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Notes on the Question of Inequality

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French economist Thomas Piketty

This summer’s issue of The City, which includes an article by myself on Orthodoxy and ordered liberty, opens with a symposium of five articles on “The Question of Inequality.” These include two articles on Pope Francis, two on French economist Thomas Piketty’s recent book Capital in the Twenty-First Century, and one on the Bible.

Having recently written a two part article on the subject for the Library of Law & Liberty (here and here), I took copious notes as the topic is an ongoing subject of research.

In order to recommend the symposium to our readers here, who no doubt have interest in the topic, I compiled the following highlights:

Josiah Neeley, “What Does Bono Know That the Pope Doesn’t?”

Argentina is now the world’s only “formerly developed” country.

[E]ven in the United States a great deal of inequality is the result not of the heroic innovator but of government favoritism.

Donald Devine, “Does Pope Francis Hate Capitalism?”

[B]y 1910 … Argentina’s per capita Gross Domestic Product [was] number ten in the world.

Peron’s Argentina [in the mid-twentieth century] was perhaps the first comprehensive welfare state…. [And] the result has been a much poorer country.

The actual experience of markets [contra Pope Francis] is hardly autonomy. The U.S., one of the freer countries, has 300,000 regulations.

[B]etween 2005 and 2010 the total number of poor in the world actually fell by half a billion people as trickle down prosperity lifted millions from absolute destitution.

Today’s reality is the over-regulatory welfare state, not wild markets.

Bruce Baker, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century”

[Piketty] explains inequality in a simple equation: r > g. In other words, the return on capital (r) continually exceeds the rate of economic growth (g) linked to pay.

[U]ntil and unless we are willing to cross over the threshold from sterile empiricism to the larger context of spiritual reality, we will not be able to weigh market effects on the scale that matters most: the moral scale.

David VanDrunen, “Piketty’s Absent Moral Philosophy”

Piketty makes sweeping appeals to social justice dozens of times without a definition. It isn’t difficult to figure our what he means, however … the greatest good for the greatest number.

[O]ne of the great challenges for a utilitarian account of justice is determining what exactly is the greatest good for the greatest number.

[B]asing strong claims of “social justice” on vague notions of relative equality for the general interest doesn’t promote productive debate.

It takes virtues of self-control and delayed gratification to resist temptations to spend down an inheritance.

Salim Furth, “A Biblical View of Inequality”

For the first time in history, the 21st century may see a majority of the world’s population living well above absolute poverty.

[T]he same globalizing forces that have been pulling incomes closer internationally have pushed them farther apart within most rich countries.

[I]f alleviating present suffering is God’s main goal, He’s not doing a very good job of it.

[I]f we work to maintain material possessions for ourselves while denying their importance to others, we are hypocrites.

There is no program [in God’s response to our pains and joys]. Love is particular: it never averages.

Giving alone is nothing if unaccompanied by love.

Wanting more? You’re in luck! The City is published digitally and in print free of charge (though donations are welcome). View this summer’s issue here and subscribe here.

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Dylan Pahman Dylan Pahman is a research fellow at the Acton Institute, where he serves as managing editor of the Journal of Markets & Morality. He earned his MTS in Historical Theology from Calvin Theological Seminary. In addition to his work as an editor, Dylan has authored several peer-reviewed articles, conference papers, essays, and one book: Foundations of a Free & Virtuous Society (Acton Institute, 2017). He has also lectured on a wide variety of topics, including Orthodox Christian social thought, the history of Christian monastic enterprise, the Reformed statesman and theologian Abraham Kuyper, and academic publishing, among others.

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