Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Expanded Capital Ownership and the Catholic Church, II: The Proposal


As we noted yesterday, the Catholic Church made two omissions in its social teachings.  One was to fail to remind people that (everything else being equal), future as well as past savings can be used to finance new capital.  The other was that the principles of economic justice, while implied, are not explicit.

Fortunately, Kelso and Adler presented the principles of economic justice in Chapter 5 of their first collaboration, The Capitalist Manifesto. As we describe and explain them,

1. Participative Justice. This is how one makes “input” to the economic process in order to make a living. It requires equal opportunity in gaining access to private property in productive assets as well as equality of opportunity to engage in productive work. Participative justice does not guarantee equal results, but requires that every person be guaranteed by society’s institutions the equal human right to make a productive contribution to the economy, both through one’s labor (as a worker) and through one’s productive capital (as an owner). Thus, this principle rejects monopolies, special privileges, and other exclusionary social barriers to economic self-reliance and personal freedom.

2. Distributive Justice. This is the out-take principle described in legal terms as the form of justice “which should govern the distribution of rewards and punishments. It assigns to each person the rewards which his or her personal merit or services deserve, or the proper punishment for his crimes.”

Distributive justice is based on the exchange or market value of one’s economic contributions — that all people have a right to receive a proportionate, market-determined share of the value of the marketable goods and services they produce with their labor contributions, their capital contributions, or both. In contrast to a controlled or command economy, this respects human dignity by making each economic “vote” count.

This understanding of distributive justice based on inputs must be clearly differentiated from definitions that base distribution on need. Sheen makes this clear when critiquing the Marxist dictum, “From each according to his capacity, to each according to his needs.” Distribution on need is a valid principle for charity, a moral responsibility, but not for justice, which (of course) is also a moral responsibility.

Charity does have its proper role, however. As Pope John Paul I stated in a talk given during a “general audience” during his brief pontificate, “Charity is the soul of justice.” Nevertheless, as Augustine of Hippo observed, “Charity is no substitute for justice withheld.” Charity should never be regarded as a substitute for justice, but as the fulfillment of justice. As Moses Maimonides explained,

The greatest level [of charity], above which there is no greater, is to support [your fellow man] by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand until he need no longer be dependent upon others.

3. Harmonic Justice. This is the feedback principle, also known as “social justice,” that rebalances participative justice and distributive justice when the system violates either essential principle. Harmonic justice includes a concept of limitation that discourages personal greed and prevents social monopolies. Social justice holds that every person has a personal responsibility to organize with others to correct their organizations, institutions, laws and the social order itself at every level whenever the principles of participative justice or distributive justice are violated or not operating properly.

The displacement of most people from capital ownership prevents or inhibits their full participation in economic activity or even, as with actual slavery, the whole of social life. The existence of artificial financial and legal barriers to equal ownership opportunities prevents or inhibits most people in the world from acquiring and developing virtue through the exercise of humanity’s natural rights to life, liberty, and property.

Many people are cut off from the “economic common good.” This economic common good is composed, in part, of democratic access to money and credit for productive purposes, the rights to and of private property, access to free market competition, and the sanctity of contract (free association/liberty).

The economic common good should be circumscribed (as Pope John Paul II reminded us) “within a strong [albeit limited] juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious.” Most important, ownership of capital must be democratically distributed (not redistributed) throughout society as the chief support for both individual freedom and institutional integrity.

Finally, there must be an end to the worship of the State. The State is not a god; God is God. In His creation, God has given humanity everything it needs to sustain life in a manner befitting the demands of human dignity: “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.” (RN, § 7.)

The primary means to provide for one’s self and one’s dependents is direct ownership of capital: “It is surely undeniable that, when a man engages in remunerative labor, the impelling reason and motive of his work is to obtain property, and thereafter to hold it as his very own. If one man hires out to another his strength or skill, he does so for the purpose of receiving in return what is necessary for the satisfaction of his needs; he therefore expressly intends to acquire a right full and real, not only to the remuneration, but also to the disposal of such remuneration, just as he pleases.” (RN, § 5.)

For these reasons, we believe it is essential that CESJ make every effort to present these concepts to Pope Francis. This, we feel, will inspire the Holy Father to issue a new encyclical to teach principles of economic justice, laying the foundation for a more just and humane future for all.

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