Pope Francis recently criticized what he called today’s unrestrained capitalism as "a new tyranny" driving poverty and the growth of economic inequality around the world. In making his point, he posed this question: "How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but is when the stock market loses 2 points?"
Rush Limbaugh replied," this is Marxism coming from the Pope" who he said "has gone beyond Catholicism." Limbaugh then went on to say that "somebody got to" the Pope. Somebody indeed did! It is the Almighty with His message for social justice in this world.
Catholics should be outraged at Limbaugh for such a cheap shot against the pope. Catholics should also be inspired by and strongly supportive of the pope in his attempt to move beyond the sex scandal that rocked the Church for the past several years. He is using his papacy platform to call for solutions to the major issues of poverty and the growing economic inequality between the rich and the poor and capital and labor. He said he prayed that the Lord would grant the people of the world more political leaders who "would be genuinely disturbed" by this economic state of affairs in today’s society.
This message by a pope is nothing new. Pope Leo XIII in an 1891 encyclical on "Capital and Labor" noted the conflict then in growing business pursuits (today it is globalization, deregulation, union busting, etc.) causing a change in the relationship between employer and employee, in the enormous fortunes of the few, and the poverty of the masses. And he wrote that in the interests of the teachings of the Church, it was compelled to get involved to seek solutions.
Pope Leo XIII made it clear that socialism was not a solution because it would be unjust and against the natural right of a person to deprive him or her from privately owning property. He proposed several other solutions, which some commentators have called the forerunners for FDR’s New Deal and such programs as unemployment insurance. He viewed government aid for those in economic distress as just and according to the Church’s teaching.
While he thought employers and employees should make free agreements regarding labor matters, he wrote that wages should be fair and just and that labor unions were necessary based on the holy Writ that it "is better that two should be together for they have the advantage of their society." He stated that the pressing question of his time was the condition of the working classes and that while it was not an easy matter to resolve, silence by the Church about this problem, would be a neglect of its duty.
Today, 122 years later, Pope Francis is renewing this Church message. He is calling on global leaders to take action to alleviate poverty and to stop growing economic inequality by finding a way to guarantee their citizens dignified work, education and health care."
America is one of the top nations in the world regarding income inequality between
company CEOs and its workers. CEOs of the top 500 companies, according to a recent story by CNN, make as much in a single day as rank-and-file workers earn in a year. The wage ratio between CEOs and workers in America is about 354 to 1.
The CNN story noted that there are exceptions. One of them being the CEO of J.C. Penney whose salary ratio to the wages of his workers is 1,795 to 1. For comparison purposes, the ratio in Switzerland between CEOs and workers is 148 to 1. Incidentally, Limbaugh is reported by Forbes and other sources to earn in excess of $77 million a year.
Meanwhile, American worker’s wages have been flat and declining since 1975, and had fallen, according to a New York Times story, to a record low as a share of the nation’s gross domestic product. Currently, America’s big corporations are earning record profits.
In a modest but at least a meaningful way, President Obama and a majority of his fellow Democrats in Congress are attempting to raise the minimum wage from $7.25 an hour (an annual wage of $15,080) to $10.10 (an annual wage of $21,008) pegged to inflation. According to data from the Social Security Administration, nearly 40% of American workers are earning $20,000 or less a year.
Apparently none of this disturbs the Republican members of Congress, especially the House leadership who oppose even this small step to do something about pay inequality. They claim a minimum pay raise would kill jobs. Most economists I have read say the opposite, They say that any raise in pay for most workers will be spent by them to purchase needed products and food and this will actually increase jobs.
Pope Francis is right on message from the standpoint of the Church’s teachings on social and economic justice. Underlying his message is my favorite biblical line, "Whatever you did for one of the least of those brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me."
Robert "Frank" Jakubowicz, a Pittsfield lawyer, is a regular Eagle contributor.