Recently, Rev. Robert Sirico spoke in Chicago. He was asked a question regarding income inequality. His answer was that he didn’t care how much money Bill Gates had, nor did it matter to him the difference between Gates’ income and say, Warren Buffet’s. Nor did he care about the difference between how much wealth Gates has and his own personal income. No, Sirico said, what he cared about were the poor: those people so disconnected from the global marketplace that they were not able to live above subsistence level. How do we help them?
One popular answer right now is to “share the wealth.” Those with a lot of money should give a big chunk of it to the poor. Then everyone will be “even.” That seems reasonable, right?
Not so fast, says Rev. Dwight Longenecker, writing at his Patheos blog, Standing On My Head.
The “fix” invariably means some sort of governmental plan of re-distribution of wealth. However, as the social teaching of the Catholic Church reminds us, socialism is a great evil that is essentially a form of enforced robbery by the state. Whether the money is taken by force of arms or force of taxation is beside the point.
In addition, simply taking money from rich people and giving it to poor people doesn’t help poor people. It encourages a dependency and entitlement culture which destroys the soul, initiative, dignity and maturity of the poor.
The best way to address the problem of income inequality is not government programs, but personal virtue combined with the two essential principles of Catholic social teaching: solidarity and subsidiarity.
Yet, that still does not solve the problem. The root of the problem, Longenecker says, is greed and idolatry.
Greed is the deadly sin that demands more and more even when we already have enough. Greed demands more and more at the expense of others, and it is salient to remember that greed is not only the sin of the rich. Poor people can be greedy too.
Idolatry is the lie that money and material possessions will satisfy and provide all our needs. This is to treat money and possessions as a false god. Only God can satisfy and to pretend that money will solve the human problem is a form of idolatry.
Longenecker goes on to urge Catholics (and one would assume all Christians) to tithe. This, he says, would enable private agencies to help the poor. However, since most church-goers don’t give as much as they are able, churches and agencies connected with different denominations are restricted.
Open up your purse strings, Longenecker urges: “Income inequality would be solved if every individual took seriously his responsibility for his neighbor and did so where he lives, where he votes, where he works and where he worships…”
Greed and idolatry: sins we all must overcome, regardless of our possessions, our income, our wealth.