They speak of a "gilded age" back more than
a century ago, but it would take a lot to be more "gilded" -- bedecked
in gold leaf -- than the current age.
For example, take a look, below, when you finish
this commentary, at
photographs collected by a website called "Filthy
It's extraordinary stuff, and what's more
extraordinary is that, with a worth, according to Forbes Magazine, of
$4.5 billion, or 4,500 million dollars, one candidate for public office
can find 120 Americans with
more money than he has and 320 worldwide who are richer (the top earner being Bill Gates
of Microsoft, with nearly
Let these amounts sink in: Bill Gates is "worth"
sixteen times what Donald Trump is.
In the National Football League alone are sixteen
billionaires among the owners.
Since 2001, the Clintons (Bill and Hillary) have made a documented
$153 million from speaking fees, not to mention book royalties,
pensions, foundation work, and other income.
Mitt Romney is reckoned as having about $250
million, much from running a private-equity firm (that's about the same as the annual operating
budget for the entire Vatican City State; Wall Street money) while Al Gore is suddenly worth $200 million. (Some
among his peers might consider that poverty level.)
There is a house currently under construction in
Orlando, Florida, that will cost $139 million (more than
three-square-miles in size; 30-car garage). These are
folks who have several mansions and also apartments and penthouses and
beach homes and ranches, along with the airplanes with kitchens, lavish
bedrooms, and baths. There are 1,800 billionaires in the world, 540 in
the United States.
It is small wonder
that -- although the Pope might want to also mention the middle class, more than he has
(they're hurting too, especially in the realm of health care) -- his
focus, when it comes to mercy, has been on those who fight for
scraps of food in places like Africa, the Caribbean, and South America.
Gates says he plans to give all his money
away -- or most of
it (no doubt his standard of living will remain fine). That's
certainly noble, indeed exemplary; he means well; as is the vow of the Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg,
to give his to charity, eventually, but the problem, in those cases, is
where a lot of the money goes (too often, for birth control).
Perhaps we need to have the wealthy
pay a bit more. During the
1950s and early 1960s -- the Kennedy years -- the top bracket income tax
rate on the mega-rich was over 90 percent, and the economy, middle-class, and stock
market boomed. In our current world,
the top one percent richest people now hold half of the world's wealth.
Let that sink in, and let this also sink in:
$1,000 can buy 27,000 meals in dirt-poor Haiti (according to the relief
organization, Love A
A thousand bucks to someone with $80 billion is
like less than half a penny is to someone with a worth of $50,000.
You could buy everyone in Haiti a meal for
$400,000 (albeit, a dirt poor one, and a child's portion).
Someone with a billion dollars thus could keep
$200 million and with the rest purchase a meal for everyone in Haiti for five and a half years.
Lots of folks in the U.S. -- lots of folks just on
Fifth Avenue -- could feed the entire nation.
Perhaps things are a bit out of whack.
Hopefully, excesses in capitalism will not lead
the pendulum to swing in the extreme opposite direction of hardcore
socialism. Near-death experiences constantly warn that materialism can
lead to the netherworld, and Jesus said, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on
earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and
"But store up
for yourselves treasures in Heaven, where neither moth nor rust
destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; for where your
treasure is, there your heart will be also" (Matthew 6:19-21). How
could it be clearer than that?
Almsgiving frees souls in purgatory.
Mercy includes warning the wealthy.
Let us pray. There is
good in the rich and poor alike. We all have shortcomings. Let us pray
to magnify what is positive in everyone. We can also hope that our prayers
might cause a
rich man who becomes leader to put it all toward the public good as an
example. Hopefully, the system will once more find the kind of balance
it had during America's boom years.
And hopefully we will finally realize (most
probably never even heard) what Saint John Paul II and Benedict VXI said about how
godless capitalism can be as bad as godless socialism -- never mind what
Jesus told the rich man to do, if he wanted to follow Him.