It has been said that power tends to corrupt and that absolute power tends to corrupt absolutely. It’s just as true that wealth tends to corrupt and great wealth tends to corrupt greatly. One can cite as authorities Lord Acton and Jesus Christ.

A great nation and a successful family begin in a state of relative poverty. But by work, discipline, frugality, cooperation, courage and sacrifice, they build one generation’s gains upon another’s until they have achieved material success and acquired wealth. It is then that as more generations come and go, the wealth insidiously subverts and dilutes their work ethic, discipline, frugality, cooperation, courage, sacrifice and humility, resulting in a society and family that is fastidious, effete, egoistic, prodigal, permissive, promiscuous and proud. Corruption sets in; and generation by generation they decline and are succeeded by another society and family that have their origins in circumstances common to the ones that they succeed. One can cite as authority the history of man, in which there is no end of examples relating similar tales of the beginnings and ends of nations and families.

Today’s bare sufficiency and tomorrow’s uncertain needs spur the will to survival and cause societies and families willy-nilly to harness themselves with discipline and sacrifice and to work single-mindedly and prayerfully toward the harvest of their efforts. But once wealth is acquired and tomorrow is secured eyes once on heaven look to earth and the harness of discipline is discarded and is replaced with incipient dissoluteness that in time become pervasive corruption. Rome comes to mind.

Further, great wealth juxtaposed with abject poverty tends to cause the poor to question the disparate distribution of wealth, the unevenness of power and the hopelessness of their conditions. Thus demoralized, they turn to the escape of drink and drugs , the abuse of which is the slick slope to endless human misery.

Saints and sages through the ages have contemplated man’s dilemma of being an animal harboring a infinite spark that is forever at odds with man’s primal nature and have concluded that the end of life is to cultivate the eternal image within man at the expense of his animal self. Confucius so concluded, as did Buddha, Lao-tse, Epictetus, Moses, and Christ. The animal, they say, is insatiable and mortal but that the divine image is an immortal seed of a peace, which in flower is bliss beyond what man imagines. Thus, feasting the former is tantamount to starving the latter. Heaven, said the sages, is victory of God’s image within oneself over appetites and desires for wealth and power and consequently over the pride born of power. Hell is the rule of the animal.

The humble carpenter from Galilee, who harbored a phenomenal image of God, taught from the mount that the Kingdom of God was within one and that its cultivation and realization required doing good for evil, turning the other cheek, shunning the acquisition of wealth, doing for the poor, confining sex to procreation, loving ones enemies and forgiving wrongs done to one seven times seventy.

The mother of paradoxes is that this nation is chiefly Christian in belief and totally capitalist in worship. Christ taught that a camel has a better chance of passing through the eye of needle than a rich man has of entering the kingdom of God. Yet, this nation’s economic engine is capitalism, a system designed specifically to create great wealth, to produce in mass all manner of creature comforts and to bring into the hands of the busy and acquisitive enormous profits that are often locked in trusts for the benefit of scions and their sons until the line is lost in decadence or the trust is exhausted, whichever comes first.

What does a parent tell a child who begins to notice the contradictions of the ends of Christ and the ends of capitalism? He learns from the church that he is not to store up material treasures and from the state he learns that success is precisely to do the opposite; that is, to store up such things in such quantities that they would serve him a thousand lifetimes. Few, if any, tell him that God’s end and the state’s end are mutually exclusive; that is, if one enters Christ’s strait gate and treads the narrow way he cannot at the same time walk the wide way of acquisition of worldly things. For wealth tends to corrupt and great wealth to corrupt greatly.

There, then, is within one the same moral division and conflict that is without one. Within one the spark of God competes with the animal for rulership and without the small voice of God is as a whisper in a wind storm of getting and spending and acquiring and storing up. A nation whose children are habituated to luxury is lost because its children have had the spark of God smothered by consumption and comfort.

So history repeats, because it is not studied and taken to heart. The republic becomes the empire and the log cabin the manor house. Then, ease and luxury and the escalation of pleasures beset success, subvert character, and corrupt the soul, leading to an ignominious denouement and the finish to empire and manor.

Capitalism and its agents cunningly cater and pander for profit to man’s animal self, larding it up with a mountain of sweets and goodies and in the process all but extinguishing the only aspect of man that is unique and worthy of cultivation and preservation. Christianity has become ritual, effectively eliminating Christ therefrom. Thus, it bodes ill for this nation: For the correlation between wealth and corruption is in a range that allows prophets to gain credence.

About Sam's Branch

I joined the Peace Corps in 1961 as West Virginia’s first volunteer. Go to to order my book Imagonna: Peace Corps Memories. I am the eighth generation of my family born in the Big Coal River Valley of West Virginia. My father and grandfather were underground coal miners. I have a chemical engineering degree from West Virginia University (WVU). After training to make sidewinder missiles, I joined the Peace Corps and taught chemistry and coached the track team at a secondary school in Nigeria. Since that time, I was WVU’s first full time foreign student advisor and worked in urban outreach, organic farming, construction labor, and high school teaching. I recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Highlands Conservancy (, and recently retired from the board of directors of the West Virginia Kanawha State Forest Foundation ( I am still on the board of the Labor History Association and the West Virginia Environmental Education Association and recently joined the board of the West Virginia Civil Liberties Union. I am active in the campaign to stop the destructive practice of mountain top removal strip mining in the Appalachian Mountains. You may contact me at or my blog samsbranch.wordpress.
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