Leo’s 1891 letter “On Capital and Labor” is worth mentioning half-way through this crazy week when a dinner at the White House is snubbed, when a Non-Republican-Republican is elected senator from Alaska and Sarah Palin has a reality show debut (I wonder if she will quit half way through the filming). The folks who elected the new House members were not voting against Obama, they were voting their fears. And being fearful is not a great place to make decisions that will impact this country. I am talking about the economy and jobs and the need for laws that will work for the middle class and are rooted on the foundation of social justice. Lazy commentators lump social justice with Marxism and call it “hi-jacked” from Christianity and really not mentioned in the documents from our founding fathers. (I guess the bill of rights has little or nothing to do with social justice) Anything with the word “social” in it is Marxist. Obviously if your neighborhood and/or place of worship would dare to hold an “ice cream social” you could be participating in an un-American activity destined to bring down freedoms. This letter from Leo was a response to the deficiencies of Marxism-collective ownership; the plight of workers, specially kids and addressed specifically the inherent dignity of workers to obtain work. He raised the level of work itself as part of human dignity. He also stated that workers were entitled to a “just wage” and free to organize by joining “associations.” The idea of a just wage was the floor below which the poor ought not fall. The letter emphasized the duties of workers (no violence, respect property) and the duties of employers (safe workplace). The ripple effect of this document is still prevalent today. The people get it. The politicians and the board members sadly do not.
Under Economic Justice of Catholic social teaching it becomes very clear, and as Americans we need to have a reasonable respectful discussion about these points namely:
- The economy must serve people, not the other way around. People are more important than things; labor is more important than capital.
- All workers have a right to productive work, to decent wages, to safe working conditions; and they have a right to organize and join unions.
- People have a right to economic initiative and private property, but these rights have limits. No one is allowed to amass excessive wealth when others lack the basic necessities of life. (Sounds a little like Pedro Arrupe’s speech “Men for Others” in ’73)
With all the discussion about outsourcing and profits over people, maybe this is a good time to step back and really evaluate the notion that a “free market” does not automatically produce justice. One would be hard pressed to deny that we are a socialist/capitalistic country. That being said then let’s just acknowledge it and move forward.
and so it goes…