The Pope: Income Inequality or Poverty?

What’s really the problem with which the Pope should be concerned: is it income inequality or poverty? Philosopher Ed Feser, who happens to be Catholic himself, brilliantly points out that inequality is not only a reality, but a necessary one.  Society would be impossible without certain inequalities in talents and income.

Quoting scholars and previous Popes, Feser makes the case that it’s poverty not income inequality that is the problem. Here’s an excerpt from Feser’s post:

The basic idea is very simple and not really original (I’ve made it before myself, e.g. here) but cannot be restated too often given that so many people appear to lack a grasp of the obvious. It is that equality as such is not a good thing and inequality as such is not a bad thing. Suppose everyone was so poor that it was difficult for anyone even to secure basic needs like food, shelter, and clothing, but no one had any more than anyone else. It would be ridiculous to say “Well, at least there’s a silver lining here for which we can be grateful: Everyone’s equal.” Or suppose everyone had a standard of living at least as good as that of the average millionaire, but some were multi-billionaires. It would be ridiculous to say “It is unjust that so many have to make do with mere millions while a few get to enjoy billions.”

When people complain about economic inequality, this can make sense from a moral point of view only if talk of inequality is really a proxy for something else. Most obviously, it certainly makes sense to lament that some people live in poverty, and it makes sense to call on those who have wealth (and indeed in some cases and to some extent to require those who have wealth) to help those who live in poverty. But the problem here is not that the poor have less than others. The problem is that they have less than they need. The problem, that is to say, is poverty, not inequality.

It’s well worth reading his entire post here.  Also, download the CrossExamined App to listen to my interview with Dr. Feser on the “Unmoved Mover.”

For the best book I’ve seen on the intersection between economics and Christianity, pick up a copy of Money Greed and God by Jay Richards.  You can also hear my interviews with Jay on the app.

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4 replies
  1. Luke says:

    Can you provide a quote or two from the current Pope that has led you to believe that he advocates that no inequality should exist? I was surprised to hear he advocated such a thing and am excited to learn more.



  2. Ben says:

    The two concepts are inherently related so why criticize the Pope for addressing one aspect of a complicated issue when it is implied that the individuals experiencing it are also experiencing it.
    Seems to me like this article is a subtle way of denying the Pope’s call to address systematic issues that affect our nation’s poor. Why change the status quo, right? It’s not like Christ would want us to do that.

  3. Roy says:

    I think Pope Francis meant an inequality of income by a corruptive society, not a sound society. I think Ed Feser got the wrong end of the stick.


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