Friday, May 20, 2011

Reading The Popes: John XXIII's Mater et Magistra On The Economy

On the issue of the economy today there are many people in America that fill the vacuum of the various political theories, across the political spectrum - we have those who are libertarian or leaning libertarian, socialists, communists, capitalists or free-market supporters, conservatives, liberals, and those that even fall somewhere in the middle of those political beliefs. Recently tensions have been running high between unions, businesses, and other citizens concerning the various clash of opinions on whether or not the unions are in fact a burden on both the State and its citizens, particularly with regards to how much tax is appropriate for a taxpayer to be required to pay to support the wage of a union member. In the Papal document Mater Et Magistra Pope John XXIII refers to Rerum Novarum a papal encyclical by Pope Leo XIII and says: 

" As is well-known, the outlook that prevailed on economic matters was for the most part a purely naturalistic one, which denied any correlation between economics and morality. Personal gain was considered the only valid motive for economic activity. In business the main operative principle was that of free and unrestricted competition. Interest on capital, prices--whether of goods or of services--profits and wages, were to be determined by the purely mechanical application of the laws of the market place. Every precaution was to be taken to prevent the civil authority from intervening in any way in economic matters. The status of trade unions varied in different countries. They were either forbidden, tolerated, or recognized as having private legal personality only."

Today are unions merely tolerated here in the U.S.? Or does their standard of pay either fall in line with or exceed that of similar private sector jobs? Does the U.S. citizen pay taxes (generally speaking, minus the exception of the most recent bailouts) towards what a private sector employee earns? No. But each of us does pay a tax which goes toward supporting the pensions, health benefits, and salaries of both public sector union members and other public sector employees. Are these public sector employees putting too much of a burden on the State and forcing the average citizen to pay excessive taxes? My answer is yes. The unions and other public sector jobs today have more of a responsibility to garner the citizens' approval as to whether their wages are too high or too low or are earning a decent wage or not. Today do we forbid the unions existence? Or the right to peacefully assemble? Do we have unions who are merely tolerated? No. No. No. I am not quite sure why there is a problem with unions only having private legal personality.

Today union members are far better off than many who hold compatible private sector jobs. The outcry from the public which demanded a decent living and decent working conditions that occurred during the late 19th Century and the beginning of the 20th Century were appropriate for that time when there were no laws in place to protect either the worker or a safe work environment but today there are laws in place protecting public unions wages and the conditions of the work environment so when people protest in the streets acting like irrational children, acting like they are being persecuted or mistreated in some way while demanding that they should be paid more and compensated with more benefits than employees who hold similar private sector jobs today is deceptive, absurd, unfounded and illegitimate. The way that some public sector union employees are forcing other citizens to contribute more money than they themselves do towards their own health insurance benefits which burdens both the State and the citizens at a time when our debt and deficits are at an all-time high in this country is unbelievable and unconscionable to me.

"It is furthermore the duty of the State to ensure that terms of employment are regulated in accordance with justice and equity, and to safeguard the human dignity of workers by making sure that they are not required to work in an environment which may prove harmful to their material and spiritual interests."

While nothing is ever foolproof from error I believe that this has largely been achieved in our country.

"They concern first of all the question of work, which must be regarded not merely as a commodity, but as a specifically human activity. In the majority of cases a man's work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.

"Secondly, private ownership of property, including that of productive goods, is a natural right which the State cannot suppress. But it naturally entails a social obligation as well. It is a right which must be exercised not only for one's own personal benefit but also for the benefit of others."

Is work becoming a rare commodity nowadays? There are more people than ever in our history reliant on the government for some type of benefit, whether it be welfare, food stamps or medicaid. Since Barack Obama took office in 2009 the number of recipients receiving food stamps has more than doubled and under Obama's budget for 2011 will increase spending on the welfare programs by 42% over President Bush's last year in office, with Obama's budget to spend $1.43 trillion on the medicare and medicaid programs. There is a difference between assisting someone in financial need and aiding their irresponsible lifestyles or behavior. This to me seems like Obama & Company are treating jobs for citizens as a commodity, while doing all the wrong things to spur growth and create jobs then saying it is a moral duty for the "rich" to pay even more taxes than the huge amount they already do to support his welfare state recipients. Obama and the rest of the progressives are making individuals and families dependent on the government which is in my opinion at least as bad, if not worse, than one's livelihood being dependent on the state of the market.

Pope John XXIII rightly points out that "it is advisable for the contract to be modified so that 'wage-earners and other employees participate in the ownership or the management, or in some way share in the profits.'"

This would be an example of where distributism comes into play. This is a third type of economic philosophy - Catholic Social Teaching - which was formulated by such thinkers as G.K. Chesterton and Hilaire Belloc. I think instituting the principles of this philosophy in our society would help to alleviate many problems which crony capitalism has caused in our society today.

"According to distributism, the ownership of the means of production should be spread as widely as possible among the general populace, rather than being centralized under the control of the state (state socialism) or a few large businesses or wealthy private individuals (plutarchic capitalism). A summary of distributism is found in Chesterton's statement: 'Too much capitalism does not mean too many capitalists, but too few capitalists.'

"Essentially, distributism distinguishes itself by its distribution of property (not to be confused with redistribution of capital that would be carried out by most socialist plans of governance). While socialism allows no individuals to own productive property (it all being under state, community, or workers' control, with exceptions such as mutualism), distributism itself seeks to ensure that most people will become owners of productive property. As Belloc stated, the distributive state (that is, the state which has implemented distributism) contains "an agglomeration of families of varying wealth, but by far the greater number of owners of the means of production.'This broader distribution does not extend to all property, but only to productive property; that is, that property which produces wealth, namely, the things needed for man to survive. It includes land, tools, etc.'" - Wikipedia article on distributism

"Pope Pius XI further emphasized the fundamental opposition between Communism and Christianity, and made it clear that no Catholic could subscribe even to moderate Socialism. The reason is that Socialism is founded on a doctrine of human society which is bounded by time and takes no account of any objective other than that of material well-being. Since, therefore, it proposes a form of social organization which aims solely at production, it places too severe a restraint on human liberty, at the same time flouting the true notion of social authority."

I am in full agreement with both Pope John XXIII and Pope Pius XI on the matter of Socialism and Communism, that both political philosophies "places too severe a restraint on human liberty."

"Of special doctrinal and practical importance is his [that is, Pius XI's] affirmation that 'if the social and individual character of work be overlooked, it can be neither justly valued nor equitably recompensed.'In determining wages, therefore, justice demands that account be taken not only of the needs of the individual workers and their families, but also of the financial state of the business concern for which they work and of 'the economic welfare of the whole people.'

Unions today are not taking into account the needs of other workers and their families or the financial burden they have on businesses today. The Unions, union bosses, and many union members feel entitled to whatever amount of money and benefits regardless of how it affects anyone else.

" It should be stated at the outset that in the economic order first place must be given to the personal initiative of private citizens working either as individuals or in association with each other in various ways for the furtherance of common interests.
But--for reasons explained by Our predecessors--the civil power must also have a hand in the economy. It has to promote production in a way best calculated to achieve social progress and the well-being of all citizens."

Today, it would seem that in America the civil power has much more than a hand in economic affairs, but in fact have both hands, both feet, arms, and legs involved in our economy.

"And in this work of directing, stimulating, co-ordinating, supplying and integrating, its guiding principle must be the 'principle of subsidiary function' formulated by Pius XI in Quadragesimo Anno, 'This is a fundamental principle of social philosophy, unshaken and unchangeable. . . Just as it is wrong to withdraw from the individual and commit to a community what private enterprise and industry can accomplish, so too it is an injustice, a grave evil and a disturbance of right order, for a larger and higher association to arrogate to itself functions which can be performed efficiently by smaller and lower societies. Of its very nature the true aim of all social activity should be to help members of the social body, but never to destroy or absorb them.'"

The federal government has become a huge albatross held over the heads of Americans today. The social philosophy of subsidiarity is one method that needs to be applied in order to save our economy from collapse. The federal government is putting undue fiscal burdens on the states.

"But however extensive and far-reaching the influence of the State on the economy may be, it must never be exerted to the extent of depriving the individual citizen of his freedom of action. It must rather augment his freedom while effectively guaranteeing the protection of his essential personal rights. Among these is a man's right and duty to be primarily responsible for his own upkeep and that of his family. Hence every economic system must permit and facilitate the free development of productive activity."

The number of recipients receiving food stamps has more than doubled since Bush left office and now it is reported that 43.6 million Americans are now receiving food stamps today. President Obama has increased spending on welfare programs by 42 percent over President Bush's last year in office. The promoters of a welfare state or the welfare state mentality are not promoting the human dignity of the person and freedom of the person by allowing persons to be dependent on the State but in fact are doing the opposite by promoting this dependency mentality. Progressives are enabling the person to avoid fulfilling his "right and duty to be primarily responsible for his own upkeep and that of his family." This quite frankly is irresponsible on so many fronts.

"Experience has shown that where personal initiative is lacking, political tyranny ensues and, in addition, economic stagnation in the production of a wide range of consumer goods and of services of the material and spiritual order--those, namely, which are in a great measure dependent upon the exercise and stimulus of individual creative talent.

Political tyranny and the lack of personal initiative go hand in hand. If one is not going to be rewarded for one's initiative when that produces success or even penalized by the State why would someone continue on this path of displaying personal initiative?

"Where, on the other hand, the good offices of the State are lacking or deficient, incurable disorder ensues: in particular, the unscrupulous exploitation of the weak by the strong. For men of this stamp are always in evidence, and, like cockle among the wheat, thrive in every land."

In America I think we have a case of the weak being exploited by the State to further a tyrannical political agenda. But I am also of the opinion that there are those in corporate America who are in some ways exploiting the weak or those less fortunate.

"In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing."

"As it affects the less developed countries, the problem is stated thus: The resources of modern hygiene and medicine will very shortly bring about a notable decrease in the mortality rate, especially among infants, while the birth rate--which in such countries is unusually high--will tend to remain more or less constant, at least for a considerable period. The excess of births over deaths will therefore show a steep rise, whereas there will be no corresponding increase in the productive efficiency of the economy. Accordingly, the standard of living in these poorer countries cannot possibly improve. It must surely worsen, even to the point of extreme hardship. Hence there are those who hold the opinion that, in order to prevent a serious crisis from developing, the conception and birth of children should be secretly avoided, or, in any event, curbed in some way."

Was Pope John XXIII writing under divine inspiration? Today progressives are propagating that births should be avoided in third world countries to solve the problem of hunger and extreme hardship. It is amazing and sad that his predictions became a reality.

"Besides, the resources which God in His goodness and wisdom has implanted in Nature are well-nigh inexhaustible, and He has at the same time given man the intelligence to discover ways and means of exploiting these resources for his own advantage and his own livelihood. Hence, the real solution of the problem is not to be found in expedients which offend against the divinely established moral order and which attack human life at its very source, but in a renewed scientific and technical effort on man's part to deepen and extend his dominion over Nature. The progress of science and technology that has already been achieved opens up almost limitless horizons in this field."

"As for the problems which face the poorer nations in various parts of the world, We realize, of course, that these are very real. They are caused, more often than not, by a deficient economic and social organization, which does not offer living conditions proportionate to the increase in population. They are caused, also, by the lack of effective solidarity among such peoples."

"We must solemnly proclaim that human life is transmitted by means of the family, and the family is based upon a marriage which is one and indissoluble and, with respect to Christians, raised to the dignity of a sacrament. The transmission of human life is the result of a personal and conscious act, and, as such, is subject to the all-holy, inviolable and immutable laws of God, which no man may ignore or disobey. He is not therefore permitted to use certain ways and means which are allowable in the propagation of plant and animal life."

"Human life is sacred--all men must recognize that fact. From its very inception it reveals the creating hand of God. Those who violate His laws not only offend the divine majesty and degrade themselves and humanity, they also sap the vitality of the political community of which they are members."







Here are some closing remarks from Pope John XXIII:

"It has been claimed that in an era of scientific and technical triumphs such as ours man can well afford to rely on his own powers, and construct a very good civilization without God. But the truth is that these very advances in science and technology frequently involve the whole human race in such difficulties as can only be solved in the light of a sincere faith in God, the Creator and Ruler of man and his world."

"We most earnestly beg all Our sons the world over, clergy and laity, to be deeply conscious of the dignity, the nobility, which is theirs through being grafted on to Christ as shoots on a vine: "I am the vine; you the branches." They are thus called to a share in His own divine life; and since they are united in mind and spirit with the divine Redeemer even when they are engaged in the affairs of the world, their work becomes a continuation of His work, penetrated with redemptive power. "He that abideth in men, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit."

"Thus is man's work exalted and ennobled--so highly exalted that it leads to his own personal perfection of soul, and helps to extend to others the fruits of Redemption, all over the world. It becomes a means whereby the Christian way of life can leaven this civilization in which we live and work--leaven it with the ferment of the Gospel."

Crossposted at Catholibertarian 

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