Human dignity outweighs capital gains

Human dignity outweighs capital gains

It comes easier to a Christian than to an American, but what happens with Christian Americans? When we in the U.S. hear of the United Nations’ Bill of Rights, or Pope John XXIII’s similar list of rights to which every human has claim, we want to know immediately who pays, especially when we are talking about destitute Syrian refugees streaming into Europe. Or perhaps Latin Americans fleeing crime, poverty and political upheaval. German chancellor Angela Merkel took in over a million desperate war victims fleeing west, taking on a national burden. It is supposed to be the haves. In our country, that fries many such people, who charge that it is unforgiveable socialism. Their defense is that they worked hard for their resources, and Big Government has no right to come along and redistribute. Let them work for their civil rights, the way the rich did.

The trouble with this argument is that it focuses too much on the immediate. It omits things like white privilege, the larger background of how wealthy people stay wealthy and pass wealth on to their children. It omits how the employer will tend to hire people of his or her own race, ignoring an even more competent applicant with the wrong skin color. It omits the education available from the earliest years to privileged people while those in poorer school districts have to endure substandard schools. It omits adequate health care which privileged people fight when it comes to unprivileged people getting Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) benefits, without which it is harder to live and work a job. But more than most, it omits fair housing.

Because the supply of low-income housing is low while the demand is high, rents for the poor — and they rent and do not own — are exorbitant: every year millions are evicted because they must spend half their income on rent, while fully a quarter more pay 70 percent. We of the white privilege seldom pay more than 30 percent. It is profitable to be a landlord because it is a seller’s market. It should affect us pro-lifers that despite 1976 federal law prohibiting the barring of rentals to families with children, it is widely ignored. Because of high imprisonment of black males, their residence is prison. Black women who care for the family face eviction for undue calls to 911 and other landlord harassments. Critics observe that poor black men are locked up while poor black women are locked out.

Yet last July a New Jersey Appellate court ruled that cities and townships are not required to zone for the affordable housing needs that went unmet between 1999 and 2015. The deliberate foot-dragging of wealthy municipalities to start building homes that the poor can afford won them yet another excuse to avoid doing right. Better for the homeless to live beneath the overpasses or, if they are lucky, in their cars. Focusing too much on the immediate and too little on the necessary background, the privileged righteously ask why there are panhandlers on the street upsetting people with their begging and their odor. Worried about socialism, they tune out the social justice of the Lord who came long before Marx. According to that, all people of whatever race or income are entitled to basic rights of housing, nutrition, employment and a few other necessities.

The question again: who pays? We do, with the better off paying more. The reason is that, for the Christian, human dignity outweighs capital gains. It does not dawn on the reluctant that a low-income building boom will make all boats rise. If the affordable homes are located wisely, with small allotments scattered around towns so that they do not morph into ghettos, and all enacted from Trenton at the same time, the children will be able to attend the above-standard schools of the better-off. With fewer poor needing subsidy, less crime will need less policing. With less unemployment, fewer costly social disorders like alcoholism and other substance abuse and domestic tensions, life improves for everybody. And while we ask who pays, we could take some of the federal money surrendered each year to the eternal war effort to cover the construction, which will employ thousands. After all, annually more than $600 billion for Defense plus $40 billion for Energy to manage our nuclear arsenal plus Veterans Affairs plus incalculable billions for the war-related national debt is a bit much.

Are we Christian and American enough to make it happen?