Who Will Help the Poor?

With the deepening of the economic crisis and the prospect of another recession looming large on the horizon, growing social inequality has become an increasingly urgent issue. Who will protect the weakest at a time when the state, the family, and individual philanthropy are all proving unequal to the task?

PARIS – With the deepening of the economic crisis and the prospect of another recession looming large on the horizon, growing social inequality has become an increasingly urgent issue. How does one reinforce a sense of solidarity and responsibility within a country? Who will protect the weakest?

As I ponder this issue, I am reminded of a debate that I had more than ten years ago in Berlin with the German theologian Hans Küng and American and Asian participants. The subject was “Globalization and Ethics” – specifically, a comparison of the ways that Europe, the United States and Asia protect the most fragile members of their respective societies.

All of the participants agreed that in Europe the state traditionally filled the role played by private philantropy in the US and by the family in Asia. But we all hastened to add that no model was “pure,” i.e., the family was no longer what it used to be in Asia, the state was playing a bigger role than expected in America, and it was often underperforming in Europe.

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