78 Responses to Rant: The Sin of Sodom

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, capitalism is the worst economic system except for all the others that have been tried. I will take capitalism over any other economic system I am aware of.

  • John Henry says:

    I think Joe has an alternative vision of distributism and mediating institutions in mind. But it’s difficult to propose a comprehensive economic overhaul, and still more difficult to have any chance of implementing it. As it stands, socialism (state ownership of property) and pure capitalism (unregulated private ownership) both have appalling results.

    I think there are good arguments in favor of moving more towards socialism, but I also think many unsound arguments are advanced for that purpose. As to distributism, well, I’ve never seen a version of it that seemed reasonably feasible.

  • MarkF says:

    I have to say that I disagree with this piece in that it continues the false dichotomy between the sins of the flesh and the sins of greed and lack of charity to the poor. All sin is one. All sin is a separation of man from God. We always have to have a spiritual outlook, first and last in all matters. No man ever was denied heaven because he was materially poor. We all have seen parents who through money at their kids but don’t offer them their time. We all know how wrong this is. Why should it be any different with the poor? Providing better food and housing to the poor will not lead to one soul’s salvation if it is made apart from a spirit of Christian charity. America’s sins are many, and greed and over consumption (over eating, laziness, time wasted on TV, etc.) is certainly part of it. But turning of the TV, or in the case of the neo-pagan “Earth Hour”, turning out the lights for an hour, will not solve our real problem, which is as always man’s separation from God. But helping the poor is an act that is linked with the love of God and the presence of the Spirit. No one can say what is in the heart of man, and I suspect that there are many people out there who profess no knowledge of Jesus, yet who through their works of charity are more full of his spirit than many professing Christians. Yet, it still must be said that what we hear in many liberal Christian groups is that it is good enough to be concerned about social justice. In many cases this ends up being more of a political doctrine than real charity. The classic liberal Christian belief is that divorce, homosexuality, premarital sex are side issues, and that real Christianity means a kind of suburbanite, granola eating political liberalism. The results of this have been devastating and as usual the victims are the kids first. The fruit of this teaching has been to ignore personal holiness, and without that as a foundation what we have is the crop of careerism, materialism and corporate greed. And this compounded by the consequences of the sexual devolution – AIDS, divorce, depression, sexual addiction, pornography, loneliness, etc.

    I agree that the Christian community has had one eye open, but that one eye has been on the heart and soul of the matter, which is personal holiness. Any attempt to ignore personal holiness in pursuit of earthy goals will only lead to the reign of satan on earth. The real wealth of heaven comes when a soul – you or I – helps one poor person, face to face, person to person. This is why the present crisis is so dangerous. We have a ruling secular religion lead by a secular Messiah as President that tells us that the government is what’s needed to help the poor. Gone is personal holiness. Replacing it is the socialist state, with abortion and homosexuality in its wake. Christian charity is not needed in this socialized world; only the State is needed.

    Personal holiness will lead us to a life of simplicity (which will help the ecological problems), charity (which will help the poor, and our own souls) and purity.

    Sincerely,

    MarkF

  • blackadderiv says:

    The Holy Father is absolutely right that the “development projects” undertaken by the West to help the so-called Third World have largely been a failure. One shouldn’t conclude from this, however, that no progress has been made. A number of countries have seen significant levels of growth and development. Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Chile, Turkey, Botswana, China, India, all have seen major improvements over recent decades, in some cases to the point where the standard of living in these countries now equals or exceeds that of many Western countries. And while the details of the policies adopted by these countries varies from case to case, one thing that they all had in common is that in the early stages of development they each used their comparative advantage stemming from cheap labor to encourage investment and growth.

    Attempts to prohibit things like sweatshops in the developing world are often compared to kicking out the bottom rungs of a ladder. The intentions behind such actions are undoubtedly noble (well, they are noble in most cases), but the effect is to make it harder for poor countries to climb out of poverty.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Mark,

    I actually agree with you that the dichotomy is false, but our culture warriors have created it, not me. Many Christian fundamentalists took the Bible literally where it suited them, and ignored everything else, while many Catholics never acquainted themselves with the Church’s social teaching. If we persistently neglect a whole area of God’s teaching and that of His Church, then a dichotomy is created.

    Can we really put the loss of personal holiness before the onset of material greed? This is a chicken-and-egg problem that we can debate for hours. What I know is that the Apostles created a community that met all needs, both material and spiritual, and it doesn’t appear to me that they put one above the other.

    Which is why I would ask Donald, in response to his comment: even that system created by the Apostles? It was simple; they shared all things in common. The economy is nothing but what we decide to come together and do. No law of nature or history forces us to be capitalists or socialists, to live atomistically, to buy and consume things we do not need.

    We can’t fall into a sort of philosophical or theological Gnosticism again, where matter, the flesh, the physical is all regarded as secondary at best, and evil at worst. That battle was waged 2000 years ago, and the opposite perspective prevailed; that God really did come down from Heaven and became man, that he lowered Himself to our level, that he was made of the same stuff we are made of.

    And finally I have to reiterate the main point of the piece: God destroyed Sodom because of what it failed to do for the poor. I think by living the way we do in this country, we hurt ourselves and we hurt others. I’m not saying “consume less” to save “Mother Earth”, but to save the least of your brother. Especially in this day and age nearly everything we do, everything we buy and sell, consume and profit from, affects many other people, while we in turn are affected by the decisions of many others.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Blackadderiv,

    You write,

    “Attempts to prohibit things like sweatshops in the developing world are often compared to kicking out the bottom rungs of a ladder. The intentions behind such actions are undoubtedly noble (well, they are noble in most cases), but the effect is to make it harder for poor countries to climb out of poverty.”

    I have to respond to that with the Holy Father’s sharp and accurate critique of a crucial aspect of Marxist theory which applies to this very idea (from Deus Caritas Est):

    “Part of Marxist strategy is the theory of impoverishment: in a situation of unjust power, it is claimed, anyone who engages in charitable initiatives is actually serving that unjust system, making it appear at least to some extent tolerable. This in turn slows down a potential revolution and thus blocks the struggle for a better world. Seen in this way, charity is rejected and attacked as a means of preserving the status quo.

    What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful. One does not make the world more human by refusing to act humanely here and now. We contribute to a better world only by personally doing good now, with full commitment and wherever we have the opportunity, independently of partisan strategies and programmes.”

  • John Henry says:

    What we have here, though, is really an inhuman philosophy. People of the present are sacrificed to the moloch of the future—a future whose effective realization is at best doubtful.

    I think this is an inaccurate description of what Blackadder said. His point was about the present. A job can be terrible, but still better than begging, starvation or prostitution. Notice what you are doing when you shut down a sweat shop; you are dictating to the worker that you know better than they what is best for them. In many cases, you’re likely to be wrong; after all, they are more likely to be able to determine what is in their best interests. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t regulate sweatshops, but it does mean we should bear in mind the harm that can come from removing jobs from third world countries altogether.

  • Joe asserts that “a plight that was and remain too severe and widespread to be addressed by cutting checks to charitable organizations, or even setting up food banks and homeless shelters. These are important but the problem is structural and foundational.”

    Joe is right to insist that we do more than “cut checks to charitable organizations”; charity should begin with us and our own personal participation.

    However, the identification of the sin as ‘structural’ and ‘foundational’ begs the question of what kind of solution is being proposed?

    I think a fair reading of Ratzinger’s essay would reveal that, as critical as he is of the perspective that would elevate the the autonomy of the free market from any moral influence whatsoever, or see within capitalism it humanity’s “salvation”, he holds very strong reservations — speaking of structural and foundational changes — concerning the prospects of a planned or centralized economy.

    On a related note — in 2007 I devoted a post to examining Pope Benedict’s Critique of Capitalism and his socio-economic thought. (And if he gets around to writing this alleged third encyclical on the topic we should be hearing a lot more). =)

    Ratzinger advises “a self-criticism of the Christian confessions with respect to political and economic ethics”, but he also adds, wisely, that this cannot proceed as an internal dialogue; “It will be fruitful only if it is conducted with those Christians who manage the economy.”

    His concluding thoughts, I think, is extremely important and provides much food for thought:

    A long tradition has led them to regard their Christianity as a private concern, while as members of the business community they abide by the laws of the economy.

    These realms have come to appear mutually exclusive in the modern context of the separation of the subjective and objective realms. But the whole point is precisely that they should meet, preserving their own integrity and yet inseparable. It is becoming an increasingly obvious fact of economic history that the development of economic systems which concentrate on the common good depends on a determinate ethical system, which in turn can be born and sustained only by strong religious convictions. Conversely, it has also become obvious that the decline of such discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse. An economic policy that is ordered not only to the good of the group — indeed, not only to the common good of a determinate state — but to the common good of the family of man demands a maximum of ethical discipline and thus a maximum of religious strength. The political formation of a will that employs the inherent economic laws towards this goal appears, in spite of all humanitarian protestations, almost impossible today. It can only be realized if new ethical powers are completely set free.

    A morality that believes itself able to dispense with the technical knowledge of economic laws is not morality but moralism. As such it is the antithesis of morality. A scientific approach that believes itself capable of managing without an ethos misunderstands the reality of man. Therefore it is not scientific. Today we need a maximum of specialized economic understanding, but also a maximum of ethos so that specialized economic understanding may enter the service of the right goals. Only in this way will its knowledge be both politically practicable and socially tolerable.

    History has provided numerous examples — particularly in the case of the failed experiment of the USSR — of attempts to achieve a lofty moral vision while dispensing with knowledge of economic laws.

    But some of the problems we encounter in the news recently simply manifest the truth of Ratzinger’s observation that “the decline of such [ethical] discipline can actually cause the laws of the market to collapse.”

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    John,

    It isn’t inaccurate at all. You just aren’t going to convince me that anyone wants to work in a sweatshop. That is chosen out of necessity. Given a better option – given the option of basic human rights, the rights of workers that the Church says all are entitled to, or even the rights of Westerners under their secular constitutions, we have to reasonably conclude that a person would choose these.

    To say that these rights should not exist now for the sake of economic growth IS exactly the same as saying that charity shouldn’t exist for the sake of revolution. It is the same moral logic, applied to a different chain of events. Sweatshops and all enterprises like them are illegal in this county and others because they deprive the worker of his human and in our view God-given rights. The state of development of a country’s economy does not negate the workers rights, and to argue so is to make yourself out a moral relativist.

    And indeed we see that many have been imprisoned, beaten or even killed for demanding these rights in almost all of the countries listed by Blackadder. To place India, a country where the vast majority of the people live in obscene poverty, on the same list as Japan, which has been a major industrial power for a century or longer, is also a little – strange.

  • Which is why I would ask Donald, in response to his comment: even that system created by the Apostles? It was simple; they shared all things in common. The economy is nothing but what we decide to come together and do. No law of nature or history forces us to be capitalists or socialists, to live atomistically, to buy and consume things we do not need.

    Keep in mind though, that system shows visible signs of breaking down during the course of Acts. Complaints quickly came up that the distribution of the goods held in common wasn’t fair, with the result that the apostles quickly realized that they needed to devote themselves to teaching while assigning the more worldly duties of distribution to deacons. And even that seems to fail to fully stamp out the rivalries and complaints.

    So while it’s true that the early Christians followed a model of sharing all things in common, that model brought dissension among them even before the first martyr was killed.

    Monastic communities continue to keep to this early Church structure (and given Paul’s advice to those married and unmarried, the analogy of the early Church to a monastic community is probably not far off in some ways) but they mainly succeed in doing so only through small size and complete obedience to superiors — things which we can’t really expect to see in anything other than small vowed communities.

    I would agree with you that ranking sexual sins as the “worst” sins is mistaken — I’d tend to agree with Dante’s categorizations as found in Inferno and Purgatorio, in which lust is among the least sins and greed and gluttony are in the middle, and betrayal is in the deepest pit of hell.

    However, I think it’s a mistake to necessarily think that we need a better economic system than personal ownership of property and free exchange so much as that we are in constant need of the people who participate in those actions being more moral people.

    Modern industrial capitalism actually died a long time ago, and no one seems to know it yet. It died even before the USSR collapsed. What we have been witnessing in America for the last 30 years is a sort of “Weekend at Bernie’s” style parody – a corpse propped up by monetarist policies, the creation of artificial wealth and the accumulation of endless debt.

    From an economic point of view, I’m not entirely clear what this is supposed to mean. What, for example, is “artificial wealth”. And while it’s true that our current economy is in some ways over-leveraged, I’m not actually sure that overall the modern economy of the 90s and 00s is necessarily more leveraged than other historical Western economies of the last 500 years or so.

    Manufacturing, the production of actual things of value, now takes place largely in the third world, where the workers are often brutally exploited and denied the human rights outlined not only in secular constitutions of the West but also the social doctrine of the Catholic Church (see par. 301 of the Church’s Compendium of the Social Doctrine for a list of those rights).

    Two thoughts:

    1) I think it’s important at a moral level to differentiate between intentionally inflicting inhumane treatment on a captive work force (which has certainly been done in “guest worker” camps, in factories in certain totalitarian regimes, etc.) versus the perhaps more frequent situation in which third world workers find themselves in conditions and pay which are far better than those they previously experienced in agricultural or local industry conditions, but still far below those prevalent in the US.

    2) While it’s become traditional over the last 200 years to romanticize “real work, work done with your hands” I think it’s at the same time important to keep in mind that being the person who physically does manufacturing work is far from the only needed part of an economic system. Is the engineer who invents something doing less “real” work than the line worker who assembles it? Is the accountant who keep the books clean and gets them both their paychecks not really working? Is the salesman in the store who explains the product, answers questions, and actually sells the thing not working? Is the service tech who troubleshoots or fixes it when it breaks not doing “real work”? It’s true that the modern globalized economy often makes more obviously so, but differentiation is hardly a new thing. (My wife interjects from over my shoulder: even in a hunter/gatherer economy there were three jobs. Three jobs, I asked? Hunting, gathering, and the oldest profession.)

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Christopher,

    You note that,

    “[Pope Benedict] holds very strong reservations — speaking of structural and foundational changes — concerning the prospects of a planned or centralized economy.”

    As do I :) A distributist or cooperativist economy is still a market economy, it is just one in which the major participants are not individuals, but communities of worker/owners.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    My goodness, I appreciate all the responses but I don’t think I can keep it up much longer.

    Darwin,

    I’ll just reply to the part about romanticizing work and artificial wealth.

    What I mean is the monetarization of the American economy, the massive explosion of the money supply, the lowered interest rates, the gutting of regulations on which sort of financial activities the banks could get involved in, etc. All of these developments were initiated to preserve a system and a way of life that was no longer sustainable on the basis of the real things that real people were producing. Look at the scale of corporate fraud in the last few decades – all of the book cooking, the fabrication of earnings or the exaggeration of profits, the shell games and conspiracies that not even the most brilliant financial observers could see into until it was too late. It is the other side of this massive attempt to conceal the black hole that formed at the center of the economy from the minute it came into existence.

    I wish I could say more but I have to go eat! I enjoy these discussions, and I might make a post in the future going into more detail about what I think about these issues in particular. But I don’t mean to romanticize “work with the hands” – but an economy of ideas and concepts alone just can’t exist.

  • John Henry says:

    It isn’t inaccurate at all. You just aren’t going to convince me that anyone wants to work in a sweatshop. That is chosen out of necessity.

    That’s my point.

    The state of development of a country’s economy does not negate the workers rights, and to argue so is to make yourself out a moral relativist.

    There seems to be some confusion here about moral and legal rights. Not all moral rights and wrongs are legally enforceable. This discussion is about a prudential judgment: how should a moral right be implemented in specific legal contexts. I am suggesting that it’s important when making such a judgment to ensure that the intended beneficiaries are not harmed.

  • It isn’t inaccurate at all. You just aren’t going to convince me that anyone wants to work in a sweatshop. That is chosen out of necessity. Given a better option – given the option of basic human rights, the rights of workers that the Church says all are entitled to, or even the rights of Westerners under their secular constitutions, we have to reasonably conclude that a person would choose these.

    Well, it depends what you mean by “work in a sweatshop” and by “want”. Meet Kavitaben Uttambhai Parmar of Ahmedabad, India.

    Kavitaben Uttambhai Parmar, 25, says she had one of the better jobs in the city until recently, stitching pants and other clothes in one of the few remaining major textile factories. During her five years there, her salary more than tripled to 115 rupees per day [about $2.25]; she recently dreamed of buying a refrigerator. Then one day in November, she was laid off with one of her best friends, 30-year-old Jayshree Kantilal Makvana.

    “That was a bad day for us,” says Ms. Parmar, whose income helped support a household of five, including her mother, brother, sister and grandfather. “I went home crying.”

    Both later found informal work, doing stitching for a smaller textile company that pays only by the piece, allowing each woman to earn about 50 rupees per day [about one dollar]. They also are making bracelets in their spare time to sell at festivals for about five rupees per 12 dozen.

    Now, is a $2.25 textile job a sweatshop? Is making $1/day doing piece work out of your home a sweatshop, and if so, is it better or worse? And either way, Kavitaben thinks she’s much better off than many others in her city.

    It’s one thing to dismiss the “they’d be even worse off” argument out of hand, but it’s often the case that without western companies coming and setting up factories and call centers people would be even worse off. People actually fight to get the jobs in some of the developing world factories that often get classed as “sweatshops”.

    Clearly, the fact that someone is better off than before is no reason to treat someone worse than you are able. But that doesn’t change the fact that the global economy has been a huge net gain for places like India and China over the last 40 years.

    Given that half the people I work with are recent immigrants from India who are much involved in Indian business, I think that despite the fact there are many people in India very much in need of help, the fact that it has been hugely helped by free trade and capitalism is quite undeniable. A lot of the same people who now work for fortune 500 companies in the international Indian business community can tell you stories about standing in line for the daily rice ration back before the green revolution and at the height of India’s more communitarian economic approach.

  • blackadderiv says:

    You just aren’t going to convince me that anyone wants to work in a sweatshop.

    No one would want to work in a sweatshop if they had a better alternative. This is true, but hardly limited to sweatshops (how many people would continue working at their current jobs were they to become independently wealthy? I know I wouldn’t). But if a person lacks better alternatives (as many in the developing world do) then they most certainly will want to work in a sweatshop. That many people do want to work in sweatshops in this conditional sense is simply a fact, which can be denied only by shutting one’s eyes to reality.

    To say that these rights should not exist now for the sake of economic growth IS exactly the same as saying that charity shouldn’t exist for the sake of revolution.

    The question is not whether a given set of rights should or should not exist, but how best they can be actualized. You seem to think that well paying jobs in safe working conditions can be brought into being simply by fiat. Experience shows this not to be the case. One might as well pass a law banning cancer.

    To place India, a country where the vast majority of the people live in obscene poverty, on the same list as Japan, which has been a major industrial power for a century or longer, is also a little – strange.

    India is not nearly as far along the path as Japan, partly due to the fact that they only recently moved to a more free market system (they are still far from ideal).

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Ok,

    Last one for the night, and until tomorrow evening probably.

    I didn’t mention pay or wages in my article, did I? I mentioned rights, human rights, inalienable rights, God given rights.

    There is never any justification for denying a human being their rights, which follow from their inherent human dignity. It would be better for the economy to suffer, decline, and collapse than for one person to be treated as something less than human. Such an economy taints us all.

    Is 2.25 an hour or 1 dollar an hour or some other miserably low wage the inherent evil here? Not necessarily. But if those wages are well below even what the market could bear, let alone what a union could acquire, then yes, that is an evil. That someone is happy choosing a lesser evil over a greater one is absolutely meaningless. The Church in the Compendium, taking this maxim directly from the writings of the Holy Fathers, has clearly taught that the voluntary – I repeat, the voluntary nature of a contract or agreement is NOT sufficient for its moral acceptability.

    Par 302 of the Compendium:

    “The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a “just wage”, because a just wage “must not be below the level of subsistence”[662] of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.”

    And on rights:

    Par. 153 of the Compendium:

    “The ultimate source of human rights is not found in the mere will of human beings[307], in the reality of the State, in public powers, but in man himself and in God his Creator. These rights are “universal, inviolable, inalienable”[308]. Universal because they are present in all human beings, without exception of time, place or subject. Inviolable insofar as “they are inherent in the human person and in human dignity”[309] and because “it would be vain to proclaim rights, if at the same time everything were not done to ensure the duty of respecting them by all people, everywhere, and for all people”[310]. Inalienable insofar as “no one can legitimately deprive another person, whoever they may be, of these rights, since this would do violence to their nature”[311].”

    Good night and God bless you all

  • jh says:

    “I actually agree with you that the dichotomy is false, but our culture warriors have created it, not me. Many Christian fundamentalists took the Bible literally where it suited them, and ignored everything else, while many Catholics never acquainted themselves with the Church’s social teaching. If we persistently neglect a whole area of God’s teaching and that of His Church, then a dichotomy is created. ”

    Joe I guess I have a immediate dislike for the term “Culture warriors” bcause now it is almost used in a negative sense. I am not so sure that on the whole the “culture warriers” were so one sided or ignored everything else. True some might have and others were called to specific callings. But I am not at all sure that was or is currently the majority.

    Now as to the Social Doctrine of the CHurch I agree more Catholics need to know it. However there are two problems

    First there needs to be a recognition that the Socil Doctrine outlays principles and that there is not a cooke cutter right solution to get to those

    Second the teaching of the social doctrine of the Church must be combined by solid teaching on other apsects of the Catholic life

    I think one reason Catholics turn a deaf year to when ever they hear someone talking about Catholic Social Justice issues is nine times out of ten the person teaching it is in wild opposition o the church on other matters and all the proposed soultions (at least as to economic nad issued related ot he poor) all seem to come out of the far left.

    For instance on the issue of immigration reform there seemed to be a wild disconnect at times from that the Church and the Bishops were teaching and what was being done on the ground. One would think listening to some Catholics in the grass roots we were all for truly open borders etc. Something our critics kept yelling nonstop

    That get discouraging and that is one reason why I think Catholics after several decades of that tune it out.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    A good look at early Christian “communism”, and communism in general, written before the Bolshevik Revolution of the last century.

    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/04179a.htm

    “The communistic principle governed for a time the lives of the first Christians of Jerusalem. In the fourth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles we learn that none of the brethren called anything that he possessed his own; that those who had houses and lands sold them and laid the price at the feet of the Apostles, who distributed “to everyone according as he had need”. Inasmuch as they made no distinction between citizens and slaves, these primitive Christians were in advance of the communism of Plato. Their communism was, moreover, entirely voluntary and spontaneous. The words of St. Peter to Ananias prove that individual Christians were quite free to retain their private property. Finally, the arrangement did not long continue, nor was it adopted by any of the other Christian bodies outside of Jerusalem. Hence the assertion that Christianity was in the beginning communistic is a gross exaggeration. And the claim that certain Fathers of the Church, notably Ambrose, Augustine, Basil, Chrysostum, and Jerome, condemned all private property and advocated communism, is likewise unwarranted. Most of the religious, that is, ascetic and monastic orders and communities which have existed, both within and without the Christian fold, exhibit some of the features of communism. The Buddhist monks in India, the Essenes in Judea, and the Therapeutæ in Egypt, all excluded private ownership and led a common life. The religious communities of the Catholic Church have always practised common ownership of goods, both productive (whenever they possessed these) and non-productive. Their communism differs, however, from that of the economic communists in that its primary object is not and never has been social reform or a more just distribution of goods. The spiritual improvement of the individual member and the better fulfilment of their charitable mission, such as instructing the young or caring for the sick and infirm, are the ends that they have chiefly sought. These communities insist, moreover, that their mode of life is adapted only to the few. For these reasons we find them always apart from the world, making no attempt to bring in any considerable portion of those without, and observing celibacy. One important feature of economic communism is wanting to nearly all religious communities, namely, common ownership and management of the material agents of production from which they derive their sustenance. In this respect they are more akin to wage-earning bodies than to communistic organizations.”

  • Elaine says:

    Any of you who listen regularly to Father Benedict Groeschel may have heard him claim that the U.S. is indeed guilty of one of the “sins that cries to heaven for vengeance” — withholding wages from the poor — in the form of the Social Security taxes that are taken from illegal/undocumented immigrants to prop up our Social Security system but which the workers themselves cannot benefit from.

    The situation we have with regard to illegal immigration represents, in my opinion, another form of this particular “sin of Sodom” in that an officially strict immigration policy is being selectively enforced against a particularly vulnerable group of people for the benefit of industries who want to get away with paying their workers as little as possible.

    I’m not saying that we HAVE to open the borders to absolutely everyone, but I do believe the current system is extremely unjust, both to illegals and to legal immigrants who play by the rules (often at great trouble and expense), as well as U.S. citizens.

    This is another issue on which I really disagree with the common “conservative” point of view which insists that illegal immigrants themselves are the root of almost every evil and that any attempt to show mercy to them or take their individual circumstances into account constitutes an undeserved “amnesty”. But that’s a whole nother story.

  • Gerard E. says:

    Joe had good points. Bad points, too. Economic sins, to be sure- whenever I open a credit card bill, I am all too reminded. But who pray tell determines how the wealth is distributed? Don cited numerous religious communities in history- who shared their belongings in common spiritual harmony. Someone else notes distributism has failed in its numerous attempts. Seems like we could have this discussion from now to Judgment Day. It might be noted that overwhelming taxes prevents us from contributing to the poor- as we see fit. Useful topic to consider during Lent. Too bad its full discussion could last way past Easter.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Don,

    The excerpt you posted doesn’t really change much for me, I must say. The Apostles were closer to Christ than “any of the communities outside of Jerusalem”, and closer to Him in time as well.

    I think – I speculate on reasonable grounds, that is – that there is a connection between what Christ told the rich young man, in what he told the Apostles themselves as he found them, all of the other things He said about wealth, and in how the Apostles decided to live after he had left them.

    As for what the early saints say, I’m afraid, also, that in all of the quotes I have seen condemning private property – there is a good list of them somewhere and I will find it – not once did they do so in the context of monasticism, but in a general, moral sense.

    Not saying that I even agree with such a categorical condemnation of private property. As a distributist I think Aristotle’s ideal of private property, widely distributed and USED in common by “friends” is also compatible with Christianity (and I will add this has nothing to do with the amount of regulation in the marketplace or lack thereof, a different topic), though I do believe that we must be spiritually and emotionally ready to let go of all material things at a moments notice for Christ or for a brother in need.

    Finally, I think any system can work if we want it to. I don’t think this is naivety speaking. If this is naive, Christ was naive when He said: “be perfect”. If we are even going to TRY this, it seems to me that we would do so in the economic sphere as well. When we are judged on the last day per Matt. 25, will He judge our hearts and the quality of our efforts, or the quantitative results of our economic implementations? Is God a judge or a statistician? And finally, again, I can only recall what Pope Benedict said – if we sacrifice people today to the moloch of the future (and we do this if we do business with regimes or individual companies that deny human rights, including workers rights, no ifs, ands or buts about it), will we not be held to account? Will God not see this?

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Joe I simply do not think that Christ indicated a preference for any economic system. The appeal to the time of the apostles overlooks the fact that the idea of property in common simply was not embraced by Catholics outside of religious orders for almost two millenia. I might also note that the Pilgrims attempted such a system and almost died of starvation as a result. Attempts to construct economic utopias have always ultimately ended in failure and usually bloody failure. If people want to voluntarily associate in whatever economic combinations they wish: communes, distributionist groups, etc, I have no problem with them. When they seek to impose such a system on me or my family, I have a very large problem with them indeed.

  • I didn’t mention pay or wages in my article, did I? I mentioned rights, human rights, inalienable rights, God given rights.

    There is never any justification for denying a human being their rights, which follow from their inherent human dignity. It would be better for the economy to suffer, decline, and collapse than for one person to be treated as something less than human. Such an economy taints us all.

    A fair point. I think one of the reasons we all gravitated to the wage question is that it’s much easier for us to know and measure than some of the other rights discussed in CSD’s paragraph 301. Running down the list:

    The Church’s social Magisterium has seen fit to list some of these rights, in the hope that they will be recognized in juridical systems: the right to a just wage; [651] the right to rest; [652] the right “to a working environment and to manufacturing processes which are not harmful to the workers’ physical health or to their moral integrity”; [653] the right that one’s personality in the workplace should be safeguarded “without suffering any affront to one’s conscience or personal dignity”; [654] the right to appropriate subsidies that are necessary for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families; [655] the right to a pension and to insurance for old age, sickness, and in case of work-related accidents; [656] the right to social security connected with maternity; [657] the right to assemble and form associations.

    Wages we can look up pretty easily, and thus makes discussion easy. It’s a lot harder to tell, at a distance, to what extent developing world capitalism allows workers “rest”. Longer work hours than many Americans are used to are pretty common, 10-14 hour days are fairly normal in developing countries. On the other hand, if you’re paid by the hour, working more hours is often pretty attractive as a way to take better care of your family. (I recall being repeatedly scolded by my bosses for working “too many hours” back when I was an hourly worker just out of college for precisely that reason — I wanted the money and felt that twelve hours a day when I wasn’t at work was plenty of rest.)

    Working conditions are also harder to know about in detail from a distance, and it’s at hard time to know the difference between morally neglectful conditions (which certainly exist in some cases) and the fact that factories in developing nations are often built by companies that are comparatively poorer than major Western companies, and (like companies in the US 100+ years ago) they simply have fewer resources to devote to safety than Western companies.

    The rights to subsidies when out of work and support for retirement and disability and such strike me as even harder to track and harder to enforce. In the developing world many people are coming out of agricultural backgrounds which are dangerously close to subsistence levels, such that when the weather or pests are bad, people are in danger of starving, and people work 14+ hours a day in the sun with absolutely no provision for retirement or disability other than one’s children. That’s one of the reasons why moving to a city and working for wages often seems like a very good prospect to these people, yet I’m not sure it’s reasonable to insist that the sort of social democratic safety net which many in the West have come to think of as a condition for life be available as a prerequisite for people being able to work in developing world manufacturing.

    Indeed, one of my concerns about the language of a “right” to unemployment and retirement benefits is that this isn’t a “natural right” in the sense of something that you have until someone takes it away, but rather a duty (and one that can only be met in an economy with a certain level of development) phrased in the language of rights. Which is, I fear, something that makes discussion more difficult.

    Anyway. Interesting conversation we’ve got going here. I’m sure we’ll see more of it going forward. Maybe one of these days I’ll have time to actually get a post or two together myself…

  • Tito Edwards says:

    Elaine,

    I saw that episode and the Fr. Groeschel may well forget that there is a reason why these illegal immigrants are not receiving social security benefits and it’s because they entered the country illegally.

    One wrong does not make a right.

    I love Fr. Groeschel, but I believe his reasoning is simplistic in this instance.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Tito,

    not to mention they are committing fraud and/or identify theft by using stolen or false social security numbers.

    Joe,

    Why are you proof-texting Scripture? YOu must know that there are several Scriptural references and the fathers of the Church to support the common belief that the sins of Sodom included unnatural sexual behavior?

    Catholic Encyclopedia

    Clement of Alexandria: “In accordance with these remarks, conversation about deeds of wickedness is appropriately termed filthy [shameful] speaking, as talk about adultery and pederasty and the like” (The Instructor 6, ca. A.D. 193).

    “The fate of the Sodomites was judgment to those who had done wrong, instruction to those who hear. The Sodomites having, through much luxury, fallen into uncleanness, practicing adultery shamelessly, and burning with insane love for boys; the All-seeing Word, whose notice those who commit impieties cannot escape, cast his eye on them. Nor did the sleepless guard of humanity observe their licentiousness in silence; but dissuading us from the imitation of them, and training us up to his own temperance, and falling on some sinners, lest lust being unavenged, should break loose from all the restraints of fear, ordered Sodom to be burned, pouring forth a little of the sagacious fire on licentiousness; lest lust, through want of punishment, should throw wide the gates to those that were rushing into voluptuousness. Accordingly, the just punishment of the Sodomites became to men an image of the salvation which is well calculated for men. For those who have not committed like sins with those who are punished, will never receive a like punishment” (ibid., 8).

    I think any system can work if we want it to.

    while capitalism properly executed (which it is not currently) can be a just system, respecting the rights of all… Socialism can not, by it’s very definition it is unjust, furthermore, a capitalist system does not impose immorality (of course it clearly incites it), we as Christians can refuse to engage in the excesses of capitalism and live simpler lives of poverty. The socialist forces our children to be indoctrinated into it’s idolatry, the capitalist only tempts us to permit it.

    In my humble opinion the closed eye was to the plight of the poor, not just in America but throughout the world, a plight that was and remain too severe and widespread to be addressed by cutting checks to charitable organizations, or even setting up food banks and homeless shelters. These are important but the problem is structural and foundational. The Church still does a lot of good for a lot of poor and disadvantaged people, but it takes the entire community of the faithful, living and not just believing as the Apostles did, to truly and effectively address their suffering.

    absolutely! But that doesn’t mean the federal government has ANYTHING to offer to improve the situation, except to get their hands off of it.

  • Mark says:

    It’s indeed true that sexual sins are not the gravest ones….however they do indicate a disordered soul which breeds the sin of pride (the mother of all sins), indifference or defiance of god,etc…And anyway, what the point of knowing which sin is the gravest if all of them result in you holding company to the fallen one in hell?

    Concerning Joe’s point on the propensity to do evil of the present “economic system” (if ever such a thing is definable in our present situation), his argument do garner some of my sympathy up to a point : that the Church is going to be ignored because of her supposed ignorance of the plight of the poor…an argument which does not hold water since many people in Africa and Latin America have been living on a lifeline provided by the Church itself. When has the Pope not extolled the need to help the poor? And yet we are to believe (as the MSM puts it) that “Thou should not wear Condoms” is the only thing that the pope has blabbed ever about. What is the reason for such a discrepancy? (Hint 1: the MSM’s and “secular power’s” real grudge with the Church are pelvic issues. Hint 2: See my comment above about sexual sin breeding pride, etc). So, don’t you lose sleep about the “secular powers” ridiculing the Church because of her supposed “bourgeois mentality cut-off from reality “, they will do it anyway.
    On the otherhand, your critique of “systems”, as evil as these might be, always verges on a precipice: the premise that evil does not originates from spiritual disorder but because of mechanistic processes inherent in the system that need to be reformed. Once you’ve accepted such a premise, the rest of the program is just a piece of cake …

  • Mark says:

    And indeed: though sexual sins are not the gravest one (at least Aquinas and Dante say so), how can the fall of Sodom be delinked from sins of the flesh is beyond me as Matt McDonald rightly points out. The reality of the mob going for the visiting angels who found shelter in Lot’s house is a quite vivid image….taking into account the intentions of the mob!

  • Elaine says:

    It is true that illegal immigrants pay withholding taxes through the use of false Social Security numbers, which the government takes its sweet old time ferreting out. However, in many cases it is not the immigrant himself who “stole” those numbers but some third party who promised to “take care” of whatever paperwork he or she needs.

    My intent here is not to deny that illegal immigrants are breaking the law, but to point out that the indignation many conservatives have over this situation is a bit misplaced. The federal government and businesses who benefit from allowing the current situation to continue unchecked, who selectively enforce laws that are supposed to treat everyone equally, and make only half-hearted attempts at genuine reform if any, are just as much if not more to blame than are desperately poor people just looking to make a living any way they can.

    Again, I am not saying throw the borders open to everyone without question, or grant blanket amnesty to all illegals; nor am I demanding that all illegals be deported and treated as criminals regardless of their situation. A balance must be sought.

    With regard to the “other” sin of Sodom, Mark, the image that sticks in MY mind is that of Lot actually offering to let the mob rape HIS OWN DAUGHTERS in place of the visiting angels… sounds to me like he wasn’t all that much better than them in some ways. The daughters turned out to be real winners too; after they fled Sodom, they were worried they would never find husbands or have children, so they both got their dad drunk, slept with him and each had a son by him, one called Moab and the other Ammon, who were said to be the ancestors of the Moabites and Ammonites — two of Israel’s most chronic enemies. And these were, allegedly, the only “righteous” people left in Sodom!

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Replies to all!

    I think I will address what I think is a general point concerning all the posts, and then a few specific points of individuals.

    In general, I keep seeing the word “system” in replies to me; the assumption is that I believe that a) Jesus had a preferred economic “system”, or b) that I myself believe there is a “perfect” economic system.

    Both of these assumptions do not accurately reflect what I believe, though I will concede that I may not have been clear enough to avert this misunderstanding.

    We have a way of thinking in America that equates nations with economic systems. America is thought of as a more or less capitalist state, while other countries are seen as “socialist” or perhaps “statist”. When I talk about economics, I am first and foremost talking about what we as a community – not a nation-state – of the faithful can voluntarily do on our own. It requires sacrifices and a perfect submission to the law and will of God concerning the poor, the least of our brothers, by which we are to be judged according to Matthew 25.

    In the future I want to expand more on Pope Benedict’s encyclical Deus Caritas Est because I believe it contains a profound insight as to how we as Christians should approach economic questions. Briefly, he argues that the state, or politics, will NEVER create a perfectly just society. He also argues that the role of the Church is not to create one either, but to act as the voice of reason and conscience in the formation of policy. Outside of the political sphere, however, is a different matter. Here, doing all things out of love for Christ, we CAN strive for the perfection of sainthood not only as individuals but as a body of believers. My priest said it so well a few Sundays ago: if we haven’t become saints during our lifetimes, we have completely wasted our time on this Earth. I took it to heart.

    To act economically is not limited to lobbying the state for this and that. I DO believe that the state CAN play a role in providing LIMITED assistance to us as we begin our endeavors. I do not oppose the redistribution of wealth towards the common good and the satisfaction of justice. But ultimately the initiative lies almost completely with us, and our willingness to sacrifice not only a part of our paycheck but also our ideological presupposition.

    The Holy Fathers have asked us ALL to consider, throughout the last 100 years, distributist alternatives and possibilities. We see it especially in Quadragesimo Anno and Laborem Exercens. Now one doesn’t need to be perfect to get to Heaven eventually; that’s what purgatory is for. But I don’t think that is going to be too pleasant. So why settle for “what works” when we can have what is GOOD? There’s no possible argument against it, because even a failure in the struggle for good that is imposed on us by forces we can’t control is better than success at anything short of the good.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “And these were, allegedly, the only “righteous” people left in Sodom!”

    It shows what slim pickings Sodom presented to God! Of course Lot offers his daughters to demonstrate in the story his rigid respect for the laws of hospitality, sacred in the East. The reader is expected to gasp and think “See what lengths Lot was willing to go to in order to protect a guest.” The homosexual rape theme was about the worst thing that a Jew could think of that could be perpetrated against a guest. The genealogy of the Moabites and Ammonites is a taunt by the Hebrews against their ancestral foes.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Donald,

    I don’t think Jesus advocated any economic system. If we come together as Christians and love one another as we should, then only a perfect economic “system” would exist.

    Is it even worth mentioning the Pilgrims when billions of people live on the edge of the abyss today? I’m not going to blame “capitalism” for that, because capitalism can mean many different things. I simply blame what is, a mix of capitalist and socialist ideas, all in the service of imperial ambition and the pursuit of profits and political power, that has brought misery to billions of God’s children.

    That said I don’t think it is our job to abolish it, just to completely make it irrelevant through our own love and sacrifice for each other. That, to me, is what a Christian community is all about. Distributism is the economic root because it encourages the common use of what each privately calls his own. I would only ever call on the state for aid, tax relief, etc. – not to penalize or punish anyone else.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Elaine,

    It is true that illegal immigrants pay withholding taxes through the use of false Social Security numbers, which the government takes its sweet old time ferreting out. However, in many cases it is not the immigrant himself who “stole” those numbers but some third party who promised to “take care” of whatever paperwork he or she needs.

    kind of like when I bought the stereo from that guy out on the street, right? I didn’t actually steal it…

    The federal government and businesses who benefit from allowing the current situation to continue unchecked

    That’s precisely who conservatives are criticizing.

    who selectively enforce laws that are supposed to treat everyone equally, and make only half-hearted attempts at genuine reform if any, are just as much if not more to blame than are desperately poor people just looking to make a living any way they can.

    Again, I am not saying throw the borders open to everyone without question, or grant blanket amnesty to all illegals; nor am I demanding that all illegals be deported and treated as criminals regardless of their situation. A balance must be sought.

    What’s the balance? Conservatives propose some sort of temporary work status, and an opportunity to return to their home country and begin the process LIKE EVERYBODY ELSE who is waiting to do it legally, or, do you suggest that sneaking across the border should be rewarded by moving the person and their family to the front of the line? That’s the true nature of the situation. If it weren’t for illegal immigrants, either US citizens would be taking those jobs OR the existing legal worker programs would need to be expanded. Both of those possibilities would improve the situation of all legal workers because of greater demand.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Darwin,

    Those rights listed in the Compendium are more or less taken for granted in every Western country, even if there are wide pockets where they are ignored (and then, people fight for their rights). None of us would want our child to work in an Indian factory, let alone sweatshop. If you wouldn’t send your own child to work in a place, why should anyone’s work there?

    I’m not saying we have to demand a utopia from developing countries, or even that they catch up to us in terms of wages and living standards overnight. But we can demand that they no longer stop the workers from organizing to make just demands for higher wages, safe working conditions, shorter working days, etc. The Church supports the workers in these cases – so should we all. In places like China such demands are made illegal and punishable, and in places like India or Brazil people who make them have a habit of dropping out of sight.

    I know we all dislike Obama but he made one point during the debate I agree with – we need fair trade policies and we need them now, no matter what it costs us as consumers or the capitalist producers in the way of personal wealth. We need to insist that any country we do business with meet a MINIMUM of workers rights (not just vague “human rights”) and hold all companies to account for it. That is one thing I do believe is the proper domain of the state.

    I will gladly pay more for fair trade goods that I know were made by workers who are paid well, are safe, that aren’t young children or young women who are forced to get abortions (this happens A LOT in the third world) to keep working. I think every Christian should be ready to make that pledge as well, unless they are desperately poor themselves. We need to make it known and felt that we will not tolerate the abuse and exploitation of working people, without our voices and our wallets. Complicity is no longer an option for me.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt,

    I never sought to exclude the sexual sins of Sodom – surely they were a part of the reason. But when God Himself spoke in Ezekiel, He didn’t mention them, except perhaps under the general heading of “abominations”. But the first abomination was clearly their sins against the poor and the needy. I don’t see how you can read that passage and interpret the situation any other way.

    All of these sins are deserving of God’s wrath. I’m not a liberal who believes its “ok” to be promiscuous or commit adultery or look at pornography. But we get enough reminders of how bad these things are day in and day out from mainstream Christianity. We get less reminders of the great love and protection God shows to the poor, and the great wrath he promises those who violate them.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Mark,

    I didn’t mean to suggest that the Pope himself hasn’t said enough. He has said more than anyone is required to say, he and his predecessors.

    I fear it is more than the MSM that doesn’t always hear them, though. I think if we heard them more clearly we would be taking steps to live our lives differently, in ways I think I’ve made clear (but if I haven’t I will in the future).

    So to be clear, I do not blame the Vatican or Benedict at all – but I stand by my point because in our cities and towns, the people who aren’t Catholics or who are lapsed don’t see Benedict, they see us, and they judge the Church on the basis of what we do, not him. We can do more.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    I am first and foremost talking about what we as a community – not a nation-state – of the faithful can voluntarily do on our own.

    I DO believe that the state CAN play a role in providing LIMITED assistance to us as we begin our endeavors.

    Just like they helped AIG and GM? Be careful, you might find Obama naming your new bishop…

    I do not oppose the redistribution of wealth towards the common good and the satisfaction of justice.

    In our current context, this line totally overturns your earlier statement, it is not the role of government to take wealth from one to give wealth to another. WHen it does so it does harm to both the “benefactor” and the “recipient”, and it makes it more difficult for US to aid the poor as the Church has exorted us.

    But ultimately the initiative lies almost completely with us, and our willingness to sacrifice not only a part of our paycheck but also our ideological presupposition.

    Of course we have to be willing to sacrifice our ideology if it is found to be in conflict with the teachings of the Church, but I think what you’re suggesting is that we hold our beliefs for some reason other than that we believe the free market system is the system which best allows opportunity and justice for all, which is principally what conservative Catholics believe.

    The Holy Fathers have asked us ALL to consider, throughout the last 100 years, distributist alternatives and possibilities. We see it especially in Quadragesimo Anno and Laborem Exercens

    perhaps you will cite this exhortation?

    I never sought to exclude the sexual sins of Sodom

    But you did.

    surely they were a part of the reason. But when God Himself spoke in Ezekiel, He didn’t mention them, except perhaps under the general heading of “abominations”. But the first abomination was clearly their sins against the poor and the needy. I don’t see how you can read that passage and interpret the situation any other way.

    in isolation yes. In context of the other references, not so much.

    All of these sins are deserving of God’s wrath. I’m not a liberal who believes its “ok” to be promiscuous or commit adultery or look at pornography. But we get enough reminders of how bad these things are day in and day out from mainstream Christianity. We get less reminders of the great love and protection God shows to the poor, and the great wrath he promises those who violate them.

    I don’t know what world you live in, but in my world there is CONSTANT bombardment with sexual immorality and precious little preaching against it in balance (especially with regard to contraception). Perhaps part of the reason we don’t focus on aid to the poor as much as you would like is because the GOVERNMENT has taken on that role, and that many Catholic charitable organizations have become hotbeds of dissent and collaboration with the liberals?

    Frankly, I appreciate that my priest focuses ESPECIALLY on the poorest of the poor in our nation… those who are not even given a chance to be BORN… I wish liberal Catholics would place a little more emphasis on THAT area of social justice.

    I don’t think it’s remotely reasonable to even associate capitalism with the fact that billions are on the edge of the abyss… because MOST of those on the edge live in countries which do not practice free market capitalism, and despite much aid from those who live in the free market economies, they will continue to suffer until they abandon their failed systems, no matter what we do in the area of aid.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt,

    I’m not an economic anarchist. I will indeed “be careful” in considering the role of the state, but I will not categorically reject such a role as immoral. The Church doesn’t do so either.

    The government should and must take some wealth from us ALL, for the benefit of all. There are simply some things no individual, family, or even community can do. While the Church teaches the principle of subsidiarity, that means that things that CAN be left to individuals, families and communities should be. It does not say that it is immoral, however, for the state to collect taxes, to redistribute wealth in pursuit of the common good. I’ve read the Compendium. Have you?

    You think I want my tax dollars paying for abortions or another pointless war in the Middle East? No more than some people want to see them go to those in need, who they write off as “loafers”. If I had it my way I would voluntarily pay taxes to support education and health care while never allowing a dime to go to the war machine or the culture of death. But I don’t. I render unto Caesar what is his because in the end it means far less than rendering unto God what is His. God will not judge us on the basis of how free our markets are, but on the basis of what we have done for the least of our brother. That isn’t my opinion, that’s Scriptural fact. The Holy Father himself acknowledged it in his first encyclical.

    That said, I’m not against free markets! How many times does it have to be said? I support reasonable regulation in the same way the Church does. Those who oppose all regulation are the ones stepping way out of the boundaries of Catholic teaching.

    The system of concentrated wealth and power of a few individuals while billions go hungry – and it is a GLOBAL system, not limited to any one country – is what I oppose (we might call it imperialism), and I don’t care what you call it. Not free market? Fine. But it isn’t a command economy either. There are still a lot of people, a lot of major corporations, banks, financial institutions and hordes of disgraceful speculators getting very wealthy off the suffering of millions. There are a lot of consumers around the world, who see lower prices and don’t ask questions. That’s the problem. I don’t care if the government ordered it or they did it on their own. I don’t care what “system” caused it or what people choose to call that system.

    I’m not your enemy, so there’s no need to address me in the future as if I pose some sort of threat to you. It wouldn’t matter to me if the state ceased to exist tomorrow. I have stated 100 times by now that I believe in distributism – in the spread of private property, used in common by Christians living as brothers and sisters. This has little if anything to do with the state and everything to do with a personal choice that each and every one of us can make.

    Is there some reason you don’t believe this is my intent, or do you just think the idea is terrible?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    And lest I be accused of contradicting myself, let me add that I wouldn’t actually desire the state to disappear tomorrow – because a lot of people would be left with little if anything if it did. But if it did, I am saying, it wouldn’t really alter the core of what I believe. As long as there are states and governments, however, they should play a positive role in promoting the common good and every citizen has a duty to contribute to that end.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    The government should and must take some wealth from us ALL, for the benefit of all. There are simply some things no individual, family, or even community can do.

    Absolutely. Provide for the common defense, build bridges and roads, internal security and justice (with due regard for subsidiarity. But none of these things involve “wealth redistribution” – that is with the express purpose of taking wealth from some in order to give wealth to others.

    While the Church teaches the principle of subsidiarity, that means that things that CAN be left to individuals, families and communities should be.

    You have it exactly backwards. The first principle is individual, family, and community (voluntary associations) and then… recourse to government with precedence to lower levels.

    It does not say that it is immoral, however, for the state to collect taxes,

    of course.

    to redistribute wealth in pursuit of the common good.

    Not so sure.

    I’ve read the Compendium. Have you?

    Not in it’s entirety. I do consider it in the context of it’s level of magisterial authority. Frankly I much prefer to read the source documents which actually hold authority… those I have read.

    The system of concentrated wealth and power of a few individuals while billions go hungry – and it is a GLOBAL system, not limited to any one country – is what I oppose (we might call it imperialism), and I don’t care what you call it. Not free market? Fine. But it isn’t a command economy either. There are still a lot of people, a lot of major corporations, banks, financial institutions and hordes of disgraceful speculators getting very wealthy off the suffering of millions. There are a lot of consumers around the world, who see lower prices and don’t ask questions. That’s the problem. I don’t care if the government ordered it or they did it on their own. I don’t care what “system” caused it or what people choose to call that system.

    I think you’re falling into a common error here, the class warfare model which holds that the world is divided between the very rich, and everyone else. The disparity which does exist is due to human failings – the seven deadly sins.

    In free market economies (well, there really is none, but the US is at least marginally so) there is opportunity for all to be comfortable if not wealthy. Aside from those who suffer from serious real disabilities (who we must aid through charity primarily), those who lack the basic necessities can not reasonably blame the “rich” for denying them anything. It’s clear from every study, and pure reasoning that they lack these necessities due to character flaws (their own, their parents). The single largest factor in poverty is unwed mothers. You just can’t blame the rich for that.

    In not so free market economies, the problems are principally despotic leaders that deny their people the ability to be productive and see to their families needs. It is true that large transnational corporations get involved with aiding said despots, just as large corporations attempt to manipulate the US government to gain undue benefit (that is NOT free market).

    Is there some reason you don’t believe this is my intent, or do you just think the idea is terrible?

    Have I responded in the negative to ANY of your propositions which do not involve the state exceeding it’s boundaries?

    As you say, distributism involves the spread of private property, used in common by Christians living as brothers and sisters

    Free market capitalism (properly executed, which it is not) is not far from that. In this system wealth is not hoarded in vaults, it’s made available for all by providing housing and employment opportunities to those who would not otherwise be able to achieve them.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt,

    Let me try and follow your logic here.

    You argue, more than once, that there is no free market capitalism. It doesn’t exist.

    Then you criticize me for criticizing the system that does exist, as if it were an attack on free market capitalism – which you say doesn’t exist.

    I never said we had free market capitalism. I don’t think I ever used the word capitalism in my original piece. You read capitalism into everything. Even though it doesn’t exist.

    This makes no sense. How can you take issue with my criticism of either a) a system that doesn’t exist anyway, or b) a system that does exist but isn’t even the system you defend?

    The world IS divided between the very rich and the very poor, that is an objective fact. The Church acknowledges it a thousand times in every document on every social topic. It is obvious that you haven’t read them at all.

    Acknowledging the FACT of massive inequalities between nations – which again, the Church does, over and over again – does not translate ipso facto into class warfare. Another leap off the cliff of logic.

    “It’s clear from every study, and pure reasoning that they lack these necessities due to character flaws (their own, their parents). The single largest factor in poverty is unwed mothers. You just can’t blame the rich for that.”

    It’s clear from the Bible, the words of the saints, and the teachings of the Holy Fathers that “they” – the poor – are under the special protection of God, that we will be judged by Him in accordance with how we treat them, that special mercy is reserved for them. There are BILLIONS of people in dire poverty in this world who are exploited, abused, denied their human rights, murdered in pointless wars, dying of easily curable diseases, working under appalling conditions to make others wealthy. You can’t make them go away with a reference to “unwed mothers” – I’m not talking just talking about the American inner city here, though we STILL have an obligation to love even sinners.

    I will say again – I don’t care what you call it. You say its “NOT the free market”. If thats what you need to say and hear to go on in your beliefs, thats fine with me. Since the free market doesn’t exist and evidently has never existed, then it would be silly to blame it – or give it praise – for anything! I blame what is, not this thing in your head that you wish was.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    “If we come together as Christians and love one another as we should, then only a perfect economic “system” would exist.”

    Hmmm. Considering the parish council meetings I have been at where devout Catholics, and I mean that sincerely and not sarcastically, could not agree on how to spend a substantial legacy to the parish, I suspect that we would have a good long wait for that pefect economic system. I think God tells us in no uncertain terms as to what to do with our money after we earn it in regard to helping the poor through voluntary contributions, but there is precious little advice in the Bible as to how markets function or the best strategy for a good return on money. The condemnation of interest by many members of the Church for a lengthy period of church history, based upon Aristotle mostly, was a very counter-productive economic policy. When it comes to religion I follow the Pope, when it comes to enconomics, I follow Adam Smith.

    “Is it even worth mentioning the Pilgrims when billions of people live on the edge of the abyss today?”

    Only if one wishes to know if whether the early and brief period of Christian “communism” has any chance of working outside of books. The pilgrims gave it a try and it failed miserably. Feel free to cite for me contrary historical examples.

    ‘that has brought misery to billions of God’s children.”

    Actually Joe, I think it is the absence of free market capitalism that has brought economic misery to billions of God’s children. Governments are poor substitutes for markets.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I’m sorry if the tone was harsh. But what you said about the poor, and divisions between wealth and poverty, is just the entirely wrong from a Christian perspective.

    I do invite you to read the social documents of the Church – Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, and other encyclicals, as well as the Compendium. Read them carefully and intently. I’m not saying I am the master interpreter of these documents but I know what they don’t say.

    I apologize for any offense.

  • John Henry says:

    Actually Joe, I think it is the absence of free market capitalism that has brought economic misery to billions of God’s children.

    Don, While I agree with JPII that free markets ultimately are better than the available alternatives, free market capitalism certainly has brought about its share of suffering. It’s always a question of choosing between abusive systems (because of the people in them), and trying to mitigate the harms.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    No system is perfect John Henry, which as a good conservative is one of my core beliefs. I simply believe that free market capitalism thus far is the best. Not being a libertarian I of course also support a role for the government in caring for those who can’t care for themselves, setting up a court system, etc. Adam Smith was also far from being a libertarian and recognized a role for government. Why I am opposed to socialism, other than the dismal economic record that most non-Western socialist governments have amassed, is because of my fear of any government that also has all the economic power behind it. We hear much about the separation of Church and State. My mantra has always been separation of government and business as much as possible.

  • A few thoughts, but it’s probably better to continue to come to understand each other of a period of time and a number of posts rather than getting into an endless thread on one post…

    - I certainly agree that businessmen/managers are sometimes tempted to (and do) treat vulnerable employees badly in order to try to cut costs — and I agree that this can be a very serious sin.

    - I’m not sure whether it’s accurate to say that those who are very rich are so because they are keeping the rest poor. There is not a fixed amount of money in the world that we simply need to figure out how to distribute, development and improved efficiency allows people to be more productive and produce more goods or services for the same amount of time and work. So far from hurting the corporate elite, if everyone in the world was suddenly at developed world levels, we would all end up being better off. To attempt a Chestertonian turn of phrase: the wonder to me is not that everyone is not better off, but that anyone is not poor at all. Material poverty and living one bad harvest away from starvation is the normal way that most people in most parts of the world have lived throughout history. (Though in the current developing countries this has been compounded by the fact that their populations are now much higher, partly due to that modern medicine which does make it in, than they were in the past.)

    - However I agree that being absurdly wealthy brings with it the responsibility of using that wealth to benefit others. (And a heavy reckoning if one does not, as in the story of the rich man and Lazarus.)

    - I’m not sure of the practicality of distributism as an economic system which in part is what I originally thought you were arguing for, but I do tend to support small structures over large structures and would rather see the maximum number of people own their own businesses and work for themselves — or share in the ownership of the businesses they work for.

  • Donald R. McClarey says:

    Joe, a good post. I find little in it which I fully agree with, but you have defended your points well in the comments and maintained a tone of civility. You have also ignited on the blog a good debate in this thread. This type of debate is what American Catholic is all about. A very fine effort on your part!

  • And one more:

    - While I think that “fair trade” products generally have their hearts in the right place, I’d tend to think that helping those in developing countries develop sufficiently efficient methods of production and sufficiently high quality products that they can making decent wages on their own merits is a better long term approach. Which certainly doesn’t make “buying fair trade” wrong, but it’s not sufficient for the long term.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    “A few thoughts, but it’s probably better to continue to come to understand each other of a period of time and a number of posts rather than getting into an endless thread on one post…”

    I wholeheartedly concur! I’m ready to bring things here to a close. Believe me, guys, I’ll give you plenty more to chew on in the weeks ahead :)

  • Elaine says:

    Matt:

    Existing legal worker programs certainly should be expanded, but aren’t because the federal government doesn’t bother funding or staffing them adequately, and in fact, has considerable financial incentive NOT to.

    Remember, the feds actually benefit from the taxes (Social Security and income taxes) illegals pay; state and local governments end up bearing the costs of their presence (e.g. higher school enrollments, applications for food stamps or Medicaid, additional jail space for those who commit crimes). The Social Security Administration itself acknowledges that FICA taxes paid by “other than legal” workers actually have helped close the projected Social Security shortfall as much as raising the withholding tax by an additional 3/10 of a percentage point would.

    So, illegals are, to a small but noticeable extent, helping prop up the future Social Security benefits of the Baby Boomers by replacing the money that WOULD have been paid in by the children the Boomers never had due to abortion and contraception, which brings us full circle to the “other” sins of Sodom yet again…

    And that is one reason why, I believe, the federal government hasn’t been in too big a hurry to implement genuine immigration reform. If they legalize everyone, then they get to start claiming Social Security, which leaves less for the Boomers. If they deport everyone, the gravy train comes to a screeching halt. Until this unpleasant fact is acknowledged, no really just solution will be pursued. I did not say the feds were justified in taking this approach, but it may explain it.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    I had a point by point response to your screed but then I realized it would be pointless.

    I’m sorry if the tone was harsh. But what you said about the poor, and divisions between wealth and poverty, is just the entirely wrong from a Christian perspective.

    this is simply not true. I stated facts which are true and a point of view that is in line with the Church… if you believe I am off then CITE something.

    I do invite you to read the social documents of the Church – Rerum Novarum, Quadragesimo Anno, and other encyclicals, as well as the Compendium. Read them carefully and intently. I’m not saying I am the master interpreter of these documents but I know what they don’t say.

    Please stop making straw-men to try and embarass your interlocuters… it shames only yourself.

    What did you think I was talking about when I said:

    Not in it’s entirety. I do consider it in the context of it’s level of magisterial authority. Frankly I much prefer to read the source documents which actually hold authority… those I have read.

    What documents do actually hold authority relative to the discussion? The compendium is just that, a compendium it holds very little magisterial authority in itself. The documents it assembles hold various degrees of authority which I consider carefully in understanding the context. Obviously I have read the social encyclicals, I’ve read the documents of the Council of Trent and Vatican II, and many of the other documents in the compendium.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    You know what, Matt? It isn’t obvious at all that you’ve read any of the social encyclicals. Why would you downplay the Compendium when you acknowledge that it is based upon documents that do have authority?

    Why don’t you cite a document that blames poverty on a supposed lack of virtue? Make sure it isn’t Calvinist before you try to pass it off as Catholic.

    You did not state a point of view that was in line with the Church. You equated the acknowledgment of the division of the world into rich and poor countries with the promotion of “class warfare”, an outright false position, and blamed poverty on the poor, something Church in 2000 years has never done in any official social document or any other document I am aware of.

    These topics are so widely covered by so many sources, and discussed at such great length in the Compendium, that the burden is not on me to cite anything, but on you to read these basic documents. You’re right. A point by point reply is pointless until you know what you’re talking about.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    You want authority? Here’s the Catechism. And this has nothing to do with your precious free market.

    VI. LOVE FOR THE POOR

    2443 God blesses those who come to the aid of the poor and rebukes those who turn away from them: “Give to him who begs from you, do not refuse him who would borrow from you”; “you received without pay, give without pay.”[231] It is by what they have done for the poor that Jesus Christ will recognize his chosen ones.[232] When “the poor have the good news preached to them,” it is the sign of Christ’s presence.[233]

    2444 “The Church’s love for the poor . . . is a part of her constant tradition.” This love is inspired by the Gospel of the Beatitudes, of the poverty of Jesus, and of his concern for the poor.[234] Love for the poor is even one of the motives for the duty of working so as to “be able to give to those in need.”[235] It extends not only to material poverty but also to the many forms of cultural and religious poverty.[236]

    2445 Love for the poor is incompatible with immoderate love of riches or their selfish use:
    Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you. Your riches have rotted and your garments are moth-eaten. 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.[237]

    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.”[238] “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/“:[239]

    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.[240]

    2447 The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities.[241] Instructing, advising, consoling, comforting are spiritual works of mercy, as are forgiving and bearing wrongs patiently. The corporal works of mercy consist especially in feeding the hungry, sheltering the homeless, clothing the naked, visiting the sick and imprisoned, and burying the dead.[242] Among all these, giving alms to the poor is one of the chief witnesses to fraternal charity: it is also a work of justice pleasing to God:[243]

    He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none and he who has food must do likewise.[244] But give for alms those things which are within; and behold, everything is clean for you.[245] If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what does it profit?[246]

    2448 “In its various forms – material deprivation, unjust oppression, physical and psychological illness and death – human misery is the obvious sign of the inherited condition of frailty and need for salvation in which man finds himself as a consequence of original sin. This misery elicited the compassion of Christ the Savior, who willingly took it upon himself and identified himself with the least of his brethren. Hence, those who are oppressed by poverty are the object of a preferential love on the part of the Church which, since her origin and in spite of the failings of many of her members, has not ceased to work for their relief, defense, and liberation through numerous works of charity which remain indispensable always and everywhere.”[247]

    2449 Beginning with the Old Testament, all kinds of juridical measures (the jubilee year of forgiveness of debts, prohibition of loans at interest and the keeping of collateral, the obligation to tithe, the daily payment of the day-laborer, the right to glean vines and fields) answer the exhortation of Deuteronomy: “For the poor will never cease out of the land; therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor in the land.’”[248] Jesus makes these words his own: “The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”[249] In so doing he does not soften the vehemence of former oracles against “buying the poor for silver and the needy for a pair of sandals . . .,” but invites us to recognize his own presence in the poor who are his brethren:[250]

    When her mother reproached her for caring for the poor and the sick at home, St. Rose of Lima said to her: “When we serve the poor and the sick, we serve Jesus. We must not fail to help our neighbors, because in them we serve Jesus.[251]

  • Elaine says:

    I am sure that even in the time of Christ, there were people whose poverty was their own fault (due to bad decisions, overspending, etc.) as well as people who were poor through no fault of their own. In fact, at least some of the Jews of Old Testament times pretty much believed that ANYTHING bad that happened to a person was their own fault, in the sense that they were being directly punished for their sins. (Isn’t that what Job’s friends argued?)

    And I’m sure there were people who tried to game the system (what little “system” there was), for example, by pretending to be blind or crippled and begging for money in the streets, as well as people who really did have no other recourse. Human nature hasn’t changed all that much. (Panhandling may be at least the third or fourth oldest profession.)

    And, of course, Christ Himself knew such people existed. Since he was God he could spot them thousands of miles away :) Yet, he still insisted on giving the poor a special place in His heart, and made no distinction between the deserving and undeserving.

    Of course self-reliance is a good thing and we should never encourage or deliberately enable anyone to sin through laziness, fraud, or manipulation. But, in the end, it helps to remember that we are all sinners and no one is ever completely “deserving” of charity in the first place. That’s why it’s called charity — we DON”T earn it.

    Also, because people are sinners and never act completely rationally or ethically as a whole, no economic system is ever going to work exactly the way it’s “supposed” to so there will always be problems to correct.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    You know what, Matt? It isn’t obvious at all that you’ve read any of the social encyclicals. Why would you downplay the Compendium when you acknowledge that it is based upon documents that do have authority?

    So you are accusing me of lying? Because I told you I read them. I downplay the compendium because it’s hard enough to discern the level of authority of a committee/bureaocratic document vs. a papal speech vs. an encyclical without them being presented as if they are equal in authority as I find the compendium does. I also believe the compendium “proof-texts” to a certain extent based on the agenda of it’s editors. I prefer to read the source documents in their entirety with a focus on the highest level of authority.

    Why don’t you cite a document that blames poverty on a supposed lack of virtue? Make sure it isn’t Calvinist before you try to pass it off as Catholic.

    You are a vile and nasty creature aren’t you? Did I blame “poverty” on lack of virtue? Why don’t you at least cite me in your response? Because it would expose your straw-man. I said that poverty in the US is LARGELY based on character flaws, why lie about my statement? The source of this statement is not a Church document but the social sciences, the Church has said we should use the social sciences to further the cause of aid to the poor, do you disagree? Are you denying that their is a MASSIVE correlation between unwed motherhood and poverty in the US? Surely even an academic such as yourself can acknowledge such as a fact.

    People and Families With Alternative Definitions of Income Below Poverty: 2006

    Family Status % below poverty
    In families 10.8
    Householder 10.2
    Related children under 18 16.5
    Related children under 6 19.6
    In unrelated subfamilies 41.3
    Reference person 40.7
    Children under 18 44.2
    Unrelated individual 18.0
    Male 15.6
    Female 20.4

    So you see, there is a definite correlation between poverty and single-parent families. More detailed analysis reveals that the correlation is even higher among never married female single-parents than all single-parents. Do you deny this?

    So what’s the solution? Throwing more “entitlements” at women who chose to have children out of wedlock? Or, do we proved MORAL education and leadership to restore the traditional values that ensure children are not in poverty?

    If poverty is not a big enough reason to restore traditional values? Look at the rate of child abuse/neglect among single-parent and families where the male is not the biological parent… it is even more stunning.

    You want authority? Here’s the Catechism. And this has nothing to do with your precious free market.

    Where does it say that we should not discern the true nature of the problem in any given circumstance and render the type of aid that is most needed? Nothing I said contradicts this. I made clear distinctions between the poor here and the poor in most other places, are you unabe to make that distinction? How is it loving to refuse to acknowledge the true nature of a problem?

    This is not about lacking love for the poor, or distinguishing between deserving and undeserving… it’s about determining the BEST way to aid the poor. In the US it’s instilling morality, in most undeveloped countries it’s through establishment of basic rights and freedoms. Yes, we must give the man some fish, but it’s critical that we “teach him to fish”.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I’m vile and nasty? The liar? This is what you said, Matt:

    “those who lack the basic necessities can not reasonably blame the “rich” for denying them anything. It’s clear from every study, and pure reasoning that they lack these necessities due to character flaws (their own, their parents). The single largest factor in poverty is unwed mothers. You just can’t blame the rich for that.”

    You didn’t say “largely” in your first sentence – you said “those”, as in, “all”, unless you specify otherwise, which you didn’t. Why do I need to cite you when what you have said is plain for everyone to see in your post? And why get angry at me for assuming that you mean the things you say, and calling you out on them? You have a pretty big beam in your eye to take care of before you go poking around for the splinter in mine, friend.

    Speaking of citations, though, I told you already that I wasn’t even primarily talking about the American inner city or America at all. In fact in my original piece I made it clear I was talking about the world at large, and that we all occupy the position of “the mighty” in relation to the rest of the world. Strike two.

    Finally, who said anything against “discerning the roots of the problem”? Do that to your hearts content. The Church widely acknowledges the breakdown of the family as a contributing factor to poverty. But it has yet to state the problems in the accusatory terms you did. The number one, overriding duty is to love and care for the poor regardless of how they got there. That doesn’t mean they are off the hook with respect to sinful lifestyles, but it means that those lifestyles have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are entitled to the same rights as citizens and workers as the rest of us.

    In other words, the chief cause of poverty and injustice in the eyes of the Church on a global scale is the denial of the human rights of working people.

    All of that said, we’ve been reminded to keep this civil. And the sad and sorry truth is that neither of us are proposing anything here that is mutually exclusive, that must be chosen at the expense of the other. Let’s keep that in mind as well.

    I ask for your forgiveness for any offense I caused, and I’ll forgive in turn, as Christians should. And let’s both try to be cool in the future.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe Hargrave,

    This is what you said, Matt:

    What I said was:

    In free market economies(well, there really is none, but the US is at least marginally so) there is opportunity for all to be comfortable if not wealthy. Aside from those who suffer from serious real disabilities (who we must aid through charity primarily), those who lack the basic necessities can not reasonably blame the “rich” for denying them anything. It’s clear from every study, and pure reasoning that they lack these necessities due to character flaws (their own, their parents). The single largest factor in poverty is unwed mothers. You just can’t blame the rich for that.

    I’ve highlighted a couple of parts that are critical. When I talk about character flaws, I explicitly excluded those with real disabilities, I also did not state, nor do I intend to state that those character flaws are necessarily of the individual who finds himself in poverty, but in many cases due to the flaws of their parents in failing to instill in them a proper work ethic.

    I would like to modify my original point, to exclude those who find themselves very briefly below the poverty levels due to job loss etc, but quickly resolve the situation through hard work, they are to be commended. The people I’m most concerned about here are those who live their lives in poverty and yet are of sound mind and body.

    Who do you propose is in the USA is lacking the basic necessities for an extended period of time, through no fault of their own or their parents, who is not actually disabled?

    Speaking of citations, though, I told you already that I wasn’t even primarily talking about the American inner city or America at all. In fact in my original piece I made it clear I was talking about the world at large, and that we all occupy the position of “the mighty” in relation to the rest of the world. Strike two.

    If you weren’t talking about the poor in America, then why did you attack my statement? It was important for me to address poverty in America because it’s an important lesson to the world full of people who are poor by no fault of their own, I’m using America (such as it is) as an example for the world.

    Finally, who said anything against “discerning the roots of the problem”? Do that to your hearts content. The Church widely acknowledges the breakdown of the family as a contributing factor to poverty. But it has yet to state the problems in the accusatory terms you did.

    My terms are not “accusatory”, if you’d refer back to them you’d see that I do not accuse anyone of anything, but suggest that their poverty is related to character flaws (their own, or others), thus the solution to the problem lies with resolving the character flaws, and that it is not the fault of the “rich”…. again, to avoid another “misunderstanding” this is referring exclusively to the US situation. We really could extend this to most of the worldwide poverty because it is ussually the fault of someone’s character flaws (despots mostly, but also others).

    The number one, overriding duty is to love and care for the poor regardless of how they got there.

    It is critical to helping them and helping others to avoid the situation to acknowledge how they got there, I guess I’m just trying to teach them to fish, you’re focussing on feeding them fish… I guess we need both.

    That doesn’t mean they are off the hook with respect to sinful lifestyles, but it means that those lifestyles have absolutely no bearing whatsoever on whether or not they are entitled to the same rights as citizens and workers as the rest of us.

    Absolutely. Nothing I’ve said contradicts this.

    In other words, the chief cause of poverty and injustice in the eyes of the Church on a global scale is the denial of the human rights of working people.

    I’m not sure the Church would state it that way, the chief cause of poverty on a global scalse is indeed injustice. Nations with very little injustice have very little poverty. That is precisely my point. If natural rights are protected for ALL people, then very little poverty will occur. I will caution that you can’t parse out “working people” rights from “rich people” rights and be considered just, or be successful in alleviating poverty. Every place where the former has been allowed to trample the latter has been DISASTROUS for the “working” people, and almost always for the “rich people” (although they can often escape, the poor just stay where they are).

    It is also important to note that the principle deniers of human rights are despotic governments. Even democratically elected governments can be despotic, Chavez being a key example, and, if we continue down the road we’re on…. Obama.

    I ask for your forgiveness for any offense I caused, and I’ll forgive in turn, as Christians should. And let’s both try to be cool in the future.

    ditto.

    In light of your closing, I’ve “censored” my post to exclude any response that I felt could be deemed unkind, in so doing I have left some of your “items” unanswered, let’s leave it at that.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt,

    I’m glad we’re cool, so I’ll just address, civilly, the points of contention that remain.

    “The people I’m most concerned about here are those who live their lives in poverty and yet are of sound mind and body.”

    The “working poor” are a real phenomena. Perhaps the unstated and incorrect assumption in discussions such as these is that “poor” means “destitute” or “homeless” or even “unemployed”. One can be working, and in poverty at the same time. One can be working two jobs, i.e. have a fine work ethic and still be poor.

    The price of not having ambition should not be impoverishment in the sense that a person or a family lacks some of the basic necessities and human rights that they are entitled to, such as a good education, medical care, a safe workplace, etc. Moreover the price should not include a constant insecurity where one missed day of work due to a broken car or a sick child could mean sinking into actual destitution.

    A lot of people in this situation are of “sound mind and body” and it is still an injustice. So this cannot be the criteria. The “lazy” man who doesn’t want to work and asks for handouts anyway is a) not that great a portion of those who are poor and therefore b) not who I am concerned with at all. The Church is concerned for, along with the truly destitute and disabled, the struggling, working poor who live on the edge of poverty, if not yet totally immersed in it.

    Finally personal flaws or problems aside, any economy, free market, command, or somewhere in between will necessitate work that is unskilled and low-paying. So it must often be and I don’t say we can legislate that out of existence, though I think through distributism the problems would be mitigated – that is for another article. So it is just a mathematical certainty that some people are going to be poor no matter what – not everyone can be middle class or wealthy, not because of choice but because of the structure of society – someone has to do the low paid work. Because such work is both necessary for the functioning of society and completely unavoidable, those who perform are justly entitled to special care and consideration, not to mention, the benefit of the doubt with respect to their character until it is shown to be in serious fault.

    What I propose will be discussed at length in future posts here, and on Inside Catholic, and my personal website. I hope you will stay tuned. In the meantime, peruse the Chesterbelloc Mandate.

    “I guess I’m just trying to teach them to fish, you’re focussing on feeding them fish”

    Not really. Distributism is all about teaching them to fish – but also giving them a rod to do it with, instead of just teaching them and walking away.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe Hargrave,
    “The people I’m most concerned about here are those who live their lives in poverty and yet are of sound mind and body.”

    The “working poor” are a real phenomena. Perhaps the unstated and incorrect assumption in discussions such as these is that “poor” means “destitute” or “homeless” or even “unemployed”. One can be working, and in poverty at the same time. One can be working two jobs, i.e. have a fine work ethic and still be poor.

    Working poor in the US is not nearly the same as working poor elsewhere (true poverty). The answer to this is difficult, it’s related in a large part, I think, to the shift to a double-income family, if all of these wives and mothers were not in the workforce, there would be far less downward pressure on salaries caused by a glut of workers. The old model of a “living wage” was only just when most people were married and only the father’s worked. How can you now pay a man solely supporting his family the same wage as a single man or woman? So do we base a “living wage” on a 2 income model?

    The price of not having ambition should not be impoverishment in the sense that a person or a family lacks some of the basic necessities and human rights that they are entitled to,

    I agree… but we might not agree on what the basic necessities and human rights they (or anyone are) “entitled to”.

    such as a good education, medical care, a safe workplace, etc. Moreover the price should not include a constant insecurity where one missed day of work due to a broken car or a sick child could mean sinking into actual destitution.

    Of course, and I’m a huge fan of vouchers, workplace safety laws, public transportation and medical care accessible to all. And yet, people here almost never sink into destitution due to a broken car or sick child. Perhaps my definition of destitution is different than yours.

    A lot of people in this situation are of “sound mind and body” and it is still an injustice. So this cannot be the criteria.

    Actually, this isn’t true, the statistics indicate MOST families headed by married couples do not fall in this categories, the majority are broken homes, thus the source of the problem is family breakdown…. moral failure.

    The “lazy” man who doesn’t want to work and asks for handouts anyway is a) not that great a portion of those who are poor and therefore b) not who I am concerned with at all. The Church is concerned for, along with the truly destitute and disabled, the struggling, working poor who live on the edge of poverty, if not yet totally immersed in it.

    Since the “lazy” man is a sinner, the Church IS concerned for him. I’m not so sure there’s a basis for your assertion they are small portion. I believe most any able bodied person who is unemployed and destitute because of it is in this category. There is work out there, it’s dirty work, it’s hard work and nobody wants to do it, but it’s there.


    Finally personal flaws or problems aside, any economy, free market, command, or somewhere in between will necessitate work that is unskilled and low-paying. So it must often be and I don’t say we can legislate that out of existence, though I think through distributism the problems would be mitigated – that is for another article. So it is just a mathematical certainty that some people are going to be poor no matter what – not everyone can be middle class or wealthy, not because of choice but because of the structure of society – someone has to do the low paid work. Because such work is both necessary for the functioning of society and completely unavoidable, those who perform are justly entitled to special care and consideration, not to mention, the benefit of the doubt with respect to their character until it is shown to be in serious fault.

    Absolutely. I strongly believe that when society returns to traditional families, with single incomes, the job market will once again aid those working poor. There will always need to be a “safety net” for these, but it is not best provided by the government for it becomes an entitlement which eats away at a man’s dignity. Better his extended family and faith community serves this need… voluntary associations.

    What I propose will be discussed at length in future posts here, and on Inside Catholic, and my personal website. I hope you will stay tuned. In the meantime, peruse the Chesterbelloc Mandate.

    Looking forward to it.

    “I guess I’m just trying to teach them to fish, you’re focussing on feeding them fish”

    Not really. Distributism is all about teaching them to fish – but also giving them a rod to do it with, instead of just teaching them and walking away.

    sound good….better that they EARN the rod because they will be more likely to VALUE it. By the way, does distributism have anything to with government entitlements, or is it a purely voluntary association?

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    Matt,

    “I’m a huge fan of vouchers, workplace safety laws, public transportation and medical care accessible to all.”

    Government has to play some role in the economy then. I don’t want nationalized medicine but I don’t see the categorical evil in national health insurance. Maybe we don’t need more multi-million dollar cruise missiles this year?

    “And yet, people here almost never sink into destitution due to a broken car or sick child.”

    People lose their jobs, and in an economy like this it very well could mean destitution – bankruptcy, foreclosure, even homelessness. Low-wage workers are seen as replaceable because anyone can do the work, and everyone is looking for work.

    “Actually, this isn’t true, the statistics indicate MOST families headed by married couples do not fall in this categories, the majority are broken homes, thus the source of the problem is family breakdown…. moral failure.”

    Matt, what you’re saying isn’t true is that people who are poor are of sound body and mind? Really? Because even married couples fall into poverty – millions of them! They have fewer problems than single folks. And our divorce rate is over 50%, so anyone who is married could well be divorced tomorrow.

    When millions and millions of people are having the same problems, it is a “moral failure” of social dimensions. This is why I am very skeptical of blaming individuals as such. You were adamant about finding the causes of problems, but this widespread moral failure in turn has a cause. Consider what you said earlier – that women in the workplace are driving wages down. The vast majority of women, though, didn’t decide to go to work for ideological reasons like the college radical feminists did. They did so because of the conditions of the American economy, the decline of the unionized industrial sector that provided individual men with a high enough wage to support their families.

    You can’t have it both ways – union-busting and globalization on the one hand, single-worker income large enough to maintain a family on the other. America decided what its priorities were in the 80s when it turned to these things, and against the workers of America. Women HAD to enter the workforce by necessity, and this put a major strain on family life. The main reason people get divorced is money or related financial issues.

    The Church is one of the oldest supporters of the right of workers to form unions and fight for higher wages, regardless of what the “geniuses” that run the economy say the effect will be. From the 40′s through the mid 70s at least we had high corporate taxes, large unions, and working social safety net and this is when the American worker and his family thrived. But we based it mostly on secular ideas of consumerism and were obsessed with one-upping the USSR. We even put God’s holy name on the money during that time. We built our house on the sand. And we reaped the whirlwind in the 80s and down through to today.

    “Since the “lazy” man is a sinner, the Church IS concerned for him.”

    Well yes, of course in that sense – but not with respect to who is entitled to social assistance. Not even the early Christians would help a man who could work but was simply unwilling. But, with regard to this here:

    “I believe most any able bodied person who is unemployed and destitute because of it is in this category.”

    No, my friend, this just isn’t true. We will have 10% unemployment this year because the economy collapsed, not because 10% of us became lazy. Now those unemployed who are lazy are usually mooching off a family member or something. The homeless we see on the streets are often mentally ill or addicted to drugs and it is a tragedy that they are there at all. Many of the rest are just temporarily unemployed and struggling in the meantime, looking for work. The rest of the poor are usually working, and I have to stress again that I’m talking about the whole world here and not just the US. We DO have it easier here, no argument from me about it.

    “By the way, does distributism have anything to with government entitlements, or is it a purely voluntary association?”

    It could be either, in the same way a traditionally structured business or community is either helped by the government or it isn’t. I would think that all distributist communities, as I would set them up anyway, would begin as completely independent and voluntary associations of believers dedicated to helping the least of our brothers. I don’t think it would be wrong and I wouldn’t reject government assistance though. Again, the government is going to spend money on something – for every sword it beats into a plowshare, I would be grateful. And I think if anyone deserved it, it would be community specifically established to regenerate broken homes and broken people. I think of distributism as just the economic part, in other words, of a new monasticism or new mission, and so the only potential problem with state help would be ACLU freaks arguing that it violated separation of church and state or some other nonsense.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    And, when I say married folks fall into poverty, I don’t just mean “below the poverty line” – you can’t always quantify this.

    When I was living in a monogamous, serious relationship with a woman (before I came back to the Church, yes, I lived in sin and I only mention it to make a point) we were dirt poor, even with help from our parents, even with me having a post-graduate degree. We lived in a studio apartment and ate ramen noodles every day. We had no choice but to work for little better than minimum wage because I couldn’t find a job suited to my degree.

    We’re going to be married now but this time we are taking a voluntary vow of poverty, and are in the process of selling many of our possessions. So, I will grant you this: married couples are less likely to fall into destitution, I agree. They have many economic advantages over singles. But they can still be poor and struggling, even if the official statistics don’t show for it. So there is a large subjective element here to poverty.

  • Elaine says:

    Joe, gotta second you on that. I did everything “right” — saved myself for marriage at the age of 30, got a college degree with honors, and had a full-time job with a newspaper when I married my husband, a military veteran. The one distinctly non-traditional thing we did was that when our daughter was born, he became the stay at home parent, because my job was more secure and had better benefits than his. We even homeschooled her for a couple of years.

    Then — bam! — I lost that wonderful, secure job, the only other one I could take after that paid half what I was making before. No more homeschooling, and Catholic school was also out of the question due to our daughter’s special needs (i.e. they wouldn’t take her). Hubby decided he should use his military benefits to finish his college degree.

    It took him three years, and during that time, we were not “officially” poor but close enough to it to qualify for free school lunches, Earned Income Tax Credits, and the like. We had to sell our home and don’t foresee owning another one again for a while. The field I had the most experience in (newspaper journalism) is now in free-fall disintigration and I doubt very much I will ever be able to make a living at it again.

    So yes, while one is more likely to end up poor if one makes bad choices (having children out of wedlock, choosing a bad spouse whom you end up divorcing, dropping out of school, etc.) it CAN still happen even when you do all the “right” things.

  • Elaine says:

    You’ve probably heard the adage that “a (social) conservative is a liberal who’s been mugged.” I would add that “an (economic) liberal or moderate may be a conservative who’s been downsized.”

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe/Elaine,

    I’d rather not get personal in this discussion so I won’t. Your own stories while touching do not change the statistical realities that MOST poverty here is reflective of bad choices.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    “I believe most any able bodied person who is unemployed and destitute because of it is in this category.”

    I don’t care if you have a PHD or not, if the difference between your family wanting for food, clothing, or shelter is working 80 hours a week at minimum wage, you get off your butt and DO IT. That is a moral obligation. Sure, if you stick with the minimum you can get all kinds of government handouts, but is that REALLY good for you in the long run? How many of these unemployed people go down to the day labor sites and try to pick up any work they can everyday?

    You talk about the governments doling out money like they had spare cash kicking around… what they give YOU they took from someone else who worked hard to EARN IT and probably would have used the money to invest in their business or the stock market, thus creating jobs. And, as has become evident for AIG and GM… there is ALWAYS a string attached… watch what happens to Catholic hospitals who take so much of their funding from the government.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    don’t think it would be wrong and I wouldn’t reject government assistance though. Again, the government is going to spend money on something – for every sword it beats into a plowshare, I would be grateful. And I think if anyone deserved it, it would be community specifically established to regenerate broken homes and broken people.

    To the extent that the federal government can beat swords into plowshares without risking our security, they out to let the taxpayers keep it… not dole it out to new social programs.

  • Joe Hargrave says:

    I wasn’t talking about social programs though. I was talking about grants, subsidies, tax breaks, and whatever else for the establishment of new communities modeled on Catholic/distributist ideas. I guess you could call that a “social program” if you like. But really we are talking about a new way of life, or rather the regeneration of a very old one.

    Yes, I think its everyone’s social obligation and duty to contribute taxes for the common good, and I think such communities, by taking people who otherwise might be in jail or on welfare and turning them into responsible property owners and – if I have my way – faithful Catholics, serve the common good.

    That said, the primary funding probably won’t come from the state, but from banks and other lenders, individual investors, charitable donations and the like.

    Just don’t be a naysayer! There’s no reason for it.

  • Matt McDonald says:

    Joe,

    That said, the primary funding probably won’t come from the state, but from banks and other lenders, individual investors, charitable donations and the like.

    Just don’t be a naysayer! There’s no reason for it.

    I’m not at all being a naysayer, just saying we don’t need any more federal social programs. Now, if you’re funding from private sources as investments and/or donations.. that IS free market, and it’s a good thing. A Catholic view of free market is NOT “laissez-faire”, and it not Darwinist, individuals still have a grave obligation of charity.

  • Arian I. says:

    The people themselves should take responsibility for their own collective and individual well-being, instead of waiting, with hands out, for the government to give them what they want. Although the Israelites had much to eat during their enslavement in Egypt, they were still slaves. The Exodus meant freedom from that slavery and going without food for a while was one price to be paid, just like enjoying the magnificent view from atop a high peak means having to tolerate the cold and wind.

    I notice that most Americans seem to believe the US dollar will hold up forever — and that their current standard of living will be preserved. Unfortunately, the gig is up, foreign banks are anxious to convert their USD reserves into commodities like oil and gold, and sooner or later the USD will lose its value. In fact, I sometimes wonder if a crash of the USD would be a good thing. At least then the people (of America) will rethink the meaning of “getting by”. Nothing like a seismic event to rewire one’s thinking.

    Could it be that God will send upon America a time of poverty and great misery, just so we know what happens on the other side of the current economic system upon which many of us in the developed countries depend on for our daily living? At least the poverty experienced by many in the Third World will be indelibly felt and experienced by many Americans.

    So, really, although what is to come in the aftermath of the current economic crisis is nothing to shake a stick at, it boils down to people like you and me willing to do whatever is needed to provide for our loved ones, no matter how bizarre our peers may consider it to be at first.

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