Depending on whom you ask, the social welfare system in the United States is either just peachy and everything is fine (if we could just get the rich to pay their fair share of taxes), or the projected deficits are so gargantuan as to impose a burden on existing and future generations that can never be paid. While it definitely makes us unpopular in certain circles (notably the State-Can-Do-Everything groups equidistant from a center point . . . the point being that the State has effective total power over everything by means of controlling money and credit), we tend to the latter position — with qualifications.
We say "with qualifications" because if you say one discouraging word about the wage and welfare system, not only do the antelope stop playing, the tendency on the part of a growing number of listeners (a term we use advisedly . . . they aren't really listening) is for them to declare that we're obviously against just wages and a helping hand, and that we probably like pinching babies and kicking puppies.
No, we’re all in favor of a just wage and a social welfare system, as long as the former truly is just, and the latter is kept within the bounds of reason. Why? Because you can’t pay people when you don’t produce anything, and you can’t redistribute when others aren’t producing. These are basic facts of life, despite the fact that a great many people seem to be living in — and on — denial.
There are circles, however, where our position has some credibility, such as the Königswinterkreis, literally, "King's Winter Circle," a discussion group formed by students of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., renowned as the "Father of Solidarism." Especially through the efforts of Father Oswald von Nel Bruening, S.J., who headed up the Königswinterkreis and drafted Quadragesimo Anno under the direction of Pope Pius XI, certain of Father Pesch's important ideas made their way into Catholic social teaching. The concepts thus made their way into the Aristotelian/Thomist interpretation of the natural law, which the Catholic Church claims is the basis for its social teachings.
One of the most important concepts emphasized by Father Pesch — and thus his students — was the critical nature of widespread direct individual ownership of the means of production, and the necessity of relegating the State to a secondary role as the guarantor of individual and social wellbeing. The State, according to Father Pesch, was only supposed to step in once individual and group efforts had failed to secure the necessary institutional change. Otherwise, it is up to the individual, family, and social group to take care of things.
While we've previously focused on the contributions of Dr. Heinrich Rommen, who ended up teaching at Georgetown University, we've also found a great deal of support for the position of the Just Third Way in the work of another member of the Königswinterkreis, Dr. Goetz Briefs, a labor economist who was Chairman of the Economics Department at Georgetown. In the 1937 English translation of his book, The Proletariat, Dr. Briefs pointed out that the bankruptcy of the State by trying to make up for the deficiencies of capitalism (socialism he had already written off) was inevitable:
"In addition to this insecurity and distress which the nature of the system imposes upon workers in general there are hardships entailed upon some smaller groups, by reason of their particular circumstances — age, for example, or occupation — the members of which find that the demand for their services has been temporarily, perhaps even permanently, reduced. Then too there are great numbers of workers whose earnings are but little above the subsistence level and do not permit the accumulation of savings to meet emergencies. It is the testimony of experience that capitalism offers no guarantee of either steady employment or adequate pay.
"This is no accidental defect. It derives from the vary nature of the system and the principles of its operation. It cannot keep prosperity always at a high level; it cannot by any means at its command stabilize the business cycle; and it cannot indefinitely continue to open up new continents. If there is to be advance along technical lines, if there is to be active competition, if business is to be guided by individual initiative and enterprise, there are bound to be ups and downs in the number of available jobs and in the wage level. And this, of course, rules out the chance that a job can ever be a satisfactory substitute for property as a means of security. A dynamic capitalism and a static job situation simply do not go together. Nor can there be a high wage level for the marginal worker and at the same time sufficient enterprises to absorb the available supply of labor on the market. These things are obviously incompatible." [Goetz Briefs, The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization. New York: McGraw-Hill Book Company, Inc., 1937, 250-251.]
This is certainly something to ponder in the days to come, as economies throughout the world (0 too many to list) continue to decay as the financial demands on governments continue to grow, and there are fewer and fewer wage system jobs to generate income in the "jobless recovery."