A couple of days ago the media were once again ecstatic over yet another fundamental change in Catholic doctrine announced by Everybody’s Favorite Pope, Francis™. It seems that in a radical move, EFPF™ has come down Big Time in favor of the Universal Basic Income, or UBI. Or so the Usual Suspects very loudly claim. . . .
|"Really? I said that?"|
The problem is that Pope Francis — the real one, not the media image — doesn’t actually appear to have said what the Usual Suspects desperately want (and need) him to have said. As quoted in “The Pope Just Endorsed Universal Basic Income; Andrew Yang’s Response: Wow,” what the pope actually said — and we repeat, this is as quoted in the article itself —
In an Easter letter to world leaders, Pope Francis opined that “this may be the time to consider a universal basic wage which would acknowledge and dignify the noble, essential tasks you carry out.”
“It would ensure and concretely achieve the ideal, at once so human and so Christian, of no worker without rights,” the Pope argued.
In the letter, Francis argued that many workers, including “street vendors, recyclers, carnies, small farmers, construction workers, dressmakers, the different kinds of caregivers” were being “excluded from the benefits of globalization,” while “the lockdowns are becoming unbearable.”
Read that very carefully. Now read it again, and pay very close attention to the words used, such as “wage,” “tasks,” and “worker.”
|"Father, when will they stop putting words in My Vicar's mouth?"|
Now read — and we quote — how the article defines the UBI:
The idea is to hand out sums of money, either fixed or dependent on a number of socioeconomic factors, on a regular basis, providing the populace with enough funds to meet basic needs — and maybe even achieve financial stability.
Do you see the problem yet? If not, here is a somewhat more generic definition of the UBI:
Universal basic income (UBI) is a model for providing all citizens of a country or other geographic area with a given sum of money, regardless of their income, resources or employment status. The purpose of the UBI is to prevent or reduce poverty and increase equality among citizens.
You see it now, don’t you? The UBI is intended to be paid to everyone, regardless, without qualification. What Pope Francis suggested — not “endorsed” — is that a basic wage be paid to “many workers,” not to “all citizens.” What Pope Francis said, and what the article claimed he said, are two different things! And this by their own statements!
Further, the UBI is proposed as a permanent solution. Reading Pope Francis’s actual words, he seems to be proposing a “UBW” as a temporary expedient “while ‘the lockdowns are becoming unbearable.’”
|"Justice and charity, not socialism."|
Broadly speaking, if this is what Pope Francis is really saying, it is consistent with established Catholic social teaching as well as common sense. As Pope Pius XI made clear,
Since the present system of economy is founded chiefly upon ownership and labor, the principles of right reason, that is, of Christian social philosophy, must be kept in mind regarding ownership and labor and their association together, and must be put into actual practice. First, so as to avoid the reefs of individualism and collectivism. the twofold character, that is individual and social, both of capital or ownership and of work or labor must be given due and rightful weight. Relations of one to the other must be made to conform to the laws of strictest justice — commutative justice, as it is called — with the support, however, of Christian charity. (Quadragesimo Anno, § 110.)
In purely economic terms — that is, in free market terms — this means that workers are to be paid the fair market value of their labor in strict, that is, commutative justice. If that is not enough, out of charity they should be paid an additional amount sufficient to meet common domestic needs adequately.
This is not, however, a permanent solution, but an expedient until society can be restructured to function more justly. To make that clear, Pius XI followed this injunction with a reminder that instituting socialism — distribution on the basis of need instead of the relative value of inputs as the normal way of running the economy — is not the answer. Why? Because —
[w]hether considered as a doctrine, or an historical fact, or a movement, Socialism, if it remains truly Socialism, even after it has yielded to truth and justice on the points which we have mentioned, cannot be reconciled with the teachings of the Catholic Church because its concept of society itself is utterly foreign to Christian truth. . . . If Socialism, like all errors, contains some truth (which, moreover, the Supreme Pontiffs have never denied), it is based nevertheless on a theory of human society peculiar to itself and irreconcilable with true Christianity. Religious socialism, Christian socialism, are contradictory terms; no one can be at the same time a good Catholic and a true socialist. (Ibid., 117, 120.)
|"I thought I was rather clear. . . ."|
But if the so-called “living wage” (or Universal Basic Wage, Frontier Wage, Family Wage, etc., etc., etc.) is not the solution, but a stopgap, what is the answer? According to Pope Leo XIII, it’s widespread capital ownership:
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.)
Read objectively, the whole reason for paying a “sufficient” wage is to enable workers to be able to save to purchase capital to have ownership income (profits) to supplement or replace labor income (wages). Wages are not an end in themselves, but a means to an end, in this case (according to Leo XIII), ownership of capital.
As a side note, some authorities (or who think they are authorities) “edit” this passage to read “as many as possible of the workers” instead of “as many as possible of the people.” This is based on imposing the socialist doctrine that only labor creates property. Given that only labor creates private property (which Leo XIII denied), capital ownership, inheritance, and all other means of gaining income except labor are illegitimate.
|"Latinum est? Non potest legi?"|
Looking at the official Latin, however, reveals something surprising to these authorities. Substituting workers for people does violence to the official text as well as to the clear meaning of the preceding forty-five paragraphs that recognize the legitimacy of private property per se, not just as the result of labor, even if private property originated in the “mixing” of one's labor with the offerings of nature, as, e.g., John Locke and John Paul II asserted:
Neque enim efficaci ratione dirimi caussam, de qua agitur, posse vidimus, nisi hoc sumpto et constituto, ius privatorum bonorum sanctum esse oportere. Quamobrem favere huic iuri leges debent, et quoad potest, providere ut quamplurimi ex multitudine rem habere malint.
There is, however, a serious problem with our understanding of this particular teaching — and which (in our opinion) also happens to be the reason so many people jump to the conclusion that the popes couldn’t possibly mean what they clearly do mean. That is the question of money. We already know that it takes a lifetime to save enough out of even a generous wage to purchase an adequate capital stake. Is there, however, another way?