Monday, September 2, 2013

Some thoughts for corporate interests on this Labor Day

We were watching a cooking show the other day.  Didn't watch much of it.  Those don't interest me.  I just stopped because he was making what looked like a scrumptious pizza old world style.  Turns out the show has to do with some expert taking a failed restaurant and turning it around.  He was telling the owner how to make this pizza.  And what did he tell him?  He told him how to do it so it looks like he's giving the customer more than the costumer is actually getting.  It would save him some money that way.  As my wife and I went shopping for our annual cook out, and noticed prices inching upward while quantity seemed to be dwindling, that got me to thinking, as I am wont to do. 

I thought about one of the pitfalls of capitalism.  That's the tendency, often echoed on venues like FOX News or talk radio, to believe that the solution to our problems is found in getting government out of the way and turning things over to people who want to make money more than anything in the world.  Literally.  Turn it over to people interested in making a profit and all will be well (see 1 Timothy 6:10 for possible rebuttal).  And in a culture where people are informed by other forces (like, say, Christian morality), that might be true.  But I'm one who believes that the person you are in the bedroom is the person you are in the board room.  If we as a society have said that in certain areas (the bedroom), there is no morality or values, it's all about what I want for me first of all, I'll  bet people will take that attitude to the board room when they're finished doing whatever it is they're doing in the bedroom.  

And it's not been for the best either.  Let's face it, 'good old American craftsmanship' is now used sarcastically, not to mean anything positive.  We won't even discuss stagnant wages against corporate earnings, dwindling quantities at higher prices, and outsourcing to third world countries while jacking up prices at home.  And while many blame government regulations for all woes, I can't help but think the result of government mischief doesn't have to be buying a bag of air with some free potato chips thrown in while the corporate CEO and stockholders increase their personal bottom lines.  Somehow, some way, the machine has broken down.  I'm not saying, "Quick, turn it over to the government!"  But I am saying those who don't want the government involved have to step in and admit there are problems beyond this or that regulation.  The problems may go deep to the heart of our society, a society capable of corrupting anything no matter how beneficial in theory. Just a thought.  Here are some of the Church's thoughts on the subject: 
 2426 The development of economic activity and growth in production are meant to provide for the needs of human beings. Economic life is not meant solely to multiply goods produced and increase profit or power; it is ordered first of all to the service of persons, of the whole man, and of the entire human community. Economic activity, conducted according to its own proper methods, is to be exercised within the limits of the moral order, in keeping with social justice so as to correspond to God's plan for man.209
 2427 Human work proceeds directly from persons created in the image of God and called to prolong the work of creation by subduing the earth, both with and for one another.210 Hence work is a duty: "If any one will not work, let him not eat."211 Work honors the Creator's gifts and the talents received from him. It can also be redemptive. By enduring the hardship of work212 in union with Jesus, the carpenter of Nazareth and the one crucified on Calvary, man collaborates in a certain fashion with the Son of God in his redemptive work. He shows himself to be a disciple of Christ by carrying the cross, daily, in the work he is called to accomplish.213 Work can be a means of sanctification and a way of animating earthly realities with the Spirit of Christ.
 2428 In work, the person exercises and fulfills in part the potential inscribed in his nature. The primordial value of labor stems from man himself, its author and its beneficiary. Work is for man, not man for work.214
 Everyone should be able to draw from work the means of providing for his life and that of his family, and of serving the human community.
 2429 Everyone has the right of economic initiative; everyone should make legitimate use of his talents to contribute to the abundance that will benefit all and to harvest the just fruits of his labor. He should seek to observe regulations issued by legitimate authority for the sake of the common good.215
 2430 Economic life brings into play different interests, often opposed to one another. This explains why the conflicts that characterize it arise.216 Efforts should be made to reduce these conflicts by negotiation that respects the rights and duties of each social partner: those responsible for business enterprises, representatives of wage- earners (for example, trade unions), and public authorities when appropriate.
 2431 The responsibility of the state. "Economic activity, especially the activity of a market economy, cannot be conducted in an institutional, juridical, or political vacuum. On the contrary, it presupposes sure guarantees of individual freedom and private property, as well as a stable currency and efficient public services. Hence the principal task of the state is to guarantee this security, so that those who work and produce can enjoy the fruits of their labors and thus feel encouraged to work efficiently and honestly. . . . Another task of the state is that of overseeing and directing the exercise of human rights in the economic sector. However, primary responsibility in this area belongs not to the state but to individuals and to the various groups and associations which make up society."217
 2432 Those responsible for business enterprises are responsible to society for the economic and ecological effects of their operations.218 They have an obligation to consider the good of persons and not only the increase of profits. Profits are necessary, however. They make possible the investments that ensure the future of a business and they guarantee employment.
 2433 Access to employment and to professions must be open to all without unjust discrimination: men and women, healthy and disabled, natives and immigrants.219 For its part society should, according to circumstances, help citizens find work and employment.220
 2434 A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice.221 In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. "Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good."222 Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.
 2435 Recourse to a strike is morally legitimate when it cannot be avoided, or at least when it is necessary to obtain a proportionate benefit. It becomes morally unacceptable when accompanied by violence, or when objectives are included that are not directly linked to working conditions or are contrary to the common good.
 2436 It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority.
 Unemployment almost always wounds its victim's dignity and threatens the equilibrium of his life. Besides the harm done to him personally, it entails many risks for his family.223


  1. Well... whenever someone says something along the lines of:
    "And while many blame government regulations for all woes, I can't help but think the result of government mischief doesn't have to be buying a bag of air with some free potato chips thrown in while the corporate CEO and stockholders increase their personal bottom lines. Somehow, some way, the machine has broken down."

    I want to bring up this graph:

    (from Briggs)

    So then, we can see that government regulation has increased steadily non-stop since well before 1980. Thus, from a standpoint of pure logic we must ask ourselves. If government regulation is the solution, why hasn't the solution worked so far? What is going to make the increase on the graph there different from every other time? And if anyone wants to argue that "unfettered capitalism" is the problem, then looking at the graph, one must conclude that government regulation does nothing.

    Besides, as Sarah Hoyt points out here, what is the solution? Get rid of all the executive pay and profit and you are able to increase every other employee's pay by like... half a cent. Or maybe put 1 extra potato chip in each bag. All the crying about social justice won't conjure money from thin air.

  2. Turn it over to people interested in making a profit and all will be well...

    That's... not exactly how it is. Capitalism is really just the very clever harnessing of people's fallen natures to direct such in a way that is a benefit to everyone else without "punishing" virtue. Just consider the computer you're reading this comment on. How did you get it? Did Bill Gates or Steve Jobs decide "You know, I really think that David G. fellow could use some neat technology." ? Of course not! They were 'greedy' and thought "Man, if I could get a bunch of people to buy this machine, I'd be rich!" And instead of just selling it to a few wealthy billionaires for millions of dollars, the guys realized they could make even more money by getting as many people to buy it as they could. Decades of development later, and we now have phones with more power than all the machines Bill or Steve started with put together. Their "greed" has benefited millions, if not billions of people the world over. I mean, really does it matter what their motives were?

    Yeah, it's one of those things that sounds great until you start really thinking about it. But consider a moment every capitalist interaction you have during a single day. Then imagine you wanted every person involved in that to be more... shall we say 'moral'? Or caring? Say... you go to a gas station and buy a pencil. So the clerk behind the counter asks how you're doing. By the time you get home (let's just say you had to walk a block to keep it simple), the owner of the gas station calls you, asking how the visit was and if your kids are ok. Then the head of BIC (who made the pencil) calls and asks about what you're writing, maybe they can help out. Maybe he puts the line workers on the phone to encourage you. Then gets the marketer who got the gas station to carry the pencil as well as the delivery truck driver to talk to you. Then we get into all the people involved in getting the supplies to the factory to make the pencil...

    Oh, and after all that, maybe the clothes and shoe manufacturers who made what you wore to the shop call to see if you're still comfortable in their wear and more. Needless to say, by the time you get off the phone, you'll have no time for sleep as it will be tomorrow (you've certainly not had a chance to use the pencil) and the process might start all over again. Needless to say, I think a day of that would have anyone longing for the "amoral businessman". (Which, to be honest, I've found to be more a hollywood trope than reality. In reality they're... people like anyone else.)

    Besides as... I think it's Jonah Goldberg who likes to say (or he's quoting someone), "The law can preserve virtue, it can't create it." To put it another way, the laws of the land can help keep a people chaste, but you can't create any law that will force a people to become chaste. At least... not without becoming a far worse tyranny than any sin you're trying to be rid of.

    Then, to top it all off? The robber barons of old were actually pretty moral people such as it goes for any of us (read to the end of the chapter there). And yet how do we, and history, repay them? Well just look at what their nicknames became. At least when they were greedy and got rich, we all got something out of it (cheaper oil! railways! computers! the McRib!). Sometimes when listening to some complaints about them I wonder... if we're not being greedy ourselves. Demanding something for nothing. I dunno, but when I read the parable of the tax collector and pharisee, it makes me wonder if the most dangerous sins are the really obvious ones in others, because it makes it so much easier to ignore the quieter ones that gnaw on our own souls.


Let me know your thoughts