St. Peter Damien, Komminniss

St. Peter Damien, Komminniss May 21, 2015

It should be noted that he who takes from the wealthy rather than from the unfortunate to provide for his brother who are in need, or who supports some pious work, or, more importantly, who relieves the poor in their necessity, should not be counted an avariious man, but as one who justly moves common goods from one group of brethren to another. One man is richer than others, not for the reason that he alone should possess the things he holds in trust, but that he disburse them to the poor. He should distribute the goods of others, not as their owner but as an agent, and not merely through motives of charity, but of justice. Thus, when the prophet said, “Lavishly he gives to the poor,” he does not add that “his mercy,” but that “his justice shall endure forever.” Also, when the Lord spoke of giving alms, he said, “Take heed not to practice your justice before men, in order to be seen by them.” He explained that he wished almsgiving to be reckoned especially as justice, b immediately adding, “Therefore, when you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as hypocrites do.”  Since giving of one’s own bespeaks mercy, it is in the province of justice to distribute what belongs to others. Wherefore, he who takes from the rich to give to the poor is not to be thought a thief, but a dispenser of common property.

St. Peter Damian, Letter 142

The Catholic tradition, while it respect private property, doesn’t elevate it to the psychotic absolute that American veneration of the rich does and doesn’t shed *too* many tears if a rich guy loses his excess to the poor man.

2446 St. John Chrysostom vigorously recalls this: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”239 “The demands of justice must be satisfied first of all; that which is already due in justice is not to be offered as a gift of charity”:240

When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.241
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  • Andy

    How dare you present Catholic thinking about private property, wealth and the like to Americans who now worship mammon and see justice only as retribution?

  • Allen

    So we now find a valid reason to break the seventh commandment, since a person’s property does not actually belong them them, but are common goods. All the more proof of our faith in the state to do the right thing for the common good.

    • kirtking

      The commandments dealing with stealing and coveting suggest some recognition that goods and wealth belong to the holder.

      • Andy

        The commandments do indeed recognize ownership – but with ownership comes responsibilities – very clearly the responsibility to promote the common good. It requires solidarity – with ST. JPII says is a firm commitment to to the common good – damn we have replaced solidarity with subsidiarily in America and now we are reaping the whirlwind.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “So we now find a valid reason to break the seventh commandment”

      That’s hilarious, because Mark’s quotation of §2246 is from the Catechism’s article on the seventh commandment, i.e. how to keep it.

      • Allen

        §2246 and that entire section is discussing acts of mercy and sharing one’s own goods, not steeling another’s to give to another.

        §2447 “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.”

        But I suppose empowering the state to do it from the barrel of a gun is the same thing.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Article seven begins at §2401. You need to start there.

          Mark’s post is not about the works of mercy, but that type of justice which the Church calls distributive. Your last sentence makes it clear that you do not understand Church teaching on either the origin of the state or the nature of civil authority, much less distributive justice.

          You have a lot of reading to do.

    • ManyMoreSpices

      The problem with these discussions is less the seventh Commandment than it is the tenth. Envy and coveting are still sins, gang, even when the people you’re envious of are the rich and what you covet are the possessions of the rich. Probably a good idea to examine your conscience about whether your desire to take things away from people who have more than you is motivated by a complete understanding of justice, or whether it’s motivated by one of the sins that’s just as deadly as the other six.

      • Andy

        You assume that people who are poor or those who advocate for them are basing there beliefs on envy or covetousness. Maybe it si a desire to have dignity and a living wage for all that motivates folks. You should perhaps examine your own conscience about how you view others. Just saying that the church preaches solidarity and subisidarity without solidarity leads to incredible inequality and lack of dignity for all, gang.

        • ManyMoreSpices

          I assume nothing of the kind. I said:

          (1) If there’s a Commandment that’s violated in these discussions, it’s not the seventh (because it’s relatively hard to break) but rather the tenth (because all it requires is a mental act).
          (2) The temptation to envy exists in all people. The poor do not enjoy a special protection against the sin of envy; anyone may commit it.
          (3) An examination of conscience is always a good idea, n’est-ce pas?

          • Andy

            An examination of conscience is always useful. However, you are the one who said “whether your desire to take things away from people who have more than you is motivated by a complete understanding of justice, or whether it’s motivated by one of the sins that’s just as deadly as the other six.” – this statement ties the desire to help people have dignity and a working wage with taking away from someone else. The desire to have a living wage, to have your work bring dignity and family support is also clearly supported by the church and is not seen as envy.

          • Alma Peregrina

            Agreed on point (3).

            Maybe an examination of conscience on the ninth commandment would be also apropriate. Or have I misinterpreted what you tried to imply with this quote?

            “Envy and coveting are still sins, gang, even when the people you’re envious of are the rich and what you covet are the possessions of the rich. Probably a good idea to examine your conscience about whether your desire to take things away from people who have more than you is motivated by a complete understanding of justice, or whether it’s motivated by one of the sins (envy and coveting)”.

          • Sue Korlan

            Actually, the seventh commandment is easy to break. If you do not give your employer a full day’s work you break it. If you do not pay your employees a living wage you break it. Both of those actions are fairly common in my experience, and much more common than envy.

        • We’ve already run the experiment in the real world. Lowering rates of taxation during the Reagan era led to increases in the percentage of tax paid by the wealthy. Those politicians who grasp hardest at the mantle of defenders of the poor call that “the decade of greed”. Example after example of using envy for political effect is easily found in US political discourse.

          • Sue Korlan

            When Reagan “lowered” the taxes, he raised those on the people on the bottom by 50%, as I should know because that’s what happened to my taxes under the Reagan tax cuts. The tax increase put many of the working poor out on the streets because they could no longer afford rent. At the time, studies of the homeless found that a third of them were employed full time at low wage jobs.

            • Did you notice that you didn’t actually contradict anything that I said and were merely prompting me to re-fight the 1980s with you? There were several changes of tax rates during the Reagan years. You can get the actual tax rates here:

              http://taxfoundation.org/sites/taxfoundation.org/files/docs/fed_individual_rate_history_nominal.pdf

              So which change are you talking about with which filing status? Reagan went through multi year tax cuts and also through a major rate simplification which was not sold as or regarded by anybody as a tax cut. And indeed the bottom end of the income scale had taxes go up during that 1986 tax reform process.

              As for studies of the homeless, I read through enough lying studies from that decade and subsequent ones that a vague reference without a link doesn’t even merit response.

              • Sue Korlan

                I was referring to the first tax “cut”, of 1981 if I remember correctly, which raised the bottom rate from 9% to 15%. It was most definitely sold to the public as a tax cut and led directly to the recession of 1982, when the Germans and Japanese sent food to Detroit because of the massive hardships being endured by its citizens.
                I will look up the early 1980 homeless statistics the next time I get to the library and add the relevant URL then.

                • I included a link to the historical tax tables. No need to rely on a three decade old memory which is, I think, mistaken.

                  • Sue Korlan

                    I think not. http://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-soi/80inintravmatr.pdf on page 19 shows the effective tax rate for persons with income of less than $5000 as being substantially less than 10% and that of $5000-$10000 as still less than 10%, but I presume they’re looking at the entire income and not just the income on which the person paid taxes. A look at the first page shows that the median tax on all income was 9.9%, but again I think they looked at it as the tax on the entire amount a person had earned.
                    .
                    https://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/12-23-effectivetaxrates_letter.pdf on page 9 of the pdf but page 7 according to the document itself shows that the effective individual income tax rate for the lowest quintile was .2 in 1980. In 1981 it was .5, more than double what it had been. I was using the change in the rate on the money taxed and ignoring the money not taxed when I gave you the numbers 9% and 15%.

      • Marthe Lépine

        On the other hand, it could be said of some of the people who are hoarding money for the sake of owning money are the ones to be breaking the seventh commandment in some ways… For example (just one among many other examples and scenarios), could it be said that some Hedge Fund that works at increasing the wealth of its shareholders by taking control of businesses and firing all of those businesses’ employees in the name of “rationalizing” production, that this Hedge Fund is stealing the workers’ jobs? Would it be envy to claim that the rich owner(s) of that Hedge Fund hold at least some of their wealth unjustly? There are many sides to some questions…

  • Cypressclimber

    “The Catholic tradition, while it respect private property, doesn’t elevate it to the psychotic absolute that American veneration of the rich does and doesn’t shed *too* many tears if a rich guy loses his excess to the poor man.

    Well, that depends a great deal on just how the rich guy loses “his excess.”

    I have a hard time believing that our genial host would really think it just if, for example, everyone earning over $1 million a year were taxed at a 95% effective rate, leaving them $50,000 a year. However much one might defend the basic idea of progressive taxation, surely there is a moral “too far”?

    It really is possible to be unjust to people who are rich, and injustice is wrong. And a lot of people certainly shed tears to see opportunistically looting in the context of social discord; does that looting become less objectionable, if we discover the person looted was quite wealthy? Stealing Bill Gates’ TV or car is pretty wrong.

    Surely our host does not mean to create an exception to the sound moral principle he so tirelessly and commendably expounds in other contexts: that is is never permissible to do evil, that good may come of it?

    • chezami

      St. Ambrose: “You are not making a gift of your possessions to poor persons. You are handing over to them what is theirs. For what has been given in common for the use of all, you have arrogated to yourself. The world is given to all, and not only to the rich.”

      St. John Chrysostom: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs.”

      St. Gregory the Great: “When we attend to the needs of those in want, we give them what is theirs, not ours. More than performing works of mercy, we are paying a debt of justice.”

      St. Gregory the Great: “For if everyone receiving what is sufficient for his own necessity would leave what remains to the needy, there would be no rich or poor.”

      St. Basil: “Are not thou then a robber, for counting as thine own what thou hast receivest to distribute? It is the bread of the famished which thou receivest, the garment of the naked which thou hoardest in thy chest, the shoe of the barefooted which rots in thy possessions, the money of the pennyless which thou hast buried in the earth. Wherefore then dost thou injure so many to whom thou mightest be a benefactor.”

      St. Bede: “He then who wishes to be rich toward God, will not lay up treasures for himself, but distribute his possessions to the poor.”

      Leo XII: “Every person has by nature the right to possess property as his or her own […] But if the question be asked: How must one’s possessions be used?, the Church replies without hesitation in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas: ‘One should not consider one’s material possessions as one’s own, but as common to all, so as to share them without hesitation when other are in need.’ […] True, no one is commanded to distribute to others that which is required for one’s own needs and those of one’s household; nor even to give away what is reasonably required to keep up becomingly one’s condition in life. […] But when what necessity demands has been supplied and one’s standing fairly provided for, it becomes a duty to give to the needy out of what remains over.”

      Pius XI: “The right to own private property has been given to the human by nature, or rather by the Creator himself […] At the same time a person’s superfluous income is not left entirely to one’s own discretion. […] On the contrary, the grave obligations of charity, beneficence and liberality, which rest upon the wealthy are constantly insisted upon in telling words by Holy Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. However, the investment of superfluous income in secureing favorable opportunities for employment […] is to be considered […] an act of real liberality, particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.”

      Gaudium et Spes : “God has intended the earth and all that it contains for the use of all people and all peoples. Hence justice, accompanied by charity, must so regulate the distribution of created goods that they are actually available to all in an equitable measure. […] Therefore, in using them everyone should consider legitimate possessions not only as their own but also as common property, in the sense that they should be able to profit not only themselves but other people as well. Moreover, all have the right to possess a share of earthly goods sufficient for themselves and their families. This is what the Fathers and Doctors of the Church had in mind when teaching that people are obliged to come to the aid of the poor, and to do so not merely out of their superfluous goods.”

      Paul VI: “Private property does not constitute for anyone an absolute and unconditional right. No one is justified in keeping for one’s exclusive use what one does not need, when others lack necessities.”

      John Paul II: “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

      • Cypressclimber

        All great quotes, but this lengthy comment is not a response to my questions. (Not that you have to answer; but if you prefer not, then perhaps just…don’t answer.) I mean, I can always guess, but out of fairness to you, and to avoid unclarity, I’d rather not try to guess, for example, whether you think a progressive tax scheme can ever be immoral. I proposed a 95% tax; how about something between 97-98%–the wealthy earner is left right at the poverty level. Surely that’s not just, is it?

        I hold that it is, indeed, possible to be unjust to a rich person. I thought you did, too, but I suppose I could be wrong.

        • Andy

          How about a flat 10% – the poor at 10,000 -ay $100 and those as 1 million pay 100000 – doing math in my hear not a good thing but you get the idea?!

          • Cypressclimber

            What the best or fairest or most moral tax system might be is a good question, but it isn’t my question. My question, to state it again, was whether a progressive tax on the rich reaches a point of being unjust? Because if so, it seems injustice merits some “tears.”

            • Andy

              I was suggesting that the answer is yes – and instead of having a progressive tax have instead a “flat tax”. I guess I didn’t make my general concern about a progressive tax as we have it in the US is unworkable.

              • ivan_the_mad

                I think that a progressive tax seems more in line with the social doctrine:

                “132. In a system of taxation based on justice and equity it is fundamental that the burdens be proportioned to the capacity of the people contributing.” — Mater et Magistra

                “The tax system should be continually evaluated in terms of its impact on the poor. This evaluation should be guided by three principles. First, the tax system should raise adequate revenues to pay for the public needs of society, especially to meet the basic needs of the poor. Secondly, the tax system should be structured according to the principle of progressivity, so that those with relatively greater financial resources pay a higher rate of taxation. The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation. Action should be taken to reduce or offset the fact that most sales taxes and payroll taxes place a disproportionate burden on those with lower incomes. Thirdly, families below the official poverty line should not be required to pay income taxes. Such families are, by definition, without sufficient resources to purchase the basic necessities of life. They should not be forced to bear the additional burden of paying income taxes.” — Economic Justice for All, §202

                • ManyMoreSpices

                  A flat tax is progressive for everyone as long as you exempt income from the bottom end. At a 40% flat tax rate and a $10,000 exemption, someone making $20,000 pays 20% of his income to the state, and someone making $150,000 pays 37.3%

                  The inclusion of such a principle in tax policies is an important means of reducing the severe inequalities of income and wealth in the nation.

                  This is a debated hypothesis, not a conclusively proved fact. It should not be taken as – for lack of a better word – gospel, as if we were discussing the boiling point of water or the rate of acceleration due to gravity.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    If a flat tax is progressive, is it really flat? 😉

                    I never asserted that Economic Justice for All is infallible, but I do generally defer to it and other episcopal guidance over comboxers, politicians, and ideological prescriptions 😉

                    • Andy

                      To your list I would economists – Galbrath I think said something like this – a paraphrase from memory – economics/ economic forecasting is what makes astrology look respectable :0

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    Absolutely nothing in economics should be taken as proved fact, because human people are not like water which boils at a definite point, each and every one of them has been created different. All we have is observations and models, that should not be considered as unbreakable “laws”.

                    • ivan_the_mad

                      Perhaps stated another way, economics is descriptive, but not morally prescriptive.

                • Andy

                  A true progressive tax may be more in line with social doctrine I would agree – however, in the US we do not have a progressive tax – in theory it is progressive, in practice it is preferential – we prefer to give many, many deductions, many ways to hide income to those who have means.
                  If we did indeed have progressive tax I would agree. TO “make” our tax structure progressive we have to do away with many of the “loopholes” we provide.

                  • ivan_the_mad

                    I thoroughly agree.

                  • Marthe Lépine

                    Correct, same thing here in Canada. In addition, these loopholes make the tax administration unnecessarily complicated.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  This paragraph from Economic Justice for All is excellent, but it seems evident that there is a general misunderstanding about the meaning of progressive taxation, and a need to better inform everyone concerned about it. I have tried to do it above, based on 1) my studies in business and economics, and 2) my experience in Canada.

            • Marthe Lépine

              With the system I have described above, of course it is always possible to design unjust taxes, but on the other hand the very rich do seem able to use resources such as lobbying and political pressures to defend themselves, which the poor don’t have much access to.

          • Marthe Lépine

            Agreed about your math: The poor paying 10% of $10,000 would pay $1000! But the idea of progressive taxation is not that the rich would pay 95% and the poor nothing. The principle is that the poor at, suppose, $10,000-25,000 would not pay anything, the middle at $25,000 to $100,000 might pay 7% or 10% of the amount above $25,000, the upper-middle at $100,000 to $500,000, 10% to 15% of the amount above $100,000, 7 or 10% of the amount between $25,000 and $100,000, and nothing on the first $25,000, the person above $500,000 would maybe pay 40% of the amount over $500,000 and lower rates as above on the various levels of income under $500,000, and so on, up to a maximum income of, say, 1 million, then further millions at between 75% to 95%. The very rich would still be very much better off than the poor and the middle… This can appear complicated, but it is the system (not necessarily at the amounts I am indicating, which are only meant as illustrations) that I have known in Canada since I began to work, and it is feasible. When it gets complicated is when various types of credits, exemptions and deductions get added to the system over the years.

            • Andy

              I was reflecting what we have in the US and ruminating about it – we do not have in the US a progressive system, we have a preferential system – where preference is given to those with money to find loopholes and ways to hide large sums of money.
              If we had a truly progressive system I would not even mention a “flat tax”. I agree that the truer progressive tax is the way to go.

          • ManyMoreSpices

            Hmm. Interesting that tithing isn’t progressive. 10% for everyone.

      • Marthe Lépine

        I particularly like this from Pius XI:

        “However, the investment of superfluous income in secureing favorable
        opportunities for employment […] is to be considered […] an act of real
        liberality, particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.” Investing one’s wealth into work opportunities, at a living wage, for one’s countrymen as well as for the cheap labour overseas, should at least be considered as private charity, even if the businesses so created or expanded would not provide as much profits as it could have otherwise. And maybe the argument that the main responsibility of a business is to serve its shareholders could be countered by another argument to the effect that it might be the responsibility of those shareholders, who are supposed to vote at annual meetings, to instruct the business to better provide for the workers…

    • Marthe Lépine

      Let me reply while wearing my very old had of a taxation economist: Progressive taxation does not mean increasing the rates on the total income that a person gets. It means that the rate increases on each incremental “slice” of income. For example, a person earning one million dollars in a year would be taxed at a lower rate, or not at all, for the first slice, considered as the minimum a person needs to live on, let’s say, of $50,000, then the rate would increase by a small percentage for each slice of $50,000 coming over and above that. The slices above one, or two, million, could be taxed at a rate closer to 90%, maybe. But the person and his or her family would still be left with enough to not need food stamps… and even purchase a nice car as well.

      • Cypressclimber

        I fully understand that, but for the purposes of my question, it’s irrelevant. I don’t know why this has to be complicated. I am asking: is there a point at which taxation of rich people is unjust and therefore, immoral? To make my question concrete, I proposed a tax that leaves the taxpayer with, say, 5% or 3% or 2% of his/her annual income.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Probably the point at which not enough remains so that “what necessity demands [can be] supplied, and one’s standing [can] fairly [be] taken thought for”(Rerum Novarum, §22) or when the taxes are not used to further the common good. This is of course a qualitative answer, rather than a quantitative answer of rates or percentages.

          • Cypressclimber

            OK, so let me see if I understand you; I don’t want to be unfair. Are you suggesting that a tax that — to use my example — took all but, say, $40,000 (could be $50k, could be $20 or 30k) — even if that person’s annual income was a million, or $20 million, or $100 million …

            Are you saying you don’t think that’s unjust? I do think that’s unjust; but I want to know what others think.

            • ivan_the_mad

              I find that hypothetical questions are only useful to the degree that they approximate the real world 😉

              Further, there has been no explicit definition of a just tax, so how can you judge a rate, by itself arbitrary, as just or unjust? Surely a tax rate is only just or unjust to the degree that it concords with the just tax.

              • Cypressclimber

                Well, I know what my notion of a just tax is; I’m asking others’ views. So it’s not for me to say what your definition of a just tax is.

                And I think the reason for my hypothetical is clear enough: is there a point at which there is consensus that a tax is unjust? Or is the sky the limit? My question was originally directed to Mr. Shea, but the only answer he has offered, I find unhelpful, so I expect nothing further there. So I’m posing this to anyone who cares to answer.

                I think whether “progressive” taxation is truly just to be a debatable point — meaning, while I think it’s not, I won’t anathematize those who disagree. But I would really like to see someone defend — from a sound Christian basis — a tax that essentially confiscates everything someone earns but some set level of income. Perhaps the responses I’m getting amount to conceding, there is no defense; but that’s a surmise.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  Actually, there is no such tax in existence so far in the world, so your question is only some hypothetical exaggeration. And I do not think that such a tax would be just, anyway. As well, I do not think a government, unless it was absolutely and totally totalitarian, would dare to try it, since it would be impossible to do it without annoying many of the rich supporters of such government… And if those rich supporters were the only ones to be exempt, obviously the tax would not be just.Therefore there is no way to defend such an hypothetical tax, even by twisting Catholic teaching. Are you satisfied now? On the other hand, some set level of income, if it was done as a basic minimum income that everybody should get, no matter what they do, if they are working or not, would be a different matter. But in my opinion, there is another option that rarely comes on the table and maybe should be studied: some system that would pay a stay-at-home parent for the many diverse tasks that need to be done in order to give birth and raise those future workers that children really are, if we only look at them from an economic point of view, and whose number is getting dangerously low in our Western countries (I mean of course the low birth rate). The notion that mothers at home are “not working” and not contributing to the economy because they don’t hold a job is really nonsensical, but seems to survive in too many minds.

            • Alma Peregrina

              Do you think that it is unjust that a person having a full-time job may earn a wage that doesn’t allow for a dignified subsistence, while the boss earns a million income?

              If you don’t find that unjust, but you think it’s unjust that a person with a million income would be taxed to $40.000 (oh, the humanity!)… then there’s something wrong with your sense of justice.

              • Cypressclimber

                So you think one injustice justifies another?

                • Marthe Lépine

                  It depends on your definition of injustice…

                  • Cypressclimber

                    Yes, it does.

                • Alma Peregrina

                  No, I don’t think so. I think something even more shocking. I think that taxing a million-dollar income to $40.000 isn’t unjust at all, IF there’s someone that doesn’t have enough for his/her subsistence.

                  In fact, I not only think that it isn’t unjust, I actually think that it is demanded by justice to do so. After all, $40.000 still allows for a very comfortable standard of living, so there’s no need to shed tears.

                  • Cypressclimber

                    The host here jokes about Pope Francis being a communist; but what you’re defending really is communism. It’s also slavery.

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      You guys fling those labels so carelessly that they become meaningless.

                      No, my friend. What I’m defending isn’t communism. Let’s see:

                      a) I’m not advocating the nationalization of the means of production, so that rich people won’t own businesses.
                      b) I’m not advocating the nationalization of ALL private property (rich and poor alike).
                      c) I’m not advocating the nationalization of ALL private property from rich people.
                      d) I’m not advocating that rich people shouldn’t have an above average income that allows a comfortable standard of living (I think $40.000 makes the cut).
                      e) I’m not even advocating that a millionaire shouldn’t enjoy his million-dollar income IF there isn’t anybody in such an economic situation that doesn’t allow for basic subsistence.

                      So I’m very far from communism. What I’m advocating, though, is perfectly compatible with every Church Father quote that was provided on this thread.

                      *****************************

                      As for the accusations of slavery, I think they’re cute. After all, you guys have no qualms about a worker having a wage for a full-time job that doesn’t allow for his and his family subsistence… but you cry “slavery” if a millionaire is taxed to a $40.000 income (BTW, when slavery was a thing, how many slaves had the equivalent to a $40.000 income?).

                      Thus proving what Mark said about shedding tears for the rich, but never for the poor. You may call that whatever you want, but Christianity it is not.

                    • Cypressclimber

                      Who are “you guys”? I am one person. How did you get the notion that I speak for anyone but myself?

                      What you describe is very much what exists in Cuba — a maximum wage, regardless of how hard one works.

                      And aside from the evil of your confiscatory tax, is the utter stupidity of it. How many people do you really think would continue working all year, to earn that million dollars, when they know they’d only keep — by your kind graciousness — $40,000? And, as you concede, you don’t even know which years you’d confiscate that much.

                      “BTW, when slavery was a thing, how many slaves had the equivalent to a $40.000 income?”

                      Your cute response proves my argument. Would slavery have not been slavery, if Massa had given his property a high enough income? Apparently, you think so.

                      The answer is, yes, it’s slavery, when someone owns you. It’s a very small step between confiscating virtually all someone’s earnings, and then compelling them to earn — since you defend the confiscation in the name of helping others.

                      Please show me where any Magisterial teaching of the Church supports your confiscate-everything-but-the-bare-minimum tax.

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Firstly: Let me apologize for my use of “you guys”. It wasn’t meant to offend or to label, it was more of a coloquialism. I was pointing to people belonging to a certain ideological background, more predominant in the USA, in which every State intervention amounts to socialism and that use the term “communist” as loosely as communists use the term “fascist”.

                      I think you belong to such quadrant, but I do admit that you shouldn’t be stacked in the same category of every such person I encountered on the Internet. For that I do apologize sincerely.
                      ***************************
                      Secondly:
                      Never did I advocate for a maximum wage.
                      Never did I advocate for a “confiscate-everything-but-the-bare-mininum tax”.

                      Points e) and d) (respectively) from my previous comment higlight exactly that.

                      You said your questions were meant to not “be unfair” and mischaracterize anyone else’s position. I ask you to abide by what you said. Otherwise, if you’re just trying to twist my position into that of a cuban communist to win a debate, there’s no point in proceeding with this conversation.
                      ***************************
                      Thirdly: As for Magisterial teaching of the Church goes, I refer you to every single quote that was given to you, either in the original post, and in the comments of the thread.
                      ***************************
                      Fourthly: Since your definition of slavery is “someone owns you” and apparently that is loosely applied to paying high taxes…

                      … I ask you again to answer my first question, to which you have failed to give a straighforward reply till now.

                      “Do you think that it is unjust that a person having a full-time job may earn a wage that doesn’t allow for a dignified subsistence, while the boss earns a million income?”

                      You asked for a straightforward answer for your question. I gave it to you, even knowing that it would shock you. I now ask the same respect from you.

                    • Cypressclimber

                      Wait, are you now saying you were not advocating a tax that takes all but $40,000? I’m confused. It sure sounded like you were.

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Yes, indeed you are confused. However, if you want me to help you to understand, I’ll need to know what is the source of your confusion.

                      Option 1) If your confusion stems from not understanding what I said (even though I think I’ve written very plainly), I’ll be glad to explain my position, even illustrating it with the quotes from St. Peter Damien.

                      Option 2) But if your confusion is something that’s being artificially mantained in order to apply some kind of socratic method and so having more admunition to twist what I said and win a debate and score points to your ideology… then I think that proceeding will do no good, since there is a priori no way to dispell that confusion of yours. For I did not comment in this thread to have futile discussions, but to give an honest and straightforward answer to your question.

                      Or, if you will, I’ll use the words of Mark Shea: “Are you asking to find out? Or are you asking to keep you from finding out?”.

                      The fact that you have failed to give me an answer to that simple question in my previous comment (that I restated over and over) suggests the latter, but my christian charity demands me to assume the former.

                      So I respectfully ask you which is it, so that we will not waste each others time. Is it option 1) or 2)?

                    • Cypressclimber

                      “The fact that you have failed to give me an answer to that simple question in my previous comment (that I restated over and over) suggests the latter, but my christian charity demands me to assume the former.”

                      Well, I thought I answered it the other day in a short, separate reply; but looking now, I don’t see it, so bad on me.

                      My answer is, yes, the situation you described involving a poor person is also unjust.

                      And I think my misunderstanding of your comments comes from replying via the Disqus page, where one can’t always see the entire thread. Viewing the whole thread, as I am now, I see where my confusion came in.

                      As far as options 1 or 2, I respectfully offer 3: my purpose in my question was to advance the discussion. The hypothetical tax taking all but a set amount was offered as a kind of benchmark. I assumed — wrongly — that no one would think that was just. I was trying to find a point of agreement, and work from there, in pursuit of a further question: ok then, how do we determine what *is* just?

                      So I really didn’t expect you to say such a tax wasn’t unjust; and I still am floored by that, but–there it is. I don’t think any of the quotations Mr. Shea cited endorse that sort of tax; they aren’t that specific, and I think it’s not proper to apply quotes like that to something that specific.

                    • Alma Peregrina

                      Cypressclimber, let me say that your reply left me very happy. I can see now that we are engaging in a respectful dialogue and exchange of ideas, which makes me glad.

                      I’m also positively surprised by your answer to my question. Serves me right for judging my brothers. I was wrong for thinking I could predict what you thought and for that I apologize.

                      I have been embittered by Internet discussions, and I’m trying to overcome my sins. If I wasn’t fully successful, and I came across as aggressive or judgmental to you, I again apologize and ask for your prayers.
                      *************************************
                      Since you gave me option 3, “to advance discussion”, let me see if I can explain to you exactly what I meant :

                      Mark quoted these saints:

                      St. Peter Damien “It should be noted that he who takes from the wealthy rather than from the unfortunate to provide for his brother who are in need (…) who relieves the poor in their necessity (…) [is counted as] one who justly moves common goods from one group of brethren to another”

                      St. John Chrysostomon: “Not to enable the poor to share in our goods is to steal from them and deprive them of life. The goods we possess are not ours, but theirs”

                      These quotes illustrate the catholic Doctrine of the Universal Destination of Goods.

                      You then asked if it is fair to tax a million-dollar incomer to $40.000.

                      I replied that IF someone doesn’t have enough for his subsistence, then the tax would be just. But why?

                      In light of Doctrine of the Universal Destination of Goods and in light of the saints quotes, I must admit that:
                      1) If someone is in dire need for basic subsistence
                      And
                      2) If $40.000 allow for a very comfortable standard of living
                      Then a tax that lets a rich person with $40.000 and leaves the rest to the poor is not unjust. In fact, according to the Universal Destination of Goods, not doing so would be unjust, for it would deprive the poor of something that is justly theirs.

                      HOWEVER

                      Your question was whether such a tax was just

                      But since you said you wanted to advance discussion, I must say that I’m not satisfied with this question. Namely, we should ask:

                      Question 1) Is such tax just?
                      Question 2) Is such tax wise?
                      Question 3) Is such tax plausible?
                      *************************************
                      I already replied to question 1 in light of the Universal Destinations of Goods doctrine. But there are more elements that are needed to answer it definitively. How is the tax distributed? If a million-dollar incomer would be
                      taxed to $40.000, I would expect that money to be put to good use. It this tax being used to feed bureaucracies and statist powers? A $1 tax, even to a million-dollar incomer, would be unjust if it were to pay for abortions, for instance.

                      Such tax would be unjust also, if it were not strictly neccessary. The Principle of Subsidiarity states that a social action should be done by the smaller social unit capable of doing it. Are the Church, charities and NGOs more capable than the State to achieve this wealth redistribution? A capitalist would say yes without blinking, but I have to admit that I think it unlikely that those institutions are capable of a fast response to every single solicitation of dire need. But I also think that the State should only intervene if needed, and not by principle. So where is the point of equilibrium?

                      Also, regarding the justness of such a tax, we have to determine how the rich use their wealth. The rich have a very important role in our society, by creating jobs, by creating products, by philanthropy. So is it just to tax them so much? What do the rich do with this responsibility they were given? Do they accept their fundamental part in society and try to maximize the
                      common good? Or do they use their power to lobby in order to try to down-play their contribution to the common good as much as possible (by pressuring laws that minimize wages or job security, for instance?)?
                      *************************************
                      As for question 2, you raised good questions right there in a previous comment.

                      If a million-dollar incomer would be taxed to $40.000, would he have the drive to keep working hard? After all, the entrepeneur takes a risk by investing his own money in the business. If the entrepeneur would have the same compensation as the worker, then who would take such a risk? Everyone would want to remain a worker, which would mean that there would be no one to create jobs.

                      An entrepeneur should always have more income than the worker, to compensate him for his risk and merits. But at what point such compensation becomes disproportionate, since the worker also contributes greatly to the richness that was produced?

                      And should the prime motivation of the million-dollar incomer be the money he earns, be it a million or $40.000? As a worker, I work for a wage without which I wouldn’t survive. But what really drives me is to contribute to the common good! Couldn’t that be the drive for the entrepeneur to make Money: contribute to the common good, by providing jobs and useful products?

                      Maybe not, since our hearts are tainted by Original Sin. But if we accept greed as the sole drive for entrepreneurship, without considering the common good, how many people that would otherwise be driven by the common good will learn from culture to value only profits? Don’t we owe that to the salvation of their souls, at least?

                      Also, regarding the wisdom of such a tax: Aren’t there alternatives, more effective and that will achieve better results? Instead of taxing a ridiculous amount, maybe legislations enforcing a dignified minimum wage? Or tax benefits to worker-friendly corporations? Or something that I have yet failed to remember?
                      *************************************
                      And question 3: I do not think such a tax will ever be enacted. I don’t have the numbers with me, either regarding Social Security budget, or the amount of money held by millionaires, or the number of extreme poverty in the USA…

                      … but I doubt that, in order to ensure that everyone would have the bare-minimum to survive, that would require that we taxed every single great fortune to $40.000. I believe that ensuring such goal wouldn’t require such a heavy taxation… it would be achieved long before millionaires ceased to be so.

                      Remember: I said that such a tax to $40.000 would be just only if there were people without basic subistence. I didn’t say that such amount was fixed at $40.000, irespectively of there being poor in dire need or not.

                      That’s why many commenters here (like Ivan_the_mad) said that your questions would only be pertinent if they were something that would approximate the real world
                      *************************************
                      Now, I certainly don’t want you to answer all the questions I raised, especially since I do not have the answers to many of them. But I hope that I clarified my position. It is one thing to ask if we MAY ethically have such a tax. Another thing is to ask if we MAY in EVERY SITUATION to have such a tax, or if we SHOULD.

                      I regard such a tax as the Just War Theory… there is such thing as a just war, but the ethical hurdles in order to declare a war just are so difficult to require, that it is very hard to have it in the real world.

                      I hope it all makes more sense now, even though I think you will not agree with everything I said, but I’m glad we had this discussion. I apologize for the lengthy comment.
                      God bless.

                    • Cypressclimber

                      I think that’s a pretty good answer, thanks. No need to apologize for the length. I appreciate the clement spirit with which it was given.

                      And, given that the proposed tax is a hypothetical, I am forced to concede the counter-hypothetical: in a world in which such a tax is truly necessary…etc., etc., I suppose I can’t call it unjust, however much such a tax makes my hair stand on end. One good hypothetical deserves another, I guess.

                      There’s a lot more I might say about taxation, especially progressive taxation, in a democracy, but I’ll save that for another day.

  • Marthe Lépine

    Something just came to mind: Is not it strange that so many people from such a democratic country as the US are expressing so little confidence in their own government when it comes to the common good? YOU are choosing your own government, people! Unless you don’t bother to vote and/or keep your elected representatives’ collective feet to the fire…

    • You do not understand the governing system of the US. Don’t take it badly, most people don’t. That, in essence, is the source of the crisis of confidence.

  • Marthe Lépine

    To those that bring up arguments based on the 7th commandment, maybe it could be said of some of the people who are hoarding money for the sake of owning money are the ones to be breaking the seventh commandment in some ways… For example (just one among many other examples and scenarios), could it be said that some Hedge Fund that works at increasing the wealth of its shareholders by taking control of businesses and firing all of those businesses’ employees in the name of “rationalizing” production, that this Hedge Fund is stealing the workers’ jobs? Would it be envy to claim that the rich owner(s) of that Hedge Fund hold at least some of their wealth unjustly? There are many sides to some questions…,