Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Slavery of Savings — Again

The slavery of past savings against which Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler inveighed in their second collaboration, The New Capitalists (1960), is not "silly Marxist rhetoric" as one commentator put it. It is something very real: utter, unquestioning obedience to the false notion, tantamount to a religious dogma, that it is impossible to finance new capital formation without first cutting consumption and accumulating money savings.

Reliance for financing on prior reductions in consumption instead of future increases in production, however, forces economic growth — and thus job creation and whether anyone can find a "job" — into complete subservience to whoever controls past savings. In a capitalist economy, it's the rich who control savings. In a socialist economy, it's the State. In today's Servile State, it's the State under the control of the rich.

Nowhere is this caving in to the powers-that-be more evident than in the emphasis we see, both in public policy and private life, on security of income rather than security of life, liberty and property. Income, however (as much as the socialists insist on it), is not a natural right. It is a "secondary" or "derived" right, as Monsignor John A. Ryan put it in A Living Wage, 1906. The right to a living wage is (according to Monsignor Ryan) based on the natural right to life and the natural right to be an owner.

Only in extremis can anyone be said to have a right to income, and then only to what is sufficient to keep someone alive and reasonably healthy. As Leo XIII attempted to explain to the socialists, who wanted to put everyone and everything under the total control of the State,

"True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, 'for no one ought to live other than becomingly.' But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one's standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. 'Of that which remaineth, give alms.' It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law." (Rerum Novarum, § 22.)

This frustrates
no end the people who insist on doing God's job for Him. If the rich won't voluntarily give up their wealth when people are in need (although short of extremis), then the State must take charge and force them to do so. "The State," as one such enthusiast gushed, "is the sole intercessor available to the poor."  (We'll ignore for the sake of the argument the fact that this puts the State in the place of God, specifically — for Christians — the Holy Spirit.)

That is not, however, what Leo XIII said.  Rather, "Nature accordingly must have given to man a source that is stable and remaining always with him, from which he might look to draw continual supplies. And this stable condition of things he finds solely in the earth and its fruits. There is no need to bring in the State. Man precedes the State, and possesses, prior to the formation of any State, the right of providing for the substance of his body." (Rerum Novarum, § 7.)

Does this mean that everyone must be a farmer or herdsman, as some have insisted? No, for as Leo XIII explained, "[A] working man's little estate . . . 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.) (A "chattel" is a piece of non-landed property, e.g., a horse or a machine.)

Nor is labor the only legitimate title to property.  That would be to abolish inheritance, free sale, gift, and even confiscation and redistribution . . . that so many insist is a right! If you have no right to own anything except for that for which you have labored, however, then you cannot possibly have a right to the wealth that the State redistributes, or even alms.

In any event, demanding that everyone work for what he or she gets, and claiming that title is not legitimate without the addition of labor, is to abolish private property as a natural right. By imposing a condition of any kind for the legitimacy of private property you make a presumably inalienable right alienable, and thereby undermine the whole basis for the natural law, especially the other premier rights of life and liberty.

Thus the remedy to poverty and insufficient income is not, as adherents of the Servile State insist, more government control, redistribution, and regulation. Rather, as Leo XIII pointed out, "The law . . . should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (Rerum Novarum, § 46.)

Failure to secure the natural rights of everyone to life, liberty and property, rich and poor, is a serious danger to society as a whole. As Blessed John Paul II explained,

"[L]ove for the poor must be preferential, but not exclusive. The Synod Fathers observed that it was in part because of an approach to the pastoral care of the poor marked by a certain exclusiveness that the pastoral care for the leading sectors of society has been neglected and many people have thus been estranged from the Church. The damage done by the spread of secularism in these sectors — political or economic, union-related, military, social or cultural — shows how urgent it is that they be evangelized, with the encouragement and guidance of the Church's Pastors, who are called by God to care for everyone." (Ecclesia in America, § 67.)