Wednesday, June 14, 2017

“The Redemption of the Non-Owning Workers”

Yesterday we looked at the situation of the non-owning worker, and briefly touched on the matter of the fair wage, which many people assume to be the essence of social justice.  Much to the surprise of such people, however, it turns out that neither wages nor private property is the essence of social justice.  Both wages and private property come under individual justice.  As Pope Pius XI explained in § 79 of Quadragesimo Anno,

Pius XI: The fair wage is individual, not social, justice.
What We have thus far stated regarding an equitable distribution of property and regarding just wages concerns individual persons and only indirectly touches social order, to the restoration of which according to the principles of sound philosophy and to its perfection according to the sublime precepts of the law of the Gospel, Our Predecessor, Leo XIII, devoted all his thought and care.
This throws a monkey wrench into the works for both individualists and collectivists — or, for you Francophiles, a wooden shoe or sabot, for le sabotage.  Many people have committed themselves completely to the belief that “social justice” (as well as the whole mission of Church and State) is the direct amelioration of the ills of the temporal order, and the overall material benefit of humanity.
As the religious socialist Claude Henri de Rouvroy, comte de Saint-Simon (1760-1825) put it when setting forth the principles of his new religion that he termed “New Christianity,” and his Apostles (their term) called Le Église Saint-Simonienne, “the Church of Saint-Simonism,”
The whole of society ought to strive towards the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class; society ought to organize itself in the way best adapted for attaining this end.  (Henri de Saint-Simon, Nouveau Christianisme, 1825.)
Saint-Simon: the Prophet of New Christianity
Is that, however, what Pius XI — or Leo XIII — meant?  That the Catholic Church as well as all other organized religions should transform themselves into NGOs and social service agencies and devote all their efforts to “the amelioration of the moral and physical existence of the poorest class”?  Is that all “social justice” means?
Not according to Pius XI.  (Leo XIII never used the term “social justice.”  In his day, along with “democratic religion,” “New Christianity,” and a host of other terms, it was just one more euphemism for “socialism.”  Pius XI changed that.)  As far as Pius XI was concerned, “social justice” is the particular virtue directed to institutions — social habits — by means of and within which people realize their individual good.
That is, social justice is directed not to any individual good, but to the common good, that vast network of institutions within which human beings as “political animals” realize their individual good.  As Pius XI explained in § 53 of Divini Redemptoris,
It happens all too frequently . . . under the salary system, that individual employers a
Meet the demands of Justice
re helpless to ensure justice unless, with a view to its practice, they organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment for the workers. Where this is true, it is the duty of contractors and employers to support and promote such necessary organizations as normal instruments enabling them to fulfill their obligations of justice.
Most people skim right through this, assuming that the many explicit references to social justice in the preceding paragraphs mean that the “justice” mentioned in the first sentence in this paragraph is also “social justice”; the pope just forgot to put the word in.
Very much the contrary!  When Pius XI said “justice,” he clearly meant classic, individual justice, e.g., “individual employers are helpless to ensure justice.”
And social justice?  “[T]hey organize institutions the object of which is to prevent competition incompatible with fair treatment for the workers . . . [and] enabl[e] them to fulfill their obligations of justice.”
So, what does individual justice demand in the above paragraph?  That’s easy: the payment of a fair wage.
And what does social justice demand in the above paragraph?  Even easier . . . if it is read carefully: the reform of institutions to make the payment of a fair wage possible.
Shall we put it even simpler?
·       Individual justice = paying fair wage
·       Social justice = makes paying fair wage possible
Rev. William J. Ferree, S,M,, Ph.D., CESJ co-founder
If you do not see the difference, go no further.  The rest of this posting, actually pretty much everything on this blog, will make absolutely no sense to you.  You might want to give a go at reading Introduction to Social Justice (1948), a pamphlet written by CESJ co-founder Father William J. Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., before wading through the rest of this series.
Yet — as we have seen — paying a wage, however fair or just, does nothing in and of itself to train a child to be an adult or a slave to be free.  It trains them to be good children or slaves.
The fact is that maintaining workers (or anybody else) in a propertyless condition, regardless how well paid they might be, or how much “basic income,” family allowances, or welfare to which they may be entitled, is analogous to parents who insist on keeping their children utterly dependent on them for as long as possible, regardless how old they might be.  That is why Leo XIII stated the ideal situation in no uncertain terms:
If a workman's wages be sufficient to enable him comfortably to support himself, his wife, and his children, he will find it easy, if he be a sensible man, to practice thrift, and he will not fail, by cutting down expenses, to put by some little savings and thus secure a modest source of income. Nature itself would urge him to this. 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.)
Leo XIII: The law should favor ownership.
Wages, minimum or otherwise, are thus not the end in Catholic social teaching.  Obviously ownership of capital is what is presented as the goal.  Wages are just a way of getting there.  As Pius XI explained,
The redemption of the non-owning workers — this is the goal that Our Predecessor declared must necessarily be sought. And the point is the more emphatically to be asserted and more insistently repeated because the commands of the Pontiff, salutary as they are, have not infrequently been consigned to oblivion either because they were deliberately suppressed by silence or thought impracticable although they both can and ought to be put into effect. And these commands have not lost their force and wisdom for our time because that “pauperism” which Leo XIII beheld in all its horror is less widespread. Certainly the condition of the workers has been improved and made more equitable especially in the more civilized and wealthy countries where the workers can no longer be considered universally overwhelmed with misery and lacking the necessities of life. But since manufacturing and industry have so rapidly pervaded and occupied countless regions, not only in the countries called new, but also in the realms of the Far East that have been civilized from antiquity, the number of the non-owning working poor has increased enormously and their groans cry to God from the earth. Added to them is the huge army of rural wage workers, pushed to the lowest level of existence and deprived of all hope of ever acquiring “some property in land,” and, therefore, permanently bound to the status of non-owning worker unless suitable and effective remedies are applied.  (Quadragesimo Anno, § 59.)
There is, however, something of a problem here.  Modern technology has advanced to the point where it can take a lifetime of scrimping and saving out of wages to purchase enough capital to provide an adequate and secure income.  Most of the experts therefore conclude that, since it appears to be impossible for most wage earners to accumulate sufficient savings to purchase a capital stake, widespread capital ownership must be prudential matter, and the goal of social justice must be a fair wage.
But what if there is another way to acquire and possess private property in capital?  Does that change things?
We’ll look at that tomorrow.

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