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Opinion by Marshall Connolly: Pope Francis calls for redistribution of wealth. Here's what that really means.

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Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (NEWS CONSORTIUM)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
2/6/2020 (7 months ago)

Published in Business & Economics

Keywords: Pope Francis, wealth, taxes, redistribution

 Note from the Editor in Chief. This is an opinion piece by Marshal Connolly and does not reflect the editorial opinion of Catholic Online

LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - In a seminar held on Wednesday, Pope Francis referred to the "structure of sin." He was speaking about economic systems engineered by the rich to avoid taxes and even get paid while depriving the poor of the wealth they need to survive. The Seminar took place at a meeting organized by the Pontifical Academy for Social Services. 

Pope Francis explained, "Every year hundreds of billions of dollars, which should be paid in taxes to fund health care and education, accumulate in tax haven accounts, thus impeding the possibility of the dignified and sustained development of all social agents." He continued, "Today's structures of sin include repeated tax cuts for the richest people, often justified in the name of investment and development."

The remarks have been dismissed by some as inaccurate. Critics point out that "extreme poverty" is on the decline globally. Extreme poverty is defined by the World Bank as a situation where a person must live on less than $1.90 a day. Still, ten percent of the global population lives in these conditions. Inflation alone and modest growth can lift many people above this level. Therefore, while the critics are technically correct, it does not mean the human condition is substantially better, it may be only marginally so.

Meanwhile, relative poverty is on the rise as more than 85 percent of the value of the world's productivity is now in the hands of the wealthiest 1 percent. By all metrics, the gap between the rich and the poor continues to grow. 

The specifics are subject to debate. Overall, the human condition is slowly improving. However, this does not mean it can't be much better. Greed still deprives billions of people the basics of a decent living. About 63 million children around the globe do not attend school due to poverty. About 9 percent of the world doesn't have a toilet, meaning they have to defecate outdoors. Rural populations lack clean drinking water. And a third of the least developed countries in the world also lack Christian influence and education. 

The bottom line is this: there are billions of poor around the world at a time when there is sufficient abundance to eradicate extreme poverty and more. 

While many argue that poverty is the product of poor choices and some kind of moral failing, that conclusion is subject to criticism. Certainly there are those who become poor because of choices they make or fail to make. However, entire populations can only be rendered poor by macroeconomic conditions. Bear in mind also, Jesus was born into humble circumstances and He called all his followers to a life of poverty. 

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Some of the clergy and religious of the Church take vows of poverty. But all Christians are called to be free from the love of money. It cannot be said that poverty is always the product of moral failure. Sometimes, in individual cases, it is a moral choice. But sometimes it is structural. 

To be clear, economic poverty is simply a lack of money. 

People can also face relative poverty, which means they are poor by the baseline standard of the society in which they live. This is true for many Americans, who while they have food and shelter, they also lack money to cope with emergencies, satisfy needs, or to improve their economic condition, especially in the face of debt. 

But why is the Pope concerned about these problems? Should he not spend his time worrying about the Church? 

Pope Francis is not a critic of the wealthy. His comments are not a condemnation of wealth. Many perfectly moral people have also been wealthy. Instead, his comments are a criticism of how wealth is used. Wealth is commonly used to develop influence which is converted to political power. With such power, the wealthy can reduce their tax liabilities and even extract economic rents from the people and their governments. They can also change the rules by which governments operate to disenfranchise people and increase their power. 

The problem is that wealth does not "belong" to the owner, it has been entrusted. Nor should it be used solely for the purpose of amplifying more wealth and power. Instead, wealth belongs to God and we are stewards of what we have. It is expected of us that we should use our wealth to help others, to build up God's kingdom on earth. Those who fail will have everything they own taken from them, and they shall be cast out. Jesus Himself explained this using the Parable of the Talents. 

What Pope Francis is calling for is a change to the way people use the wealth they are given from God. Instead of using the money to make ever greater sums, we are asked to use it in service of God's kingdom. This does not mean a person must donate themselves into poverty, but they should ensure that all people have the basics of a decent living. 

While some will argue that wealthy people are philanthropists, it does not mean the rich are innocent of the criticism. All sums are relative, and a million dollars to a billionaire is the equivalent of the average American dropping spare change into the collection basket. One billion is one thousand times more than one million. And some people generate billions in income per year. To these people, much more is expected. 

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The world contains enough wealth to eradicate hunger, extreme poverty, homelessness and to provide all people with safe water to drink and a sanitary place to use the bathroom. In fact, the world's richest one percent own even more wealth than that. But it would be enough if they paid living wages, sponsored projects, or even simply paid taxes without evasion. But convincing the wealthy and their apologists will probably take much more than a rebuke from the Pope. But to those who disagree with the Holy Father, there is no need to argue. As the Bible explains, all people will be called to account for how they invested the talents God entrusted to them. 

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