Resolved:

I’ve mentioned this before, but Capitalism has a self-destructive tendency to concentrate wealth and power at the top, leading eventually to economic collapse because the only people with purchasing power are a few very rich people. Progressives wish to correct this tendency through support for labor, reasonable regulations and progressive income tax rates. This ensures that gains from economic progress are shared by all.

Furthermore: In an unrestrained Capitalism, this concentrated wealth equates to the concentration of economic, social, political and cultural power in the hands of an elite minority. Such is absolutely antithetical any notion of democratic governance or meaningful conception of individual rights and liberty – after all, what is to prevent the 1% from saying, “advocating for anything that threatens our dominance will render you all but unemployable.” Yes, you’re “free” to speak your mind, but if doing so results in economic ruination, are you truly possessing  “free speech?”

This is what FDR referred to as “economic royalism” and what Lincoln and others described as the “money power”, an intentional reference to the term “the slave power.”

Resolved: We can either have “government of the people, by the people and for the people”, or we can have government of the wealthy, by the wealthy and for the wealthy. We can’t have both.

Discuss.

About Matt Talbot
  • TJ Hostek

    I wholeheartedly agree. Furthermore, this is entirely consistent with Catholic Social Teaching, especially as expressed in pontifical encyclicals.

  • Stuart

    Wait–what does this have to do with gay marriage or abortion? What kind of cafeteria Catholic are you? :)

  • Julia Smucker

    Catholic social teaching makes the same critique without calling it “progressivism” because it really has more to do with universal human dignity than the notion of progress. I think you’re getting at one half of the CST double edge here.

    • http://gravatar.com/dismasdolben dismasdolben

      That’s because you, Julia, do not interpret “progress” to be “development” (a la John Henry Newman’s Development of Doctrine) toward a fuller and fuller realization of the “Truth” as PARTIALLY revealed in the Gospels, as we are led to it by a “Holy Spirit” who our Founder promised would always deliver the “Body of Christ” from “inerrancy,” but NOT from the human impediments to total possession of a “Truth” that only belongs to God, and never wholly to humans (meaning that God “is not a Catholic”).

      If the “Truth” could be fully possessed by reading Sacred Scripture or by reading catechisms and canons, then we would not need the “Tradition” of a human institution that has to respond to current scientific scholarship, or to the scholarship of other disciplines, as well. This failure of yours to understand that only DOGMA is set in stone, and that “moral theology” has to DEVELOP constantly as the world changes, but also consistently in the SPIRIT of the Gospels, marks you as a truly “ultramontane Catholic,” i.e. a very, very conservative one temperamentally. Such “conservatism” does NOT, in my opinion, “think” with a Church in which Fundamentalism is a heresy.

      • Julia Smucker

        Actually, I agree with the concept of development of doctrine as articulated by Newman, I just don’t equate this with “progress” as ideology.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      What is the “other half” in your view?

      • Anne

        Oh, sheesh, I just spent a good 5 minutes stumped over what CST stands for. Having made it this far, what IS the “other half”?

      • Julia Smucker

        The double edge I was referring to was CST’s simultaneous critique of capitalism and socialism, for example as summarized in Quadragesimo Anno, “the one had proved that it was utterly unable to solve the social problem aright, and the other, proposing a remedy far worse than the evil itself, would have plunged human society into great dangers.”

        I didn’t want to sound like those who see socialism under every rock, and I really don’t disagree with your overarching point. It was just your language that rankled me somewhat, seeming to cast “progressives” as automatically the “good guys” when it’s really not that simple: CST is much more concerned with universal human dignity than with any ideology of progress (which, mind you, can be made to serve the left and right in equal measure, at least in today’s political climate).

        • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

          Oh, believe me, I’m no socialist, Julia. What I’m for is basically the middle approach: have capitalism, but with enough regulation and oversight to restrain its worst tendencies. I think the New Dealers struck the right balance. “Make your money, but keep it fair, guys.”

          This, by the way, is somewhat provisional and contingent; I think that, given the present situation, some sort of revival of the New Deal would be, really, the minimum requirement to re-establish justice in the economy and society. That said, I think ultimately the whole system is pretty rotten, and something else needs to replace it (and that “something else” ought to be neither big business nor big government.) Local economies with certain rules to prevent Leviathan from becoming resurrected. Some way of preventing enterprises from becoming bigger that some limit. Probably several future posts there.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          “Local economies with certain rules to prevent Leviathan from becoming resurrected. Some way of preventing enterprises from becoming bigger that some limit.”

          Matt, you sound like a closet anarchist! :-)

          • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

            Maybe I’m moving in that direction, now that you mention it, David. I’m just not sure how we get there from here. I’ll need to give that some thought.

        • Kurt

          “Progressives” are not the followers of an ideology but a collection or convergence of people from a variety of social and political thought, including social democracy, Christian democracy, left liberalism, reformism, and other ideologies. I think it is very clear that the economic principles of CST place it in accord with progressives.

          Julia might be expressing a valid reservation about identifying church teaching too closely with any worldly political movement, but I think she goes too far in the other direction of being unwilling to state in this particular case an obvious fact.

          Matt’s resolution is correct. Progressives do wish to correct the tendencies mentioned and CST proponents would be including among those.

        • Kurt

          The double edge I was referring to was CST’s simultaneous critique of capitalism and socialism, for example as summarized in Quadragesimo Anno

          I think the critic of Socialism in Q.A. was quite valid. However, unless someone has some evidence to the contrary, I think all of the Church’s objections to Socialism were favorably resolved in the Frankfurt Congress of 1951. Are there any issues with post-1951 Socialism?

        • http://catholichippie.wordpress.com catholichippie

          How about a little Chestertonian Distributism? As G.K. himself said… “The trouble with capitalism is that there are too few capitalists”.

        • http://gravatar.com/dismasdolben dismasdolben

          Dear Catholichippie,

          Anybody who has lived in any so-called “socialist” country (the one I once lived in was called–hilariously–“the democratic, socialist republic of Sri Lanka”) knows that you are correct. True entrepreneurial capitalism, with GOVERNMENTAL REGULATORY STRUCTURES set up to prevent concentrations of economic power that DESTROY “equal playing fields–as ADAM SMITH recommended, is the greatest equalizer of opportunity on earth. The problem is that most “capitalists,” once they become rich and powerful, want to destroy the same ladder up which they have climbed. It’s called “crony capitalism” in the Third World; it’s what the “1%” of the “developed world” are now patronizing, and it’s even more of an antithesis of “Catholic social justice” teachings than communism was, because Marxist theory was, at least in principle, imbued with the spirit of the basic dignity of every one who labored.

          “Neo-liberal capitalism’s” ethos is secularist and atheistic, and treats life as a commodity, not as something sacred. At the end of his life, even the authoritarian-favoring, socialist-phobic John Paul II Wojtylwa recognised this, and called neo-liberal capitalist societies the “cultures of death,” although this was not well advertised in America, or pointed out by American Catholic bishops, who had resolved themselves into being “the Republican Party at prayer”, for the sake of gender issues and issues of human sexuality–true distracters from the desperate plight of the world’s poor, who are being eaten alive by “neo-liberal capitalism.”

          Abortion, those cruel, insensitive hierarchs’ favourite hobby-horse, is actually a phenomenon that, outside the developed societies, is mostly CAUSED by enormous socio-economic stratification. I have lived in countries wherein an extra mouth to feed means that the families break up, or members of them go hungry, or get sick and die.

          So, “distributism,” yes–and let it be advocated widely and constantly, but complacency with what goes on now, and what is given tacit support by the power-hungry ecclesiastic politicians of the American Catholic Church, who wish to palliate Pope Francis’s message–NO, NEVER!

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Kurt,

          could you provide a quick online reference for the Frankfurt Congress of 1951? Wikipedia crapped out on me—maybe I don’t know what to look for.

        • Kurt

          David —

          Here is the full text of the declaration adopted at the Congress:

          http://www.socialistinternational.org/viewArticle.cfm?ArticleID=39

          Further there is a wiki article that is less authoritative but may provide a summary to give one a starting point:

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frankfurt_Declaration

          Even the Catholic Herald (a different editorial tendency than The Tablet!) admitted in 1951 that the text of the Frankfurt declaration is sound, while withholding judgment as to if the Socialist Parties will follow it:

          http://archive.catholicherald.co.uk/article/6th-july-1951/5/socialists-want-less-marx

          Also, while I can’t find links, both Karl Rahner and John Cort have written favorably on this matter. Cort’s autobiography would be worth a read in regard to the larger topic of socialism and Catholicism.

        • Julia Smucker

          Catholichippie: exactly. Distributism sums up the third way that CST points to better than any other political paradigm I’ve come across.

        • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

          Catholichippie: there is much to admire in distributism, but in the bits of Belloc and Chesterton I have read I get the real sense of a nostalgic, rose-colored view the high Medieval period, one which does not really square with the complex and messy reality of the period. (This parallels the nostalgia for “Christendom” among some conservative Catholics.) As I do about Pope Leo XIII in Rerum Novarum, I wonder if the early fathers of distributism had come to fully understand the impact of the industrial revolution.

        • Kurt

          My question about Distributism is how do we implement it? What are the steps to move us towards it?

  • Roger

    Capitalism with a Christian (specifically Catholic) conscience. That’s what we should be aiming for.

    The solution is not corrupt labor unions or progressive/socialist tax changes. The solution is to encourage entrepreneurialism while caring for your fellow man and the world in which we live in. Essentially: you work hard = you do well. If you’re a lazy loaf = you don’t do well.

    All the while, we provide for those you can’t take care of themselves (the mentally and physically handicapped).

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      The solution is not corrupt labor unions or progressive/socialist tax changes

      Interesting how you put that. Labor unions are not by definition corrupt – nor for that matter is capitalism. Unions are an essential ingredient to increase the bargaining power of workers when they negotiate for wages and working conditions.

      And progressive tax rates are not socialist by any meaningful definition of that word.

      • Kurt

        Labor unions are not by definition corrupt

        That would be a matter of opinion.

        There is a body of thought that believes when workers come together in a democratic association, these associations are by nature corrupt. The body of thought does not condemn political democracy, which is the same principle but embracing persons of various social classes. The vice that leads to corruption is particular to working class people, according to this school of thought.

    • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

      Roger,

      your approach sounds somewhat utopian in the sense that it fails to take into account our fallen nature. Many of the structures proposed (taxation, regulation, unionization) are there to protect us from ourselves, in the sense that while our intentions may be good, we are often seduced into acting contrary to our better selves. This is the nature of sin in the world. Now these structures themselves can be situations of sin, so it is a never-ending battle. By its nature, CST cannot be utopian, because paradise will not exist short of the Kingdom of Heaven.

    • Jordan

      Roger [February 19, 2014 8:52 am]: Essentially: you work hard = you do well. If you’re a lazy loaf = you don’t do well.

      How do you define “you work hard” and “you do well”? Please be more specific. Your personal definition of capitalism falls apart without a succinct explanation of the above quotations.

    • Ronald King

      “If you’re a lazy loaf = you don’t do well.”–Roger
      What is a “lazy loaf”?

  • Ronald King

    Matt, When I read your post this morning this line came to my attention, “…this concentrated wealth equates to the concentration of economic, social, political and cultural power in the hands of an elite minority.” I immediately thought of our Church. My intent is not antagonistic and I know I have strayed from your intent.

  • David Cruz-Uribe, SFO

    Regarding Anarchism, Matt wrote:

    “Maybe I’m moving in that direction, now that you mention it, David. I’m just not sure how we get there from here. I’ll need to give that some thought.”

    In Dorothy Day’s writings there is an under-developed thought that we must strive to “build a new world in the shell of the old.” Houses of hospitality and Worker farms were part of this project, but given the very limited success of the latter I think there is much work to be done on developing this idea of grass roots reconstruction within the shell of postindustrial capitalism. The problem in my view is that the later worker developed an anti-technological edge that overly romanticized manual labor and drudge work and so did not grapple with the issues of how to maintain a technologically advanced civilization without the superstructure of capitalism. This definitely needs further thought and I also hope to write about this in the future.

  • brian martin

    Roger, Kurt…
    “The solution is not corrupt labor unions”
    “Labor unions are not by definition corrupt”
    “That would be a matter of opinion. ”
    In response, I give you Catholic Social Teaching and Papal Encyclicals back to Rerum Novarum (“The most important of all workplace associations and organizations are workingmen’s unions”) Laborem Exercens (All these rights [of workers], together with the need for the workers themselves to secure them, give rise to yet another right: the right of
    association , that is to form associations for the purpose of defending the vital interests of those employed in the various professions. These associations are called labour or trade unions. . . . )(That’s Blessed JPII, y’all)
    I can also mention Pope Benedict XVI’ s defense of unions in Charity in Truth.

    but that’s right, the social encyclicals aren’t really Catholic teaching are they.
    Funny how the Popes are seen as Brilliant when they attack communism/socialism, but they don’t know their head from their arse when the attack evils in Capitalism
    .

    • Kurt

      Brian, I was being a little sarcastic. The opinion that unions by their nature are corrupt is not an opinion the popes share. It is an opinion that actually exists in the world among people who think those who are of the working class are morally inferior to others.

      • brian martin

        Kurt,
        Thanks for clarifying. In rereading your comment, the sarcasm is clear.

  • Agellius

    But the wealthy are people too.

    What I mean, basically, is that government of the people by the people, means having the people tell the government what to do, and not vice versa. The problem that people have with some progressive schemes for “restraining” capitalism is that it relies on government telling the people what to do: You can only pay executives this much, you must pay workers at least this much, etc.

    You can say that this is only the people telling the government that we want it to intervene; so really it’s not the government telling us what to do, it’s us telling the government to tell us what to do!

    At this point, how can you even tell any more whether “government of the people by the people” is taking place? Those who like what the government is doing will perceive it that way, but those who don’t like it will perceive it as the government intruding in and dominating our lives.

    At which point you have liberals/progressives accusing conservatives of not wanting equality and fairness, and conservatives accusing liberals/progressives of wanting government domination.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I’m beginning to think that government by the people is a hopelessly muddled idea.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      Agellius – When the government stops representing all the people, and instead represents and defends the interests and privileges of a small elite, then that government has stopped being democratic and has become oligarchic and plutocratic. This would seem to be increasingly true in the last few decades (roughly since income inequality began widening in the late 1970s).

      Is it your position that this is a good thing?

    • Kurt

      how can you even tell any more whether “government of the people by the people” is taking place? Universal suffrage is the first test. Free and fair elections. Parliamentary democracy, constitutionalism, an independent judiciary and a free press.

      I am increasingly disturbed that too many on the Right (at least rhetorically) see “government” as an evil without distinction to if it is democratic or totalitarian.

      • Agellius

        “I am increasingly disturbed that too many on the Right (at least rhetorically) see “government” as an evil without distinction to if it is democratic or totalitarian.”

        I agree, government per se can’t be evil.

  • Agellius

    Matt:

    First, I’m not sure what it means to represent “all the people”. “All the people” have an infinite variety of interests. It’s not possible to pursue them all. Some would argue that the genius of our system was not trying to have the government represent everyone’s interests, but allowing everyone to pursue each his own. Might it not be that very idea that led the more “fit” among us — the smarter, more driven and competitive — to rise to the top and continue multiplying wealth?

    Am I saying that’s a good thing? Well, no. I said in fact that the idea of “self-government” is muddled. “Self-government”, strictly speaking, means no government, which means every man for himself, which given human nature, guarantees inequality of outcomes.

    At the same time, I wonder whether the very system that guarantees inequality of outcome (in combination with other factors) may be what has made our country the richest and most powerful on earth. A question to consider is, are we sure that steps taken for the purpose of giving people a more equal slice of the pie, won’t also reduce the size of the pie? (Is relative wealth a higher consideration than absolute wealth?)

    I believe income inequality has a variety of causes which are not so easy to pin down. Economics is complicated. I don’t believe it’s as simple as the government “favoring a small elite”. The “last few decades” have also witnessed massive cultural and technological changes, the emergence of a more integrated world economy, the economic rise of China and Japan, and massive immigration, illegal and otherwise. Who can say with certainty which of these have contributed to current income inequality, and which haven’t?

    My main point, though, is that government of the people by the people is a pernicious idea. People who want to strongarm the rich into limiting their own incomes and increasing those of other people, should stop pretending to favor self-government. What they really favor is government of the people by the government. Which is not a bad thing. That’s what governments are for, to govern. And the standard of good government should be, not governing the way the people want, but governing in ways that are good for the people, whether they want it or not.

    People who advocate the government doing this or that to enforce equality and rights and the rest of it, should admit that this is what they mean.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      A question to consider is, are we sure that steps taken for the purpose of giving people a more equal slice of the pie, won’t also reduce the size of the pie? (Is relative wealth a higher consideration than absolute wealth?)

      The evidence of history would suggest that better distribution of economic gains leads to more for all, including (oh the irony!) the rich themselves, since more money down the ladder means more demand for the goods the companies of the rich are selling.

      government of the people by the people is a pernicious idea

      It is? I think the American experiment has been a noble one, despite its flaws.

      • Agellius

        “The evidence of history would suggest that better distribution of economic gains leads to more for all, including (oh the irony!) the rich themselves, since more money down the ladder means more demand for the goods the companies of the rich are selling.”

        Funny, I almost included that very argument in my last post. The point being that the rich aren’t stupid, especially when it comes to money. They know that the best way to increase their own wealth — ensure the success of their investments, etc. — is to have the economy as a whole thriving. But obviously, there are different ideas as to the best way of accomplishing that.

        My point (in my prior comment, which you quoted) was not that it’s a bad idea to have wealth more equally distributed; rather, that whatever particular steps we take, should be evaluated by the criteria of whether they reduce the size of the whole pie.

        For example, one way we could evenly redistribute wealth is by having the government seize all assets and divvy them up among the people. But I think most would agree that such a seizure would be catastrophic to the economy. This is an example of giving equal slices to everyone, at the expense of reducing the size of the pie.

        This is an extreme idea, and of course most liberals/progressives don’t advocate anything so radical. But this is at one end of the spectrum, the other extreme being laissez-faire. Most of us would agree that we need to do something in the middle. So we argue about things like how high tax rates should be on the wealthy, how much we should spend on the poor, etc., i.e. we’re differing on questions of degree.

        What I would be interested to know is what specific level of equality would be considered equitable to you? At what point could we say, “OK, this is good. We’ve accomplished what we set out to do, now we just have to maintain this level of equality on an ongoing basis.” How will we measure it so that we can know when we’ve succeeded?

        • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

          what specific level of equality would be considered equitable to you?

          I think the level of inequality that obtained in the United States from the late forties to the mid-seventies is a good general goal to aspire to; I also think that median incomes need to track with gains in productivity.

  • Agellius

    Matt:

    “I think the level of inequality that obtained in the United States from the late forties to the mid-seventies is a good general goal to aspire to….”

    So if we reached the level of inequality that obtained in, say, 1960, you would no longer complain about income inequality?

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

  • Agellius

    I see it’s gone from about 33% in 1960 to about 46% today (using the “excluding capital gains” figure). So if we could get it to 33% and keep it there, you would consider that fair enough to no longer consider it a problem?

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      A revival of the great compression would be a great thing in my view, yes.

  • Agellius

    I would just note that in absolute terms, annual household income, adjusted for inflation, has apparently increased for every income level, from 1967 to today. It’s true that the higher your income level, the more your income has increased. But all levels have increased.

    Source: http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/income/data/historical/household/
    (Table H-1, All Races)

    So it seems the problem is not that the poor are getting poorer, but that they’re not getting richer as fast as the rich.

    • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

      • Agellius

        I don’t have much to say about that, except I wonder if profits always rise at the same rate as productivity. That seems pertinent to the question of whether increased productivity should always result in increased wages.

        On further reflection, it could be that increased productivity allows for lower prices. If productivity goes up and, instead of lowering prices, companies raised wages, then maybe workers would have more money but would also have to pay higher prices for things, which might mean that they don’t really have more money.

        Then again, American companies don’t do business in a vacuum. They’re competing with Japanese, Chinese and Indian companies, etc., not to mention each other. It may be that they need to increase productivity not simply to make more money, but merely to keep up and keep prices as low as the competition’s prices.

        Further, ongoing gains in productivity don’t always mean that workers are working ever faster and more efficiently. Often productivity gains are the result of improved processes implemented by management, including automation.

        Believe me, I’m all in favor of better wages. My raises for the past 5 years or so have been more or less stagnant and I’m not happy about it. But the solution to that problem evidently is not as cut-and-dried to me as it is to you.

        • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

          If productivity goes up and, instead of lowering prices, companies raised wages, then maybe workers would have more money but would also have to pay higher prices for things, which might mean that they don’t really have more money.

          That’s a common misconception. As long as wage increases don’t exceed the rate of productivity growth, no inflation will result, since unit labor costs are not increasing. The impact it has is on profits, since labor takes a larger share of the gains. But then, higher wages equals more demand in the economy, leading to more sales, leading to higher profits, and so on.

          I’ve just described the post-war boom, by the way.

  • brian martin

    When the vast majority of wealth rests in the hands of a tiny minority…something is wrong.

    I’d still like someone to clarify for me why it is that when Popes point out the evils of communism they are lauded as brilliant, but when they talk about the well documented evils of unbridled Capitalism they are seen as not knowing what the hell they are talking about.
    “They aren’t trained in economics” etc. ad nauseam. “The culture of Death” idea was about more than just abortion. It was about hedonistic, rampant consumerism, which breeds the idea that “I deserve what I want, right now, with no inconvenience to me”
    No, they are speaking of morality, of justice, of right action…which may just run contrary to the accumulation of vast wealth by individuals…most of the time.

  • Agellius

    Brian writes, “I’d still like someone to clarify for me why it is that when Popes point out the evils of communism they are lauded as brilliant, but when they talk about the well documented evils of unbridled Capitalism they are seen as not knowing what the hell they are talking about.”

    Speaking for myself, I don’t really see the point in condemning unbridled capitalism, since nowhere in the world is capitalism actually unbridled. It’s probably closest to unbridled in the U.S., but even here the bridles are most definitely on. Whereas it’s easy and obvious for a pope to condemn communism since in theory and in practice it results in the suppression of religion. Who can quarrel with that?

    For the record, I don’t necessarily disagree that the accumulation of vast wealth by individuals is bad. I’m just not sure in whose hands I would rather have that vast wealth. The government’s? Mmmm … yeah, I’m not too sure about that. Again, not because government per se is bad, but because the government doesn’t have the best track record of using vast amounts of money in the best possible ways. I’m pretty sure people on both sides of the political divide would agree on that.

    • brian martin

      Actually, as usual, I chose my words poorly, and gave an obvious out. Scratch the word unbridled from my point. Numerous Popes have written about evils in the captalist system as it exists, as they also wrote about the evils of communism as it existed. But my question remains. They are brilliant when they talk about Communism, but don’t know anything when they talk about capitalism. My contention is that people keep thinking that they are talking from the standpoint of economics rather than from something that trancends local economies and politics…morality and economic justice based on Catholic teaching.

  • Agellius

    Matt:

    I didn’t mean to say that inflation would result. I was saying that if companies raised wages when productivity increased, *rather than* lowering prices, than prices would be higher than if they had lowered prices instead of raising wages. So the workers get either higher wages/higher prices, or lower wages/lower prices. My point being that there’s a price for higher wages, and that price is paid by consumers, of whom most are also workers.

    “higher wages equals more demand in the economy, leading to more sales, leading to higher profits, and so on.”

    More demand, at least, does lead to higher prices.

    • Agellius

      I left out the fact that foreign competition puts downward pressure on prices, which in turn puts downward pressure on wages. I suspect that for this reason, most American companies that tried to raise wages in tandem with productivity gains since 1970 would be out of business by now, because their prices would be a lot higher than those of their foreign competitors.

      • http://populisthope.blogspot.com Matt Talbot

        Possibly, but again, productivity is a factor there, and well. Just for illustration: If American workers are ten times as productive as foreign workers, but their wages are 5 times as high, it still makes more sense to hire an American worker rather than a foreign worker, since their unit labor costs are lower.

        I’m glad you mentioned the effects of international trade, by the way, because I’ve been meaning to work up a post about that.

        • Agellius

          OK, I’ll leave it at that. Thanks for the interesting conversation. : )

  • Agellius

    Brian:

    Are you suggesting that people should either praise all the pope’s comments, or condemn all the pope’s comments, in order to be consistent?

    You’re right, in the sense that someone with a conservative economic and political viewpoint is more likely to criticize the pope when he condemns capitalism than when he condemns communism. That’s obvious: Why would he criticize something that he agrees with?

    But what about leftists? Aren’t they also critical of the popes when they criticize aspects of communism and socialism that they agree with, while praising the popes for condemning aspects of capitalism?

    Everyone praises what he agrees with and criticizes what he thinks is wrong. It’s only natural.

    “My contention is that people keep thinking that [the popes] are talking from the standpoint of economics rather than from something that trancends local economies and politics…morality and economic justice based on Catholic teaching.”

    But Francis does talk about things from the standpoint of economics. One example off the top of my head: The Pope writes, “I am far from proposing an irresponsible populism, but the economy can no longer turn to remedies that are a new poison, such as attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force and thereby adding to the ranks of the excluded.” EG 204 (http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/apost_exhortations/documents/papa-francesco_esortazione-ap_20131124_evangelii-gaudium_en.html#The_economy_and_the_distribution_of_income)

    In my opinion the Pope here is being either naïve or else vague. Sometimes it’s necessary to reduce your workforce in order to keep your business profitable. Maybe the product your selling has become obsolete, or a competitor is making it cheaper and better than you can. Do you keep on making your product in order to maintain your workforce, even though no one is buying it? How long can this go on? Is it not better to cut your losses and save what few jobs you can, rather than go bankrupt and have everyone end up jobless?

    In a sense, this is “attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force”. But is it necessarily bad?

    Now he may only mean something like, charity is an obligation that all of us share, whether in business or otherwise. Therefore businessmen should be charitable towards their workers, and when making decisions affecting their welfare, think of the human cost and not merely the bottom line.

    If he had put it that way, I doubt that many conservative Catholics would argue with a single word of it. But if that’s what he meant, he said it in an extremely indirect and ineffective manner, which makes it sound less like a general moral teaching and more like a condemnation of a specific business practice; a practice which at times may be the best option a businessman has.

    • Kurt

      Agellius makes a very sound defense of what has historically been the liberal viewpoint of the papacy. Liberal Catholics don’t see a virtue in parroting the popes or blindly following their every word or exaggerated displays of loyalty to the pope. Liberals instead have asked for respectful consideration of ideas proposed by popes and other church authorities and, when convinced of their merit, appropriate promotion of those thoughts.

      He might be right that everyone does this, but it seems to be most liberals who admit they are doing this.

  • Agellius

    I’m not sure of the extent to which Kurt is pulling my chain. But yes, sometimes popes teach well and sometimes not so well (referring to their manner of expressing themselves here). And when a pope teaches something that’s a matter not of faith nor obedience, but of prudential application of doctrine to a concrete situation, people may, and indeed cannot help but agree or disagree to varying extents.

    It may be that liberals admit to doing this more than conservatives admit it. But I personally don’t know any conservatives who contend that every word which issues from the pen of a pope requires absolute submission.

  • Brian Martin

    Agellius,
    “Sometimes it’s necessary to reduce your workforce in order to keep your business profitable. ” If you are reducing workforce in order to stay in business…that is one thing, if you are reducing workforce and placing higher productivity demands on remaining workers to make more profit for yourself, one has to question the morality of it. Is it naive of the pope to question the morality of a system where the top 1% controls more wealth and resources than remaining 99%? When I hear about business cutting jobs and then giving the top corporate officers millions in raises…that is not economic justice. An economy based on manufactured need is not economic justice. But the Pope is naive to suggest there should be something different.
    (Do you keep on making your product in order to maintain your workforce, even though no one is buying it? How long can this go on? Is it not better to cut your losses and save what few jobs you can, rather than go bankrupt and have everyone end up jobless?
    In a sense, this is “attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force”. But is it necessarily bad?) Obviously not. But moving to temporary or part time workers simply to provide more profit to the corporate leaders, the investors etc., and treating workers as a commodity…yes, there is something morally wrong with that. I think your example is poor, because that is not what he is suggesting. But I would suggest there is a difference between saying you are making across the board cuts so that you can stay in business as opposed to cutting workers or benefits to increase profits. The term “increase profits” suggests that one is already making a profit, and wants more.

  • Agellius

    Brian:

    You write, “But I would suggest there is a difference between saying you are making across the board cuts so that you can stay in business as opposed to cutting workers or benefits to increase profits. The term “increase profits” suggests that one is already making a profit, and wants more.”

    I agree that it depends on your motives. As I already said, I would not have had a problem with the Pope saying that company executives need to consider the human costs of their actions and not only the bottom line. Are we not in agreement there?

    My criticism of the Pope’s remark had to do with the implication that “attempting to increase profits by reducing the work force” is a regularly occurring problem that we need to put an end to. He’s not saying this is something we shouldn’t do in principle. He’s implying that it has happened, continues to happen and needs to stop happening.

    Contained in this statement is the implication that he has examined specific cases of workforce reductions and has made a judgment that they were done out of pure greed, and not for legitimate reasons like ensuring the ongoing health of the company for the good of workers and shareholders alike. But how does he know this?

    I have virtually all my retirement money, amounting to 20 years or so of savings so far, in a 401(k) plan. That plan buys stocks and bonds issued by companies. It’s important to me that the companies in which my plan owns shares remain healthy and profitable, so that when I retire my shares in those companies will provide me with sufficient funds to live on. I don’t want those companies to act as charitable enterprises, reducing profits by employing unneeded workers so as to avoid papal accusations of having reduced the workforce to increase profits. (I already set aside a certain amount of my income for charity.) The workers are not the only ones that the company has to consider. Not all stockholders are multi-millionaires.

    You and I have no argument over the moral principle that greed is selfish and evil. But you, me and the Pope may disagree as to whether particular actions in specific circumstances were occasioned by greed or by legitimate considerations of the overall good.

    “Is it naive of the pope to question the morality of a system where the top 1% controls more wealth and resources than remaining 99%?”

    For the sake of accuracy, the first two sources I checked say that the top 1% controls less than half the wealth, not the majority. In terms of total net worth, the top 1% controls 35.4%; in terms of financial (non-home) assets, 42.1%. (This was as of 2010, after having risen to a high of 47.3% in 1998.) The next 9% (i.e. the top 2% through 9%) controls more wealth than the top 1%.

    http://thinkprogress.org/economy/2011/10/03/334156/top-five-wealthiest-one-percent/#

    http://www2.ucsc.edu/whorulesamerica/power/wealth.html

    To answer your question, no, it’s not naïve to question whether this concentration of wealth is unjust. But I’m also not aware of any moral principle which specifies which percentage of wealth should be controlled by which proportion of the population. What about 2%/98%? 5%/95%? What proportion would be equitable? Should each percentage of the population control precisely the same percentage of the wealth? The exact number you arrive at is a matter of prudence and not moral principle.

    Matt indicated that he thought 1960 levels of income inequality would be fair and equitable. But 1960 still had the top 10% of households making 33% of the income (according to his table). By what standard is that “fair”? I can see why it might be considered “fairer” than the current 46%, but I don’t see what makes it objectively “fair”.

    If we allow people to “get ahead” through hard work and the willingness to take risks which other people aren’t willing to take, then we will always have inequality (whereas if we do not allow people to get ahead in these ways, we will surely have economic stagnation — see, e.g. the former Soviet Union and China before 1990 or so). I simply don’t claim to know how much inequality is too much. And there is also the possibility that efforts to impose more-equal shares of the pie might reduce the overall size of the pie.