Income Inquality and Religion in the US Conference | part I


DWIGHT HOPKINS: Good afternoon. My name is Dwight Hopkins,
and I teach theology here at the Chicago Divinity School. In the absence of Richard
Rosengarten, who’s the Academic Dean of
the Divinity School, I extend a warm welcome to this
timely conversation on income inequality and religion
in the United States. We first want to give
acknowledgement and thanks to Myriam Renaud,
who is a PhD student. And she’s the one who conceived
of this and organized today’s gathering. In fact, Myriam models how
the future of the academy is already now. And also, how our PhD students
are already making a difference by bridging academic
conversations with broader conversation. The University of
Chicago Divinity School is a premier global
educational institution that takes seriously the
academic study of religion. And by that, we mean
we take seriously the best scholarly
research, the importance of an interdisciplinary
methodology, collaborative teamwork,
rigorous engagement, cutting-edge questions, and
engagement with the public. That is to say,
something is at stake in the scholarly
research about religion, and this research
has implications. In fact, profound implications
for the broader public. And so we welcome this
distinguished panel of scholars from the
University of Chicago and from Northwestern
University, and we look forward to an
engaging and enlightening discussion. Thank you. MYRIAM RENAUD: Thank
you, Professor Hopkins, for those kind words. So again, I’m Myriam
Renaud, a PhD candidate here at the Divinity
School and the organizer of this symposium. Thank you so much for coming
in spite of the weather. So I was inspired to
organize this event when I attended a talk here at
the University by economist Emmanuel Saez on income
and wealth inequality. So I realized that
there was inequality. I just didn’t realize
just how bad it was. [INAUDIBLE] responded to
Saez, a University of Chicago sociologist emeritus, that
advanced the opinion that he thought that the best way
to address this problem was to have people from various
disciplines come together and work on the problem. So he named several disciplines
he wanted to see at the table, but left off religion. So today’s symposium
is my attempt to essentially bring
scholars, eminent scholars from various disciplines,
and give them a chance [INAUDIBLE] conversation
and include religion in that conversation. Before I introduce
the presenters, I want to take a minute
or two to explain the format of today’s event. Our five presenters– we’re
missing one, but hopefully our last, our fifth
one will appear. They will spend
15 minutes giving an overview of their
research as it relates to the question of
income inequality, and when applicable to
religion in the United States. We will then take
a 15-minute break. When we return,
Professor Hopkins will moderate a conversation
between the presenters for 15 minutes. Then for the next
30 minutes, you will have a chance to ask
questions by lining up at a mic that Bill Geraci, our AV
expert, is going to have set up in the back of the room. And I ask that when you line
up that you give priority to University of
Chicago students. So we will end promptly at 5:00,
after which you will be invited to continue the conversation
in the common room on the first floor where an
open bar and hot appetizers will be available until 6:30. The Martin Marty
Center generously provided funds for this event. So I will now introduce
the moderator and the five presenters, but will do so
extremely very briefly in order not to bleed into their
presentation time, which is a tough assignment given
the length of their CVs and the caliber of
their accomplishments. So to speed things along,
I created a handout with short but
more ample synopses of their academic contributions. If you don’t have one
of those handouts, they were available on the
table just outside the entrance to the lecture hall. So it is now my great privilege
to introduce our moderator and presenters, all
of whom, I might add, have volunteered their valuable
time to be here with us today. Dwight Hopkins,
our moderator, is Professor of Theology at
Chicago’s Divinity School. Professor Hopkins is interested
in multi-disciplinary approaches to the academic
study of religious thought through the lenses of culture,
politics, and economics. He’s the founder of a 14-country
network of experts dedicated to thinking about practices for
building healthy communities and fostering
healthy individuals in those communities. He is the author of many books,
including Being Human: Race, Culture, and Religion. Evelyn Brodkin is
Associate Professor at Chicago School of Social
Service Administration. Professor Brodkin is also the
director of Chicago’s Poverty and Inequality program. [INAUDIBLE] for the
university this year, she is the Moses Distinguished
Visiting Professor at the Silberman School
of Social Work, Hunter College in New York City. Her research interests
include welfare state politics and policies at the level
of the state and the street, with a focus on political
organizational responses to poverty, inequality,
and marginalization. Amir Sufi is the Bruce
Lindsay Professor of Economics and Public Policy at Chicago’s
Booth School of Business. Professor Sufi is also
a Research Associate at the National Bureau
of Economic Research. His recent research focuses on
household debt and the economy. Policymaking institutions
like the Federal Reserve have taken an interest
in his findings. His book, House of Debt,
co-written with Atif Mian in 2014 and lauded by
the likes of Paul Krugman, analyzes the causes of
the Great Recession, and explores how
the real estate debt bubble exacerbated inequality. Paola Sapienza is a
Donald C. Clark/HSBC Chair in Consumer Finance at
Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. Professor Sapienza is
also a faculty fellow at the Zell Center
for Risk Research and a research fellow
at the National Bureau of Economic Research. Her research interests
include banking and financial
institutions, as well as behavioral economics and
behavioral finance, and more. A widely published scholar,
she disseminates her findings on the way religion
impacts economic decisions in a journal article
memorably entitled “People’s Opium, Religion,
and Economic Attitudes.” William Schweiker is the
Edward L. Ryerson Distinguished Service Professor of Theological
Ethics at Chicago’s Divinity School. Professor Schweiker is also the
Director of the Enhancing Life Project, a two-year
endeavor dedicated to identifying how
better to support the aspirations of people and
communities for enriched lives. His research focuses on
theological and ethical questions related
to global dynamics, comparative religious ethics,
and the history of ethics. The author of many books,
his current project is entitled Religious
Ethics: Meaning and Method. Luigi Zingales is the Robert C.
McCormack Distinguished Service Professor of
Entrepreneurship and Finance at Chicago’s Booth
School of Business. Professor Zingales is also the
director of Chicago’s Stigler Center, which
among other issues, studies special interest
groups and how they distort a capitalist economy. His research interests
span corporate governance to financial development,
political economy to the economic
effects of culture. He has written several
bestselling books, including A Capitalism
for the People, which analyzes the current American
economy, what’s wrong with it, and how to fix it. Please join me now in giving
our presenters and moderator a round of applause. [APPLAUSE] So let’s get started. [INAUDIBLE] EVELYN BRODKIN: Well, thanks
for the lovely introduction, and thank you for
putting this together. My thanks to Myriam
and the Marty Center for organizing
something that I believe is incredibly timely
and very important. And– SPEAKER 4: Do you
mind if we sit– EVELYN BRODKIN: I may even be
able to show you some slides. SPEAKER 4: You mind
if we sit over there, so we can see the slides? You know, we’ll come
back up to the– yeah. EVELYN BRODKIN: The issues
of poverty and inequality are now at the center of
political agenda in a way that I think we haven’t
seen for nearly 50 years. It’s not that the issues
weren’t serious before. It’s not that poverty and
inequality just happened. But they have become of
acute political interest at this moment. Political theory tells us
that these moments come infrequently, and
when opportunities for political and
policy change open up by virtue of this
kind of attention, we should seize that moment. So I especially appreciate
that in effect, we are finding one way to seize
the moment by directing our attention here
to this dialogue. I’m going to share some
observations with you about equality, democracy,
and religion, drawing on my research on poverty in
the US and comparative welfare state politics in Europe. As you will quickly see, I’m
not a scholar of religion. And as I was telling Myriam,
preparing for this symposium actually gave me the
opportunity to look at some of the
things I’d studied, and look at them with a
slightly different lens, and see if I could begin to
get a glimpse of where religion came into the picture. So I’m going to try out
some of that with you today in a very tentative
way, and I look forward to the dialogue. In 15 minutes, I’m
going to give you an extensive and profound
discussion of these issues. Oh, wait. [LAUGH] I’m going to move
very quickly and cross the surface of some very
difficult and profound issues. But I think at least we
can get the ball rolling on some of these. I thought it would be helpful
just to get the lay of the land by beginning with some data. In the US, we have a
poverty rate of 14.8%. Too much, too little? Well, it’s almost
47 million people. You can take whatever
standard you want. If you look over
time, 1996 to 2014, you see that poverty has
been increasing, and not just with the recession. I think in a way, more
interesting, perhaps, is the extent to which
deep poverty has increased. And deep poverty is a household
living at half the poverty rate. Now the poverty rate for a
family with one adult and two kids is about $19,000. Half the poverty
rate is about $9,500. 6.6% of the population is
living under $10,000 a year. So consider that. But maybe, more
people are certainly above the poverty rate. But the poverty rate’s a line. It’s just– I can discuss
later if you want, where we come up with it. But it’s a line. And if you have a dollar
more, you’re not poor. A dollar less, you’re poor. Well let’s take a look at people
living at 150% of poverty. And again, we’re talking about
$20,000 for a family of three. So here, we’re
talking about $30,000. And that’s a quarter
of the population. Think of living on
that in Chicago. Not easy. Now in addition, poverty
is not distributed evenly across the population. The risk of being
poor varies unequally. It is higher among
people of color, it is higher among women, and
it is higher among children. We have a child
poverty rate of 20%. When I give talks
on this in Europe, people find it hard
to believe this could be true in such
an affluent society, that one fifth of our
kids live in poverty. You’ll hear a great deal today
about income inequality, which is growing. The top 1% is doing better all
the time, and the rest are not. Again, the one percenters,
actually, we’re almost back to the
roaring ’20s in terms of income inequality and the
wealth going to the top 1%. Now in addition to
economic inequality, I want us to think a little
bit about political inequality as well. It may seem like a
different domain. It is different, but related. Consider that in a
democracy, the premise is one that builds
on equality of voice. And equality of voice occurs
through a variety of means, but the one we know best
is one person, one vote. Or one adult, one
vote, as children who wish they could vote remind me. So I want to look
briefly at inequality in the democratic electoral
legislative system, but we also have a
form of inequality I call street-level inequality. And that involves
inequality of voice at the places where the
non-wealthy, non-affluent actually meet the state in the
welfare offices, the police departments, the schools,
the hospital clinics. The people, the have-nots
aren’t involved in politics in the halls of Congress. That’s where the lobbyists are. If they have a voice
at all, it will be at the level of the street. So I want to very
briefly talk about that. I can go into it more
later if we have time. Electoral inequality. Basically, electoral
participation maps pretty strongly onto
socioeconomic status, the short version. And It doesn’t map perfectly,
but it maps remarkably well. And of course, we’re all
familiar with Citizens United and the relative weight of
the wealthy and corporations in campaign finance,
which effects who can run for office, effectively. We also have evidence
of inequality in legislative outcomes. If the electoral
system worked well, you would see a certain
amount of equality in electoral outcomes. But Martin Gilens
at Princeton has done some incredibly
interesting work on this, and basically finds that what
the top 10% of the income groups think about– prefer in
terms of policy doesn’t matter. Even what the median
income citizen thinks about policy doesn’t
matter if they disagree with the most affluent. The interests of
affluent groups dominate in the electoral
legislative process. We can’t say this completely. I’m overstating a bit. But there’s a lot
of evidence that points to inequality in politics
and in political outcomes. Actually, Gilens
says “a government that is democratic in
form but in practice is not responsive to its most–
is responsive to only its most affluent citizens is a
democracy in name only.” Now we’re talking
about inequality as undermining the principles
of our very democracy. And I think this has gotten
far too little attention. Street level inequality. This is the classic,
you-name-it unemployment office, welfare office,
social service office. You have an equal opportunity
to be smashed into line, wait a long time, and treated
without great responsiveness. I’ve spent many,
many, many, many hours in welfare offices doing
ethnographic research. It’s not a far cry from this. At the street level,
people who may not have a voice in the
halls of Congress, maybe that’s where they can
get their interests met. Maybe that’s where
they can make a claim on the state for
the kinds of help that would reduce inequality. Is that possible? Well, again, my
research and that of others in the field
of street level research find, in fact, equality
is amplified, reflected, even intensified in
street-level encounters. On occasion, it gets so
bad that people rebel. They rebel against the police,
they rebel against the schools. But when you think about
voice, look what that takes. You’re not cutting a check
to a political party. You’re not pushing a lever. You’re not having a nice
lunch as a lobbyist. You put your body on the line
to have voice in that domain. So this is yet another form of
inequality in our democracy. We have a broader
political dilemma. Economic inequality
undermines democracy, yet a thriving democracy
is necessary to address inequality. The latter part of
this statement I draw from research on European
welfare state politics in which we see there are
vicious cycles in which unequal resources for social
citizenship and political voice decrease the probability of
having state policies that will address inequality. A zero sum politics. The alternative is
a virtuous cycle with broadly shared resources
for social citizenship and voice and greater
government intervention to address inequality. I have many slides
which will show you what I call the state as
the indispensable actor, but I will simply move quickly. Child poverty after
the state intervenes. Denmark on one end, the
US on the other end. Income inequality after
the state intervenes. The US on one end,
Denmark on the other end. I do a lot of
research in Denmark. Distribution of wealth,
the US, and inequality, the US on one end. Everybody else on the other end. And here, it’s hard
to look at quickly, but basically the
top, the yellow, is inequality before
government intervenes, and the blue is
decreased inequality after government intervenes
across countries in the OECD. What government does, matters. And yet, we have inequality
of political voice. There’s the conundrum. More evidence of
child poverty rates as a function of
government spending. So I’ve left myself three
minutes to talk about religion. [LAUGH] I’m sure we’ll have
more discussion later. Where does religion
figure into this? I went back to look at a
lot of the research I’d done on welfare reform in
the US, touted as a success by some. I think a great moral
and practical failure that is evidenced in
a variety of ways, including the increase
in deep poverty. Welfare only provided
a poverty-level income, but deep poverty happens when
you don’t even have that. And Hugh Heclo has said
that “government policy and religious matters
aren’t the same thing, but they’re not in
isolation from each other. They both claim to give
authoritative answers to important questions about
how people should live.” So I found this
wonderful transcript of a conversation
between Mary Jo Bane, who resigned from the
Clinton administration in protest over welfare
reform, and Larry Mead, a political scientist
and colleague who was one of the
champions of welfare reform, requiring work and time
limiting cash assistance. And they were asked to
talk about religion. Mary Jo invoked religion from
the perspective of charitable, generous, and an
unconditionally loving approach. Larry not so much. He said, “Jesus expects
the poor to come to him and ask for things,” and as
soon as they can deal with life, they’re “responsible
for their life.” There shouldn’t be “protective
measures for the poor.” Jesus says, in
fact, doesn’t argue for preferential treatment,
and “admonishes them about what they should do next.” And what I’m suggesting
here is that religion is invoked in behalf of points
of view that are preexistent. I’m not sure religion
changes views, but I’m open to
hearing about it. There’s more from Larry. Also, the welfare bill provided
a charitable choice provision that sought to allow
state-funded programs, welfare programs, to be administered
by faith-based organizations. The idea is that the
church can do it better. They’ll understand better. They’re more generous. They’re closer to the people. The short story is
at the end of it, there were minimal changes in
the way services were provided. Some faith-based organizations
really tried their best and did some remarkable things. I think of the black storefront
churches as an amazing example. But they worried a lot about
being co-opted and being used to deflect anger
against these policies, and even being asked
to be undercover cops for the states flushing out
dark income in the economy. So they were in a
very tough spot trying to become agents of the state. So I conclude with some
words from politics about the relationship between
democracy and inequality. “We stand committed
to the proposition that freedom’s no
half-and-half affair. If the average citizen is
guaranteed equal opportunity in the polling place, he
must have equal opportunity in the marketplace. Government can err,
but divine justice weighs the sins of
the cold-blooded and the sins of the warm-hearted
in different scales. Better the occasional
faults of a government that lives a the
spirit of charity than the consistent
omissions of a government frozen in the ice of
its own indifference. There is a mysterious
cycle in human events. To some generations,
much is given. Of others, much is expected. This generation has a
rendezvous with destiny.” Some of you already
know who said this. Franklin Roosevelt, 1936,
following the Great Depression. It rings as true now. Thank you. [APPLAUSE]




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