Passing a kiosk in France recently, I noticed a magazine on the rack that promised to reveal to the multitude the secrets of the One Percent. The One Percent in question was, of course, that small and now infamous proportion of humanity that is separated from the 99 Percent by its wealth and, presumably, happiness and all other desirable things.
A well-known religious figure is reported to have said: “For ye have the poor with you always.” This is even more the case if economic inequality persists (as the history of the world suggests it might) and poverty is defined in relative terms. The same well-known figure added, however, that “whensoever ye will, ye may do them good.”
Poverty has many fathers, but its grandparent is scarcity. This is an inherent and ineradicable feature of the human condition—indeed of the natural world. Consequently, attempts to wage war on poverty as opposed to alleviating its symptoms will always become quagmires. It is thus regrettable that Paul Ryan has signed up for a new assault.
What would you think of capitalism if you were born in a country that had developed a market economy by the dawn of the 20th Century and was ranked among the ten wealthiest nations per capita in the world—but one hundred years later had dropped to seventieth with little of that wealth having trickled down to the poorest in society? Such was Pope Francis’ experience with capitalism in Argentina and his pastoral letter Evangelii Gaudium cannot be understood without it. We all begin with our culture and his would discourage anyone, especially someone so moved by concern for the poor.