Confronting the root of income inequality



I would like to respond, though belatedly, to your paper's timely editorial on poverty ("Pope Leo's wisdom needed again in time of growing poverty," Sept. 22, 2011). It could have gone farther.

The piece cited various statistics on the spike in poverty, and then pronounced "(Those) living in poverty must not be forgotten." And such moral exhortation cannot be overstated. Yet additional factors are worth noting, too, if this cry is going to be "for keeps."

First, the root causes of income inequality must be confronted. Greed, the abandonment of the American worker and the militarization of U.S. foreign policy have conspired to make upward social mobility very difficult. Simply put, this society has made idols of wealth, domination and militarism - and its countless victims, at home and abroad, have inadequate resources to counter them.

Second and relatedly, the church itself appears divided and unable or unwilling to mount a sustained offensive against these behemoths and minister to their mounting casualties. Must we plumb the archives to find stirring words - as the editorialists did in citing Pope Leo's encyclical of 1891? Where are today's prophetic voices? Perhaps organized religion has simply grown too tepid to face today's grievous challenge of inequality.

Finally, while moral appeal is clearly necessary, it is hardly sufficient. We need to remember the words of stalwart abolitionist, Frederich Douglass: "Power concedes nothing without a demand." The Establishment today, the villain of the Sixties' counterculture, has almost unlimited wealth, media influence and political clout. Only a people's groundswell of unprecedented proportions can start to level the playing field. Will the church help spearhead such a movement - or merely watch others do the work?

R. Jay Allain

North Kingstown