Jobs And The Common Good

Jobs And The Common Good February 12, 2021

kalhh: Jobs Posted on Wood Background / pixabay

Pope Francis, in his important encyclical, Laudato si’, reminds us that politics and the economy should serve the common good, and with it, the good of human life instead of having human lives serve the dictates and desires of powerful economic interests: “Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life.” [1]

Saving and protecting human life is more important than saving jobs. If the long term effects of the jobs we create leads to the destruction of the environment, it will lead to the destruction of human life. Jobs are not more important than human lives. We must not turn work into an idol. We must not act as any and every kind of job creation is seen as a good which must be supported. We could create assassination agencies, making for thousands or tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of jobs, if we wanted to do so. If the only thing that is of interest is job creation, then such agencies should be allowed. However, because we affirm the value of life, and recognize not all work is moral and so not all possible jobs should be sanctioned, the number of jobs not created as a result of forbidding such work would not be reason enough to authorize them. Likewise, a taxi company which charges less money because all its workers are drunks could and should be prevented  from coming to exist. Nonetheless, those whose concern is only on the economy, what the market would allow if not regulated, and with it, the creation of jobs, could argue that we are causing drunks to be out of work because they are not allowed to be taxi drivers and so for the sake of their livelihood such cab companies should be allowed. It doesn’t matter if some of the drivers will get into accidents, not all of them will do so.

The work societies allow must be work which does them no significant harm. We must think, not only in the short term, but in the long term, in relation to such harm. If particular work threatens society, if it threatens humanity and the world we live in, then we must really ponder if the risk is worth taking. When the risk is serious, and the effects catastrophic, the answer should be no. Yes, some people might lose jobs, but we have the resources to make sure that they not only can get new work, but better work, if we truly cared. We have the means to help everyone flourish; we can, as a society, create more jobs in those areas which will benefit society as a whole, and pay them enough to live dignified lives. It would require us to look beyond our current capitalistic ideology, but if we want humanity to survive, this is the kind of action we need to take.

We must, therefore, think in the long term; politics must encourage people to work together for the common good, not just for the immediate future, but also for the long-term:

A politics concerned with immediate results, supported by consumerist sectors of the population, is driven to produce short-term growth. In response to electoral interests, governments are reluctant to upset the public with measures which could affect the level of consumption or create risks for foreign investment. The myopia of power politics delays the inclusion of a far-sighted environmental agenda within the overall agenda of governments. Thus we forget that “time is greater than space”, that we are always more effective when we generate processes rather than holding on to positions of power. True statecraft is manifest when, in difficult times, we uphold high principles and think of the long-term common good. Political powers do not find it easy to assume this duty in the work of nation-building. [2]

We cannot sacrifice the future for the sake of today’s avarice. We do not have to do so. We must overcome outdated ideas about the relationship between work and livelihood. Technology has changed the balance and will only make the relationship less and less linked in the future. Technology has replaced many jobs, and in the future, there will be less jobs available while the number of people seeking them will continue to increase. If we do not change the system, we will end up with a large group of jobless people, without any work available to them, being told they must get a job if they want to live. They will be seen as worthless, and their inevitable deaths will not be mourned by the rich and powerful, who will think their wealth justifies their continued existence.

“No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (Matt. 6:24 RSV). Those who serve God do so by loving their neighbor, taking care of their neighbor, making sure the needs of their neighbor are met. Those who serve mammon, those who pursue wealth over the common good, are concerned only with the accumulation of their wealth; they will offer work to others so long as it is to their own personal gain, but they will always look for ways to pay less and make more money. Those who serve money will be concerned about economic interests over human dignity, thinking the market alone should decide social outcomes.

As those who serve money destroy lives in order to get more for themselves, we should not be surprised that they are not concerned about the consequences of their actions if those consequences are for a future they think they will not see. They will sacrifice humanity for their private gain today. This is exactly a problem we see with various projects, like the Keystone Pipeline; its interest is not in the common good, but for the accumulation of money. The pipeline is risky, for if anything goes wrong (and things often go wrong with such pipelines, and has already gone wrong for the Keystone Pipeline), it can easily contaminate and destroy a major aquifer that supplies water to a large portion of the United States; if that happens, it would create a major crisis for the United States (and the world, because our food production would be vastly diminished). Likewise, the environmental impact of our continual reliance on oil, itself, is such that we should invest our time and money in other forms of energy production (which would result in a net increase in job production, if we did so). Those who argue the pipeline should continue because it creates jobs misrepresent the number of jobs it actually creates and ignores the jobs it prevents from coming to be because of our outdated focus on oil. And even if it were correct to say it would create thousands of jobs (it will not do so), we must still recognize that those jobs come at the expense of the common good. Just as we would not approve of the creation of an assassination bureau, even if it created hundreds of thousands of jobs, so we have reason to deny the creation of jobs related to the pipeline (while encouraging the creation of other jobs).

We must be concerned about the future, and the long-term consequences of the jobs which we create, and so deny those jobs which threaten society. We must, as Pope Francis explained, move away from jobs which promote outdated, polluting technologies: “We know that technology based on the use of highly polluting fossil fuels – especially coal, but also oil and, to a lesser degree, gas – needs to be progressively replaced without delay.” [3]  This is why President Biden was right in stopping work at the Keystone Pipeline, and should, likewise, put to a halt the Dakota Pipeline as well[4].

Jobs are important, but we must recognize society is changing due to technology. The relationship between work and livelihood must be reconsidered thanks to technology. We have the means to provide everyone with their basic needs, if we truly are concerned about the common good. We must stop thinking in terms of money, we must stop allowing mammon to be our master. We must create a new society.

[1] Pope Francis, Laudato si’. Vatican Translation. ¶189.

[2] Pope Francis, Laudato si’, ¶178..

[3] Pope Francis, Laudato si’,. ¶165.

[4] Beyond the environmental concern, another reason why both must be stopped is due to the way they interfere with sovereign Native American territories. Native American interests must be taken into consideration, especially when those interest include Native American religious concerns.  Religious liberty concerns have been legitimately raised in relation to the pipelines and other governmental projects. Native Americans have had a history of having their religious liberty hindered, and such projects on Native American sacred land only continues that disgraceful treatment of Native Americans.


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