Monday, February 27, 2012

"The Scandal of Glaring Inequalities"

Like I said last week 'it's complicated.' Or, as Pope Benedict XVI put it:
"Today the picture of development has many overlapping layers...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 22)

2,700 Pairs of Shoes; and Getting a Grip

I think 'equality' is a good idea. I have to think that, since I'm a practicing Catholic and that's what the Church says.

But I do not think it makes sense to try making everybody 'equal.' Not if it's the sort of 'equality' where everybody has to pretend to be just like everybody else. I've been over this before. (August 4, 2011)
  • Human beings are equal
    (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1934, 1935)
  • But we're not all alike
    (Catechism, 1936)
  • And this is okay
    (Catechism, 1937)
Because of my beliefs, I don't expect everybody to be pretty much just like me. Take footwear, for example.

I don't particularly like shoes. From spring, through autumn, I wear flip-flops, and like to have the pair that I'm wearing: and another pair as a backup, when the 'in use' pair wears out. Maybe that seems like an extravagance: but here in Minnesota, most stores have a 'no shirt, no shoes, no service' policy. I 'need' that second pair to get inside and buy the next backup.

I have no idea why someone would want to own 2,700 pairs of shoes. I understand that fashion-conscious folks want different styles of shoes for different outfits: but 2,700? That seems extravagant: and it's how many Imelda Marcos is supposed to have had.

Oddly, I don't have a problem with someone owning that many shoes. I don't understand why someone would want to: but I don't think it's wrong. If, as seems to have been the case, Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos got their wealth by hurting other people - that, I have a problem with.

Wealth, Waste, and Woe

"...As John Paul II has already observed, the demarcation line between rich and poor countries is no longer as clear as it was at the time of Populorum Progressio[55]. The world's wealth is growing in absolute terms, but inequalities are on the increase. In rich countries, new sectors of society are succumbing to poverty and new forms of poverty are emerging. In poorer areas some groups enjoy a sort of 'superdevelopment' of a wasteful and consumerist kind which forms an unacceptable contrast with the ongoing situations of dehumanizing deprivation...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 22)
Back in my 'good old days,' I'd expect to hear something about the oppressed proletariat and capitalistic warmongers after someone mentioned that some folks are getting richer: and others poorer. That's one reason I don't miss the 'good old days.' And that's another topic.

Here's what came before that observation about "superdevelopment" and "dehumanizing deprivation:"
"...This fact should prompt us to liberate ourselves from ideologies, which often oversimplify reality in artificial ways, and it should lead us to examine objectively the full human dimension of the problems...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 22)
Based on what Western civilization tried, during the 19th and 20th centuries: I don't think full-bore laissez faire capitalism or the various flavors of socialism and communism make sense. 'All of the above' look good on paper - or can be made to do so. In the real world? Not so much.

Looking at the Problems

Like Benedict XVI wrote:
"...'The scandal of glaring inequalities'[56] continues...."
("Caritas in Veritate," 22)
We're looking at:
  • Corruption and illegality in
    • Rich countries
      • 'Old rich'
      • 'New rich'
    • Poor countries
  • Sometimes human rights of workers aren't respected by
    • Large multinational companies
    • Local producers
  • International aid often gets sent to the wrong folks, by
    • The chain of donors
    • Folks at the receiving end
  • Cultural factors
    • Rich countries
      • Excessive protection of intellectual property rights
        • Particularly health care
    • Some poor countries
      • Cultural models and social norms of behavior
The issue of excess zeal in intellectual property rights enforcement in health care fields is new to me. Maybe there'll be more discussion of that later in "Caritas in Veritate," or maybe I'll find background elsewhere.

I don't think the message here is that companies - big or small - are bad. Or that rich countries are warmonger oppressors. Or that poor countries are guilty of not being Americans.

What Benedict XVI seems to be doing is identifying what sort of issues we can look for - anywhere.

No Micromanagement Here

As for solutions? There aren't any in this paragraph. Maybe there's a detailed 'how to' somewhere in the remaining 57 paragraphs.

Or - more likely, I think - what I'll find is that we're being given guidance for how we're supposed to go about making things better. Which makes sense, since folks at the grassroots level are more likely to know what the local or regional problems are: and what solutions are more likely to work.

Cherished Cultural Traditions

When someone suggests a change in routine, someone else is likely to say, "we've never done it that way!" It's one reason that it's hard for many companies to adjust to new conditions: and why so many countries can't seem to adjust to living in today's world. My opinion.

"Cultural models and social norms of behavior," the last item in that 'issues' list, covers a lot of territory. I'm going to focus on literacy: the ability to read and write. It's a fairly basic skill today.

Apart from being able to understand warning signs like "Caution - Liquid Nitrogen - Gloves and Face Shield Required," someone who is literate can read newspapers, books, magazines: and blogs like this one.

Reading is a very effective way to learn what folks around the world have been thinking. Someone who can write can add to that storehouse of knowledge: and I'm getting off-topic.

But not by much.

I live in America: which, for all its faults, is a remarkably prosperous nation. It's also the only country that I'm familiar with 'from the inside.' I'm going to use America, and a few other countries, to illustrate how literacy connects with other aspects of life.

Literacy (percent of people age 15 and over can read and write) in:
I'm not happy that American literacy isn't 100% - but 99% isn't bad, for a country this size. And that's yet another topic.

Countries like America and Japan aren't perfect. But hordes of citizens living in grinding poverty isn't among our problems. And - I think this is important - for all our similarities, America and Japan aren't alike. Even our robots tend to look different - and that's yet another topic.

I'd have to do some serious number-crunching to confirm this, but I think countries with high literacy rates aren't quite as likely to have radical inequalities of wealth.

Then there's the matter of keeping women from learning how to read - and that's more than I want to get started with in this post.

Related posts:

More posts about "Caritas in Veritate" (Charity in Truth)
"Caritas in Veritate"


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Sometime regrettable advertisements get through, anyway.

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