Beatific economics

When we consider the rights of workers in relation to the “indirect employer”, that is to say, all the agents at the national and international level that are responsible for the whole orientation of labour policy, we must first direct our attention to a fundamental issue: the question of finding work, or, in other words, the issue of suitable employment for all who are capable of it. The opposite of a just and right situation in this field is unemployment, that is to say the lack of work for those who are capable of it. It can be a question of general unemployment or of unemployment in certain sectors of work. The role of the agents included under the title of indirect employer is to act against unemployment, which in all cases is an evil, and which, when it reaches a certain level, can become a real social disaster. It is particularly painful when it especially affects young people, who after appropriate cultural, technical and professional preparation fail to find work, and see their sincere wish to work and their readiness to take on their own responsibility for the economic and social development of the community sadly frustrated. The obligation to provide unemployment benefits, that is to say, the duty to make suitable grants indispensable for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families, is a duty springing from the fundamental principle of the moral order in this sphere, namely the principle of the common use of goods or, to put it in another and still simpler way, the right to life and subsistence.

In order to meet the danger of unemployment and to ensure employment for all, the agents defined here as “indirect employer” must make provision for overall planning with regard to the different kinds of work by which not only the economic life but also the cultural life of a given society is shaped; they must also give attention to organizing that work in a correct and rational way. In the final analysis this overall concern weighs on the shoulders of the State, but it cannot mean onesided centralization by the public authorities. Instead, what is in question is a just and rational coordination, within the framework of which the initiative of individuals, free groups and local work centres and complexes must be safeguarded, keeping in mind what has been said above with regard to the subject character of human labour.

The fact of the mutual dependence of societies and States and the need to collaborate in various areas mean that, while preserving the sovereign rights of each society and State in the field of planning and organizing labour in its own society, action in this important area must also be taken in the dimension of international collaboration by means of the necessary treaties and agreements. Here too the criterion for these pacts and agreements must more and more be the criterion of human work considered as a fundamental right of all human beings, work which gives similar rights to all those who work, in such a way that the living standard of the workers in the different societies will less and less show those disturbing differences which are unjust and are apt to provoke even violent reactions. …

… The organization of human life in accordance with the many possibilities of labour should be matched by a suitable system of instruction and education, aimed first of all at developing mature human beings, but also aimed at preparing people specifically for assuming to good advantage an appropriate place in the vast and socially differentiated world of work.

As we view the whole human family throughout the world, we cannot fail to be struck by a disconcerting fact of immense proportions: the fact that, while conspicuous natural resources remain unused, there are huge numbers of people who are unemployed or under-employed and countless multitudes of people suffering from hunger. This is a fact that without any doubt demonstrates that both within the individual political communities and in their relationships on the continental and world level there is something wrong with the organization of work and employment, precisely at the most critical and socially most important points.

From Laborem exercens: On Human Work on the 90th anniversary of Rerum Novarum, by John Paul II, 1981.

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  • Sgt. Pepper’s Bleeding Heart

    That last paragraph. Oh yeah.

    Now quote from Rerum Novarum!

  • Dongisselbeck

    This is a very good takedown of the if-you-can’t-compete-starve Randian philosophy. If we were to follow the Pope’s advice we would avoid a revolution.

  • Beau Guest

    I disagree with the anti-abortion position and I disagree with the idea that GLBT people should be prevented from marrying, but I would have a LOT more respect for the people who hold those positions if their concern about following religious doctrine in public life extended to doctrine like this, rather than being limited to the stuff that primarily serves to control, punish, and discriminate.

  • Sheepless Lurker

    … we must first direct our attention to a fundamental issue: the question of finding work, or, in other words, the issue of suitable employment for all who are capable of it.

    Which skips right by the far more fundamental issues: how will “suitability” be measured, and by whom? Am i entitled to minimum-wage or better compensation for a job that I am suited to perform, regardless of the level of demand for the product or service thus provided?

  • Dan Audy

    I think an extremely important aspect of reducing unemployment is for the jobs to have meaning and value. Make-work jobs commonly created in unemployment reducing plans are extremely problematic, particularly with young workers, because they incentive poor work ethic, sloppyness, and disinterest. The fact that the work being done is unimportant and there is little oversight or evaluation leads to developing harmful habits that are carried into the workforce. There is always meaningful work that requires little prior training in maintainence or construction that will significantly contribute to society.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, but what is meaningful varies by individual. Although maintenance or construction jobs are socially valuable and can be considered “meaningful” that does not mean that it will engage certain individuals. For example, putting a computer programmer to work building a house. The house might get built and the programmer might learn new skills but there is not a great chance the programmer will be happy or have any desire to keep building houses.

    If one’s goal is to keep people employed and happy then one needs to provide jobs that satisfy an *individual’s* needs and not just the needs of society.

  • Lori

    Make-work jobs commonly created in unemployment reducing plans are extremely problematic, particularly with young workers, because they incentive poor work ethic, sloppyness, and disinterest.

    This depends entirely on the plan, it’s not a necessary feature of “make work” programs.

    For example, the CCC certainly didn’t incentivize poor work ethic, sloppyness, and disinterest. Quite the opposite actually.

    Quote from the Wikipedia article about it:

    The American public made the CCC the most popular of all the New Deal programs. Principal benefits of an individual’s enrollment in the CCC included improved physical condition, heightened morale, and increased employability. Of their pay of $30 a month, $25 went to their parents. Implicitly, the CCC also led to a greater public awareness and appreciation of the outdoors and the nation’s natural resources; and the continued need for a carefully planned, comprehensive national program for the protection and development of natural resources.

    During the time of the CCC, volunteers planted nearly 3 billion trees to help reforest America, constructed more than 800 parks nationwide and upgraded most state parks, updated forest fire fighting methods, and built a network of service buildings and public roadways in remote areas.

    I’ve visited parks where CCC projects are still in use and in good shape when newer construction is falling apart because the workmanship wasn’t nearly as good.

    I’d also note that I’ve seen more than one account from CCC alums and their families that talks about the fact that the $25 sent to the family each month was the only thing that made it possible to hang onto the family farm. That in turn allowed the family to return to self-sufficiency when the Depression finally ended, so the program was a fabulous deal all the way around. We could do something similar now, and reap similar benefits, if we could shake off the Randian BS that has us catering to the rich while they bleed the economy dry.

  • hf

    Brad Hicks argues that all or nearly all “make work” programs from that time which hired people directly gave us at least our money’s worth if not more.

    Presumably there has existed some case where it would have made more sense to just give people the money. But this does not seem as broadly true as you might think.

    We could do something similar now, and reap similar benefits, if we could shake off the Randian BS that has us catering to the rich while they bleed the economy dry.

    And it does seem Randian or anti-charitable, rather than anti-tax. Certainly people had other reasons for not wanting to print money. But the current recession started when around $16 trillion in paper wealth suddenly disappeared, leading to a drop in annual demand of 1.2 trillion. (The stimulus put back 1/4 of that second number, 1/8 if you subtract state and local cutbacks. And the Census Bureau’s budget for 2010 seems like a trivial sum by comparison.) Unless we’ve effectively printed too much money for bankers, we could create a lot of paper wealth and still have less than we did before the bubble burst.

  • Dan Audy

    I’m not an economist so apologies if this is a stupid question (or considered obvious).

    Isn’t there a significant difference between the wealth that people’s balance sheets showed prior to the recession that was largely imaginary (ie. based on improperly valued properties) and while it might have been considered for future planning purposes was tied up in stocks/derivatives/whatever and real money that would be getting paid out as wages and almost instantly injected into the economy as spending. It seems to me that the money being paid out as wages is going to have a much more immediate impact on the economy (including the possibility of creating inflation that printing money always has) than the value that vanished since it is part of the real economy rather than the financial sector.

    Overall I think that it is still vastly desireable (partly because it has more economic impact) but I’m not convinced that the one offsets the other. To me the argument that we can just print money to ‘make up’ the lost value is sort of like saying that ‘Timmy had an imaginary puppy that died. We decided to get him a real puppy to replace it, since the amount of puppy related chores wouldn’t change – after all we just exchanged one puppy for a different one’.

  • hf

    Oh, sure. This explains why the 16 trillion that vanished only led to about 1.2 trillion less per year in actual demand (spending).

  • Inferiae

    Both actual liquid currency (read: cash) a business possesses and promises of others to pay them count as assets for a business. While there is certainly a difference, they are both included when determining the overall wealth of the company. The basic accounting principle is that a business’ Assets are equal to its Liabilities plus Owners Equity. As long as a business has enough assets to meet all its liabilities it is solvent. Any extra goes to the owners (and investors in) a business. All of these loans counted towards the ability to pay off its own debts, and when even 10 percent of those loans vanish, a business that has little liquid currency is in deep trouble.

    Part of the problem was that the difference between the amount of liquid currency a business had and the amount of wealth tied up in loans was very large (IIRC it was 20 to 1 in some cases). Much of the money tied up in those loans simply didn’t exist, and a diligent company SHOULD have counted them for less value, to be as accurate as possible. The SEC has been too lax in enforcing proper accounting procedures. Of course, the members of the SEC are almost always prior executives of large banking and investment firms, so it really is a conflict of interest for them to serve as enforcers over their friends.