A Kind of Theft

A Kind of Theft March 24, 2019

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump berated “Detroit automakers for closing plants and sending jobs abroad.” [1] With the next election coming next year, he has stepped up the rhetorical attack once again, and has demanded that General Motors reopen its Lordstown, Ohio plant, urging “G.M. to close a factory in China or Mexico instead of idling the one in Lordstown.”

G.M. responded that the fate of Lordstown and other North American factories “’will be resolved between G.M. and the U.A.W.’” In other words, the auto workers will take what’s offered or watch their jobs go overseas. As the United Auto Workers has pointed out in this connection, “’corporations close plants, workers don’t.…”

The power that companies have in these situations as against their workers is something that most of us have come to accept. We might think that companies are behaving badly when they go after cheaper labor in foreign countries (some don’t), but few of us doubt that businesses have the right to do it. After all, companies are supposed to represent the interests of their shareholders, and less labor costs means higher profits.

What underlies this cultural prejudice is that we do not believe that labor is a property creating event. We think that property is acquired by purchase. With money. But this notion gives rise to a kind of absurdity.

If I work for an employer I am compensated with money. The money I am paid is an abstraction of a portion of the value of my work. I say “a portion” because no company, no employer, is able to pay its employees the full value of their work, or its ability to make a profit will be threatened. Therefore, if the company I work for makes a profit, it is undoubtedly because I have added value to the business.

Where the absurdity comes in is that, provided I am paid sufficiently, I can take some of the money I am paid, and, if the stock of the company I work for is publicly traded, I can purchase its stock on the exchange. I can take the abstraction of the value of my labor and buy ownership shares. But I cannot purchase shares through my labor itself. The value I add to the company, the portion of that value for which I am not compensated doesn’t result in my acquiring ownership shares. I cannot acquire ownership by my labor, but only by means of the abstraction of my labor. But the two should carry the same value.

More than one thing is implied by this, but what I want to argue for here is that, in justice, employees ought to be recognized as having acquired, through their labor, an ownership interest in the businesses they work for. This means that if a business packs up and disembarks to a land of cheaper labor, leaving its employees without recourse, a kind of theft has taken place. The company has taken the value supplied by its work force over and above what was paid in wages and salaries, and left town with it.

That isn’t right.


The icon of St. Joseph the Worker is by Daniel Nichols.

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  • solomonstemple

    I’m not sure you understand economics? Your labor is a commodity. You exchange your labor (in a free exchange between two consenting parties) for money. You are not coerced, nor are you in bondage (slave labor). The entrepreneur, who offers money in exchange for labor, is under no moral or ethical duty to provide you with ownership. You have taken NO risk. You have invested NO capital. You have NOT put together and executed a business plan. You have assumed NO debt. You are a cog in the wheel of production.

    I would ask a couple of simple questions. Since you want ownership are you also going to assume the debts should this business fail? Are you willing to mortgage your house to pay off the bank loans should this company not turn out to be profitable? I’d like to know if you are proposing a type of communal property? Whereby you accumulate the owners property through your labor? There are many companies that offer profit sharing but NOT ownership sharing. You are always free to a)start your own company or b)go work somewhere else. That’s what freedom and liberty provide.

  • Tom O.

    When you talk about ownership, you have to also talk about the financial risk associated by ownership. In a corporation, it is owned not by the executives, but by the shareholders. The employees, unless they own shares of the company have no financial risk invested in the company. Most employees, say at a GM plant, do not have a business owners mentality. They have an employee view of things.

  • Tom G

    The Catholic Church does not agree with your comment here.

  • solomonstemple

    I don’t know where you get that information. Please cite your sources. “It is necessary for a man to hold private property, and it is also necessary for human existence.” Thomas Aquinas The Church has always upheld the rights to private property. I might suggest you educate yourself and a good place to start would be “The Church and the Market” by Woods. Or any of the “social justice” encylicals going back to Rerum novarum.

  • Tom G

    Your arrogance is showing.

    Where does the Catholic Church teach that ” Your labor is a commodity”? Where does She teach that

    You exchange your labor (in a free exchange between two consenting parties) for money. You are not coerced, nor are you in bondage (slave labor). The entrepreneur, who offers money in exchange for labor, is under no moral or ethical duty to provide you with ownership. You have taken NO risk. You have invested NO capital. You have NOT put together and executed a business plan. You have assumed NO debt. You are a cog in the wheel of production.

    Can you cite more than just one quote from Aquinas about private property (even though private property is not even at issue under your comment)?

  • solomonstemple

    See Tom you make the mistake that most Catholics make when discussing economics. They simply don’t know what they are talking about. You would not go to the Church if you needed brain surgery, nor should you rely on the Church when it comes to economics. They simply are not qualified. The Church’s mission is the salvation of souls, NOT economics. Meddling where they have no expertise is dangerous. Economic law cannot possibly be contradicted by the moral law. The moral law tells us what we “ought” to do. Economic law, on the other hand, is purely descriptive and necessarily amoral (like gravity), having nothing to do with morality one way or another. Calling people names certainly does not further your position.

    Your emotion may cause you to desire a particular economic outcome, but that does not in any way change or alter the economic laws underlying economics.

  • Tom G

    You’re pushing a false dichotomy. Economics involve the salvation of souls.

    Are you Catholic? If not, I won’t appeal to Catholic Church teaching, as you won’t consider it an authority you’d need to submit to.

  • solomonstemple

    Yes I’m Catholic. If you are suggesting that economics and being Catholic are the same I believe you are sadly mistaken. The Church relies on charity and not coercion. How are they the same exactly. You state broad opinions and little else. “current culture holds that transferring property from private individuals to the community, the present mischievous state of things will be set to rights, inasmuch as each citizen will then get his fair share of whatever there is to enjoy.” “such proposals are emphatically unjust. The remedy they propose is manifestly against justice.” Pope Leo XIII Rerum novarum

    If you can understand this fundamental declaration then you can see it is certainly Catholic and upon this encyclical all others build the modern Catholic social justice platform.

  • Tom G

    Catholic Social Teaching is binding. You can’t use “economics are descriptive and thus amoral” to avoid your obligation to follow Catholic Social Teaching.


  • solomonstemple

    What Catholic moral teaching are you referring to? Put some meat on the bone and don’t just make general statements. Here is some Catholic social teaching from Quadragesimo anno Pope Pius XI; “religious socialism and christian socialism are one in the same contradiction of terms. No one an be a good Catholic and a true socialist at the same time.” “socialism is intrinsically evil”. Do you get that? Intrinsically evil, like abortion. It’s obvious you don’t have a clue about the Labor Theory of Value. I suggest you read, yes read, Common Sense Economics and then Money, Greed, and God to get some fundamentals about a subject you seem to know little about. However, if you are averse to reading, watch these three Catholic scholars discuss the Church and Economics.

  • Tom G


    I’m not averse to reading. Stop being so afraid to read those who disagree with your quote-mining.

  • solomonstemple

    Quote mining? Did you watch the video?? If you mean identifying legitimate sources of facts and Catholic doctrine then yes I guess I am quote mining.

  • Tom G

    There are additional Church teachings that you are ignoring. See the article I posted. Unless you’re averse to reading.

  • solomonstemple

    Tom G, This may be some of the most dangerous if not idiotic things I have read.

    “Some will argue that while they agree that a just wage is the Church’s teaching, “prudentially” that is best determined by the market. The government will only screw things up. So the just wage is naturally created by the forces of human interaction in the business. Sorry guys, that doesn’t pass muster.” Complete nonsense but excellent wishful thinking. See I read it. Did you watch the video? 3 phd’s will explain why this and other distributist ideas are fatally flawed. Here I go quoting again but this guy seems to like quoting.

    Following his quotes from Quadragesim Anno taken out of context is the following: “BUT if this cannot always be done under existing circuimstances, social justice demands that changes be introduced as soon as possible whereby such a wage will be asssured to every workingman.” Pius XI concedes, but never explains how that is to be achieved. In reality only those running the business know the best way to create more wealth from their business, not the government, not the worker, and certainly NOT the Church.

    The learned Pope continues, “the condition of a business and of the one carrying it on must also be taken into account; for it would be UNJUST to demand excessive wages which a business cannot stand without its ruin and consequent calamity to the workers.” i.e layed off or fired. So you see the Labor Theory of Value holds true. You can’t escape it. He concludes with:

    Hence it is contrary to social justice when, for the sake of personal gain and without regard for the common good, wages and salaries are excessively lowered or raised; and this same social justice demands that wages and salaries be so manged, through agreement of plans and wills, in so far as can be done, as to offer to the greatest possible number the opportunity of getting work and obtaining suitabnle means of livelihood.” Remember this truth that is especially true in economics : Equality or opportunity does not guarantee equality of outcome!

  • Tom G

    I’m content with you publicly stating that you think you know better than the Catholic Church. As long as people are generally able to see that you value your own opinion about economics over what the Catholic Church teaches about morality, I think that’s a step in the right direction. People should know that you are not coming to the table to discuss the matter in good faith, but only to ridicule others and shout “THE CHURCH SHOULD STAY OUT OF ECONOMIC MATTERS!”

  • solomonstemple

    If quoting Popes encyclicals is putting my opinion over that of the Church then yes I’m guilty. I guess you simply don’t understand the papal pronouncements? I never said they should stay out of economic matters, I’ve tried to point out with facts that it is not their strong suit. You keep trying to attach a moral authority to a amoral issue. And it’s not just my opinion. Read a couple of the books I suggested or watch that video, or do some unbiased research and you’ll see that men of good will can disagree with economic policies that fly in the face of reason and economic laws.

    You want a certain outcome that satisfies your moral perspective. 3 acres and a mule for all! I will close with this simple truth.

    Economics does not hold that the desires of the consumers are pure and virtuous. It does illustrate that the market process is the only way to approximately gauge those desires. All other systems must attempt to impose the ruler’s values on the ruled. Jesus outlines the way of love which iincludes charity in action. Theft, coercion, coveting, imposing, and demanding fruits of ones labors not only denigratges human dignity, but is the exact anthisis of love.

  • Tom G

    No. You’ve bought the lie. Taxes are not theft. They are not coercion. Stop believing these political bullcrap lies. Libertarianism is not compatible with the Catholic faith.

  • kenofken

    I’m not interested in Catholic moral teachings, so I’d keep it simple: If a company doesn’t maintain at least 51% of its workforce in the United States paid a living wage, those products would be subject to a 40% tariff or a corporate income tax rate that would more than eliminate any savings realized by offshoring.

  • Michael Paterson-Seymour

    “The Church relies on charity and not coercion.”

    For the greater part of her history, that is untrue.

    It begins with an ordinance of Charlemagne, as King of the Franks, in a general assembly of his Estates, spiritual and temporal, in 778-779 – “Concerning tithes, it is ordained that every man give his tithe, and that they be dispensed according to the bishop’s commandment.” A Capitular
    for Saxony in 789 appointed tithes to be paid out of all public property, and
    that all men, “whether noble, or gentle, or of lower degree, should give according to God’s commandment, to the churches and priests, of their substance and labour : as God has given to each Christian, so ought he to repay a part to God.” A Capitular of 800 made the payment of tithes universal within the fiscal domain of the whole Frankish kingdom. We are told the reading of this Capitular at Rome was interrupted by loud and repeated shouts from Pope Leo III and the assembled clergy of “Life and victory to our ever-august Emperor!” “ Vita! Victoria!

    From this time onwards, therefore, we may say the civil law superseded any merely spiritual admonitions as to the payment of tithes. Their payment was no longer a religious duty alone it was a legal obligation, enforceable by the laws of the civil head of Christendom.

    The dîme was abolished by the French Revolution in 1789. The payment of clerical salaries out of general taxation in Belgium is a composition for this, as are the grants paid by the Italian government.