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Legends of Libertarianism

Legends of Libertarianism April 22, 2014

One of the perpetual dogmas I run across in Libertarian Catholic circles was nicely boiled down by a reader the other day: “When the government gets into the business of wealth redistribution, the government gets into the business of injustice.”  The words “wealth redistribution” always evoke this kind of dogmatic, assured, and completely unexamined response–just as if it were self-evident that the state function of taxation for the common good (that is, “wealth redistribution”) has not been one of the core functions of the state since the dawn of time and just as if, should taxation could simply be done away with, unfallen man would emerge from his cocoon of state oppression and rugged individuals would automatically see to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Strangely, it is the person asserting this who imagines that Catholic teaching, not his fantasy, is “utopian”.

Meanwhile, in the world of reality, here is what the Church has to say:

b. The right to fair remuneration and income distribution

302. Remuneration is the most important means for achieving justice in work relationships.[659] The “just wage is the legitimate fruit of work”.[660]

They commit grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage or who do not give it in due time and in proportion to the work done (cf. Lv 19:13; Dt 24:14-15; Jas 5:4). A salary is the instrument that permits the labourer to gain access to the goods of the earth. “Remuneration for labour is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good”.[661] The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a “just wage”, because a just wage “must not be below the level of subsistence”[662] of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.

303. The economic well-being of a country is not measured exclusively by the quantity of goods it produces but also by taking into account the manner in which they are produced and the level of equity in the distribution of income, which should allow everyone access to what is necessary for their personal development and perfection. An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

Pope Benedict, just like his Catholic Utopian Socialist successor,  taught that although “mere redistribution of existing wealth” is insufficient to the alleviation of poverty, “seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth” is nevertheless essential to the task of peacemaking.

The trick that Catholics influenced by libertarian ideology (aka heresy) need to master is this: instead of ransacking Catholic teaching for the subsidiarity bits that happen to comport with libertarian heresy, instead embrace the fullness of Catholic teaching, including the Church’s teaching on solidarity, the common good, and the legitimate role of the state.


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