85 people own nearly half of global wealth

This week, the world’s wealthy and powerful meet in Davos, Switzerland, for their annual talk fest and exchange of business cards. This year several panels have been organized around the theme of widening inequality – which has grown even more extreme since the Great Recession, both in the U.S. and around the world. As you probably know, the 400 richest Americans have more wealth than the bottom half of the American population combined – and since the “recovery” began in 2009, the wealthiest 1 percent have got 95 percent of the economic gains while the bottom 90 percent has become poorer. But the U.S. isn’t the only place where inequality is surging. A new report from Oxfam shows that the world’s richest 85 people now have the same amount of wealth ($1.7 trillion) as the bottom half the world’s population combined (that’s 3.5 billion people). The world’s wealthiest 1 percent have $110 trillion, 65 times the total wealth of the bottom half of the world.

The right in the U.S. considers any mention of this sort of thing “class warfare,” motivated by envy. In reality, it’s a growing threat to global capitalism. But what are the chances that the wealthy and powerful, meeting in Davos, will be motivated to do anything about it?

This is, without any possible question, a grave and monstrous evil that will only lead to still more grave and monstrous evils. Only an absolute fool will defend this state of affairs.

In practice, this means that Republicans will defend it vocally, while Democrats will defend it passively by playing along with the hyper-rich and doing nothing to offend them. After all, Obama’s portfolio had done quite nicely over the past five years. Meanwhile, we will defend our favorite fools.

Meanwhile, who even *knows* what that crazy pope Francis is on about. What a maroon!

  • capaxdei

    The stat in your headline doesn’t match the stat in your excerpt.

    • Dave G.

      Perhaps ‘half of the global population’. Which sounds worse than Mark’s headline, IMHO.

      • bobbby Lawndale

        Yes, we now substitute how headlines sound for critical thinking. Great.

        • Dave G.

          Way to avoid the substance of the post.

          • Bobby Lawndale

            Dave,
            The “substance” of your post was that even though the headline exaggerated its point at the expense of the truth, a correct version would have “sounded” even worse. I addressed your post by expressing my disappointment that how a headline “sounds” should be regarded as more important than the truth.
            As to the substance of Mark’s post, I do not think inequality, even extreme inequality, is innately immoral — let alone monstrously so. I do think that people without necessities should be helped, and note that both individuals and their governments have a role in doing this. This responsiblity rests with every person who has excess beyond necessities to varying degrees, but must be excercised with prudence to ensure that the efforts are helpful rather than harmful. As has been pointed out trillions have been spent in this effort by countless governmental and non-profit agencies, with mixed results and some doing much better than others. As has also been pointed out the growth and expansion of free markets, including capital markets, has done much more than anything else to diminish worldwide poverty. It is the duty of every Catholic to be mindful of his excess and his corresponding duty to figure out whether or how he can direct that excess to the needs of others. Addressing those needs is grounded in justice and charitly. Obsessing over unequal wealth distribution as such is grounded in greed and envy.

            • Roki

              Income/wealth inequality is not inherently immoral, but it is a red flag indicating something is out of balance in the economic system.

              • Bobby Lawndale

                Not at all. Inequality is the inevitable outcome of the disparate decisions, interests, aptitudes and fortunes. In contrast, equality of income/wealth would be proof that something is seriously wrong in an economic or political system. That said, it is true that extreme inequality could also be a red flag that the economic or political system is seriously deficient. History reveals that the deficiency is almost always political/legal in nature. Truly free markets are not perfect, since real world conditions never allow for perfect information and perfect rational behavior, but absent special governmental treatment for some classes over others markets tend to work fairly well.

                • Roki

                  Thanks for the correction; I meant “extreme income/wealth inequality,” such as the kind of inequality that is growing at present.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Actually, I have been led to believe that markets can never be “truly free”… And there is “inequality” and “inequality”… Differences between incomes in the million of dollars and incomes of a few thousand dollars do seem like a bigger inequality problem, and changing such inequalities would not necessarily mean an absolute equality in income and wealth. Actually such a picture of “equality” as the one you are using seems to me to be a caricature meant to stimulate emotions…

            • Marthe Lépine

              I am tired of reading arguments about HELPING the poor. The point about the current inequalities is not that the poor need to be helped, in a “judicious” way, mind you, but that the wealthy peoples’ job – and duty – is to create opportunities for the poor to get out of their poverty through living-wage-paying jobs, and that is a matter of justice, not of “generously giving even more to the (deserving) poor”.

              • Bobby Lawndale

                Marthe,

                First, I’m curious as to you use of quotation marks around words I never wrote. What is the point of that?

                Second, since we are both trained in economics, let’s probe a bit. First, the general return on capital over the past 15 years has hardly been exceptional, at least in a good way. The beneficiaries of wealth concentration have largely been either (i) a small number of entrepreneurs who benefited either from executing exceptional innovation or from undertaking exceptional risk or (ii) very specialized labor, especially entertainers, CEOs and highly-trained professionals in capital markets. The second category comprises not so much employers as employees. I doubt that these workers hide there earnings in a mattress; instead they save and invest which as you know creates jobs. The first category could create jobs more directly even if those jobs are not likely to be profitable (I assume you agree that if they were likely to be profitable these entrepreneurs would already be enthusiastically creating them), but make no mistake — these jobs would not be creating wealth but would instead be transfering wealth. Markets look for mutually beneficial opportunities, and creating jobs for the purpose of making the new employees better off as opposed to seeking a profit might be noble, but it is only mutually beneficial in the same sense as “helping the poor” (something I still think is a good thing) is always mutually beneficial. I could go on and discuss how the global economy has been operating to spectacularly increase the living standards of previously impoverished unskilled Viet Namese, Chinese and Indians even if at the expense of their much better off western counterparts, but instead I’ll just point out that poverty (or what we call poverty — and yes I’ll anticipate the obligatory self-congratulatory snarks from those who have not traveled or studied history (or even engage their own memories)) in this country today is predominantly concentrated in single parent households created by record record rates for out-of-wedlock births and divorce — something job creation (regardless of quality) cannot address.
                People who care about the plight of the poor should fight to reestablish the normalization of intact families and an ethic of effort and excellence in education and skill acquisition. Blaming the rich is just an excercise of feckless self-righteousness — a form of masturbation that is designed to make one feel better though it is fruitless.
                Finally, charity does not stand in contradistinction to justice, but is instead a form of it. It is not only irresponsible to denigrate it, it is quite wrong. Charity, like mercy, is good. I have benefited from it and hope to again upon my death.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  I put quotation marks around words I wanted to emphasize in MY own comment; if you took those personally, it is your problem – hurt ego, maybe?
                  And, I am not at all talking about creating jobs for the sake of creating jobs. My ideas are rather about creating jobs to do useful things that need to be done anyway but do not necessarily result in more “stuff” to be sold to consumers. It should not be difficult to think of services to people that would be a good reason to create jobs, maybe not at a loss, but on a not-for-profit basis. It seems to that a billionaire really would not be in a dire need of maximizing her future income… Why not put part of her capital into needed services such as more and better retirement residences, medical clinics, home care services – this is just off the top of my head but a little research should bring a longer list. Wages paid for such jobs would have a “multiplier” effect by increasing demand for other goods and services and would thus contribute to creating more jobs in more commercial sectors

  • Michaelus

    This is from Forbes – focusing on the Obama years:
    “In the US, the wealthiest one percent captured 95 percent of post-financial crisis growth since 2009, while the bottom 90 percent became poorer.”

    • Dan C

      And they feel hurt. Hurt by all the mean things people say.

    • jaybird1951

      That wealth was generated principally by the rising stock market, part of whose attraction has been due to the lack of alternative investments as the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates very low and pumped hundreds of billions into the economy. Those funds have found their way to the stock markets, or at least until the last week or so. Meanwhile, such countries as Argentina, Brazil and India have undertaken measures that will impoverish their economies, stunting their growth prospects, and that has influenced the market’s valuation too. Argentina is a prime example of how a lousy political system can keep an inherently rich country poor.

      • Marthe Lépine

        And… How is stock market speculation helping the economy? I have also read somewhere that there are corporations that hold out from expanding business and hiring people, although they have the capital needed for it, and wealthy people that are just actually “sitting” on their capital, just because the profits they might make do not look good enough. Maybe if that idle capital started being used, alternative investments might become available, by the way. One thing seems to feed on the other.

  • ChGPe

    Lie, damn lies, and statistics. Anyone can take numbers like this to paint the picture they want. While the percentage of the overall pie obtained by the richest may have grown over the last several decades, the pie itself has also grown. Those in the ‘poorest’ 20 percent are, on average, much richer in an absolute sense than they were decades ago, and that trend continues.

    I don’t defend unjust greed, but I also won’t defend misrepresentations of an actual situation.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe, but there are still hundreds of kids dying of something as easy to cure as hunger, every DAY! Apparently, their parents might be a little richer, but it does not seem to make much difference. And I would like to compare the number of kids aborted in the US to the total of those kids dying of hunger.

  • Ann

    Why is it a grave and monstrous evil? Certainly if they achieved this wealth through immoral means but are we talking about actually having it or what is not done with it?

    • Stu

      It’s very difficult for good to come of such things. Not only do those who amass such wealth have a hard time keeping on the straight and narrow but concentrations of power always result in a push to return to equilibrium which just gets nasty.

    • Roki

      From a Catholic perspective, it is a grave and monstrous evil because they hold this wealth away from the rest of society, particularly from those who are in most need of material sustenance. Cf. The Universal Destination of Goods: CCC 2402ff.

      It is essentially theft to withhold the goods of the earth from those in need, because the goods of the earth belong to all of us before they belong to each of us.

      • http://yardsaleofthemind.wordpress.com/ Joseph Moore

        Rich people are rarely like Smaug, whiling away their time lying on a huge pile of gold. It’s unclear how or in what sense they are holding their wealth away from those who are most in need in any sense that doesn’t apply to almost everyone with enough wealth to be sitting down reading this blog.

        Let’s take a well-known example: Bill Gates’ wealth is almost all in the form of stock in Microsoft. In order for that stock to be worth anything, Microsoft has to keep all those thousands of Microsoft workers gainfully employed. But for them to remain gainfully employed, other people have to buy Microsoft products – meaning, Gates’ fortune relies on lots and lots of people having enough money to buy lots and lots of Microsoft stuff. His wealth is entirely a function of there being a huge world-wide market for computer software, which requires similar markets in hardware, power, plastics, silicon, engineering, manufacturing and on and on.

        Gates may be a jerk, and he may be failing spectacularly in his personal duty to give his extra coat away and to care for particular Lazaruses in his life. But acknowledging that doesn’t mean his wealth has not been a boon to millions of people.

        The proposition that “we” can do better with his wealth than he has done is a lot more complicated than it looks. If the “we” end up being the same jokers who are running our government, I’d think their management of wealth would not end well.

        • Roki

          I’m not an economist, so I’m open to correction on this. My understanding is that the structure of the economy, largely the stock market but also the ways in which trade is regulated and taxed, tend toward the concentration of wealth in large corporations rather than with actual human persons. “Investment” is a profit-making scheme rather than a partaking in the work of a business, and most of the “investment” in the market consists of investment firms moving corporate holdings around to maximize profit.

          I have no problem with actual persons being rich, or having savings, or being selective about their charities. (My understanding is that Bill Gates devotes most of his personal wealth to charitable activity – even if I think some of the charities he supports are themselves immoral, at least his intentions are basically good.)

          The problem, as I understand it, lies with the economic structures of our modern system. The laws and incentives are arranged to make profit the primary purpose of business, rather than contributing to the common good. (Government suffers from a similar problem: promoting one’s interests is the putative goal, rather than promoting and defending the common good.) The individual and the family are treated as economic units rather than as persons and communities. In short, there is a disconnect between economic behavior and reality, and it leads to both sin and suffering.

          • Andy

            I too am not an economist, but I agree the structural issues with our current economy create the inequality, which is at the heart of the article Mark cites. The legal requirements to show a profit, the speculation on Wall Street that mandated a certain level of profit is a part of the problem. Plus I think we have become a nation of commodification – anything must be and is for sale. That reduces people to the level of products and we know that products fail and that some products do not/should not be supported. That is at the heart of the message of Francis and CST.

          • Marthe Lépine

            FYI, I am trained in economics, and I fully agree with you.

    • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/ Beadgirl

      Even if they earned it through licit means, it can still be evil. Take as an example a CEO whose annual salary is in the millions, while most of the employees are making minimum wage and having their benefits cut. He may have done real, valuable work for the company, and he may not have been the one to set his salary at that amount, but it is not just for his salary to be so disproportionate compared to the others in his company, who may be working just as hard and contributing just as much to the success of the company.

      Or take Jamie Dimon, who just received a 74% increase in his salary to $20 million a year. I have a very hard time envisioning how *any* person’s work, no matter how good, is worth that. To paraphrase South Park, he could cure cancer and AIDS and I would still think that was too much money.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    I just love imaginary statistics. Does anyone seriously think such figures are obtained by counting noses and measuring actual people? Or are they obtained from mathematical models with their conclusions built into their assumptions?

    One such assumption is that wealth exists somehow and it is only a matter of who grabs how much of it. The idea that wealth must be produced and that those who produce more will end up with more is an alien thought.

    As is the notion that one person may be poor for any reason other than that another person may be rich. We may (and should) chastise the rich who do not help the poor, but that is a matter of their own salvation. It is not the reason why the poor man is poor; or at least not the only possible such reason.

    There are some comments here: http://wmbriggs.com/blog/?p=11234

    • Roki

      I don’t think it’s that people are poor only because a few are rich. I think it’s rather than the economic structures of society make it very difficult for the poor to attain a reasonable living, while making it relatively easy for those who have to gain more. It is not the wealth of the wealthy, or even the inequality itself, but the structural lack of opportunity for the poor which keeps the goods of the earth out of their reach.

      I’m neither an economist nor a political scientist (I have no lab coat!), so I don’t know exactly what kind of solution is needed. I’m impressed by the theory of distributism, but less so by the practical suggestions for implementation.

      That said, from a moral theology point of view, we certainly need to reclaim a notion of the common good and care for one’s neighbors as the basis of both business and government.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        The structural lack is real. Just try opening up a bakery in your home today, as some hereabouts did during the Great Depression; let alone starting up a steel mill that would employ thousands at considerable wages. Look at the hoops needed for a 401(k) plan, which at bottom is “saving my own money for my own retirement.” The principle of a NYC school recently ended the gifted instruction program on the grounds that it was not “diverse” enough. (No child is left behind via the simple expedient of allowing no child to get ahead.) And yet, so many of these obstacles were benevolent attempts to address the very condition that they worsened.

    • Marthe Lépine

      I followed that link and I have a question. It is a fact that some people earn as much as 20 million a year, while others are stuck in poverty. Just explain to me how it would be, that a person earning 20 million a year would sooner or later find herself falling into poverty if she had to pay 1/2 of her yearly earnings in taxes? While it certainly would be the case if someone earning only $50,000 a year was taxed at 50%, the one earning 20 million a year would still have 10 million to sustain her standard of living, which is much better than the one earning $50,000 would be able to maintain even if he did not pay any taxes…

      We are not talking here about small disparities, but about the difference between earning millions and earning a few thousands, which does exist. If and when the one earning 20 million could prove having invested some of that money into a living-wage-producing business, I certainly would agree to tax cuts for that person, but IMOW such tax reductions should not be given as “incentives” but as “rewards” – there is no guarantee a tax incentive would lead to actual job creation, but a reward given after the fact might just achieve it.

      • Ye Olde Statistician

        “…having invested some of that money into a living-wage-producing business…”

        You realize that this is a “supply-side” approach? AKA, “Build it and they will come.”

        But all the investment in the world will not conjure customers from the vasty deep to pay those living wages. If there is demand, investors will arise to meet that demand — so long as the barriers are not more costly than the return.

        • Marthe Lépine

          I was just writing another comment further down that partially answers this. There is an enormous demand for a lot of services that people needing them cannot afford to pay for, for example. If the demand that justifies such investments is again based on more and more higher and higher profits, it leaves a lot of things undone that are sorely needed. On the other hand, putting money into creating jobs that meet such needs would also put more money in the economy, because those workers would use that money to purchase goods and services, from the wages paid for those new jobs, and create a multiplying effect that could lead to a higher demand for more commercial goods and services. There is more in my other comment further down.

  • Stu

    Another thing to consider that should hit more to home is the notion of the 1%. You certainly heard this statistic thrown about by many OWS types. I’m not going to get into the actual statistics but I think we here in America should reflect upon the notion that compared to the rest of the World, we are the “1%” at least in a general sense. If you are blessed to live in this country, you are very “rich”.

    Good reason to be thankful for what we have and perhaps not bitch and moan so much about what we don’t have. And also a call for us to voluntary act upon it and help our fellow man.

  • http://brianniemeier.com/ Brian Niemeier

    The source article has been updated.

    “A previous version of this post said the 85 richest people owned nearly half of global wealth and the same amount as the bottom half of the population. The 85 richest people are a small part of the wealthiest 1%, which owns 46% of the world’s wealth. The 85 richest people own about 0.7% of the world’s wealth, which is the same as the bottom half of the population.”

    • Dave

      Well, that’s still pretty bad, even though not AS bad.

      • jaybird1951

        1% of the world’s population is more than 70 million people. 5% constitute 350 million or a figure exceeding the population of this country. Just to put some stats in perspective. We are not talking about the attendees at the Davos conferences but large masses of people. I suspect that my comfortable but middle class salary when I worked placed me somewhere in that 5% figure worldwide.

  • amy r.

    I agree with YOL…the wealthy should help the poor with immediate needs. But countries and their populations in poverty won’t ever get out of it simply with financial aid. In “Money, Greed, and God”, by Jay Richards, clear and easy to understand explanations of economics and wealth and capitalism are given. (I’ll borrow heavily from this): The actual structures of the poorest countries need changing. A stable government, the rule of law, sound property-rights legislation, free trade. Wealth is not static, and it’s not a physical object. Are we supposed to think that if the 85 richest people weren’t so rich then the bottom half of the world wouldn’t be so poor? Or that those 85 richest people somehow took their wealth from the others? Richards explains how complaints about gaps are a distraction, play only on emotions, and reflect a confusion about the nature of wealth. I highly recommend it, Mark!

    • Dan C

      Actually, the Fathers of the Church have quote after quote saying: the extra coat in your possession belongs righty to the poor.

      Material deprivation changes people’s brains. To expect change before relief occurs may be unrealistic.

    • Marthe Lépine

      The thing is that there is nothing wrong to being wealthy, but the wealthy are not doing the job they are supposed to do: create opportunities for people to work at living wages. The creation of businesses should not be based on opportunities for profit alone, or for making profits even higher. Businesses need to be created on the basis of job creation, and the willingness of the “job creators” to be content with more reasonable profits in order to make this happen. Another possibility would be for governments to favour smaller businesses instead of the big ones who are the mythical job creators. It has been proven that the small to medium sized businesses are the one creating the most jobs. An example from recent Canadian statistics: Approximately 15 to 17% of the total work force is made up of self-employed people; the unemployment rate is at approximately 6.5 to 7.5% of the total work force. What do you think would happen if most self-employed people became able to hire just one helper each? We would run out of workers! And there is no need to take anything from anyone to achieve this; just give a little positive support to the self-employed instead of using them as cash/tax cows while constantly lowering the taxes on the higher income so-called “job creators”.

      • http://www.likelierthings.com/ Jon W

        The thing is that there is nothing wrong to being wealthy, but the wealthy are not doing the job they are supposed to do: create opportunities for people to work at living wages.

        Nice way of putting it.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Thank you. And re-reading this brings to mind the parable of the land owner (was it a vine he owned? I cannot recall right now) who paid the same wages to all the workers he hired on a particular day, even those who came at the last hour, because all of them actually needed a day’s wages.

          • Dan F.

            I’m not sure that that is the point of the story. The point IIRC had to do with not being angry at someone coming to faith at the 11th hour when we’ve been laboring all “day” in the vineyard.

            • Marthe Lépine

              That is your interpretation but there is not only one. And by the way I finally remembered more: it was a vineyard.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Or to reply more directly to your 1st sentence: It is not really true that the wealthy should HELP the poor. It is not a matter of charity, but of justice. The wealthy are supposed to use their wealth in a responsible way, which means to pay living wages to their workers and create more jobs.

  • Andy

    I am not sure that the numbers of how much 1% owns or is 85 is at issue. the issue is the extreme inequality. It is the inequality that leads to despair and anger. These reactions lead to ugliness as a sense of equality returns. To argue about the numbers misses the point. I can think of nothing that is good or in line with CST that comes from this inequality. In addition Jesus was pretty clear about what happens when wealth becomes the end-all and be-all. Think of camels and needles.

    • jaybird1951

      If the numbers themselves are irrelevant to the overall argument, then why does Mark repeat them even after the 85 wealthy persons claim has been debunked, something he should know.

      • Andy

        I cannot answer for Mark – although I would say to use the word debunked is an issue – there was a correction.

      • Marthe Lépine

        Whatever the figures used, they give a reasonably good picture of the situation, which needs to be repeatedly pointed out until our “elected representatives” actually hear about it. It’s their job to look after injustices.

    • capaxdei

      Anyone who doesn’t want to argue numbers shouldn’t use wrong numbers.

      And numbers do need to be used, and they are on point. Otherwise it’s just some guy on the Internet saying, “I really feel that rich people are too much richer than poor people, don’t you?”

  • Dan C

    You say this like its a bad thing.

  • http://yardsaleofthemind.wordpress.com/ Joseph Moore

    Setting aside the highly dubious statistics:

    Dives ended up in hell. We’ve been warned that it’s very hard, nearly impossible, for a rich person to NOT end up in hell. Right? So that bears keeping in mind – as hard as it is to do, perhaps we should pray first for the rich person’s soul.

    Second, these sorts of articles are printed in America and Europe, where, as was already mentioned, we are virtually ALL part of the 1%. Why? To make the guy making $35k/year feel the twinge of conscience over Guatemalans making $1.5k/yr? Or – to fan the flames of envy with the goal of forming a political mob?

    Wealth is not a zero-sum game. “We” don’t win when “we” take the money of the rich (who, exactly, is that “we” made up of, anyway?) – instead, we win when wealth is used to create more wealth. The wealthy win (as in: save their souls) when they use their wealth prudently and generously to create more wealth for the good of all – and that certainly needs to be encouraged. But what articles like this are used for is to rile up us cattle so that the Bushes and Obamas of the world, in the service of the Gates and Slims of the world can more easily drive us to wherever they want us to go.

  • Jonna

    Interesting article with a headline in the language of Fox News devotees: http://www.realclearreligion.org/articles/2014/02/03/the_war_on_pope_francis.html

  • KM

    Growing inequality leads to increasing injustice and corruption, and decreasing democracy. When those with all the wealth can buy access to power (i.e., Congress and the President), they can make the rules/laws that benefit themselves at the expense of those without power and money. This is why growing inequality brings evil.

    The wealthy used to follow the concept of noblesse oblige (and certainly there are some who still do but they are not in the majority). In today’s environment, it seems the elite of both parties are committed to profit for profit’s sake (calling themselves the “makers”), and to hell with everyone else (who are referred to as the “moochers/takers/losers”).

  • KM

    I don’t get a sense that Americans are angry about inequality due to envy (because most Americans would like to be wealthy). What I sense is that more people are realizing the economy and politics are rigged against them, and that no matter how hard one works, they’re not getting ahead, and their representatives in Congress don’t really represent them.

    For instance, when you start and run your small business, you’re competing with a market that’s rigged in favor of larger entities that get special rules/help from the government, while your little business is taxed and regulated. And just getting that loan for that small business can be quite difficult.

    Or you find that, after working 10 years for a company, you’re laid off so that the company can hire cheaper labor and increase its profits, while you cannot find a job that pays well. Then you lose your home because you cannot afford the mortgage, and you’re forced to pay high rents because all those foreclosed homes were bought by investors who found more profits in rent. Finally, if you should be unfortunate enough to get cancer, you will go bankrupt from the hospital bills.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      People don’t start small businesses because the regulatory regime makes the process opaque and impenetrable. During the Great Depression, some folks hereabout would take in laundry or did ironing, others would bake bread and sell it to their neighbors. This would never be permitted now. (And the notion that it must be permitted is itself a novel one.)
      “The moment when good intentions exceeded the power to fulfill them marked the onset of decadence.” — Jacques Barzun
      http://thomism.wordpress.com/2011/07/27/on-a-cause-of-corruption-in-popular-governments/

      • Marthe Lépine

        It could also be that people cannot start small businesses because the financial regime makes it impossible (written by someone who has struggled with self-employment for decades). (And who actually holds the strings when it comes to financing?) Even to start a small laundry you would need money to purchase commercial grade washers and dryers and find space somewhere to do it (it would be impossible in a one-room apartment, no matter how much one wanted to do it). You might say that people should save their money to finance their small businesses, but how would you advise someone to do it with a minimum wage job? And about baking bread: In my area I have met a number of people who make bread and sell it at farmers’ markets and it does not seem that they are being hampered by that many regulations.

        • ivan_the_mad

          “but how would you advise someone to do it with a minimum wage job” Micro-credit plus cooperative is I think a practicable way to get started (and I can personally vouch for the cooperative model). I think the Mondragon corporation’s history evinces an extremely strong argument in favor of such, and it certainly comports with the principles of the social doctrine to a large degree.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Maybe a good idea: Cooperatives with the mission and the ability to give micro-credit, instead of investing their members’ savings in larger corporations. I would not know how to start something like this, but maybe somebody else could look into it.

            • Marthe Lépine

              May I add: There has been something going on in Canada a few decades ago called the Antigonish Movement. I cannot give many details, but it could be worth investigating.

          • http://janalynmarie.blogspot.com/ Beadgirl

            Micro-credit has worked very well in other parts of the world, helping people to become self-sufficient and bringing them out of poverty. No reason why it couldn’t work here.

      • KM

        The regulatory regime is made by the large players to benefit themselves and to out-compete the smaller players. The large tech companies get special breaks here in Silicon Valley that smaller businesses don’t get. One example: Tech companies use public bus stops for their private shuttles, and only pay $1 each time they use each stop. (They paid nothing until there was a recent public uproar.) Now, if a private business van stopped at a public bus stop to pick up or unload passengers, that would get them a $271 fine per incident. “Rules for thee but not for me.”

  • ivan_the_mad

    From the USCCB’s Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy, 1986:

    74. Basic justice also calls for the establishment of a floor of material well-being on which all can stand. This is a duty of the whole of society and it creates particular obligations for those with greater resources. This duty calls into question extreme inequalities of income and consumption when so many lack basic necessities. Catholic social teaching does not maintain that a flat, arithmetical equality of income and wealth is a demand of justice, but it does challenge economic arrangements that leave large numbers of people impoverished. Further, it sees extreme inequality as a threat to the solidarity of the human community, for great disparities lead to deep social divisions and conflict.

    75. This means that all of us must examine our way of living in light of the needs of the poor. Christian faith and the norms of justice impose distinct limits on what we consume and how we view material goods. The great wealth of the United States can easily blind us to the poverty that exists in this nation and the destitution of hundreds of millions of people in other parts of the world. Americans are challenged today as never before to develop the inner freedom to resist the temptation constantly to seek more. Only in this way will the nation avoid what Paul VI called “the most evident form of moral underdevelopment,” namely greed.

    76. These duties call not only for individual charitable giving but also for a more systematic approach by businesses, labor unions, and the many other groups that shape economic life—as well as government. The concentration of privilege that exists today results far more from institutional relationships that distribute power and wealth inequitably than from differences in talent or lack of desire to work. These institutional patterns must be examined and revised if we are to meet the demands of basic justice. For example, a system of taxation based on assessment according to ability to pay is a prime necessity for the fulfillment of these social obligations.

    • Dan C

      Rerum Novarum begins with what we now call inequality noted in a list of troubles:

      “That the spirit of revolutionary change, which has long been disturbing the nations of the world, should have passed beyond the sphere of politics and made its influence felt in the cognate sphere of practical economics is not surprising. The elements of the conflict now raging are unmistakable, in the vast expansion of industrial pursuits and the marvellous discoveries of science; in the changed relations between masters and workmen; in the enormous fortunes of some few individuals, and the utter poverty of the masses; the increased self reliance and closer mutual combination of the working classes; as also, finally, in the prevailing moral degeneracy. The momentous gravity of the state of things now obtaining fills every mind with painful apprehension; wise men are discussing it; practical men are proposing schemes; popular meetings, legislatures, and rulers of nations are all busied with it – actually there is no question which has taken deeper hold on the public mind.”

    • Dan C

      “In the enormous fortunes of a few…” is not highlighted as a positive thing.

  • Elmwood

    Don’t the GOP and Acton Institute promote “trickle down” economics, i.e. lower taxation and de-regulation, as a fix for wealth inequality?

    • Stu

      Both parties promote “trickle down” economics. The GOP believes it will come from the wealthy while the Democrat party believes it will come from the government after taxing the wealthy.

      Neither approach attempts to fix the system and create a more distributed economy.

    • Marthe Lépine

      The problem is that the trickle is too small yet – wait for a few more generations…

      • Andy

        Or the cup that holds the pre-trickle stops growing

    • Edgewise

      Actually–just so everyone can be clear about this–there’s no such thing as “trickle down” economics:

      http://www.tsowell.com/images/Hoover%20Proof.pdf

      Hope that at least helps in clearing the air a bit…

  • Marthe Lépine

    By the way, one point that is consistently forgotten but might come to bite us sooner or later: If nothing changes, the current system will inevitably collapse eventually, when nobody apart from the rich will have enough money left to spend on anything, or on enough stuff to keep corporations in business, and the rich will not be willing to spend their money on the cheap stuff manufactured to be sold to the people still employed. Or… Only the industrial-military complex will be able to continue producing, and the rich will self-destruct through wars!

  • Sandro Palmyra

    A couple of hundred years ago it was argued that the breakup of European monarchy and system of nobility would result in economic collapse. It didn’t and most of the peasant class are materially better off, though rough going for a while.

    There should be some brake against a small number of people getting everything. They will just keep getting richer otherwise. When they have it all, game over. What happens then?

    There is no excuse for anyone to go hungry, have no access to health care or bad public education. These should be a minimal first priority.

    If the rich really are benevolent they should pay workers, most of whom work for them, a living wage. I think it’s established that they are making a profit or if they really aren’t, maybe it’s because they already have all the money.

    • Stu

      I think we have entered The Servile State.

    • Ye Olde Statistician

      Most of the really wealthy employ no one (except possibly some servants). They simply Own Stuff. They make no profits (that is so nouveau); they only clip coupons. Making profits is for money grubbing CEOs.

      That’s why there’s an income tax, not a wealth tax. Can’t let those deplorable factory owners cross the bar into the elite, y’know. “Not ouah sort, at all.”

      • Marthe Lépine

        Maybe they only clip coupons. In that case, they are the “shareholders” who are supposed to be the first beneficiaries of the profits made by corporations. It seems to me that the legislation that says that the only social responsibility of corporations is to make money for their shareholders (Is it really the law everywhere, or is it only the ramblings of Milton Friedman?) is actually working against the common good and might be seen as a source of injustice.

        • Roki

          My understanding is that the “obligation to make profit for shareholders” is an interpretation of Dodge v. Ford Motor Company. It is not exactly the law of the land, but it is the dominant interpretation of the case, and is presumed to be a governing principle for corporations.

  • Mike

    …yeah but how many of them are jews? ;)
    IOW, so what? I am richer than at least 20% of the pop. of the city I live in.
    The Norwegian petro investment fund owns the equivalent of 1% of the entire market cap. of all the stocks on earth.
    The Arch. of NY is certainly richer than most NYers and the Vatican’s art collection is worth trillions.
    Wealth is evil; rich people are wealthy therefore rich people are evil…what non-sense.
    Who cares if even 1 person owns all the private wealth of say Belgium if everyone in Belgium lives high on the hog?
    What’s really evil are the despots who run the poorest countries on earth, not tech billionaires and real estate moguls who own things in the wealthiest countries on earth.

  • Ye Olde Statistician

    An actual example of a zero-sum situation: When wealth was land, the more land Adam held, the less there was for Bruce — unless he could take it from someone else.

    “The tax archives of the Khivan Khan … show that during the 19th century there was an extremely uneven distribution of wealth within Karakalpak society, which probably
    reached its peak sometime after 1850. Most peasants had insufficient land to support themselves – plots of arable land were no more than one or two tanaps in size (1 tanap = 0.4 hectare). However individual beys and religious leaders had hundreds if not thousands of tanaps of land – for example, the leader of the Qazayaqlı clan, Abdulla bey, had 6,370 tanaps. Livestock was distributed in a similar manner. Karakalpak peasants could only survive by working for these landowners on a land-lease share-crop basis.”

    Of course, from our POV, even the Khivan beys weren’t living the life of Riley.

  • Marthe Lépine

    The last link of the post about Pope Francis does not work in my area. Would there be another way to get to this?

  • peggy

    Stop the madness! Please. One man attaining unimaginable wealth does not prevent you from doing the same. There is no fixed size pie of wealth. If you want to call these people greedy and focused on the wrong goals in life, fine, do it. But they are not keeping you from your own prosperity. It is the regulatory regime that harms you. The poor economy is holding back wage earners, from educated professionals to burger flippers at McDs. At the same time, O’s Fed is pumping capitol into Wall St, keeping those investors afloat, widening any gap.

    Many men came from nothing: Bill Gates, Carnegie, Morgan, Mellon, Colonel Sanders, Walmart founder, etc., now their descendents enjoy the fruits of their labor. You can debate their ethics and ruthlessness. Their attaining wealth did not stop other ambitious men from doing so as well.

    If you seek an increase in the min wage for unskilled entry level work, you will see unions seek a commensurate increase in their wage levels, as they are “skilled” and experienced labor. Then professionals will seek a commensurate increase…and so on and so on….

    Please study economics, so you see how markets work, why the disparities occur. Then suggest appropriate remedies that will yield results in a market economy.

    • http://thebackporchpundits.wordpress.com/ Christian Ohnimus

      “One man attaining unimaginable wealth does not prevent you from doing the same.” Is that your advice to the 3.5 billion with barely anything to their name? The pie isn’t fixed but to suggest that nothing prevents the poor masses from all rising to Bill Gatesian levels of material wealth is about as delusional as one can get.

      • HornOrSilk

        It also ignores how the person with 3.5 billion can use it to stop you from making 100,000….

        • peggy

          If you feel you cannot achieve anything or attain property or wealth because of the ambitions of another man, that is pretty sad. Why should one guy with a few billion care what you do, unless you are going to be his direct competitor? Then may the best product win.

          The specific people who are the most wealthy in a given decade will change in the next decade. There is mobility, particularly in the US. A really wealthy person can blow it all to heck in a bad risk. They are playing a different game than you or I.

          Money is not the key to happiness. So, I have no idea as to why this consternation. We are not serfs or victims of wealthy people. Or are you?

          I don’t understand this defeatism and pessimism. Many a person with handyman, computer or bookkeeping skills puts out a shingle and has a go at it for most of his/her life. The degree of success differs depending on the line of work, time put in, skill, etc. If you have the gifts of Bill Gates, with as much effort, you can do as well as he did. Yes, timing and circumstances play a part. No guarantees in life, folks.

          Every one is different. We can’t all have the same income. Get over it.

          I think the belief here is that most businessmen are Mr. Potter or Scrooge. Very bizarre thinking.

          The working and professional employee classes are being held down by regulatory policies not just from Ocare. O’s done nothing to restore us to full employment. He’s blocked economic recovery. The monetary policy has been harmful too. I will say I had been concerned about the weak $ under W as well.

          My goodness, whole sectors are being destroyed by environmental regulations. Not even large energy and coal co’s can absorb these costs and stay in business. That’s what O wanted. He said so. That means more people on govt assistance or in lower paying or part time work.

          What happened to this generation who were the first college grads of working class parents?

          So bizzare.

          • rich

            If I had a Billion dollars and wanted to follow Christ’s teachings, my money would disappear very quickly.

            • Marthe Lépine

              And what would you feel about it?

              • rich

                From what I have read from the writings of spiritually advanced people it feels very unburdening to rid oneself of material attachments however I don’t see how one could do this while practicing Peggy’s philosophy.

                • peggy

                  I am not advocating that we should all dedicate our lives to becoming rich. Some people have made that choice which we here have not apparently. There is much resentment here at those who have done so. Readers here are obsessed with others’ material attachments. God will deal with them. If you are wanting some of the pie, you will have to step up and take action or for gosh sake let it go and live your life as you see fit according to the Church’s teaching. Accept your life as it is. Let go of the resentment.

                  I don’t care that there are a few very, very wealthy people in the world. That is not my concern. I am not up at night angry about it or wondering where my share is. My life is what it is. I have to look to keeping myself square with God and raising my family and helping them draw closer to God. Who cares about wealth?

                  • rich

                    I agree that we should never resent or envy the lives of others. I only find it impossible to understand how one can maintain great amounts of wealth while having even a small appreciation of the Gospel. The opportunities for practicing the Beatitudes are constant and universal.

            • peggy

              Exactly.

          • Marthe Lépine

            “Many a person with handyman, computer or bookkeeping skills puts out a shingle and has a go at it for most of his/her life.” True, I did, but it was HELL. Your comment is a good example of putting burdens on others that you are not prepared to lift a finger to help carry. If you disagree, please give me a few clear examples that are more than hearsay.
            And if you are OK with destroying the environment for profit, good for you. Future generations are going to pay the price, so it is no concern of yours.
            And I have read some material about Bill Gate’s success. It is not all his own doing. Starting with parents who did not choose to abort him, then were able to afford a private high school that had a computer club, followed by the opportunities that that computer club offered the students, etc. (Reference: The Trouble with Billionaires by a Canadian journalist called Linda McQuaig). It is not just a matter of talent and effort; contacts and opportunities (which are not available to everyone) play a HUGE role. Ms McQuaig argues in her book that taxes are only a way to redistribute wealth to all the other people who have contributed.

            • peggy

              I don’t understand why you want to keep the sour grapes attitude and place barriers to success in front of yourself and others. Great, Gates had a computer club at school. Every one is different, and will have different outcomes. We have to work with what we’re given. Such is life.

              Yes, the rich do have a moral duty to aid the poor. I can’t say I agree with the choices of the Gates, funding condoms and Common Core. Pick on him for that.

              What burden did I place on you that I don’t have to pick up for myself and my family?

              If the environment is so important that thousands of miners and electrical plant laborers and white collar employees of such firms are out of work and we must support them with our own taxes which are a burden to us as we struggle to provide for our families….just wow. You wouldn’t rather these men have dignity of work to provide for their families?

              • Marthe Lépine

                Maybe, but what about those other people in future generations, when the environment will no longer sustain their own ability to provide for their families? Don’t they count too?
                And about barriers: I don’t want to keep them in front of myself; they happen to be there and to be insurmountable for ordinary people. Do you have actual examples of those

                “Many a person with handyman, computer or bookkeeping skills puts out a shingle and has a go at it for most of his/her life.”? Because I have lived through that kind of situation; did you? And I am now 71 years old, so fighting against obstacles is becoming a little hard, but I do remember what I had to face.

                • peggy

                  Perhaps incorporation or small business laws are different in the US. I have 2 bro in laws who are contractors. Another sister and her huz run a specialty store. A family I know runs a carnival/party supply store for a few generations now; ditto for another family that rents out tents for parties and big events. This is most of the U.S. My huz did much work on the side for many years, and with our time needs, is only a corporate employee these days. I work contractual as needed. We have kids to raise.

                  The current economy is hard on us all and some have had to lay off people or scale down in some way. That’s a recession at work. Otherwise, all have done well in general, live in nice homes, have decent cars, good education for kids. There are plenty of small bakeries, restaurants of all kinds, auto repair shops, bars, you name it, that are not part of chains. A family or a person owns and runs them and hires people. They are the cohort that we are told make over $250K and are part of the 1% who should pay high taxes. Their bus income is usually personal income under US tax system.

                • peggy

                  On environment:

                  When is it ever enough? I don’t believe in global warming or climate change yahoo stuff. There is much ecologically responsible business going on; it has been for a few decades now. See Russia or China, you want to see smog.

                  I’ve got to turn in now….

          • HornOrSilk

            Who said money is key to happiness? However, the people who control it and stop its flow, make sure others can’t even have the jobs needed to make it in the world with a living. The so-called “job creators” limit the jobs. And bust anyone who tries to get in their way as “little bugs.”

            • peggy

              Really? Don’t you think that shareholders in businesses (or the small busienssmen) want their businesses to grow? And if a business grows, it has to hire more people…and increase wages to keep the best staff on board. Now, in bad economic times, firms are limited as to what they can do.

              • HornOrSilk

                Often, businesses do not have to hire workers to grow, just machines. So many people are looking at outdated modes of labor and acting like everything as it existed in the 19th century. When a business can produce more with less workers, and make a huger profit, it will, which is what we have seen for over a decade, as record profits continue for businesses and the work force continues to decrease.

                • peggy

                  Actually, they are also hiring cheap imported labor, legal and illegal. Immigrants are taking the tech jobs and lowering wages for Americans who are employed in the field. Immigrants from low income nations are quite happy with the wages offered that are below most Americans’ expectations.

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    Please explain to me in what way this is just again? It could be that most Americans’ expectations happen to be for a living wage that allows them to support their families in dignity…

      • peggy

        They’ve done it before. No, not every one will be wealthy. Why is that a problem?

        • Marthe Lépine

          Because it has not been the case for a vast majority. Exceptions definitely do not prove the “rule”. Very few exceptions particularly are no proof.

          • peggy

            This is not the Dickensian era of abject poverty of the masses, Marthe. Nor is it feudalism where we are mere serfs with no will or wishes of our own. Not every one will be wealthy. I don’t get the problem. The poor in the US have never had it so good.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Really? Because homeless people on the streets in the US are better off nowadays than in Dickens time? Agreed, not every one actually needs to be wealthy. But the kids going to school on an empty stomach probably don’t really feel as if they never had it so good. And how about those people who are going bankrupt because of illness, while most other industrialized countries in the world would provide for them? The concept of “abject poverty” will vary according to local situations; comparing today’s US poor people with English poor in Dickens’ era is not really a valid argument.

              • peggy

                Look, I know you don’t like this fact either (from past interactions), but much of the poverty in the US, setting aside the current economic problems that affect us all, is a result of single parenting, ie, unmarried women with no to low skill raising children on their own. They are the primary public aid recipients. Public aid in the US discourages marriage, and men have no respect for women,placing the burden on women to use contraception or abort. Or become dependent and raise a fatherless child. No, I don’t think there is a correlation between sin and poverty. I thought we’re calling the rich here sinners, anyway.

                Poor people in the US can afford things that working even middle class families can’t, especially prestigious universities. The elite mindset is to help “urban” (aka nonwhite) poor. They abhor the rural white poor. There is plenty of bilking the system as well.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Once again I have to remind you, and others, that most of the babies that get saved from abortion mills probably end up being raised by unmarried single women. Please be consistent. And I doubt that at the time of yielding to temptations people actually think about the possible consequences, such as raising kids with social assistance money…

                  • peggy

                    So, we don’t want to teach abstinence anymore?

                    There’s always something with you. When are people responsible for themselves and the children they create?

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Sure, abstinence is an ideal. But if everyone did it, there would not be any demand for abortion. We can teach, OK, but at the same time we need to show compassion to those who have been too ignorant (because, maybe, they have grown up in a social environment where traditional sexual morality has been ignored and/or rejected and they know nothing else) to know about practicing abstinence but have taken the courageous decision of giving life to their babies anyway. We can keep teaching, but the children born under less than ideal circumstances,and their mothers, still need our support.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Correction to my own comment here: Some people are ignorant about abstinence, but also, of course, many people are just weak sinners who have trouble resisting temptation, no matter what they have been told about being responsible for themselves. Does not mean that the children conceived under those circumstances – and not aborted – do not deserve a better life than living in poverty, whatever we (charitably) think of their mothers – and fathers!

                • Andy

                  I don’t agree because you are relying on correlation to create a causation. there are equal correlations about structural issues in outré economy keeping people from moving forward. By the way the majority of people who receive aid are disabled and elderly, the working poor – not the single mother families.

                  • peggy

                    I have found some stats from a U Texas site. Most welfare recipients in the US are single mothers.
                    http://www.utexas.edu/depts/ic2/et/learner/general.html

                    Disability income is something different. (It is reportedly on the rise, as people find alternative ways to get govt bennies when unemployment runs out, etc) Retirees on social security & Medicare to which they’ve paid in is different as well.

                    Yes, structural issues occur in the economy. But the topic at this thread is that wealthy people are keeping us down by virtue of having wealth.

                    • Andy

                      From what I can determine form your link the work was based on data from the 1990s. Things have changed, considerably.

                      Some more current numbers – from a variety of sources -
                      32% of Americans are living in working poor households and receive aid, once the recession hit 50% of new jobs were low paying – working poor.

                      Almost 36% of American’s children living in poverty — 5.9 million kids — live with married parents. If we include low-income families — people who are just one missed pay check, one illness or one divorce away from poverty — the figure rises to nearly 50%.

                      Today the majority of the public aid goes to the disabled or the elderly. The next segments goes to the
                      middle class – 1/3 of bank tellers receive support, research points out that Walmart employees receive a bit less than $2,000 per month to get by – the CEO
                      made 23.15 million last year – most of which was in stock so it behooves him to keep costs down. The ratio of CEO pay to median worker is 273 to 1 – not
                      criminal but hardly reasonable. This includes of course stock options and the elite, which, leads to finding ways to reduce costs, and makes people into
                      commodities. There is also research that suggests the income inequality leads to greater corruption as those with greater incomes work to keep what they have at
                      others expense.

                      I would also suggest looking into the research why women elect not to get married but still have children – the reasons range from needing a partner who made more than minimum wage, to fears of violence.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Here is a curious thing: Peggy says: “people find alternative ways to get govt bennies when unemployment runs out…*
                      You say: “greater corruption as those with greater incomes work to keep what they have at others expense.”
                      I conclude: Whether a similar action (e.g. “ways to get govt bennies” and I add: at taxpayers’ expense, and “those with greater incomes work to keep what they have at others expense”) is considered right or wrong seems to depend on who does it and the amount of disrespect or appproval they deserve in the mind of each writer…

                    • peggy

                      While some (many?) wealthy people may be immoral and greedy, it’s not our business what they do with their wealth. I don’t understand this obsession. It is our business what is done with the taxes we pay.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      “It is our business what is done with the taxes we pay.” Would that include using taxpayers money to subsidize the very financial organizations that created the crisis? Or using taxpayers money to support large corporations owned by wealthy people (the mythical “doers” and “job creators”) instead of supporting the small to medium-sized businesses that actually do create jobs? (These are just a couple of examples, but if I had more time right now to do research I am sure I would find many more) Is it really doing our business about what is done with the taxes we pay when at the same time we have no objection to such bailouts? Since some people’s accumulation of wealth is greatly helped by bailouts and tax cuts and subsidies of all kinds, why should we not openly and publicly wonder why they do not use their wealth to create living-wage jobs that would take people out of poverty?

    • KM

      “It is the regulatory regime that harms you.”

      And who sets the regulatory regime? Those with power. Who has power? Those with money. That money grants the monied class special access to Congress, the President and state legislatures — access that you and I — the common people — don’t get. This growing inequality leads to growing economic and political injustice.

      This reminds me of those who say, “Well just start your own business. Nothing’s stopping you.” Easier said than done. First, not everyone has the talent to be an entrepreneur, or has the desire or capability to start their own business. (Around 90% of Americans work for someone else.) Second, it takes capital (hard-to-get loans, or your own savings account/credit cards) to get a small business going, and then lots of hours spent with little to no reward in the first year, often ending in failure.

      Growing inequalities make it more difficult for the “common person” to start his or her own business, or to get ahead. Some people are simply treading water, trying to keep their families out of poverty. The “common people” don’t have access to rich, connected political or business cronies who can fund them or give them special favors, and small businesses are competing against corporations who have the political advantage in an unfair playing field.

      • peggy

        RE: Whether to start one’s own business, we all make our choices in life. Before they were millionaires, the Yahoo, Facebook, etc., now rich tech guys were college kids or other guys working out of basements. They knew no one. A guy here in in StL started twitter. Never heard of him before. Don’t know his name now. But, he’s now among the tech wealth. The owner of the Redskins made his $ off AOL, which is now nothing. He was not wealthy before that. All of these guys created new wealth.

        You can too if that’s what you want. If you don’t then let it go.

        There is plenty of political support for small businesses. You’d be surprised.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Really? Political support for small business? Show me some proof, please, because I have not seen much of it in my almost 40 years of self-employment!

          • peggy

            You’ve said you’re Canadian. I’ve worked in DC and in state govt in the U.S.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Yes, and as I have said, there could be many more jobs created if small businesses were supported, than is expected from larger businesses that are downsizing for more profits. If a self-employed person needs help, and can afford it (or can be helped to afford it), that is not a job that can be exported to another country where wages are lower. Therefore if self-employed people could be supported enough that they become small businesses, there would be many more jobs available. I do not know about DC, but I have heard from reputable sources (during a small-business conference) that it actually is a fact that tax collectors in Canada have a vested interest in pushing small businesses into bankruptcy because it shows as a “closed file” in their performance appraisal…

              • peggy

                WHy would US tax collectors do that? Putting a person out of business takes away tax revenue.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Of course, but at least in Canada, tax collectors’ productivity has been measured based on the number of cases closed…

        • KM

          You’re missing the point. No one here is against wealth per se. We’re arguing against the large and growing wealth/income inequalities which have worsened since the 2008 crash. Such growing inequalities — where only a small percentage in the country are greatly enriched at the expense of the greater population — will lead to political/economic injustice and civil unrest. This is not something we as Catholics should welcome. The middle class is not doing as well, and the poor are doing worse. And I agree with Martha below — political support for small business? Really? Those of us who are self-employed disagree.

          • peggy

            I don’t think all businessmen are saints or innocent. Sure, they want good profits. Yes, I do acknowledge that big businesses lobby sometimes for regulations that can hurt competitors or smaller firms. And yes, there are reports of them shedding American citizens to hire cheaper immigrants; thus they want amnesty and increased legal immigration. I do not support that as we have such high unemployment among citizens. I have also mentioned that QE money into the stock market is increasing investor wealth (my 401K is great until today…), while salary/wage incomes are stagnant or decreasing. Yeah, our household income stinks. That explains the gap from 08 on. A gap is natural in general and should cause no worry.

            No, we don’t want unrest. If you are talking specifically post-08, you have to see that employers and many lines of business have been put on hold b/c of the threat of over-regulation by Obama, which has come to pass in many areas. The disclocations from Ocare are legion and have only just begun. I believe it is possible that 08 was rigged to ensure O’s victory. Paulson, Treasurer under W, was in communications w/Obama during the 08 election. He’s been open about it, and that shocks me. He had no business conferring with him. McCain was a buffoon in contrast to O’s uncaring detachment, that looked like calm wisdom.

            People are underemployed and unemployed, millions no longer looking for work. It is terrible. This is not Scrooge or Mr. Potter at work.

            This is not evil businessmen and millionaires keeping us down and preventing us from attaining whatever wealth our abilities and willingness will achieve. I don’t see them as cheating us. This is lefty policies at work wanting a dependent population to control and keep down. It is they who are limiting the exclusive group of who may be millionaires. The middle class is getting taxed to fund the increased dependents and are not eligible for anything themselves as long as they are working.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Sooooo… Your comment sounds tribalistic. And what about those billionaires who keep their wealth in tax havens? What if that money was either properly invested to create employment, as is the real job of the wealthy, according to CST: create opportunities for people to work and earn living wages? Or if the taxes that should have been paid on that wealth in tax havens? Some part of the deficit could be covered… But I see you prefer to blame “lefty policies”. In my book, a truly American way of thinking.. If it will bring a more just level of equality, it has to be communist…

              • peggy

                “tribalistic”? In what way? We cannot import a ton of new labor with so many Americans unemployed and growth stagnant. It would be economic and social disaster. It’s not fair to citizens. We don’t have the virgin west to populate any more.

                re: tax havens. I don’t care. It’s not my business. I don’t know what “properly invested” should mean. I can’t sit here and cry that men with capital are not creating jobs and paying wages that I want to see with that capital. A more favorable business & tax environment will bring the capital home. Now, Paleo-con Pat Buchanan is unusual on the right denouncing NAFTA as it caused American mfr jobs to be sucked out. He has some points there.

                The bottom line is I do not care that a few people control a lot of wealth today. It will always be that way. The people will change. A few people controlling wealth does not keep the average man from following his dreams where they may take him. Specific instances of collusion w/ govt and corruption are a different story.

                The world is as it is. We have to live in it and do the best we can with what God gives us.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  “The world is as it is.” But are we not supposed to be the salt of the earth? The little grain of yeast that makes the bread raise? I do not think that it is sufficient to be content with the world as it is, we at least need to point out to injustice and try to make other people aware of it. Eventually a consensus might grow that will be able to influence the political will. Something saying nothing can be interpreted as agreement, therefore as you claim that you do not care that a few people control a lot of wealth, you might be part of the problem.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  By “tribalistics” I meant to refer to Mark’s way of talking about people who might put their political allegiances above Church teaching whenever the latter does contradict a beloved belief of one or the other party. If I remember well, Mark has used the term “tribal” in that respect.

            • KM

              “This is not evil businessmen and millionaires keeping us down and
              preventing us from attaining whatever wealth our abilities and
              willingness will achieve. I don’t see them as cheating us. This is
              lefty policies at work…”

              I think that’s rather simplistic. Silicon Valley and Wall Street are the big power players right now, and they benefit from loose regulations for themselves and cozy government connections (e.g., the NSA / Tech alliance) to keep the money flowing. Both political parties (left and right) are beholden to them. You don’t see them as cheating? Have you forgotten 2008 and Wall Street’s role in that? Many ordinary people still haven’t recovered.

              • peggy

                The people on Silicon Valley were not around in the prior decade. The movers and shakers change. Yes, there is some inappropriate business-govt collusion, but that is not “the man” stopping the little guy from achieving his own dreams as a general matter. Both parties have their “clients.” I explained 08. Soros, Obama, & Paulson collusion is what I suspect.

                I really don’t care that a very few people hold a lot of wealth. There is no limit to wealth, wealth changes hands, fortunes in life (& $) change. Today’s big whig is tomorrow’s nobody. We never heard of Zuckerberg until a few years ago. There are exceptionally gifted people with ambition who made some choices that made them fabulously wealthy. Very few of us will be like that. That’s ok. Some people will be very poor, sadly b/c of circumstances and sometimes inabilities, or also b/c of unwillingness to take some responsibility for one’s life. We’re all different. We can’t be the same.

                If you want to talk about wealthy people being immoral for not aiding the poor. Go ahead. I get that.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Just coming back over these discussions, I am wondering. Since you have often blamed “Obamacare” for many of the current business problems in your country, would you by chance be among those people who object to universal health care? That would be a strange position coming from a Catholic, given that more than one Pope has brought up the matter of medical care being one of those “necessities of live” that everyone has a right to.

    • Marthe Lépine

      What would be wrong with everyone getting increases? Demand would rise in several fields, and demand would invite investments. Even people who begin by being unskilled need a living wage, and that is what the CCC and the CST are teaching. There is absolutely no need for billionaires to make more billions, while it is a matter of justice for everyone to have the necessities of life. The market is not good enough when profit is a god and some people will do anything to get more profits. The problem with the very wealthy is that they are simply not doing their jobs, which are to provide opportunities for the poor to get work and get out of poverty. Profit should be seen as the remuneration of capital, which is only one of the 3 fundamental factors of production. There is no justification to give the biggest part of the remuneration to only one of the 3 and to consider the other 2, the suppliers of labour and raw materials, as mere instruments for making more profits for the already wealthy.

      • peggy

        Marthe,

        It’s called wage-push inflation when the general wage level rises and prices for goods must rise to cover those costs. Then all laborers remain roughly in the same boat as before. The relative income gaps will not change. The relative degree of poverty or purchasing power will not change.

        • Marthe Lépine

          But… Who sets the prices? People, I would argue. People choose to raise prices because they can get away with it. When billionaires own the corporations, or the shares to corporations,it is not automatic that prices rise. Prices rise because corporations choose to raise them.If they choose to raise their prices, in spite of making huge profits, just to maintain those huge profits, it is their decisions, not a result of some economic “law of the market”. With living wages, people would be able to purchase more, if prices did not raise. If billionaire-owned corporations choose to raise prices instead of sacrificing a tiny part of their wealth, which would, in reality, not make much difference to their standard of living, it is not the result of some “economic law”, but instead it is clearly the result of a refusal to share their wealth, which is in reality an evil decision that no Catholic should approve. Maybe it would be difficult to legislate, but it remains clearly immoral and it should be fought against.

          • peggy

            Corporations are owned by thousands of stockholders, as well as maybe a millionaire or a few. The Scrooge view of the world at work again.

            SIgh.

            • Marthe Lépine

              AS far as I know, it is not the stockholders who make the decisions, but the CEOs, who are still persons, as far as I know … And those decisions may be fueled by the immoral principle that only the stockholders are worthy of attention, not the workers,and certainly not the consumers. And if the CEOs are motivated by the bonus they will get is they maximize the shareholders’ share, it is still not morally acceptable.

    • Obpoet

      “There is no fixed size pie of wealth.”

      I am no economist, but somehow I suspect the size of the pie is rather fixed. Otherwise, just enlarge the pie to the point where everyone has more than enough. I will wager your slice that it cannot be done.

    • Elmwood

      Peggy,

      I work in oil and gas regulation. Believe me when I tell you it’s not only the “regulatory regime” that harms people. Big global companies are by their very nature greedy entities driven to increase share holder value. They do not always have the common good in mind. It’s complicated as you know.

      • peggy

        I am in telecom regulation.

        • Elmwood

          FCC? That’s a sweet job, drive around all day searching for pirate radio stations… I’d just sneak off somewhere and go to sleep.

    • Marthe Lépine

      The problem is: I did study economics. In a truly Catholic university where Rerum Novarum figured among the required textbooks. Of course it was several decades ago, but I do have a good memory. And I do think that the matter is not necessarily “appropriate remedies that will yield results in a market economy” so much as finding ways to change the market in such a way as to obtain a just distribution of the world’s resources, along the ideas of the CST.
      By the way, do you remember when, a couple of years ago, Mark linked to an old interview with Ayn Rand? I am bringing it up because when you keep saying “Please study economics”, you sound just like her, as she repeatedly enjoined her interviewer to go back and read economics, each time a question sounded embarrassing to her. I don’t know if I can find that link again, but I would very much like it if Mark posted it again here…

  • Elmwood

    In Acts the Apostles distributed wealth according to the needs of each. How anyone can reconcile liberal capitalism, which doesn’t put the human person at its heart but instead profit and individualism, with Catholicism is beyond me.

    The goal of a truly just economy is a just distribution of wealth. What we have now isn’t that.

  • Francisco J Castellanos

    Yep, those silly little kids. Who’s stopping them from starting their own business and getting a “piece of the pie”?

    • peggy

      Evil third world despotism at work there. It is horrible. The poor in Africa live under very different and tragic conditions than even the poorest Americans.

      • Francisco J Castellanos
        • peggy

          Africa has been ravaged by brutal wars and despots for a long time now. The severe starvation and absolute poverty are not new forms of suffering for Africans. The recent increasing cost of food, which affects us all, has probably further reduced the ability of charitable entities to provide food for poor Africans. It is already so very bad. I don’t know how much worse it could get.

          • Marthe Lépine

            If my memory is correct, it seems that, in some historical period called the “Cold War”, some brutal wars and despots in Africa were being supported by foreign policies on both sides, e.g. east AND west… And the arms trade has been very lucrative for some people who were not necessarily African… And: Do you mean that, since starvation and absolute poverty are not new forms of suffering for Africans, there is nothing wrong to make them worse if it is going to make some financiers more wealthy? Do you mean that only “charitable entities” have the job of alleviating starvation in Africa?

            • peggy

              Wealthy people have moral responsibilities. Aid for Africa, wealthy singers and bands, tried to help. Bono’s done much. It is hard to get much done with despots in the way. That is not an excuse not to help, but it is a fact that it is hard to help in those nations.

        • Marthe Lépine

          And some other financiers nicknamed ” vultures” who are said to make their fortunes by purchasing debt documents from developing countries for pennies and demand payments as soon as foreign aid is received by those countries. I have seen an interesting story about that kind of thing going on in Liberia…

    • KM

      In Rand-topia, the above are the “deserving” poor and thus “deserve” our sympathy and help. American poor, in contrast, are “undeserving” because they have it much better in comparison, e.g., you don’t see them starving in the streets yet. Thus, those kids in Utah who had their lunches thrown out because their parents were in debt? Totally deserved it! Besides, they made their choice not to become internet startup millionaires, so they should accept the consequences. (/sarc)

      http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/news/57468293-78/lunches-olsen-lunch-district.html.csp

  • HornOrSilk

    Peggy’s argument could be made to suggest everyone should be gambling at casinos, and only the lazy are not doing so, because everyone knows, people have won millions at casinos in the past. Obviously it proves gambling is the way to make money.

    Of course, the reality is, gambling IS how many is made in the current economic situation we find ourselves in. It IS the rare business which is the “lotto winner.”

    • peggy

      I don’t gamble in any form. This is not about laziness. I have not advocated either thing. Stop it.

      We all have different values. People make choices. Some are unable to care for themselves, and we are called to care for them. Not all of us have the gifts, opportunities or intense ambition to attain unimaginable wealth. I sure don’t. I get up and do what I need to do at home and at work each day. I am not dirt poor. I am not wealthy. I don’t need “things.” In fact, I desire to eliminate “junk” from my life and my home and do so often. (The kids still want “stuff” at their young ages.)

      I am okay with all that. Are you?

      • HornOrSilk

        You really are quite clueless about the structure of sin in the world, and how it is reinforced by the greed of the ultra-rich. You act like the only people holding the poor back are themselves. You say “see, some people struck it rich, so nothing is holding you back.” That’s the argument of gambling, too: they show the few winners, with the millions of losers who fund the winners being ignored. This is true with business, and indeed, you DO support gambling by the way you encourage people to “make it themselves.”

        • Mike Petrik

          Horn, arrogance is not becoming, especially when it is advertised by ignorance. But double down with rudeness and you take the prize! Congrats.

          • peggy

            Hi Mike! Why do I engage? Why?

            Horn…? Are you tempted to sin b/c some greedy rich person sins? How? Why are you a loser? Are we all losers b/c we’re not fabulously wealthy? I don’t feel like a loser. I DO NOT care what wealthy people do. It does not affect my life.

            Tell me, what do you propose people do rather than get up out of bed, care for their families, go to work, whether for a large corporation or oneself? Should we all sit around and play video games and let some one else care for us and our children? You folks live in a binary world. There is much in between you deny. It is not sloth v intense ambition. There is much character in between.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Now the “envy” and “covetousness” arguments are rearing their ugly heads (because I assume that is those sins that are being attributed to Horn). Would you, by any chance, be running out of economic arguments? There is absolutely nothing wrong with noticing that there is a huge disparity of wealth and suggesting that there could be some injustices lurking behind that fact. Some (but of course not all) of the sources of huge wealth have been shown to include slave wages, not paying one’s fair share of taxes to Caesar, hiding untaxed fortunes in tax havens, hoarding money. So, if you do not care, it suggests you approve? And evangelization should not include reaching out to those particular sinners in order to help them see that they are doing wrong and might well be on their way to hell? Why? Because, being rich and powerful, they might be offended?

              • peggy

                As a general matter, it is not my business what other people do with their money. It is not their fault that my income is whatever it is. I don’t care how much power a person has. I can pray for their souls, but grumbling that others don’t do what I think is right isn’t useful.

                There are specific stories of corruption that I condemn. I do not stand by immoral business practices or products and despise crony capitalism. I don’t like what the Chamber of Commerce is doing pushing for amnesty and increased legal immigration. It hurts the millions of Americans out of work.

                The stock market is only one way to gain wealth. Yes, the stock market is gambling and some say it’s fixed. I am not so concerned, in general. I have been talking about people who put themselves into creating something, working for something, etc., maybe to a fault, maybe to an immoral degree. But they did something to attain wealth. They did not steal it from you and me. They did not pre-empt our right to attain any property or to provide for our families. There are lots of things holding people back these days. It is not the evil businessman however. We do a lot for the poor as a society, a Church, through our own efforts, through our govt, etc. It is very sad and unfortunate that not every one can be helped for whatever reasons.

                It’ ain’t a perfect world. People are sinners. I am a sinner. I have enough to worry about my soul and those of my loved ones and many fallen away Catholics, for the priesthood in my diocese, the rural parishes closing, the rural poor here, etc. I can pray for “evil” wealthy people or hang on to anger and resentment. I don’t know why you care.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  The problem is: Is it really “their” money? That us a bib part of the issue of income inequality…What is legal is not necessarily just.

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    Sorry: “That is a big part of the issue…”

                    • peggy

                      “Is it really ‘their’ money?”

                      -And, there is it. Ding! Ding! Ding! It’s not yours or mine or any one else’s. All we have is God’s. If they aren’t listening to God, then I can’t do much about it. No more than I can get my sister back to mass or my friend from turning from adultery. (fictional examples) I would trust no earthly government to “redistribute” the wealth in what they think is a “just manner.” That is exactly what the Soviets did when they declared private property to belong to society. People turned out of their own homes by Soviet order because they had “too much wealth.” For the next 80 years, every one was equally miserable and poor. (Not to endorse current govt or economy in Russia.) Can’t wait to enjoy that!

                      A man’s home is his castle.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Yeah, if my memory is correct those are the events that made Ayn Rand and her family leave the Soviet union. Good for the US that she landed on your soil instead of mine!
                      You sound as if any just distribution of the earth’s resources will inevitably lead to a Soviet style country. And in my younger and less experienced days, I once ran into a situation in Europe that made me kind of see why the working poor, in particular, could be attracted by communist ideology – attitudes such as I can read from some US conservative Republicans. If you do not care what other people do even when it is clearly immoral (and I do not mean “sexual” immorality), I would strongly advise you to go and carefully read all of Pope Francis’ homilies during the coming Lent. I will pray that that reading opens your eyes and your ears.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Sure, a man’s home is his castle… But I still maintain that much of the wealth of many billionaires is not theirs. Money gained by underpaying workers and not providing proper working conditions (remember, in Bangladesh) is not their money. Unpaid taxes are not their money. The product of financial speculation that brings plant closures and unemployment is not their money. The product of financial transactions that are sucking money out of developing countries (have you heard of some court cases in England that forced some African countries to pay millions of the money supposedly meant for aid into the pockets of vulture financiers? It got so bad that the UK passed legislation to make illegal that kind of law suit.) is not their money. And this is only off the top of my head – I am sure I could find much more. So, what people do (whether good or bad) with money that may or may not be theirs should concern all of us, particularly since many of those people have some governments in their pockets. I have always thought that no objection means an approval.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Do you happen to see a plank somewhere? I found Horn’s argument making a comparison with gambling quite appropriate, and he certainly is not using language designed to offend… On the other hand, if a participant in a discussion needs recourse to attacks on the person presenting an argument that is difficult to refute, it might need “touché!”

            • Marthe Lépine

              Sorry – correction: “it might mean “touché!”

        • KM

          “The poor in the US have never had it so good.” – Peggy, in comments much further down.

          Homeless kids and families freezing in DC should probably take comfort in knowing that they’re not as poor as other poor people. Besides, there’s nothing stopping them from making millions with their internet start-ups. (/sarc)

          “The inability to get people out of shelter has been predominantly driven by their inability to find affordable, appropriate apartments.”

          http://www.alternet.org/hard-times-usa/homeless-kids-and-families-have-no-heat-shelter-freezing-weather-dc-homelessness

        • Marthe Lépine

          And I would add that it has been said by better informed people than myself that financial speculation through the stock market is in fact using the stock market as a casino, building enormous wealth for the few.

  • KM

    “Material destitution is what is normally called poverty, and affects those living in conditions opposed to human dignity: those who lack basic rights and needs such as food, water, hygiene, work and the opportunity to develop and grow culturally.

    “In response to this destitution, the Church offers her help, her diakonia, in meeting these needs and binding these wounds which disfigure the face of humanity. In the poor and outcast we see Christ’s face; by loving and helping the poor, we love and serve Christ.

    “Our efforts are also directed to ending violations of human dignity, discrimination and abuse in the world, for these are so often the cause of destitution. When power, luxury and money become idols, they take priority over the need for a fair distribution of wealth. Our consciences thus need to be converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing.”

    - Pope Francis’ Lenten Message, Feb. 4, 2014

    http://ncronline.org/blogs/francis-chronicles/full-text-pope-francis-lenten-message

  • KM

    In related news, childhood poverty and homelessness in America have grown. “The number of homeless students in the United States reached a record high last year, according to new data from the Education Department showing that 1.2 million children had no place to call home.”

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/social-issues/poor-kids/map-where-is-childhood-homelessness-getting-worse/

    http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/poor-kids/

  • scubajim

    I like the way you set this conversation up, “only an absolute fool” would disagree with me on this. This is “absolute drivel”, only a fool wouldn’t see the meanness in this.

  • Marthe Lépine

    I just re-read Mark’s post and its long quotation, and I noticed something that I had not thought about in earlier discussions: There is more than one side of “dealing with inequality”. The one we usually seem to jump on most quickly concerns various ways to correct the inequality, with their usual proponents and opponents. But what is a totally different discussion would actually be taking place among the rich and powerful? Something like stronger police states to control the unwashed masses? You know what Mark and others have been saying for a while about the rich and powerful against the rest of us? Do you think that there is anyone looking at such possibilities? What should we do?


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