Letter to Ken Langone

January 9, 2013

Dear Mr. Langone,

We saw your recent CNBC interview on Pope Francis’ recent exhortation about rising inequality. You worried that the Pope’s condemnations of a “new tyranny” of inequality, of ideologies that “defend the absolute autonomy of the marketplace and financial speculation,” and of the “idolatry of money” were “exclusionary.” You stated that he should not generalize: that “rich people in one country don’t act the same as rich people in another country.” In response to his claim that we should respond “thou shalt not” to an “economy of exclusion and inequality” — a structure that the Pope calls an economy that “kills” — you said that the Pope and others would “get more with honey than with vinegar.”

The Pope’s statements do not seem excessively negative in tone relative to passages from the Bible itself regarding the fate of the rich and the poor. To give a few examples:

James 5: “Now listen, you rich people, weep and wail because of the misery that is coming on you. Your wealth has rotted, and moths have eaten your clothes. Your gold and silver are corroded. Their corrosion will testify against you and eat your flesh like fire. You have hoarded wealth in the last days. Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty.”

Matthew 23: “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’”

Indeed, if one is hoping for Catholic leadership that has, as you wrote, “a positive point of view rather than focusing on the negative,” one should be happy to hear the Pope’s nuanced statements and avoid direct interaction with the words of the man who once spoke: “woe to you who are rich, for you have already received your comfort; woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry” (Luke 6: 24-25).

Fortunately, there is an upcoming opportunity to live up to these Biblical imperatives, as well as your claim that the rich in America are different than, say, the rich in the Pope’s native Argentina are. This year, Congress will be debating raising the minimum wage and we write to urge you to join 80% of your fellow Americans and 62% of your fellow Republicans in endorsing a raise in the federal minimum wage.

If the 1968 minimum wage kept pace with inflation, it would be almost $11 today. If it kept pace with worker productivity, it would be above $18. Unfortunately, it stands today at a miserly $7.25. As a result, 30 million Americans are making less today, adjusted for inflation, than they did 45 years ago in 1968! Indeed, as the Epistle of James puts it, the wages large corporations have failed to pay the workers who mowed their fields are crying out against them!

In the throes of an ailing economy, consumer spending has declined sharply. A 2011 study by the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank found that for every dollar increase to the wage of a minimum wage worker, the result is $2,800 in new consumer spending from the worker’s household over the year. This could not only help start our economy on the path to recovery, but could have a significant impact on the spending and purchasing power of the customers of big box stores like Home Depot.

Given your advocacy around deficits, you should be aware that the erosion of the minimum wage does not just hurt low-wage workers: it hurts taxpayers, too. When corporations do not pay a living wage, low-wage workers become more reliant on public programs to get by and taxpayers end up footing the bill for the unconscionably low wages paid by the large, profitable corporations who employ many of the low-income workers in America. For example, why should taxpayers shell out $648 million a year to help Taco Bell, KFC and Pizza Hut pay their workers while their corporate management at Yum! Brands rake in $1.59 billion in profit?

We appreciate your efforts to highlight American exceptionalism when it comes to supporting more just economic arrangements. Indeed, one cannot help but see our citizenry’s just nature when we read about 80% support for increases in the minimum wage. The question remains, though: will you put your endorsement and funding power behind the national effort to raise the minimum wage to $11, its inflation-adjusted level 45 years ago? Or will you remain silent? We await your answer.


Pete Davis
Ralph Nader’s Time for a Raise Campaign
P.O. Box 19312
Washington, D.C. 20036

Rev. Les Schmidt, Glenmary
Bishops’ Liaison
Catholic Committee of the South

Joseph J. Fahey
Professor of Religious Studies, Manhattan College
Chair, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice

Mary Priniski, OP
Vice-Chair, Catholic Scholars for Worker Justice

Elizabeth Johnson
Distinguished Professor of Theology
Fordham University

Paul F. Knitter
Emeritus Paul Tillich Professor of Theology, World Religions and Culture
Union Theological Seminary, New York

Sister Mary C. Boys, SNJM
Skinner and McAlpin Professor of Practical Theology, Dean of Academic Affairs
Union Theological Seminary, New York

John Trumpbour
Research Director, Labor & Worklife Program
Harvard Law School

Irene Jillson
Assistant Professor, School of Nursing and Health Studies
Georgetown University

Thomas O’Brien
Center for Interreligious Engagement
DePaul University

Terrence W. Tilley
Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Chair in Catholic Theology
Fordham University

Mary Rose D’Angelo
Associate Professor of Theology
Notre Dame

Bill Quigley
Professor of Law, Director of the Loyola Law Clinic and The Gillis Long Poverty Law Center
Loyola University

Peter R. Gathje
Professor of Christian Ethics
Memphis Theological Seminary

Catherine Cornille
Professor of Comparative Theology, Chair of Department of Theology
Boston College

M. Shawn Copeland
Professor of Systematic Theology
Boston College

Francine Cardman
Associate Professor of Historical Theology, School of Theology and Ministry
Boston College

Catherine M. Mooney
Associate Professor of Church History, School of Theology and Ministry
Boston College

Marc V. Simon
Associate Professor, Political Science; Coordinator, Peace and Conflict Studies Minor
Bowling Green State University

Wilkie Au
Professor of Theological Studies, Department of Theological Studies
Loyola Marymount University

James Bailey
Associate Professor, Department of Theology
Duquesne University

Laurie Johnston
Assistant Professor of Theology and Religious Studies, Director of Fellowships and Scholarships
Emmanuel College

Edward Holland III
Professor of Philosophy & Religion, Director of Liberal Studies & Philosophy
Saint Thomas University

Eugene McCarraher
Associate Professor of Humanities
Villanova University

Robert DeFina
Professor and Chairperson, Department of Sociology and Criminology
Villanova University

Suzanne C. Toton
Associate Professor, Christian Ethics, Theology and Religious Studies Department
Villanova University

Angela DiBenedetto
Associate Professor, Department of Biology
Villanova University