August 19, 2008

Wealth Inequality Bad for Your Health?

In a Byzantine Catholic newspaper I came across this article, against inequality of wealth, written by Glenmary Fr. John Rausch.

From Ben Stein to the Vatican to Fr. Rausch, I'm hearing the same message: inequality of wealth is bad. This is one of the few issues from the political left that I am sensitive to and they could be right about. Great extremes of wealth are not good, but I think the fix is worse than the cure.

I assume those who are upset about people with large incomes are actually concerned about that as the fact that they (those with large incomes) don't give away 80% or more of their income. I assume that if the wealthy were as generous as they were wealthy, the left wouldn't have a problem with disparity of incomes.

In the past I've never been too bothered by income inequality since I couldn't understand why someone could be envious of someone with more money. I'm not envious of Bill Gates since there's no incremental increase of happiness beyond a certain level of comfort, i.e. above the middle class. But just because it's not my particular sin (at least when it comes to money - I do feel spiritually envious sometimes) I probably should realize that many others do. It's interesting to me how much society should bend itself in order to help people avoid this sin. (Reminds me of how Muslim countries have gone to extremes - i.e. burkas - in order to help men avoid lust!)

I thought Rausch made an excellent point in how wealth allows a separateness and leads to a less cohesive society. However, the wealthy have always been separate - in the past more so than today. America has become steadily more egalitarian over the past two centuries, notwithstanding the wealth disparity; consider the changes surrounding women and minorities. So I'm not sure wealth disparity is so pernicious. But we could limit this separateness by changing the tax code, i.e. "mandatory charity", although a more socialistic state also ends up pitting people against each other too. In Britain, under universal health care, the new scapegoat is the heavy person because he costs society more. Any time you move away from self-reliance you get a lot of people who become irritated at the "freeloaders". That's human nature too.

I'm not sure that wealth concentration equals political power as the author assert. Numbers = power, which is why both the Republicans and Democrats are terrified of making a mistake with respect to Hispanic voters since their vote will determine the future. Demographics is destiny. Recall how in the 19th century the dirt poor Irish took over politics in New York & Boston after they arrived in great numbers. Nothing the wealthy could do, though they tried.

If we consider not just physical health but spiritual, are there any spiritually healthy socialist countries? Barring those who are socialist not by their own design but by government fiat (i.e. Poland), it seems America is far more religious than Europe these days and I wonder what part, if any, socialism plays. I wonder if some see government (where government wasn't the USSR!) as the the entity to rely on, rather than God?

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