Monday, December 7, 2015

What Would Aquinas Do? — The Refugee Solution


Last week on this blog we decided that trying to solve the refugee problem strictly as a refugee problem was not a solution — viable or otherwise.  Nor is military action, while it may be necessary, a solution to a refugee problem.  What is needed, frankly, is a two-pronged approach.  The first prong would be to take care of the immediate situation.  The second prong is to implement an actual solution.

The First Prong

A solution within the Thomist framework.
There are two parts of the first prong of the approach to resolve the refugee crisis within the framework of the philosophy of Aquinas.  That is, take care of people and stop the immediate danger.

First, world religious leaders have to take proactive stand, reminding people that everyone has a stake in resolving this crisis.  Muslim leaders especially have a vested interest in this, as ISIS and other terrorist groups are clearly trying to discredit all of Islam and force it into the "Wahabbi mold."  Muslims are increasingly seen as the problem, so they need to ensure that others see them as the solution, the first part of which is taking the lead in refugee assistance.

Thus, there must be a coordinated effort to take care of people now.  Each country doing it piecemeal virtually ensures that someone — or a lot of someones — is going to fall through the cracks.

It would make sense to have the United Nations coordinate the effort, ensuring that no one country bears too great a burden, and that each country contributes in the most effective manner possible with what it is best able to contribute.  Thus, a country with available space would contribute that, those with food surpluses would contribute food, and so on.

The whole effort would proceed on the assumption that housing, feeding, and clothing refugees is a temporary stopgap.  The goal is to make it possible for people to return to their own countries as soon as possible.

An interfaith, international "crusade"?
The second part of the first prong is to eliminate ISIS, the immediate source of the problem.  This does not mean merely contain, but to bring an end to it.  This, too, cannot be done piecemeal — and, again, Muslims must take the lead.

Others must all join in; it requires a coordinated multinational effort to underscore that ISIS and other terrorist groups have placed themselves outside the global community and rule of law.  In that way, it will be clear that terrorism, whether at the individual, group, or state level, is a global problem, and a recognition that all countries of the world, being equally members of the global community, have a responsibility to join together to bring an end to an immediate threat.

The Second Prong

Again, however, military action is not the solution, as it leaves the underlying problem in place: lack of effective respect for human dignity.  In human terms, there is only one way to resolve that problem, at least within acceptable parameters — we will never be able to attain a world in which every one’s dignity is fully respected, but that does not release us from the obligation to organize and work toward that goal.  This is the work of social justice — organizing to reform out institutions so that they better meet and serve human wants and needs.  It is also fully in accord with the precepts of all major world religions, including Islam.

The New Deal: necessary perhaps, but not a solution.
This understanding of social justice is in sharp contrast to what people usually mean, i.e., large-scale direct assistance to meet individual needs.  No, social justice is directed to the common good, not any individual good.  Yes, charity and almsgiving are meritorious and often essential, but (as the Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides pointed out as the ultimate end of almsgiving) the goal is to make it possible for people to meet their own wants and needs through their own efforts, not to impose desired results.

That being the case, the primary task in implementing and sustaining a solution to the refugee crisis is to reform the institutions in the home countries of the refugees so that they can return and pursue their own lives in peace and security — and that means instituting and maintaining a system based on justice, particularly (but not exclusively) the three principles of economic justice.  These are 1) Participative Justice, 2) Distributive Justice, and 3) Social Justice.

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.

Aristotle on distributive justice: to each according to his inputs.
2. Distributive Justice.  This is the out-take principle based on the exchange or market value of one’s economic contributions.  This is the principle 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.

3. Social Justice.  This is the feedback principle that results in harmony.  Social justice 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 terms, the three principles of economic justice require implementing and maintaining the four pillars of an economically just social order:

Nix the Leviathan State.
• A limited economic role for the State.  The State is a very useful and necessary — and very, very dangerous — social tool.  Politically, it should be under the control of the citizens rather than the other way around.  Economically, because “Power naturally and necessarily follows property,” the economy should be under the control of an economically and politically free citizens, not the State.  When the State becomes responsible for ensuring someone’s wellbeing, that person becomes a dependent of the State, a permanent child or slave.

Planned economies have a poor track record.
• Free and open markets within an understandable and fair system of laws as the most objective and democratic means for determining just prices, just wages and just profits — the residual after all goods or services are sold.  This includes a monetary and tax system that precludes the State from manipulating or interfering in any way with money and credit, including setting interest rates, other than to set and maintain the standard of value and enforce contracts (all money is a form of contract, just as all contracts are a form of money), and to ensure that the State can only raise money by direct taxation or borrowing from existing savings, not emit bills of credit, i.e., “create money.”

• Restoration of private property, especially in corporate equity and other forms of business organization.  Ownership is control in all codes of law, as Louis Kelso pointed out.  That includes “enjoyment of the fruits,” i.e., the income generated by what is owned — all of it.  Thus, corporate shareholders are by natural right entitled to vote their shares, and to receive the full stream of income attributable to their proportionate shares of ownership.  Today, virtually no corporation pays out the full stream of income to the people who are due that income by natural right.

• Widespread capital ownership, individually or in free association with others.  In our technologically advanced global economy, more and more production — income — is due to capital, not labor.  To ensure that everyone has the opportunity to participate in the community as a full member of that community, it is essential that every child, woman, and man have the opportunity and effective means to own productive capital.

Only by adhering to the three principles of economic justice and by implementing the four pillars of an economically just social order can there be a long-term and sustainable solution to the refugee crisis.  As Leo XIII pointed out,

Pope Leo XIII
“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.” (Rerum Novarum, § 47.)

How to do this?  Some suggestions would be to require monitored democratic elections as soon as the situation stabilizes as a condition of assistance, with the added proviso that, whoever gets into office must immediately begin implementing an intensive program of economic democracy along the lines of Capital Homesteading.  Since (as Daniel Webster noted) "Power naturally and necessarily follows property," this will create an economically empowered citizenry that will also be politically empowered, and be able to deal immediately with any threats from outside or (more importantly) inside the country from wannabe dictators or saviors.

As for other repressive regimes, it should be possible to make economic assistance contingent on the same conditions.  Most countries are so far in debt that they can't risk cutting off the flow of aid.  This would have the double advantage of empowering the citizens instead of a political élite as is usually the case with aid, and rebuilding the tax base to the point where they can start paying down debt instead of incurring more.  (For an explanation of some of the basic principles of money, credit, private property, and so on, behind these recommendations, go to "Learn About CESJ" on the CESJ website.  It will help answer some questions you might have.)

The question that remains is, Is there a specific program?  The answer is “yes,” and we will look at it next week.

#30#

No comments: