Dom Helder Camara famously remarked, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why the poor have no food, they call me a communist.”
G.K. Chesterton remarked on the same reality when he talked about the necessity of a living wage;
An honest man falls in love with an honest woman; he wishes, therefore to marry her, to be the father of her children, to secure her and himself. All systems of government should be tested by whether he can do this. If any system—feudal, servile, or barbaric—does, in fact, give him so large a cabbage-field that he can do it, there is the essence of liberty and justice. If any system—Republican, mercantile, or Eugenist—does, in fact, give him so small a salary that he can’t do it, there is the essence of eternal tyranny and shame.”
~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Illustrated London News,’ March 25, 1911
Some years ago, I wrote a little series on Catholic Social Teaching for the Register. With extreme predictability, my discussion of the Common Good (here and here, copiously documented with a ton of material from biblical, patristic, and magisterial sources) was denounced by a number of combox readers as “socialist”. These libertarianized readers of the Register categorically rejected the idea that we have any responsibility to the common good beyond Charity to the Deserving Poor If We Feel Like It. Oh, and of course, Something Something Abortion. The notion that an employee has the right–or an employer the obligation–to pay a living wage was beyond absurd. And the idea that the state had the duty to ensure a just wage was rejected as monstrously evil. Faith in the invisible hand of the market was absolute with them and belief that owners were immune from the sin of greed and workers were motivated by the sin of envy and it would all work out for the best if we simply returned to the state of laissez faire (the evils of which were what prompted Leo XIII to write Rerum Novarum and the Church to back the labor movement in the first place) was pure and childlike.
Still and all, the right wing lie that we can ignore and support the right wing war on the poor and the right wing zeal for crushing a just wage by shouting “but abortion!” is nearly dead in the rising generation. Every time you read some fresh article by a Boomer griping that “Millennials are Killing X” what you are really reading is fresh documentation that we are crushing Millennials with debt and making it impossible for them to earn enough money to marry and have a family. Businesses are dying because poor people can’t patronize them. And that is because extremely rich people will not pay their workers enough to live on.Here’s reality–if people cannot afford to marry and raise children, they don’t. Lecturing them about their selfishness while refusing to pay them what they are owed in order to raise a family on a good day’s work is what is known in the tradition as a “sin that cries to heaven for vengeance”.
Conversely, working so that people can make a living wage is simple justice in the eyes of the living God, as well as prolife, since poverty is the Number One abortifacient.
And what is a living wage?
A living wage fulfills four criteria:
- Families in general seem to be living at a standard of decency appropriate to their society;
- They do so without working undue hours;
- 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);
- They do so without undue reliance on government support or consumer credit.
Given that it is literally impossible for anybody anywhere in the US to live on their own on a minimum wage job and that we have a system of socialism for the rich and wage slavery for the poor (where Evilcorps like Walmart are subsidized by Feds by telling their underpaid workers to go on welfare in order to supply the wages they refuse to pay), it is clear that fighting for a living wage is, in fact, one of the best kinds of almsgiving since it helps people become full participants in the economy and brings them closer to being able to support families. The bullshit response is always to make some appeal to the ‘laws of economics” (a bullshit response made every time workers have sought a just wage for time immemorial). The Catholic response is that the law (including laws of economics) is made for man, not man for the law.
Meanwhile, here in Seattle, we hiked the minimum wage (still not by enough) and we’re doing just fine, thank you. Instead of fretting about how super-zillionaires will do without locking up cash in their vaults, pay workers a just wage and make it possible for the next generation to marry and have kids.
That is, if we are serious about all that stuff we say about marriage and family.