This Dark Age

A manual for life in the modern world.

By Daniel Schwindt

Removing structural causes of inequality

Benedict XVI called for the “structural causes of economic dysfunction.”[1] He was joined later by Pope Francis who said:

“As long as the problems of the poor are not radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality, no solution will be found for the world’s problems or, for that matter, to any problems. Inequality is the root of social ills.”[2]

On this point, Francis went so far as to issue a challenge by invoking the words of Christ: “You yourselves give them something to eat!”[3]

But what does this mean?—and what did these popes have in mind? We can begin by remarking that many of the modern world’s problems are self-inflicted and are rooted in the imperfection of human planning and problem of selfishness:

“Having become his own centre, sinful man tends to assert himself and to satisfy his desire for the infinite by the use of things: wealth, power and pleasure, despising other people and robbing them unjustly and treating them as objects or instruments. Thus he makes his own contribution to the creation of those very structures of exploitation and slavery which he claims to condemn.”[4]

Yet, even if we allow that this diagnosis is accurate, we still need a more specific analysis if we hope to arrive at practical solutions. For this purpose, a cursory survey of CST will produce quite a few more specific causes of inequality: land concentration and the need for agrarian reform, particular for undeveloped nations[5]; unemployment and underemployment; insurmountable barriers to market entry; barriers to education[6]; media preference and prohibitive advertising costs which inevitably favor the few and exclude the majority.[7] With respect to this last point, we can speak of a population of “information rich” which corresponds to an “information poor,”[8] a problem which stems from the unequal availability of technology. Lastly, all of these possibilities involve or encourage large-scale indebtedness, which can be attributed in part to personal choice, but also in part to necessity.[9]

But perhaps the most recurring problem is one we’ve already mentioned, and which has proven most difficult to remedy. The evil in question is the concentration of property, and the solution proposed is the redistribution of property.

[1] Benedict XVI, Address to the Diplomatic Corps, 8 January 2007.

[2] EG, 188.

[3] Mk 6:37.

[4] Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith, Instruction on Christian Freedom and Liberation (22 March 1986), 42.

[5] Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, Towards a Better Distribution of Land. The Challenge of Agrarian Reform (23 November 1997), 13.

[6] CSDC, 314.

[7] CSDC, 416.

[8] Pontifical Council for Social Communications, Ethics in Communications (4 June 2000), 20.

[9] CSDC, 450.

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