Last week we saw how, as advancing technology displaces people at an accelerating rate even from jobs formerly believed to be immune to that sort of thing, “the Millennials” are trapped in a situation in which they are forced by circumstances into divvying up a decreasing amount of production allocated to labor.
|Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.|
“Production allocated to labor”? Don’t we mean “production due to labor”? No. For a variety of reasons, many of them analyzed in detail in The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization (1937), a study by solidarist labor economist Dr. Goetz Briefs (a student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J., and a member of the Königswinterkreis discussion group), labor has been garnering more than it is due in terms of strict distributive and commutative justice.
Louis O. Kelso and Mortimer J. Adler came to the same conclusion, independent of Briefs, and both advocated the same solution as Briefs. Nor were they alone. William Thomas Thornton came to the same conclusion nearly a century before Kelso and Adler published The Capitalist Manifesto (1958) in his treatise, On Labour: Its Wrongful Claims and Rightful Dues, Its Actual Present and Possible Future (1869, 1870). So did Charles Morrison in his 1854 An Essay on the Relations Between Labour and Capital. Before either of them, the “radical” politician William Cobbet made a strong case for expanded ownership. It was, however, Pope Leo XIII who perhaps expressed the solution best:
We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners. (Rerum Novarum, § 46.)
Obviously (if we believe the pope) you don’t have to be “labor” (or “labour”) in order to qualify for ownership of capital — which, despite the denial, even hysteria of the socialists, is precisely what Leo XIII was talking about . . . as were Cobbett, Morrison, Thornton, Briefs, Kelso, Adler, and a raft of others all through history.
The problem was that the obvious solution always came up against a seemingly impenetrable barrier: the presumed necessity of past savings to finance new capital formation. What has been called “the slavery of past savings” presents us with two unacceptable alternatives.
One, we accept the natural law rights of life, liberty, and property as inalienable. This means that whoever provides the financing for new capital, owns the new capital. Thus, if the rich, who by definition have a monopoly on past savings, finance new capital with their savings, they will own the new capital. If, however, the poor, who by definition have no savings at all, finance new capital . . . .
Okay, we see the problem. Under the past savings assumption and respecting the natural law, most people cannot own capital. Ownership of capital is concentrated in a diminishing number of increasingly wealthy people. Technological advancement aggravates this situation in two ways. 1) Technology produces more wealth than labor, so owners of capital can accumulate more wealth faster and faster. 2) Advanced technology in its initial stages is very expensive, and costs more than anyone can possibly save out of labor income.
This is capitalism.
Two, we change the “rules” — the natural law — to get us what we want. All rights become alienable. Whoever has the most power decides who (if anyone) owns anything, including new capital. The State, rather than the human person, becomes the source of rights.
This is socialism.
Tomorrow we’ll look into freeing ourselves from the slavery of past savings that forces us into either capitalism or socialism.