Right wing pundits are quick to decry “redistribution of wealth” whenever there is talk of raising taxes on the wealthy, raising the minimum wage, or any other thing to lessen, however little, the increasing gap between the affluent few and the rest of us.
Warren Buffett famously said, when the pundits started whining about “class warfare” during the too-brief Occupy uproar, that “There’s class warfare, all right, but it’s my class, the rich class, that’s making war, and we’re winning”.
And it is true that redistribution of wealth has been occurring for many years in this country. It’s just happening backwards, from the bottom to the top, and the wealth produced by labor is being grasped by capital.
For it is the workers who produce wealth. This is the teaching of Catholic social doctrine, from Leo XIII saying that “It is only by the labor of working men that states grow rich” to John Paul II saying that Labor is always the “primary efficient cause” and capital a “mere instrument” in the production of wealth. In this the popes agree with socialist analysis. As the “primary efficient cause” of wealth, the worker is in justice entitled to the fruits of his or her labor.
But what, in fact, has been happening? Well, here are a few charts chronicling the gaps between the rise in productivity and profit and the erosion of wages over the last several decades (click on the image to enlarge):
And here is what has been happening to corporate profits:
And here is a chart on how workers are being recompensed for their efforts:
So even as workers work harder and produce more, and even as profits- ie, the surplus wealth created by labor- rise for the owners, wages fall.
All of this is a huge injustice, and it is good to remember that, in Christian tradition, defrauding a worker of his wages is one of the sins that cry to heaven for vengeance. In the words of Our Lord: “Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.” (Luke 6:24).