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American society has been redistributing wealth from the poor to the rich Print
Letters to the editor
Wednesday, Apr. 27, 2011 -- 10:04 AM

To the editor:

The column entitled, "'Social justice' is a complex concept" by Fr. Robert A. Sirico published in the April 14 issue of the Catholic Herald is confusing.

United States income has been redistributed from the poor and middle class to the wealthy for 30 years. The book Winner-Take-All Politics by Pierson and Hacker shows that in 2005 dollars, income of the 20 percent of American households earning the least rose from $14,900 in 1979 to $16,500 in 2005, or 10 percent. Average income rose from $42,900 to $52,100 or 21 percent.

The richest one percent's income went from $337,100 in 1979 to $1.2 million in 2005, a 260 percent increase. The richest .01 percent's income went from $4 million to $24 million a 600 percent increase. Only the richest eight percent of Americans gained from this redistribution.

Government policy has caused much of this. In December 2010 Republicans insisted the Bush tax cut on earnings over $250,000 remain to approve an unemployment insurance extension. After increasing the deficit by $81.5 billion Republicans said the budget deficit was too large. They insisted on cutting programs for the unemployed, the poor, law enforcement, and the sick.

Governor Scott Walker not only cut compensation to public workers in Wisconsin but also limited their God-given union rights. He now wishes to use over $400 million in general funds to finance road-building contracts for large donors to his campaign.

There are also lacks of action that result in billions of dollars being redistributed to the rich. One example is the refusal of Alan Greenspan, Federal Reserve chairman, to regulate the derivatives market. He thought that those trading derivatives were professionals and knew the risks. After the crash of 2007 to 2008 he stated, "I thought the bankers would do what was in their own best self-interest. I was wrong."

What does Catholic social justice teaching say about correcting such injustices?

"A workman's wages should be sufficient to enable him to support himself, his wife, and his children. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accepts harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Would that these words, written at a time when what has been called "unbridled capitalism" was pressing forward, should not have to be repeated today with the same severity. The pope attributed to the "public authority" the "strict duty" of providing properly for the welfare of the workers, because a failure to do so violates justice; indeed, he did not hesitate to speak of "distributive justice." (Centesimus Annus, Pope John Paul II, 1991)

It would seem the "public authority" of the state has a responsibility to see that justice is done when workers' productivity is being used largely to increase the wealth of the financial elite.

This column was not at all enlightening on the Church's views concerning redistribution of wealth in America. The state has been redistributing income from the poor and the middle class to the wealthy for decades; the question is what are the responsible, moral actions to be taken to end this redistribution?

Bill Dagnon, Baraboo