The biblical parable of the 10 virgins (Matthew 25:1-12) is particularly relevant today. As you may recall, the five wise virgins behaved responsibly and prudently, making sure they had enough lamp oil for the midnight arrival of the bridegroom. The five foolish virgins, by contrast, diddled around, and didn't get oil. At the last minute, they asked their wiser sisters for some of their oil, whereupon the wise virgins, not wanting their own lamps to run out of fuel, told the foolish girls to go buy their own oil. When they did, they missed the celebration.
The parable illustrates that we reap the consequences of our choices, for good or ill, and we are responsible for our own success or failure. (Let me hasten to add that the parable's primary significance is theological; however, Jesus often couched his spiritual lessons in everyday terms that were easily understandable to his listeners.) In this parable, there was no socialistic redistribution of property from the prudent to the imprudent. The foolish virgins weren't charity cases, unable to fend for themselves. They simply didn't make the necessary effort to succeed. Each virgin got what she deserved.
Today, the "wise virgins" are those millions of Americans who are diligent, responsible, law-abiding, and financially prudent. They pull their own weight and don't impose a burden on others. They are the bedrock of society. Today, though, they are under siege.
Consider the deflating housing bubble: Think of how many times politicians of both parties have proposed federal assistance to bail out mortgage-holders. Many Americans who put little or no money down now owe more than the current market value of their house. While we surely sympathize with their unhappy predicament, why should they receive government assistance? Did Uncle Sam give special subsidies to those who were more financially conservative and deferred home ownership--often deferring Hawaiian vacations or new cars--until they could make a sizable down payment? Why should the tax dollars of wise homeowners bail out homeowners who took on more debt?
What about proposals to bail out borrowers with adjustable-rate mortgages for which the interest rate has reset higher? How is that fair to all the Americans who didn't bite on low teaser rates, but deliberately took on higher monthly payments at the outset so as to avoid the risk of rising interest rates?
The same unfair dynamic--the prudent being forced to pay for the mistakes of the imprudent--characterizes corporate bailouts. Those "wise virgins" who haven't bankrupted themselves (and whose pay, incidentally, is generally lower) are expected to shoulder rescue packages for the economic elite--for Wall Street firms, whose executives are at the pinnacle of the white-collar pay scale, and for the Big Three auto companies, whose UAW workers are near the top of the blue-collar pay scale.
Besides being financially prudent, today's "wise virgins" share other virtues.
They are loyal patriots who cherish their citizenship, uphold our democratic principles, and obey the laws of the land. For this, they deserve respect and honor; instead they see widespread contempt for those values, as politicians and political activists cater to those who defy our laws and principles.
Patriotic Americans feel betrayed when politicians cheapen citizenship by fast-tracking the naturalization of recent immigrants before an election, and when activists register illegal immigrants to vote.
Americans who play by the rules believe in the principle of one person, one vote; so when ACORN and others mock that principle by engaging in large-scale voter registration fraud, and neither the Justice Department nor the nightly news condemns such actions, what are they to think? What are they to think of President Obama's attempt to include several billion dollars for ACORN in his so-called "stimulus" package? What are they to think of Obama's astounding decision to transfer control of the next national census from the Commerce Department to his White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emmanuel? Is the "fix" on for 2012?
The ultimate insult to law-abiding Americans is the vigorous effort by some partisans to give felons the vote. Is there really a political upside to being "the party of felons" and granting lawbreakers the same political prerogatives as those who obey our laws?
2008 was a tough year for those who play by the rules, and 2009 may be even tougher. Congressional liberals have held hearings about nationalizing the private retirement accounts of today's "wise virgins" to help guarantee retirement income for their unwise counterparts, who, for whatever reason, have not saved enough. The president-elect wants to give tax credits (i.e., free money) to low-income workers. He overlooks the fact that their incomes are lower either because they aren't working as many hours as higher-income Americans or their labor produces less value. Obama wants more productive workers--mainly, those who made good use of 13 years of free education and continued to acquire skills, either through higher education or on the job, that create more value for their fellow citizens--to subsidize unproductive workers who didn't expend a comparable effort. (Does anyone in Washington realize that such policies precipitated the Fall of Rome?) If this is social justice, then our ethical compass is broken.
How long can our society endure if Washington continues to abuse "wise virgins" and make the prudent pay for the mistakes of the imprudent?
Dr. Mark W. Hendrickson is a faculty member, economist, and contributing scholar with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College.
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