In the previous posting on this subject, we noted that the phrases “the dignity of labor” and “the dignity of work” might be a little ambiguous, even misleading on occasion. For example, what do we mean by “labor”? Do we mean work . . . or do we mean the worker? The dignity of work is substantially different from the dignity of the worker, so it makes a great deal of difference what we mean by “labor.”
If “the dignity of labor” means that work as work has dignity, then dealing in drugs has as much dignity as dealing in Bibles. If we take “the dignity of labor” as meaning that the worker has dignity, we suddenly add a moral dimension to the issue, for the “meaning and purpose of life” for a human being is to become virtuous . . . at least for those of us operating from within the Aristotelian philosophical framework.
|No, Harry, we said "quiddity," essence or nature.|
Matters shift from work performed for income, regardless of quality, quantity, or quiddity of the work, to making a value judgment of the worker for performing work of high or low quantity, too little or too much done, or the essence or nature of the work itself. For example, a worker may be doing a specific task better than anyone has ever done it, is doing exactly the right amount of it, neither too much nor too little . . . but the work is stewing missionaries for a cannibal luncheon. If done willingly, this kind of work demeans the worker and offends against the dignity of the human person or “the dignity of labor” if you will.
Labor construed as work instead of the worker only has dignity because of its inherent connection to the human person. That is because labor as labor is a thing, and only persons have dignity. Obviously we’re using “dignity” in the sense of “the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect,” not “a composed or serious manner or style.”
|Well, technically, corporations are not "natural persons."|
Respect for what, specifically? Natural rights, of course, principally life, liberty, and private property. Only persons have rights, and only human persons have rights by nature, i.e., are “natural persons.”*
*We’re talking socially, legally, and civilly here. Theologically and philosophically speaking, God and angels also have rights and are thus also “natural persons” . . . but do you really want to open that can of worms? We’ll stick to human persons for this discussion.
This is where the discussion gets interesting, for it causes people to start questioning socialism and capitalism, believe it or not. All forms of socialism are based on the assumption that “humanity” (an abstraction created by human beings) has rights that individual human persons do not have.
That being the case — so all forms of socialism assume — all rights come from the State or whatever you want to call the particular political structure you choose to inflict on yourself. The States doesn’t simply define and enforce the application of rights that people already have. In the socialist mindset, the State actually grants rights.
|Henry George, Agrarian Socialist|
What baffles many people is the fact that there are some forms of socialism that claim only some rights come from humanity as a whole. For example, an agrarian socialist such as Henry George (1839-1897) declares that every person has an inherent right to life and liberty, and a natural right to own whatever someone creates with his or her labor, but no right to own anything that did not come from adding human labor to something. Anything not created by human labor belongs not to any one individual or group, but to humanity as a whole.
You see the flaws in the agrarian socialist’s argument, of course:
· “Humanity” is an abstraction, an idea that has no existence independent of the human minds that create it. That being the case, how is it possible that a human creation has rights that the human beings who created it do not have?
· How is it possible that “property” means one thing if created by labor, and quite another if not created by labor?
· Can a human being legitimately own livestock or pets? They are not created by human labor.
· Do charity and inheritance convey title? The recipient or heir performs no labor.
· Why does private property as a natural right differ from life and liberty as natural rights?
There are others, of course, but those are enough to demonstrate that the agrarian socialist’s “partial socialism” is no better than total socialism.
|Capitalist pig, or socialist sow?|
And lest the capitalist get a little too self-satisfied, that case is no better. We define capitalism here as concentrated private ownership of the means of production. (By the way, don’t go rejecting this argument on the grounds that you don’t accept the definition of capitalism being used. Call it whatever you like, but address the argument, not the label.)
True, capitalism is based on private property but — and this is the shocker — it ends up making virtually the same mistake as socialism. The only difference is that where socialism abolishes private property for everyone by assuming that the right to be an owner is vested in the whole of humanity, capitalism abolishes private property for many people by assuming that the ability to be an owner is vested in a private sector élite.
You see the difference-that-is-no-difference? Socialism redefines all human nature and abolishes private property as a natural right, where capitalism redefines most human nature and restricts private property as a natural right. Now, whether you can’t be an owner because a government bureaucrat said so, or because a rich capitalist said so, you still can’t be an owner, so what difference does it make whether you have a capitalist or a socialist system?
The answer, of course, is that you decide whether socialism or capitalism is better based on the type of injustice you are willing to tolerate.
Both socialism and capitalism assume as a given that the only way most people can earn income is through a wage system job. Socialism is better at providing jobs, but capitalism is better at producing. Of course, implied in the question is that there is no alternative to wages to gain income, but is that really the case?
That is what we will look at when we address this subject again.#30#