In The book exists, though, even if it does not appear to have sold very well.we began by complaining about a book without embarrassing the author by giving the title or the name of the author.
That does not, however, reflect on the quality of the writing or the subject matter, at least in our opinion. The plain truth is that the book said nothing really new, and did not attempt to shock people, except possibly by the fact that once one starts looking closely at the ideas expressed, they start to make the careful reader a little queasy, possibly even doubtful about the soundness of the ideas themselves.
That can then lead to other thoughts, such as why or how these ideas took root so deeply in Catholic social teaching as well as the rest of society. We refer, of course, to the principles of socialism, modernism, and New Age thought, which in many cases have attained the status of unquestioned assumptions. From a Just Third Way perspective we have a solution to this problem, which is what this posting is all about.
As we closed the previous posting on this subject, we had finished our explanation of what (in our opinion) made Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum so revolutionary. That was a proactive program to counter the new things of socialism, modernism, and the New Age instead of merely condemning them.
Leo XIII’s solution was to declare that capital ownership by “as many as possible of the people" would bring about a just society. Moreover, it would do this without trying to change the truth of the natural law, the role of Church, State, or Family, or by demoting God to put collective man in God’s place.
|Say: Production = Income, no surplus value.|
And therein lies the rub. Leo XIII countered the new things of socialism, modernism, and the New Age with the old things of natural law, life, liberty, and especially private property. The problem was that the suggested means to finance expanded ownership — an increase in wages — was not realistic or even remotely feasible.
There are good reasons for this. As any accountant can tell you, increasing the cost of production leads to increasing prices to consumers. Wages are a cost of production, so it necessarily follows that increasing wages increases prices. Since wage workers and their families make up most consumers, a raise in wages only means that workers and their families pay more for consumer goods, which nullifies the increase in wages.
But what about the “surplus value” allegedly stolen from workers and consumers by the capitalists by charging more for their goods and services than they are worth? If capitalists would keep prices to the consumer low and pay workers out of profits, wouldn’t that solve the problem?
Well . . . yes, but there are a few difficulties. For one, the concept of “surplus value” is a no-starter in natural law. A thing is worth not what I, the producer say it’s worth, but its value to you the consumer. It’s all very well to say that this wonderful loaf of bread is something into which I put my heart and soul and all my labor for hours, days, and weeks. My cost of production could easily be in the thousands of dollars for a single loaf of the most amazing bread in the world.
If all you want is some bread to make a sandwich, however, not an unparalleled gastronomic experience that rivals the ambrosia of the gods as a cosmic comestible, you will probably go down the street to buy a kaiser roll for half a buck to hold your salami and cheese rather than fork over $2,385.72 to me, regardless how much it cost me to produce my Wonder Bread. In a free market, a thing is only worth what the consumer says it is, not the producer. If something is not worth producing — that is, it costs more to produce than its value to the consumer — it will not be produced.
There is another problem. Only owners have a natural right to profits. The right to control and enjoyment of the fruits is inseparable from private property, the right to be an owner. The compensation package to workers might include a profit-sharing provision, but that is not by natural right. It can be taken away as easily as it was granted, absent coercion.
That is why Pope Pius XI’s pontificate is so significant. He devoted himself to the task of countering the threat of the new things. His first encyclical, Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, “On the Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ,” was essentially throwing down the gauntlet to those who were working to change fundamental principles of natural law and Catholic doctrine.
There were two things that Pius XI named as the most dangerous of the new things. These were, one, the theory of human society that shifted sovereignty from flesh and blood human beings to the abstraction of the collective. Two, the attack on private property.
Worse than the actual theories, however, were those who “believe in or claim that they believe in and hold fast to Catholic doctrine on such questions,” but who in reality —
. . . speak, write, and, what is more, act as if it were not necessary any longer to follow, or that they did not remain still in full force, the teachings and solemn pronouncements which may be found in so many documents of the Holy See, and particularly in those written by Leo XIII, Pius X, and Benedict XV. (Ubi Arcano Dei Consilio, § 60.)
Not that this was in any way surprising. Every pope since Gregory XVI had seen his teachings twisted and distorted by both liberals and conservatives in an effort to change the Church into a vehicle for advancing the new things or attempting to return to a fantasy Church that had never existed except in their imaginations — an effort that has gained in force down to the present day.
This is because what both Leo XIII and Pius XI identified as the principal means of defending the dignity of the human person and countering the new things — widespread private property in capital — seemed to virtually everyone an impossible dream or utopia . . . unless what the popes were “really” doing was redefining private property!
After all, how could everyone become an owner of capital if only the rich can afford to finance new capital? Logically (not really, although there is a certain twisted logic operating), “because” new capital formation can only be financed out of savings, and savings are the excess of production over consumption, then “obviously” if the popes said that as many as possible of the people should own, they meant socialism. This would allow “the poor” to confiscate what “the rich” have and redistribute it to “the poor.” All the condemnations of socialism in the encyclicals were just a way of fooling the capitalists. Catholic social teaching is really just a kinder, gentler form of socialism.
Except that it’s not socialism at all, nor has private property been redefined or abolished. Every pope since Gregory XVI has been rather clear on that point. Yes, within the current economic and financial paradigm (known as the “British Currency School” for reasons we won’t get into right now) the iron assumption is that only the rich or the State have the ability and means to finance new capital formation, which means the only two alternatives are socialism and capitalism. Period.
Thus, the only way for one person to have something is to take it from somebody else. If private property is the mechanism by means of which one set of persons robs another set of persons, the robbery is called capitalism. If abolition of private property is the mechanism by means of which one set of persons robs another set of persons, the robbery is called socialism. No other arrangement is possible.
Or is there?
That is what we will look at in the next posting on this subject.