Calvin Theological Seminary hosted a debate last night between Ronald J. Sider and Robert Sirico on the issues of wealth and poverty. You can watch and listen to the 1.5 hour long debate by clicking here. (Skip the first 5 minutes which is just the audience gathering.)
I found the debate fascinating. I have a graduate degree from Eastern University and had a class with Dr. Sider. I also served briefly with him on the board of an organization. I have not personally met Fr. Sirico but I have read much of his work and I have heard him speak in person a few times. I thought this debate captured the ideas of the participants well.
I lean more toward Sirico's analysis on a host of issues. One of the issues I have often had with the more left leaning analysis is the seeming presumption that our (Western) prosperity is normative and that existing poverty is some how the result of an injustice or an unnatural state of affairs. Yet any analysis of history shows that until the past couple of centuries subsistance poverty was the norm for the vast majority of humanity and that only because of the extraordianary impact of the free markets have we had socities where our poor live better lives than the middle class did just a century ago. Prosperity is now expanding throughout the globe. The answer is not primarily redistribution but rather engendering values and institutions that allow prosperity to emerge.
What this debate should demonstrate is how ridiculous the claim is that Sider is a marxist/socialist or that Sirico is a libertarian. While I side with Sirico's economic analysis at many points discussed in this debate, I thought he was a bit prickly at times. One of the traits I have always liked about Dr. Sider is his forbearance in difficult circumstances. That was in evidence here as well.
I hope this is just the beginning in an ongoing dialog. Kudos to Sider and Sirico for taking a first step.