Tag Archives: wealth gap

Kennedy: Breaking the habit of entitlement

A good read over at Stand Firm by Fr. Matt Kennedy:

…The entitlement mindset, once developed, ripples outward. Family, friends, agencies, church all become sources either of nourishment and fulfillment for the individual or objects of resentment.

At this point something very interesting happens. The person seeking assistance becomes consumed with a particular kind of greed.

A wealthy person succumbs to greed when, recognizing he’s able to bend the world to his desires, he refuses to see his wealth as a means of glorifying God and serving others and instead uses it to serve and satisfy himself. He becomes the center of his universe. He does not work for anyone. There’s no one he must serve, no one to whom he must bend or give account. His soul shrinks as his wealth increases. He begins to see everyone and everything in orbit around himself.

But, cruelly, the very same thing can and often does happen to those on assistance. What begins as a needed helping hand produces over time a growing sense that all things and people revolve around and exist to serve and satisfy the “impoverished” self. The sense of entitlement that develops is for the most part identical to self-focused greed to which the rich person described above succumbs.

But it’s worse in two ways:

1. Because the person on assistance does not have the financial means to ensure that others bend to his demands, his greed, when fully developed, is exacerbated by frustrated envy which produces a deep-seated resentment the wealthy person may never know.

2. While the rich person has the means at his disposal to reverse the process by sacrifice and selfless giving, the poor person who succumbs to this kind of greed is economically trapped. Even should he repent, there is not much he can actively do to escape the cycle. He cannot give sacrificially because his food, shelter, clothing, and health care depend on receiving and the longer he has been out of work the more difficult it will be for him to find a job.

Well-meaning people sometimes assume that assistance programs help the impoverished and sometimes they do. But they can also lead to the same kind of moral and spiritual impoverishment that is more often associated with the lavishly wealthy.

So how might a Christian congregation deal with this problem?

Let’s look first at three fairly typical Christian responses to poverty….

Read it all, and check out this story from Montgomery, Alabama: Alabama nightclub raises eyebrows with ‘Food Stamp Friday’ party.

Klavan: The tyranny of hip (or the bigotry of cool)

A consideration by Andrew Klavan on our culture of “non-judgmentalism”:

Among those fixes, as [sociologist Charles Murray, author of Coming Apart] said in a recent article in the paper of record (the Wall Street Journal):

The best thing that the new upper class can do… is to drop its condescending “non-judgmentalism.” Married, educated people who work hard and conscientiously raise their kids shouldn’t hesitate to voice their disapproval of those who defy these norms. When it comes to marriage and the work ethic, the new upper class must start preaching what it practices.

This is so clearly true that the only real question is: why don’t they? If marriage and religion give smart people joy and improve their living standards, why don’t they spread the word?

I believe one reason is the Tyranny of Hip: the unwillingness of grownups to be thought of as uncool. We seem to have a horror of shedding the mantles of the heroes of romance in order to take on the roles of the crusty but wise chaperones. Even when Red State’s Erick Erickson and cultural blogger Dr. Melissa Clouthier among others courageously grasped the nettle recently and took the girls and boys of CPAC to task for dressing like hookers and acting like johns, they were at pains to explain that they were talking about time and place appropriateness not morals — which still didn’t protect them from the usual hail of superior-sounding irony that followed.

No one wants to be the butt of the cool kids’ jokes like that. No critic who values his relevance wants to point out that Bridesmaids soiling themselves while in wedding regalia is not really funny; or that Katy Perry’s hummable hit tunes peddling alcohol abuse and cheap sex to 12-year-olds are reprehensible; or that Sacha Baron Cohen mocking ordinary people for their non-ironic faith, manners or dedication can be at once hilarious and morally wrong — like laughing at a slapstick accident that leaves someone dead. No one wants to turn into the old man waving his cane from the porch rocking chair shouting at the young folks to stop all their goldarned canoodling and quit parading around with their hoo-has and what-nots hanging out, for the love of Mike.

And yet the nation hungers for just such behavior. Witness the recent YouTube video of a father punishing his spoiled daughter for a snarky Facebook post by plugging her laptop with a .45. The thing went viral to the tune of tens of millions of viewers. Why? Because it was wonderful to see someone finally step up and be Daddy.

Being Daddy, no matter what people say, is not primarily a matter of telling people what not to do, nor is it a matter, in my opinion, of scaring them with the consequences of poor behavior. Family leaders rather model, proclaim and support the way people behave when they treat themselves like people instead of meat puppets: i.e. when they make their flesh serve their dignity, love and joy, which sometimes means delaying and even denying more immediate and strictly physical pleasures.

Read it all.

Marriage: A luxury good

From Monty posting at Ace:

This certainly feels DOOM-y to me: marriage has become a luxury good. Charles Murray‘s book Coming Apart tries to underscore that trend with data and extensive cultural observation. This trend portends a lot of things, few of them good. Single mothers are far more likely than married mothers to be poor and thus dependent on the welfare state, for one. For another, the whole concept of “fatherhood” is disappearing from a huge swathe of American life. Men are becoming marginalized and devalued, yet at the same time are faulted for being reluctant to enter into an institution — marriage — that is so grotesquely weighted against them in terms of risk versus reward. There is cold comfort to be had here, though: no civilization in the history of the world has survived without the nuclear family as the basic building-block. We will revert back to the mean, sooner or later….

Read it all.

Effective compassion: Seven principles from a century ago

From Christians for a Sustainable Economy:

The crisis of the modern welfare state is a crisis of government, and it is more than that. Too many private charities and foundations dispense aid on the basis of what feels good rather than what works. As a result, they end up providing, instead of points of light, alternative shades of darkness….

Private charities and foundations can do a better job than government but only if they follow seven principles that effective poverty fighters of the past understood. Here are the principles, with historical meaning and contemporary applications, in alphabetical order.

1. Affiliation

A century ago, when individuals applied for material assistance, charity volunteers tried first to “restore family ties that have been sundered” and “reabsorb in social life those who for some reason have snapped the threads that bound them to other members of the community.” Instead of immediately offering help, charities asked, “Who is bound to help in this case?” Mary Richmond of the Baltimore Charity Organizing Society summed up in 1897 the wisdom of a century: “Relief given without reference to friends and neighbors is accompanied by moral loss. Poor neighborhoods are doomed to grow poorer whenever the natural ties of neighborliness are weakened by well-meant but unintelligent interference.”

5. Employment

New York charity leader Josephine Lowell wrote that “the problem before those who would be charitable, is not how to deal with a given number of the poor; it is how to help those who are poor, without adding to their numbers and constantly increasing the evils they seek to cure.” If people were paid for not working, the number of nonworkers would increase, and children would grow up without seeing work as a natural and essential part of life. Individuals had to accept responsibility: Governmental programs operating without the discipline of the marketplace were inherently flawed, because their payout comes “from what is regarded as a practically inexhaustible source, and people who once receive it are likely to regard it as a right, as a permanent pension, implying no obligation on their part.”

Today, programs that stress employment, sometimes in creative ways, need new emphasis….

6. Freedom

Charity workers a century ago did not press for governmental programs but instead showed poor people how to move up while resisting enslavement to governmental masters. Job freedom was the opportunity to drive a wagon without paying bribes, to cut hair without having to go to barbers’ college, and to get a foot on the lowest rung of the ladder, even if the wages there were low. Freedom was the opportunity for a family to escape dire poverty by having a father work long hours and a mother sew garments at home. Life was hard, but static, multigenerational poverty of the kind we now have was rare; those who persevered could star in a motion picture of upward mobility.

Today, in our desire to make the bottom rung of the ladder higher, we have cut off the lowest rungs and left many on the ground. Those who are pounding the pavements looking for work, and those who have fallen between the cracks, are hindered by what is supposed to help them. Mother Teresa’s plan to open a homeless shelter in New York was stopped by a building code that required an elevator; nuns in her order said that their code forbade such mechanical helps and that they would carry upstairs anyone who could not walk, but the city stuck to its guns and the shelter never opened….

7. God

“True philanthropy must take into account spiritual as well as physical needs,” poverty fighters a century ago noted, and both Christians and Jews did. Christians worshipped a God who came to earth and showed in life and death the literal meaning of compassion—suffering with. Jewish teaching stressed the pursuit of righteousness through the doing of good deeds. Groups such as the Industrial Christian Alliance noted that they used “religious methods”—reminding the poor that God made them and had high expectations for them—to “restore the fallen and helpless to self-respect and self-support.”

Read it all, check out their site and check out their letter to President Obama.

Blind among enemies

I read once that of all our senses, sight is the strongest and that’s one reason why concern with skin color permeates our various cultures, so discrimination (in the classical sense of making distinctions between and among) is almost inevitable along skin hue lines.

Median wealth ratios, 1984 to 2009 (Pew Research Center)

Perhaps it’s for this reason that the recent headline on the wealth gap used language that emphasized the racial/ethnic component of that gap. From the Pew Research Center, we get the hard data divided along racial/ethnic (visual) lines to support the statement that the wealth gap is at its highest between White Americans and Black/Hispanic Americans, but from the Associated Press news story, we get this:

WASHINGTON (AP) — The wealth gaps between whites and minorities have grown to their widest levels in a quarter-century. . .

The analysis shows the racial and ethnic impact of the economic meltdown, which ravaged housing values and sent unemployment soaring. It offers the most direct government evidence yet of the disparity between predominantly younger minorities whose main asset is their home and older whites who are more likely to have 401(k) retirement accounts or other stock holdings. . .

And what caught my eye in the above paragraph was this sentence:

It offers the most direct government evidence yet of the disparity between predominantly younger minorities whose main asset is their home and older whites who are more likely to have 401(k) retirement accounts or other stock holdings.

So while skin color is the marker that the information gatherers have used to break down their data, it seems from an initial reading that age is really one of the primary culprits (the other ones I’ll get to later) in the wealth disparity.

This makes sense—America’s demographics are changing, with the growth rate of minority groups overtaking that of the majority white population. So the wealth discrepancy is not necessarily because of racial discrimination (as the headlines imply by using race as the distinguishing factor), but because older people have worked for a longer time, hopefully have saved for a longer time, and because of that, have had more resources to invest. They may also have owned their houses for longer and so have not lost as much equity.  Skin color doesn’t enter into those reasons.

Median net worth of households with and without home equity, 2005 and 2009 (Pew Research Center)

What are some of the other main culprits in this newest wealth gap?

For many Hispanics (and Asians), it is the deterioration of the housing market. That market rose the highest and fell the fartherest in those states with the largest Hispanic populations: Nevada, California, Arizona, and Florida. And of course, who was to blame for this rush to buy? While the homebuyers have the greatest responsibility, Congress, and its push to get everyone into their own houses no matter the cost, bears a great part of the blame (thus the growth of subprime mortgages and the mandate to fulfill the “American Dream” even for those not financially ready). Younger people shouldn’t necessarily buy houses since they may need the flexibility to move quickly for job opportunities. And saddling lower income workers with house payments that will take much of their take-home pay should be criminal.

And here’s where another culprit comes into play—and that’s education.

There are large Asian populations in many of those states with the greatest loss of home equity, but there is no significant wealth gap between Whites and Asians–perhaps because Asians have the highest “education attainment” levels of any racial/ethnic group in the U.S.: 50% of Asians 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree or higher, while that percentage is 31% for Whites, 18% for Blacks, and only 12% for Hispanics. From the U.S. Census Bureau:

The 2005 ASEC data reinforce the value of a college education. Among workers 18 and over with a bachelor’s degree, average earnings were $51,600 a year, while those with a high school diploma earned $28,600. Workers with an advanced degree made an average of $78,100, and those without a high school diploma averaged $19,200.

So age, home equity, and educational levels all play into the wealth gap, which is not to say that race/ethnicity isn’t a factor. After all, ethnic cultural norms affect decisions on pursuing educational goals, racial factors may affect employment numbers and the corresponding income variables, and government intervention in the housing market to ensure minorities had access to mortgage funds was certainly a decision that affected buyers along racial/ethnic lines.

But for most of the areas of life that we codify, organize and classify, the idea of “race” as being the primary reason for any and all results noted fails dismally to consider other prominent factors–other factors that may actually help us find the best ways to decrease the wealth gap.