Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Problem of Wealth, I: The Socialist Solution

The word is out.  Eight people in the world own more wealth than half the human race combined.  Given Adam Smith’s first principle of economics (“Consumption is the sole end and purpose of all production”), that means less than a dozen people each have the potential to consume 430,000,000,000 times what it takes to support one individual at a minimum — give or take a few million.
There's a reason it's called "the Staff of Life."
To oversimplify quite a bit, that means that if it takes one loaf of bread a day to stay alive, the Eight Oligarchs have on the average enough wealth to fill their stomachs 430 billion times a day.  So what are we supposed to do about it? 
Let’s take a look at the socialist solution.  If some people have too much, obviously they got it dishonestly.  Kill them and redistribute their ill-gotten gains to the people who deserve it.
And what’s wrong with that?
Mathematics, for one.  If all eight Oligarchs were slain, even in an amusing manner (something with boiling oil in it) and all their wealth redistributed equally among the 7 billion people in the world, it would only meet consumption needs for three days, four tops.
"We are at the beginning of a new fashion in men."
And that’s aside from the fact that socialism is based on an unsound idea of society, viz., that humanity in general has rights that individuals do not, a “concept of society . . . utterly foreign to Christian truth” (Quadragesimo Anno, § 117).  This, as the late Fulton J. Sheen pointed out, puts Collective Man at the center of things, not God, and turns the State into the source of all good (and evil, too).  As he identified the principal error of the modern age,
Now [1943] we are at the beginning of a new fashion in men.  With increases of taxes, decline in income, blind men discovered man lived in a State and was dependent on it for his ideas, his values, and thus was born the political man who has rights because the new lawyers told him the State gave him rights.  (Fulton J. Sheen, Philosophies at War.  New York: Charles Scribner & Sons, 1943, 84.)
Adding to the problem is the strange creature known as the “Christian socialist.”  Never having learned to think very clearly, and often basing even his understanding of science and philosophy on faith instead of reason, this living contradiction insists on combining the natural with the supernatural — “because God said so.”
The Christian socialist doesn’t realize that something is right and good not because he believes believe God said so, but because it can be shown by reason that God is so.  This is because the natural law is based not on something accepted by faith as God’s Will, but on what people discern as good “by the force and light of human reason” (Humani Generis, § 2).
When the State takes care of you.
In this framework, something the Christian socialist calls “social justice” demands that everybody receive what he or she needs from the State From Which All Blessings Flow.  After all (as one such enthusiast put it), “The State is the sole intercessor available to the poor.”  (Dr. Rupert J. Ederer, “Solidaristic Economics,” Fidelity magazine, July 1994, 9-15.)  Of course it is . . . if you don’t mind turning everyone into “mere creatures of the State.”
Again as Fulton Sheen pointed out, the problem here is that the Christian socialist is mixing the natural and the supernatural into some nearly incoherent and unholy mix.  This, as Sheen explained, accounts for the drift into totalitarianism and worship of the tool of the State.  After all, if charity, a supernatural virtue, replaces justice, a natural virtue, then the State can force people to be “good” . . . however it happens to define “good” at that time, e.g., human sacrifice, abortion, abolition or redefinition of marriage — whatever expedience dictates or the will of the majority or powerful minority demands.
The actual case is somewhat different.  Charity does not replace or substitute for justice.  Instead, as the “soul” of justice, charity completes and fulfills — perfects — justice.  If the demands of justice are not first met, then what is called “social justice” or “charity” is nothing of the sort.  It is merely an elaborate and disguised form of injustice.  As Leo XIII explained,
[N]o one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for his own needs and those of his household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly his condition in life, “for no one ought to live other than becomingly.” But, when what necessity demands has been supplied, and one's standing fairly taken thought for, it becomes a duty to give to the indigent out of what remains over. “Of that which remaineth, give alms.” It is a duty, not of justice (save in extreme cases), but of Christian charity — a duty not enforced by human law.  (Rerum Novarum, § 22.)
“But,” the Christian socialist protests, “the super-concentration of wealth in so few hands is an ‘extreme case.’  Clearly we are obligated to redistribute wealth, and it is justice, not charity, and the State can enforce it!  God’s Will demands it!  That’s social justice!”
That, of course, begs the question as to whether confiscating everything the rich currently own and redistributing will do anything other than gratify some need for revenge.  We saw above that the math doesn’t appear to work.
Setting aside the arithmetic, redistribution is not charity, because the demands of justice have not been met . . . and it’s not social justice because that’s not what social justice is.  Social justice is the particular virtue directed to the common good, not any individual good.
Abraham Lincoln and Stephen Douglas
Voluntary redistribution comes under charity.  Involuntary redistribution comes under justice in extreme cases as an expedient in an emergency — and it must not be instituted as a regular thing or last one moment longer than absolutely necessary.  Otherwise you’re forcing some people to produce for the benefit of others, which is the definition of slavery, at least as Abraham Lincoln understood it:
That is the real issue. That is the issue that will continue in this country when these poor tongues of Judge Douglas and myself shall be silent. It is the eternal struggle between these two principles — right and wrong — throughout the world. They are the two principles that have stood face to face from the beginning of time; and will ever continue to struggle. The one is the common right of humanity and the other the divine right of kings. It is the same principle in whatever shape it develops itself. It is the same spirit that says, “You work and toil and earn bread, and I’ll eat it.” No matter in what shape it comes, whether from the mouth of a king who seeks to bestride the people of his own nation and live by the fruit of their labor, or from one race of men as an apology for enslaving another race, it is the same tyrannical principle.  (Debate with Stephen Douglas at Alton, Illinois, October 15, 1858.)
And that is the problem with the socialist solution, Christian or otherwise, regardless how you dress it up.  It seeks to enslave one set of people for the benefit of others, usually in revenge for the enslavement (real or imagined) of the others by the first set.
But is the capitalist solution any better?

1 comment:

Michael D. Greaney said...

Okay, for those of you thinking we're being particularly heartless referring to boiling oil as something funny, the allusion is to Act II of The Mikado, libretto by W.S. Gilbert. The Emperor of Japan has just discovered that the people of Titipu executed the heir apparent of Japan by mistake (or so they told him), and tried to excuse themselves by declaring they had no

Mikado. Of course you hadn't. How could you? Come, come, my good fellow, don't distress yourself — it was no fault of yours. If a man of exalted rank chooses to disguise himself as a Second Trombone, he must take the consequences. It really distresses me to see you take on so. I've no doubt he thoroughly deserved all he got. (They rise.)

Ko-Ko. We are infinitely obliged to your Majesty —

Pitti-Sing. Much obliged, your Majesty.

Pooh-Bah. Very much obliged, your Majesty.

Mikado. Obliged? not a bit. Don't mention it. How could you tell?

Pooh-Bah. No, of course we couldn't tell who the gentleman really was.

Pitti-Sing. It wasn't written on his forehead, you know.

Ko-Ko. It might have been on his pocket-handkerchief, but Japanese don't use pocket-handkerchiefs! Ha! ha! ha!

Mikado. Ha! ha! ha! (to Katisha) I forget the punishment for compassing the death of the Heir Apparent.

Ko-Ko, Pooh-Bah & Pitti-Sing. Punishment. (They drop down on their knees again.)

Mikado. Yes. Something lingering, with boiling oil in it, I fancy. Something of that sort. I think boiling oil occurs in it, but I'm not sure. I know it's something humorous, but lingering, with either boiling oil or melted lead. Come, come, don't fret — I'm not a bit angry.