What causes the rich to abuse the poor?

In What’s right/wrong about distributism I posted a critique of Distributism and invited distributists to refute it. None dared.

We had a couple posters who called themselves Distributists but agreed both with what the article author said was right about Distributism and what was wrong with it.

But there were a few other posters who wanted to attack Laissez-faire economics as the presumptive alternative to Distributism.

The purpose of this thread is to delve into that tangential subject.

I think it is fair to say that the Church has generally taken the view that some regulation is necessary to prevent the rich from abusing the poor and that a Laissez-faire economy would fail to prevent such abuse.

I am going to disgree here with the Church on this. But before I do, I’d like to frame that disagreement properly.

Firstly, it’s crucial not to go off on a straw man argument. Laissez-faire does not mean anarchy. There is a distinct school of economics known as anarcho capitalism but it does not represent the mainstream Laissez-faire view. The mainstream Laissez-faire view holds that some regulation is necessary to prevent the violation of property rights, at a minimum and many would go futher.

Secondly, let’s not be confused about goals. Those, like myself, who advocate Laissez-faire economics agree with the Church that the abuse of the poor by the rich is unjust. I have yet to meet anyone who believes that it’s a good idea, or even that it’s ok, for the rich to abuse the poor.

Third, let’s be honest about comparing alternatives. It is totally unrealistic to compare Laissez-faire economics to heaven. We live in a fallen world and we make choices among real alternatives. Thus in evaluating Laissez-faire economics we must compare it to realistic alternatives, not fantasies.

The question is, thus, a very narrow one: does a Laissez-faire encourage or allow the rich to abuse the poor as compared to the alternatives? Does heavy regulation of the economy reduce the abuse of the poor by the rich without compromising other moral priorities?

And, thus framed, we must confront this: Is the Church expert in answering the above questions? Or does that expertise lie elsewhere? I will return to the first questions later and address this first. The answer is that the Church does not posess that expertise. It is not a domain of revealed knowledge or of inspired reasoning. It is, in fact, a prudential subject for the laity to answer through economic and political study.

I will return to rebut CrossofChrist’s points and to address the first questions above but I want to give others a chance to reflect and respond on the framing of the questions.

OK, laymen can understand it but the Church cannot? Give. Me. A. Break. That’s not a rational position - at all.

The rich do not “abuse” the poor. Even before the Industrial Age, we had Kings, the Royal Court, the noblemen and wealthy landowners. Nothing has changed. The peasants are still here. Yes, we have horseless carriages and less illiteracy, but aside from our mechanical and electrical conveniences, what do we have? When the first transatlantic cable was laid, what was said? That our world would profit and be more peaceful since America and Europe could now communicate more directly. Yeah, that worked out.

Just as before, the wealthy have held on to their wealth and never let it go. Look at Henry Ford. He had an idea, it took off and he built a global enterprise. Steve Jobs. Bill Gates. Oh sure, the wealthy have done philanthropic work, misguided as some of it is, to help people (or so they think in the case of Bill and Melinda Gates with contraceptives).

There’s no money in helping the poor. The poor who survive on very little are far more susceptible to disease and early death. We have the technology to change that - today. But life is short - spend that money before you’re old and frail. Buy a yacht the length of a city block or a really big one.

Take your date to an undersea restaurant:



Actually the poor abuse the rich. The rich pay for public improvements and services all out of proportion to their individual benefit.

And pay for the yacht out of their wealth. :shrug:

I am sorry but how can you come to the conclusion that the poor abuse the rich?

Is it not a Christian duty that richer members of society support poorer ones?

In a truly Christian society there would not be poor and rich. What did Christ say about rich people? Something about camels…

And that’s why I’m always telling my friends how lucky we are not to have won the lottery jackpot.

I’m assuming that you are taking issue with my assertion here:

Notice that it’s not a question of whether or not the Church can understand economics, it’s a question of whether it has any unique knowledge of it. My assertion is that it does not in the same sense that it does not have any unique knowledge of physics or medicine. It’s not that the Church cannot understand physics, medicine, or economics. It’s that these are domains of expertise that entail the study of the world.

As it is the laity and not, generally, the clergy, who study these things then we should expect the laity to discover truths in these areas by ordinary means. It may well be the case that the clergy is capable of understanding these subjects infofar as they, too, study them. But the clergy do not commit themselves to studying them. It is not their domain of expertise. (And I should hasten to point out that in prior centuries the clergy were the early scientists in many fields.)

Is that so shocking? Is that really irrational?

Did you read my post? :rolleyes:

Well, looking at your last post, you mention medicine. The Church would not say She has any special medical knowledge, but She does have ethical knowledge which She can apply to medical actions. So we learned to perform abortions–does the Church need to be able to do so before commenting on the morality of abortion?

So, yes, I think that the Church can speak about many topics, altho limited in what She says. In economics, the Church sets different boundaries than does mere practicality.

Well, this is exactly right. The Church’s expertise (to use a secular term) is in the field of ethics (it has other expertise but that’s the relevant one here). The Church might say that abortion is evil but it would not claim any special expertise on what causes an abortion. If the Church were to declare that eating too many peanuts will cause an abortion then we would rightly raise an eyebrow.

Similarly, as I pointed out in my second post, the Church declares, rightly, that the abuse of the poor by the rich is unjust and to be prevented where possible. That is not in dispute. What is in dispute is whether Laissez-faire economics is a cause of, or acure for, such abuse. And that, as I said, is not a question for the clergy but for the laity. And I would add that it is very much in dispute, not a settled matter by any stretch of the immagination.

That doesn’t mean that the clergy, even the pope, cannot express an opinion on the question. It only means that their opinion is not anywhere near ex cathedra or magesterial.

I think my head is about to explode.:eek:

Ever hear those lottery winners complain about the taxes?


ROCKAWAY — A Rockaway woman who won $14.9 million in the New Jersey Lottery’s Pick 6 drawing in 2009 is suing the state to get a $1.58 million income tax refund she says she is owed.

They get taxed quite a bit, indeed.

I wasn’t exactly being facetious. I do like to believe that if my friends, who are always dreaming of being rich, were actually to become rich, they might find it is a bigger headache than they imagined it would be.

On the other hand, everyone seems to want to be rich, “abuse” from the poor notwithstanding.

But very few seem to want to put forth the effort needed - beyond buying a lottery ticket.

Oh, absolutely. What they want is an idealized lifestyle and to hobnob with the celebrities that they see on television. Why, I have no idea.


You cannot draw a circle around a “set” of population and call them “poor” as it is a relative term in every facet of its definition.

Further, if what the “poor” have “sucks” it only does for them if you make them aware of it. Usually by outwardly providing, obtaining or creating more for yourself and/or ‘others.’ If you say I cannot do that because it makes some feel “poor,” well, tough doo-doo.

What Christianity calls for (charity) can only be provided for by surplus best created by Capitalists. You can quote last weeks readings and Matthew all you would like regarding investment in worldly goods, but then you must shut-up about wanting any from those who have produced such.

I live in an area that also is home to a large community of Mennonites, and I really love them as a people. It is humorous to note, however, how they ostracize their fellow members who purchase automobiles, or have phones installed in their homes. Come the need for a ride or a phone, however, and they are the first to go call on their neighbor.

The poor are not poor because of the rich…that is a false premise. The poor in this country are primarily those with illness, drug and alcohol abusers, criminals who have been unsuccessful, the ill educated who are unemployable. There are just as many reasons that people are rich but none of the reasons are because they abuse the poor.:shrug:

Agreed - what is the “profit” in abusing the poor? They have nothing a rich person would want.

OK, I see what you are saying.

How would you define Laissez Faire Economics (LFE)? I mean, I have an idea of what I think, but it is certainly by no means official.

ETA: I guess that your previous explanation, free market anarchy with government restrictions to prevent physical abuses or fraud, is either how you define it, or is insufficient.

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