So far we have seen that distribution on the basis of need (or, more properly, redistribution of what belongs to others with a demonstrated “superabundance” to those who lack basic necessities) can be justified as an expedient under the principle of double effect. That is, while redistribution is not just, using the coercive power of the State to take from the “haves” for the benefit of the “have nots” can be justified due to the danger to the common good represented by the potential social disruption resulting from unrelieved material distress.
Pope Francis recently noted that inequality is the root of all social evil. He then recommended redistribution. We covered this before, explaining how redistribution must be regarded as a temporary expedient on the way to a solution, not as a solution.
Unfortunately, many people seem to think that the individual teaching to succor the needy is social justice, not charity or a permitted exception to address an emergency. Having advocated increases in redistribution, they think they have done all they need do; they have been “socially just.”
No, all they have done is mistake an emergency measure for a solution. The problem remains, and will continue to get worse, as we have seen since 1891. Why do the popes continue to stress redistribution and charity? Because many people think that is being advocated as a solution, and can see it won’t work, so they don’t do it. But it’s not intended to “work”! It’s intended to keep things going until the system can be fixed and works.
Because people keep confusing an expedient with a solution, things have gotten so bad that the popes are forced to remind us constantly what our immediate moral, charitable duty is, and the moral, just solution gets lost in the shouts of exultation from the socialists, and dismay from the capitalists. As a result, nothing gets done to effect a real solution, and the situation continues to deteriorate.
The problem with what Pope Francis said — actually a problem with what most people heard — is that he didn’t repeat the solution given by earlier popes: widespread capital ownership. As Pope Leo XIII stated in § 46 of Rerum Novarum, “The law . . . should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners.”
That Leo XIII believed widespread capital ownership to be a solution, and not prudential matter or an expedient, is abundantly clear. As he explained in § 47 of Rerum Novarum, directly refuting socialist claims that redistribution, or abolishing or redefining private property would solve all problems,
“Many excellent results will follow from this; and, first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For, the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide cities into two classes separated by a wide chasm. On the one side there is the party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is not without influence even in the administration of the commonwealth. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sick and sore in spirit and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man's means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair.”
Thus, because Pope Francis didn’t repeat a specific papal teaching, even well-intentioned people were misled by increasingly hysterical reactions in the media and by various “experts” to what they thought Pope Francis was saying. The capitalists thought they were hearing socialism and, frankly, so were the socialists. The direction of the hysteria was just different.
Not that simply reiterating the teaching of Leo XIII would have done all that much good, as Pope Francis is probably aware. Subsequent popes have stressed to the point of redundancy the need for expanded capital ownership, and people have paid even less attention to that solution than they have to the temporary expedient of redistribution.
We think that this is because, while the three principles of economic justice are implicit in the encyclicals and other teachings of the Catholic Church (as they are in anything based on the Aristotelian-Thomism on which Louis Kelso and Mortimer Adler relied when developing the principles, explained in Chapter 5 of The Capitalist Manifesto), they are not set forth plainly or with any particular emphasis by the Catholic Church. It would, therefore, be of immense help if they were stated explicitly, and carefully and clearly explained, possibly in an encyclical dedicated exclusively to the three principles of economic justice.
That, of course, begs the question: What are the “three principles of economic justice”? That is what we will cover in tomorrow’s posting, the final one in this brief series.