Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Catholic Social Teaching and Economic Justice, VII: The Implications

As promised, today's posting presents brief selections from the social encyclicals that we believe prove that the principles of economic justice (Participation, Distribution and Harmony), while not explicitly stated in Catholic social teaching, are necessarily implied.

Participation. The right of every human being to participate in the economy both as an owner of labor, and as an owner of capital. In Rerum Novarum we read,

"[E]very man has by nature the right to possess property as his own." (Rerum Novarum, § 6.)

"[A] man's labor necessarily bears two notes or characters. First of all, it is personal, inasmuch as the force which acts is bound up with the personality and is the exclusive property of him who acts." (Rerum Novarum, § 44.)

Evidently, Leo XIII held as true and certain knowledge (not opinion) that human beings have the right to own both labor and capital. The phrases "by nature" and "necessarily" tell us that. Further, this necessarily implies the exercise of these rights, for the right to own is meaningless until and unless it can be exercised, whether we are talking capital or labor.

We also know that this right of participation, that is, the right to own and enjoy the use of both labor and capital within the common good is no invention of Pope Leo as some would have it. On the contrary, no pope can contradict another when speaking infallibly, for that would mean that papal infallibility is meaningless.

Distribution. The right of every human being to receive the results of production in direct proportion to his or her inputs to production, whether labor or capital. As Leo XIII explained,

"[I]f he lives sparingly, saves money, and, for greater security, invests his savings in land, the land, in such case, is only his wages under another form; and, consequently, a working man's little estate thus purchased should be as completely at his full disposal as are the wages he receives for his labor. But it is precisely in such power of disposal that ownership obtains, whether the property consist of land or chattels." (Rerum Novarum, § 5)

"To defraud any one of wages that are his due is a great crime which cries to the avenging anger of Heaven." (Rerum Novarum, § 20.)

In other words, not only does everyone have the right to contribute to productive activity, he or she has the right to receive the fruits of his or her efforts — the right of disposal. Someone has just as much right to receive the profits attributable to his or her pro rata share of what he or she owns as capital ("land or chattels") as he or she does to receive what is due for selling labor.

Harmony is the "feedback" principle that tells us when the system is broken, we must organize, study the situation, discern the proper principles, and set to work fixing it. As Pius XI explained,

"It happens all too frequently, however, under the salary system, that individual employers are helpless to ensure justice unless, with a view to its practice, they organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment for the workers. Where this is true, it is the duty of contractors and employers to support and promote such necessary organizations as normal instruments enabling them to fulfill their obligations of justice." (Divini Redemptoris, § 53.)

Father William Ferree, one of CESJ's co-founders, liked to use this passage to illustrate how easy it is for people to misunderstand the encyclicals when they come to the table burdened with preconceptions. As he said, give most people the passage to read, ask them what is stated as the duty of employers in it, virtually every single one of them will say a just wage.

This is absolutely wrong. In fact, the duty imposed on employers to protect the rights of the workers is twice stated as being to organize to ensure justice, not to try and impose justice: "organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment of the workers," and "it is the duty of contractors and employers to support and promote such necessary organizations as normal instruments enabling them to fulfill their obligations of justice."

Read that passage as many times as you like, and you will not see any explicit statement to the effect that it is the duty of employers to pay a just wage. That is, in fact, specifically stated elsewhere in the encyclical, but this passage states what an employer's duty is when he cannot pay a just wage! — something entirely different. To insist that the passage means that you must pay a just wage when it is clearly stated that the problem is that you cannot pay a just wage does not even make sense.

Thus, we can see that the Kelso-Adler principles of economic justice, while not explicitly stated in the encyclicals, are clearly implied, or the encyclicals simply don't make sense.

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