Honoring our Troops Means More Than Soft-Focus Pictures of Flags

Honoring our Troops Means More Than Soft-Focus Pictures of Flags November 11, 2015

Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are motheaten. Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you and will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure* for the last days. Behold, the wages of the laborers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out; and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts. You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts in a day of slaughter. You have condemned, you have killed the righteous man; he does not resist you. (Jas 5:1–6).

45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. – Leo XIII, Rerum Novarum

And before anybody feigns confusion at the very possibility of even knowing what a living wage is:

A living wage fulfills four criteria:

  1. Families in general seem to be living at a standard of decency appropriate to their society;
  2. They do so without working undue hours;
  3. They do so without wives being forced to work outside the home or children forced to work inappropriate hours or under inappropriate conditions (if they choose to do so, that’s another story);
  4. They do so without undue reliance on government support or consumer credit.

But that’s so un-Republican!

Didn’t used to be:

“We stand for a living wage.

Wages are subnormal ifthey fail to provide a living for those who devote their time and energy to industrial occupations.

The monetary equivalent of a living wage varies according to local conditions, but must include:

enough to secure the elements of a normal standard of living–

a standard high enough to make morality possible,

to provide for education and recreation,

to care for immature members of the family,

to maintain the family during periods of sickness,

and to permit of reasonable saving for old age.”

All this is both common sense and the magisterial teaching of the Church.  It is therefore adamantly and routinely opposed by American Movement Conservatism as it hides behind the unborn and makes war on his mother and father–even when mother and father have risked body and soul on the battlefield.  It is a disgusting scandal, a sin and a crime that any vet is so rewarded by the country he served.


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  • Doyle

    I hope this isn’t an advocacy post for minimum wage laws. The teenager starting his summer job doesn’t need to be earning a wage to support a family of four when he’s providing 1/20th of that value to his employer with unskilled labor. This is not a simple problem. Wage involves culture valuing the family as well as a society invested in providing opportunity. Minimum wage laws don’t work and only serve as an excuse for slothful politicians who don’t want to take the trouble to learn the issues in their districts and unwilling to repair school systems so that they outfit young adults fit for the work place without requiring a college degree (and debt).


    • Heather

      You may have noticed that the person who was asking for a living wage was not a teenager looking to make pocket money during the summer, but a military veteran who I’m sure learned plenty of skills during his deployment but not many that translate immediately into the civilian post-industrial workforce.

      This is particularly the case if a veteran suffered a physical or mental injury that limits their employment prospects while not being profound enough to qualify for disability benefits.

      The biggest problem with mandating a federal minimum wage is that cost of living varies so widely between different areas. If you mandate a particular wage, it might be woefully inadequate in a large city with high cost of living, yet unsustainably high for an employer in a small town.

      You’re right, it’s not a simple problem. A few generations ago there were plenty of manufacturing and other low to medium skill jobs available. Now those jobs are largely outsourced to countries with lower wages and fewer workplace safety regulations. Better schools don’t make that lack of good jobs go away.

      There are only so many kinds of entry level jobs out there. White collar usually needs a degree, even if there is no real practical need for it, because there are so many people with degrees applying for those jobs. Going into the skilled trades is great if you can actually find an apprenticeship but at least here in Canada you need to know about them and know where to look. In spite of there being a great need for people in certain skilled trades, they are terrible at actually recruiting. And starting your own business is too risky to someone who doesn’t have another source of income to fall back on in the likely event that the first attempt fails.

      So yeah, you’re largely left with the crappy minimum wage service industry, competing for jobs with kids looking for pocket money and students putting themselves through school.

      • Marthe Lépine

        In Canada, at least, there is currently one big problem with apprenticeships. As a translator, I have worked on many articles and papers about the roofing industry, for example, and through that work, I learned from one of my clients (the Canadian Roofing Contractors Association) that the contractors, being short of staff, are too busy and really do not have the time to train apprentices in addition to trying to complete their contracts on time. It seems to me that improvements to apprenticeship programs in such trades could go a long way towards helping people get such jobs. And these are often well-paying jobs, no need to worry about minimum wages there.

  • Scott

    Let them “agree freely” and, if that don’t work, let the government force employers to pay it. My entry level pay was $2.50 an hour to bale hay and walk beans in the sweltering heat of summer. I survived, learned a trade, and now, as a welder, earn more money than a philosopher!

  • Handling our veterans better is not something that is ignored by the conservatives.

    Here’s something that was just published on the group blog I participate in.
    It’s Kipling’s “The Last of the Light Brigade”.


    One problem with the living wage criteria is that it’s a bit outdated, having been formulated in a time when investment income was something that happened only when you’re well off. Today, you can start a speculative account online at the public library and feed it with enough satoshi to start earning income on production loans within an hour or two. There is no economic reason why everybody should not be at least a part time capitalist, though legally, it can knock you out of benefit receiving before it increases your standard of living enough to make up the difference. That’s a problem, and one that the right is more apt to fix than the left, who depend on the poor’s dependence on them in exchange for their reliable votes.

    In today’s economy, the biggest challenge is that there are just too many workers and not enough capitalists to hire them. So long as those two facts remain true, all the laws passed to get a living wage will work poorly.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Maybe we should take a look outside of the box and stop concentrating on capital and capitalists. In my country, for example, it is estimated that there are some 4000 self-employed people and around 1500 unemployed people. I have been self-employed for almost 40 years, and it would have been a blessing to be able to hire a helper; plus, whenever I could afford help, I never paid less than $15/hr. And I am sure I am not the only one. Maybe instead of constantly talking of lowering taxes and keeping wages low in order to get corporations to consent to lower their gaze towards our workers, something could be done to give more support to self-employed people and small family businesses. What would be the difference between one corporation investing in our country and creating 800 jobs, and 800 very small businesses hiring one new employee each? Except of course the lower possibility that the small businesses would hoard their profits in tax havens (I almost typed “heavens”) and move the jobs to a country that offers cheaper labour?

      • Most large corporations are long past their natural lifespan and largely survive on working the political system. Actual capitalism is much more dynamic than what we have right now. In short, I’m all in favor of removing the thumb from the scales that favors the big businessman and improves small business’ ability to hire more people.

        Access to capital remains a key factor in business formation. I have to disagree with you there.

  • Elmwood

    so tired of the fake veteran worship as promulgated by the media-military industrial complex.

    why not focus on how to avoid stupid wars instead of instigating them and mindlessly repeating “support the troops”.

  • Marthe Lépine

    One thing strikes me about most of the comments made here, as well as for the more recent of Mark’s posts entitled “Madness” (and here I am talking as a person who has done post-graduate studies in economics, and has obtained good results, even if it was 50 years ago): Mark is talking about economic issues from a point of view based on morals and justice, while most of his objectors insist on keeping the focus on the popular economic theories of our time. These are two valid points of view, but for Catholics, one cannot be totally separated from the other, no matter how much one would like to do it. For example, it is and remains an unjust situation that many people have to work for salaries that don’t meet their needs and those of their families, and I for one cannot accept the objection that, if the minimum wage was increased, everybody else will follow their inclination towards envy, (yes, envy!) and claim that their wages too must be raised in order to keep them feeling superior to “that other class of workers”, and, therefore, those at the bottom of the economic ladder will, or even should, always remain poor and nobody should ever talk about improving their lot as being a matter of justice, even if the teaching of the Catholic church has been saying it for over a century. Economic theories are mostly based on observations of what usually happens in certain situations, but they are not laws, that have to be followed or else… Yes, maybe other wages will go up and nothing will improve for the poor. But it is not a valid reason to dismiss the arguments for a more just treatment of workers. And, on the other hand, it is quite possible that higher wages will increase the purchasing ability of the poor and that, in that way, that additional money will be spread among the rest of the population because of additional demand – a long time ago it has been estimated that there is a multiplier effect of increasing the supply of money available to people that can reach about 2 1/2 times the amount of money originally distributed. But that idea, for some reason, has fallen out of favour and been replaced by that “trickle down effect” that is so popular. And this is only one argument among others, I would have a lot more to say, but I don’t have time to write a full treaty about it just now… since it is now 4:30 in the morning and if I want to be able to get up on time to get to mass tomorrow Sunday, I need to go to bed!