Monday, May 12, 2014
Inequality is the root of social evil.
— Pope Francis (@Pontifex) April 28, 2014
The poor and marginalized are often the subject of comments made by Pope Francis. Kudos to him for making his highly publicized media encounters count. Aside from the Pope's inadvertent dropping of the F-bomb at St Peters Square, when this Pope speaks we should stop everything we’re doing and listen. (And even the F-bomb incidence just seems to make Pope Francis more loveable—more like a mere mortal.) Anyway, enough about the Pope cursing during a blessing and on to inequality of wealth. Most of us have no idea the extent to which inequality of wealth exists in our society. Watch this short video and you’ll understand what the big deal—the unbelievably big deal—is all about.
When the Pope calls for redistribution of wealth to the poor, he’s totally dissing America's beloved trickle-down economics. Ever since the Regan years, the wealth gap in the United States has widened. It seemed like good policy at the time; even I was a Regan supporter. In hindsight however, it hasn’t played out well for the poor, or the middle class for that matter. Putting this policy debate aside for the moment, let’s chat about my recent college project. I was required to read The Spirit Level by Wilkinson and Pickett and among other things determine if their theory is correct. Now, I’m going to tell you up front that in my opinion the authors political ideology borders on socialism (an accusation our Pope has squelched about himself actually), but that’s rather here nor there. The part of the book that I’d like to focus on are the correlative studies linking happiness and health to income equality in our societies.
Is inequality so bad? If you believe the information put forth by the authors of The Spirit Level, the answer to that question is emphatically YES—and Pope Francis agrees wholeheartedly. Latin America's first pope has frequently lashed out at the injustices of capitalism and the global economic system that excludes so much of humanity. What The Spirit Level authors, and our Pope it seems, set out to make known is that greater equality is the material foundation on which better social relations are built.
Wilkinson and Pickett claim that societies that are more equal do better on many measures of health and many social problems. If you’re a stickler for detail you can view my persuasive website about all that via my school ePortfolio. For the rest of us, the important thing to note is that there is significant research pointing in the direction that almost every modern social problem-poor health, violence, lack of community life, teen pregnancy, mental illness-is more likely to occur in a less—equal society. The studies are not definitive, but correlative studies suggest we ought to be paying close attention to the Pope's call to redistribute wealth to the poor. And when the research backs up Jesus' teachings, well, maybe it’s something we should all be tweeting about.