Rethinking Poverty

Income, Assets, and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition

James P. Bailey

Catholic Social Tradition

“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

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.

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


“In Rethinking Poverty, James Bailey brings to the forefront an oft-forgotten aspect of Catholic social teaching: the pivotal role of private property in social development. This book is a timely reminder that the Church has much to offer in addressing the social question as it is experienced today, and it updates Catholic distributism for the twenty-first century.” — Journal of Markets and Morality

“In this brief, well-written work, Bailey offers a helpful look at the need for public policies that foster asset accumulation by the poor. The author argues that asset accumulation provides a wide array of benefits, including greater economic security, increased confidence concerning the future, and enhanced involvement in community and public life.” — Choice

“Bailey details how the poor can become self-sufficient upon elimination of discrimination in access to mortgages, insurance, fair credit, and more. He also describes a few innovative policies to facilitate assets, like individual development accounts. . . . Bailey finds many references to asset development or wealth creation for the poor in Catholic social thought.” — Initiatives

“Bailey . . . suggests that reflection on the tenets of Catholic social teaching on matters of economic import ought to drive a more widespread and increasingly viable alternative to the current approaches to poverty alleviation. . . . Graduate students and their professors will be interested in Bailey’s proposals, and perhaps diocesan justice and human development commissioners as well.” — Catholic Library World

“James Bailey has written a superb, creative and timely book whose primary audience should be the U.S. Congress. . . . Bailey’s work suggests that ethicists and economists can serve the country with concrete and specific budget proposals that might persuade, cajole or shame Congress to reform the tax code in a way that helps the poor instead of hurting them.” — Christian Century

“James P. Bailey’s work, Rethinking Poverty: Income, Assets, and the Catholic Social Justice Tradition, is a direct interdisciplinary work with major implications for a reformation of modern social justice practices.” — Dialogue