Vail Daily column: Pope and president criticize income inequality

Jack Van Ens
My View
Jack Van Ens

Officials at Fox News blanched after reading Pope Francis’s 50,000-word apostolic exhortation Evangelii Gaudium (“The Joy of the Gospel”). They were dismayed at the pope’s repeated swipes against capitalism’s financial excesses, which widen the gap between rich and poor.

Fox News’ exasperation with the pope prompted them to run this caption: “The pope is the church’s Obama, for God’s sake!” The pontiff sounded like he agreed with President Obama who earlier had given a 7,000-word caution against income disparity’s negative effects.

The president described the U.S. economy as “profoundly unequal.” He said it has been stuck in this fiscal quagmire “since 1979, when I graduated from high school.”

Alongside Wall Street’s record-setting stock market, poverty’s pit deepens, trapping more citizens. “A child born in the top 20 percent has about a two in three chance of staying at or near the top,” reports President Obama. “A child born into the bottom 20 percent has less than a 1-in-20 shot at making it to the top.”

What’s bad worsens. “Statistics show that our levels of income inequality rank near countries like Jamaica and Argentina.”

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Fox News counters by rehearsing the “trickle-down theory” of economic rebound. Jack up wealth of the already-rich. Because of lower taxes, they invest in new businesses which hire workers. Wealth at the top seeps down into the lower strata of society, like water refreshing parched soil. Presto! Everyone benefits. A fiscal desert turns into an oasis which assuages citizens’ financial thirst.

Peggy Noonan trotted out this tired, flimsy argument in her Wall Street Journal “Declarations” commentary, “The Most Memorable Words of 2013,” (Dec. 21): “(America’s wealthy) are not oblivious, they are concerned. And though they give away hundreds of millions of dollars to charities, schools and scholarships, they don’t know what can be done to turn the overall (fiscal) picture around.”

Why does Roman Catholic Noonan peddle this drivel? Did altruistic super-rich pump the bulk of their assets into the economy after the Great Recession of 2008? No.

Many parked huge piles of cash off-shore to deny tax benefits to Uncle Sam. Others went into a tizzy about economic uncertainty. They stayed on investment sidelines, fearing the folly of investing good money during shaky times.

Pope Francis debunked the trickle-down theory for being stopped up. “This imbalance between the rich and the poor,” argued the pope against Noonan’s blathering, “is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation. In this system, which tends to devour everything which stands in the way of increased profits, what is fragile, like the environment, is defenseless before the interests of a deified market, which become the only rule.”

Fox News’ commentators spurn the pope’s objections to over-heated capitalism. They advise him to cleanse the Vatican of soiled finances. Moreover, the pontiff should stick to individual morality that makes people better but soft-pedal a social ethic that judges capitalism’s deficiencies.

Pope Francis gives no ground. He rejects such groundless financial theories that the Peggy Noonans of our society use to defend income inequality. The pope doesn’t trust the rich serving as our nation’s financial trustees. He shows slight confidence these “benefactors” will spread wealth. Their prosperity doesn’t trickle down into the poor’s empty pockets.

In his apostolic exhortation, Pope Francis offers a stinging rejoinder to defenders of the elites’ vast wealth. “Some people continue to defend trickle-down theories, which assume that economic growth, encouraged by a free market, will inevitably succeed in bringing about greater justice and inclusiveness in the world. This opinion, which has never been confirmed by the facts, expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power and in the sacralized workings of the prevailing economic system.”

The pope challenges the Roman Catholic Church and our nation’s citizens to act on a core conviction: our prime responsibility is toward the poor and the helpless. We are “to open our hands to oppressed people and stretch them out to needy people” (Proverbs 31:20).

He echoes what Presbyterian Woodrow Wilson — then president of Princeton University — declared to a well-heeled crowd on Oct. 25, 1902. He challenged listeners to build a college that invested in “men who care more for principles than for money, of the right adjustments of life than for the gross accumulation of profit.”

Pope Francis smoked out Fox News. His convictions cleared the air of their chit-chat against President Obama’s war on income inequality.

For God’s sake, Fox News spoke what’s fair and balanced: The pope is the Church’s Obama.

The Rev. Dr. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads the nonprofit, tax exempt Creative Growth Ministries (, which enhances Christian worship through dynamic storytelling and dramatic presentations aimed to make God’s history come alive.

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