In our Gospel two Sundays ago we heard Jesus engage in hyperbole, telling His listeners that it is better to cut off body parts that cause them to sin than for them to be cast into hell physically whole. By way of a reminder, hyperbole is a rhetorical device in which the speaker makes an extravagant statement that is not intended to be taken literally in order to make an important point. One example of hyperbole is to say to someone who has kept you waiting a long time, “I’ve been waiting for you forever!” The point being made by way of exaggeration is, “You’re late!”
On that same Sunday, I mentioned that one of the most vexing realities we face today, both nationally and globally, is the growing wealth gap, the concentration of more and more wealth into the hands of fewer and fewer people. Many economists, including Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, who recently wrote an entire book about this issue, The Price of Inequality, seek to demonstrate how this growing inequality is destabilizing economically and, as a consequence, politically, as the international Occupy movement and other protests show. In a recent National Journal article, “Inequality and Its Perils,” economic journalist Jonathan Rauch gives several examples of the destabilizing effect of this disparity, one of which highlights how it became a major contributing cause to the global economic crisis that began almost four years ago:
Of every dollar of real income growth that was generated between 1976 and 2007… “58 cents went to the top 1 percent of households.” In other words, for decades, more than half of the increase in the country’s GDP poured into the bank accounts of the richest Americans, who needed liquid investments in which to put their additional wealth. Their appetite for new investment vehicles fueled a surge in what [one economist] calls “financial engineering”—the concoction of exotic financial instruments, which acted on the financial sector like steroidsIt appears that financial instruments were devised and invested in explicitly contrary to the common good, solely for the private gain of a few, then the losses were socialized, that is, paid for by everyone. Sharing Rauch’s article with a few friends prompted a Jesuit friend to quip, “if your financial instrument causes you to sin, cut it off”!
Dr. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a recent article for the Financial Times, memorably described the frustration expressed in and through the Occupy protests, while noting its vague and impractical nature, as figuring out “how to square the circle of public interest and protest.” In his article, Dr. Williams sees some of the answers in a document issued last year by the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace that begins with this “Presupposition,” citing Vatican II’s Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World, Gaudium et Spes (par. 34):
Every individual and every community shares in promoting and preserving the common good. To be faithful to their ethical and religious vocation, communities of believers should take the lead in asking whether the human family has adequate means at its disposal to achieve the global common good. The Church for her part is called to encourage in everyone without distinction, the desire to join in the “monumental amount of individual and collective effort” which men and women have made “throughout the course of the centuries ... to better the circumstances of their lives…”_________________________________________________________________________________
Then, just today, the Economist posted an article from the current print edition, "Inequality and the world economy," which seeks to address this issue objectively and constructively.