This past Friday, September 1, 2017, we read the “Labor Day Statement 2017” of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops by Most Reverend Frank J. Dewane, Bishop of Venice, Chairman of the Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development, United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, September 4, 2017. It’s dated today, but it was released last week . . . possibly to give its author a running start to get out of town ahead of angry mobs of the unemployed.
|"Guys ... shut up and listen. I'm not just flapping my gums."|
Why? Because all the Statement did was repeat platitudes about trying to implement emergency measures as solutions to a problem growing exponentially worse every year. Capitalists are aware that these measures can’t work in the long term, and are risky in the short term, and so reject them. Socialists ignore reality and insist that they would work if other people weren’t so greedy. Everybody else just stands around wondering why nobody is talking sense or even saying something that ordinary people can understand.
Ironically, it was the Catholic Church that gave the solution more than a century ago in an effort to counter the evils of capitalism, and the evil of socialism (if you have to think about that . . . good). As succinctly put by Pope Leo XIII,
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.)
Now . . . does that say don’t do any of the emergency measures that everybody thinks are being presented as a solution? No. It does say, however, that if you want a solution, get to work figuring out a way to make as many people as possible owners of capital.
. . . if you want a solution, that is.
Not that the 2017 Statement left ownership out. There was a paragraph on the subject:
Worker-owned businesses can be a force for strengthening solidarity, as the Second Vatican Council encouraged businesses to consider “the active sharing of all in the administration and profits of these enterprises in ways to be properly determined.” When decisions are made that greatly affect workers and their families, “the workers themselves should have a share also in determining these conditions—in person or through freely elected delegates.” (Gaudium et Spes, no. 68.) The Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce. (For example, CCHD helped support Opportunity Threads. See, Duda, John. “How a worker cooperative factory is helping bring textile manufacturing back to North Carolina.” Community-wealth.org, October 16, 2014. http://community-wealth.org/content/how-worker-cooperative-factory-helping-bring-textile-manufacturing-back-north-carolina . . . accessed August 16, 2017.)
Let’s be brutally frank. This is so weak as to amount to nothing substantive at all. The reader is left with the impression of a prudential suggestion in place of Leo XIII’s near ultimatum that ownership is essential if “the Labor Question” is to be resolved at all.
|And this is "solidarity"? Looks more like "tit for tat."|
The quoted passage from Rerum Novarum clearly states that private property is “sacred and inviolable.” The “should” that follows is not a suggestion, but a virtual mandate; by stopping short of “must,” Leo XIII allowed those rare instances where worker ownership is presumably not feasible at the present time to hold off until it is possible, but without sinning. For those many instances where it is possible immediately, however, the implication is that it had better be done, or a “sacred and inviolable” right has been violated.
The 2017 Statement? Oh, worker ownership can be (but is not necessarily) “a force for strengthening solidarity,” and therefore businesses are “encouraged . . . to consider” ways to share in administration and profits — not ownership . . . and just consider, not actually even do the faux ownership of profit sharing and having a say in decisions “that greatly affect workers and their families.”
News flash: that is not ownership, except in the socialist, workers’ paradise sense.
|Zero-Sum thinking is forever.|
Even so, we are assured that “[t]he Catholic Campaign for Human Development (CCHD) has helped in the formation of many employee-owned companies which provide jobs in communities where work opportunities may be scarce.” That is, worker ownership is valued because it creates jobs, not because as a natural right it is an essential component of human dignity.
But they give an example! The CCHD “helped support” Opportunity Threads. Not supported, but helped support. And Opportunity Threads? As the CEO described it in the link provided:
Right now we have 20 people. Eight of those people are part of the ownership—there are six that are full owners and then we have three people that are what we call pre-members. And then we have everyone else, who are kind of en-route—we have a long vetting period. It’s up to about two years, and people also have to buy in at $5,000, so it’s a pretty significant commitment—and that’s what we want it to be.
First, twenty is not many people affected for the millions that CCHD has collected and distributed in an effort (as the initial launch put it) to “break the hellish circle of poverty.” We’ll let that go, however. The key statement is that Opportunity Threads’ solution to creating jobs and ownership is to require people to plunk down five grand — that’s five thousand of the best — in order to become an owner.
|Perugia: the Gateway to Umbria...why Sardinia wanted it.|
Not too many people living in poverty happen to have $5,000 lying around that they can spare. That tends to put a bit of a crimp in Leo XIII’s near-mandate that as many people as possible should prefer to become owners. In fact, as Archbishop-Bishop of Perugia, Leo XIII founded a bank to finance worker ownership of small businesses, and put up the bulk of the capitalization himself. (We don’t know for certain, but this may have been one of the institutions suppressed by the Kingdom of Sardinia and its assets confiscated when the Savoyards invaded and conquered the Papal States.)
Rather than maunder on prattling of all the various ameliorative measures that would work if people weren’t so greedy, what the USCCB — and every other bishops’ conference throughout the world — should be doing is figuring out a way to make every child, woman, and man a capital owner. Do that, and two things will happen. One, it will be a lot easier to get the money to help people in need right now. The rich are more likely to be forthcoming when there is an end in sight; they don’t like people using them as money machines any more than the average person likes to keep coming back, hat in hand, to beg for more money. Two, there will be an end to poverty as a usual thing. As Leo XIII put it,
|"Was I unclear in what I said?"|
Many excellent results will follow from this; and, first of all, property will certainly become more equitably divided. For, the result of civil change and revolution has been to divide cities into two classes separated by a wide chasm. On the one side there is the party which holds power because it holds wealth; which has in its grasp the whole of labor and trade; which manipulates for its own benefit and its own purposes all the sources of supply, and which is not without influence even in the administration of the commonwealth. On the other side there is the needy and powerless multitude, sick and sore in spirit and ever ready for disturbance. If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them; nay, they learn to love the very soil that yields in response to the labor of their hands, not only food to eat, but an abundance of good things for themselves and those that are dear to them. That such a spirit of willing labor would add to the produce of the earth and to the wealth of the community is self evident. And a third advantage would spring from this: men would cling to the country in which they were born, for no one would exchange his country for a foreign land if his own afforded him the means of living a decent and happy life. These three important benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether. The State would therefore be unjust and cruel if under the name of taxation it were to deprive the private owner of more than is fair. (Rerum Novarum, § 47.)
Now, is there a way to do what Leo XIII all but commanded? Yes — and it’s a way that doesn’t require people to pony up $5,000 they don’t have just to get a job. It’s called “Capital Homesteading,” and instead of pointing a finger at the rich, it points the way to a solution.