Thursday, November 7, 2013

"Distributive Justice"?, XIII: Economic Justice

In the previous posting in this series we (very briefly) traced the recent development of reason-based social thought since Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, a development that took place within the Aristotelian-Thomist philosophical framework.  It is clear that G. K. Chesterton, along with Fulton Sheen, the popes, and others, based his social thought solidly on the natural law based on God’s Nature self-realized in His Intellect, that is, reason (lex ratio), not the Will, that is, faith (lex voluntas).

Considering that it seems to be for his social thought as well as his personal (presumed) sanctity and heroic virtue that Chesterton’s “process for canonization” is being considered, his reliance on Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy is all to the good.  What is not all to the good — or good in any way — is the fact that the followers of the “Apostle of Common Sense” have, in large measure, abandoned that same reason-based Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy, confused form with substance, and gone with their own versions of a faith-based system that has only superficial resemblance to anything Chesterton was talking about.

That is, the Chestertonian Establishment has, in large measure, replaced the Aquinas’s thought with something that, while it “looks” the same and uses many of the same terms and concepts, bases matters on faith instead of reason, and thus on charity instead of justice.  The Chestertonian Establishment ends up 180 degrees from Chesterton’s actual position.  Thus, a Professional Chestertonian or neo-distributist of today would assert that, “It’s true because I believe that’s what Chesterton/the Church/Carleton the Doorman said.”

A member of the Chestertonian Establishment does not typically state a premise, prove the premise true by presenting a logical argument or empirical evidence, and then conclude that Chesterton/the Church/Carleton the Doorman said something because it’s true.  Instead, you hear that “because so-and-so said” (or words to that effect) stated as conclusive proof, rather than “as so-and-so said” offered in support of proof already presented.

Not that the work of Chesterton, Sheen, Pesch, Mounier, Kelso and Adler, or even the popes is perfect in every way, of course.  All of it is, nevertheless, definitely headed in the right direction.  Just as, e.g., the popes developed Pesch’s and Mounier’s work by integrating the act of social justice, the addition of Kelso and Adler’s three principles of economic justice and the reorientation of financial assumptions away from the currency principle and toward the banking principle clarifies and develops the thought of the popes.  (Returning the compliment, that of the popes fleshes out the work of Kelso and Adler.)

This raises the question as to what, exactly, are the “three principles of economic justice.”  To explain, the three principles of economic justice as CESJ has integrated them into the overall framework of the Just Third Way are:

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.”  (“Justice,” Black’s Law Dictionary. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Company, 1951.)

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-deter-mined 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.”  (Karl Marx, Critique of the Gotha Program, 1875.)  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.” (John Paul I, General Audience, Wednesday, September 6, 1978.)  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.”  (Mishneh Torah, Laws of Charity, 10:7-14.)

3. Social Justice. This is the feedback principle that results in harmony, that rebalances participative justice and distributive justice when the system violates either essential principle. Social justice includes a concept of limitation that discourages personal greed and prevents social monopolies. In general, 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. What we’re concerned with here is the application of social justice to the common good of specific economic institutions in order to bring those institutions into conformity with the demands of the common good of all society.

Most briefly stated, the “currency principle” to which we referred is that “money” consists or can consist exclusively of the present value of past reductions in consumption (“past savings”).  Thus — unless we change the meaning of the natural rights of private property and free association/contract — under ordinary circumstances the only people who can own capital are those who are already rich enough to be able to reduce consumption and accumulate “past savings.”  If we abolish private property and freedom of association/contract, of course, we can turn matters over to the community or State, thereby replacing a natural law based on reason (lex ratio), with one based on will or faith (lex voluntas).

Just as briefly stated, the “banking principle” to which we referred is that “money” consists of anything that can be accepted in settlement of a debt (“all things transferred in commerce”).  That is, “money” consists of anything that has a “present value” that can be transferred in commerce to settle a debt.  Specifically, “money” consists of a claim on both past and future savings, the present value of both past reductions in consumption and future increases in production.  All “money” is therefore a contract, just as (in a sense) all contracts are money.

Money therefore consists of offer, acceptance, and consideration, the basic elements of all contracts.  “Consideration” is defined as “the inducement to enter into a contract,” that is, whatever of value is being exchanged (or why bother to enter into a contract?), that the parties to the contract must own as private property.  To say, then, that money is a general claim on the wealth of society abolishes private property.  To say that only the State can create money abolishes freedom of association/contract.

There is also the rather legalistic point that all contracts come under commutative justice, while the State operates on the basis of distributive justice.  Distributive justice functions to determine what is just in a particular situation, while commutative justice functions to see that it is delivered.  For example, the determination of a just wage under specific conditions falls under distributive justice, while its payment falls under commutative justice.

Given that existing accumulations of wealth are not, strictly speaking, necessary for someone to be able to agree to deliver wealth in the future (collateral is a separate issue that we won’t get into here), anybody whose promise is good can use that promise to finance new capital formation and become a capital owner, paying for the capital with future increases in production instead of past reductions in consumption.  Ownership of new capital need no longer be a virtual monopoly of the currently wealthy (capitalism), or an actual monopoly of the community or State (socialism).

Unfortunately, members of the Chestertonian Establishment — as well as a large number of other people, notably academics and politicians — have, in the course of their abandonment or rejection of Aristotelian-Thomist philosophy (or because of it), redefined these critical terms.  “Distributive justice” that governs the determination of distributions based on a pro rata contribution to production, has been changed to mean actual distribution based on need or “gift.”  Commutative justice, the justice governing all contracts and thus the delivery or fulfillment of what is just, seems to have been abolished altogether.

“Social justice,” instead of being the particular virtue directed to the common good (specifically those institutions that make up the common good), is now just another name for the redefined “distributive justice,” which is actually coerced redistribution, a form of false charity, and neither justice nor charity.  Concepts of money and credit are so confused that the terms mean anything and everything.

The question now, of course, is, how did this mix-up happen?  How did something so reasonable as the application of basic principles of the natural law, even the principles themselves, get twisted so far out of shape that it bears no resemblance “to what, if left to themselves, common men would call common sense”? (Chesterton, The “Dumb Ox,” op. cit., 145.)


1 comment:

nail-in-the-wall said...

Fulton Sheen: “Having little to defend economically, the masses are not so apt to identify justice with the present order of things. It is easy for the man who is comfortable to fall into the error of believing that any protest against his possessions is revolutionary. But for the masses justice is not the maintenance of the status quo, but an order which gives equal opportunity to all. Their struggle for the economic necessities has convinced them that the good and just things must be re-captured from day to day.”

~ Fulton J. Sheen, For God and Country, The Masses and God, 1941.