Poverty Or Income Equality?

Yesterday, President Obama quoted Pope Francis on income inequality.

During a Wednesday speech on income equality, Obama remarked, “Across the developed world, inequality has increased. Some of you may have seen just last week, the pope himself spoke about this at eloquent length.”

He went on to quote a line from Pope Francis‘ apostolic exhortation “Evangelii Gaudium,” asking, “How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

Obama called the growing income gap the “defining challenge of our time,” along with the increasing difficulty of upward economic mobility, AP reported.
I think it is a theological and practical mistake to speak of income inequality as a problem in and of itself. As a Catholic, I am called to minister to the poor and to do what I can to alleviate the suffering of those in poverty. I am emphatically NOT called to foster a system in which everybody has the same income.

I understand that in the Pope's mind, poverty and income inequality are linked and he sees the former as a cause of the latter, all evidence to the contrary. It can be clearly seen that in those places with the greatest income equality also have the greatest poverty.

But leaving that aside, I am not called as a follower of Jesus to force equality of income on the world, I am called to care for the poor. I am convinced that when you promote the former, you exacerbate the latter. This is principally because big government is the preferred (only) method of enforcing income equality. When any government derives its power ostensibly to help the poor, it is in their vested interest to always make sure there are lots of poor. Poor equals power.

I think we should go back to speaking about genuine poverty and the most effective ways to mitigate its ravages rather than promote socialist utopian dreams that make things worse.
*subhead*A mistake.*subhead*


  1. I haven't read Evangelii Gaudium so am uncertain if the thing I remember Pope Francis speaking about recently is in there; he has spoken about joblessness for youth and the great problem it is. For me that shows he's not a Marxist; he wants the economy to improve so that young people can get jobs and get ahead. I don't see that as contradicting his exhortion for people to give. We're called to help others, but by choice, not by government redistribution of wealth; he merely reminds people who have more that they should give more.

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. I have read Evangelii Gaudium. Obama is using the Exhortation for his own purposes. It was adressed to all about sharing the love of Christ with our neighbor, not with the state. It is about personal relationships, personal relationships based on our humanity; the image of God we all are. The State is not an image of God. Our relationships rooted and sourced in the Trinitarian Love of God for us, pressed down overflowing to our neighbor. Obama didn't read it, he had it searched for talking points


  4. I agree with this but the point Francis and so many others seem to miss, over and over again, is that the "poverty" Jesus was most, most, concerned about was spiritual poverty (captivity to sin), not material poverty. Francis really seems mired in a Marxian view of the world where the materially poor are or should be the sole focus of the Church. That is not correct.

  5. @JB: Marxism has nothing to say about the materially poor. Marxism has a lot to say about the industrial labor-force and the investors who employ them; the materially poor who are not members of that labor-force are wholly omitted from its analysis.

    The big flaw in all American analysis of left-wing economics is that they identify the welfare-state as Marxist. But, however much Marxist class-war rhetoric the welfare-state may, or may not, use, there is absolutely nothing in Marxism (other than the slogan "from each according to his ability, to each according to his needs"—which is actually about central planning as allocator of resources) that supports a welfare-state. The welfare-state is a form of the 19th-century German Imperial Rechtsstaat that has its roots in Enlightenment thinkers like Kant; it is not Marxist.

    In Marxism, "social parasitism"—being a welfare leech—is not only disapproved, it is generally a crime. "Social parasitism" was a felony under Stalin, and Stalinist art depicts the "parasite" in the same terms as Ayn Rand (whose views are, in fact, "individualist Stalinism", between her actually having had a Cult of Personality and the fact all her books are about exemplary workers plagued by social parasites, which happens to be what all (other) Stalinist fiction is about).

    At what point has Francis ever even implied the materially poor should be the sole focus of the Church? The only way you could've got that impression is by deliberately not availing yourself of the actual texts of his statements, but rather of just soaking them in by "pop cultural osmosis", which is a lousy way to learn anything, especially things said by a Pope.

  6. No Sophie, you're wrong. His public statements have repeatedly emphasized, to the point of obsession I dare say, a preoccupation with the materially poor. He was the same way in Argentina. That's all well and good but concern for the materially poor is nothing new in the Church; Jorge Bergoglio did not invent that concern; and Christ himself stated that there were and are much higher level concerns. That the CDF removed his interview with Scalfari shows the extent to which Francis says things that are just off the wall at times, and confuse the heck out of people. Now he is pushing a notion of collegiality that Benedict himself clearly rejected, i.e., bishops' conferences with real doctrinal authority.

  7. Significant income inequality is a symptom of a profoundly unjust society. The solution isn't to just take from the (both justly and unjustly) prosperous and give it to the poor. The solution is to address the underlying sickness in the society that allows the inequality to exist. And as long as our society refuses to acknowledge that that sickness comes from sin, it won't be able to address it. So, we are left with redistribution of wealth as a poor band-aid to a profound economic sin.

  8. So we shall steal from the prosperous and give to the less prosperous. Brilliant. Who gets to decide what is the ideal distribution? Let me guess. A tyrant.

    Inequality in wealth is not a sin. It's the result of different work ethics, talents, hard work, and, sometimes, luck. Oppressive taxation (government stealing from its people) prevents more people from acquiring wealth.

  9. Wine in the Water,

    You've been drinking too much wine without benefit of watering it down first.

    I guarantee you that if we re-distributed all the world's wealth equally among all living souls, within ten years or less the "imbalance" would return to what you attack today. Greed and dishonesty would account for some of it, but the majority of the restored "inequlaity" would occur because of laziness, ignorance, stupidity in decision-making, not tomention greed and dishonesty among the lower classes.

    There is NOTHING you can do to equalize wealth distribution except by stealing it from those who produce at the point of a gun (i.e. government dictate). Human nature among the poor is just as flawed and destructive as that among the rich. This is the great lesson of 70 plus years of Soviet bloc Communism. The quality of goods produced was reduced to pathetic levels becasue the folks with creativity, abilty, and a strong sense of responsiblity saw no reason to work more often or effectively than those unable or unwilling to do so. The entire economies suffered as a result, as did the quality of life for everyone.

    You really need to get an education. Pat is exactly correct, and you are terribly wrong. Christ isnot concerned with inequlity in the terms you are. He has said we will always have the poor with us. Therefore, any attempt to end poverty effectively is doomed from the start, and the actual result willbe to grant dictattorial powers to the government pretending to deliver your precious "equality."

    Your analysis is squirrelly, your solution is not Christian, and you don't understand how economics works. I don't think you are intentionally anti-American but in effect you are anti-Americanin that you don't understand the unusual blending of Christian and secular principles which made this country great.

  10. People really need to read some Karl Marx. Then maybe they will realize just how nuts the guy was and how the right wing mutters abuse the turn to slander any ideology these cowards fear May comment on their precious 'unfettered capitalism'. Marxism is what opened the door for the oppression of the soviets, Mao in China and various others. It's atheistic nonsense. Capitalism isn't the be all end all, it's merely an economic system. That doesn't make me a Marxist, but it does make me someone who has eyes to see. The people not the economic system are who Christ can work through if permitted. Never an economic system. It's like blaming a gun for shooting people. It's not the gun, but the issues inside the head of the person pulling the trigger. All these things come down to people and our interactions. Our consumer mindset has made us good little dependence of the state and of corporatism. Fact. That doesn't make me a Marxist, nor the Pope nor anyone else. We have eyes to see. So just look around you.

  11. While it is true that the Pope does not mean to come across as something he is not a Marxist or Modernist or whatever, he needs as I hear none other than Ralph Martin say yesterday clarify what he means so it won't be taken out of context. Either way he is NOT infallible in this matter so he could be wrong.

  12. bleusmon,

    You've inferred a whole lot based on a very short comment. You risk calumny.

    I did not advocate for re-distribution, in fact I called it a poor solution to the problem. I did not condemn income inequality - for income inequality will exist as long as people are different and as long as those different people have different priorities - but only *significant* income inequality. I did not call for the elimination of poverty, because while I think we should work toward that end, it will never completely happen.

    I don't think anyone can look at our current economic system and call it just. People might disagree about the cause - for some over-regulation, for some under-regulation, for some greed, for some laziness - but the unjustness is there. The only cause I mentioned is sin, and Jesus is concerned enough about that to take on our humanity and die for it.

    Redistribution isn't our only answer. There is a lot that we can do to alter our system to discourage, rather than encourage, sin. Just a short list... We could limit abstraction in the securities market; the primary purpose that tranches have served is to obfuscate true value and to make money without producing value. We could eliminate short-selling, profit based on betting on the failure of a market player. We could stop classing corporations as persons. We can craft our regulations much more thoughtfully, so that they are clearer, have fewer unintended consequences, do less to play favorites in the market, and actually accomplish their aim. If we are to have public assistance, we can restructure our public benefits to actually aid in moving off public assistance and eliminate the gap between public assistance and self-sufficiency. We, as Christians, could behave as customers rather than consumers; valuing quality, craftsmanship and service instead of just consuming products like locusts, and reaping the consequences of what a market will do to lower prices. We, as Christians, could be far more generous, so that the state cannot so easily justify stepping in. Sin is embodied in our system. We may not be able to rid it of sin, but we can restrain it much more than we do.


Post a Comment