Thursday, November 10, 2016

Solidarism and the Just Third Way, II: Limited Economic Role for the State


Especially these days, people seem confused about the proper role of the State.  Many, if not most people haven’t bothered to find out what the State is supposed to be doing or even what the State really is — a social tool, not the “Mortall God” of totalitarian philosopher Thomas Hobbes.  That is why we usually list the pillar having to do with the social tool of the State before the others — as did Father Heinrich Pesch.
Here CESJ finds itself in full agreement with Father Pesch — in theory, at least — and Father Pesch’s Lehrbuch was, by his own admission, not to be construed as a handbook for economic practice, but as a work of theory. (Jacques Yenni, S.J., “Pesch’s Goal of the Economy” Social Order, April, 1951, 175.)  As one expert on solidarism explained,
Individuals, not the State, are primarily responsible for themselves.
The attainment of their private material welfare by individuals and private social units, such as families, is a matter of double causation.  It must be the immediate product of their own self-responsible efforts and initiative.  And it is, secondly, the mediate product of the public material welfare.
Thus, individuals and non-public social groups have the direct responsibility for realizing their private material welfare. (2, 289 and 316; 3, 826 [these are references to the Lehrbuch, volume and page number])  To allow for self-responsibility, social economy must be organized on a basis of private enterprise and considerable freedom to compete in productive activity and in the determination of one’s consumption pattern.  (2, 316; 5, 123) [Emphasis in original.] (Ibid., 172.)
That is, the normal way of doing things is for people to secure their “private material welfare” by their own efforts.  The State or other social body, “public material welfare,” is permitted to offer assistance to “individuals and non-public social groups” under the principle of double effect (“a matter of double causation”).  “The goal of social economy does not involve a full provision for all the wants of all the citizens.  To assign such a goal to the economic system would be to demand, in effect, the very disappearance of the ‘problem of economy’ itself.” (Ibid., 170.)
Wage slavery is still slavery
This “principle of double effect” allows an unintended evil, in this case, the imposition of dependency status on “individuals and private social units” and a measure of degradation of human dignity, as an expedient in order to meet material needs in an emergency.  Thus, such good or morally indifferent mechanisms as the living wage, family allowances, health benefits, and so on, may be necessary to maintain people in a manner otherwise consistent with the demands of human dignity, and there is nothing wrong with them per se . . . but they have the unintended evil effect of undermining that same human dignity.  A living wage system is still a wage system, and is a "structure of sin" because it takes for granted the dependent status of the worker and his or her family.
The unintended evil is only allowed as long as the intended good outweighs it.  Keeping people alive and well is more important than how they are kept alive and well — as long as it is not done by objectively evil means.  The State cannot, for example, tax the rich to the point where the rich become poor themselves and eligible for state or private assistance, (Rerum Novarum, § 67.) or burden an employer with paying a living wage when it would drive him into bankruptcy. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 72.)
When our tools are in charge. . . .
Further, any action allowed under the principle of double effect is permitted only as long as there is no other way to achieve the necessary and desired end.  The State may not, for example, continue social welfare programs when there is other recourse for people to meet their “material welfare,” such as widespread ownership of the means of production and access to the means of acquiring and possessing property.  The State is only a tool, and tools should not be in charge.
Social welfare programs (“public material welfare”) become morally reprehensible when the unintended evil becomes intended.  That is, when the intent becomes to keep people economically dependent on the State or their wealthy private employers.  As Father Pesch stated, the “social economy must be organized on a basis of private enterprise and considerable freedom to compete in productive activity and in the determination of one’s consumption pattern,” in order “to allow for self-responsibility.” (See also Rev. John Francis Murphy, S.T.L., The Moral Obligation of the Individual to Participate in Catholic Action.  Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press, 1958.)
Those benefits have a price tag attached: your freedom.
Father Pesch’s idea was that the State’s “mediate product” of enabling citizens to secure their own welfare is subordinate to the “immediate product” of it being the primary duty of the citizens themselves to secure that welfare.  This fits in perfectly with CESJ’s “limited economic role for the State.”
Father Pesch’s concept also reinforces CESJ’s pillar of “free and open markets,” for, if markets do not offer free access to all participants, the ordinary citizen can hardly be held responsible for securing his own welfare through his own efforts.  No one, after all, is obligated to do the impossible.  CESJ would only add that, by means of the act of social justice as defined by Pius XI and systematized by Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., one of CESJ’s co-founders, continuing efforts must be made to organize society along more just lines.
Why did Father Pesch insist on limiting the power of the social tool of the State?  He was, in part, reacting to the Germanic tendency to give too great a role to the State.  This tendency was most marked in Catholics, of course, among the socialists, whom Father Pesch singled out as a special focus of instruction.  Certain of his latter day disciples have disagreed, particularly those who are socialists, but as Father Pesch remarked, “Socialism as a ‘scientific’ system is dead, but the socialists are still with us.” (Lehrbuch, 1, 380.)  In this, however, he came up against what seemed to be an almost inherent idiosyncrasy of the German character.  As analyzed by Alfred Diamant,
Alfred Diamant
Austrian Catholics failed to devise political and social institutions which correctly expressed their basic propositions.  Instead of providing for the undisturbed development of a multitude of social organs and for a reasonably clear distinction between State and society, Austrian Catholics continuously exalted the position of the State at the expense of all other social organs.  This can be traced primarily to their concept of State and law as instruments for the enforcement of moral and ethical standards.  A State which claims the right to enforce such standards inevitably will seriously weaken, if not destroy, the area of society, the area of voluntary action.  Austrian Catholics might have recognized theoretically the right of a variety of social organs to apply these moral and ethical standards, derived from theology and natural law, but a long étatiste tradition predisposed them to appeal to the State and to use the State for enforcement of such standards. (Alfred Diamant, Austrian Catholics and the Social Question, 1918-1933.  Gainesville, Flordia: University of Florida Press, 1959, 13-14.)
We therefore necessarily conclude that a living wage system, the usual panacea today for individual economic ills, is a short-term expedient, permitted under the principle of double effect to address an emergency situation.  It is not a long-term solution to the economic or social ills of society.  The natural way for man to support himself and his dependents is the ancient and sacred institution of private property.  In this the views of Father Heinrich Pesch and CESJ appear to be perfectly consistent.
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