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Thomas Piketty and the Gospel in a Gilded Age

Thomas Piketty and the Gospel in a Gilded Age

With the introduction of Thomas Piketty’s blockbuster book, “Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” many economists and pundits around the world are sounding off about increasing global wealth concentration and income inequality.

At Religion Dispatches, the Rev. Peter Laarman writes about the implications of Piketty’s book and the challenge it represents for all Christians who are focused on justice and the Kingdom of God:

But here’s a much more serious problem than the widespread acceptance of the Brooks formula by rattled conservatives and centrists. To wit: the “uplift” formula is also embraced by much of the so-called Left: by the Washington think tanks and pundits aligned with the Democratic Party and (most depressingly, for me) by many bien pensant progressive religious leaders in the U.S…

I quoted from Harry Emerson Fosdick’s great hymn for a reason. The real danger for faith leaders is, quite naturally, a lack of faith. And what we see among religious types who are willing to serve as the Democratic Party’s handmaidens is precisely this lack of faith. Instead of faith that a real struggle from below is where God is and where God wants us to be, we see only gestures and expressions of “faithiness” (e.g., calls for a paltry increase in the minimum wage) that overlay a deep cynicism and a deep acceptance of the system as it is.

Bear in mind that this system still signals in multiple ways that getting ahead is the individual person’s own responsibility and that failing to get ahead is an individual and not a systemic failure. Leaders who accept such a system are about as far as they can be from the Isaiah who points to a very different source of failure: “Woe to you who join house to house and who add field to field until there is room in the land for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land!”

Written for the dedication of Riverside Church, Fosdick’s hymn appeals to God to “save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” In 1930 it was fairly obvious to everyone that irresponsible greed at the top was a primary evil, if not the primary evil, to be deplored. In 2014 it is equally obvious that concentrated wealth is the fundamental moral evil threatening human well being, democracy, and the planet itself. This is why lots of people who would never otherwise go to hear a nerdy economist have been flocking to Piketty’s appearances. But don’t expect the wealth-colonized Democrats’ faithy enablers to seize this as a moment to attack the system in fundamental ways.

And don’t expect our demoralized mainstream pastors and rabbis to have much to say, either. After all, they have annual budgets and capital campaigns that must hit their marks somehow. Hmmm, do I show loyalty to the God of the dispossessed, or is my real loyalty to the Mammon of the well-possessed?

How is your community reacting to this book, rising income inequality, and the command to follow Jesus? The rest of the article at Religion Dispatches is here.

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John B. Chilton

Larry Summers has an excellent review here:

http://www.democracyjournal.org/32/the-inequality-puzzle.php?page=1

Richard III

Capitalism in America as it is practiced today is leading us down the road to an oligarchy of fat cat billionaires and corporations, owning the politicians we send to Washington and to our state legislatures. The ignorance of the effects of money on the political process by too many people, too lazy to care, is contributing mightily to the destruction of the middle class and a better life for our children and grandchildren. When I think of the future of this country for too many of my fellow citizens I think of life in places like Brazil and what a hell on earth that is for too many of them and that something along those lines is what awaits us a decade or two down the road.

Richard Warren

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