7 Responses to Stealing From The Poor

  • Poverty comes in many forms. Some of us are in dire “poverty” yet are given even less by many who should know better, thus causing immense suffering.

    There is not sufficient reflection on this reality. As such, it is an occasion of grace for those afflicted………but a yolk upon those who chose to ignore how their actions, in word and deed, injure another, already almost unable to bear their cross.

    Nice post. Thanks.

  • Does the Church teach that you will be judged by your personal charitable/corporal works; that is what YOU DO with YOUR money and your time/talents?

  • Really good article.

  • “However, the investment of superfluous income in secureing favorable opportunities for employment […] is to be considered […] an act of real liberality, particularly appropriate to the needs of our time.”

    In other words, one way (though certainly not the only way) that rich people can help the poor is by starting up businesses that provide jobs for them! Score at least one for the economic conservatives 🙂

    “It will be necessary above all to abandon a mentality in which the poor – as individuals and as people – are considered a burden, as irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

    Very true; however, that raises the question of whether the growth of high-tax nanny-state liberalism hasn’t done a lot to contribute to the perception of the poor as “irksome intruders trying to consume what others have produced.”

  • Elaine, I agree about the rich starting up a business, but we have to admit that there are many other rich who start up business ventures with not a care for those being employed thereby. I am thinking, especially, of all the CEOs and vice presidents of corporations who think nothing of taking a 1Million or 3M salary, while at the same time causing the company to need to downsize to maximize profits. Truly, a real board of directors should say to such money-grubbing CEO wannabes: “You say that your requested 3M salary is the ‘going rate’ for truly qualified executives. We say that no executive who would ask for such a salary could possibly be morally qualified for the job. We’ll look elsewhere.”

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  • The mega corporations and the excessively compensated executives cannot exist without the incestuous relationship of Big Government and Big Business. Mutual funds are a trick to get people to fund corporations without having any voting rights. The wealth of all is controlled by a very few. This is a problem that must be dealt with or everyone will become a slave, begging the government/corporations for a handout and charity (caritas, love) is not something that corporations or governments can engage in.

    As for our excess wealth, this is a relative area for us to discern. What may constitute excessive wealth in sub-Saharan Africa is not the case in the USA. We have tax obligations that they do not, we have transportation costs that they do not, we have many costs that they do not have and what we have in excess has to be looked at from that perspective. Additionally, money is not wealth. Having a few dollars in money market, CD, etc. is not wealth, it is merely a temporary store of currency that is losing value faster than it can be earned or profited from. a 10,000 sq. ft. home with only two children, that could be excessive – but, a 10,000 sq.ft. home with a dozen children, maybe not.

    This article is excellent because it summarizes Church teaching and, at least to me, it seems to stress the necessity of a free market, restrained government, strong Church and men who desire to lead a life of virtue. Sadly, our culture of duo-opolies intentionally clouds our thinking about such matters. Big Government vs. Big Business, Democrats vs. Republicans, Capitalism vs. Socialism, Thesis vs. Antithesis – all are two paths to the same perdition. We need to break free of this dualistic thinking, making us think we have choices. There is really only one choice: God or man. Hard as it is sometimes, especially with vestiges of ideology trapping my thinking, your’s too I suspect, we need to be more Catholic – we are so far short of the mark following years and years of minimalism.

    It is time for Maximum Catholicity and this article appears to summarize exactly that sentiment. Thanks for the reminder. Can you do it again tomorrow? 🙂

Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

Sunday, May 9, AD 2010

The “means of production” (which may be defined, roughly, as consisting of capital goods minus human and financial capital), is a central concept in Marxism, as well as in other ideologies such as Distributism. The problems of capitalism, according to both Marxists and Distributists, arise from the fact that ownership of the means of production is concentrated in the hands of the few. Marxists propose to remedy these problems by having the means of production be collectively owned. Distributists want to retain private ownership, but to break the means of production up (where practicable) into smaller parts so that everyone will have a piece (if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it).

Where a society’s economy is based primarily on agriculture or manufacture, thinking in terms of the means of production makes some sense. In an agricultural economy wealth is based primarily on ownership of land, and in a manufacturing economy ownership of things like factories and machinery plays an analogous role. In a modern service-based economy, by contrast, wealth is based largely on human capital (the possession of knowledge and skills). As Pope John Paul II notes in Centesimus Annus, “[i]n our time, in particular, there exists another form of ownership which is becoming no less important than land: the possession of know-how, technology and skill. The wealth of the industrialized nations is based much more on this kind of ownership than on natural resources.”

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0 Responses to Is the Means of Production an Obsolete Idea?

  • As long as people combine to form economic enterprises that can be quantified in terms of share ownership, discussions of the “means of production” will continue to have relevance.

    I’ll also add that Distributism, and Catholic social teaching in general, does not merely apply to America or other developed economies – though both still engage in agriculture and industry.

    “if you wanted to describe the difference between the Marxist and Distributist solutions here, it would be that Distributists want everyone to own part of the means of production, whereas Marxists want everyone to be part owner of all of it”

    Some Marxists. Others advocate total nationalization of the means of production, in which the state owns all of it. Though technically, I suppose, the theory is that a “workers state”, by representing the working class, owns and distributes revenues on behalf of the working class, and by that logic they may say that “the workers own the means of production.”

    In reality, the people who argued for actual, direct worker ownership of the means of production in Russia, the “Workers Opposition”, were suppressed by the Bolsheviks.

  • As long as people combine to form economic enterprises that can be quantified in terms of share ownership, discussions of the “means of production” will continue to have relevance.

    A law firm might have share ownership, but I’m not sure how useful the means of production would be in analyzing it.

  • Btw, you make a good point that much of the world hasn’t yet moved to a service based economy.

  • I’m not so sure it is an obsolete idea, although I am neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I have a particular set of skills and knowledge that makes me useful to an insurance company. That knowledge and skill cannot be put to use except within a corporate environment. I could potentially quit and hang out a shingle and try to obtain consulting work, but there is no market for it. It is impossible for most individuals to be able to capitalize an insurance company, and it is also not desireable that this be done due to the risk of policyholders would face that the company would collapse and their claims go unpaid.

    In a certain sense, the modern corporation is in itself the means of production in a modern service economy. It brings efficiencies through organization, time management, concentration of money, and market share that cannot be matched on an individual or small business level. Small businesses have to find small niches in which to compete. In effect, we have migrated from “things” to organizations in a service economy. I’m not saying it’s better or worse, it’s just the way things are.

    Now, there are niches in which small businesses can thrive, which larger organizations will fail in. It is crucial that individuals be allowed the freedom to pursue happiness and livelihoods in the manner of their choice, whether in a modern corporation or in a self-owned business. This is why I’m neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I don’t want the government to try to force a particular “ideal” on everyone, as this is not conducive to human happiness. Government should simply step in when people’s liberty is being infringed upon.

  • “This is why I’m neither a Marxist nor a Distributist. I don’t want the government to try to force a particular “ideal” on everyone, as this is not conducive to human happiness.”

    Doug,

    Distributism is not about the government “forc[ing] a particular “ideal” on everyone.”

    Anyone can argue that any idea ought to be forced upon everyone. This isn’t exclusive to Distributism or Marxism.

    On the other hand, anyone can argue that individuals ought to embrace an idea freely because it is good. And this is one way to approach Distributism, and it is how I approach it.

    The role the government plays is a variable, not a fixed measure. It can be a little or a lot. It could even be none at all.

    If you want to learn more about Distributism from my point of view, I invite you to read this:

    http://joeahargrave.wordpress.com/2010/05/07/the-distributist-manifesto/

  • Doug,

    I think your example of the insurance company is more an issue of financial capital than of the means of production as such.

  • Yes! I think this is certainly true of intellectual workers, who are persons who are not interchangable and are themselves assets to the company.

    As you suggest, the idea of “the means of production” is not totally obsolete but is of less analytical value in modern industrial economies.

  • Even though I work for a company which is, in a sense, a manufacturer (of consumer electronics and IT infrastructure) it strikes me that in many ways most large modern corporations run more on organizational capital, information, financial and brand equity than on actually owning “means of production”.

    Thus, while many of us who work there would have a hard time making as much without working for some sort of large company, it’s also the case that employees are not interchangeable for the employer. With fairly specialized human capital, the employer doesn’t exercise nearly as much power as an 1880s era landholder or a turn of the century factory owner. (As demonstrated by the dramatic increase in wages.)

    I certainly think there’s been some sort of major shift in what the “means of production” are, and that this shift has implications for the economy and society, but I’ve got the feeling it’s a bit more complicated than simply “now human capital is the means of production.”

    Interesting train of thought…

  • The distributists never thought highly of intellectual property rights. Much of the modern economy is a discussion of IP rents. A cursory search on my part suggests Marx wasn’t all that cool with IP rights. While human capital could merely mean the training of works, it has tended to be code for IP.

    human capital cannot be easily alienated from the individual, either to another individual or to the collective as a whole.

    The movie and music industries would be counterexamples.

  • The movie and music industries would be counterexamples.

    I’m not sure I’m following your point — could you expand?

  • It is not unusual for a band that has gone on tour to owe the recording company money for doing the tour, leaving them no net. In the odd universe of music, performers sign away all their rights and the music companies give them permission to perform their works. This is most apparent if you read the complaint lists of American Idol winners. Likewise in the movie industry, a large portion of the gross does not go towards the actors. The amount that goes to the actors is actually quite insignificant once the headliners’s earnings are taken out of consideration.

    Of course this is in the end an argument of what is actually property. And despite BA’s protestations, worker ability and knowledge has been folded into working capital and been considered a part of it for a long time.

  • In the odd universe of music, performers sign away all their rights and the music companies give them permission to perform their works. This is most apparent if you read the complaint lists of American Idol winners.

    That does certainly suggest an odd state of affairs, though it sounds to me more like a case of people signing a contract based on an expectation of larger ticket sales than actually materialized. Or at least, it’s hard to imagine why it would be a standard business practice that people sign up to work for free.

    Though with American Idol winners, perhaps the key is that most of the skill leading to revenues is actually on the part of the marketers, producers, promoters, etc., while the “talent” is interchangeable.

    Likewise in the movie industry, a large portion of the gross does not go towards the actors. The amount that goes to the actors is actually quite insignificant once the headliners’s earnings are taken out of consideration.

    Isn’t that assuming that the only skilled “workers” involved in producing a movie are the actors? They are in fact a minority of those who work in a movie crew, and at a supply and demand level there are an incredible number of people eager to take minor film roles in hope of being “discovered”, or just for the fun of it.

    If anything, I would imagine that movies and music would be a good example of how technology has leveled things in the last 10-20 years, as independent musicians and independent film makers have become increasingly successful at working outside the studio system.

  • Joe, thanks for the link. It was informative.

  • An interesting article. Have you considered the possibility that the important thing now is that the government is trying to control the means of *re*production?

Exclusive Sneak Peek of Caritas in Veritate

Wednesday, July 1, AD 2009

Caritas in Veritate

[Updates at the bottom of this posting.]

The much anticipated new encyclical that Pope Benedict XVI recently signed, his third, on June 29th titled Caritas in Veritate, or Charity in Truth, will be released soon by Ignatius Press (the English version) on July  6th or 7th of 2009 A.D.  In searching for information regarding this encyclical I found bits and pieces here and there but nothing exhaustive or concise that came close to satisfying my curiosity.  So I’ve gathered all of my information and have presented it the best way possible in this posting.  With tongue in cheek I labeled this preview of Caritas in Veritate as an ‘Exclusive Sneak Peek’*.

Caritas in Veritate will be a social encyclical examining some of the social changes that have occurred since Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Populorum Progressio, particularly globalization.  The encyclical will have Pope Benedict XVI articulating the need to bolster humanism that brings together the social and economic development of humans and to reduce the disproportionate gap between poor and rich.  One other major theme of this encyclical will be that of global justice.

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8 Responses to Exclusive Sneak Peek of Caritas in Veritate

Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

Monday, June 29, AD 2009

I am going to provide everyone with a nice blast from the past- everyone I know respects Pope John Paul II- most orthodox Catholics refer to him as John Paul the Great. So I think what he thought officially as Pope on the question of Capital/Labor/State as part of the tradition deriving from Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum- is incredibly interesting and relevant. Here is Chapter One of Centesimus Annus with no personal commentary- let the “man” speak without any interference from me:

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7 Responses to Pope John Paul II Comments on Rerum Novarum

  • The very existence of Rerum Novarum puts to shame the thesis that industrial capitalism, all on its own, either did or would have addressed the problem of poverty.

    I have seen this argument, from Tom Woods Jr., Robert Novak, especially when they critique Distributism, that critiques of capitalism are entirely baseless. They take it as an unquestioned article of faith that any life under industrial capitalism is better than any life in a non industrial capitalist society, that prior to capitalism only one word could sum up the human condition: poverty, and perhaps another: oppression.

    In this particular case criticisms of modern conservatism as nothing but the guardian of Enlightenment liberalism ring true. To make this argument, one has to essentially say at the same time that Rerum Novarum was unnecessary, that workers movements in general were unnecessary. It is the same logic that the neo-Confederates make: slavery would have been abolished on its own, so there was no need for a civil war. Capitalism would have cleaned up its act, so there was no need for a labor movement, government intervention, or the moral condemnation of the excesses of the system by the Popes.

    The problem is that neither of these claims is substantiated by the historical record. They are made with a sort of “faith” in what could have been. Here and there you have a General Lee or a Teddy Roosevelt who argue against the worst aspects of the system, and this is dubiously stretched out as an argument that the system would have reformed itself without any outside interventions.

    Counter-factuals aside, the reality is that the Papacy believed that the problems of industrial capitalism were not “self corrective”, that the workers had every right to organize and make economic and political demands, and that the duties of businessmen were not just to meet the economic demands made by consumers but the moral demands made by society and those who worked for them. Time and time again the Popes implored Catholics and society at large to find ways to increase the share of ownership of the workers in businesses.

    So, we can all thank capitalism for technical progress. Even Marxists do that. But moral progress was the domain of thinkers and activists well outside the capitalist class, people who did not share its goals, and often opposed them in certain respects. It is easy to take for granted the rights of workers today but a read through of Rerum Novarum shows us that they were in some question 120 years ago. In many places, they are in question even today.

    In the 21st century I hope we can move beyond the words “capitalism” and “socialism”. They are outdated and useless. The kind of economy I want to see is one in which there are still markets, but in which wealth and decision making power are not excessively concentrated, which is unambiguously subordinated to a moral hierarchy of values oriented towards the common good, and generally accountable to the direct will of the people (the eventual pressure of market forces is not and never will be enough).

  • Does Modern Conservatism actually make all those arguments.

    I mean Does modern Conservatism and I am talking the mainstream actually want to abolish Unions? I mean they talk about the problems with Unions and their excesses and are against things like Card Check but I rarely here modern Conservatism wishing to abolish Unions.

    GOvernemnt Intervention? I don’t here modern Conservatism want to abolish in the Food and Drug administration and the testing of meat? Besides for some tweeking I don’t here many modern conservatives want to abolish all child labor laws. Most Conservatives think having common sense Govt regualtion is a good thing.

    I often think that Modern Conservatism or Movement Conservatism is being confused with some Libertarian economic viewpoint.

    It is true that the modern conservatives think Govt is better if its lesser but I would contend that those conservatives that want no Govt intervention is very very small

  • JH,

    The problem is that both sides are reactionary. Conservatives may be fine with some government intervention but set against liberals who want more, they end up sounding as if they want none.

    It is hard to avoid this. I can’t always avoid it myself on issues important to me. But we must always try.

  • Joe I think you have a point. I think the problem is the internet draws lets say the extremes. I am on several boards I meet people that call themselves Conservatives and ranting about how the GOP is not really conservative. Of course when you examine their post they are far beyond conservative and rant about getting the Govt out of public education and almost toeing the Club for Growth line

    They are are same folks that call McCain a “liberal”. Or as we saw incrdibily go on a huge campaign against Huckabee and call him a Christian Socialist. Yet despite the internet astroturfing, the massive emails sent to everyone it turns out the average GOP and conservative voter liked Huckabee and McCain despite the gnashing of teeth from groups that have their monetary self interest in organziations direct mail and caging companies

  • I read the excerpt from RN almost with dread; I feared perhaps I would be reading something which, startlingly, would shake my confidence in my conservative outlook on the role of government. Much to my surprise, that didn’t happen!

    I think you absolutely *destroyed* the straw man set up in the firat comment: those rascally Conservatives would have to Repudiate The Pope Himself in order to deny the obvious truths set forth in RN! And JPG only echoed and reinforced RN, spo there!

    The problem I see with that statement is this: there are few, if any, conservatives who advocate totally unregulated economic activity. You see…being *against* the federal government taking a controlling interest in GM, for example, does NOT equal being *in favor* of eliminating unions, child labor laws, and OSHA.

    There is a proper role of government (which, in my view, involves the use of force against malefactors inside and outside of the country, and facilitating commerce among its people, to include appropriate regulation of said commerce). The problem many conservatives have with Governmentalists (to coin a phrase) is that the Governmentalist looks to Government and the solution to ALL ills. And it just doesn’t work!

    JPG’s and Pius XI’s calls in their writings are for *appropriate* government intervention, in those areas suited to government intervention.this paragraph grabbed me in particular:

    “This should not however lead us to think that Pope Leo expected the State to solve every social problem. On the contrary, he frequently insists on necessary limits to the State’s intervention and on its instrumental character, inasmuch as the individual, the family and society are prior to the State, and inasmuch as the State exists in order to protect their rights and not stifle them.37”

    This is ther precise concern of the conservative: thatGovernment *never seems to know its legitimate limits*. Consequently, the potential *harm* from *too much* government intervention (all together now: “stimulus bill, GM takeover, Cap-and-Trade, Hah!). Government that *thinks* it knows better than the free market usually ends up trampling its people under the weight of bureaucratic poppycock.

    The government can lay the groundwork for a just functioning society; it cannot (and *should* not!) be in the business of trying to redistribute wealth! It will fail. Miserably! And all the while, we will create a set of conditions that stifle innovation (say, Soviet Union) and allow people to settle for far far less than that of which they would otherwise achieve for themselves and their companies.

  • Here’s the thing.

    I am not setting up strawmen. I understand full well that there ARE conservatives who DON’T oppose government regulations and interventions. You know how I know? I consider myself one. At the least I would call myself a social conservative.

    Pointing out that there ARE ALSO people who DO make these arguments, however, is not making a strawman. I am differentiating between different kinds of conservative. Tim and I and others have heard enough talk radio and engaged in enough discussions to know that there are plenty of conservatives and even Catholics out there who do hold extreme anti-government, anti-regulatory views.

    I cited Novak and Woods because they specifically seek to absolve early capitalism of practically any and all wrongdoing – not only that, they seek to give it the sole credit for whatever prosperity we enjoy today. You WOULD have to repudiate Rerum Novarum to hold onto THAT argument.

  • Right Joe- I base my own reaction to “liberals” and “conservatives” on the way the politicians/media figures/and some real average folks I know, and in fact ran into quite often when I ran for public office- they just don’t talk about issues like the popes- they don’t talk about common good, they talk about freedom from taxes (rarely pointing out that taxes are not all bad or even a good thing- the impression they give directly or indirectly is that tax = theft by government, or they talk about freedom to choose- choose what- well for liberals it’s ususally about abortion or gay marriage- not all but many-

    Again it isn’t everyone who claims the title liberal or conservative, but it seems that the politicians running for office and the media talking heads and the many very outspoken citizens at meetings- they are the ones who speak out very forcefully and polemically, and they don’t sound to me like the social doctrine and popes to my ear- I try to use the language of morality and balance- it’s hard- I’m not the Magisterium- but I definitely try to base my argumentation and beliefs on my studies of the official teachings and documents, along with my life experiences and intuitions- and I find it difficult to see how one would embrace any ideology too narrowly- be it liberal, conservative, whatever- I do believe it necessary to be part of a political party- but we should be very critical members of such, because no party really is based upon our Catholic social doctrine, and as such is clearly deficient- either in theory or practice. When asked if one is liberal or conservative, I think it is better just to say I’m Catholic- straight-up- that’s my goal anyway