Imperfect? Really? The Human Condition and New Year’s Resolutions

Is human imperfection a novel concept? I was listening to a news podcast reporting on a political rally with “evangelicals” (my goal here isn’t to get into politics or even the ways the media reports on “evangelicals” and politics). The politician admitted to this crowd that he was not perfect, and the reporter was trying to explain how that admission somehow connects with Christians. The reporter went on to explain that Christians believe that we are not perfect and are in need of redemption. It was surprising to hear this explanation of Christian belief in human imperfection as novel in some way.

Image result for new year's resolutions free imageMy first reaction to this was “really?” with the oozing sarcasm of Seth and Amy on SNL. Isn’t human imperfection the one thing we can agree on? We can debate many issues and see valid arguments from different perspectives, but human imperfection should be the one thing we agree on. The flawed nature of humanity is the reason we need federal laws. It is the reason we need referees in sports, even when our “innocent” children play. It is a fundamental problem at the root of most religions. We may disagree on the solutions or paths to get there, but we should be able to agree that human beings are incapable of perfection. Any spouse or parent or sibling sees the imperfections of the ones they love the most.

If we are honest, we know we fail to even measure up to our standards for ourselves. For example, what were your New Year’s resolutions this year? How long will it be until you break your own promise to yourself? Even when we know what is right, we fail to do it. There is a passage in the Bible written by someone named Paul that reflects this very tendency:

“For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate… For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” (Romans 7:15b-16; 18b-19)

I resonate with these words. I suspect you might as well.

Then the question is why the reporter explained this belief in human imperfection as if it was some exotic belief discovered by an anthropologist deep in the mountains of Papua New Guinea. If human imperfection is self-evident and born out in our troubled history, why do we not admit it? I know that I can’t possibly know what goes on in people’s minds and hearts. Admittedly, I’m engaging in some speculation here, but I suspect that some do not want to acknowledge their flawed nature because it requires a response. Periodically, our toilet flushing mechanism breaks and it runs until someone fixes it. If I don’t know the toilet is running, I leave it alone. As soon as I’m aware that our toilet is running, I know I need to fix it immediately. If we are aware of our flawed nature, we are confronted with a problem that needs to be addressed.

Others seem to believe that positivity will conquer our flaws. Even to admit our flawed nature would crash in on this positive thinking. However, this is something only applied selectively. Imagine going to your mechanic with a failing transmission and he or she ignores the transmission, instead focusing on the beautiful paint job on the car and the plush interior. We would not go to a doctor or car mechanic that ignored the problems and only focused on the positives. So then, why do we approach the human condition like this?

Optimism without any grounding in reality is vacuous. But reality, if examined in raw honesty, can be brutal. It doesn’t feel good to recognize our nagging selfishness, our petty desires, and our unedifying pursuits. But the fate that awaits us if we ignore our sinful proclivities cannot be covered up with optimism. Like a misaligned steering wheel, we are naturally veering off our best path and it needs to be acknowledged and fixed. Before making more New Year’s promises that you won’t keep, it might help us all to reflect on our imperfect condition.

My optimism is not based on my superior handling of my flawed nature, because, like Paul, “the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.” Rather it is based on the one who lived without any flaws and offers redemption from the shackles of our imperfections.

In Praise of Academia: For Those Trying to Make a Lasting Difference

Soon after the terrible events of September 11, 2001, the United States went to war in Afghanistan. They went to war in Afghanistan without understanding Afghanistan and it has resulted in what Dexter Filkins calls “the forever war.” Recently the Washington Post released documented insider interviews unveiling the extent of the ignorance and effort to hide the ignorance with good ol’ American optimism and can-do spirit. Three-star US Army general and former Afghan war czar said it plainly: “We were devoid of a fundamental understanding of Afghanistan — we didn’t know what we were doing,” The cost of this ignorance has been many thousands of lives, untold traumas, and over two trillion dollars spent. By most estimates, Afghanistan is not much better off than it was eighteen years ago. Although the causes for this failure are certainly manifold, I want to hone in on one particular issue – ignoring the expertise. If leaders had taken more time to hear from historians, anthropologists, sociologists, religious scholars, philosophers and economists, I’m convinced it would have made a difference. I am not only referring to matters of military strategy. We have developed a culture that has marginalized academia, and we are paying a price for it.

In meetings this last week, more than once, I’ve heard people defend something by distancing it from academia. It is usually paired with a statement about wanting something practical or that leads to action. To drive the point home, people will say “we don’t want more ivory tower academia.” These statements sound good to people and often win the day. But it means we waste tremendous resources on emotional whims for the sake of “action”.

I have lived in parts of the world that do not always make the headlines. When I mention to people where I live, I’m often met with a big smile and comment like “I don’t really know about all that geography stuff”. What bothers me isn’t that people don’t know the place that I mentioned; it is the attitude that ignorance is totally fine, while wasting our God-given mental capacity on celebrity gossip or some gimmicky viral video. Neil Postman’s book, Amusing Ourselves to Death, seems more prescient every day. A couple of quotes capture some of Postman’s concerns:

“Americans no longer talk to each other, they entertain each other. They do not exchange ideas, they exchange images. They do not argue with propositions; they argue with good looks, celebrities and commercials.”

“In America, everyone is entitled to an opinion, and it is certainly useful to have a few when a pollster shows up. But these are opinions of a quite different order from eighteenth- or nineteenth-century opinions. It is probably more accurate to call them emotions rather than opinions, which would account for the fact that they change from week to week, as the pollsters tell us.”

When ignorance or emotions drive our actions instead of well-informed research and reflection, we hurt rather than serve society.

Practitioners Are At Their Best When They Consult Experts

After the devastating earthquake in Haiti in 2010, an American church with a big heart sought to respond by taking 33 Haitian children presumed to be orphans (later they discovered many weren’t orphans) across an international border into the Dominican Republic. Unsurprisingly, these American Christians were arrested for child trafficking. When the leader, Laura Silsby was asked about their reasoning, she said: “In our hearts, our intention was to help children that had been orphaned or abandoned by their parents.” Although their willingness to care for those in need is admirable, it was all heart. Had they spent time learning about sustainable community development or the chaos that ensues after natural disasters, they could have had a tremendous impact on the lives of those in need.

It is remarkable how many people ply their work with very little research to prepare them. It is amazing how many people make parenting decisions with little time spent reading studies on issues that impact the child’s development or character.

Academics Are At Their Best When They Are in Dialogue With Practitioners

Academia is not without its problems. A common complaint about academia is that so much of it seems irrelevant or disconnected from reality. I get it and agree. Research dollars are spent on things that are plainly obvious, like travelers who have TSA pre-check have better travel experience. Others research such minutiae that it is difficult to see how such research advances society. This is precisely the reason academics need dialogue with practitioners. When practitioners consult academics, it can fuel relevant and necessary research. When practitioners fail to engage the academy, both remain in silos that fail to make a difference.

A Learning Posture Contributes to Society

When we fail to engage studied research and reflection, we imply that we know all that we need to know. In other words, our failure to learn is supremely arrogant. I’ve been to a number of medical doctors, good ones and bad ones. The best doctors are consistently the ones that read the latest medical journals. They are also the ones that ask the best questions in diagnosis. Their learning posture demonstrates character and humility which makes them better doctors. We need to work harder at building a culture that embraces learning, and we need to no longer wear ignorance as a badge of honor. I will end with another thought from Postman underscoring the importance of reading:

“The reader must come armed , in a serious state of intellectual readiness. This is not easy because he comes to the text alone. In reading, one’s responses are isolated, one’s intellect thrown back on its own resourses. To be confronted by the cold abstractions of printed sentences is to look upon language bare, without the assistance of either beauty or community. Thus, reading is by its nature a serious business. It is also, of course, an essentially rational activity.”

“If You Build It, They Will Come”: Do Big Events or Projects Change Cities?

We can’t fix a city’s problems with big events. I recently spent a few days in Atlanta, Georgia. In 1996, Atlanta had the distinction of hosting the Summer Olympics. City planners saw the Olympics as the perfect excuse to rebuild and restore a blighted section of the city near Georgia Tech’s campus. I can remember the buzz about this amazing redevelopment of the area and how it would transform the lives of the people who lived in that area. During my recent trip to Atlanta I heard residents blaming the Olympics development plan for messing things up in the city. When the city of Atlanta redeveloped the area around Olympic Park they had to move everyone out of that neighborhood. When the Olympics were over, the area was now more dressed up and suited for a higher-rent community. In effect, the city of Atlanta made the poor of that community move further away from downtown. They did not actually solve or improve anything. In fact, the former residents of that neighborhood only faced disruption at the hands of city planners. (Here is a book discussing gentrification.)

Just recently Business Insider featured an article about cities bidding for the Olympics. Oslo, Norway pulled their bid from consideration for hosting the Winter Olympics in 2022. This leaves only two cities in the running, Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing, China. No one else wants to undertake the huge debt to host a month-long event and then leave behind buildings and structures that provide little benefit to the city. It was once a major prestige to host such a global spectacle, they believed the big event would bring in big revenue. That just isn’t case.

Most cities around the world aren’t trying to court the Olympic committee, but they have still succumbed to this mindset. City leaders become obsessed with skyscraper or building a new city plaza. They sell the idea by using phrases like “boost the construction sector” or “attract investors” or “put the city on the map”. But these big, sparkly, multimillion dollar projects rarely yield much for a city. The simple fact is we can’t just build our way into a better city.

Economics are critical for a city’s survival. If the economic stream of a city is gutted, there is no city in the world that could remain vibrant. Instead of looking for these big events or projects as the quick-fix solution to their economic woes, city leaders would do better to create a culture of entrepreneurial risk-taking and small business development. The focus needs to change from building buildings to building people. We have been trying to fix problems of urban poverty with buildings for decades and it still isn’t working. We need to find ways to restore economic opportunities at the grass roots level. It takes more time, energy, and risky investment, but it will yield far better results.

Radical or Ordinary: How Does Christianity Thrive?

Ordinary is the new Radical. Michael Horton’s newest book, Ordinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World, campaigns for the church to reconsider her calling to be faithful in ordinary Christian living. This is according to a Christianity Today book review by Philip Cary. (FullOrdinary: Sustainable Faith in a Radical, Restless World disclosure: I have only read the review of the book, but not the book…yet.) According to the review, Horton critiques the trendy obsession with “radical” obedience.Instead, he suggests that Christians plant themselves where they are. Instead of being obsessed with changing the world tomorrow, live faithfully by preaching the word, serving the local church, and giving a long commitment.

The cover design of the book and use of the term “radical” indicates the book Radical by David Platt might be in his cross-hairs. Platt’s book looks at the “American dream” and sees a contradiction with the Bible. The book came from a sermon series preached at the Church at Brook Hills, nestled in a wealthy suburb of Birmingham, AL. The book calls for readers to live less for themselves and live for Jesus in the way of Jesus. Giving to the poor, investing your lives with those who who have been marginalized or neglected by ministry efforts, and going with the message of the gospel to all parts of the globe. The book became wildly popular and was influential in many taking extraordinary steps in radical obedience to Jesus. Some Christian families took in foster children and/or adopted children. Others sold their large, comfortable houses and moved to locations where they could better serve those who had little.

Is Ordinary the way to go?

I understand Michael Horton’s concerns. All over the country, Christians are clamoring to be a part of churches that do extraordinary things. Churches, particularly of the mega variety, sensationalize their ministries and missions in such ways that it out-cools the smaller, simpler local churches. Christians will jump to new churches that appear to be doing such incredible things because they want to be a part of a church that does promotes such tweet-worthy endeavors. I was at a church that was hyping their missions emphasis by bragging that their church alone was going to send short-term missions teams to all 24 time zones (until they realized that one time zone had very few people in it). Sensationalized ministry and mission draws a lot of attention for a time, but if you leave a church to go to a different one doing bigger and better things, then chances are you will leave that church for the next church that does even bigger and better things. Celebrity pastors, rock concert worship performances, and hyped-up ministry campaigns can charm us into zombie-like enslavement to consumeristic Christianity.Front Cover

Horton’s call for Christians to live deeply where they are and live committed to a local church is a good one. The longer I’m around on this planet, the more I’m struck by the long-term potential impact of a church. All over the world there are small, simple, extremely uncool churches who are faithfully making disciples of Jesus and serving people in their communities. Most often these churches have pastors that come and go, but they have members who have committed for the long term. Odds are many of these churches are riddled with inter-relational troubles, but they stumble forward in service of our King. Long-term faithfulness in the place where God has put us doesn’t sound radical and yet it is (Jer. 29:4-7).

Is Radical the way to go?

I also understand David Platt’s concerns. I see the average, middle-class life and I see families living in a luxury that is shared with only a few people. We shuttle our kids to soccer practices and games and birthday parties and concerts and park in garages larger than most homes around the world. Thousands of dollars are spent on birthdays and holidays; much of it is spent on our families. This lifestyle takes what God has provided and spends it on ourselves. Then we fall into patterns of busyness that leave no room for serving the poor and marginalized. The urgency of the gospel is drowned out by getting our kids to one pleasant activity after another. It is no wonder that Platt called for the church to reconsider the biblical call to love our neighbors as much as we love ourselves. The story told by Jesus to illustrate what this means is the one about the good Samaritan who took great risks and made great sacrifices of time and resources to help a nobody (Luke 10:25-37).

The call to live radically is not intended to be guilt-inducing or works-righteousness oriented. There is a recognition that many of us built up a lifestyle for ourselves that needs to be dismantled so we can live faithfully in the way of Jesus. Nobody is suggesting this is an easy move, but it is a necessary one. It troubles me that whenever someone reminds us of the biblical injunction to do something difficult, the grace police come out with accusations of trying to earn God’s grace by living radically. The Bible is indisputably clear that we can do nothing to earn God’s favor and we have no other recourse except to turn in faith to the Messiah Jesus. And the Bible is equally clear that, now that we live in God’s grace, we can and should put everything on the line for God’s glory. This is not a call to go find the church with the sexiest radical ministries or the pastor with the preaching that makes it hurt so good. This is a call to intentionally live our lives where we are, with our orientation on serving Christ and his kingdom.

But that is not the whole story. Christians, as a whole, are overwhelmingly middle-class and in places where there are a lot of other Christians. If we all live faithfully in our contexts–as wonderful as that would be–there would be large segments of the global population who would be untouched by our faithful service. In our cities, we tend to live in the places where it is safe and the schools are good. Who will serve the communities mired in poverty which lack the basic structures that would enable them to be lifted out of it? Who will serve 1 billion slum dwellers around the world? Who will share this message of God’s grace to the 2 billion people who live beyond the reach of a faithful church worshiping in their language?

A solution found in church history

Michael Horton’s call to live faithfully right where you are seems incomplete. David Platt’s call to live radically is perceived to be too extreme for the ordinary Christian. What do we do with this apparent conflict? When we look back at 2000 years of our history as the church, the names that come to mind are those who took radical steps to live obediently to the radical gospel of Jesus. We know the story of Paul, a converted Christian-hunter, who gave everything to take the gospel to cities and provinces that had yet heard the news. Perhaps we can recall St. Francis of Assisi, who left his comfortable lifestyle to preach among the poor. Or, William Carey who put his whole family in jeopardy in order to go to a part of the world that lacked a gospel witness. Or, in our contemporary era, Viv Grigg giving up a comfortable ministry with middle class university students in order to share Christ in the slums of Manila (you can read Grigg’s story here). There are thousands of others who have responded to the gospel of Christ by taking radical steps.

St. Francis, William Carey, and Viv Grigg took courageous steps to obey the call of Christ on their lives. The challenge in doing so was the church. The church’s default ministry orientation is to her immediate community. In the case of each of these men, they had to develop another structure for those who felt called to a more radical type of obedience, whether it was to the poor in the same city or crossing oceans with the message of the gospel. Throughout Christian history, there have been monastic orders and missionary societies that have provided a structure for those wishing to follow Christ radically. In 1973 the late Ralph Winter gave an address promoting the two structures used by God for his redemptive purposes. One structure we readily acknowledge is the church. We tend to be more reluctant to acknowledge the validity and role of the missionary structure. Yet, it is precisely this structure that continues to push the church beyond the status quo, by going to places where the church is not yet established. The church as a whole has thrived best when these two structures are both present and mutually supportive.

So, we need Michael Horton’s message to invest deeply where God has placed us with an unrelenting commitment to the local church and the ministry of the gospel. And we need David Platt’s message to break out of a mediocre Christian life in order to serve God more radically by serving the poor and going to people who have been beyond the reach of the established church.

Urbanization Fosters Democracy

Two news stories serve to remind us of the positive potential of urbanization. Both stories are in countries not known as beacons of democracy. For the first time in a long time women in Afghanistan are able to vote in their elections. It is unprecedented because during the Taliban era this was unthinkable. The news reports indicate that women are braving the voting stations in the cities of the war-torn nation. In a country women are too often treated like property, this progressive event could only happen in cities. Social change happens in places where news ideas are generated and there are enough people to adopt and spread these new ideas. Cities are such places.

The other story comes out of China. Thousands of Christians have come together to help save a church building in Wenzhou (a city with a long Christian heritage). It seems a local politician decided to tear down this church building, but with no legal grounding to do so. These Christians organized a peaceful protest by staying on the church grounds around the clock to prevent its destruction. In a fractured and disconnected society politicians can rule without regard for individual rights or justice. But in a city, people have opportunities to stand up to such blatant injustice. There is an empowering effect that comes with urbanization. Thousands of Chinese Christians have mounted an extraordinary, round-the-clock defence of a church in a city known as the 'Jerusalem of the East'

The democratizing effect of urbanization is not a new phenomenon. History tells of many dictators who have been overthrown by the groundswell of empowered urban dwellers. The EDSA Revolution in Manila, Philippines effectively took down the Marcos regime. The Arab Spring a few years ago was a testimony to the strength of urban numbers. Although urbanization brings many difficulties and can facilitate exploitation, it also becomes a powerful force against government and political abuses all over the world.

Poverty and Segregation

The Atlantic ran an article by Richard Florida on American cities and the geography of poverty. Florida draws on the findings of a report by Kendra Bischoff and Sean Reardon. I think this is an important topic to consider, because the ways we design, legislate, and administrate our cities depends on clear thinking about this issue. A lack of clear thinking about this can lead to superficial legislation that does not aid the urban poor. Here are a few thoughts on the report and the conclusions we might draw from it.

First, don’t be thrown off by the word “segregation”. In the aftermath of racial segregation, this word might conjure up images of forced separation of the rich and the poor. By and large the poor live in places they can afford to live. Wealthy communities remain wealthy communities because the poor cannot afford to live there. In this report “segregation” is used to denote geographical separation regardless of the causes.

The geography of poverty matters. As the report by Bischoff and Reardon states, there enough studies that show causal links between poor neighborhoods and human impact to cause us to pay attention. We, middle-class Americans, have a tendency to think very individualistically about wealth accumulation. Quite often it is because family and neighborhood factors were so stable and supportive that we didn’t notice the boost it gave us. Children who grow up in poor neighborhoods aren’t just poor, but they don’t have the same quality of education, public libraries, police protection, and even public maintenance. The less tangible consequence of hailing from a blighted neighborhood is the stigma one carries with them. It can impact education, employment, bank loans, and even social interaction. In other words, ares of concentrated poverty should draw our attention and concern.

Not all concentrated poverty is equal. There are some advantages to living in a poor neighborhood for some people. If they are recently resettled refugees then they need access to their own community for language, culture, and even job needs. It is easier for children of immigrants to be near other children of immigrants rather than in a less multicultural suburb. There are also proximity needs. If people don’t have access to private transportation, then they need access to public transportation or walkability. People live where they do for complex reasons.

It was suggested in Richard Florida’s post that there is significance in the fact that poverty is more segregated in higher density cities. A lot of other factors need to be considered to interpret this observation. High density exists for a reason. It tends to be the older cities (northeast and midwest) that are most dense. This makes sense because they are the oldest cities and grew at a time before the automobile became the default mode of transportation in American cities. High density usually means high demand for property which also means high cost. As much as we lament some of the impact of gentrification, it is not something we can just stop. The poor in more population dense contexts are more often renters, which means they subject to less sought after locations. Newer cities are less dense and less economically segregated…so far. I wonder if this will begin to change over time. I also wonder if the suburbanization of poverty is going to flip some of the findings of this study. The primary census data they are using is from 1970-2000. Could it be that changes over the 14 years are changing some of those findings? Does a history land ownership impact the results of the study?

The report does still serve to call attention to neighborhoods of concentrated poverty and our response. There have been efforts in the past to tear up the socioeconomic pavement and try to create mixed class neighborhoods. This has been challenging, tedious, and has yielded few good reports. And our answer can’t be simply to pump in middle class families into a poor neighborhood. It runs the risk of gentrifying a neighborhood and making it inhospitable for poorer families. Robert Lupton urges us to consider a small number of people who enter a neighborhood to seek its welfare. It is a slow way to bring change to neighborhood, but it is a proven way.

Urban Parks are the Best

Just one block from where I’m staying in Taipei is urban park. It is the 228 Peace Memorial Park. On a whim I walked over there after getting some coffee. The park was buzzing with activity. people were walking, jogging, bicycling, dancing, and even practicing martial arts. There were the elderly intermingled with young children. Today there was a wedding going in part of the park. And not too far away there was an orchestra playing music for all to enjoy. It was not a big park, maybe six or eight city blocks, but it is green space in the midst of urban density and it is a public space for everyone: rich or poor, young or old, local or visitor.

I have been to my fair share of suburban parks. I get depressed going to them. They lack life unless there is a baseball game going on. They feel like a waste of tax dollars and a good lawnmower. They sprawl endlessly and generally feel neglected (even if it is maintained).

The little urban park in Taipei isn’t unique among urban parks. It is a natural phenomenon when these small public spaces are carved out of urban density. They are an open space for people to gather. They attract all of the diversity of the city to entertain in the city’s living room. Urban parks become one of life’s little joys that add to a thriving city life.

Gentrification is not a Topic to Ignore

“I don’t want to mention the ‘g’ word.” The “g” word she was referencing was “gentrification.”  I heard one of the presenters at a recent seminar on the topic of “urban placemaking” say this as she told of her work in niche urban development. She was salvaging heritage buildings by turning them into beautiful houses and weaving the residents into a real neighborhood. Her presentation was combined with two other presentations. One was from an entrepreneur who has started niche artisan cafes and bakeries in the midst of high-rise concrete apartment blocks. The third presentation was from erudite architect who gave compelling reasons to design buildings inside and out that is both aesthetically pleasing and highly usable by people. Each presenter was passionate about making better cities and the relationship between physical space (and built environment) and the flourishing of urban Imagedwellers.

But my ears registered a disturbance in the force when I heard the desire to avoid the “g” word. It struck me that while all three presenters aim to beautify the city, their plans were primarily for those wealthy enough to use disposable income for such beauty. Each of them presented ideas that would raise the image of the neighborhood and attract the middle and upper class. One of the presentations quite clearly portrayed urban renewal in a community that was famously blighted by bringing back to the city home owners through highly appealing urban home designs. This is precisely what gentrification is. It is the arrival of middle and upper class land owners in older, run-down communities. Gentrification hotly debated in cities all around the world and for good reason. It is not as simple as making old neighborhoods newer and shinier. The changes in the community impact the old residents of the community, sometimes forcing them out to other locations.

Returning to the seminar I attended. I asked the presenters about possible solutions for placemaking for the urban poor. This is an important consideration since two out of seven people in the world are considered the urban poor. I was hopeful that these creative and inspiring presenters would regale me with wonderful ideas for make urban places better for those without access to plump bank accounts. Their responses were thoroughly uninspiring. One of the presenters even mentioned a soup kitchen for the poor. It was telling to me that the presenters seemed to consider good places and well-designed structures only relevant for the haves. And for the have-nots, we will just make sure they have a bit of food for a day. This is the danger of not taking an honest assessment of gentrification and its impact on all of the people in the community.

There is a brand new book that wrestles with this very important topic of gentrification: Vespas, Cafes, Singlespeed Bikes, and Urban Hipsters: Gentrification, Urban Mission, and Church Planting. The contributors bring the experience of those seeking the good of their cities as well as nuanced thinking about a complex issue. The book is available as a paperback or an e-book. Check it out.

Income Inequality

The Atlantic posted on article that seeks to demythologize the causes of income inequality. The article made this claim:

Don’t mind the rich-poor gap. Statistical analysis shows three factors—overall income growth, marriages, and local government spending—matter most for poorer children chasing the American Dream. 

But this is actually a deceptive way of looking at things. Income inequality is far more complex than these three factors. And even further reflection into these three factors reveals that a superficial fix is not the answer.

The rich-poor gap is not simply a matter of some individuals being rich while other are poor. It is directly related to the structures (both formal and informal) that benefit large corporations and spending that does not lead to local government spending. Local government spending relies on local tax dollars. Many big box stores and other large companies prefer to develop on unincorporated land further where tax rates are lower. Of course the tax rates are lower because it was often rural farmland. When this happens it draws tax dollars away from local communities where more people live. In other words, if we want local government spending, then we need to support businesses that pay taxes in our communities.