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Opinion

Opinion

Opinion: Sharing the wealth not a radical idea

December 5, 2013

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I like capitalism.

Specifically, I like the idea that if I write a better book, have a better idea, build a better mousetrap, I will be rewarded accordingly. A system where everyone gets the same reward regardless of quality or quantity of work is inconsistent with excellence and innovation, as the mediocrity and inefficiency that beset the Soviet Union readily proves.

The woman who is successful under capitalism gets to eat steak and lobster whenever she wants. That’s never bothered me. What does bother me is the notion that the unsuccessful man who lacks that woman’s talent, resources, opportunities or luck should not get to eat at all. There is something obscene in the notion that a person can work full time for a multinational corporation and earn not enough to keep a roof over his head or food on his table. The so-called safety net by which we supposedly protect the poor ought to be a solid floor, a level of basic sustenance through which we, as moral people, allow no one to fall — particularly if their penury is through no fault of their own.

Maybe you regard that opinion as radical and extremist. Maybe it is. But if so, I am in excellent company.

Martin Luther King, for instance, mused that “there must be a better distribution of wealth and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

The Apostle Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 8:13-15, that it’s wrong for some to live lives of ease while others struggle. “The goal is equality, as it is written: ‘The one who gathered much did not have too much and the one who gathered little did not have too little.’” In Acts 4:32, Luke writes approvingly of the early church that: “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”

Which brings us to the pope — and Rush Limbaugh. As you may have heard, the former has issued his first Apostolic Exhortation, The Joy of the Gospel, in which, among other things, he attacks the free market and what he calls an “economics of exclusion.” This had the latter up in arms last week on his radio show.

Pope Francis writes that poverty must be “radically resolved by rejecting the absolute autonomy of markets and financial speculation and by attacking the structural causes of inequality ...”

“This is astounding ... and it’s sad,” says Limbaugh. “It’s actually unbelievable.”

“How can it be that it is not a news item,” writes the pope, “when an elderly homeless person dies of exposure, but it is news when the stock market loses two points?”

“This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope,” fumes Limbaugh.

Trickle-down economics, writes the pontiff, “expresses a crude and naive trust in the goodness of those wielding economic power …”

Maybe, says Limbaugh, his words were deliberately mistranslated by “the left.” No, seriously, he said that.

But then, some of us are fine with faith so long as it speaks in platitudinous generalities or offers a weapon to clobber gay people with, but scream bloody murder when it imposes specific demands on their personal conscience — or wallet.

It is perfect that all this unfolds in the season of thanksgiving, faith and joy, as people punch, stun gun and shoot one another over HDTVs and iPads and protesters demand what ought to be the bare minimum of any full-time job: wages sufficient to live on.

This is thanksgiving, faith and joy? No. It is fresh, albeit redundant evidence of our greed — and of how wholeheartedly we have bought into the lie that fulfillment is found in the things we own.

Some of us disagree. Some us feel that until the hungry one is fed and the naked one clothed, the best of us is unfulfilled, no matter how many HDTVs and iPads he owns. This is the radical, extremist ideal embraced by the human rights icon, the Gospel writers, the Bishop of Rome — and me.

— Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.

Comments

Keith Richards 4 months, 1 week ago

If minimum wage is raised 40%, where is that 40% wage increase going to come from? Does anyone actually believe small business owners make that much profit to pay those wages? The answer is the majority does not. So small businesses are done for. Do you think McDonalds and Walmart will just eat the 40%? They will not because their stock price would plummet. There huge corps pass the cost on to customers. The money does not come out of thin air folks, it's gotta come from somewhere. It's easy for a non business owner to spout off about living wages but sit down and really think it through. The idea does not work unless society is ready to pay 40% more for their purchases across the board and the increased wage becomes a zero sum increase in pay to unskilled labor and a massive cost increase to the middle class.

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Beator 4 months, 1 week ago

If I have to share my wealth, what's in it for me? What are you sharing?

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Lane Signal 4 months, 1 week ago

We need to change the discussion here. It's not a matter of the wealthy refusing to share, It's the wealthy rigging the system so they can have all of the wealth. The talking points of the far right include the idea of "wealth redistribution" as a villainous and disastrous plan. At the same time, wealth redistribution has been going on at an alarming pace. Since the Eighties, the top few percent (and especially the top one percent) of our nation's wealthy have accumulated a higher and higher percentage of the wealth. The trend continues and is perpetuated by laws that cut taxes for the methods the wealthy use to accumulate wealth. It's time to stop the rich from stealing all the money. It's time to stop the wealth redistribution and turn the wheel back. Tax policy would be a good place to start.

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Keith Richards 4 months, 1 week ago

Poor stay poor because their parents do not give them the proper tools needed to succeed in life.

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4 months, 1 week ago

John Graham: "Can't have it both ways, we need money for programs but then say the programs don't help [or] aren't accessible as you allude to in your first sentence."

But they MUST have it both ways. It is the same reasons they do not count non-cash income as income for purposes of poverty measurement. By their own numbers, anti-poverty programs do nothing to alleviate poverty. This is why there needs to be more anti-poverty programs. That by their own numbers accomplish nothing.

But the big issue you have hit on here is absolutely the most important one when it comes to dealing with long-term, chronic poverty: either the poor have choices or they do not. Either the poor can do something to allay their poverty, or they cannot. The excuse-makers will argue that there is nothing the poor can do to help themselves, then complain that the poor feel helpless. Of course they feel helpless: the poverty industry has been telling them for 50 years that they ARE helpless. In excusing the poor from responsibility, any responsibility, they have hamstrung the poor. Is it any wonder the poor are frustrated, alienated, and angry?

As Charles Hugh Smith recently wrote: "Yes, there are injustices and imbalances of power and wealth that we collectively need to remedy. But the way to do that is to embrace fact, responsibility, choice, consequence and thrift rather than deny those realities in favor of a false dichotomy of victim and non-victim."

So long as we tell the poor there is nothing they can do, they will do nothing. Except die at 50 of congestive heart failure with a bag of chips in one hand and Days of Our Lives blaring on the TV.

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Keith Richards 4 months, 1 week ago

"I like capitalism." You do Leo? Explain how the concept of capitalism works without a class system?

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Grégoire Guillaume 4 months, 1 week ago

Yes, what a ridiculous idea to have democracy in the workplace! That employees should have any say in their wages and working conditions might have been a radical idea at the beginning of the industrial revolution but today?? When CEO salary is at a ratio of 600 to 1 more than employees things are going to change one way or another. Let's have it occur peacefully.

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Grégoire Guillaume 4 months, 1 week ago

First of all what we have in the U.S. is the "golden rule" , "He who has the gold, rules". It's amazing to hear the voices that champion 'corporate welfare'. This a business model perfected by Wal Mart and other corporate entities where the govt has to step in and provide basic services such as food and shelter because the corporation has learned how to game the system. The idea that a full time employee cannot make enough income to provide for themselves or their family is something that no thoughtful individual should accept. We have been so bombarded with "double speak" that now we now make the laborer into an object of our scorn and applaud those whose actions benefit a few rather than the public as a whole. In our so-called recovery the 1% have captured 93% of all income gains during this time. Those who don't want workers to receive a living wage either just want to feel the rush of 'ego satisfaction that they are better and smarter because they have theirs, or are just mean and haven't really considered what the outcome of extreme income inequality is. Maybe a few history lessons are in order!

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Lucas Hachmeister 4 months, 1 week ago

As Americans we often times focus on the exception as opposed to the trend. I have worked with a number of people who have improved their lot in life through hard work and shrewd planning. However it must be noted that I have met many more people in the work place who will never be able to crawl out of poverty because of a plethora of reasons many of which they have little or no control over. To boil such complexities down to, "they simply aren't working hard enough or they blow their money on junk", is to ignore the reality of the situation. A majority of those born poor will die poor even if they take reasonable steps to pull themselves out of poverty. We as Americans love to focus on the 1 success story but we rarely focus on the 999 stories of heartbreak and failure. As always it's the blame the victim game.

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Brett McCabe 4 months, 1 week ago

What is most laughable about most of the comments on this page is the fact that many of you have become mouthpieces for millionaires. How easily you are manipulated into unwittingly defending the most fortunate, so that they don't have to bother.

Addie's point is dead on: most poor people are born poor. And the vast, vast majority of rich people are born rich. It's not hard work, or the lack thereof, that determines many people's economic fate, especially at the extremes of the spectrum. Instead, for the majority of people, the environment that they are raised in largely determines their opportunities.

Interestingly, those people who do lift themselves up by their bootstraps, overcome the obstacles and make positive economic progress are normally the people who give the most back. They don't generally come onto discussion boards and lecture everyone on "the way" to succeed.

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Addie Line 4 months, 1 week ago

It's simple to say that if someone just "works harder" they will be in better circumstances. Works that way for some but not all. It's small minded to assume that someone is poor because they aren't working hard enough.

Please read this article: http://mobile.nytimes.com/2013/11/28/opinion/kristof-where-is-the-love.html

"...one of the strongest determinants of ending up poor is being born poor. As Warren Buffett puts it, our life outcomes often depend on the “ovarian lottery.” Sure, some people transcend their circumstances, but it’s callous for those born on second or third base to denounce the poor for failing to hit home runs.<b>"

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John Graham 4 months, 1 week ago

If Mr Pitts wants to raise the minimum wage that is fine. As companies are forced to pay anywhere from 40% to 100% more in base wages, the public can expect to see a significant increase in cost of products those companies sell. Also if companies are forced to increase their base wages, then the middle class can expect to see a freeze on any wage increase at their level. So an increase of the minimum wage to $10.10 or $15 per hour will hurt the middle class as their income is frozen and cost of living goes up significantly. But hey the lower class will make more money but then again as costs will be up significantly they will not be that much better off anyway. So the net effect will be to raise the lower class a little and to drag the middle class down a little until the two classes meet. Mr. Pitts as a syndicated columnist most likely is at a level that will be above most of these effects.

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John Graham 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Mr Pitts talks the talk. I wonder if he walks the walk. As a syndicated columnist Mr Pitts benefits greatly from capitalism, so how much does he personally do to help those less fortunate. While he admits he personally likes capitalism, he seems to be against it if the entity is a multinational company. You know what one can do if they don't like the pay and benefits of one of those companies he complains about, they can choose to work somewhere else. If those multinational companies struggle to find employees the companies will increase the pay and benefits in order to fill vacancies. Those same companies he complains about also reward hard workers with opportunities to move into management despite the employees often lacking formal management schooling. But it is easier to criticize those companies that often hire people with little to no marketable skills and teach the untrained employees what it is to be a good employee. Many of those employees will use those jobs at the multinational companies he complains of to build their resume for a better job elsewhere.

Those people that work for those companies he complains about can get more training or education that allows them to get a better job. They can work two jobs if need be like many of our parents and grandparents did. That is the beauty of capitalism you get out of it what you put in to it. If you make poor choices such as failing to take school seriously, failing to graduate, failing to get job training in a marketable skill or get a usable college degree then that person may struggle but that is caused by their poor choices. They can still succeed in a capitalistic society by working harder than their neighbor. Most people are where they are in society because of choices they have made as far back as junior high or high school. When they struggle in the adult world it is too common for someone to say it isn't their fault, capitalism is to blame and the wealthy are taking advantage of them. Most of the time people are where they are because they made the choices that got them there. Don't blame capitalism when the blame lies much closer to home.

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Wayne Kerr 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Come on Leonard, the Soviet Union failed because they're largely an agricultural rather than industrial based economy. That mediocrity and inefficiency you speak of could also best describe our government here in the USA. The unchecked accumulation of wealth and power by the top 5 percent of Americans in the last twenty years is unprecedented in modern history and has come at the expense of the working class. The great disparity between the very wealthy and the poor in this country will be our undoing.

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4 months, 2 weeks ago

"What does bother me is the notion that the unsuccessful man who lacks that woman’s talent, resources, opportunities or luck should not get to eat at all."

Old Leonard must not be particularly bothered then, because he'd have to look a long, long way to find someone who holds that particular notion. In a nation that spends a trillion dollars a year* on anti-poverty programs, it's pretty obvious that Americans generally believe that everyone should get to eat.

He also misquotes Limbaugh in his implication that Limbaugh is calling the pope a marxist for saying it's news when the stock market moves but not when someone dies. I read Rush's transcript - he never mentioned the particular line Leonard has him responding to. Leonard is cheating in an attempt to make his opponents look heartless.

What Rush objected to was the Pope's broadside against "unfettered capitalism." Rush said, "This is just pure Marxism coming out of the mouth of the pope. Unfettered capitalism? That doesn't exist anywhere. Unfettered capitalism is a liberal socialist phrase to describe the United States."

Agree with Rush or not, but let's at least have the decency to quote him accurately.

  • references available on request
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Bob Smith 4 months, 2 weeks ago

Bronco's not willing to share his wealth with his two relatives that are living illegally in America.

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Beator 4 months, 2 weeks ago

People will say and do anything to get money. Take the president for example. He is desperately hawking his ACA. He needs the money from the youngsters to support his law.

Obama yesterday: “If you’re a student body president, set up a conference on campus. If you work in a nonprofit, open your doors and use your email list to help people learn the facts. If you got a radio show spread the word on the air. If you are a bartender have a happy hour, and also probably get health insurance because a lot of bartenders don’t have it.”

If President Obama's 5 year capitalism plan for the economy was not failing so horribly, wealth would not need to be "shared". It could be earned.

Also, haven't times changed? The current President is hawking while historical President Kennedy said, "My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country".

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Leslie Swearingen 4 months, 2 weeks ago

This is a denial of reality on the part of everyone mentioned in the column. Let us use as an example why NFL players get paid more than teachers. We need to be aware that a rookie gets paid far less than a star quarterback. The owners of the teams who cut the paychecks get their money from ticket sales, money from those who want to sell food and drink at the stadium. How much does any person or family spend at a sports stadium?

Capitalism is a word for a process that involves billions of people doing billions of things every second of the day and night. I find it tiresome for the Pope to bring out the old same old same old that may make some feel good but does absolutely nothing to change anything for anyone.

Read the New Testament closely and give me a passage where Jesus personally fed or clothed anyone. No, he told others to do that. He and his apostles were housed, clothed and fed by followers. The first churches were in peoples home. Acts is a perfect example of when socialsim doesn't work out.

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