Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Some excerpts

In the comment boxes below TS writes:

The problem with my view of capitalism, which must be in error if in conflict with church teaching, is that I see the good of the owner and the worker as typically mutually enriching.

And I don't think that view or its reality is in conflict with Church teaching. However, I don't think this situation is the norm-at least in businesses owned by investors (as opposed to privately owned or family-owned businesses). Today it is common for companies to lay workers off, not as a last resort to stay in business, but for all sorts of reasons-including to increase profit (note, I didn't say to make a profit, but to increase...) The workers employed are asked to do double the work with no extra compensation.

The dollar is almighty and the workers are tools to make it. And slavery, it is. The whole economy is set up to encourage consumerism, debt and thus bondage to the economy as it exists.

A household living wage may exist for professionals who shun the latest fads, but doesn't exist for the blue collar worker. Finally, the economy as presently encountered in this country is not set up in service of the worker or the common good, but in the service of investors.

While I recommend most highly Pope Leo XIII's Rerum noverum, I will quote below from more contemporary pontiffs.

From Paul VI's Populorum Progressio:

26. But it is unfortunate that on these new conditions of society a system has been constructed which considers profit as the key motive for economic progress, competition as the supreme law of economics, and private ownership of the means of production as an absolute right that has no limits and carries no corresponding social obligation. This unchecked liberalism leads to dictatorship rightly denounced by Pius XI as producing "the international imperialism of money". One cannot condemn such abuses too strongly by solemnly recalling once again that the economy is at the service of man. But if it is true that a type of capitalism has been the source of excessive suffering, injustices and fratricidal conflicts whose effects still persist, it would also be wrong to attribute to industrialization itself evils that belong to the woeful system which accompanied it. On the contrary one must recognize in all justice the irreplaceable contribution made by the organization of labor and of industry to what development has accomplished. (emphasis added by me.)

And from John Paul II's Centisimus Annus:

In other cases the land is still the central element in the economic process, but those who cultivate it are excluded from ownership and are reduced to a state of quasi-servitude. In these cases, it is still possible today, as in the days of Rerum novarum, to speak of inhuman exploitation. In spite of the great changes which have taken place in the more advanced societies, the human inadequacies of capitalism and the resulting domination of things over people are far from disappearing. In fact, for the poor, to the lack of material goods has been added a lack of knowledge and training which prevents them from escaping their state of humiliating subjection.

And ....

The Church acknowledges the legitimate role of profit as an indication that a business is functioning well. When a firm makes a profit, this means that productive factors have been properly employed and corresponding human needs have been duly satisfied. But profitability is not the only indicator of a firm's condition. It is possible for the financial accounts to be in order, and yet for the people — who make up the firm's most valuable asset — to be humiliated and their dignity offended. Besides being morally inadmissible, this will eventually have negative repercussions on the firm's economic efficiency. In fact, the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community of persons who in various ways are endeavouring to satisfy their basic needs, and who form a particular group at the service of the whole of society. Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business. (emphasis added by me)

Oremus pro invicem!


TS said...

This is a fascinating topic, which I ponder often because what does it mean to work? Does it mean doing something we want to do? It seems totally unfair (to me) that the blue collar worker might have to work in an office or the office worker have to work at a blue collar job.

Even more, someone may not be able to do any job in the modern economy. I'm sympathetic to the person who has no skills to make a decent wage.

(I wrote about my conflictions here, for what it's worth.)

On the other hand, most corporate jobs are like government jobs: semi-socialistic in that it's pretty hard to get fired. At nearly every company there are people with absentee rates of one to two days a week and, amazingly, the company doesn't seem to mind. I would think there's a lot more risk of job loss and stress in a small company then a decent-sized corporation.

For someone in your situation, a heroic endeavor, there is great risk and it's the least socialistic job one can have. I think the worst part of corporate life is that it breeds laziness, while your situation breeds virtue and greater self-reliance.

TS said...

Speaking to the larger issue rather than on American-corporate-life-in-the-early-21st-century, I did like that Paul VI quote about "type of capitalism", suggesting capitalism isn't monolithic but depends on culture and the people involved in it.

Good quote also from JPII in profit not being the be-all and end-all of a business. I think that that attitude is determined by the CEO and other leaders. Some large companies are like families. Some tiny firms are cutthroat busineses.

Jim Curley said...

TS-I just haven't experienced companies (and seldom read about) that don't put profit before worker. And while I believe our politicians would claim liberal capitalism is for the mutual benefit, the actions of these companies belie the saying. Benefits to workers have the purpose of increasing profit-profit is not in the service of the worker, it is vice versa. (Maybe I am too cynical.)

I think the other thing-and it is a hard thing to look at (and so unpopular, it will never win an election) is that there is such a thing as too much wealth. We need to be happy with what we need and not with all the possibilities. This desire for more and more helps big corporations keep the worker enslaved.

As for heroic ventures, I'm not sure about that. Niavete helps one do risky and stupid things.

Boy there is so much to say.

Reading the (your) piece you referenced, I would just think that the only possible disconnect between you and I is what the reality is out there-not what it should be; that is our perception of the reality. (I am a Distributist because I think Capitalism is not working and is not mutually beneficial (as it could be) for owner and worker. If it were as I see your view, I would be okay with it.)

TS said...

I think it's good that you're a Distributist even though I can't subscribe myself to it. I gotta dance with the gal that brung me since, as Russell Kirk wrote, loyalty makes the world go 'round. I tend to think the mere fact that lazy me has survived the corporate environment for, what, 22 years, is proof positive that reports of corporate cutthroatedness are greatly exaggerated. (I've worked overtime four days over that span.)

I know it's anecdotal. But I can't help but think that a lot of people in the business environ are so spoiled that they don't know what hit them. Heck I think Americans in the 21st century are so spoiled they don't know what hit them. America's had it easy since 1946.

But your view of reality may well be more accurate than mine. I tend to think that the main problem with capitalism is not that it creates too little wealth but that it produces too much wealth.

But I could be completely wrong! And I'm not just saying that. Deep down I have a sense that the whole corporate scene is somehow absurd, and absurdity is not of God since He is reality itself.

TS said...

A quick follow-up: I think that you are absolutely right to be wary of technology. If capitalism is questionable technology is a even more suspect. Even a non-Christian like NRO's Jonah Goldberg will admit that the technology we create in turn creates us --- and not always for the good.

Jim Curley said...

Too much wealth: I would agree with a caveat. Too much wealth in some hands and debt disguised at wealth on the other side. This debt (and to merge your other point) and enticement of technology keep the workers (even white collar workers) slaves. (I have a post tomorrow on technology from finishing "Better Off".

Until the day I was laid off, I had almost 10 years at a job which didn't demand much overtime (like you, 4 or 5 days in the 10 years), was generous (we only needed one income with all these kids), and I had a good boss. Yet my position in the company was more of the exception. I haven't really suffered personally from capitalism-except through my own faults.

And anecdotal evidence-while not proving of universal points-is still real and adds to the picture.