Catholic Social Teaching and Inequality
Gerry O’Hanlon SJ
My 92 year old uncle Rory recalls with fondness a time back in the 1940s and '50s when he used to go for the odd drink in summer time with the then-goalkeeper of the Irish soccer team, a relative through marriage. Rory, a tradesman, was earning about IR£10 a week; Tommy, a soccer star playing in England, earned about IR£20. The differential in earnings was no bar to social relations. Would there be the same ease of relations if the footballer were earning a 100 times, a 1,000 times what the ordinary person earns, as is the situation today?
In the Preface to their book, The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett state: ‘At an intuitive level people have always recognized that inequality is socially corrosive’.1 They go on to argue that, beyond intuition, the evidence shows that less equal societies have poorer outcomes in nearly every social domain.2 This implies, counter-intuitively, that even the very rich benefit from a more equal society.