A friend, Ted Muscio, made a trip last winter into an old and historic mining town, a county seat. A neighbor, in his nineties, asked Ted Muscio to check on his grandfather's grave while there, and to see what had happened to the old family home. When mining began in the 1890s, they left town, simply abandoning their home, which, like others, sat vacant. Ted located the house, with its Victorian "gingerbread," and checked on history in the county records. In 1942, it had been sold for back taxes and costs. The lone bidder had refused to pay a cent more than back taxes and costs and thus gained the house for $6.46. Amazing? Before inflation, in the early 1900s, many houses in the West were built for $300. For $1,000, a very superior house could be built. Yesterday, I read Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., Black Hills, White Skies, (1978), a pictorial "history" of the Black Hills of South Dakota, from their settlement to World War I. On p. 195 is pictured a large, fourstory, turreted sandstone building, the Gillespie Hotel, at Hot Springs, called then an American Carlsbad and "a mecca for visitors from all over the country." The popular Gillespie Hotel was built by Fred Gillespie in 1890 for $25,000.
Some of the homes built in an earlier era for $300 have sold, in some larger cities and desired locations, for over $80,000 in recent years. The reason, of course, is inflation. Inflation is an increase in the money supply by the increase of credit (or debt), by bonds or borrowing, and by printing press money. The house which had been bought for $6.46 had a new roof, which may have cost more than the original price of the home, and all subsequent maintenance.
Now, behind the increase in the money supply, is, as we have seen, planned larceny by the state and the citizenry, the voters. For inflation to succeed, Freedman Tilden held, its larcenous purpose must be understood and shared by the people. But it must be stated even more clearly that inflation begins where people have larceny in their hearts.
Helmut Schoek, in Envy (1966), called attention to the deadly role played in society by envy. Envy demands the leveling of all things, because the envious man finds superiority in others intolerable. He sees it better to turn the world into hell rather than to allow anyone to prosper more than himself, or to be superior to him. Envy negates progress. On the other hand, as Schoek noted, "the more both private individuals and the custodians of political power in a given society are able to act as though there were no such thing as envy, the greater will be the rate of economic growth and the number of innovations in general."1 The envious man wishes to level and equalize, and he turns envy into ‘virtue' by calling it a demand for fraternity and equality. Since, however, a strictly equalitarian society is impossible, it follows, Schoek pointed out, that "the envious man is, by definition, the negation of the basis of any society."2 Envy creates a conflict society in which the evil men are held to be precisely the most successful and advanced members of society. Their crime is their success, their wealth, or their superiority. Envy is justified by many sociologists and social scientists, and envy becomes then a fertile and justified cause of vandalism, rioting, and crime. Hatred and resentment are justified and made marks of a "social conscience." The result is class warfare and a conflict society in which the rise of hostility and envy are seen as steps towards social progress, when in fact they lead to disaster.
Of course, envy has deep roots in history and is an aspect of man's original sin. First of all, the tempter, in approaching Eve, played on the difference between God and man as an evil. God, he held, is trying to prevent man from reaching a position of equality with Him. "Got doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen. 3:5). Every man has a right to be his own god, he held, determining for himself what constitutes good and evil. Authoritarianism, the tempter held, must be abolished and equality instituted. Why should Adam and Eve labor like peons in the Garden, with not even housing provided, while God reigns at ease in heaven? Arise, ye prisoners of paradise! You have nothing to lose but your chains.
Second, the tempter shrewdly spoke to Eve, doubly under authority, God's and Adam's. Why should Adam have any authority over her? Both need liberation from God, and Eve needed liberation from Adam.
Third, Adam was equally fretful over responsibility. Why should he make all the decisions, in the final analysis? If his first attempt at housing was a sorry affair, why should he be responsible for providing it, while Eve played the judge and critic? People envy, not only their "superiors" for their power, but their "inferiors" for their very limited responsibility and liability. One large employer some years ago welcomed the controls over his employment practices (hiring, firing, etc.) by the union. His comment was, "Why should I have to make all the decisions and take all the blame?" It was much easier to sit back and complain about the union!
Fourth, when confronted by God, both Adam and Eve refused to accept responsibility. Adam blamed both Eve and God: "The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat" (Gen. 3:12). Similarly, Eve blamed the tempter: "The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat" (Gen. 3:13). Both pleaded innocence and accused others of a conspiracy against themselves.
The same is true of modern man's approach to inflation: the evil one is Washington, D.C., the international bankers, or anyone other than themselves. Men whose lives are geared to inflationary living, and who run from one conference to another, unconcerned about the destruction to their country by inflation but eager to learn of a new way to make money out of inflation, will with consummate hypocrisy sit back and blame the politicians or bankers for inflation. True, politicians and bankers have their guilt, but who demands inflation from them by their envy, their debt-living, and their heart full of larceny? Is it not the voters?
Inflation begins where there is larceny in the heart. The only long-term cure for it is honesty in the heart. Impossible? Our Lord said, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matt. 19:26). Political cures only worsen a situation. For a changed society, changed men are necessary. If men discount this answer, we are entitled to suspect that they want the virtues of Phariseeism, the "right" to condemn the Federal Government for its inflationary policies, together with the "right" to operate freely with larceny in the heart. Of such is not the Kingdom of God.
1. Helmut Schoek, Envy, A Theory of Social Behaviour (New York, NY:
Harcourt, Brace & World, 1966), 11.
2. Ibid., 26.