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Poor little rich Catholics

Eduardo Penalver has already flagged my favorite holiday report on the Francis effect (published just in time to influence year-end charitable giving). And as we ring in the New Year, let's spare a thought for the persecuted rich. It's bad enough Francis keeps talking about the poor all the time, but now he's suggesting that someone other than those same poor people may be responsible for their poverty -- and worse, that Catholics are called on to work for a more just distribution of the world's goods. He wants us to change the system, but has he given any thought to how that might affect the people who currently benefit most from that system? CNBC is on it:

[Home Depot founder Ken] Langone said he's raised the issue more than once with Cardinal Timothy Dolan, archbishop of New York, most recently at a breakfast in early December at which he updated him on fundraising progress."I've told the cardinal, 'Your Eminence, this is one more hurdle I hope we don't have to deal with. You want to be careful about generalities. Rich people in one country don't act the same as rich people in another country,' " he said.

One of the things that makes this story so jaw-dropping is the presumption -- on the part of Langone, and as ever on the part of CNBC -- that those who see or read it will sympathize with the petulant wealthy. Do you really want to make things harder for people who are so much wealthier and more successful than you? CNBC constantly asks its viewers. Do you think we can afford to let them get upset?

I do feel for Cardinal Dolan, caught between the demands of fundraising in a wealthy city and the clear teaching of a very popular pope. I wouldn't want to be explaining Evangelii Gaudium to any prospective donors over breakfast. Still, I'd like to think that, if pressed, I could do a little bit better than "The pope loves poor people. He also loves rich people. He loves people, alright? He's not into the condemning game."

I do not think CNBC's reporting on this story was motivated by a desire to get people thinking about how relying on the goodwill of wealthy donors compromises the integrity of the church. But that's where this story left me. What might it mean if bishops like Dolan had to square off with a few sulking multimillionaires and tell them, Look, here's the social teaching of the church, and here's a chart demonstrating how income inequality has increased, and if all that makes you feel less generous then I'll just have to ask someone else? Historians of the church in New York often point out that its many beautiful parishes -- which some now consider an embarrassment of riches -- were built by immigrants giving from what little they had. And hey, maybe that wasn't such a bad system. The widow's mite doesn't go quite as far, but at least it doesn't carry with it the obligation of downplaying the spiritual risks of wealth and soft-pedaling the cry of the poor. The widow, unlike her seven-figure-donor coreligionists, would probably like what the pope has to say.

There are, of course, great minds working hard to make sure it doesn't come to that.

Langone said he is also on a campaign to explain "the vast difference between the pope's experience in Argentina and how we are in America."...

Arthur Brooks, head of the American Enterprise Institute, a think tank that promotes free markets, said he agrees that the pope's beliefs are likely informed by his Argentine heritage.

"In places like Argentina, what they call free enterprise is a combination of socialism and crony capitalism," he said.

Brooks, also a practicing Catholic who has read the pope's exhortation in its original Spanish, said that "taken as a whole, the exhortation is good and right and beautiful. But it's limited in its understanding of economics from the American context." He noted that Francis "is not an economist and not an American."

See, when the pope says,

we have to say 'thou shalt not' to an economy of exclusion and inequality. Such an economy kills. How can it be that it is not a news item when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points? This is a case of exclusion.

...he is obviously talking about less developed parts of the world, because as you know, here in the United States the problems of the homeless are recognized as an urgent priority by everyone (and every news outlet), while it is the rare news organization that bothers to cover the stock market's ups and downs. And when he directly criticizes proponents of "trickle-down theories of economic growth" -- well, if you read that in the original Spanish it doesn't sound anything like what AEI argues in its policy papers.

And when the pope says this:

While the earnings of a minority are growing exponentially, so too is the gap separating the majority from the prosperity enjoyed by those happy few. This imbalance is the result of ideologies which defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation.

You'll have to excuse the crudeness of his worldview -- remember, he's not an American. As Robert Christian writes at Millenial:

The pope couldn’t possibly be reiterating over 120 years of Catholic social teaching. No, he lived in Argentina, the North Korea of South America, where there is no information on the outside world.

Someone looking to make trouble might point out that what Francis is saying about inequality and the trouble with capitalism and globalization is not fundamentally all that different from what Benedict said. And yet somehow Pope Francis is harder to ignore. (Benedict, for one thing, was more "careful about generalizations.") As a result, his fellow bishops are being asked to smooth some ruffled feathers. Maybe it would be better to wait and see what happens if those feathers stay ruffled a little bit longer?



Commenting Guidelines

I don't think Cardinal Dolan will get tough with rich donors over Francis' teachings -  Doaln is the man who defrauded sex abuse victims by hiding 57 million dollrs of church assets.

I think that was is required is a clear, comprehensive reflection on Catholic social teaching around economics. Take unions, for example. Whatever the problems with unions, and granted there are problems, legislation that severely restricts or frustrates organized labour is not something that should ever be supported by Catholics. Yet, there are right to work states, and that movement is in large measure supported by Catholic Republican governors.

Also, free trade agreements rarely, if ever, include labour and environmental standards. Yet Liberals, Democrats, conservatives, and Republicans consistently support expanding trade.

Then there is the war on the poor and the restriction of Medicaid, not supporting  certain prescriptions, some doctors can refuse Medicaid patients. Yet Wall Street banksters are bailed out for their choices.

Catholic politicians need to be driven by solidarity and noblesse oblige. Some of these limousine liberals lack any sense of solidarity or understanding of the needs of their working constitutents. Their public political policy positions consistently work against the poor who many claim to represent.

As for business, they should be fair and pay workers a living wage. The CEO should not make more than 100 times more than the lowest paid employee. 

American businesses do make a fair point when they say that the system is different in the US than in Argentina. This is no doubt true. There should be a level playing field but that does not mean that we should level the playing field by stripping back environmental standards and labour costs to be competitive. We should insist that other countries raise their own.

Most, if not all, of these issues are expertise that properly belongs to lay people. The teaching should be driven by lay people. What bishops and the pope should be doing is establishing meaningful and broad consultation with business leaders, labour leaders, and politicians and not just theologians when developing Catholic social teaching.

See “Pope Francis's Economics Hurt the Poor He Aims to Help” By Thomas Hemphill


“The Pontiff's lifetime experience with Argentina's economic system has undoubtedly influenced his view of capitalism. According to The Wall Street Journal/Heritage Foundation 2013 Index of Economic Freedom ("Economic Freedom Index"), Argentina ranked 160 out of 177 countries on the basis of economic freedom. The Economic Freedom Index measures the following ten categories of economic freedom: property rights; freedom from corruption; business freedom; labor freedom; monetary freedom; government spending; fiscal freedom; trade freedom; investment freedom; and financial freedom. Argentina's overall score of 46.7 falls into what the Heritage Foundation analysts categorize as a "repressed" economic environment. Argentina now ranks 27 out of 29 countries in the South and Central America/Caribbean region. Argentina's political economy is far from representative of how capitalism should effectively operate, as it is a poster child for market distorting trade protectionism policies and political cronyism. According to the Economic Freedom Index:

“ ‘The foundations of economic freedom in Argentina are increasingly fragile, severely hampered by structural and institutional problems caused by growing government intrusion into the marketplace. The judicial system has become more vulnerable to political interference, and corruption is prevalent.’

“Pope Francis also exhorts ‘the rich must help respect and promote the poor.’ Thus, the global financial system must serve rather than rule. He believes that existing financial system represents both ‘a rejection of ethics and a rejection of God’ since ‘ethics leads to a God who calls for a committed response which is outside the categories of the marketplace’, one who ‘calls human beings to their full realization and to freedom from all forms of enslavement.’ The Holy Father's solution is to call for an ‘[E]thics - a non-ideological ethics - [that] would make it possible to bring about balance and a more humane social order.’ And what would it take for ‘[A] financial reform open to such ethical considerations?’ According to Pope Francis, ‘a vigorous change of approach on the part of political leaders.’

“No doubt that establishing ‘a non-ideological ethics’, or universal business ethic for global capitalism, is a major and laudable challenge for business leaders, as business ethics matter. But if the Pontiff is citing ‘political leaders’, then he is referencing those individuals who are lawmakers. These ‘political leaders’ enact and enforce the laws that regulate national and global financial systems. And as Samuel Gregg notes in his article, ‘[T]he lack of law not only ranks among the biggest obstacles to their [developing nations] ability to generate wealth on a sustainable basis, but also hampers their capacity to address economic issues in a just manner.’

“Pope Francis has a deep, genuine concern for the poor and the disenfranchised - a subject of which he has first-hand knowledge - and a concern shared by this author and others. But when it comes to capitalism, his writings reflect what I hope is a naiveté, a lack of a deep, critical understanding of how the dynamics of political and cultural institutions and markets interact, and an appreciation of the empirical evidence that reflects the reality of this dynamic political institution-market interaction. This knowledge is readily available to the Pontiff, and for the sake of the 1 billion Catholics who he leads, I hope that Pope Francis will recognize the societal benefits that capitalism has brought to much of the Western world, and more recently the rapid improvement in the standard of living for hundreds of millions of people throughout Asia. Pope Francis needs to understand that "unfettered" capitalism - if it exists in the 21st century - is by no means how capitalism successfully operates in modern society. When allowed to operate with a reasonable level of efficiency governed by the rule of law and established ethical custom, capitalism can effectively emerge as the primary global driver for moving tens of millions of people out of poverty - a socio-economic end-game that Pope Francis should both encourage and applaud.”

See also: “Is the Pope Right About the World?”, by Marian Tupy,

My own takeaway from the article was heightened discomfort that we're spending $170 million to renovate the cathedral. Doesn't that seem to fly in the face of what Francis has been preaching?

"RealClearMarkets" is a site dedicated to Real Obfuscation of History.  Like Poor Plutocrat Langone, it invokes the old American exceptionalism argument, just in different guise.  Just as Little Lord Ken points to "our" capitalists as "different" from "their" capitalists, so here "real" capitalism -- a pure abstraction, never encountered in history-- is inexorably productive of prosperity, justice, morality, all things good, true, and beautiful.  A similar strategy characterizes the AEI, whose employment of Michael Novak should be enough to discredit it.  (While we're on the subject of "poor little rich Catholics," it's worth recalling that Novak once compared the business corporation to the Suffering Servant.  It suffers for you, don't you know.) 

Capitalists and their ideologues are wont to decry the "idealism" and "naivete" of anyone who dares to point out the inequality, injustice, and avarice fostered by really existing capitalism.  People who wail about such things just haven't graduated from the School of Hard Knocks, or they haven't Had the Headaches That Come With Running a Business, or they haven't experienced Real Capitalism.  They also love to fetishize "productivity," one of the biggest, brashest idols of the marketplace.  It's well past time we stopped paying homage and respect to the Hallowed Entrepreneur, St. John of Galt's Randian  Gulch.  We've been kowtowing to Bidness for forty years or more, and what we have to show for it is stagnant wages, lower benefits, the increase of low-wage "bullshit jobs," a growing chasm of inequality, and escalating ecological despoliation.  

And then we can all look forward to working at Home Depot when we're older, accumulating capital for Ken Langone.  Maybe he'll provide boxes to carry us out when we drop dead in the plumbing supplies isle.

One of the talking points of the one percent (uttered most recently by Rand Paul) is that government aid is a "disservice" to the poor and should be replaced by private charity.

If the United States had the social safety net that western European nations have, there'd be less need for private charity because there'd be fewer poor people.  If the minimum wage were a living wage, the need for food stamps, Section 8 housing, student loans, and Medicaid would shrink drastically.  

Hey, hold on a minute, guys.  As I understand the article, it's mainly about Ken Langone and his opinion of his fellow rich American capitalists.  He is appealing for justice for them -- that they be recognized for their justice and generosity.  I say fair enough.  The question then becomes:  how just and generous are they?  There's the rub, the great big fat rub.

I've forgotten where I read it, but many years ago I read that from the very start-up of  Home Depot it encouraged its workers to buy into the company, that the company made it easy for its employees to buy shares in the vibrant new company.  Many employees did and some quickly became millionaires.  So apparently Mr. Langone is himself (or at least was) a decent employer.  I can also tell you from my own experience at Kaiser Aluminum when it was a start-up that it was very fair to its employees:  it was insane about safety, and it paid us well and supplied extremely cheap health benefits.  

So there ARE some fair capitalists, so Langone is right when he says so.  No doubt  members of Legatus, a philantropic group, does have more than one decent member, though I suspect that Langone is terribly naive about some of the members, human nature being what it is.  And no doubt it's true that, as he implies,  when liberals condemn *all* capitalists as unjust that they hamper the cause of the poor.  Further, it is simply unjust to call names when they aren't deserved, even when the name-calling is done by self-satisfied liberals.

Anyway, let's not say that "All capitalists are thieves".  They're not.  But let's identify the ones who are.  To do that, however, we'll need a theory of fair wages, which doesn't exist yet.  Blame the philosophers and moral theologians for some of that.

Ann -- No matter how nice and generous they are (kings and slaveholders can be nice and generous, too), capitalists are, by definition, thieves.  First, because their ownership of the means of production enables them to reduce everyone else to wage labor.  You work for capitalists (and note that phrase "work for") only so long as your employment is conducive to capital accumulation.  Second, because the accumulation of capital -- which is what capitalism is all about, not the production of useful goods (which are themselves produced to accumulate capital) -- requires that workers produce more than they need to reproduced themselves.  The surplus is extracted by the capitalist -- that's why owning the means of production is key.  (The most important line in Wall Street is not Gordon Gekko's "greed is good."  It's his telling Bud that "I produce nothing. I own.")  And there is not and can not be a "theory of fair wages."  Wages are determined by power, not "skill" or "education."  The only justice workers have ever been able to win in capitalist societies didn't stem from a "theory of fair wages"; it stemmed from class struggle, union movements, progressive political parties.  And if you think all of that is just Marxist hooey, listen to none other than Warren Buffett:  "Of course there's a class struggle.  And my side is winning."

Can capitalists be nice people?  Of course they can.  They give to charities, they endow libraries and scientific foundations, they "take care" of their employees.  (Andrew Carnegie was a nice capitalist, and even he admitted in his autobiography that his millions were the product of chance, not his own diligent, arduous labor.)  But they do so only so long as the capital piles up.  (Note also the significance of the phrase "give back to the community" -- an implicit admission that they took something.)  When wrecking unions and eviscerating benefits and stagnating wages and automating jobs becomes more conducive to capital accumulation -- which is the history of the last forty years -- that's what they do. And that's why their niceness or generosity is utterly beside the point.  


...capitalists are, by definition, thieves.


I thought you especially would appreciate it.

Me especially?

My father, born in Manhattan in 1890, often told the story that the funds to build St Particks Cathedral came from young clerics visiting the wealthy mansions on 5th ave on Sunday afternoon and getting the five dollar monthly pledges from the Irish maids and housekeepers. No mention was made of the rich Episcopalians in the mansions chipping in. My father often exaggerated.but someone ought to check it out.  

Do most American Catholics have the spiritual maturity - personally and institutionally - to take to heart and respond to the message Francis is preaching?  I'm not sure.  US Catholics, even through the present era, have been more concerned about being good Americans and succeeding in the American system than challenging it through the lens of Gospel values.  Francis is calling us to live the Gospel in an authentic and deep way, not just admire and pay lip service to it.  He is calling us to actually follow Jesus, not just worship him.  I'm not sure that Americans are ready for that.  Benedict talked about a smaller church.  If Francis' message is taken seriously, we might actually get that, but for reasons other than what the trads were hoping for.  Francis is a wise and spiritually mature man; a true elder.  I don't think most Catholics recognize that or know what to do in the face of that reality.

Prof. McCarraher -  off topic, but I liked your lecture on corporations and its mention of "The King's Two Bodies"

Brian -- Sadly, I couldn't agree more.

Crystal -- Thank you for your kind words.  My hair has grown a bit whiter since then.  But it's still the same length. 

"by definition capitalists are thieves".

Mr. McCarraher --

By *your* definition they are.  Other's use the term in a different sense.  You don't help the poor by exaggerating.  You just add to the injustice in the world.  Granted, name-calling can be fun, but it isn't always just.  

Be constructive.  Tell us how how to figure a fair wage.  And don't way what a fair wage isn't.  Say what it is.

FWIW, Langone recently gave $200 million to NYU Hospital. I hesitate to mention this because I know the reaction here will be furious that such a successful businessman isn't doing more to undermine capitalism, per McCarraher.  I don't have a complete total for all his contributions (and taxes) and neither do his critics. But their view seems to be that any wealthy person is guilty of a great crime until proven innocent.  All this based upon McC's  class struggle analysis.  For one "tired" of the exceptionalism theme put forward by Langone he shows no shame in putting forth an even more "tired" leftist pseudo-science.  I hope responsible adults keep him concealed when they invite donors to his campus.


How inspiring it would be if Eduardo would resign from the University of Chicago, an institution founded with Rockefeller money!  Or is it only Langone money that is tainted?  Academics at Catholic institutions could also follow suit by renouncing any privileges deriving from less than pure sources.  Catholic periodicals enjoying tax benefits could also do without those favors.  Tax favorability was granted on the theory that some benefits would "trickle down" to the needy and as Pope Francis declared that has never been true.  Let the purges begin.

Ann -- You're missing the point.  I'm neither exaggerating nor name-calling.  I'm being utterly serious.  And let me say it again:  There is no such thing as a "fair wage."  The wage system itself is unjust and immoral.  

If you don't accept my terms, offer an alternative.  What, in your view, is a "capitalist"?  And don't say "rich guy," or "property owner," since we had rich people and property owners long before capitalism.  And how do you account for the very existence of the wage system?  Did it fall out of heaven with the Mosaic tablets?  

Molloy (since we're using last names and invective now) -- Are you referring to the pseudo-science of economics taught in the business schools, the one the great John Ruskin once compared to alchemy, astrology, and other occult disciplines?  And I note that you don't offer a shred of historical evidence to rebut a thing I wrote.  Because you can't -- as David Graeber concludes in Debt, economics as described by economists has nothing whatsoever to do with what anthropologists and historians have recorded.  Moreover, it appears that your acquaintance with "leftist pseudo-science" is of the most sophomoric sort.  Capital is worth more than an Everest of publications by the Chicago school of "economics"; you ought to crack it open some time. The New Yorker and the Wall Street Journal did a few years ago, and were astonished at its perspicacity.  

I'll also have you know that my university -- Villanova, by the way -- appears to be quite proud of me.  No responsible adults hide me when donors come knocking.  

Mr. McCarraher --

You used the term "fair wage", you must at least know what your own meaning of the term is.  Be constructive.  Tell us what do you mean by "fair wage".  Then maybe we can communicate.

(I'm not going to engage in a name-slinging match with you.  It's a waste of time, and i"m old.)

Ed Gleason at 8:34 pm

Money for the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral came from a cross-section of the population.  Archbishop Hughes didn't start the project until he had pledges from the richest Catholics of the time.  Along the way he got help from such as Thomas Fortune Ryan, the Drexel family, the Delmonicos and many other well-to-do Catholics.  Ryan was a partner and sometime rival of J.P. Morgan.  Morgan once said that if Ryan lived long enough he would have all the money in the world.  One story has it that Ryan attended a very crowded Mass at St. John Baptiste on Lexington Ave.  He asked the pastor how much it would cost to build a new church, was given a figure of a few million (19th century money) and pledged the full amount on the spot.  Of course many less fortunate people donated as well.


James Renwick, the architect, a wealthy Episcopalian from an old New York family, returned nearly 90% of his commission in the form of side altars and stained glass windows.  Apparently he learned of the project through his Irish maid.


I don't want to castigate Kenneth Langone as some here do.  But if he is guilty then so are many of his predecessors in the Gilded Age, when inequality was not unknown.  For my part, I'm extremely grateful for the opport Ed Gleason at 8:34 pm

Money for the building of St. Patrick's Cathedral came from a cross-section of the population.  Archbishop Hughes didn't start the project until he had pledges from the richest Catholics of the time.  Along the way he got help from such as Thomas Fortune Ryan, the Drexel family, the Delmonicos and many other well-to-do Catholics.  Ryan was a partner and sometime rival of J.P. Morgan.  Morgan once said that if Ryan lived long enough he would have all the money in the world.  One story has it that Ryan attended a very crowded Mass at St. John Baptiste on Lexington Ave.  He asked the pastor how much it would cost to build a new church, was given a figure of a few million (19th century money) and pledged the full amount on the spot.  Of course many less fortunate people donated as well.


James Renwick, the architect, a wealthy Episcopalian from an old New York family, returned nearly 90% of his commission in the form of side altars and stained glass windows.  Apparently he learned of the project through his Irish maid.


I don't want to castigate Kenneth Langone as some here do.  But if he is guilty then so are many of his predecessors in the Gilded Age, when inequality was not unknown.  For my part, I'm extremely grateful for the opportunities offered to minorities during that period, despite its departure from an egalitarian ideal. And I hope it would go without saying that donors of yesterday and today, of whatever means, should be honored, not vilified.  

Ann -- Again, I'm not name-slinging.

And again, I don't think there is such a thing as a "fair wage."  The quotation marks around it indicate that while I'm using the term, I'm doing so ironically.  A wage for labor is a consequence of the separation of workers from direct access to the means of production -- one of the historical foundations of capitalism.  (And neither Molloy nor Mark Proska can gainsay that historical reality.)  Because that's a relationship of power, there is no "scientific" or philosophical or theological way to determine the "fairness" of a wage; it's all about the negotiating power you have.  That's why workers do better when they bargain collectively rather than individually; they have more power.  When unions -- or capitalists -- appeal to a "fair wage" (or to a "fair day's work, for that matter), it's an utterly rhetorical appeal.  Even ideologues for capital concede as much when they say that wages are set by the market -- "fairness" is whatever happens.

I think that you're stuck here because, like most Americans, you probably have little or no acquaintance with the long and rich tradition of the radical left in economic and political thought.  That's a pity, because it keeps the political conversation of this country intellectually and imaginatively impoverished.   

I do feel for Cardinal Dolan, caught between the demands of fundraising in a wealthy city and the clear teaching of a very popular pope.

Mollie - isn't fundraising from wealthy New Yorkers precisely the sort of thing that Evangelii Gaudium and its predecessors in church social teaching recommend?  Isn't that income distribution in action?   Personally, I hope Cardinal Dolan, in his fundraising excursions, is speaking forthrightly about the responsiblity of the wealthy toward the poor.  FWIW, my own experience of fundraising is that this Gospel message is very welcome among the Catholic elite.


If capitalists want credit for being generous, they need to lobby Congress to raise taxes on the very rich, who are currently being taxed at some of the lowest rates in history.  

Philanthropy is commendable, but we can't fund a social safety net by passing the hat.

There is a big difference between the Catholic Third Way of the rich giving donations to the poor via charity, and the economic justice of wealth diftribution. 

You can an example of the first going on in the UK with Cameron's advisor Phillip Blond's 'red tory' ideas ...  ....  the conservative wing of Catholic Church is on board with that stuff ...

It's kind of the opposite of the second pov that's more like John Rawls' idea of justice as fairness, which I think is more in tune with gospel values.

Mr. McCarrahar --


You haven't called names?  Like "Poor Plutocrat Langone",  "Little Lord Ken", "the Hallowed Entrepreneur, St. John of Galt's Randian  Gulch"?


I taught in a predominantly black university for many years, and I'm quite aware of there being a radical left in American social and economic theory (both academic and non-academic).  I've also read some Marx and have some sympathy for his criticisms of European/American capitalism.  (Many people don't realize that he worked for the New York Times for a while, so he had some aquaintance with what was going on in this country in the 19th century.  It's part of what inspired his work.)  But I'm old enough to realize that in a fight it is rare that one side is all right and the other all wrong.  I'm also old enough to know that exaggerations sometimes convince adolescents, but they're most likely to turn off adults who are looking for truth.


It seems clear that you are indeed concerned with the welfare of the poor and that you have a good bit of theoretical knowledge, and that's why I'm interested in your theoretical position on fair wages. Since you talk about "unjust wages" I assume that, contrary to your rhetoric, you do have a meaning for "just wages".  But please spare me the rhetoric.  It's a distraction.

When the hate session on Langone has expired I suggest a new target.  It seems that Villanova has some very questionable associations with major players in the "class struggle."  It staggers the imagination how Catholic academics could be associated with such blatant plutocratic skullduggery, so clearly legitimizing the extraction of surplus value.


"Villanova has partnered with several corporate partners to host VCAP networking receptions throughout the year, including: Bloomberg L.P., Morgan Stanley, Barclays Bank PLC, Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, N.A. and JP Morgan Chase."


Where are the resignations?


A true sign of generoisty is when one contributes to charity and doesn't take the tax write off.


The line forms after me.

@Jim McCrea: that's a pretty long line already, made up of all those working slobs who take the standard deduction. 

Ann -- Thanks for your good faith remarks.  It's clear that you and I will have to agree to disagree about the "fair" or "just" wage question.  Still, I'd insist that our difference isn't just over "rhetoric."  As for "name-calling," what you're referring to is colorful writing, intending to provoke.  Or you can blame it on Mollie -- "poor little rich Catholics"??

Patrick -- There is no "hate session" here; that's disingenuous.  As J. Peter Nixon rightly reminds us in his post, God loves the rich too, Ken Langone included, and if God loves them, who are we to differ?  My lefty Catholic colleagues, at Villanova and elsewhere, we love the rich too.  We aren't calling for tumbrils and guillotines, or pitchforks and nooses, or summary imprisonment in Gulags.  (If anyone ahs raised the rhetorical temperature in the room over the last month or so, it's the Catholic right:  Kudlow, Varney, etc..)  The issue is not hating capitalists; the issue is capitalism.  We need a serious conversation, in the country and in the Church, about the nature and logic of that system.  We haven't had one since the 1960s -- arguably, we haven't had one since the 1930s -- and we're long overdue for another.  

So why "no resignations"?  Because we believe in the mission of the university, part of which is raising fundamental questions about the nature of any society in which the university exists.  And that's especially true of Catholic universities, which, in my experience, are among the last places these questions are being raised with any moral and intellectual seriousness.  (Read Christ Hedges' Empire of Illusion on the allegedly "left-wing" Ivies.)  There's a long and profound Catholic intellectual tradition, much of it in dialogue with the "radical left," on which we need to draw for such inquiry.  And besides, if such questions aren't raised in universities, where else will they be raised?  


This is addressed to the kinder, gentler Gene, not the provacateur McCarraher (the one using colorful writing, intending to provoke  - though they do seem to agree in substance).  It's refreshing to learn of your love for Ken Langone and all the other members of the "1% swimming with the sharks," the thieves and exploiters (your words).  Speaking only for myself, however, if I were the object of such love I would prefer a stony indifference on your part. 

I'm not surprised to learn that we shouldn't expect many tenured radical resignations, even from institutions that allegedly train graduates to extract surplus value from exploited proletarians.  Home Depot is not in the same league as the corporations associated with Villanova but I suppose a distant target is always safer than ones close to home. I'm quite impressed with the high mindedness with which the campus left always justifies its positions. Apparently no element of self-interest can ever be admitted.  But with such lofty goals it must be depressing to have to explain to lesser mortals  the stunning insights to be found in Das Kapital re surplus value and the economic "laws" first discovered in that tome. 

Didn't someone observe that Marx was so foresighted that none of his predictions have come true?  Of course, true believers should have no trouble in keeping hope alive.

Patrick -- I'll overlook the cynicism ("the high mindedness with which the campus left always justifies its positions.  Apparently no element of self-interest can ever be admitted") and the imputation of haughtiness ("explain to lesser mortals") and simply urge you to open Capital.

Which, by the way, I don't take as gospel.  I'm not a Marxist, believe it or not; there's no need for me to "keep hope alive" for a dictatorship of the proletariat.  But I do think that Marx's work does indeed contain "stunning insights," as you derisively call them.  And a lot of what Marx predicted has come true -- certainly not "the revolution," of course, but many of his stunning insights into automation, to cite one example, have been borne out.  And Marxist histories of labor, technology, and capitalism itself are well-respected and even lauded, even by non-Marxists.  Before you dismiss an entire tradition, you should acquaint yourself with it first.

I write that out of genuine concern, not stony indifference.  Take it as you will.



Ann's question is the million dollar question (no pun intended). It is where the rubber meets the road and all the ivory tower type theorizing around these issues (the economic corrolarly to the stereotypical angels dancing on the head of a pin) has signficance. No offence Gene, as I enjoy reading your posts. However, this question is one that really needs to be addressed. Not doing so feels like a dodge.

The reason I think it is important is that I just read another article on Obamacare and issues that medical doctors in rural areas are having with it. The central issue has to do with reimbursement and, yes, a fair wage for work being done!

So on the one hand you have with Obamacare the universalizing of health care which, I think, most Catholics would say is a human right with the realities of making it happen within an American capitalist framework. We can go on forever around the merits and demerits of it but the fact of the matter is that medicine is another industry with its own sets of interests and wages and benefits is one of those interests.

"but many of his [Marx] stunning insights into automation, to cite one example, have been borne out.'

That gets us back to Home Depot which has initiated  automatic check outs with many  fewer cashiers.

This gives HD less union members, SS, health care, pensions, vacations, sick leave, retirement watches etc. Safeway has been a big imitator of this labor saving initiative. But Tiffanys will never be a cashier automation customer.  (-:

Labor saving automation is not new but some stong unions have extracted some better wage  conditions at these initiations. e.g longshore unions especially on the West coast.

A few notes on Home Depot:

  • According to Forbes, Home Depot employs well over 300,000 people.  The theoretical question of the moral right of labor to own the means of production is interesting (at least to some people it is), but as a practical matter, if we've learned anything over the last six or seven years, it's that, for most Americans, the alternative to working for someone else is not working at all.  I think we should give Home Depot credit for creating 300,000+ jobs.  I don't claim to understand its business model, but inasmuch as the stores are sort of a combination of retail emporium and warehouse, I expect that most of its jobs are retail and warehouse worker jobs.  A nugget on its Wikipedia page, stating that the one and only attempt to organize workers in a Home Depot store was voted down by its workers, leads me to infer that its workforce is not unionized.  If its retail / warehouse workers are paid competitively, probably those wages are not living wages.  Personally, I root for retail and warehouse workers to organize.
  • Home Depot has a philanthropic arm which has donated $200 million+ since its founding in 2002 through whenever that section of its Wikipedia page was last updated.  The money seems to go to worthy causes, including Habitat for Humanity and heath care.  $200 million certainly is a lot of money.  On the other hand, Google Finance indicates that Home Depot's net income, quarter after quarter, is between $1.5 and $3 billion (with a b).  I wouldn't dismiss out of hand the opinion that the company could be even more generous in its charitable giving.  Particularly when the next bullet is considered ...
  • Home Depot made news a few years ago in a way that it probably wishes it didn't, when it infamously paid its exiting chief executive, Robert Nardelli, a golden parachute worth over $200 million, despite the fact that during his tenure, despite the fact that the stock price fell and he laid off many workers.  Because of this incident, Home Depot became a bit of a poster child for arrogant and dysfunctional corporate governance.  Just imagine if even half of that severence package had gone into the philanthropic arm instead.
  • In addition to the previous items, there are a variety of things in Home Depot's history that are grist for the Catholic social justice mill: it is a donor in support of LGBT rights and same sex marriage; it was once sued by a whistleblower who alleged he was fired for protesting unethical vendor management practices; it closed some stores and laid off some workers during the worst part of the recent recession; it markets a line of environmentally respectful home improvement products; seven people were killed in a Joplin, MO Home Depot store during an EF5 tornado when the store walls collapsed, a disaster that was attributed to its economical "tilt up" store construction technique.  (All of these are described on its WIkipedia page).  My view would be that, taken as a whole, this is about par for the course for a major American corporation in the 21st century.



Gene, thanks for the recommendation to dip into Capital.  I have to say that I've done that many times, especially in the sixties, but later also, not only by myself but in study groups, in and out of classrooms, at the feet of pro-Marxists as well as anti-Marxists.  Dare I say it, some of my best friends were Marxists.  But try as I might, I could not find what so many on the left, and you especially, seem to find there.  


My reading assignment for you is to look at Weber, Tocqueville, Durkheim, and if you have the time even some of the Chicago school of economists.  You'll quickly learn that your characterization of capitalism's defenders as claiming that it "is inexorably productive of prosperity, justice, morality, all things good, true, and beautiful" is at best a contribution to straw man theory that no doubt plays well on campus.


Forgive me if I misinterpret you as a Marxist. The statement below sounds as though you are enamored of some of the core tenets of Marxism (but perhaps you find Marx insufficiently radical). If you are not a Marxist you might understand how some could see you as at least a close "fellow traveler" when they read a comment like this (or find you referring to capitalist as thieves, and worse):


"because the accumulation of capital -- which is what capitalism is all about, not the production of useful goods (which are themselves produced to accumulate capital) -- requires that workers produce more than they need to reproduced themselves.  The surplus is extracted by the capitalist -- that's why owning the means of production is key."


When I think of the radical Catholic Left I'm reminded of Dante's observation about how behavior changes in different environments: "in church with saints, with guzzlers in the tavern" (Inf XXII, 14-15). In church it is easy to profess love for everyone, including the rich, but when speaking on the barricades the erstwhile lovers find it apparently irresistible to revile the rich as worse than common thieves.  Or have I quoted you out of context?

George D -- OK, if you and Ann press me against the wall, I'd say that a "fair wage" or a "just wage" -- paid in the context of a system that is fundamentally unfair and unjust -- would be one that enabled people who work to live a decent life.  If $15 an hour or even higher is that wage, then you have my vote.

Ed -- The most important thing there is the longshoremens' union -- collective, organized bargaining power.  And I'll just add that President Obama has done little or nothing to support the union movement.  It's one of his many, many deferences to corporate interests.  Despite his recent rhetorical nods to the fact of inequality, don't expect him to do anything about it -- and neither would I put any faith in Hillary Clinton, the "presumptive" Democratic candidate for 2016.  (Who "presumes" this is, of course, the Beltway punditocracy.)   



Patrick -- Obviously, you and I will have to agree to disagree about the wisdom of Marx.  And I'm well-acquained with Weber, Tocqueville, Durkheim, and the Chicago school.  I regularly teach the first three, though, like you with Marx, I can't understand the love many of my colleagues and friends have for Tocqueville.  (Some of my best friends and finest colleagues are Tocquevillians.)  The Chicago school -- well, I think you can guess what I think.  

I do think that Marx's description of the production and extraction of value in capitalism is pretty accurate.  Again, we'll have to agree to disagree.

My characterization of capitalist ideologues ("good, true, beautiful, etc.") was aimed at contemporary writers -- Thomas Friedman, Michael Novak, etc..  (I've never thought of Weber, Tocqueville, or Durkheim as defenders of capitalism, but that's another issue.)  As I like to remind business students (and yes, I get quite a few of them), one of the earliest critics of the human impact of industrialization was none other than Adam Smith. 

As for the rhetoric of the Catholic left, I don't think that strong polemic and charity are mutually exclusive.  Many of the Church Fathers railed against the rich of their day in rhetoric at least as strong.


I mentioned my collection of worthies not as defenders of capitalism but as providers of correctives to vulgar Marxism, the kind I find in your statements that I quoted.  If you want a list of defenders I can supply that too - it would not include Thomas Friedman. You disappoint me with your choice of opponents.

I reaffirm my astonishment that you are so committed to Marx's peculiar views on labor.  I do admire steadfast traditionalism though such unseemly dogmatism is to be discouraged.  There is still time to reconsider.  Late conversions are encouraged - You have nothing to lose but your chains.

When Our Lady of Vilnius had its day in the NYS Court of Appeals in November, 2011, a judge raised a hypothetical issue.  He speculated that,  if the Archdiocese planned to sell the church property for as much as they could get and and do something. like, say, a big renovation of St. Patrick's Cathedral, then "these people" (the plaintiff/parishioners) have a point.   Four months later, on St. Patrick's day of 2012, the St. Pat's renovation was announced.  Our Lady of Vilnius is now listed with Massey Knackal for $19 million.   It was built for $3000 in 1910 with money scraped together from Lithiuanian immigrants, including founding pastor, Fr. Sestokas, who continued to work as a longshoreman to help fund the construction.  The archdiocese has recently sold or will sell properties associated with parish suppressions of the 2007 "realignment".  Schools will no doubt be sold as the result of their "Pathways to Excellence."  More parishes will go on the block as "Making All Things New," the current parish planning initiative, unfolds.  All of this real estate has appreciated quite a bit since it was acquired.  Maybe real estate sales will soften the blow of any lost largess from these megadonors.   

"my own experience of fundraising is that this Gospel message is very welcome among the Catholic elite."

Would it be as welcomed if (1) there was not a tax deduction and (2) there was to be no public recognition by means of naming buildings, etc.?

Hi, Jim:

As a young girl I always wondered about the naming of high schools after bishops.  It seemed like a vainglorious thing to do.

Would it be as welcomed if (1) there was not a tax deduction and (2) there was to be no public recognition by means of naming buildings, etc.?

Jimmy - maybe not.  I think the tax deductions are a fine example of fiscal policy that encourages virtuous behavior, so I'm foursqare in favor of them.  (I'm pretty skeptical of simplify-the-tax-code proposals for the same raspon).


(Some of my best friends and finest colleagues are Tocquevillians.)

Serious question: Is there really such a thing as a Tocquevillian? And wouldn't such a person be more interested in sociology than in economics?

 Or was that jesting on one of my slow days?

Is contributing money with the expectation of public recognition ... and tax breaks ... "virtuous behavior?"


Robert Reich recently weighed in on the difference between charitable contributions that directly help the needy and those that foster institutions that, in the main, cater to  the elites (


The cogent (to me) part of what he had to say:

"It’s their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. As with all tax deductions, the government has to match the charitable deduction with additional tax revenues or spending cuts; otherwise, the budget deficit widens.

In economic terms, a tax deduction is exactly the same as government spending. Which means the government will, in effect, hand out $40 billion this year for “charity” that’s going largely to wealthy people who use much of it to enhance their lifestyles.

To put this in perspective, $40 billion is more than the federal government will spend this year on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (what’s left of welfare), school lunches for poor kids, and Head Start, put together."



" I'd say that a "fair wage" or a "just wage" -- paid in the context of a system that is fundamentally unfair and unjust -- would be one that enabled people who work to live a decent life."

Thank you, Mr. McCarraher, I knew you had a meaning all along :-)  Now what do you mean by "decent"?

OK, OK, so that's another one that we know when we see it.  But it won't do for an economic theory.  And I agree with Marx, who said, "There is nothing so practical as a good theory".  A theory is nothing but a clear understandings of something (including definition of terms), and we're desperately in need of that from the economists.

I would go even more to the left than you have with your definition.  It seems to me that a just wage should provide not just a minimum (i.e., a decent wage), but also, when a company prospers the workers should also have increased earnings.  It is only fair.  But how to measure these things is always the problems in economics -- how to express qualitative realities in quantitative formulas.  (Yes, that's  the sort of theoretical issue that everyone hates because there is no clear answer yet.)

As to Marx, contrary to popular belief, these days most economists seem to grant that Marx made major contributions to economic theory.  I've read (forgot where) that it is agreed that he is the first economist to have analysed out just what capital is and its crucial function in a market economy.  I read not too long ago that he is now generally considered by economists to be one of the three greatest economists ever, the other two being Adam Smith and Keynes.  No doubt that high estimation holds in spite of his great faults.  But at least the eonomists are more willing to look at his theories more objectively now.  Would that the general populace could get past the '20s and later image of Marxist economics as the worst thing since Satan.  That image has hampered  political discussions here in a very profound way, causing many people to equate socialism with Marxism and Marxism with demonology.

Complexity, complexity, complexity.


So far in these comments I have not seen one word about education, often cited by Pope Francis in Evangelii Gaudium as a primary way to “work to eliminate the structural causes of poverty and to promote the integral development of the poor.”

Education is a matter that transcends ideological discussions about inequality and wealth distribution.  It is the gateway, path for the impoverished to get out from under the enslavement of the safety net.

Before Hurricane Katrina struck in 2005 75 percent of the 128 public schools of New Orleans were failing. This prompted Louisiana to embrace a system based on choice allowing parents to choose any school in the system.  Dollars dedicated to education followed children to their schools of choice.

Now there are 33 traditional schools and 37charter schools educating the nearly 25,000 students in New Orleans.  Student performance has improved dramatically.

Other states where school choice has been embraced, few in number that they are (not to mention under Republican governors) can also point to similar results.

As long as our education system remains a federally run monopoly impoverished children will be destined to remain enslaved and dependent on the safety net.



As long as our education system remains a federally run monopoly impoverished children will be destined to remain enslaved and dependent on the safety net.

 Where is that? Where I live, school decisions are made by a school board in alliance with, or against, parent organizations and in conflict with superintendents, all the time overseen by the legislature and the very vocal governor whose main contributions seem to be trying to make everyone do more with less. If the federal gummint has a piece of that, it'd be hardly worth mentioning.

John Ryan 'a federally run monopoly ' ???? where are the federal grammar and HS??

kind of kills your points?

Good to hear from you Ed.  

How about "No Child Left Behind" and the most recent "Common Core Standards" emanating from Washington?  Schools that choose not to partiicpate are denied significant federal dollars.

How about Chicago's Superintendent of Education unilaterally shutting down countless inner city schools against the wishes of the parents, shuttling the children willy nilly to "better" schools in the outer city, which in turn did not exactly "welcome" the incoming impoverished students.

Parents of the impoverished students demonstrated outside the Board of Education building, went to court to no avail, some teachers in the "better" schools quit, and in the end, there were no winners....only losers all the way around.

My point remains:  Give parents a chocie, the system improves, and a gateway is provided.  What Pope Francis described as a "promoting the inegral development of the poor."  

In the long run, all of this is in the hands of the lawmakers, the politicians. As I read Evangelii Gaudium, they too are very much in the crosshairs of Pope Francis when it comes to "promoting the integral development of the poor."