Should the Rich Be Condemned?


Thomas Edison invented the incandescent bulb, the phonograph, the DC motor and other items in everyday use and became wealthy by doing so. Thomas Watson founded IBM and became rich through his company’s contribution to the computation revolution. Lloyd Conover, while in the employ of Pfizer, created the antibiotic tetracycline. Though Edison, Watson, Conover and Pfizer became wealthy, whatever wealth they received pales in comparison with the extraordinary benefits received by ordinary people. Billions of people benefited from safe and efficient lighting. Billions more were the ultimate beneficiaries of the computer, and untold billions benefited from healthier lives gained from access to tetracycline.

President Barack Obama, in stoking up class warfare, said, “I do think at a certain point you’ve made enough money.” This is lunacy. Andrew Carnegie’s steel empire produced the raw materials that built the physical infrastructure of the United States. Bill Gates co-founded Microsoft and produced software products that aided the computer revolution. But Carnegie had amassed quite a fortune long before he built Carnegie Steel Co., and Gates had quite a fortune by 1990. Had they the mind of our president, we would have lost much of their contributions, because they had already “made enough money.”

Class warfare thrives on ignorance about the sources of income. Listening to some of the talk about income differences, one would think that there’s a pile of money meant to be shared equally among Americans. Rich people got to the pile first and greedily took an unfair share. Justice requires that they “give back.” Or, some people talk about unequal income distribution as if there were a dealer of dollars. The reason some people have millions or billions of dollars while others have very few is the dollar dealer is a racist, sexist, a multinationalist or just plain mean. Economic justice requires a re-dealing of the dollars, income redistribution or spreading the wealth, where the ill-gotten gains of the few are returned to their rightful owners.

In a free society, for the most part, people with high incomes have demonstrated extraordinary ability to produce valuable services for — and therefore please — their fellow man. People voluntarily took money out of their pockets to purchase the products of Gates, Pfizer or IBM. High incomes reflect the democracy of the marketplace. The reason Gates is very wealthy is millions upon millions of people voluntarily reached into their pockets and handed over $300 or $400 for a Microsoft product. Those who think he has too much money are really registering disagreement with decisions made by millions of their fellow men.

In a free society, in a significant way income inequality reflects differences in productive capacity, namely one’s ability to please his fellow man. For example, I can play basketball and so can LeBron James, but would the Miami Heat pay me anything close to the $43 million they pay him? If not, why not? I think it has to do with the discriminating tastes of basketball fans who pay $100 or more to watch the game. If the Miami Heat hired me, they would have to pay fans to watch.

Stubborn ignorance sees capitalism as benefiting only the rich, but the evidence refutes that. The rich have always been able to afford entertainment; it was the development and marketing of radio and television that made entertainment accessible to the common man. The rich have never had the drudgery of washing and ironing clothing, beating out carpets or waxing floors. The mass production of washing machines, wash-and-wear clothing, vacuum cleaners and no-wax floors spared the common man this drudgery. At one time, only the rich could afford automobiles, telephones and computers. Now all but a small percentage of Americans enjoy these goods.

The prospects are dim for a society that makes mascots out of the unproductive and condemns the productive.




Walter E. Williams


Born in Philadelphia in 1936, Walter E. Williams holds a bachelor's degree in economics from California State University (1965) and a Master's degree (1967) and doctorate (1972) in economics from the University of California at Los Angeles. In 1980, he joined the faculty of George Mason University in Fairfax, Va., and is currently the John M. Olin Distinguished Professor of Economics. More than 150 of his publications have appeared in scholarly journals such as Economic Inquiry, American Economic Review and Social Science Quarterly and popular publications such as Reader's Digest, The Wall Street Journal and Newsweek. He has made many TV and radio appearances on such programs as Milton Friedman's Free to Choose, William F. Buckley's Firing Line, Face The Nation, Nightline and Crossfire, and is an occasional substitute host for The Rush Limbaugh Show. He is also the author of several books. Among these are The State Against Blacks, later made into a television documentary, America: A Minority Viewpoint, All It Takes Is Guts, South Africa's War Against Capitalism, More Liberty Means Less Government, Liberty Versus The Tyranny of Socialism, and recently his autobiography, Up From The Projects.

  • IrishEddieOHara

    I am beyond stunned that a “Catholic” magazine continues to exhibit the work of those who are A.) not Catholic B.) obvious numb to Catholic Social teaching.

    Mr. Williams can spout off his Capitalist nonsense until the sun turns blue. As for me and my house, we will listen to the ONLY source of Truth God left on this planet — the Holy Mother Church. Let us allow some of her fathers and saints to have the final word here:

    St. Ambose (De Nabuthe, c.12, n.53, cited in Populorum Progressio of Paul VI): “You are not making a gift of your possessions to poor persons. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”

    St. John Chrysostom (Hom. in Lazaro 2,5, cited in CCC 2446): “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

    St. Gregory the Great (Regula Pastoralis 3,21, cited in CCC 2446): “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

    The Decretals (Dist. XLVII, cited in ST II-II, q.66, a.3, obj 2): “It is no less a crime to take from him that has, than to refuse to succor the needy when you can and are well off.”

    St. Ambrose (cited in ST II-II, q.66, a.6): “It is the hungry man’s bread that you withhold, the naked man’s cloak that you store away, the money that you bury in the earth is the price of the poor man’s ransom and freedom.”

    From the Catena Aurea
    St. Gregory the Great: “For if everyone receiving what is sufficient for his own necessity would leave what remains to the needy, there would be no rich or poor.”

    St. Basil: “Are not thou then a robber, for counting as thine own what thou hast receivest to distribute? It is the bread of the famished which thou receivest, the garment of the naked which thou hoardest in thy chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in thy possessions, the money of the pennyless which thou hast buried in the earth. Wherefore then dost thou injure so many to whom thou mightiest be a benefactor.”

    St. Bede: “He then who wishes to be rich toward God, will not lay up treasures for himself, but distribute his possessions to the poor.”

    From the Magisterium
    First, note that St. Gregory the Great spoke with the authority of the ordinary Magisterium, so his quotations above should be reviewed. Also, consider that the first quotation from St. Ambrose was taken from an encyclical letter by Paul VI.

    Leo XII (encyclical letter Rerum Novarum, 1891): Every person has by nature the right to possess property as his or her own […] But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used?, the Church replies without hesitation in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas:

    ‘One should not consider one’s material possessions as one’s own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when other are in need.’ […] True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for one’s own needs and those of one’s household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly one’s condition in life. […] But when what necessity demands has been supplied and one’s standing fairly provided for, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over.”

    WHY?????? do you continue to publish such anti – Catholic horsemanure in your magazine?

  • Cord Hamrick

    Some questions for you, IrishEddieOHara:

    Are you indeed convinced that rich persons in the United States do not give large sums to the poor?

    I ask, because I’m under the impression that they do, or at least that some of them do.

    Let’s take a person who makes $100,000 a year and, at age 50, has retirement savings totaling $200,000 already accumulated in the form of various saleable assets.

    This person is surely obligated to tithe (10%) on his pre-tax income, at minimum; but I suspect he should give more than a mere tithe, given by how much his income exceeds that of the average person his age. Of he to whom much is given, much is expected.

    Now what if we multiply the numbers by 10? (Million-dollar income, 2 million in assets). What’s the right number, there? 20% of income? Is it also necessary to start chipping away at the assets as well? What do you think’s morally obligatory, Eddie? 2% of one’s total assets each year. for a person that rich, until they cease being quite so rich?

    Multiply by 10, again: $10,000,000 in income — theoretically, of course, because almost no-one makes that kind of money in actual earned income, but rather in capital gains which aren’t, of course, realized until the sale of the assets. What’s their moral obligation? I’d guess 30% of income and 3% of assets every year, just for easy math. Do you think it should be more?

    Barack Obama once gave $23,000 (I think it was) to his church (well…”ecclesial organization”) in a single year! But then, with a million-dollar household income, that’s rather less than tithe. Rather less. In fact, what a stingy faithless half-hearted secular-minded Easter-and-Christmas Catholic he’d make, giving so little!

    Bill and Melinda Gates, so far as I know, are not Christian, but seem to have absorbed a good deal of the Christian almsgiving virtues, which they exercise through various foundations and third-world aid programs. But I’m not sure how their annual giving ranks as a proportion of their income. It might be 50%, or it might be as little as 10%. We’d have to know a lot more about their finances than we do, to answer that question.

    With political candidates we sometimes find out, because they often make their IRS filings public. There, leftists are generally stingy, giving 1-2% of their pre-tax income, and right-wing politicians generally do better, as is the case with the voters they each represent. Dick Cheney (!) once gave 50% (!!) of his pre-tax income in a year, though that was perhaps an unusual year.

    I asked the question, Eddie, whether you were under the impression that the rich don’t give.

    Well, they do.

    So then the question is, “Do they give enough?” But I’m not sure how we could know, either what is “enough,” or who is giving “enough.”

    At each level of “richness,” how much is enough? (I presume it’s a higher percentage of income and assets at higher levels of income and assets. But how does it grow? Is there an upper limit? Does it reach 100% for the wealthiest, so that they must annually make themselves the poorest of us?)

    Anyway, whatever is “enough,” I suspect we’ll find that some of them give more than enough, and some far less.

    Now here’s the final question:

    Why do you regard Walter Williams’ view “anti-Catholic?”

    He does not say the rich should not give. I am sure he approves highly of them giving, but that is off the topic of his piece.

    His piece is arguing that it is not immoral for them to acquire the wealth (out of which they will give) in the first place.

    Unless, of course, they acquired the wealth through unscrupulous business practices or drug dealing or by cosying up to the Goldman-Sachs Adminis…sorry, I meant, the Obama Administration, for a handout on the taxpayer dime. (Hello, Solyndra!)

    But assuming the wealth was not ill-gotten, then there is nothing evil about having it unless you still have more of it at the end-of-the-year than you ought, for lack of having given it away.

    Williams, so far as I can see, says nothing which contradicts that.

    Anyway, I agree with the Bible: Job was not an evil man, for having become (in spite of his generosity) wealthy. He was a righteous man. Part of that righteousness was that he was very generous to the poor…but it didn’t stop him and his whole clan from looking pretty conspicuously well-to-do, to any outside observer.

  • John Zmirak

    Are we expected to take it on AUTHORITY that it would be a good thing if the rich gave all their money away, for instance in baskets at airports? Pardon me if I don’t rely entirely on the advice of monks vowed to poverty on how to prudently manage and steward my resources. For one thing, they had no children to provide for.

    Ever heard of something called “investment”? Or “capital”? Are factories built by the accumulated savings of prudent people the “common property” deeded to Adam? Leo XIII laid heavy emphasis in Rerum Novarum on the sanctity of private property–was that because he considered it essential to protect the wealth accumulated by (in the words of your sources) those who STOLE from the poor, by not redistributing all their wealth?

    Your envy and resentment are seeping out of your prose, and you probably should stick to periodicals that cater to your vices.

    • Cord Hamrick


      Respectfully, please be careful about your argument there, re: the monks. That’s the same kind of reasoning that folks who oppose the Church’s teaching about artificial contraception use. You know: “What would a celibate know about marriage?” I figure sometimes truth comes from the person least emotionally connected to the issue. (And sometimes not. But truth is truth where-ever it’s found.)

      Better to stick to the principles, I think, than to get distracted by the personalities involved.

      And it’s fair for someone who criticizes others’ failure to give (I presume that’s what Eddie is doing) to state…

      (a.) how they happen to know what others are giving, if those others’ tax-returns are not public; and,

      (b.) what exactly they regard to be a morally licit minimum amount to give, for a particular level of income.

      …which is why I’m asking Eddie all these detailed questions. I hope he’ll be willing to lay down some principles and defend them.

      • John Zmirak

        Dear Cord,
        Thanks for your willingness to take this on. I do think that the married critics of moral theology exclusively crafted by celibates had a point–though not a decisive one–which Pope Paul seemed to recognize when he turned repeatedly to married theologians in his considerations. Of course, his decision had to rest on the principles of natural law, which don’t alter with one’s situation.

        A key point about your criteria: How do you factor in the huge percentage of income taken at gunpoint by taxes, much of it to provide the very services traditionally covered by alms? I don’t think it’s fair to simply ignore it, then apply your standards to the remainder. While I oppose the State’s intrusion into all this, I think that the sheer level of taxation even modestly prosperous people suffer (around 40%) covers most of their obligation to the poor per se. What it doesn’t cover is their obligation to support those causes not aided (or even harmed) by the state, such as the Church, pro-life ministries, religious schools, etc.

        So I would respectfully submit that every penny anyone gives beyond taxes should be directed through Catholic organizations carefully vetted for orthodoxy–not groups like the Campaign for Human Development, of course. Better to burn your money than give it to them. Instead, look at the truly needy:
        * the thousands of Catholic schools in poor neighborhoods in danger of closing, because the parents pay twice (once in taxes, once in tuition) and increasingly can’t afford religious education. Nor can the schools afford to pay living wages.
        * the beautiful, irreplaceable old churches of the inner cities, which are being closed for lack of support.
        * the immigrants who are being catechized not by the Church, but by the public schools.
        * the pro-life pregnancy centers.
        * pro-family organizations fighting in defense of justice and the natural law.

        To be fair to the monks whose quotes appeared so free of context, let’s restore that context: a society with no social safety net, public or private, where almsgiving was the only source of support for the needy. If we diminished our own monster state, AND private charities did not step up to meet the needs of the genuinely helpless (not simply the idle or envious), then and only then would these statements become relevant to us.

        And it would still be fair to point out that the role of saving, investment, and capital remain unaddressed by such monastic appeals. I think it would be an unmitigated evil if the wealthy simply redistributed their income, rather than accumulating investment capital. The Church never called for a classless society without private property. That was the agenda of another religion–the one that killed some 60-80 million people in the 20th century. Capitalism is no religion at all, simply an honest attempt to account for how man really acts in a fallen world, and harness his labor most fruitfully.

        • Cord Hamrick


          Re: Married moral theologians: Fair enough.

          Re: Taxes: Well, as much as possible, I do not consider what a huge proportion of a person’s substance is appropriated in excessive taxation. I calculate tithe pre-tax, not after-tax, at least with respect to income taxes.

          This is, of course, tough on us Christians! But let me explain how I reason out my insistence on doing so:

          First there is the symbolism: Who gets first cut, God or Caesar? I believe that to offer the first cut to Caesar inculcates in us (maybe not in every individual, but culturally) a mistaken notion of where our blessings derive.

          Second, there is the derivative nature of government (and its taxes) in comparison with the foundational nature of the individual and the family (and their tithes and offerings and alms). In a lawless land without government, there would still be people and families and, where possible, communities. Tithe would still be possible where taxes had no place. So tithe comes before taxes in the same way that marriage and family come before government. While marriage and family can be recognized by government (and accorded privileged status; e.g. child tax credits), they cannot be justly altered or abolished by government (because they predate and stand outside its authority). Likewise, while tithes and alms can be recognized by government (and accorded privileged status; e.g. deductibility), they cannot be justly altered or abolished by government (because they predate and stand outside its authority).

          Third (but related to the first two), there is the practical impact of calculating tithes and alms post-tax instead of pre-tax:

          Let’s say I make $100,000 this year. (I wish! But it’s a nice round number.) And let’s say that government takes 40% and I feel obligated to give 25% in charitable giving and tithes.

          If that’s pre-tax, then of course I’m losing 65% of my income (although I may not think of it as “losing” inasmuch as most of the tithes and alms will be well-spent, and about half of the taxes will be). I am living off $35,000.

          If that’s post-tax, then I’m losing 40% (down to $60,000) and then 25% of what remains (down to $45,000).

          Do you see what happened? Because government got first cut, the poor and the Church lost $10,000.

          We know, because of economic studies of the effects of welfare state programs over time, that the welfare state never adds to existing almsgiving by the populace, but rather displaces it. Society-wide, people say, “I gave at tax-time” in much the same way as a man might turn away a charity solicitation by saying, “I gave at the office.”

          So what happens if we calculate our tithes post-tax? As government increases its scope, the funding of the Church and all Her ministries to the poor drops. They become-mutually exclusive.

          The poor, naturally, are no better off. The would only be better-off if:

          (a.) Federally administered assistance was more efficient and well-targeted than locally-administered assistance (but it isn’t);

          (b.) People didn’t reduce their tithing and almsgiving when their taxes went up (but they do…unless they cling to a bloody-minded stubborn insistence on calculating tithes pre-tax).

          As tax revenues and welfare state programs increase, and as Church contributions dry up, the poor do perceive a difference in where their help comes from. From God? No. From the state.

          Now there are principally three things which, over time, keep the Church central and important in a society:

          1. It is where we receive the good of our souls and experience the transcendent;

          2. It is where we experience the arts and culture and learning;

          3. It is where we experience physical assistance (money, food, shelter, clothing) in times of physical need.

          But psychology and sexuality have displaced the Church in soul-tending and transcendence: We go to shrinks to have our sins forgiven (or more often, written off as unsinful or not our responsibility) and to sexual partners or pornography to experience orgasm, that human experience which comes close enough to transcendence as to provide a reasonable counterfeit.

          Hollywood and Popular Music and the Universities have displaced the Church in arts and culture and learning: Instead of our categories and our expectations being guided by a tribal oral tradition delivered around a campfire in the presence of our parents (and thus guided by their influence) or delivered in sermons and hymns and passion plays (and thus guided by the Church), we have a “tribal oral tradition” and culture delivered via television, cinema, audio recording, and the Internet (guided by no morally-fit hand at all). And I don’t have to tell you how even putatively Catholic and Christian colleges are these days largely academies for inculcating sexual immorality, tearing down faith, breeding grievance, and preventing a person from acquiring critical-thinking skills.

          And the government has displaced the Church in delivering good to the needy. Welfare programs and handouts cause those in need to see government — a distant Federal machine having nothing much to do with their neighbors — as the the safety-net on which they may fall back in times of crisis. Meanwhile the Church and the generosity of local Christians are seen as irrelevant to society: They’re not obligated to give you money and food like the government is, and chances are, they don’t have much to give because higher taxes reduced the inflow to their charitable ministries.

          This one-two-three knockout blow is, I suspect, what the Devil had in mind when Pope St. Leo XIII overheard him boasting of the ability to destroy the Church in a hundred years. He made the Church irrelevant in our society by displacing it from every role by which it could frequently touch the life of the Average Joe.

          So what’s a Christian to do about this?

          1. Talk up the benefits of sacramental confession and sexual purity in marriage, so that these notions are not lost in the mists of time;

          2. Direct their artistic output through Church ministry whenever possible and have a culturally-Christian family life (Advent wreath at home, that kind of thing);

          3. Tithe and give alms pre-tax, so that their contributions, at least, are not displaced by government encroachment. Let Caesar do what he will: We will more than match Him in alms for the poor, even if we become nearly poor ourselves in the process. If it’s a kind of white martyrdom, so be it. (Oh, and while we’re at it: Fight at every juncture for a government which does not invade the Church’s “welfare space” with its own secular alternatives.)

          • John Zmirak

            Cord, it’s admirable of you to take on a “white martyrdom,” and I applaud your generosity. My point is you’re doing far more than justice requires. Remember Leo XIII’s quote from St. Thomas, “True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for one’s own needs and those of one’s household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly one’s condition in life. […] But when what necessity demands has been supplied and one’s standing fairly provided for, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over.”

            What do we mean by “becomingly” “keep[ing] up one’s condition in life,’ or “fairly providing” for “one’s standing”?

            Surely that means that no one needs to give so much that he drops down a social class, offers his own children FEWER educational opportunities or WORSE health care than he received himself.

            Our first and absolute duty is to our families–which includes saving for rainy days, education, medical emergencies, and investing for our own retirements… all of which so that we do not become a BURDEN on others (and thus boost the power of the secular State). Once all these things have been reasonably provided for, almsgiving is obligatory. If one does NOT take care of these things, I think he actually being negligent in his duties to his own dependents.

            Think of Mrs. Jellyby, depriving her children of milk so she can send milk money to the missions…..

          • Cord Hamrick

            Well, naturally one doesn’t give so much as to become a burden on others. That defeats the whole purpose. But I don’t think anything I’ve described has that effect. Conservatives as a rule in the U.S. give 6-7% of their pre-tax income; I’m advocating about that for a family of 3 with median income, a round 10% for a family of 3 with an upper middle-class income. The numbers only really escalate when the income percentile does.

            (Which means that if my income percentile ever jumps, I’ll be held to my standard, of course! But then, the increase in % giving is never enough to entirely offset the increase in income, so if the Lord sees fit to bless in that fashion, I suppose the needy and I will both have some benefit from it!)

            And I should point out that it’s simply false to cast me as a white martyr! I have a roof over my head; my children are well fed and clothed and healthy. I was saying that if government presses us with such cruel taxes that our attempt to continue funding the Church and Her ministries as we ought leaves us without Nintendo and 500 channels and a new car, then that’s a (pretty mild) form of white martyrdom, and well worth it to fight the trend of the Church becoming a nonentity in the lives of the needy.

            And of course none of this is in the Catechism. It is only my attempt to translate the principles listed in the Catechism into practical results.

            Moreover, none of this involves any kind of force. I am not saying that X percent of income should be taken from a person with a given family size and a given income percentile.

            I am merely saying that I think X percent of income given voluntarily would make them immune from the concern that they were not doing their bit to assist the Church and those in need. And I think it also beneficial that if every Catholic acted in this fashion, our Church buildings could be better maintained and various ministries operated on more than a shoestring.

            That there is an “X” which represents for a particular family the correct practical application of the principles in the Catechism is, I think, beyond doubt. But whether my dodgy formula correctly expresses it is obviously up to debate! (Substitute your own, if you like.)

            I confess that I’m not entirely sure what one’s “condition in life” is. That sounds like a term in search of a usable, actionable definition.

            I’m sure St. Thomas knew what he meant by it…but then in his age there was something like a class system determined by birth, and people changing jobs every three years was unheard of…not to mention families shooting from lower-to-upper-class in two generations!

          • Cord Hamrick

            Oh, and by the way…who is “Mrs. Jellyby?” Not a reference with which I’m familiar. Sounds like Dickens?

            Of course what you describe of Mrs. Jellyby is entirely wrongheaded on her part…but I don’t think my proposed formula would produce such an outcome. If it does, I should modify it.

            • John Zmirak

              Thanks for all the hard thinking you’ve put into this, Cord. Mrs. Jellyby (as I should have explained) is from Dickens’s “Bleak House.”

              So long as people are saving for their futures and funding their own children’s health and educations, I’m not worried they’ll be too generous with strangers. But I want to shoot down the idea that one should (for example) not pay for music lessons or an elite college for one’s talented children in order to send the money to Somalia. I think that would be wrong.

              Happy Thanksgiving!

  • Cord Hamrick


    I asked you a slew of questions there about how much people should give to the Church and to charity. That may be a bit unfair to you, inasmuch as I failed to give my own answers to those questions.

    So I suppose I’ll do that, briefly: I think that C.S.Lewis was right when he said “I am afraid the only safe answer is: More than we feel confident we can easily afford.”

    I try to give a bit extra in a fashion which is proportional to how God blesses me in the finances department. My goal is something like this: “A person with an income ought to tithe on it, and beyond that, he ought to give in proportion to how much his income is above the median income.”

    Following that principle, let’s come up with a hypothetical formula:

    Take your your income percentile. (0% to 100%, with 0% meaning you’re the lowest income person around, 100% meaning you’re the highest, and 50% meaning you’re the median.)

    Subtract 50%, and discard any negatives (so we’re only hitting up those with above median incomes).

    Divide the number by 5.

    Square the result.

    Divide that result by 3.

    Add 10% (for a “floor” of 1/10th).

    Subtract 1% for each member of your family you’re feeding on this income (2% for a dependent with a bad medical condition or some similar extreme circumstance).

    The number you’re left with is how much you ought to be giving from your pre-tax income, given the size of your income.

    Let’s see how that works out:

    Example A: Single-income family of 5, making $50,000: He’s pretty close to median, so his income percentile makes no nevermind. His is a 5-member family, so he gives 10%-5% or 5%.

    Example B: Single-income family of 5, making $200,000: He’s 95th percentile, so he takes 95%-50% (45%), divides the result by 5 (9%), squares that result (81%), divides that by three (27%), adds that to 10% (37%), and subtracts 5% for his family size (32% of his income is what he gives annually).

    Example C: Dual-income family of 3, making $80,000, or around 65th percentile. Take the percentile, subtract 50% (leaving 15%), divide by 5 (3%), square it (9%), divide that by 3 (3%), add to 10% (13%), and subtract 3 for the family size (10%). These folks need merely tithe.

    There, that’s my proposal. What do you think? Is it enough? Do you think, if a wealthy person followed those guidelines, he would be innocent of the crime of withholding from the poor, under the Church’s teaching?

  • RCIAer

    I’d first like to say, Dr Zmirak, that I’ve been reading your articles for years now, and certainly wouldn’t be at the doors of the Church if not for you. Generous outpourings of thanks via combox seem rather tacky, but, well, thanks.
    I came across your writings because of a long held (though waning) interest in Austro-libertarian ideas, something I’m sure you understand, but my new Catholic friends sure find strange. Anyway, in this new-found attempt to put down my ideological hand grenades and try out this whole humility thing, I’ve been looking for areas in which failure to agree is at least in part due to differing definitions of a term. So a statement like “Capitalism is no religion at all, simply an honest attempt to account for how man really acts in a fallen world, and harness his labor most fruitfully,” which I would agree with fully, sounds to some folks like “The attempt to build an international superhighway to allow multinationals to set up sweatshops more easily, give tax breaks to the rich, and set up puppet dictatorships in Latin America is simply an honest attempt…” To a lot of people, capitalism is synonymous with the oligarchical practices that caused the current depression to begin with. And while those who hold to the charity=welfare state equation baffle me, am I wrong to hope (think, pray, etc.) that we’re all a little closer on this than we may think?

  • John Zmirak

    Dear RCIAer,
    I applaud your effort to view people’s motives in a charitable light as long as possible. Don’t do it for TOO long, I suggest… remember that evil ideas are an occasion of sin.

    What sets my skin crawling is when I find my co-religionists smoking self-righteousness like crack, and generally acting like the villains in Ayn Rand’s (terrible) novels. That’s a grave source of scandal, making Ayn Rand sound like a realist. People should cut it out.

    There is a truthful, rationally compelling case for why almost all the abuses to which leftists object are the result of corrupt, coercive practices that aren’t proper to the free market. Roepke calls this the difference between the “market economy” and “historical capitalism.”

    It’s a case you can make to people of good will–though winning someone over from collectivist views is slow, tedious work. I suspect that people fall into such views not for rational reasons, and so pulling them out will require other forms of persuasion. I suggest making them watch “Famine 33,” the story of Stalin’s famine in Ukraine, and pointing out that THIS is the alternative to private property. This is the fruit of imposing the evangelical counsels on the laity.