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July 3rd, 2018 | 1 min read

By Matthew Loftus

I stumbled upon this fine little essay from Micah Meadowcroft about illth, a term coined by John Ruskin to describe the misuse of wealth:

There are no unique secrets here, just the recognition that money can be misspent — or left unspent, producing nothing for anyone but compounded interest for its owner. We can go to Tim Carney for criticisms of rent-seeking and to Wendell Berry for descriptions of what is lost when industry and production are pursued without consideration for the cost, the tolls on human lives and on the land. Yet, though Ruskin frames illth here in economic terms, the word also gives us a way of speaking of the material and, at the same time, the moral components of financial transaction and market behavior.

A good friend and pastor from Sandtown likes to say that it would do no good to see his neighborhood become more materially wealthy just so it could become as spiritually poor as the counties. As various physical and mental illnesses ravage people across the income spectrum (but particularly harm the poor), we have to be addressing the spiritual malaise that accompanies both poverty and wealth — and refuse to buy the lie that more money and technology can solve the problem.

I also appreciate how Meadowcroft digs into the ever-growing divide between libertarians and conservatives:

The alliance that has united conservatives and libertarians in common cause against bureaucratic bloat and its soft despotism is crumbling; indeed, it could never be maintained. The identity confusion that manifested as the splintering of the Right into neo-conservatives, paleo-conservatives, crunchy conservatives, tea-partiers, Trumpists, and all the rest is, in large part, the tension between the conservative and the libertarian minds. The individualism and myopia of the libertarian vision of society — atomized individuals self-defined and free from every native context in a world where everything is earned and nature mastered — is at fundamental odds with the conservative reverence for ties to family, place, and history, with its hope for nature in harmony, man’s with himself and the rest of creation.

Matthew Loftus

Matthew Loftus teaches and practices Family Medicine in Baltimore and East Africa. His work has been featured in Christianity Today, Comment, & First Things and he is a regular contributor for Christ and Pop Culture. You can learn more about his work and writing at