality of such a move both ways. On the one hand, giving certain children a pile of unearned money is like throwing it into a black hole. Neither you nor they are really benefiting long term.

On the other hand, there is a venerable tradition of putting something aside for the coming generations. That time-honored custom did not develop for no reason.

Ecclesiastes 5:13-17 — Gambling Away the Future

A Grievous Evil
“There is a grievous evil that I have seen under the sun: riches were kept by their owner to his hurt, and those riches were lost in a bad venture. And he is father of a son, but he has nothing in his hand. As he came from his mother’s womb he shall go again, naked as he came, and shall take nothing for his toil that he may carry away in his hand. This also is a grievous evil: just as he came, so shall he go, and what gain is there to him who toils for the wind? Moreover, all his days he eats in darkness in much vexation and sickness and anger.”
My old boss and an older co-worker both lost in the neighborhood of $100,000 from their pensions through investing in a company whose line of business had quietly become obsolete. Once it became clear to shareholders that there were no long term growth prospects in the stock, the inflated share price dropped like a rock. Neither man was quick enough getting out.

That’s what you call a “bad venture”. As investors go, my acquaintances were not being unusually foolish, but they banked, like so many do, on tomorrow being like today, which is like yesterday. In this case, it wasn’t.

Losing Everybody’s Shirt

Here the Preacher is considering a similar case, only it is not just pension funds — it’s everything the man owns. And there is a second problem. It is not just that he has lost his shirt; he has also lost other people’s shirts in the bargain. Sadly, this is often how it works in a household. One person has control of the funds. One person makes the decisions about how to allocate them. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly puts all the eggs in one basket.

In one sense, money earned by a member of any household can be said to be family money, not just because it is the harmonious working-together of the various household parts which enables the breadwinner to step out and earn his living undistracted, but also because it is God’s design that the material needs of each of a family’s members be addressed first and foremost by those who have the closest blood relationship to them. Needy relatives have a legitimate claim not just on our charity, but on our substance.

Owning the Future

Further, in ancient Hebrew thought we can observe a sense of obligation to the future that doesn’t exist today. This burden for the family is reflected in the teaching of the Lord Jesus, who spoke about the evils of designating as Corban money rightly owed to a family member, and using it to puff up your religious reputation instead. God is not interested in receiving anything from us that rightfully belongs to our families.

Today, whether we blow money that would be better spent on the genuine needs of family members on vacationing, or playing the stock market, or otherwise fooling around, the ancient Hebrew would cringe in horror. There was something selfless about that. The Preacher saw a loss that would affect coming generations as a sad and undesirable thing; an event legitimately worthy of “vexation and sickness and anger.”

Way back when, there was genuine shame attached to failing to provide. We should think about that once in a while.

I’m not sure we should be as casual about it as some in the media seem to be.

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