It’s Time to Reverse Decades of Extreme Redistribution to the Rich

David Leonhardt writes:

The extreme redistribution of income — upward — has multiple causes. Some of them, like technological change, stem mostly from private-sector forces. But government policy plays a crucial role. Tax rates on the wealthy have fallen sharply. Labor unions have been undermined. Big companies have been allowed to grow even bigger and more powerful. The United States has lost its lead as the most educated country in the world.

More often than not over the past 40 years, our government has helped the rich at the expense of everyone else. As a result, economic inequality has reached Gilded Age levels.

In the face of these trends, the radical response is to do nothing — or to make inequality even worse, as President Trump’s policies have. It’s radical because soaring inequality is starting to threaten the basic fabric of American life. Many people have grown frustrated and cynical. Average life expectancy, amazingly, has fallen over the past few years….

On social issues, like abortion and immigration, the country is deeply divided. But clear majorities support higher taxes on the wealthy, higher taxes on corporations, more education funding and expanded government health insurance. No wonder: Americans don’t resent success, but they do resent not receiving their fair share of economic growth….

The coming primary campaign will be a good time for the candidates to hash out which specific ideas make sense and which don’t. So far, the agenda looks pretty good. Elizabeth Warren has a plan to increase workers’ power within companies — and help them get larger pre-tax raises. Cory Booker and Kamala Harris want to lift the after-tax pay of the middle class and poor. Kirsten Gillibrand and others support reducing major living costs, like child care and education.

Perhaps most important, some Democrats have begun pushing for a wealth tax — to reverse the upward redistribution of the past 40 years. Warren has proposed an annual 2 or 3 percent tax on large fortunes. Bernie Sanders has proposed a big increase in the inheritance tax.

Cardinal Dolan: Raise the Wage!

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York is calling for a living wage, saying the minimum wage is too low:

New Yorkers are now thoughtfully considering a proposal from Gov. Cuomo to raise the minimum wage. When I contemplate issues like this, my thoughts often turn to my visits to St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome. One place I make it a point to visit is the tomb of Pope Leo XIII, who taught back in 1891 that every worker deserves a “living wage,” which he defined as one which allows the worker to care for his or her family in “reasonable and frugal comfort,” tending to their home, education and health.

Then I’ll stop in front of the tomb of Pope St. John Paul II, who wrote in 1991 that work was not an end in itself, but a means to an end, the end being the dignity of the worker, the sacredness of life and the ability of the laborer to provide the basics for a spouse and children.

I always go to the side altar of St. Joseph, the foster father of Jesus, himself a carpenter, who raised Jesus in a workshop with a sense of the dignity of labor. And, of course, the high altar, over the tomb of St. Peter, where Pope Francis celebrates Mass. As we saw so clearly during his visit to New York last September, the Pope has become the planet’s most eloquent advocate for the rights of the struggling and poor….

We can all agree that a minimum wage is valuable protection for laborers, and that the current level is too low. We can also find common ground in recalling that our workers not only deserve a living wage, but also benefits to help with health insurance, pensions, sick leave and vacation.

What is the Whole Life Movement?

At its core, the whole life movement is dedicated to protecting the life and dignity of all people. It is rooted in a belief in the innate dignity and worth of every single human being. Each human being is a person with innate and equal value, and human life is sacred. From these premises comes the belief that it is never permissible to intentionally and directly take an innocent life. But the wanton disregard for life present in unjust social structures and the dehumanization of others in ways short of direct killing are also incompatible with the whole life commitment to human life and dignity. Indirect threats to life, such as the absence of access to healthcare or food, are also fundamentally incompatible with the vision of government and society the whole life movement aims to achieve: the common good. Protecting the life of all people is intimately connected to creating conditions that reflect the dignity of every single person, conditions that allow each person to reach their full potential.

The whole life movement is not a rival of the pro-life movement. Instead, it seeks to purify the pro-life movement of its inconsistencies. A pro-life movement that ignores infant mortality rates, starvation, or the degradation of the environment simply does not deserve the label ‘pro-life.’ It becomes a mere euphemism for supporting laws that restrict access to abortion. It becomes detached from the understanding of human dignity and worth that should animate the movement. Only a whole life approach can make the pro-life movement authentically pro-life. Read More

Pope Francis Calls For Equal Pay For Equal Work

via Crux:

Pope Francis on Wednesday backed equal pay for equal work for women, calling it a “Christian duty” to fight to make sure that women receive equivalent compensation for doing the same jobs as men.

The pontiff also called it “chauvinistic” to fault the women’s rights movement for a decrease in marriages in recent decades, calling that accusation a thinly disguised way to “control the woman.”

The pontiff said that “the Christian seed” of equality between men and women must generate new fruit, through a more persuasive witness to the social dignity of marriage.

“As Christians, we must become more demanding in this regard,” Francis said, citing support for the right to equal pay for equal work as an example.

Bringing Chips to the Potluck: Taxation and Inequality in the American System

Everybody knows that guy…the guy that brings a bag of chips to the potluck. Don’t be that guy.

Why? Because everyone else at the potluck made their grandma’s famous German potato salad, called their uncle for his classic barbeque dry rub, or at least thoughtfully picked out the nicest-looking watermelon from the local grocery store. But not that guy. He brought nothing but a measly, rumpled bag of potato chips that he already had at home in his lavishly stocked pantry. It is not right, and it is not fair to everyone else who did their part to make the potluck a success. And if you have too many guys bringing chips, the potluck is not a success and the party is ruined.

Sadly this type of behavior is not only present in our social lives, but ingrained in the American tax system. As it stands today, many American taxpayers are paying a disproportionately large amount of the income they need to live a life that is fully compatible with human dignity—making sacrifices that have a real impact on their well-being—while an elite few are paying just a fraction of their excess. Economic inequality is growing, and it is threatening to shred the national fabric of our country.

Let’s look at the larger problem here. Here are some shock-value statistics that are, sadly, not that shocking anymore:

  • 1% of Americans have 40% of the nation’s wealth
  • In 1976, the richest 1% took home 9% of the nation’s income. In 2012, they took home 24%.
  • CEO’s make 380 times their average worker’s pay.
  • America has more inequality than any other nation with an advanced economy.

The chasm of income and wealth inequality in the United States is vast and ever-growing, and it might swallow us all if we aren’t careful. Top American corporations in the financial services sector are admitting that inequality is a threat to the U.S. economy. Standard and Poor says, “The current level of income inequality in the U.S. is dampening GDP growth, at a time when the world’s biggest economy is struggling to recover from the Great Recession and the government is in need of funds to support an aging population.”

What does this economic inequality mean for real people? It means some people are choosing between food and their diabetes medicine, while others are choosing between Venice and Prague.

People are increasingly realizing what a problem this inequality is. What some people don’t think about, however, is the role that taxes play in this mess.

Our dysfunctional tax system plays a critical role in perpetuating and increasing the wealth gap. This problem began decades ago and is in no small part due to the fact that taxation has become less progressive. The Bush tax cuts delivered massive savings for the richest Americans. But this shift can also be seen in the growing reliance on regressive and flat taxes. Whereas progressive taxes calculate the amount that people pay based on their ability to pay, regressive taxes take a larger portion of income from low-income families than high-income families. For example, regressive payroll taxes, which cost people with lower incomes much more proportionately than the wealthy, are projected to rise to about one-third of federal revenue in 2015.

Furthermore, the wealthiest 400 people in the United States have two-thirds of their wealth in the form of capital gains and dividends. The top 1% owns half of the country’s stocks, bonds, and mutual funds. However, these forms of income are taxed at 15%, a significantly lower rate than income-from-work, which is taxed at up to 35%.

Our tax system must be designed to serve the common good. But right now, it does not. How can it? The National Conference of Catholic Bishops drafted a document called Economic Justice for All, which outlines three principles toward creating a just tax system:

  • First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor.
  • Second, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation.
  • Third, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.

Whether we like it or not, taxes are a matter of justice. As contentious and annoying as they might seem, taxes are necessary for the common good. This means that we shouldn’t think about taxes and say, “I worked hard for this money. It’s mine. Don’t take it from me.” Rather, we should contribute to the good of society based on how much we have to give and based on the needs of the community. And we should support tax policies that reflect this. Yes, you have probably worked really hard. And yes, you have earned that money. But we are called to share the gifts we have been given with those who do not have enough. That is the model of the early Christian communities, and the generosity, the caritas to which we are called today. This must shape our understanding of justice and push us to support a just system of taxation that serves all.

In other words, we shouldn’t be thinking about how we can bring the cheapest thing to the potluck and still eat like a king, particularly if we are living large at home, while others who took the time to make a quality contribution are struggling to make ends meet.

Gaudium et Spes, one of the four apostolic constitutions from Vatican II, said that “It is imperative that no one, out of indifference to the course of events or because of inertia, would indulge in a merely individualistic morality. The best way to fulfill one’s obligations of justice and love is to contribute to the common good according to one’s means and the needs of others, and also to promote and help public and private organizations devoted to bettering the conditions of life.”

Ladies and gentlemen, this means that we should be proud to pay our taxes! We should be proud that we are making a just contribution to the common good. We should be proud to share our favorite recipe at the potluck! We should be proud that we have done our part to make the potluck a success. We should be willing to do our part, and we should have tax-payer pride! (#taxpayerpride)

Last year, Pope Francis said, “Poverty in the world is a scandal. In a world where there is so much wealth, so many resources to feed everyone, it is unfathomable that there are so many hungry children, that there are so many children without an education, so many poor persons. Poverty today is a cry.”

Poverty is a cry, Pope Francis says. It is a cry for a more just tax system, a system that asks us each to bring our best to the potluck, not just that crummy bag of chips.

Allison Walter is the policy education associate for NETWORK, a national Catholic social justice lobby.