Monday, April 13, 2015

Pope Francis and Property, II: Article 17, or, Why Families Need Capital

A while back (we won’t say how long. . . .) we attended one of those UN conferences on the family.  We were with Father Matthew Habiger, O.S.B., Ph.D., then head of Human Life International.  We don’t recall exactly how he said it, but the gist of the message we were there to deliver was that preserving strong families requires the ability to be productive in order to provide sufficient food, fuel, and fiber to maintain a living standard consistent with the demands of human dignity.

"Look guys, people gotta own capital when labor doesn't produce."
If a wage system job won’t do the trick (and, in a developed economy, it can’t, not in competition with advancing technology) then — as Louis Kelso put it — people who formerly relied on labor alone to produce goods and services must become owners of capital to supplement or even replace income (production) from labor, with income (production) from capital.  Nowadays, of course, it’s not so much preserving strong families as saving the family, period.

This brings in the importance of private property, especially private property in the capital that today does most of the economic work producing marketable goods and services.  Maintaining — or restoring — the family requires an adequate and secure income sufficient to meet common domestic needs adequately, as Pius XI rather broadly hinted in §§ 61 and 71 of Quadragesimo Anno — and the context makes it clear that the pope’s concept of “wages” includes all forms of both labor and capital income, defined by Leo XIII as “wages under another form” (Rerum Novarum, § 5).

"Guys, GUYS! I wasn't as clear as I could have been. Get over it."
By the way, did we ever mention that agreeing with the pope doesn’t necessarily mean agreeing with a lousy or poor papal choice of words?  In classical economic terminology, “wages” are what is due to labor, “rent” is what is due to the owner of land or any other asset “not consumed by its use,” and “interest” (profit) is due to the owner of other, non-landed capital.

Confusingly, the popes have lumped all forms of income from productive endeavor under the general heading of “wages.”  Does this mean that they believe that all production is due to labor?  Hardly: “Each needs the other: capital cannot do without labor, nor labor without capital.”  (Rerum Novarum, § 19.)

Think about that.  If “capital cannot do without labor,” nor vice versa, it logically follows that, while it’s sloppy or inaccurate to say that income from land or other capital is “wages under another form,” it cannot mean that capital is congealed or accumulated labor (or something like that), for they are clearly differentiated.

It seems evident, then, that Leo XIII and subsequent popes would have done much better to use “income” and include “wages,” rather than what they’ve done, which is to use “wages” to mean “income.”  This just gave the socialists the leverage they needed to claim that labor alone is productive — something later popes explicitly denied . . . but who’s listening?  According to “only-labor-is-productive” school of thought, Pius XI was talking through his hat, er, tiara when he said, commenting on what Leo XIII said in § 19 of Rerum Novarum,

"Okay, not the best words, but I did explain!"
“Wherefore it is wholly false to ascribe to property alone or to labor alone whatever has been obtained through the combined effort of both, and it is wholly unjust for either, denying the efficacy of the other, to arrogate to itself whatever has been produced.”  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 53.)

So what has this got to do with the UN?  Aside from the fact that the UN seems at times almost hostile to the family?  And the Catholic Church?  And mom?  And apple pie?  And pretty much anything they define as Christian, Jewish, conservative, or, or, or . . . ?

Article 17 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights, that’s what.  We don’t know if it’s true, but someone told us once that Article 17 was included at the insistence of the Vatican.  Even if not true, a Monsignor from Australia during the UN conference we attended told us that strong efforts were being made to remove it — and the Catholic Church was resisting.

So — given the importance of capital ownership to restore and maintain the family, exactly what was the UN doing by holding expensive conferences on the family that didn’t seem to have too much to do with trying to keep things together, but rather with tearing them apart?  Could it have been that, while the abolition of the family is the goal of some groups today, this cannot be done until and unless the family is completely propertyless — and thus powerless — to resist the inroads of the State?

Article 17.

(1) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.

(2) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of his property.

Do you really want to get rid of private property?  You're in "good" company: every totalitarian and dictator in history has wanted exactly the same thing, e.g., Karl Marx (keeping in mind that Marx declared that communism is merely the purest form of socialism): "The theory of the communists can be summed up in the single sentence: the abolition of private property."  (Believe it or not, we actually had one "Catholic commentator" declare that Marx couldn't define socialism, so insistent was he on having the substance of socialism without calling himself a socialist.  Uh, huh.)

The bottom line?  If you want to destroy the family, abolish private property.  If you want to restore the family, restore private property.


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