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The Wealth of Nations

Written by Gary North on April 16, 2016

Now these are the commandmets, the statutes, and the judgments, which the Lord your God commanded to teach you, that ye might do them in the land whither ye go to possess it: That thou mightest fear the Lord thy God, to keep all his statutes and his commandments, which I command thee, thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son, all me days of thy life; and that thy days may be prolonged. Hear therefore, O Israel, and observe to do it; that it may be well with thee, and that ye may increase mightily, as the LORD God of thy fathers hath promised thee, In the land that floweth with milk and honey (Deut. 6:1-3).

Moses was repeating himself. He had just given a similar message: obey the law, enjoy long years, and have things go well for you: “Ye shall walk in all the ways which the LORD your God hath commanded you, that ye may live, and that it may be well with you, and that ye may prolong your days in the land which ye shall possess” (Deut. 5:33). He added three extra themes here: intergenerational covenant-keeping, population growth, and inherited wealth.

Intergenerational Covenant-Keeping

“Thou, and thy son, and thy son’s son”: this phrase reminded Moses’ listeners that their ethical responsibilities did not end with themselves; they extended down to those whose would eventually inherit. “Keep all his statutes and his commandments,” Moses told them. To preserve the inheritance intact through the generations, each generation would have to bear the responsibilities associated with training up the next two generations.

This position places grandparents into the chain of family command. The grandparents have responsibilities to preserve whatever capital they have accumulated. But this capital base is more than marketable wealth. The crucial capital asset is ethics. Without this, marketable wealth will inevitably be dissipated. This is the message of Deuteronomy 28:15-68.

Obviously, parents have greater covenantal authority over children than grandparents do. Parents are God’s designated mediators between Him and their children. The question is: Will the grandchildren mimic their parents or their grandparents? Which representative model will be dominant? There is always the possibility that grandchildren will model themselves after their grandparents. Folk wisdom has a saying: “We make our grandparents’ mistakes.” Each generation sees more clearly the mistakes of their parents and so seeks to avoid them. This leads to a kind of generation-skipping.

We have seen this in the twentieth-century United States. The 1920’s were years of ethical rebellion: the “roaring twenties.” This was a time of economic growth, sexual experimentation, artistic creativity and degeneracy, and present-orientation. In the United States, it was a time of illegal drugs: alcohol. The 1930’s followed: the Great Depression. The children of the “flappers” of the 1920’s grew up in the depression years and World War ll. They grew up in hard times, marched off to war, saw death on a massive scale, came home, started families, worked hard, saved their money, and enjoyed a growing prosperity without social rebellion. These children of the Great Depression bore the “flower children” who came of age in the late 1960’s, a time of economic growth, sexual experimentation, artistic creativity and degeneracy, and present-orientation. The marijuana-smoking flower children had far more in common with their hip-flask grandparents than with their parents. The 197O’s brought a reaction somewhat like the 193O’s: economic recessions, stagnation of per capita economic growth, a glum reaction against deviant behavior, and a growing conservatism. The children of the flower children became far more like their grandparents. The nostalgia among the young for the 1950’s began in the late 1970’s and escalated in the 1980’s.

The point is, there is no automatic straight-line social development. Societies are linear only in the broadest sense. They can experience culture-shattering crises that break the covenant. When this happens, people may react the way their grandparents did when facing similar crises. There is a kind of cultural echo effect: grandparents to grandchildren.

There is also an economic echo effect. De Tocqueville observed in the 1830’s that there was a rags-to-riches-to-rags phenomenon in the United States. This was an era of great economic freedom in which there were very few welfare guarantees by the State . . . I know no other country where the love of money has such a grip on men’s hearts or where stronger scorn is expressed for the theory of permanent equality of property. But wealth circulates there with incredible rapidity, and experience shows that two successive generations seldom enjoy its favors.”

The responsibility of the grandparents is even greater if they live in the households of their children and have responsibilities of raising them. This is the case in many Black households in the United States today, where grandmothers raise the grandchildren while their unmarried mothers work. The breakdown of the Black family since the 1940’s has led to a situation where two-thirds of the children today are born illegitimate – over 60 percent in inner-city areas? This has put enormous economic pressure on unmarried mothers and has added heavy social responsibilities on grandmothers, who are also frequently unmarried. Third-generation illegitimate children are becoming common.

(For the rest of my article, click the link.)

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