A hard turn


The language is abstract and formal, but bear with it and guess who said the following:“We cannot wait any longer to deal with the structural causes of poverty in order to heal our society from an illness that can only lead to new crises. The markets and financial speculation cannot benefit from absolute autonomy. Without a solution to the problems of the poor we will not solve the problems of the world.

“We need projects, mechanisms and processes to implement better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.”

That view of the world is from Pope Francis and is found in a new book titled “Pope Francis: This Economy Kills.” We know of no evidence that the man in the Vatican coordinates anything with our man in the White House — anything more than the recent diplomatic thaw with Cuba — but one might wonder after President Obama made his $4 trillion budget proposal to Congress last week.

With uncharacteristic boldness, the President made a priority of rebuilding the middle class in this country, asking for a more equitable balance in taxes, no more delay in putting people to work on the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, and opening the door for the poor to more education and training. As part of payment for his vision he proposed new taxes on the richest Americans and on the billions of dollars in profit that some corporations leave overseas.


Obama’s budget is a political wonder. His party was badly beaten in the last election, Republicans control both houses of Congress and no one expects his proposal to be adopted. Yet there it is, “an ambitious — and, yes, redistributive — government role in combating inequality and wage stagnation through investments in public works and education, and tax breaks for working Americans,” in the words of a Washington Post writer.

In Catholic social teaching, the common good of a community is the bottom line and subsidiarity in contribution is the way to get there. The common good means that everyone shares in the benefits of a society. Subsidiarity means that everyone contributes as they are able, with the bigger and stronger doing more to ensure that justice prevails. This may not be a textbook view of the modern economy because it makes power and money secondary. It emerges in a faith-based view of the world, where persons are primary, especially the neediest, and the power of money is at the service of human need.

That’s why Pope Francis could say, “We cannot wait any longer to deal with the structural causes of poverty….” And, “We need … better distribution of resources, from the creation of new jobs to the integral promotion of those who are excluded.”

The evidence is overwhelming that the United States has been sliding into an economy of inequality, violating our traditional promise as a society. Some people imagine that this trend can be stopped and reversed with business as usual, with our habitual priorities intact. That seems silly on its face. Historical processes, like bad personal habits, aren’t stopped without a hard turn in the choices we make.

Give honest consideration to the overall vision in President Obama’s budget proposal. It need not be read with partisan eyes. Too much of nonpartisan hope exists in it: serious, thoughtful, universal hope for a community of equal sharing.

Frank Wessling

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