I’m as shocked as the next ordinary person to see the vast inequality of income in the United States.
I’m even more shocked to see the vast inequality of income between a “poor” American and someone in the developing world.
However, I don’t think income inequality is the real problem and that’s why I don’t write about it much.
The problem isn’t income inequality, but greed.
The difficulty with focussing on income inequality is that there is too often an underlying assumption that if we can only somehow fix the income inequality problem we will fix society’s problems. 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.
“Solidarity” means I am my brother’s keeper. Solidarity means we are in this together and that I am responsible not only for myself, but for my family, my neighbor, my fellow Catholic, my fellow man. Solidarity means that I take seriously my own responsibility for the poor man lying on my own doorstep.
“Subsidiarity” is the principle that problems should be solved and initiatives should be taken at the lowest, local level possible. In other words, “Charity begins at home.” My first responsibility is for my immediate family’s health and welfare. Next I should be involved with my neighbor, my church community, my workplace, my neighborhood, my town, my city and my state. My efforts to change the world begin by changing my world. Top down government or diocesan solutions should only exist to serve, fund and enable local initiatives.
The final principle is personal virtue and personal involvement. It is not good enough to just write a check to a charity and then return to my sofa. I am called to be a friend and brother my neighbor in need.
Income inequality? It’s not the root problem. It is only a symptom of the greed, selfishness and absurd materialism in our society.
Beneath the income inequality is greed and idolatry. Continue Reading
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