THE Global Justice Movement Website

THE Global Justice Movement Website
This is the "Global Justice Movement" (dot org) we refer to in the title of this blog.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

Personality, Property, and Participation

As we saw in the previous posting on this subject (subject being the Core Values of the interfaith Center for Economic and Social Justice, CESJ), persons need rights in order to exercise their sovereignty and to pursue truth, beauty, love, and justice, not necessarily in that order.

Two questions come to mind regarding the Core Value we examined last.  One, how do people actually pursue truth, beauty, love, and justice?  Two, what do we mean by “person”?  We will look first at the second question.
Fr. William Ferree, S.M., Ph.D., CESJ co-founder
What is a person?  Legally and socially speaking (these are, after all, the Core Values of the Center for Economic and Social Justice), a “person” is a human being “considered according to the rank he holds in society, with all the right to which the place he holds entitles him, and the duties which it imposes.” (“Person,” Black’s Law Dictionary.)
How do persons pursue truth, beauty, love, and justice?  That is answered in the seventh item on the list of CESJ’s Core Values:
People create tools, shaped from the resources and energies of nature, to support the economic and social sovereignty of the person. Through private property ownership, each person can become master of the technology needed to realize his or her fullest human potential and dignity.
As far back as Aristotle, commentators have recognized that capital ownership vests human beings with a “social identity” by making all other rights effective.  Anyone without rights is not a person and therefore has no social identity.  Without rights it is difficult to impossible for someone to acquire and develop virtue, “human-ness,” the habit of doing good.
Daniel Webster
This becomes a serious problem when technology advances, displacing labor, and ownership of the technology is concentrated.  This is a double whammy, because not only are people cut off from participating in society through their labor, over the past couple of centuries or so the State has tried to step in and take up the slack . . . turning nominal adults into de facto children utterly dependent on the State for everything.
With the rise of the Nation State, not by coincidence in concert with the spread of the “New Things” of socialism, modernism, and the New Age, the human person gradually became a cipher in a society presumably organized for his benefit.  Economic disenfranchisement and the alienation of the human person from private property was the trend of the nineteenth century.  Political disenfranchisement and the alienation of the individual from all institutions except the State was the mark of the twentieth century.  The combination resulted in virtually the complete alienation of the human person from society.
Not that the process of economic disenfranchisement slowed during the twentieth century.  It accelerated.  As Daniel Webster (1782-1852) pointed out, “Power naturally and necessarily follows property.”  The more people became dependent on wages for their subsistence, the more powerless they became.  The more powerless they became, the more they were isolated from the institutions of the common good.
Fr. Heinrich Pesch, S.J.
Over the course of the nineteenth century, then, primary responsibility for the wellbeing of the individual and the family shifted.  In the early nineteenth century most people were owners of capital, whether in the form of land or technology.  They depended on themselves and their immediate friends and family to be productive.
By the end of the century, most people owned no significant amount of capital.  They depended on the relatively few owners of capital for wage system jobs.
Productive capacity of technology began far outstripping that of human labor.  Private industry could not carry the burden of being able to provide workers with adequate and secure incomes, and the State had to step in.  Minimum wage laws, mandatory pensions and benefits, and increased taxation to support social welfare programs began taking a larger and larger share of corporate profits.
To sustain corporate profitability, ensuring that the private sector would continue to function, the State then began taking over a part of the burden.  In addition to inflating the currency to shift purchasing power, lack of productive income was made up in the form of social welfare programs, government old age pensions, and subsidies to corporations for job creation — “corporate welfare.”
Government expansion required additional debt financing and monetization of government deficits to fund social programs.  To be able to continue to float debt and control economic life, governments were forced to abandon fixed monetary standards and asset-backed currencies.
Pope Pius XI
What resulted, as the solidarist labor economist Goetz Antony Briefs (1889-1974) noted, was “a challenge to western civilization.”  As Briefs, a student of Father Heinrich Pesch, S.J. (1854-1926), summarized the situation in his book, The Proletariat (1937),
It is a fact that large groups of workers today have no objection to raise against propertylessness — provided their jobs are secure, their wages sufficient, and provisions are made through social insurance for old age and unemployment.  To meet these requirements the economic system has had to shoulder increasing burdens and to put up with an increasing amount of social legislation, which, of course, implies additional regimentation. (Goetz A. Briefs, The Proletariat: A Challenge to Western Civilization.  New York: McGraw-Hill Book Çompany, Inc., 1937, 273-274.)
Not surprisingly, national debts have skyrocketed, destabilizing economic life, sometimes bringing it to a virtual standstill.  In some instances the State, having destroyed as many other institutions as possible to bring everything within its own sphere, has tried to do so much that it has ended up able to do nothing.  As Pius XI noted,
When we speak of the reform of institutions, the State comes chiefly to mind, not as if universal well-being were to be expected from its activity, but because things have come to such a pass through the evil of what we have termed “individualism” that, following upon the overthrow and near extinction of that rich social life which was once highly developed through associations of various kinds, there remain virtually only individuals and the State. This is to the great harm of the State itself; for, with a structure of social governance lost, and with the taking over of all the burdens which the wrecked associations once bore, the State has been overwhelmed and crushed by almost infinite tasks and duties. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 78.  Cf. Rerum Novarum, § 3.)
Whether a society can maintain itself with the vast majority of people cut off from participation in the common good by lack of capital ownership is a question that must be answered.  CESJ believes the answer is “no,” and proposes “Capital Homesteading” to solve the problem.