“The Lord sent [the prophet] Nathan to [King] David. He came to him, and said to him, ‘There were two men in a certain city, one rich and the other poor. The rich man had very many flocks and herds; but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him. Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.’ Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, ‘As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die; he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.’ Nathan said to David, ‘You are the man!’” (2 Samuel 12:1-7)
The context, of course, is the sad story of King David stealing the wife of Uriah the Hittite and having him killed. But the larger meaning is the way the rich always treat the poor.
When the governor of Michigan dissolves the government of a poor local municipality and turns it over to an appointed boss whose main agenda is stealing the one valuable asset that city has, its beachfront park, so it can be turned it into a luxury golf course for rich people, the words of the prophet Nathan come to mind. It’s called “Financial Martial Law.” The city is Benton Harbor, Michigan. The park is the Jean Klock Park, given to the city in 1917. Do not expect this to end well if we allow those who already have too much to grab still more.
In Naomi Klein’s remarkable and important book, The Shock Doctrine, the point is that powerful people use, generate, or even invent crises so they can come in and “solve” the situation in a way that benefits mainly themselves. We see this over and over. After the Indian Ocean tsunami, which wiped out many poor people who lived on and gained their meager sustenance from the seashore, the State found it profitable to solve the problem by giving the valuable beachfront property to developers. The former shacks will be replaced by beautiful luxury resorts. It looks like an improvement. But what happens to the people who lived there who survived the tsunami? Do they benefit? Are they adequately compensated for their losses? No. Now they get to be underpaid bellhops and maids in an enterprise that makes rich people richer. And we call it progress.
This is also the strategy the powerful elements have for dealing with the New Orleans disaster. People with money buy up the wrecked homes of the Ninth Ward at a fraction of their value. They will no doubt build something there that will be too expensive for the same people to come back to. When that happens you can bet they will be sure and make the levees more secure.
The financial meltdown is another example. The people who got clobbered by illegal and immoral practices were the poor and middle class. They people who got bailed out, and who will also end up with most of the property foreclosed on are the people who deliberately out of greed and stupidity created the crisis. It is not enough to have multiple mansions and private jets; they also need to acquire the starter home of a young couple in Albuquerque.
Stealing from the poor to enrich the wealthy is not a new practice. It is as old as sin. We continue to allow it, and even celebrate it as a triumph of the “free-market.” Of course, it is interesting that “free” markets are never actually free. They are always heavily stacked to privilege whoever has the most money. We should therefore not be surprised to hear the voice of the prophet Nathan addressing us: “You are the man!” After all I gave you, God says through Nathan to David --- money, power, wives --- “Why have you despised the word of the Lord to do what is evil in his sight?”
It’s a rhetorical question. The answer is that power corrupts. Not even David is immune.
There are consequences for this sort of thing. There always have been. “I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house,” says the Lord. We wait to see how that works….