The Rich Get Richer

ECONOMIC INEQUALITY ISN'T NEW. But this spring it became trendy, especially after Pope Francis dropped the tweet heard ’round the world in April: “Inequality is the root of social evil.”

Around the same time, Capital in the Twenty-First Century—a just-short-of-700-page book by French economist Thomas Piketty—became a best seller. Piketty, while not quite as concise as the pope, also sees wealth inequality as a problem—he focuses on its damaging effects on democratic institutions. Using extensive data, Piketty makes the case that escalating wealth inequality is built into capitalism. Without specific interventions, he writes, our politics and culture will be dominated by a small elite controlling vast amounts of primarily inherited wealth. It might create a new Gilded Age for some, but it won’t be any shinier for regular folks than the first one a century ago.

When class and economic status become news, the conversation tends to get a little shrill. Terms such as “Marxist” and “anti-business” were tossed around freely in reference to both Piketty and the pope. Some, of a more spiritual bent, sought to warn the pope and other Christians who decry inequality about the biblical sin of “covetousness,” offering reminders of the virtue of hard work. (I guess the hidden message of the parable of the rich man and the beggar at his gate is that Lazarus is envious; the real issue must be Lazarus’ poor work ethic and lack of get-up-and-go!)

But the inequality gap should be of concern to everyone, whatever their income or ideology. The point is not the fact that there are differences in wealth—those exist in any human society. And it’s not necessarily helpful or productive to seek scapegoats or assign broad characteristics to particular classes; neither poor people in general nor rich people in general are inherently noble, lazy, or scheming—temptations may vary, but good and evil can be found in people of every economic status.

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Climate Change Report: Weather, Rising Seas Imperil Power Plants

In a report obtained by the Los Angeles Times, the Energy Department said Thursday that power plants are at risk of being shut down due to the effects of climate change. With the rise of temperatures and sea levels and decreased water resources, the Energy Department advises officials to become more environmentally aware of their natural disaster plans as their ideas could permanently affect the future of Earth's climate. The Los Angeles Times reports:  

The report calls on federal, state and local governments to more urgently prepare crucial infrastructure - particularly coal, natural gas and nuclear plants - for the compounded risks posed by floods, storms, wildfires and droughts.

"All of our science goes in one direction: The damages are going to get worse,” Assistant Energy Secretary Jonathan Pershing said. “It will take dozens of actors from government and private sectors planning what to do and how to make it cost-effective.”

Read more here.


A Robin Hood for Wall Street

With the opening of the G20 Summit in Cannes, France today, an idea that's been around for awhile is in the news again and gaining more attention as a result of the #OWS movement: The so-called "Robin Hood tax," a minimal tax on all financial transactions with the resulting revenue dedicated to anti-poverty programs....Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, in his response to the occupation of St. Paul's Cathedral in London, endorsed the Vatican proposals. Williams observed that "people are frustrated beyond measure at what they see as the disastrous effects of global capitalism," and urged a full debate on "a Financial Transaction Tax

Basketball Underdogs: The Afghanistan National Team

The Olympics is the greatest representation of national athletic pride. Somehow every couple of years, patriotism is met with a degree of innocence and acceptance that is too often forgotten in conflict and negotiation.

Five years ago, Afghanistan re-entered international basketball when the county's Olympic committee decided to draft a team for the 2006 Asian Games. A year later, the committee hired Mamo Rafiq, who was the first Afghan immigrant to play in the NCAA first for Idaho State and then UC Davis.

Buddhas Brought Back to Life in Central Afghanistan

Bamiyan is a central Afghan town, home to two monumental Buddha statues carved out of sandstone cliffs. In a zealous attempt to purge anything considered un-Islamic, the Taliban targeted these historic statues a decade ago when they occupied and controlled Afghanistan. The defamation of non-Islamic monuments and sites caused a global response. The efforts of national leaders failed, and the Taliban destroyed the statues in March, 2001. The world community -- from Russia to Malaysia, from Germany to Sri Lanka -- expressed horror at the Buddha's demolition.

Sitting over the Bamiyan Valley since the early sixth century, one of the Buddha figures stood nearly 180 feet tall and the other 120 feet. Before their destruction, these statues were the largest Buddha carvings in the world. They were once a major tourist attraction, but the decades of conflict drove away tourists years before the Taliban blew up the statues.

Solomon's Wisdom and the Debt Ceiling

As the time shortens for Congress and President Obama to agree to the contours of legislation to raise the nation's debt ceiling, I am reminded of the story of King Solomon and his judgment regarding two women who both claimed to be the mother of a child (I Kings 3: 16-28). Solomon ordered that the living child be cut in two and half a dead child be given to both women. The woman who was the true mother insisted that the living child be given to the false mother. She was willing to give up her righteous claim to save the child's life.

Why We Need to Cut Wasteful Defense Spending in the United States

It's funny the things that you remember. I can remember one time when I was a teenager watching an episode of the Montel Williams show. I don't remember the topic, but I do remember Montel criticizing the U.S. government for spending too much money on military defense and not enough on domestic needs. I remember thinking to myself, "That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard." In the world that I knew, the idea of slashing military spending was absolutely, totally, utterly UNTHINKABLE! I personally had never met anyone who thought that way, so I assumed that anyone who would suggest such a thing had to be either a) naive; b) stupid; c) a tree-hugger; or d) unAmerican.
That was then.

I don't know if it's because I changed or because America has changed (or both), but for years it seemed like the only ones who suggested slashing military spending were groups that few Americans could identify with: like hippies, pacifists, environmental and civil rights activists, and conspiracy theorists. Today, the idea that a significant portion of the nation's economic woes is due to wasteful Pentagon spending can be found both on the left and on the right ends of the political spectrum. It can also be found in the Pentagon.

Meet "Mr. Y."