• ivan_the_mad

    Yes, yes, yes! This!
    “as if it were for charity to veil the violation of justice which lawmakers not only tolerated but at times sanctioned, wanted the whole care of supporting the poor committed to charity alone”
    Please, let Catholics of right-wing affinity reject the pernicious notion that government ought to have little or no involvement in the market. All have a duty of charity, but it is a duty of the public authority to ensure justice.

    See CotCC 1908, 2425, 2426 for more. As usual, the teaching of the Church is common sense, a third way that navigates between the ridiculous ideological extremes of every age.

  • MClark

    I dislike this video. It jumps between wealth and income, which are not the same thing and are not interchangeable. It does not define what wealth is. Most of the wealth is in stocks and real estate, not a pile of cash in a person’s account. Bill Gates is worth what he is because he has Microsoft stock, not $57B in a bank account.

    Do the poor really think about adding to their wealth? I see a lot of consumerism among my friends, not a lot of discussion about good stocks to buy. It may be because money talk is discouraged, makes people feel bad. You know your buddy is unemployed, sleeping on his brother’s couch, you don’t say “I quit smoking and drinking and have $1000 for a Roth IRA, how do I invest it?” But still. Many of them are not doing well, yet they still smoke, drink, have cable TV.

    Maybe this is a subset of the old grasshopper vs ant story. I’m struggling to be an ant, I’m happy when my friends are successful in their antlike endeavors, and feel sympathy for failed ants. But I’m still puzzled at grasshopper behavior.

    Imagine two cubicle drones. They have enough income to save a bit. One is really frugal and saves a lot more, invests wisely. She starts to accumulate wealth. The other runs up huge bar tabs, takes trips to europe, never pays of credit cards so pays a lot of interest. Videos about wealth don’t really address this. They just point at the ant and bang on about she as wealth but other people don’t.

    I admit ‘investing wisely’ is tough now a days. Stock market loves to take inexperienced investor’s cash, real estate takes a long time to get into. But that is a different topic.

    If the video was about only income inequality and how it has changed, I’d be a lot more supportive.

    • Dan Berger

      [a cubicle drone] runs up huge bar tabs, takes trips to europe, never pays of credit cards so pays a lot of interest…
      Dude. How many cubicle drones do you know? Do they really have that kind of income? If so, I want me some of that job! It’s bound to be easier than what I’m doing now.
      No, the fact that the bottom 40% of Americans own 5% of the wealth, and the top 0.1% own 20% (or whatever equally unjust figures were cited in the video) is not a problem of charity; it’s a problem of opportunity. If wealth is accumulating in such a drastically lopsided fashion, it is depriving the people who don’t have it of educational and economic opportunity — if only because all that money at the top end is bidding up the price of education and opportunities until it’s out of reach for the poor.
      I’ve done an analysis myself, for my private edification, based on public national income tax data; I’d post it, but I threw away the spreadsheet and don’t want to do it over again. Thetop roughly 5% of income earners pay 40% of income taxes; but that’s because they take in 38% of the total national income (reported as AGI, mind you; there are a number of deductions that come out before AGI is computed, and many of those deductions are biased toward higher income brackets). 38% of each year’s adjusted gross income going to 5% of the population is not as extreme a division as the wealth gap, because wealth is the accumulation of many years of income, less expenses. But it’s still not good.

      • MClark

        I was thinking about engineers at Sandia National Labs (http://www.sandia.gov/) or other above median income level worker. Perhaps drone was a misnomer, but you’d be surprised how much they kvetch about their jobs. The point was to illustrate how wealth is a personal story involving choices on each individual’s part.

        I freely admit income inequality is the issue. However, I seem to recall about twenty years ago some statistic about how no matter how much you made, you still spent 95% (or higher) of your income. If a person does not save, they will not create wealth for themselves. They may have it pretty good, no complaints, but they don’t have wealth, which was the whole point of the video.

        I would still like to see more of these statistics expressed as income inequality, not wealth. It’d be nice if there was some sort of metric about discretionary income, like how long does it take to save six months living expenses, or 50% of the average cost of a new car.

        • Christina

          That was something that was bothering me as well when watching this video. I’m certain I’m in that bottom 40% on his chart – I only make 50K/year – yet I’ve tried to keep my spending low and not get sucked into the consumerism lifestyle. This makes a huge difference in how wealthy I “feel” – as far as I’m concerned I have more money than I need – so I save and give a lot. Whereas I know many others who make over six figures who are struggling to pay bills because they are in debt to the tone of millions.

          • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

            Median *household* income at the last Census was $52,762. An individual making $50k/yr. is doing just fine.

            • Christina

              Yes, that’s exactly my point. Since I’m median wouldn’t that mean I’m at the 50% mark? He made those at 50% sound like they were living off of bread and water – “barely distinguishable from the poor”.

              Yes – I agree I’m doing just fine. Especially since I’m almost debt free – despite only making this amount for three years. Even when I was making 35K I was still working towards debt free (although obviously a bit more slowly).

              • The Next to Last Samurai

                I agree with you. The best cure for poverty is to leave the Matrix, so to speak, to avoid consumerism. I was just reading a book about how to avoid identity theft that said the average American gets a new smartphone every 18 months. It’s unlikely you really need a new phone every 18 months, but people tend to just respond to their phone company’s come-ons with little thought. Think. Leave the Matrix. Buy as little as possible. Don’t watch TV, which exists to show you things to buy. Don’t read women’s magazines. (I’m so old I remember when women’s magazines had actual editorial content, instead of advertising disguised as articles.). Remember that every time you buy something, you are participating in a system built on the grave sin of usury. Stop buying and you’ll soon have more money–not necessarily enough, but more.

                • The Next to Last Samurai

                  By the way, I am a cubicle drone: boring job in a cubicle, average pay.

        • Dan Berger

          It’s a fair bit easier to save if you’re making, say, 150% of the cost of housing, utilities and basic food than if you’re making, say, 101%. I’m in my current job because of that: I had two offers at the same pay rate, but in one location the local cost of living in anything short of a rathole was something like 150% of the salary on offer; in the other, it was about 75%.
          Not everybody has the luxury of such a choice.

  • Mike

    What percentage of the so-called 1% is Jewish? I am only asking because I am sensing anti-semitism in the critiques of the wealthy. What does it matter if Bill Gates is worth $5,000 billion if I have a good life. If he’s a gifted or connected manager of assets so what? Envy and greed are just as much a problem among the so-called poor as they are among rich people. The answer is in following Christ whereever you are not on dumping on others.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      Bill Gates is actually quite active in charitable work, and happens, AFAIK, not to be Jewish. Recent symbols of the top 1% Romney/Ryan were respectively a Mormon and a Catholic. I don’t think there’s any anti-Semitism inherent to this topic.

  • Ed the Roman

    Taking the shirt off another man’s back won’t make me warm. Even if his shirt is silk.

    There are a lot of good things that *poor people* have that cannot be produced under distributism. No chip fabs, no computers, no cell phones, no internet; and chip fabs cannot be small family enterprises.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “There are a lot of good things that *poor people* have that cannot be produced under distributism.” Then you are misinformed concerning distributism. You should look into what distributists have to say concerning cooperatives; the poster child is generally Mondragon Corporation.

  • Remke

    There are some serious problems with the video. The simplest is that age isn’t taken into account. One would expect to see that 18 year olds should have less wealth than 60 year olds even if everyone made exactly the same wage, since the older ones have had a lot more time to save. (Not to mention all those college kids/graduate students who have low wealth today because they are borrowing, will earn very high salaries later.) That’s not to say that there aren’t systemstic disparities in wealth, but this video exaggerates the problem rather severely. None of which invalidates the moral point about avoiding serving Mammon, of course.

  • http://creativefidelity.wordpress.com Dan F.

    This is a consistent problem with videos like this. They get the moral point right but because they conflate terms and statistics miss the boat on specifics.

  • Matt Talbot

    Mark – I and the people I know who advocate for what you call “Statism” do so not because we are especially fond of state solutions, per se, but because there is no other entity currently in our civilization capable of restraining the tendency of capitalist economies of becoming plutocracies where there are a few oligarchs lording it over a frightened, servile workforce.

    • Mark Shea

      The problem is that the state is incestuously involved with the plutocrats.

      • Matt Talbot

        Agreed: another way of describing that is “corruption.”

    • Mike

      In my experience the governments are often just as bad as the worst “corporate” offenders. Do you know how many pencil pushers I know who contribute nothing to the general welfare of our society who take precious resources away from healthcare providers and families to line their pockets with $100K plus salaries? Governments are full of waste, immoral, indecent, waste. How much money set aside for helping homeless people is wasted on junior analysts pulling in $65K? I am not against governments doing what is needed but I am against it wasting money that could go to the poor. In my experience the people who most benefit from government are already upper middle class liberal white folks.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    “There is one bit of advice given to us by the ancient heathen Greeks, and by the Jews in the Old Testament, and by the great Christian teachers of the Middle Ages, which the modern economic
    system has completely disobeyed. All these people told us not to lend money at interest: and lending money at interest — what we call investment — is the basis of our whole system.” (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity)

    The foundation of modern capitalism is not private property nor the proverbial free market. It is usury. If the foundation of your economic system is something that all wisdom teaches as a vice, something is seriously wrong.

    Socialism is not the remedy. But capitalism is definitely a disease.

    • http://irenist.blogspot.com/ Irenist

      “Socialism is not the remedy. But capitalism is definitely a disease.”
      Indeed. Socialism is centered on the collective. Capitalism is centered on the individual. An economy in line with the teaching on the Church would be a golden mean between these, centered on the family.

      • ivan_the_mad

        I wonder if that golden mean involves “that special kind of justice which is called distributive”?

  • http://arkanabar.blogspot.com Arkanabar

    “One class, very small in number, was enjoying almost all the advantages which modern inventions so abundantly provided; the other, embracing the huge multitude of working people, oppressed by wretched poverty, was vainly seeking escape from the straits wherein it stood.” The way technology progresses is that wealthy early adopters get every cool thing first by paying the huge amounts of money that the inventors need to (a) recoup the costs of development and (b) streamline the production process so that stuff goes from being expensive to cheap. The amazing thing about free markets is not that they have made silk stockings available to queens, but that they have made silk stockings (and microwaves, and smartphones, and cars [with antilock brakes and automatic transmissions], and televisions, and air conditioning, and four different OTC analgesics of known efficacy and safety, and abundant food) available to shopgirls. I, who regularly describe myself as “desperately poor,” because I’ve been unemployed for three years now, still have wealth in my humble abode which King Edward could never have had and could scarcely have imagined. I have never imagined that I would join the 1%, but neither have I been under the illusion that there’s some other way to have the majority of people well-housed, well-fed, and healthy. The obligation to care for the poor is from God and given to the Church (and especially the laity), NOT CEASAR.

    @MClark: Bill Gates is wealthy because he made Windows and Microsoft Office available to people who wanted them, at a better price/value point than anything comparable at the time. Never mind that I think they’d now be much better off with Linux Mint and LibreOffice, he still did us a favor, and he got paid well for it. It’s my intention to get paid for helping people as well, but if I’m not helping as many people as Gates did, in a manner as valuable as he did, why should I cry that I’m not as wealthy as he is?

    • MClark

      @Arkanabar I made no judgments on how Gates got his wealth. The video makes it seem the wealthy sit on stacks of cash, whereas most own assets such as stocks and real estate. I offered Bill Gates as an example of a person whose wealth is tied up in stock. I’m sure he has some large amount of cash wealth, but not nearly the whole of his worth.

  • Matt Talbot

    The obligation to care for the poor is from God and given to the Church (and especially the laity), NOT CEASAR.
    False choice. In a democratic republic, can’t the people choose to use their government to address problems that are structural to their society?

    • Allan

      Yes, but then they’re not the ones necessarily helping the poor. It tends to become a game of “tax THOSE guys more so we can help the poor”.

      The obvious answer to poverty, of course, is that the church (not as an institution entirely, but us as individual members) are supposed to care for the poor. When the church is abandoned/persecuted to the point of being a minority that doesn’t have the means to help large numbers of people… I don’t know what the answer is after that. But it’s becoming clear to a lot of people that more government isn’t the answer (maybe better gov’t, but how do you get that?). As pointed out above, gov’t seems to mostly help civil servants, consultants, lobbyists. And many of the poor who receive help tend to be reduced to little more than pets of the gov’t, being fed and housed by their masters. Not a lot of dignity in that. There will always be some small percentage of the population that simply can’t care for themselves and need help, but many who are capable find that it is easier to live as the government’s pet, and begin a cycle of welfare dependency. How do you help those who genuinely need it while not turning able people into lifelong welfare cases? I think until that problem is solved, many will be opposed to gov’t solutions to poverty.

  • Mark R

    I am as apalled as the next at such vast wealth inequalities…But should not some of them be chalked up to economic innovations — whose centers are concentrated in a few areas and create for its workers lots of loot –which attracts the intermediacy of the banking community, which creates wealth for another stratum concentrated in certain areas –and the populace’s utter dependence, now, upon technology. Of course, I know there are bad, unscrupulous people out there who take advantage of this, but great wealth disparity, since it has ALWAYS existed, and maybe abated for a while in the 1960-1970s, may not be the result of elite pupeteering. (Forgive the stream of consc. writing, I am in a hurry.)

  • Andrew

    Three dynamics at play in America currently:

    1. We’re at the end of a 30year debt binge where GDP was artificially bloated due to debt, not productivity and savings.
    2. We’re seeing the negative effects of Globalism whereby labor inputs for manufacturing (mostly middle-class) can be sourced globally due to inexpensive transportation and a huge disparity in wages.
    3. Frugality, thrift, hard-work, education have become bygones of some other time, not perennial virtues shared by many.

    This wasn’t a grand conspiracy. Yes, the very wealthy encouraged all this because they profited from it. But, all if not most of us played along by virtue of our consumer habits, the people we elected and our (mine too) own vices (greed, sloth, gluttony…).

    The Church has indeed been wise on this subject. No one listened. So, here we are.

  • http://www.traditionalchristianity.WordPress.com Vanessa

    Inequality is not neutral because high levels of it automatically distorts market prices, causes inflation, destroys the family structure, and reduces social mobility, even if the most wealthy aren’t intending to impoverish the poor and are even very personally charitable.

    Bill Gates being very wealthy makes me poorer even if he eventually gives away every cent he takes in. It’s a gross distortion of the market for one player to control so much of the money, even if he spends it with the best of intentions. That is, after all, why communism failed. There’s no way to get around that just by telling us all to work harder and save more.

  • http://www.traditionalchristianity.WordPress.com Vanessa

    You have to remember how the extremely wealthy became so rich, in the first place. There has always been enterprise and innovation, but it didn’t use to turn you into a gazillionaire.

    There wasn’t even that much money in existence and competition was fierce. Patent law has changed, government subsidies skyrocketed, courts refused to break up monopolies and fine companies using cheap debt to undercut their smaller competitors, there was no license raj (large companies LOVE regulation), people on Wall Street earned middle-class incomes for simple financial transactions, debts fed inflation, and etc.

    Now that the ultra-wealthy have so much of the money, they can use their inflated dollars to buy up deflated assets. Real wealth like PMs, real estate, farming land, company shares, etc. And when the dollar finally collapses, we’ll realize that we sold our house to purchase food for our hungry children and they’ll shake their heads at us and say, “Tsk, tsk. This is what comes of your poor work ethic and consumerist habits. Obviously, I am your superior.” And we will have an oligarchy.

    This isn’t a conspiracy theory, but rather the cycle of government that Aristotle spoke of, and economics is what feeds it. Inequality heralds the final stage. Those who think economic inequality can sit easily with political equality need to go back and study the same books these wise Popes were reading.

  • http://www.traditionalchristianity.WordPress.com Vanessa

    That’s because cost of living should be more in line with wages, but they won’t be as long as the Fed keeps credit cheap to benefit the wealthy’s effort to buy up the entire country.

    The government manages to trick the poor into thinking inflation is good for them through programs like food stamps (which hides food price inflation), but that trough is soon going to run dry and they’ll be hit by the full brunt of the price increases and product shrinkage. It’s going to be ugly.

    People think that the welfare system is meant to help the poor, but it actually protects the rich from starving mobs, and is an attempt to cover up the effects of inflation and the purposeful destruction of a living wage. This is the process the Pope is referring to: Those in power create an extractive economic system and when the newly poor demand a bit of their wealth back, the newly rich get all pious about personal property rights and begrudgingly toss them a few coins while sighing about their sense of entitlement.

    Libertarianism is the last refuge for thieves.

  • http://www.traditionalchristianity.WordPress.com Vanessa

    He’s showing the path economic theory has taken. Originally, there was the idea of “just prices and living wages”. I.e., it was understood that markets have a social component that has to be “priced in”. Then the social aspect was stripped out and we were left with only supply and demand. So, rather than markets being a socioeconomic theory, it became a purely economic theory and the welfare state was created to make up the social difference.

    Now, demand is sinking, so we’re legislating demand, increasing demand with marketing tricks, destroying other countries’ markets so that we can sell them our stuff, promoting monopolies, and “making markets”.