This brings us to the sticking point. Why has every pope since Leo XIII (and a number before him, such as John XXII in 1329) stressed the importance of private property? Clearly it is not income, or (at least) income alone. The whole concept of the just wage, while frequently misunderstood and even more frequently misapplied, addresses the problem of an adequate and secure income, even if mistaken for false charity and used in the short term as an expedient.
The whole question of what constitutes a just wage is, in strict fact, a diversion from the main point that popes and political scientists have addressed for centuries. Property is not important merely because ownership of capital has the potential to provide the owner with an adequate and secure income.
Property can do that, and more, but that is not the primary reason why property in capital is important as an integral part of the common good. If income were the chief or sole concern of political science and religion, there would be no question that simple redistribution, coerced or voluntary, would meet the case.
No, income is not the only concern popes and political scientists address. The real issue is power. If someone is dependent on another for an income, regardless of the sufficiency or insufficiency thereof, or whether it is paid by a private employer voluntarily or under coercion, or by the State purely on the basis of need, a “condition of dependency” is universally recognized as tantamount to the status of child or slave.
This is an offense against the demands of human dignity at the most fundamental level. Treating an adult as a child or, worse, as a slave is to prevent that individual from developing more fully as a human being, and thereby defeats the whole purpose of existence.
This is easily explained. The job of each human being is to pursue happiness. Happiness, however, is not to be understood as mere emotional contentment. On the contrary, true happiness (at least according to Aristotle) consists of pursuing and obtaining the good.
What is good? Whatever is consistent with nature.
This brings in a bit of theology, although still based on reason. God is by nature, that is, by definition, absolute good. An all-good Creator cannot create anything that is not good, for that would be a contradiction, and a perfect, all-good Being cannot contradict Himself.
Human nature is thus something that is by nature good. By conforming ourselves to our own nature, thereby becoming more fully human, we ipso facto conform ourselves to the Nature of our Creator.
We conform ourselves to our own nature (and thus that of our Creator) by exercising our natural rights. In this way we build habits of doing good, that is, “virtue.” “Virtue” signifies “human-ness.” By becoming virtuous, then, we become more fully human, and thus more like our Creator.
To exercise our rights, however (whether inherent in our nature or vested in us by human positive law), we need power. Without power, we cannot exercise our rights, and we cannot acquire and develop virtue, that is, build habits of doing good.
As has been recognized for millennia, the source of power is direct ownership of capital. As Daniel Webster reminded us during the Massachusetts Constitutional Convention of 1820, “Power naturally and necessarily follows property.” Capital ownership vests the owner with the means of exercising all other rights, natural or otherwise, and thus realize the capacity to acquire and develop virtue, becoming more fully human.
If each person gets what he or she needs without effort simply because he or she needs it, the whole purpose of life itself is defeated. Anyone whose needs are met without any effort on his or her own part remains a permanent child or slave, a being without virtue, and thus fails to fulfill his or her potential to become more fully human.