Rethinking Poverty: Income, Assets, and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition

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In Rethinking Poverty, James P. Bailey argues that most contemporary policies aimed at reducing poverty in the United States are flawed because they focus solely on insufficient income. Bailey argues that traditional policies such as minimum wage laws, food stamps, housing subsidies, earned income tax credits, and other forms of cash and non-cash income supports need to be complemented by efforts that enable the poor to save and accumulate assets. Drawing on Michael Sherraden's work on asset building and scholarship by Melvin Oliver, Thomas Shapiro, and Dalton Conley on asset discrimination, Bailey presents us with a novel and promising way forward to combat persistent and morally unacceptable poverty in the United States and around the world.

Rethinking Poverty makes use of a significant body of Catholic social teachings in its argument for an asset development strategy to reduce poverty. These Catholic teachings include, among others, principles of human dignity, the social nature of the person, the common good, and the preferential option for the poor. These principles and the related social analyses have not yet been brought to bear on the idea of asset-building for the poor by those working within the Catholic social justice tradition. This book redresses this shortcoming, and further, claims that a Catholic moral argument for asset-building for the poor can be complemented and enriched by Martha Nussbaum's "capabilities approach." This book will affect current debates and practical ways to reduce poverty, as well as the future direction of Catholic social teaching.

"This book supplies the connections between prophetic but general calls for economic justice and participation, and the concrete policies and practices necessary to advance those ideals as reality. Bailey directly critiques discriminatory economic institutions in the U.S. but also implicitly critiques prior Catholic voices that have fallen far short of inspiring effective reform because they do not identify and attack underlying assumptions behind the 'personal responsibility' models of prosperity." —Lisa Sowle Cahill, Boston College

"Bailey combines his deep understanding of the Catholic social justice tradition, his firm grasp of contemporary moral philosophy, and his perceptive analysis of U.S. poverty debates and policies to forge something new and exciting for each. Bailey's most significant contribution is his compelling case for the Church to establish, or reestablish, asset and property ownership at the heart of its mission to reduce poverty, enhance human dignity, and achieve a more just society." —Ray Boshara, Vice President and Senior Research Fellow, New America Foundation

"Poverty may be with us always; but seldom do we have such a wise and timely book. Drawing upon Catholic social teaching and Martha Nussbaum's capability theory, Bailey underscores the role of asset formation in understanding and alleviating poverty. Erudite, but never arid, Rethinking Poverty is indispensable reading for students and scholars who would make the 'option for the poor' their own today." —William O'Neill, S. J., Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University 

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780268022235
  • Publisher: University of Notre Dame Press
  • Publication date: 10/15/2010
  • Series: Catholic Social Tradition Series
  • Edition description: 1st Edition
  • Pages: 192
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.50 (d)

Meet the Author

James P. Bailey  is associate professor of theology at Duquesne University.

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Table of Contents


Introduction 1

One Why Asset Building for the Poor? 5

The Income Paradigm 7

The Welfare Reform Debate of 1996: An Income-Paradigm Debate 9

The Asset Paradigm 12

The Role of Current Policy: Exacerbating Wealth Inequality 18

Two Assets, the Poor, and Catholic Social Teaching 25

Asset Building for the Poor and Catholic Social Thought 26

Property and Ownership in Catholic Social Teaching 27

Contributions of Catholic Social Thought to Asset-Building Policy 43

Contributions of Asset-Building Research to Catholic Social Thought 54

Three Assets and Human Capabilities 61

Globalization and the Need for a Cross-Cultural Ethic 64

Capabilities and Assets 74

Four Asset Discrimination 85

Asset Discrimination in U.S. History 87

The Stubborn Persistence of Asset Discrimination 98

The Cost of Asset Denial 100

Conclusion 102

Five Toward Inclusive Ownership 103

Asset Development for the Poor: Retrieving a Lost Tradition 104

Are Asset-Building Proposals Politically Viable? 112

The Promise and Perils of Asset Building for the Poor 114

Appendix: A Primer on Modern Catholic Social Teaching 127

Notes 132

Bibliography 156

Index 167

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