Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Solidarism and the Just Third Way, IV: Expanded Capital Ownership


Today we look at the fourth pillar of a just market economy, expanded capital ownership.  Father Pesch did not specifically list widespread ownership as a pillar in his system of solidarity, but — as we will demonstrate — it is necessarily implied in his third pillar, “private property.”
Why?  Because “property” is actually two things, both of which can be meant by the single word.  Unfortunately, that leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding, especially when people confuse the thing owned with the rights of ownership, or fail to distinguish between the right to be an owner from the bundle of rights that define what an owner may legitimately do with what is owned.  Father Pesch included both of these meanings under a single pillar.  Having lawyers help draw up the four pillars of a just market economy, CESJ separates them.
Putting the cart before the horse in a sense, we already covered what an owner may do with what is owned.  This was yesterday, under “restoration of the rights of private property,” also known as the “universal destination of all goods,” which (as we noted yesterday) is probably a really bad way of putting it, as it kind of sounds like socialism.  No, it just means that “use” (i.e., the exercise of the rights of property) should always be in accordance with the demands of the common good of all humanity, and the requirement not to do harm to others or the common good.
Today we look at the right to be an owner at all, the “generic right of dominion” — another way of saying something that causes problems . . . until you look in the dictionary and realize that “generic” means “something that every member of a class has,” viz., “of, applicable to, or referring to all the members of a genus, class, group, or kind; general.”
“Generic” does not mean something that only the group has, but that members of the group do not . . . even though that is the meaning some people impute to it.  The “generic right of dominion” means — and can only mean — that each and every human being has the same right to be an owner as every other human being, and thus the same right of access to the means to become an owner.
This is an application of the first principle of reason you’ve seen many times on this blog.  In its “positive” aspect it is the principle of identity.  This is stated as, “That which is true is as true, and is true in the same way, as everything else that is true.”
Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.
Sadly, some latter day disciples of Father Pesch have insisted on reinterpreting his plain meaning.  They insist Father Pesch, like Marx, meant only consumer goods or, as other commentators on the social encyclicals insist, agricultural land (National Conference of Catholic Bishops, Economic Justice for All: Pastoral Letter on Catholic Social Teaching and the U.S. Economy (Washington, DC:  United States Catholic Conference, 1986), § 19.), or only sufficient property to generate a little extra pocket money, e.g.,
Pay a man a just wage and he can buy stock with his extra income, or tools or rental property, or he can simply put extra money aside in liquid savings accounts that is his business, and there is nothing especially sacred about owning stock, even in the company where he happens to work.  (Dr. Rupert J. Ederer, Letter to Father John H. Miller, C.S.C., S.T.D., August 4, 1993.)
Interestingly, Pope Leo XIII contradicted the claim that “there is nothing especially sacred about owning stock”: “The first and most fundamental principle, therefore, if one would undertake to alleviate the condition of the masses, must be the inviolability of private property.” (Rerum Novarum, § 15); “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.” (Ibid., § 46.)
John Paul II: Ownership is important.
Contradicting Dr. Ederer, the right to be an owner is inherent in every human being in the same way.  Owning stock, therefore, is just as “sacred and inviolable” as owning anything else — and is especially relevant when it comes to owning a part of the company where someone “happens to work.”  As Pope St. John Paul II reemphasized this point in § 12 of his encyclical on human work, Laborem Exercens:
It is obvious that, when we speak of opposition between labor and capital, we are not dealing only with abstract concepts or “impersonal forces” operating in economic production. Behind both concepts there are people, living, actual people: on the one side are those who do the work without being the owners of the means of production, and on the other side those who act as entrepreneurs and who own these means or represent the owners. Thus the issue of ownership or property enters from the beginning into the whole of this difficult historical process. The Encyclical Rerum Novarum, which has the social question as its theme, stresses this issue also, recalling and confirming the Church’s teaching on ownership, on the right to private property even when it is a question of the means of production. The Encyclical Mater et Magistra did the same. . . .
Furthermore, in the Church’s teaching, ownership has never been understood in a way that could constitute grounds for social conflict in labor. As mentioned above, property is acquired first of all through work in order that it may serve work. This concerns in a special way ownership of the means of production. Isolating these means as a separate property in order to set it up in the form of “capital” in opposition to “labor” — and even to practice exploitation of labor — is contrary to the very nature of these means and their possession. They cannot be possessed against labor, they cannot even be possessed for possession’s sake, because the only legitimate title to their possession — whether in the form of private ownership or in the form of public or collective ownership — is that they should serve labor, and thus, by serving labor, that they should make possible the achievement of the first principle of this order, namely, the universal destination of goods and the right to common use of them.
Pius XI: free association is key to social justice.
In light of these statements, to claim that there is “nothing especially sacred” about owning a piece of the company in which someone works borders on the delusional.  That interpretation does extreme violence to the clear link between work, and the tools (including the institution of the corporation) with which one works.  As Pope Pius XI explained the importance of the many forms of free associations (such as business corporations) for the restructuring of the social order,
Moreover, just as inhabitants of a town are wont to found associations with the widest diversity of purposes, which each is quite free to join or not, so those engaged in the same industry or profession will combine with one another into associations equally free for purposes connected in some manner with the pursuit of the calling itself. Since these free associations are clearly and lucidly explained by Our Predecessor of illustrious memory, We consider it enough to emphasize this one point: People are quite free not only to found such associations, which are a matter of private order and private right, but also in respect to them “freely to adopt the organization and the rules which they judge most appropriate to achieve their purpose.”  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 87.)
Therefore, by taking into account Father Pesch’s support of the free market and the importance of private property for the support of marriage and the family, we can conclude that Father Pesch would certainly have agreed with CESJ’s fourth pillar.  He may not, though, have agreed with the necessity of stating something so obvious, particularly since Leo XIII had already explicitly said as much, as we pointed out above.
Father Pesch agreed with CESJ that “capitalism” is not the same as the free enterprise system or even use of capital.  As G.K. Chesterton said, “If the use of capital is capitalism, then everything is capitalism.” (G. K. Chesterton, “The Beginning of the Quarrel,” The Outline of Sanity, Volume V, Collected Works.  San Francisco, California: Ignatius Press, 1987, 43.)  As one authority on Father Pesch’s work put it, “Needless to say, Father Pesch rejected the socialist identification of capitalism with the institution of private property and with free enterprise.  But he also objected to the notion that the essence of capitalism consists merely in the extensive use of capital goods (produced means of production).  ‘Capitalism,’ he said, ‘is control of the national economy through the unrestrained and uninhibited acquisitiveness of the owners of capital.’” (Franz H. Mueller, “I Knew Heinrich Pesch, the Formative Influence of a ‘Human Scholar’” Social Order, April, 1951, 149.)
We necessarily conclude that Father Pesch’s views on property are fully consistent with those of the Just Third Way.  The only question is how anybody ever came to a different conclusion — a subject we are not prepared to discuss, even if our readers were interested in something so tedious and trivial.
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