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What Kind of Poverty

by Tony M.

I had occasion to visit and revisit some Catholic documents in regard to how to relate to the poor recently. What follows below is open to revision if someone can propose a more appropriate reading of these documents, but here is my opinion.

There is in many Catholic circles a very common phrase, “preferential option for the poor.” As far as I am aware, this phrase is of relatively new coinage, first being used immediately after Vatican II (by Fr. Gustavo Gutierrez in 1967 with the introduction of liberation theology), and used often (almost non-stop) since then. Fr. Gutierrez’s idea may be encapsulated so:

[T]hree bottom-line principles about life and death at the bottom. First, material poverty is never good but an evil to be opposed. "It is not simply an occasion for charity but a degrading force that denigrates human dignity and ought to be opposed and rejected."

Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others. "Poverty is not inevitable; collectively the poor can organize and facilitate social change."

Third, poverty is a complex reality and is not limited to its economic dimension. To be poor is to be insignificant. Poverty means an early and unjust death.
http://ncronline.org/blogs/road-peace/gustavo-gutierrez-and-preferential-option-poor

Two more recent and moderate expressions of the concept are:

When instituting public policy we must always keep the "preferential option for the poor" at the forefront of our minds. The moral test of any society is "how it treats its most vulnerable members. The poor have the most urgent moral claim on the conscience of the nation.

“love for widows and orphans, prisoners, and the sick and needy of every kind, is as essential as the ministry of the sacraments and preaching of the Gospel”.
http://web.archive.org/web/20060216183419/http://www.osjspm.org/cst/themes.htm

Without attempting to parse out all the flavors and, since 1967, all of the corrective qualifications imposed on the concept to conscript it away from heretical liberation theology and bring it into modern Catholic proposals, here are three expressions – if not of the term itself than of the underlying thought - from JPII who more or less initiated the official adoption of the social mission of the preferential option, though working off the prior work of John XXIII and Paul VI.

(U)njust distribution of wealth and engrained, structural injustice require the Church’s spirited advocacy for—and in defense of—the rights of the poor. (Homily at Yankee Stadium Oct. 2, 1979)

“[T]here arises a grave structural conflict: ‘The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.’ ” … “[T]his poverty is not a passing phase. Instead it is the product of economic, social, and political situations and structures . . . [that] create a situation on the international level where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, who get even poorer.” (Puebla opening address, 1979)

Do all that you can, especially you who have decision-making powers, you upon whom the situation of the world depends, do everything to make the life of every person in your country more human, more worthy of the human person. Do all you can to ensure the disappearance, albeit gradually, of that yawning gap that divides the few “excessively rich” from the great masses of the poor, the people who are subjugated in grinding poverty. (1981 Philippines.)

This was all a precursor to the eventual movement of the “new evangelization” that appears to explicitly place solicitude for the material ills of the poor as a foundational aspect of extending the good news of the Gospel.

The problem I am trying to come to grips with in all of this is that it seems to ring hollow every time I look at it carefully. From every aspect, it seems to be a bit of a flummery.

What do I mean? Well, how about this: though the Bible frequently speaks about improving the lot of widows and orphans, in the New Testament there is not a single, solitary instance recorded of Jesus himself, nor directing his Apostles, in either doling out money from their common purse nor miraculously springing gold or other assets out of thin air to relieve the poverty of a poor person. NOT ONE INSTANCE. The closest we have of even an allusion that sometimes their common purse may have been used this way is the one explicit time Jesus told Judas to stuff it when Judas made disparaging remarks about the purchase of a real luxury instead of the money being spent on the poor.

On the other side of the coin, so to speak, Jesus also repeatedly and resoundingly disapproved of strong attachments to wealth: where you store up riches, there also your heart will be (i.e. heaven, with non-worldly riches.) Then there is this passage: do not be anxious about what you shall eat, or what you shall wear. Your Father in heaven knows what you need..

Now, think for just a moment about that solicitude that our Father in heaven bestows on us. Throughout the history of mankind, His benevolence and providence has lifted up people in dire need (saving Noah, protecting David, etc). At the same time, His benevolence even for those whom He loves most and who (among humans) love Him most, permitted great evils to befall them: Abel was murdered, Joseph was sold into slavery, prophets were martyred, the Israelites suffered famines in which many died, the 7 sons in Maccabees were tortured and killed, and on and on into infinity. What kind of benevolence and care is it that Jesus is speaking of when he says “your Father in heaven knows what you need?”

The only answer that I can give that makes sense is that first and foremost, and outweighing all the other aspects by 1000 to 1 (if not more), is the spiritual care of bringing His beloved to heaven in the end. Goods to be enjoyed, other than that spiritual union with God that is itself the foretaste and precursor to heveanly joy, are ALWAYS granted with a view toward that one pearl of great price, that one truly important good.

And, God in His infinite wisdom is constantly using both the goods and the ills of this world to perform His works and achieve His goals, so that if a man dies of illness, or loses his house, or his family dies from an accident or flood or robbers, He can use these things for His purposes including the salvation of those He intends to bring to heaven. When we say that “I need that food” what we really mean is “I need that food to thrive right now and satisfy my hunger, but if God decided rather that what I really need for my salvation is to give that food up, become ill, and die, THAT need would outweigh my need for this food.” So, I didn’t really need that food after all, not absolutely. Or, again, I need health to do my job and raise my family, but if God were to decide to permit an auto accident in which I lose my eyesight and become mentally disabled, I would no longer really “need” my health, I would lose my job, and I would no longer be performing the role of raising my kids in the same sense. And since these would be due to God’s providence, then I don’t need to do those things if He decides I don’t, and so I don’t REALLY need my health, not absolutely. All of the needs for goods of this life are relative needs. The only absolute need is the gift of faith and grace necessary for salvation, and these gifts can be present no matter what external conditions exist.

Now, every human is ordered toward heaven, but part of the passageway to heaven is death. So it is part of God’s providence that each person suffer death, and so it is simply false to say (in an absolute sense, of course) that I need that which will prevent my death, that such things are necessities absolutely. And in every single case where we may die from X cause, God could, were He so inclined, change conditions so that X does not occur at all or does not bring about that death – He could heal the cancer, prevent the accident, etc. For EVERY SINGLE human person who has lived on this earth and who has died, God’s providence permitted his death even though it was preventable (by God). Soooooo, if by providence we mean God’s solicitude for our spiritual welfare and eternal end which are served in this life by some good things and by suffering many ills also, then inevitably the fact that a person is in the midst of some suffering or material lack is not proof that he does not have “what he really needs,” nor evidence that he is not being greatly loved by God at that very moment.

Or by man.

So, Jesus’s message of good news is the good news that salvation is open to all – BOTH the rich and the poor. A rich man may die in great pain, accept his suffering as God’s will, and go to heaven. A poor man may live in great pain, accept his condition as God’s will, and go to heaven at death. Neither is the rich man’s wealth nor the poor man’s poverty the reason they are saved. That’s good news to the poor. But because salvation is open to the poor even while they remain poor, and this is contrary to the anti-gospel of the world, Christ characterizes his mission as that of preaching “the good news to the poor”, even while he eats dinner with rich tax collectors and calls *them* to salvation also. The good news to the poor isn’t that their poverty will end in this life, or even that their poverty will end if everyone around them becomes a God-fearing Christian, it is that their poverty is no barrier to salvation. It is that even while poor they can use their poverty as a weapon againt the real evil, that of Satanic (and moral) evil. And His mission to the poor did not directly eradicate the poverty of any poor person, instead he forgave their sins and healed their bodies and expelled their demons and called them to repentence, and called them to detachment from worldly goods – just like His call to the rich.

Which is to say, the poverty of the poor is not a fundamental aspect of evangelization.

Let’s look at the speechifying about the preferential option for the poor in another way. We see these two comments:

‘The growing affluence of a few people parallels the growing poverty of the masses.’ … “[T]his poverty is not a passing phase. Instead it is the product of economic, social, and political situations and structures . . . [that] create a situation on the international level where the rich get richer at the expense of the poor, who get even poorer.”

Now, I am sure all of us have seen all sorts of statistics in the US about the widening wealth gap, and the ever encroaching dark of (financial) night the poor live in constant fear of. OK. But the Pope is speaking on a world-wide basis, and so I was thinking about it on a worldwide basis. And I tried to come up with objective, un-alloyed, definite measures to the overall welfare of the poor. Here are two: the percentage of people suffering from childhood malnutrition, and the life expectancy of the various populations. Both of these probably are related generally to overall material stability of the poor, given how satisfying hunger and avoiding death stand as motivations for human actions.

Lo and behold, in both cases the objective reality is that the third world, or “developing countries”, are improving and have been improving steadily on both scores since 1950. For malnutrition, childhood stunting is used as a measure, and this tells the tale:
stunting%20rates.PNG
(Source: Bulletin of the World Health Organization, 2000, 78)
http://whqlibdoc.who.int/bulletin/2000/number%2010/78(10)1222-1233.pdf

In terms of the percentages of those who suffer malnutrition, the poor are gaining, not losing. For life expectancy, the poor are showing just about the same improvements as for malnutrition, except that here the poor countries are actually closing the gap on life expectancy compared to the first world countries.
Life%20Exp%20rates.PNG
http://www.inequalitywatch.eu/spip.php?article106

I have not tried to do extensive, careful research, so this is just rough, but anyway here is what I find: on most gross objective measures of material welfare of poor nations, they have generally improved since 1950. I think it likely that the above statistics are probably comparable to most other aspects of life, in the sense that if at all possible people will pretty much make sure, before all else, that they have food for today, and that they stay alive, so if in 1950 their conditions in spite of the most strenuous efforts ran them into malnutrition and otherwise early deaths, then they were also unable to deal with many other aspects of poverty that took second fiddle to either hunger or mortal illness, whereas 20% more of the same people are now able to avoid daily severe hunger and early death so that must free up time and energy and resources to deal with many other aspects of their poverty. For something like 20% more of the population who had been severely poor, life is measurably and objectively richer than it had been. This approximates what I found:

The proportion of the developing world's population living in extreme economic poverty has fallen from 28 percent in 1990 to 21 percent in 2001….

Some economists, such as Guy Pfeffermann, say that other non-monetary indicators of "absolute poverty" are also improving. Life expectancy has greatly increased in the developing world since World War II and is starting to close the gap to the developed world where the improvement has been smaller. Even in Sub-Saharan Africa, the least developed region, life expectancy increased from 30 years before World War II to a peak of about 50 years — before the HIV pandemic and other diseases started to force it down to the current level of 47 years.Child mortality has decreased in every developing region of the world.[8] The proportion of the world's population living in countries where per-capita food supplies are less than 2,200 calories (9,200 kilojoules) per day decreased from 56% in the mid-1960s to below 10% by the 1990s. Between 1950 and 1999, global literacy increased from 52% to 81% of the world. Women made up much of the gap: Female literacy as a percentage of male literacy has increased from 59% in 1970 to 80% in 2000. The percentage of children not in the labor force has also risen to over 90% in 2000 from 76% in 1960. There are similar trends for electric power, cars, radios, and telephones per capita, as well as the proportion of the population with access to clean water. (Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Measuring_poverty)

The facts appear to say that while the rich are getting richer the poor are getting richer. So, either (1) Pope JPII was simply in error in his evaluation of actual objective conditions in the world at large (not impossible, could be he was taken in by the liberal media just as much as other people have been), or (2) he means something other than OBJECTIVE, actual conditions of material wealth. And I suspect it is a combination of the two. That is, it seems to me more likely he did accept (too much) at face value the apparent world picture, as depicted by the liberal media, of the increasing plight of the poor, but what that picture really depicted was the SUBjective, perspective-based change in what people perceive as the plight of the poor because it was shown as in comparison to the state of those not poor. So, in effect, what the Pope is really point an accusing finger at is the widening relative gap in wealth of the rich compared to the poor.

But is even this perception valid?

Our study reveals that the most prominent features of the data over the time periods examined – primarily, 1960 – 1985, are wealth disparity and wealth mobility. These features can be summarized as four development facts:

• In every year studied, there is great wealth disparity amoung countries. In 1985, for example, the highest-output countries were 29 times richer than the lowest-output countries.
• Wealth disparity has not increased or decreased. The distance between the richest and poorest countries remained essentially the same throughout the 1960-1985 period.
• The wealth distribution has shifted up: the richer got richer, but the poor did too. Therefore, no absolute poverty trap exists.
• There have been development miracles and disasters. During the 1960-1985 period, 10 countries increased their wealth relative to the wealth leaders by a factor of 2 or more. These miracles were matched by an equal number of development disasters: during the same period, the relative wealth of another 10 countries decreased by a factor of about 2.
(Source: “Change of Wealth of Nations,” Federal Reserve Bank Quarterly Review, Spring 1993.
http://www.minneapolisfed.org/research/qr/qr1721.pdf )

So it is conceivable that the Pope was wrong even on the relative disparity issue. But that’s the basis of what he was writing on, I think, so I am willing to consider it for the sake of the argument to see what comes of it.

Assuming hypotheticaly that the greater disparity is true, what kind of an ill do the poor suffer when as a class they go from 30% being hungry to 10% being hungry? There is obviously the ill of 10% being hungry. But that’s not a NEW ill, that’s just as old as the hills. You cannot point to the 10% being hungry and call it an evil due to NEW social structures in any definitive sense. Yes, we haven’t solved the hunger of those 10% when we might have, and yes the grossly obese may be guilty of both a sin against their own proper good AND a sin against their fellow neighbor, but that’s not a new sort of evil.

The other kind of ill the poor suffer is that from seeing that there are others so much better off than they are. If it used to be that everyone around you was hungry with you, and now part of the population is well fed and at ease and you are still hungry, along side the the keen edge of hunger you may feel affronted and ill used. That is indeed a new suffering you have. The more others get wealthy, the more evident it is that they (the wealthy) have what a poor person like you can only wish for. As the wealth gap widens, this sort of suffering of the poor is the greater even if your actual material condition is better. So, even though percentage-wise fewer suffer, they suffer more intensely seeing what might be instead.

But of what moral fabric is this suffering made? Let me pose the question again in another way. When an American who was struck with polio in 1950 looks at the near-polio-free populace of the 1980s, 90s, and 00s, he can see that he suffers something that didn’t have to be. If God had sent him into the world just 1 generation later, or if men had gotten off their duffs and discovered the solution one generation sooner (composed, not a little, of multiple generations of “scientists” and “doctors” who could not bring themselves to believe the evidence of germ theory), he might have lived without polio. And again, in some 100 to 200 years, there will probably be medical marvels that will actually REPAIR the damage of polio, so that a sufferer can be cured whole and entire. So, if he were born 200 years later or if mankind had gotten around to its eventual discoveries faster, (if those lazy doctors and researchers would stop doing useless stuff like endless conferences on “bioethics” that justify abortion and infanticide), he could have lived pain free. Or, again, if God had simply decided that he not contract polio, he could have lived pain free.

Of what moral fabric is this suffering? Let me start to answer with a quote:

In like manner, the other pains and hardships of life will have no end or cessation on earth; for the consequences of sin are bitter and hard to bear, and they must accompany man so long as life lasts. To suffer and to endure, therefore, is the lot of humanity; let them strive as they may, no strength and no artifice will ever succeed in banishing from human life the ills and troubles which beset it. If any there are who pretend differently - who hold out to a hard-pressed people the boon of freedom from pain and trouble, an undisturbed repose, and constant enjoyment - they delude the people and impose upon them, and their lying promises will only one day bring forth evils worse than the present. Nothing is more useful than to look upon the world as it really is, and at the same time to seek elsewhere, as We have said, for the solace to its troubles. (Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum)

Obviously, one possible answer to the question, of what fabric is this new form of suffering, is envy. Those who don’t have may envy those who do have. If those who are hungry suffer not only hunger but also the seeing that the rich have excess that could be given to the poor, it is readily possible that they might be tempted to want the very good things that the rich have. But wanting to have precisely what another person has is the definition of envy. So for food and other material wants, new suffering in the poor caused by others getting richer (at least this form of new suffering) is somewhat problematic as a reason for proclaiming to the world reasons (new, special reasons) to change our approach to wealth and especially wealth distribution. It simply does not do to say “those people over there will envy you if you don’t give them part of your wealth.” That’s not much of a good reason for the wealthy to change their behavior.

However, for my polio example, envy may not be the only answer, especially because the sufferer may not be upset by the fact that others don’t suffer like him, at least not ostensibly. Yet that doesn’t necessarily get him off the hook for problems in the spiritual order. If God sends us something to suffer, one of our responses can legitimately be “how do I change conditions to get rid of this evil” but until that effort succeeds our required attitude about the suffering must be “I will submit to God’s will and accept His chastisements for His sake to the extent He makes it that I cannot change it while doing His will” and if it turns out to be impossible to get rid of the evil then the same attitude means I will continue to accept the suffering till death or till God changes it. It is impossible for a person with that attitude to also, at the very same time, be grievously forlorn or in sorrow at the reality that “things might have been different, had I lived at a different time, had I not contracted polio, etc.” So, it is one or the other. Either humble acceptance of God’s sendings, or pride-filled insistence that I have as much right to live pain free as the next guy, but not both.

Since before the Second Coming every man has to die before heaven is open to him, every man intending to gain heaven is required to be prepared, at some point, to suffer the pangs of mortal ills until death, with God providentially choosing not to relieve him of the burden in this life. No man is rich enough to escape this eventuality, this being shorn of every vestige of worldly good, including his own body (and as a consequence every good that serves the good of the body). So every man, rich and poor alike, must be prepared to forego health and life itself at God’s insistence if he would gain heaven.

I submit that the same sort of evaluation holds for poverty.

If God had decided to arrange the world just a little differently, that rich person over there might not be rich, and I might be in his place instead. I might have been born into a rich family. Or I might have been given that opportunity for a scholarship, gone to college, gotten a medical degree, and be well off now. Or I might have had the opportunity to become a master electrician and live quite comfortably. Or I might have not had a drug-abusing mother and had regular meals. (just a hypothetical, ok?) Etc. All of these might have beens are really possible, and there are infinitely many of them. If a poor person starts to give in to the temptation to adhere to this form of thinking, there is no end to the ways he can be unsatisfied with his current lot in life, reasons to rail against his condition as an injustice. But many of them, perhaps most of them, in some cases even ALL of them, are instances of the poor person identifying a might-have-been with a should-have-been that simply isn’t a “should” that is really true by reason of justice, or at least not really due to him. For, most available might-have-beens are simply NOT a matter of any specific person doing him (or his parents or grandparents, and beyond that I refuse to consider) out of anything definite that was his due. Certainly there is no missing ought, or something due, in the case of a person contracting polio and most illnesses, and it is also generally not present in floods, earthquakes, plagues, droughts, failed crops, failed businesses, disabling accidents, and so on, and these surely cause a great many of the things that could turn a person’s welfare around from mediocre or even well off to poor. Consider the widow whom Isaiah stayed with, whose cow God killed in the night. When Isaiah complained about this ill treatment of the widow, God revealed that no injustice occurred, God had intended originally to take the life of her son instead so the death of the cow in his place was a great mercy. Even though it left her destitute.

Gutierrez and JPII appear to suggest an analytical model in which the mere reality of inequality of wealth is precisely the “injustice” of the rich to the poor. In support of such a thesis, they (and others) elicit quotes from the early Church and from the Fathers, such as

“Property is theft.” (St. Basil the Great)

“The rich take what belongs to everyone, and claim that they have the right to own it, to monopolize it.” (same)

“You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” (St. Ambrose)

The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry person; (St. Basil again)

Leading to more modern, but equally extreme constructions of comparison:

Poverty is the greatest form of violence. (Gutierrez)

But against the apparent meaning of all of these, the Church for many years has insisted otherwise, that private property is not only licit, but is implied by the natural law itself as a necessary concommitant of man in society even aside from sin. Thus either the Church has simply repudiated the above comments of such men as Basil and Ambrose, or it has interpreted these sayings in ways that moderate the impact of them. And clearly the simplest thing to say about them is this: those sayings were either hyperbole, or based on a specific (flawed) social model (imperial Rome and its law provided that property ownership explicitly allowed the owner to “use or abuse” the property) that does not obtain generally.

Among other things, the above comments about the rich and their excess cannot begin to help analyze relative human needs. They do nothing to help discern that while X amount of food is needed in the sense of being required to avoid clearly ill health, X+Y amount may be needed for fully robust health. They do absolutely nothing to help reflect on the fact that a man needs music and learning as well as food and clothing(in a different sense of need, but strongly enough that some people will give up food before giving up music), and that these needs sometimes require a great deal of assets in order to be met that could represent “the bread in your cupboard” that you have not given to your neighbor. Nor do the comments remotely help place the relative timing of needs between the needy in any kind of hierarchy: if I take the bread I have in my cupboard and give it to the poor, and thus have nothing to break my fast in the morning, and thus cannot do my day’s allotment of labor, I will then run afoul of St. Paul’s injunction “if any will not work then neither let him eat.” Simple prudence for tomorrow is a positive duty, not a narcissistic flight of greed. No, the firm and definite principle of private property means, if it means anything at all, that a man has the definite duty to adjudge for himself by reason (and for the goods placed in his hands by nature, by personal effort, by gift, and by exchange) the immediate, short term, and longer term demands on his goods to meet higher and lower level of priorities, of both necessities and of goods in due proportion, for all those neighbors (himself, his family) to whom he has definite primary obligations and whether they are not YET met if he gives up the bread, gold, or money saved for all these primary uses, and whether the savings are not what are properly called “excess” simply.

And THEN, after he has met all of that, if he has still more left over, he retains the right and duty to adjudge that these goods can be better used in X hands rather than Y hands for the poor. That is to say, the mere fact that I have a real surplus and that you have a real need does not mean you can simply take my excess as “yours” in justice. It isn’t yours yet, until I have decided to give it to you to meet your needs instead of giving it elsewhere for some other need. The above sort of so-called teachings that undermine the rights of private property with regard to the rich man’s excess mean that he is incapable of giving gifts out of that excess, which means that these teachings as such undermine the very “gratuitousness” of their own trumpeted declarations. They cannot have it both ways: if they want our giving to be modeled after the generous and gratuitous giving of gifts of the Father, then we have to actually own the things which we give to others in need, and thus the giving is an act of charity, not of simple justice properly understood. If they don’t want to credit the giving as that of charity (in excess of justice) then they have to retract their call for a gratuitous sort of behavior in imitation of the gratuitous God.

And so we get to the later 20th century “social” encyclicals such as Populorum Progressio and Solicitudo Rei Socialis that natter on and on about “development” but at every turn undermine exactly what development comes out of. If (mistaking Ambrose’s comments as being literal teaching) any inequality of goods is, itself, an injustice to the poor by the rich, then EVERY SINGLE instance of a man taking his (even short term, relative) excess and investing it for a future increase in productivity is thereby stealing from the poor person who needs it right now. Every man who stores up grain in his barn for next spring’s planting, when there are poor people in need of dinner down the river, in the next country, or in another continent, is stealing their dinner. Never mind that by giving up the seed grain he is stealing his own family’s future. So too, the man in Old Testament Israel who obeyed the Mosaic law and followed Jubilee rules by allowing the land to remain fallow in the 7th year, by storing up grain from the prior 6 years, was stealing from the poor who had not enough to live on this week.

But fortunately, even as the terms “justice” and “private property” are made horribly confused in these documents, so also are “poverty” and “inhuman conditions”. We see this smashing together of disparate notions:

What are less than human conditions? The material poverty of those who lack the bare necessities of life, and the moral poverty of those who are crushed under the weight of their own self-love; oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power, from the exploitation of the worker or unjust transactions.

What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life's necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go on to acquire a growing awareness of other people's dignity, a taste for the spirit of poverty, (l8) an active interest in the common good, and a desire for peace. Then man can acknowledge the highest values and God Himself, their author and end. Finally and above all, there is faith—God's gift to men of good will—and our loving unity in Christ, who calls all men to share God's life as sons of the living God, the Father of all men. (Populorum Progressio)

By these definitions, rich Americans who are “crushed under the weight of their own self-love” are in inhuman conditions, and well-off Chinese industrialist managers who are stuck in “oppressive political structures resulting from the abuse of ownership or the improper exercise of power” are living in inhuman conditions. Equally, rich Americans whose income and opportunities are unchanging, stagnant, static, are also in “inhuman conditions” because truly human conditions imply not just a current supply of the necessities but “broadening horizons”and“acquiring refinement”and other sorts of growth. That is to say, “human” conditions are simply not based on an objective measure of “sufficiency” of any definite amount of goods related to man’s nature, but rather on a sliding scale of ever more, ever better, ever growing amounts of wealth, education, refinement, culture, regard for others, etc. It’s not just the 15% or 30% of humanity that is living in objective economic lack of material goods necessary for life, it is about 98% of humanity that is in poverty. Who knew? And of course we can’t bother with distinctions that separate out the different meanings. It’s all just “poverty” or “inhuman conditions.” Don’t try to notice, by the way, that under this ever-changing measuring stick of “development” implying ever more wealth than before no matter how much everyone has, greed of acquisition is (accidentally?) baptized as instead merely fulfilling the human spirit. X amount is never enough simply because “human” conditions are conditions of increasing what you have for more and more and more because there is no static measure.

"Development is the new name for peace." (Populorum Progressio and repeated in Solicitudo Rei Socialis)

You see how that works, right? Poverty is violence, (even relative poverty) and peace is the resolution / eradication of violence, and so “development” - wealth transfer - becomes the obligation of ALL parties as a sheer matter of justice to eradicate “violence.” I guess as long as a nation is making strides toward “more” in comparison with the richest nations – thus is gaining faster than the rich nations are gaining - there is sufficient basis for an expectation of future peace, but as soon as it looks like – even in the comparative sense, of course – a nation is not keeping up with the rate of progress of a rich nation, that’s violence and theft and intrinsically evil. Maybe that’s why Guadium et Spes (Vatican II) includes “inhuman conditions” in the ranks of “intrinsically evil” acts, even though it cannot really be considered an act at all.

Indeed, the entire body of documents seems to create a sort of intentionally obscure notion “inhuman conditions” under which they can throw virtually any situation at all that anyone might think is less than perfect for ANY reason (utterly at odds with Leo XIII quoted above) – not realizing that they have given in to liberalist terminology shenanigans (newspeak) and extended victimhood status well beyond the normal range of victims to include even those who are being berated as oppressors and victimizers. Their “make a new class of victims” impetus got out of hand and they forgot to shut it off, so they just went on creating new victim groups until they included the rich. Like Mickey Mouse magically creating more broom-slaves and forgetting to put a limit on them. Left hand, meet the right hand who doesn’t know anything about what you are doing.

So too, they ignore the fact that at least 80% of the poor people living in “poverty” and “inhuman conditions” are living objectively in greater wealth than the average, happy, “dignified” person in Jesus’s time. How can this be? Don’t ask. Don’t even wonder how the very same objective living conditions can be dignified in one case and undignified in another. So too, the St. Francis who literally walks away from every form of ownership of property, who eschews all property for the sake of purer love of God, can live in immense dignity but many of the poor who own a small hut with a tiny garden are living in conditions contrary to human dignity, not because of the objective amount of wealth they own but because of how that amount of wealth compares to some people in a far off country with whom this poor person compares himself, much to his negative conclusion. Is this what is meant by the “spirit of poverty?” Don’t ask. These questions are not to be put on the table for discussion.

Don’t ask, either, about Gutierrez’s politicization of religious vows of poverty:

Voluntary poverty is a conscious protest against injustice by choosing to live together with those who are materially poor.

Gone is the spiritual motivation of simply giving up goods in order to avoid ATTACHMENT to goods, (such as my brother made on entering an order), which is a root moral objective. Gone is the rationale of vows of poverty made by cloistered nuns, who don’t have any “protest against injustice” and don’t “live together with those who are materially poor.”

So far as I can tell, the entire program starts off on the wrong foot and never gets a great deal closer to getting truly fixed, though I think Benedict XVI sort of corrected some of the defects. The wrong foot is in attempting to identify poverty as a condition of inequality, and as a mindset of “lack of power” in world affairs, and as an inherently undignified status while being relative, and as a single problem, and as a problem whose solution we should expect to find before we achieve converting all men to Christianity and before the Second Coming, and as trying to locate in prosperity a direct and fundamental point of evangelization, and in ignoring the tension between the root requirement of development (investment and husbanding of so-called “surplus”) and laying claim on all surplus as belonging to the poor to meet their necessities. So too, many of the proposed solutions amount to either outright liberal claptrap (set up new governmental ministries, and new international governments to oversee the [forced?] distribution of goods), or incredibly empty, inconsistent mumbo-jumbo (nations must meet together [really?]…peoples should respect each others cultures… while the rich nations may legitimately impose conditions on their providing support for the poor, these aren’t really gifts, and still the cultures of the victim/oppressed cannot be uprooted in despotic mandates from the rich [including cultures that ignore tenets of private property, contract law, and rule of law generally?] ), or measures that are actually counterproductive in true economic terms, (treating investments of the rich as simply injustice as such because those assets belong to the poor – even though it is precisely those investments that provide jobs and self-sufficiency rather than a permanent underclass victim status for the poor).

I am not against a preferential option for the poor taken in the proper context: the poor need our help more than the rich and powerful, so they have more claim on our (material) help. That's a preference. I have a problem with converting that into a foundational principle of evangelization (as if the poor need the Gospel more than the rich, or as if the poor have more right to the Gospel, or as if the poor will be better by receiving the Gospel than the rich will). I also have a problem with converting mercy and charity into justice. And of converting the Gospel message of detachment from worldly goods into a message for the rich only.

Comments (40)

So, you would say that you have no problem with the "preferential option" when understood in a limited sense and in the proper context?

Charity work will tend to help the poor rather than the rich, of course. This is self evident.

Thanks for this post, Tony. It ably articulates much of my discomfort with many of the ideas I hear from many Christians concerning poverty. Of course as individuals we are called to help the poor. But there is no end to "if you have more than you need, you are stealing from the poor." I hope that the little we've saved will keep us from being a burden on others when I can no longer work for wages. I am grateful we have been able to respond to needs of our grown children when they arose because we had money laid by. And yes, I am grateful that we could afford my healthcare needs with a cancer diagnosis last year. None of these would be possible if we lived hand to mouth day by day. It is up to us, I believe, to be before the Lord (and spiritual counselors who know us) about how we use our resources, open always to the possibility of greed on our own part - it is not up to others to obligate us to give as and where and how and how much *they* think necessary.

But this post is also a strong encouragement as I sometimes feel discouraged about certain lacks in my life, and I appreciate the reminder to keep the eyes and heart trained on the Lord Himself in trust and obedience. Thank you.

Yes, thanks for this, Tony. A most excellent and thorough analysis.

Tony,

This is a matter I have spent years thinking about. There are, really, two different audiences being addressed in the survey you present, above. It can be subtle to see that. Let me try to make it plain.

St. Thomas, when talking about the sin of scandal says that it is impossible for a man perfected in virtue to be scandalized (ST II.II Q 43), but, here's the point: this is a bit like telling a friend in a dark room to turn on the light so that you can find the light switch. Jesus said that scandal will come and he said this realizing that not all men are perfected in virtue. In once sense, there is no need for an injunction against scandal for the perfect because it is incapable of causing them harm, but, in another sense, there is a need for an injunction against scandal realizing that the majority of men are not yet perfect. Thus, the imperfect may need additional accommodation that the perfect do not.

That being said, with regards to poverty, poverty is no impediment for the perfect, but not all men are perfect. In that sense, even on a spiritual level, poverty can and must be considered an impediment for the vast majority of men. Not only does it generate envy, as you point out, but it may also lead some into temptation. Many a prostitute has used poverty as a reason for starting down the road to debasement. In this sense, the preferential option for the poor is nothing more than the absolutely enjoined requirement to do what is necessary to help your neighbor to get to Heaven bring realized in a practical sense. There is a preferential option for the poor to the extent that their poverty, in their state of being imperfect, is an impediment to their salvation. Poverty in a religious Order, while genuine poverty, requires a different application of prudence than in discussing poverty in a corrupting and corruptible society-at-large. Of course, what is also obvious is that there is also a preferential option for the rich, to the extent that their riches are an impediment to their salvation and they need help in properly ordering their relationship to wealth (which explains St. Ambrose and St. Basil - since they are commenting, primarily, about spiritual effects). How these options play out in the two different circumstances of poverty and surplus depends on the facts on the ground, but, also, how one defines poverty and riches. King David was a very rich man, but he counted himself poor because he held on to nothing but God. The greedy poor are just as greedy as the greedy rich. Both the poor and the rich can idolize money, so true poverty is not the same thing as being economically poor and true wealth has little to do with being economically, however, in a comparison, human experience had shown that riches tend, over time, to be hoarded and to become an idol more easily when they are actually present than merely wished for, so, all-things-being equal, it is harder for a rich man to enter the Kingdom than a poor man.

Jesus spoke often of the poor, but it is unfair to say that he never gave money to the poor. Whenever he healed someone, he gave the equivalent service that money could buy. The person being healed may not have needed it for his salvation. Sometimes, such as making the man on the mat to walk, his healing was not to help his salvation (Christ had just forgiven his sins), but to help the salvation of the crowd and, most specifically, the Pharisees, to bring to poverty those who were rich in their own opinions.

In any case, some economic documents issued by the Vatican are time-dependent and some are meant to apply independent of time and circumstances. These aspects, perfect and imperfect, context-sensitive and context-insensitive, need to be sorted out carefully, otherwise, it can, indeed, sound as if the Church contradicts herself on these issues.

The phrase, "preferential option for the poor," is really very vague, since it does not define its terms very well. Who is really poor? What should we prefer for them?

Simply put, every Christian has a moral responsibility to do whatever it takes within the bounds of a proper morality to aid their neighbor to get to Heaven. That, is the true definition, or should be, of the preferential option for the poor, since we are all poor, miserable sinners.

The Chicken

should read:

so true poverty is not the same thing as being economically poor and true wealth has little to do with being economically well-off

Charity work will tend to help the poor rather than the rich, of course. This is self evident.

That's true, MA, no question. In my view, charity work also helps the well-off, when they are open to grace moving them, because charity to the poor should help the well-off become less attached to worldly goods, in 2 ways: in practicing willingly giving up some of their wealth; and in being in closer contact with someone who manages to live without such worldly goods regularly. This latter effect sort of depends, though, on the poor person ALSO having learned to live detached from wealth - his example of detachment rubs off on the charitable giver, but only if he really is detached and thus (for instance) receives aid gratefully and without an assumption or expectation that he has a RIGHT to that help. A poor person who views the world as owing it to him to fix his poverty won't be much of an example of detachment from worldly goods.

Which all feeds back into the point that charitable giving cannot be a matter of justice and remain charitable giving. Applying the name "social justice" for the Church's teaching on how those well-off should give assistance to the poor is a grievous error.

Simply put, every Christian has a moral responsibility to do whatever it takes within the bounds of a proper morality to aid their neighbor to get to Heaven. That, is the true definition, or should be, of the preferential option for the poor, since we are all poor, miserable sinners.

And I think that this is the most critical sense of "the poor" that Jesus addresses in his comments "the poor have the gospel preached to them" - those who felt poor because of a perceived need for God's help, which could be the rich like Nicodemus who felt a lack in his soul, or it could be the poor like the paralytic who knew he needed healing but didn't think to ask for healing of his sins. Thus the pharisees who felt no lack were not "the poor" to whom he preached but the few pharisees and other well-off types who perceived they needed - or at least listened to Jesus long enough to discover that they needed him were among "the poor" for they too were sinners in need of salvation.

Jesus did not means-test the members of the crowd to whom he preached or the recipients of his miracles. Which is to say, material poverty was not a core object of "the good news".

That being said, with regards to poverty, poverty is no impediment for the *perfect, but not all men are perfect. In that sense, even on a spiritual level, poverty can and must be considered an impediment for the vast majority of men. Not only does it generate envy, as you point out, but it may also lead some into temptation.

Right. Before the second half of the 20th century, the Church quite consistently taught that both extreme wealth and extreme poverty present their own special dangers in the moral order, and that men ought to strive to overcome extreme poverty for themselves (unless becoming so specifically for the Kingdom), and men should not strive to become extremely rich for their own account. And though she always strongly recommended that the rich assist those in extreme need to get out of that condition, she always (before) called that a "work of mercy", understanding by mercy something over and above justice. Which does not preclude it being an obligation. We have obligations in charity as well as obligations in justice. The obligations in charity and mercy extend to such things as forgiving those who have done you wrong. And to alms for the poor. But to re-cast these obligations as being required by simple JUSTICE is to revise the whole moral order about both what is due to your fellow man and WHY. And the Church has always been clear that meeting obligations in justice, with respect to material goods, comes before any obligations in charity with respect to claims on your material goods: you cannot give alms to the poor out of the only money you have available to repay a just debt owed to another, and then tell your lender "I don't have the money, I gave it to the poor."

In once sense, there is no need for an injunction against scandal for the perfect because it is incapable of causing them harm, but, in another sense, there is a need for an injunction against scandal realizing that the majority of men are not yet perfect. Thus, the imperfect may need additional accommodation that the perfect do not.

I agree. This is why St. Paul, for example, says (a) that although the worker is worth his wage (implying that the preacher of the Gospel should be supported by the community), in at least some places he did not rely on donations but worked for his upkeep, and (b) although some can eat meat without harm, others cannot without offence to their conscience, and so in some cases those who can should forego the privilege for the sake of not causing scandal to those who cannot.

I will go into this in more detail a little later, but one of the core requirements for applying this prudentially, especially in economic terms, is that of knowing your neighbor. And with respect to that, it is absolutely critical to realize that "neighborliness" comes in degrees. The man who live next door is more your neighbor than the man who lives across town, all other things being equal. But mere physical nearness is not the only kind of nearness: the man who you work with is more your neighbor than the man who used to work with you 10 years ago, again all other things being equal. St. Thomas says that obligations toward our neighbor are degreed in the same way as neighborliness. Thus our obligation to materially help the guy who lives next door when he loses his job for no doing of his own is different from our obligation to materially help a guy Australia who similarly loses his job.

And the reason for this is that it is the very nearness itself that qualifies how we respond: it is by nearness of some sort that we first come to know the need, it is by nearness that we can judge the cause(s) of the need (drunkenness as a cause of job loss requires a different sort of response than other causes), it is by nearness that we can perceive the degree of harm (and by another sort of nearness - empathetically - that we can perceive the degree of suffering), it is by nearness that we can estimate the likely sorts of fixes, and it is by nearness that we are able to evaluate when the need has ended. A mere statement "someone out there has a need" cannot determine a response of help from me, because I do not know who, where, why, how, etc. to help.

And at the same time, the same causes of nearness that makes a person more or less my neighbor also make him more or less susceptible to scandal at my failures. A person who lives in Siberia is not likely to be scandalized by my not paying my taxes, but my next-door neighbor might. A Buddhist down the street might not be scandalized by my not going to church, but a member of my parish might. A serf might not be scandalized when the baron in the next barony over fails to run his barony well, but the serf's own lord may be scandalized at the actions of someone in his own class. So prudentially, the obligation to respond with materially assistance so as to avoid scandalizing the poor is itself regulated by the degree of nearness which lends to the possibility of scandal.

Tony, this is a great post and much needed.

One point that I think is always good to make in these contexts is that the free exchange of goods and services, coupled with what one might call economic infrastructure (security of contracts, absence of government corruption, etc.) is one of the most powerful forces in the world for helping the poor. This really cannot be said too often: The attempt to couple "concern for the poor" with greater _restrictions_ on the market or with the artificial distribution of wealth is profoundly misguided, and it is misguided most of all as regards the actual effects on the poor. Indeed, the creation of _jobs_ through a healthy economy is arguably better for the deserving, working poor than almost any amount of sheer charity, however well-intentioned and even however wisely bestowed. It's the old "teach a man to fish" phenomenon. A poor man is better helped by having the opportunity, long-term, to care for himself and his family by working than he is by being given a charitable gift of money, even if he will make good use of that charitable gift.

Hence attacks on the rich and on wealth disparities and, in general, a "leftish" approach to these issues are possibly the worst thing that could be done for the poor themselves.

I think this point makes a good complement to your other good points in the post.

Lydia, that's probably the clearest take-away from all of the analyses I have seen on the actual state of need in poor areas: the single most important thing they need long term is the opportunity for a stable job in a stable economy, even one that pays very low wages compared to the US. Almost all of the extremely poor are those who don't have access to regular, stable work, not those being exploited by the rich factory owners in poor-paying jobs.

I read some article somewhere (I know, that's really vague) about poor agricultural workers in South America. The article claimed that the employers were literally refusing to pay the men their wages, having them beaten when they peacefully protested this treatment, and then bribing the police to do nothing about the beatings. It struck me at the time that those who see wealth disparity as the biggest problem might think of this as an example of the evils of wealth disparity or private property ownership. They might even think that such a situation means that having a job doesn't really help the poor, because allegedly these workmen "had jobs." whereas to me the biggest issue was the fact that, granting that the facts were as reported, this was not a normal free-market situation at all. There was no security of contract, because the men were being promised wages that they were not being paid. There was no equality before the law and protection by the government from the private use of unjustified force, because the police were corrupt. There was rather something akin to "might makes right." The requisite legal infrastructure for the exchange of goods, services, and labor to take place in a free and orderly fashion was simply lacking.

I couldn't help wondering how much poverty in the world is caused by those types of problems.

Apparently, the rate of extreme poverty in the last 30 years has dropped by half, and around 2/3 of that drop is represented by India and China. This change clearly accompanied the political / social changes to allow for markets (even of a sort, as in China) and production in capitalist-type industrial facilities. In spite of the fact that at the start of this process, both in India and China, the wages of these workers were ridiculously low as compared to US wages for similar work, in both countries the economy is booming, the wealth of the average person is rising, and a middle class is becoming common. Only a very small portion of this change is attributable to western direct aid as money handouts, much more of it is using western technology and bootstrapping themselves up with that knowledge.

Indeed we could add, Tony, that the advantage of Asian labor has diminished, precisely because of the remarkable trend of "re-shoring" to North America, as Asian and North American labor prices have converged, that has gone on for a couple years now.

And I agree fully with Lydia's point, and add that it is a notorious socialist tactic to treat truly chaotic and ungoverned places, where justice is merely the advantage of the stronger, as the very quintessence of capitalism; when everyone with any sense knows that all legitimate theorists of capitalism insist on a sturdy rule of law that protects the small and weak against mere lawless depredation, or against the mere rule of bribery.

Tony, very little monetary aid is provided to poor countries by western nations completely without strings. The aid provided to, for example, Pakistan over the past several decades was used by the military backed regime to buy US made armaments.

As for China and India, I would argue that workforce in those nations have not been bootstrapping themselves. It was, rather, the outsourcing of western jobs in manufacturing and services by western companies, in search of cheap labour, that created those employment opportunities. And not only that, it is the subsequent purchase of the manufactured goods in western society that continues to boost their economies. The people of China, for example, only consume a small amount of the goods that they manufacture.

Western capitalism remains the true development engine of the world.

Tony, very little monetary aid is provided to poor countries by western nations completely without strings. The aid provided to, for example, Pakistan over the past several decades was used by the military backed regime to buy US made armaments.

Very true. Most nations not bordering military hotspots, though, have had aid with other sorts of strings attached, such as to (at least in theory) support a democratic, rule of law, protection of property and contract society - like patent enforcement. Or (in other cases) to protect some of our favored industries.

As for China and India, I would argue that workforce in those nations have not been bootstrapping themselves. It was, rather, the outsourcing of western jobs in manufacturing and services by western companies, in search of cheap labour, that created those employment opportunities.

I don't think that the fact that western companies have been using India as cheap labor is completely independent of the bootstrapping: a society to which Verizon and Microsoft can outsource its tech-support is, already, a society that has made gains in education, distribution of basic services (at least electricity and phone service), and protection of contract rights. Verizon couldn't outsource its work to the Sudan. Nor could Hanes outsource garment production to Honduras if Honduras hadn't improved in infrastructure somewhat since the 1950s - port facilities and availability of electricity at a minimum. Almost all of the countries which have had extremely poor development in the past 40 years are countries which have had unstable or retrograde political situations, rather than ones that simply cannot "get ahead" because nobody will come in with outside development dollars. Given stable and wealth-protecting political conditions, typically investment opportunities will be found where there are people, because people are a fundamentally productive (i.e. creative, or co-creative) facet of the world. Even if there is little to no outside investment, under the right internal conditions internal investment will occur which will push slow but steady development. Which, after all, is precisely how the developed western countries got that way, since they could not have borrowed their initial development off of some prior developed society.

"I submit that the same sort of evaluation holds for poverty."

The wealthy are called upon to share their wealth; the healthy cannot share their health.

One notion that the preferential option for the poor seems to entail is that the affluent should not use their surplus to acquire more for themselves, but rather use it to help the less fortunate. Envy is certainly a sin. But do not forget that avarice remains one as well, despite the attempts of some to get it either dropped from the list or baptized, with its new baptismal name being "self-interest."

In any case, both the Old and New Testaments indicate that the "cries of the poor" against the rich aren't always due to envy. See James 5: 1-6 for instance.

One notion that the preferential option for the poor seems to entail is that the affluent should not use their surplus to acquire more for themselves, but rather use it to help the less fortunate.

Once again, this is economically speaking a one-dimensional analysis. Consider: Suppose that someone who is "affluent" uses his so-called "surplus" to acquire or build another company, which, incidentally, makes more money for himself. This _does_ help the less fortunate. Arguably, it helps the less fortunate _far more_ than if he had taken that same amount of money and handed it out to charity or to poor individuals, _even if_ the "handing out" had been only to excellent charities or worthy individuals. Even if this acquiring or building looked like "acquiring more for himself"--perhaps he always wanted to own such a company, and perhaps doing so made him a lot richer still--that doesn't matter to the positive effect on those "less fortunate."

So avarice is excused because it sometimes has good consequences? Or is it that the wealthy man can, in fact, eat his cake and have it too...he can help the poor while tearing down his barns and building bigger ones? After all his new barns will require more workers...

I may be wrong, but I don't think that's quite what the Lord had in mind.

Who said avarice is excused? The fact remains that all the deadly sins tempt us, each in different measure. The poor are no more immune to greed on account of their want, than the rich are immune to envy on account of their plenty.

Lydia is absolutely right to emphasize that building successful enterprises is often the very best way to "help the less fortunate."

"The poor are no more immune to greed on account of their want, than the rich are immune to envy on account of their plenty."

True. Yet the desire of the poor to improve their lot is not inherently problematic, let alone sinful. The desire of the wealthy to become still more wealthy is.

~~building successful enterprises is often the very best way to "help the less fortunate."~~

As if Jesus might have said, "Tear down your barns and build bigger ones! It will do good for the poor in the long run and you will have treasure in heaven."

Don't think so. Such solutions serve to salve the consciences of the rich, while not offering much immediate help to the presently needy.

It seems that NM really would prefer that the poor were poorer so long as the rich were less rich!

NM, I submit that your reaction here provides some evidence that you don't really care what is the best way to help the poor! If it turns out that the best way to help the poor really is to make bigger pies, and if, horror of horrors, that allows people you regard as having "too much" to have more rather than becoming more ascetical, then you don't want society to take that route. Fascinating.

In fact, it's almost ironic: You seem more concerned for the souls of the rich and the value to the rich of divesting themselves than for the actual health of society and the creation of jobs for the poor! By your measure, it seems that the rich should cease to be productive and creative, or at least not be _more_ productive and creative, because that might be bad for their own souls because it might tempt them to avarice. As for the value to society of their productivity, creativity, and insight, the heck with society! And with the poor who would be employed.

So tell us again: Who is it who really cares for the poor?

As for "offering immediate help to the presently needy," it is total baloney that creating more jobs doesn't "offer much immediate help." It certainly does. Y'know--like the opportunity to earn money. Which they need.

Tony,

A belated congratulations on this most excellent post! As I already mentioned to you in private conversation, I actually think one of the most important ideas (echoed in The Masked Chicken's comments) that comes out of this post is the idea that poverty is really just another form of suffering that can distract us from Heaven:

And, God in His infinite wisdom is constantly using both the goods and the ills of this world to perform His works and achieve His goals, so that if a man dies of illness, or loses his house, or his family dies from an accident or flood or robbers, He can use these things for His purposes including the salvation of those He intends to bring to heaven. When we say that “I need that food” what we really mean is “I need that food to thrive right now and satisfy my hunger, but if God decided rather that what I really need for my salvation is to give that food up, become ill, and die, THAT need would outweigh my need for this food.” So, I didn’t really need that food after all, not absolutely. Or, again, I need health to do my job and raise my family, but if God were to decide to permit an auto accident in which I lose my eyesight and become mentally disabled, I would no longer really “need” my health, I would lose my job, and I would no longer be performing the role of raising my kids in the same sense. And since these would be due to God’s providence, then I don’t need to do those things if He decides I don’t, and so I don’t REALLY need my health, not absolutely. All of the needs for goods of this life are relative needs. The only absolute need is the gift of faith and grace necessary for salvation, and these gifts can be present no matter what external conditions exist.

Now, every human is ordered toward heaven, but part of the passageway to heaven is death. So it is part of God’s providence that each person suffer death, and so it is simply false to say (in an absolute sense, of course) that I need that which will prevent my death, that such things are necessities absolutely. And in every single case where we may die from X cause, God could, were He so inclined, change conditions so that X does not occur at all or does not bring about that death – He could heal the cancer, prevent the accident, etc. For EVERY SINGLE human person who has lived on this earth and who has died, God’s providence permitted his death even though it was preventable (by God). Soooooo, if by providence we mean God’s solicitude for our spiritual welfare and eternal end which are served in this life by some good things and by suffering many ills also, then inevitably the fact that a person is in the midst of some suffering or material lack is not proof that he does not have “what he really needs,” nor evidence that he is not being greatly loved by God at that very moment.

Or by man.

So, Jesus’s message of good news is the good news that salvation is open to all – BOTH the rich and the poor. A rich man may die in great pain, accept his suffering as God’s will, and go to heaven. A poor man may live in great pain, accept his condition as God’s will, and go to heaven at death. Neither is the rich man’s wealth nor the poor man’s poverty the reason they are saved. That’s good news to the poor. But because salvation is open to the poor even while they remain poor, and this is contrary to the anti-gospel of the world, Christ characterizes his mission as that of preaching “the good news to the poor”, even while he eats dinner with rich tax collectors and calls *them* to salvation also. The good news to the poor isn’t that their poverty will end in this life, or even that their poverty will end if everyone around them becomes a God-fearing Christian, it is that their poverty is no barrier to salvation. It is that even while poor they can use their poverty as a weapon against the real evil, that of Satanic (and moral) evil. And His mission to the poor did not directly eradicate the poverty of any poor person, instead he forgave their sins and healed their bodies and expelled their demons and called them to repentance, and called them to detachment from worldly goods – just like His call to the rich.

Which is not to say Christians aren't called to help those who suffer (any form of suffering), but it is to remind us that our suffering in this world is not the measure of all things important.

Finally, I want to echo Lydia's excellent comments about the practical importance of markets and liberty -- what Nice Marmot might dismiss as "self-interest". To add to Tony's excellent graphs, here is another recent one from one of my favorite think tanks, The American Enterprise Institute (AEI):

http://www.aei-ideas.org/2013/12/chart-of-the-greatest-and-most-remarkable-achievement-in-human-history-and-one-you-probably-never-heard-about/

The chart demonstrates the 80% reduction in world poverty over the past 36 years (as defined by the % population living on less than $1 a day). And there is a short video in that link of AEI President making the case that free markets are actually a moral imperative for the poor around the world:

80 percent of the world’s worst poverty has been eradicated in less than 40 years. That has never, ever happened before.

So what did that? What accounts for that? United Nations? US foreign aid? The International Monetary Fund? Central planning? No.

It was globalization, free trade, the boom in international entrepreneurship. In short, it was the free enterprise system, American style, which is our gift to the world.

I will state, assert and defend the statement that if you love the poor, if you are a good Samaritan, you must stand for the free enterprise system, and you must defend it, not just for ourselves but for people around the world. It is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented.

Bracing stuff and it frankly runs counter to what you'll read and hear from Holy Mother Church and from folks like Nice Marmot on the Right.

No, Lydia, the problem is that you are a consequentialist, and are performing all manner of fancy turnings and twistings to excuse the sin of greed because it can have positive consequences, as if the sinfulness of a given sin can be lessened by its side-effects.

"one of the most important ideas...that comes out of this post is the idea that poverty is really just another form of suffering that can distract us from Heaven"

Yes, of course! We must pay attention to all those Biblical warnings about the distracting spiritual threats that come along with poverty! Sheesh.

As Supply-Side Jesus said, "It's easier for a rich man to ride comfortably into the kingdom of heaven on the back of a camel, than it is for a poor man to go through the eye of a needle."

"Bracing stuff and it frankly runs counter to what you'll read and hear from Holy Mother Church and from folks like Nice Marmot on the Right."

Yeah, I think I'll stick with the Fathers and the Popes, and leave the AEI, the Acton Institute and the like to their self-serving faux-conservative gyrations.

You all should read Medaille's The Vocation of Business, but you probably won't, so here at least is his chapter on the neo-con response to Catholic social teaching.

http://www.medaille.com/novak%20and%20capitalism.pdf

Y'know, NM, whenever this topic comes up, your comments become pretty darned contentless and not worth much.

For example: How in the name of God do you know that everybody who expands his business is committing a sin? Oh, yeah, that's right, you don't. So, guess what? Since consequentialism applies to actual sins, and especially to things that are intrinsically immoral, your accusation of consequentialism is just uninformed and motiveless.

If you think that Jesus' parable has as its moral, "It's intrinsically wrong to build bigger barns" or "It's intrinsically immoral to expand your business," or even "In fact, any time a businessman builds bigger barns or expands his business, he's committing a sin," then you're just wandering off in left field somewhere.

And once we acknowledge that that isn't what the parable means, that there is not one smidgen of anything in the Bible that tells us that it is immoral to start or expand one's business, even if one makes more money (horrors) in so doing, then we're back to having to face commonsense economic facts such as the ones that Tony, Paul, Jeff, and I have all been bringing up in this thread: To wit--The free enterprise system is the best anti-poverty measure ever invented.

And if you care about the poor, you should face those facts. If you care more about your rhetorical flourishes, you won't. I wish I didn't have so much evidence, from this thread alone not to mention many others, as to which way that one will go.

No one has excused the sin of greed, NM. And I weary of your accusations to the contrary. What's going on is that you are conflating business success with greed, as if the mere appearance of prosperity is evidence of greed. It would be as churlish and uncharitable to count the appearance of want as evidence of envy or sloth.

NM, your idle grousing has really grown tiresome. We all know your inflexible opinions on these matters. You barely even paused for a moment to engage Tony's extensive analysis. One cannot help but suspect you barely bothered to read it.

Lydia is right: your manner of argument on these subjects weakens your position more effectively than any AEI study or Acton polemic could possibly manage.

NM,

Would any of Ford's workers have been better off if Ford was content with running a small car manufacturer? Would the several million people working within the Microsoft ecosystem (suppliers, engineers, certified technicians, OEMs, etc.) been better off if Bill Gates (or Steve Ballmer in the millennium) had never been hungrier to build a bigger and better Microsoft? You simply assume for the sake of argument that such men are motivated specifically by (and almost exclusively) by padding their wallets. Being a leading man is its own rewards in many cases. Most empires are built out of a sense of pride, not greed.

NM,

Speaking of business growth and entrepreneurship, I think it is Bible class time:

14 For it is as when a man, going into another country, called his own servants, and delivered unto them his goods.15 And unto one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one; to each according to his several ability; and he went on his journey.16 Straightway he that received the five talents went and traded with them, and made other five talents.17 In like manner he also that received the two gained other two.18 But he that received the one went away and digged in the earth, and hid his lord's money.19 Now after a long time the lord of those servants cometh, and maketh a reckoning with them.20 And he that received the five talents came and brought other five talents, saying, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me five talents: lo, I have gained other five talents.21 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.22 And he also that received the two talents came and said, Lord, thou deliveredst unto me two talents: lo, I have gained other two talents.23 His lord said unto him, Well done, good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will set thee over many things; enter thou into the joy of thy lord.24 And he also that had received the one talent came and said, Lord, I knew thee that thou art a hard man, reaping where thou didst not sow, and gathering where thou didst not scatter;25 and I was afraid, and went away and hid thy talent in the earth: lo, thou hast thine own.26 But his lord answered and said unto him, Thou wicked and slothful servant, thou knewest that I reap where I sowed not, and gather where I did not scatter;27 thou oughtest therefore to have put my money to the bankers, and at my coming I should have received back mine own with interest.28 Take ye away therefore the talent from him, and give it unto him that hath the ten talents.29 For unto every one that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance: but from him that hath not, even that which he hath shall be taken away.30 And cast ye out the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness: there shall be the weeping and the gnashing of teeth.[Matthew 25:14-30]

From now on, I'll just think of NM as the "wicked and slothful servant"...

Yet the desire of [men] to improve their lot is not inherently problematic, let alone sinful.

FIFY.

I broke a New Year's resolution by coming back here. Now I remember why I made it. Something having to do with the unpleasantness of being stuck in an echo chamber...

By all means continue preaching to the choir. Haven't you guys noticed that the majority of folks who disagree with you economically have stopped showing up (the ones you haven't chased away, that is)? If one of your goals is to change minds you may want to think about that.

Meanwhile, somewhere GKC is laughing. Or maybe crying.

Toodles!

"Second, poverty is not a result of fate or laziness, but is due to structural injustices that privilege some while marginalizing others."
- As someone who works in the C and D class real estate market, I yell "BS!" at that.

What we used to call 'shiftlessness' is responsible for a MASSIVE amount of the poverty here in the US, particularly in the inner cities where I work.

I think part of the problem is that when people think of poverty, they draw no distinction between what we see as the average kind of poverty here in the US, and the kind of poverty you see in, say, Sao Paulo. Situations and causes are not the same the world over. To treat them as such is to invite failure into whatever charitable enterprise you're trying to engage in.

I used to get into debates on poverty and charity work a lot. I no longer do because it does no good. In my experience, there are several points that prevent meaningful discussion:

1. The assumed premise many hold that, once below a certain income threshold, no one can be held responsible for his economic behavior. If a middle class guy gets into debt trouble by buying two H3s, well, that was a really stupid move and he's going to have to resolve that problem. If someone in the lower class blows his money on alcohol, drugs, tobacco and porn... well, how dare you even think that perhaps he wasted his money, you unfeeling meanie you!

2. All 'poverty' (it's never really defined exactly) is the same. This is transparent rubbish. In many places in South America being poor means contracting easily preventable diseases and dying of nutritional deficiencies early on. In the US, the biggest health concern in the lower class, according to the CDC is... obesity.

3. Perhaps the worst: Many seem to have a hatred of anyone who might qualify as upper middle class or higher. In fact, it often appears to me that social advocacy is based more on hatred of 'the rich' than wanting to do what is best for the poor.

4. A sacrifice of everything to a theory. What matters to them is what does their pet theory say will 'help the poor'. Even if some other method could be shown to do more to alleviate poverty, it will be either attacked or ignored if it does not conform to the pet social theory.

5. Seeing causes of poverty as purely material. Point out that perhaps a cultural norm in much of the lower classes that ignores study, shuns thrift, embraces an 80% illegitimacy rate might contribute to decay and you will branded as someone who doesn't care about the poor.

Nice Marmot,

I want to apologize for my 2:29 PM comment -- I shouldn't be calling you names; although it is fair of me to point out that you might recognize that style of argumentation from some of your own blog posts.

I have downloaded the Medaille chapter -- based on the first couple of pages I think he's too promiscuous with his use of the term "neocon" but I look forward, in particular, for his arguments against Michael Novak who I think is one of our ablest defenders of Christian market economics.

I suggest that if you do come back here again, you try harder to present arguments to us as opposed to Biblical snark.

Ed Feser's most recent post on libertarianism is an excellent complement to this post.

http://edwardfeser.blogspot.com/2014/01/nagel-on-nozick.html#more

"So too, they ignore the fact that at least 80% of the poor people living in “poverty” and “inhuman conditions” are living objectively in greater wealth than the average, happy, “dignified” person in Jesus’s time. How can this be? Don’t ask. Don’t even wonder how the very same objective living conditions can be dignified in one case and undignified in another."

I have heard the meme going around that the lot of the poor worldwide is improving, but those statistics are not based, I fear, on any sort of consistent normalization, nor can they be. Let me take just this point of Tony's. Are people living in poverty, today, actually, living better than the person in Jesus's time? Well, in Jesus's time, if I were a male and I had no place to live, I could simple make a dwelling from things lying around, like sand or (in Rome, say) trees and no one would stop me. Today, in the United States, even if I have more money in a strict sense than my Palestinian counterpart, my 20 hours at Walmart will not allow me to build a dwelling place, anywhere. I might not even be able to afford any near-by housing. Poverty is relative to the environment. In many ways, it can be argued that, without hand-outs, the poor person in First-century Palestine was, actually better off than some people living in poverty, today. Needing money to buy food is a different dynamic than being able to find some land and plant crops.

The increase in life-span has very little to do with wealth, but with the application of scientific knowledge which has led to the understanding that hauling away garbage will markedly increase life-span by preventing disease. It costs no more now than 200 years ago to remove garbage, but the simple knowledge is worth more to the poor man than any marginal increase in money, since it helps direct the application of wealth. That knowledge is fixed knowledge. Some came from the application of wealth, once upon a time, but some came from simply thinking and anyone can think.

That bothers me. Wealth is not really the issue, is it, from a moral point of view. It is the application of the wealth. What good does it do to win the whole world and lose your soul? What good does it do to feed the whole world and watch them thrive from your seat in Hell? Something these statistics cover over is the real reason that poverty is apparently shrinking in the world. There is a lock-step correlation between increasing wealth among the poor and a decrease in family size, largely from the use of contraceptions and abortions. The statistics are clear. I have to ask, "What price, salvation?"

The free market is like scientific inquiry, in a way. It is, largely, amoral. It may be applied to many different situations. The question always is, ought we? Bill Gates is the riches man in the world (or thereabouts) and he employs a lot of people, but for all of that, both he and his wife spread the Gospel of Death in the form of contraception. abortion, and the equalization (note: not equality) of man by promoting such things as the Common Core Initiative. I could wish he would lose all of his wealth and be begging on the street if only it would lead him to see what true wealth really is and, thereby, save his soul. Provided that it did not lead them to sin, I could wish that his entire company go under and everyone be put on the streets, if only in the doing it got Gates to Heaven.

Some people are poor because they are lazy, but that is a vice and it is the vice that needs to be corrected. Some people are poor simply due to misfortune. It is the same with eunuchs. Some men are made eunuchs by nature, some are made eunuchs by men, and some voluntarily become eunuchs for the sake of the Kingdom. This is not given to all men. Likewise, some people are poor by nature, some by circumstance, and some for the sake of the Kingdom. Notice, however, that, in the case of the eunuchs, it was assumed that most people would marry. If we equate, for the moment, money and marriage, it seems that some people will be poor for a variety of reasons, but the majority will need to seek employment, where possible. In either use of fecundity or sterility, wealth or poverty, it is the use that these circumstances are put to that determines if they are morally useful or not.

It has been the constant teaching of Christianity that it is harder to get into trouble if there is no powder to fire the gun. It is easier to be poor in spirit when there is less to attract the eye. That is just a fact of Original Sin. Just as some people have to get married, so, some people have to have wealth, but I would wish it could be otherwise. With wealth (as in marriage) your will have problems. The heart is divided. Jesus never told anyone in Scripture to become monetarily wealthy, but he did tell one person to become poor and he did it to allow him to become perfect in the use of his vision of what is necessary and what is not.

In the end, there is only one kind of useful poverty and that is a poverty that makes one rich in God's sight (by making one poor is one's own). Likewise, there is only one type of wealth and that is a wealth that permits one to be poor in one's sight (which is true riches in God's eyes). Both a poverty that simply makes poor and a wealth that simply makes rich without being able to think beyond the money are simply disordered.

I am not trying to be Biblically snarky. Nice Marmot is correct that the rich man with the surplus grain who wanted to build bigger barns, was condemned, but he was condemned because he stored up treasure for himself, but was not riches towards God.

The whole discussion should not really be about how best to use wealth to feed the poor or provide jobs. The real, essential, first, discussion, should be how to be rich in the sight of God. Then, after that, rich or poor, blessing or the curse, what does it really matter? This, unfortunately, is precisely the sort of discussion that neither the poor who want to get rich nor the rich who want to get richer are having, today. You ask, "What Kind of Poverty?" It is staring you in the face.

The Chicken

One more thing: the idea of the preferential option for the poor, while vague, might be re-cast in terms of modesty. There is a preferential option to shield the young because the adult has certain aspects of age and experience that the young lack. Likewise, one might argue, if one could, that there is a preferential option for the poor because the wealthy have certain aspects of stability and ease that the poor lack. I cannot comment on the Liberation Theological aspects of the original use of the term. I simply note the parallel with modest in a moral sense.

The Chicken

P. S., as for being made poor by circumstances, well, it is -5 oF outside.

True. Yet the desire of the poor to improve their lot is not inherently problematic, let alone sinful. The desire of the wealthy to become still more wealthy is.

I'll accept that, NM: The desire of the wealthy to become still more wealthy is inherently problematic.

However, I will make a key distinction: When a wealthy man does an act that will earn him more profits primarily and essentially because it will earn him more wealth, that's a grave problem. But when a wealthy man does an act that at one and the same time will earn him more profits AND will create a new or better avenue of wealth-production for many, there is no automatic assumption that he does the act primarily for the greater profits it brings him. In fact, absent other, more penetrating evidence, Christian charity requires of us that we assume that his motivations are not primarily those of self-love or love of wealth for its own sake.

Let me illustrate that with an example. Bill South, a creative genius, invents a new way to make solar panels that are higher efficiency than the prior versions by 100% (40% efficient instead of 20% at turning light into electricity). He patents the idea, sells shares in the new company (keeping 51% of the shares for himself, but putting up 51% of the money) and builds a factory to make them, starts with 20 employees, and begins turning out the new panels. These panels are cheap enough that they save people lots of money even without government subsidies, so they sell like hot cakes, and demand grows. Bill is a multi-millionaire at this point. He hires more people, and then builds a second factory. The shares double in value, and he hires a research squad to make new developments. Even though he has twice reduced the net profits, now down to 2% of revenue, he is receiving over a million a year in profits. After a few years of this, the research team come up with tweaks: easier production line, easier installation methods so more installers (requiring lower qualifications) can do the work, longer-lasting panels, all things that increase productivity, the panels come down in price, and still more people buy - and more people are employed. He tears down his old first factory since it cannot use the new production method, and puts up a new one using the new method, but is bigger to deal with increased demand - and more people are employed. Shares keep going up in value, Bill is now a billionaire, with 3 million a year in profits even though he again reduced dividends to only 1% of revenue.

Some people will say "Bill never read the Gospel account: the wealthy man pulled down his barns to build bigger ones, but the Lord said 'you're life will be required of you this nigtht.' " Other people will say "Bill read the Gospel account: the man with 5 talents invested them and made 5 more."

Here's the catch to the account above, which I didn't mention earlier: Bill's status as a billionaire is simply on the strength of the values of his shares, which increased in value fundamentally from the ingenuity and creativity of his ideas and his work and then the work of his workers. At no time did he sell any of his personal shares to liquidate the value into money. He was never interested in the VALUE of the shares, nor in the wealth they represented to him per se, as long as he had the wherewithal to make sure the company could keep on reducing the effective cost of generating a kilowatt of electricity: research, smarter production methods, smarter products that go in easier and more people can do. At every turn, his improvements cause MORE people to get electricity at a lower cost, and employ more people doing so.

According to Pope Leo XIII, the nature of investing surplus by putting it in the hands of laborers to generate new wealth is that in justice part of the new wealth is owed to the laborer, and part of it is owed to the investor. That's just the natural law. As a result, I think, when the investor's shares accumulate value over and over and over again because the operation is constantly generating new wealth, the nominal increase in his wealth has absolutely nothing to do with whether he is greedy or not: As long as his reason for going on with the productive activity is the improvement in prosperity overall to everyone touched by his activity, it isn't greed at all, it is the righteous consideration for the good of all. Whether his net worth has gone into the millions or billions is irrelevant to the fact that in justice, the investor's shares are due a certain portion of the new wealth generated from them.

Now, WHAT HE SPENDS his wealth on, when he is not continuing to arrange the ongoing production of new wealth for the whole enterprise, i.e. what he consumes with the annual dividends or by liquidating his capital, matters very much indeed for whether he is avaricious. If out of his millions that he gets from the annual dividends he lives so high on the hog that he never even rubs up against a person of even modest means, flying in helicopters to work to avoid the commute, living in a palace, hiring teams of tutors and governesses and maids so he never has to interact with his kids - then yes, we begin to see ill-used wealth. If on the other hand he uses his millions of dividends each year to build schools and hospitals and clinics and soup kitchens, then no, the mere fact that he HAS millions to dispose of is not one shred of evidence that he is avaricious. (He may be vain, doing all these good works for praise, or he may have other defects, or he may be greedy after all, but the facts elicited so far don't show it.)

The point is, because it is possible for a even VERY rich man to invest surplus in order to create a productive enterprise that generates new wealth that never existed before, together with the fact that a portion of profits justly belong to the investor, the mere fact that he was already rich before the investment and the fact that he gets a share of the new profits are not proof of greed. The role, the genius, the charism of the businessman par excellence, is precisely that - to see a possibility and then pull into reality his vision of a way of using some resource to generate a greater benefit than had been before, one that serves man better. This is to be a co-creator with God, a developer of Creation as an instrument of the true Creator. God has so arranged man's nature that he is a participant in creation by his "creative" intellect, and also that this participation is in human affairs due a portion of the wealth generated. God has not designed that the man ought to keep all of his profits so generated for his own benefit alone, not at all. But He has designed man so that the co-creating investor has first dibs on how he shall use his wealth for the community (or communities) of men. That's what private property implies.

I have heard the meme going around that the lot of the poor worldwide is improving, but those statistics are not based, I fear, on any sort of consistent normalization, nor can they be. Let me take just this point of Tony's. Are people living in poverty, today, actually, living better than the person in Jesus's time? Well, in Jesus's time, if I were a male and I had no place to live, I could simple make a dwelling from things lying around, like sand or (in Rome, say) trees and no one would stop me. Today, in the United States, even if I have more money in a strict sense than my Palestinian counterpart, my 20 hours at Walmart will not allow me to build a dwelling place, anywhere. I might not even be able to afford any near-by housing. Poverty is relative to the environment. In many ways, it can be argued that, without hand-outs, the poor person in First-century Palestine was, actually better off than some people living in poverty, today. Needing money to buy food is a different dynamic than being able to find some land and plant crops.

Chicken, look at the picture world-wide, rather than with a US emphasis. People in Calcutta living on the street are not living all that differently from many who lived there in earlier ages. It often isn't the case that the poor person could have just gone out and built himself a stone hut: in ancient Rome, in ancient Jerusalem, in ancient Cairo, these were practical impossibilities even if not for exactly the same reasons as now. Such poor people had serious constraints on their options (including the fact that many were slaves).

Life expectancy increases are indeed mostly due to a relatively modest line-up of specific causes: antibiotics, modern sewers and clean water supplies, and...many more people getting 2200 calories a day. With the survival of the poor who in prior centuries would have died from dysentery comes the need to feed them, and by and large that's what's happening, not only are we feeding a larger population in absolute terms, we are feeding a larger percentage of the population than before. Other aspects and indicators of wealth are more widespread as well - access to education, decreases in child labor rates, etc. No one of these clearly and certainly depicts that the poor are materially better off now than they used to be, but taken as a whole, the evidence is pretty darn strong.

The moral implications are, as you say, quite another matter. What good is it to give a man an "education" if in that so-called educating him you teach him to use contraceptives. That's not going to do him good in the long run, in that case his learning may destroy his soul. On the other side of the same coin, though, with modern science has come modern knowledge on the cycles of fertility and thence the modern body of Natural Family Planning, which the Popes all praise as a worthy improvement in mankind's understanding of himself and his relation with nature. Sheer improvement in material prosperity does not guarantee an improvement in the human condition, but all other things being equal bringing a poor person from poverty to stable modest means is always a good considered in itself. Extreme poverty harbors moral dangers in its own right.

Me: "I submit that the same sort of evaluation holds for poverty."

Nice Marmot: The wealthy are called upon to share their wealth; the healthy cannot share their health.

Well, that's true, Nice, but not responsive at all. The "sort of evaluation" I had given was an evaluation of the interior response of a person's suffering at his own ill health. The "same sort of evaluation" would then be of the interior response of a person in suffering from his own poverty. A poor person's inner response to his own poverty cannot be analyzed by calling on the rich to share their wealth. And unless and until the rich person discovers the need and can respond to it by sharing, the poor person must needs have some response to his own poverty, so saying that the rich ought to respond by sharing doesn't diminish the need of understanding the poor person's interior response.

One notion that the preferential option for the poor seems to entail is that the affluent should not use their surplus to acquire more for themselves, but rather use it to help the less fortunate. Envy is certainly a sin. But do not forget that avarice remains one as well, despite the attempts of some to get it either dropped from the list or baptized, with its new baptismal name being "self-interest."

True again, but the whole point of this post is to show that there is a third option for the rich man's wealth other than (a) using it for the poor by giving it to them; and (b) keeping it for himself: there is (c) putting it to use in employing the poor so that the poor help generate new wealth and earn their own keep, an inherently more noble resolution of their need because part of their need is an emotional / psychological / spiritual need to contribute to society. To keep casting the options as either (a) or (b) is to ignore the proposal that (c) is morally licit and, in the right circumstances, the prudently charitable way to serve the poor.

In addition, I attempted to identify a further moral danger aside from that of envy, that pertains to the person who is suffering from lack of goods. That danger is to give in to feelings that "I might not be poor (might not be ill) had SOMEBODY done what was in their power to fix it" - either God or some rich person, and that this fact means I ought not have to suffer this poverty. This feeling of "ought," this giving in to a feeling that an injustice has been done to me, is a moral failing of MINE whether or not there is a moral failing in the rich who might have had an obligation in charity to consider my need. (Which is what Leo XIII said in my quote.) That's the "sort of analysis" I was talking about.

So avarice is excused because it sometimes has good consequences? Or is it that the wealthy man can, in fact, eat his cake and have it too...he can help the poor while tearing down his barns and building bigger ones? After all his new barns will require more workers...

Again, Nice, this is a failure to engage the thesis. The options aren't only (a) or (b), outright gifts or avarice. For the rich man to open a new factory employing the poor is, without consideration of his specific motives, NEITHER an act of avarice nor a form of "withholding his talents" from those in need.

The sheer outward picture of Christ's parable with the 'tearing down barns to build bigger ones" is, even in the Bible itself, utterly and perfectly counterbalanced by another picture in Genesis:

And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh,

(as well as the Jubilee years.) It is not the mere fact of having surplus, nor even choosing to store up surplus, that Jesus is condemning, or the Joseph story could not make sense. So, again, mere reference to Biblical injunctions to help the poor do not HELP to settle the question: does storing up surplus and by creative application turning it into a productive engine for development of new wealth constitute a way of defying God's plan for material goods, or may it constitute a way of carrying out God's plan? Can a wealthy man delight the Lord by this action?

As if Jesus might have said, "Tear down your barns and build bigger ones! It will do good for the poor in the long run and you will have treasure in heaven."

Don't think so. Such solutions serve to salve the consciences of the rich, while not offering much immediate help to the presently needy.

The objection Jesus finds in the rich man's soul is not the "tearing down barns and building larger," but rather in this:

And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, be merry.

The rich man clearly intends not to put the surplus to any better benefit than that of "taking his ease" and being merry, without thought for any other use. And that thought in his soul ("I will will say to my soul...") is why Jesus says "God will require thy soul of thee." It's not the barns and storing surplus as such.

Yeah, I think I'll stick with the Fathers and the Popes, and leave the AEI, the Acton Institute and the like to their self-serving faux-conservative gyrations.

So when I stick with Leo XIII and use the liberal media's own data to disprove the factual claims of Paul VI and JPII, but still take their admonition that part of what the poor need is a spiritual need to be a participant of the work economy and a contributor to society, then you should agree with me, right?

You all should read Medaille's The Vocation of Business, but you probably won't, so here at least is his chapter on the neo-con response to Catholic social teaching.

OK, I read it. It is an excellent take-down of the extreme form of pro-unfettered-capitalism as crafted by Michael Novak in "The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism", which is a horrible piece of neo-liberal garbage (if Medaille's quotes are a fair rendering). What it is not is any sort of response at all to my thesis (except in support, I suppose), because Novak's regime is wholly unChristian whereas mine is entirely based on Christian teaching, and because I specifically allow for religious and moral insights into the business man's choices on when or how to pursue development. I have repeatedly said things like:

Christian freedom therefore can never be equated with the flourishing of vices.

I could have used

this “co-creation” is not a matter of producing the biggest possible pile of goods; rather, it must be directed towards the good, the true, and the beautiful. Co-creation is the work of discerning the possibilities inherent in the true nature of things and then using our creative talents and efforts to bring these possibilities to fruition. Thus this co-creation is a theological matter

as my own comment above at 11:41pm yesterday.

Tony,

Your post seems to be timely -- check out the latest from Public Discourse:

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2014/01/11805/

I particularly like this part:

John Paul asks whether, after the fall of communism, capitalism should be proposed as the model for countries seeking economic progress. He responds:

If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy,” “market economy” or simply “free economy.” But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

Centesimus Annus’s careful use of the term capitalism is exemplary, Zieba argues, and demonstrates a precision sometimes lacking in other documents of CST. This precision partly explains why Zieba treats it so extensively—but there is more to it than that.

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