The ‘Right’ to Happiness

An amusing citation from Margaret Thatcher reads: “The problem with socialism is that you eventually run out of other people’s money.” The socialists, however, were not the only ones who would run out of other people’s money. Democracies are quite capable of duplicating this feat.
The question is this: What entitles us to acquire other people’s money in the first place? Do other people have any money that is not ours if we “need” it? Taxation, with or without representation, is about this issue. Who decides what we need? Who gets what is taken from us? On what grounds do they deserve it?
C. S. Lewis said that no one has a right to happiness. Our Declaration only says that we have a right to pursue it. Whether we attain it is not something that falls under the perplexing language of “rights.” If someone else guarantees my right to be happy, what am I? Surely not a human being, whose happiness, as Aristotle said, includes his own activity, not someone else’s.
In a world of rights, no one can give anything to anybody else. Everything is owed to me if I do not already have it. If I am not happy, I am a victim of someone else’s negligence. A “rights society” is litigious. If I am unhappy, it has nothing to do with me; my unhappiness is caused by someone else who has violated my rights.
Unhappy people witness the violation of their rights by someone else; their unhappiness does not involve them. Their mode is not, “What can I do for others?” but, “What must they do for me to make me happy?”
In his Ethics, Aristotle remarked that, if happiness were a gift of the gods, surely they would give it to us. No Christian can read such a line without pause. Is not the whole essence of our faith that we have no “right” either to existence itself or to a happy existence? Some things must first be given to us, no doubt — including our very selves, which we do not cause.
Indeed, the whole essence of revelation is that we do not have a right to the eternal life that God has promised to us. We cannot achieve it by ourselves, because it is not a product of our own making or thinking. God does not violate our “rights” by not giving us either existence or happiness; creation is not an act of justice.
The doctrine of grace opposes the notion that we have a right to happiness. It is not even something that we deserve or can work for. At first sight, this primacy of gift and grace seems to lessen our dignity, which surely ought to include some input on our part.
Christianity says that indeed this “givenness” is the case. We are given what we have no right to receive. This givenness should make us like the Giver, should incite us to something more than our own “rights.” Happiness evidently lies beyond rights. We can only speak of a “right” to happiness with many distinctions.
What was the point of Margaret Thatcher’s quip about running out of someone else’s money? Some do demand someone else’s money. From whence does this demand arise? From those who claim that they have a right to happiness. If they do not have what others have, it is a sign, not of one’s own failure to embrace the habits and ways to produce what is needed, but of someone unjustly having what I think I need. Thus, I do not have to earn what I need. The mere fact that I do not have it is enough to suggest that someone else is preventing me from enjoying my “right” to be happy.
Much of the world is filled with what I call “gapism.” The so-called gap between the rich and poor, the haves and the have-nots, is a sign, not of the natural order in which some know more and work more, but of a dire conspiracy to deprive me of what is my right. So the purpose of “rights” is to correct the world’s “wrongs.” A divine mission flashes in the eyes of those who would presume to make us happy by giving us our “rights.” People lacking the “right” justify the takers.
So we do not have a right to be happy. The assumption that we do lies behind the utopian turmoil of our times. The attempt to guarantee our right to be happy invariably leads to economic bankruptcy and societal coercion. By misunderstanding happiness and its gift-response condition, we impose on the political order a mission it cannot fulfill. We undermine that limited temporal happiness we might achieve if we are virtuous, prudent, and sensible in this finite world.

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J.

By

Rev. James V. Schall, S.J., taught political science at Georgetown University for many years. His recent books include The Mind That Is Catholic from Catholic University of America Press; Remembering Belloc from St. Augustine Press; and Reasonable Pleasures from Ignatius Press. His newest books are A Line Through the Human Heart: On Sinning and Being Forgiven (2016) and the forthcoming On the Principles of Taxing Beer and Other Brief Philosophical Essays (2017). His most recent book is Catholicism and Intelligence (Emmaus Road, 2017).

  • Ben

    on this blog who does not have recourse to C.S. Lewis to make his or her point? I really despair for our future if C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien are our “go to” guys.

  • Joe H

    What entitles us to other people’s money?

    I question the premise. That “money” – that wealth – was made possible by society, by the infrastructure paid for out of previous taxes and by the labor of millions of citizens. At the very least it means that those who own it are in fact entrusted with it by society and have a moral obligation to use it in the best interests of society – according to the social teaching of our Church. See paragraphs 328&329 of the Compendium, under the unambiguous heading “Wealth Exists to be Shared”.

    You invoked Aristotle. Aristotle also warned, repeatedly about the dangers of social polarization. The stability of society was always a higher priority to him than the right to personal wealth accumulation. Not only do such imbalances allow the wealthy to buy and corrupt the political process, but it creates the conditions for civil strife. In book four of the Politics, he writes,

    “Now in all states there are three elements: one class is very rich, another very poor, and a third in a mean. It is admitted that moderation and the mean are best, and therefore it will clearly be best to possess the gifts of fortune in moderation; for in that condition of life men are most ready to follow rational principle. But he who greatly excels in beauty, strength, birth, or wealth, or on the other hand who is very poor, or very weak, or very much disgraced, finds it difficult to follow rational principle. Of these two the one sort grow into violent and great criminals, the others into rogues and petty rascals.”

    No, we do not have an inherent right to be happy. But we do have inherent dignity, and there are natural rights that follow from that in modern society. They have been clearly outlined by the Church and the redistribution of the wealth of society has been sanctioned to achieve them. Paragraph 301 of the Compendium lists them:

    “the right to a just wage”

    “the right to rest”

    “the right

  • Ender

    those who own it {money} are in fact entrusted with it by society and have a moral obligation to use it in the best interests of society

    This is a complete rejection of the fact that wealth is created by individuals and that the worker has a right to the fruits of his labor.

    {Natural rights} have been clearly outlined by the Church and the redistribution of the wealth of society has been sanctioned to achieve them.

    Swell. First we reject the concept of private ownership and then claim that, anyway, the Church sanctions the seizing of Peter’s assets to satisfy the demands of multiple Pauls. Here we go …

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the voters discover that they can vote themselves largesse from the public treasury. From that moment on, the majority always votes for the candidates promising the most benefits from the public treasury with the result that a democracy always collapses over loose fiscal policy …”

  • Joe H

    Ender,

    I hope you’ll remain open to the possibility that you’ve slightly misunderstood me, and give me a chance to explain.

    “This is a complete rejection of the fact that wealth is created by individuals and that the worker has a right to the fruits of his labor.”

    You can only draw this conclusion by taking me out of context. First of all, I mentioned the role of labor in creating wealth. Workers are indeed entitled to the fruits of their labor. They are entitled to much more, as the list of rights I quoted from the Compendium makes quite clear.

    Clearly we are talking about people with enough money to use it as capital – to employ it in the production of goods and services, and therefore not the average worker. The Church makes absolutely clear that there is a universal destination of goods and that “wealth exists to be shared”.

    You have a strict right to what your labor creates, but you also have a moral obligation to use your wealth in the service of society, towards the common good and in accordance with the Catholic hierarchy of values. If you doubt me, read the paragraphs of the Compendium I referenced.

    As for redistribution, paragraph 303 of the Compendium states,

    “The economic well-being of a country is not measured exclusively by the quantity of goods it produces but also by taking into account the manner in which they are produced and the level of equity in the distribution of income, which should allow everyone access to what is necessary for their personal development and perfection. An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.”

    Beyond the objective value of the work rendered – to the Church this means, obviously, beyond the wage set by market forces. The human dignity of the subjects who perform that work cannot be measured in dollars.

    We can of course debate what a “suitable social policy for the redistribution of income” consists of. From this general statement it does not follow that government must provide everyone with everything. What it means is that there is a baseline, a minimum with which people must be provided. Our secular Bill of Rights mandates that we have access to legal counsel. Because we have the right to a fair trial the state must pay for lawyers, for judges, for the legal system in general. The Catholic statement of workers rights demands no less.

    Beyond that, I am for distributism, which means that more workers actually can and do directly reap what they sow as laborers. I am for a greater distribution of private property, for its use in common among people of good will, and in doing so the need for the state to do anything at all would shrink to a minimum.

  • Jack

    and I am happy to be right.

  • tmmms

    The problem with rights is that by their very definition, when a right is fullfilled, there is no gratitude. Why would someone be grateful for something that is theirs anyhow, and without gratitude there is no happiness.

    I my mind, the only way for society to mature is for individuals to gain wealth, turn to God in a spirit of gratitude and love, then give most of their wealth away freely without coercion and most importantly, the needy recieve the wealth in a spirit of gratitude. This fullfillment of needs and the spirit of gratitude then helps the needy pull themselves out of their condition. Once the needy have surplus, the cycle begins again.

  • nobody

    Wrong on all levels.

    Even if we had a “Catholic” constitution a “right” is NOT synonymous with the words absolute or guarantee. And there is certainly no absolute guarantee to

  • nobody
  • Joe H

    Oh nobody,

    If you are the same “nobody” I used to argue with before, lets keep it cool and civil this time.

    You’re certainly entitled to think I am wrong. My question to you is, do you want me to see my alleged error and correct it in the light of Catholic teaching? If so, I kindly and respectfully ask that you quote the thing I wrote, specifically, and address why it is wrong. Otherwise I will never know how I am in error, and surely you don’t want that. I put fidelity to Catholic teaching first, and personal ideological preferences second.

    You mention paragraph 2425 of the CCC. I have that paragraph on my website, on the front page, for a reason. Yes, the Church condemns atheistic and totalitarian ideologies called “socialism” and “communism”. It’s a good thing I don’t advocate those, then, isn’t it?

    That same paragraph also reads:

    “She has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor. Regulating the economy solely by centralized planning perverts the basis of social bonds; regulating it solely by the law of the marketplace fails social justice, for “there are many human needs which cannot be satisfied by the market.” Reasonable regulation of the marketplace and economic initiatives, in keeping with a just hierarchy of values and a view to the common good, is to be commended.”

    The whole paragraph is rather interesting, isn’t it? I see the phrases “reasonable regulation”, “hierarchy of values”, “common good” – the Church doesn’t reject any of these things. But it seems to me that anyone who rejects the domination of human labor by the market and individualism, who argues for regulation and a just wage, is immediately condemned as a “socialist”.

    Does the Church have it all wrong?

    You have an interesting understanding of the word “right”. You say,

    “Even if we had a “Catholic” constitution a “right” is NOT synonymous with the words absolute or guarantee. And there is certainly no absolute guarantee to

  • Kamilla

    Ben,

    What’s wrong with Tolkien? He is one of yours, after all. Would you prefer Chesterton?

    Lousy Anglican that I am, I can still be proud that CSL was one of “us”.

    Kamilla

  • Ender

    You protest that I have taken your comments out of context and explain that you are not after the wealth of the workers but only of the wealthy. It seems from my perspective that the wealthy usually get that way by working not just smarter than the rest of us but harder as well. The idea that once someone has “enough” wealth the public has a legitimate claim on it is a perspective I reject.

    If you believe as you claim that there is a universal destination for goods and that “wealth exists to be shared” then you cannot also claim to believe that the American worker has a moral right to the wealth he has created. Compared to much of the rest of the world the average American is wealthy almost beyond imagining. If you grant our government the moral authority to take from wealthy Americans to give to average Americans you also grant that there is a moral imperative to take from the (relatively wealthy) average American and give his property to the poor of the world. If you argue for the “universal destination” of goods then you surely can’t hold that the moral nature of that claim stops at our borders. I’m sure the UN would be more than willing to oversee the universal disbursement of the wealth Americans have created.

  • Joe H

    Ender,

    Now you aren’t really taking me out of context, but misunderstanding what I suggested. You say my position is this:

    “you are not after the wealth of the workers but only of the wealthy”

    I object to your use of the word “after”. Allow me to quote myself, what I originally wrote:

    “At the very least it means that those who own it are in fact entrusted with it by society and have a moral obligation to use it in the best interests of society.”

    I am not “after” anything. I am highlighting the Church’s insistence that those with wealth use it towards a specific end. I ask you to please read, once again, paragraphs 328 & 329 of the Compendium, under the heading, “Wealth Exists to Be Shared”. That is all I had in mind when I said what I did.

    Next you say,

    “It seems from my perspective that the wealthy usually get that way by working not just smarter than the rest of us but harder as well.”

    I don’t disagree that this CAN be true, though during the last 30 years or so many of “the wealthy” have grown fat on fictitious wealth, reporting false earnings, systematically evading payment of taxes, cutting corners with regards to health and safety, exploiting the slave labor of the third world, and attacking the hard-won rights and benefits of the workers of this country. These sources of wealth, when they are not outright illegal, are illicit in the eyes of the Church. Call it “capitalism” or call it something else – it really doesn’t matter to me what you call it.

    But let’s say we are limiting our discussion to those among the wealthy who have legitimately and morally earned their wealth. The labor they hire still plays a major role in creating that wealth, and the protection and infrastructure provided by society allows them to realize it. There is still a minimum reciprocity that must be satisfied for the sake of justice.

    “If you believe as you claim that there is a universal destination for goods and that “wealth exists to be shared” then you cannot also claim to believe that the American worker has a moral right to the wealth he has created.”

    This is simply not true. The Church says both of these things, which you have set up as mutual exclusives, are both required. I don’t claim “wealth exists to be shared” – the Church to which you and I belong does. It is a direct quote from the paragraphs of the Compendium cited above. But the Church also recognizes that workers have a right to the fruits of their labor – the universal destination of goods, and the sharing of wealth, are the moral DUTIES of everyone and especially those who have the most.

    I hope you will see, then, that a right, and a duty, are two different things. We have a right to the wealth we create; we have a duty to use it in a certain way. That makes sense to me, and I am grateful that the Church sees it that way too.

    “If you grant our government the moral authority to take from wealthy Americans to give to average Americans you also grant that there is a moral imperative to take from the (relatively wealthy) average American and give his property to the poor of the world.”

    I certainly think that entirely ethical trade policies and total respect for the rights and dignity of the workers of poor countries – two things, once again, that the Church has called for unambiguously, with no room for misinterpretation – that American consumption would necessarily decrease. If I am wrong, so be it, but these things must be done either way.

    You could, I suppose, if you wanted to, see that as a “redistribution of wealth”. The Church calls it justice.

  • nobody

    I do not covet my neighbor

  • Joe H

    Who says anything about holding a grudge? The consequences of stinginess lead to social problems that we have every right to be concerned about.

    When we demand what is rightfully ours it is not coveting, but justice.

    As for what caused the economic collapse, I am righteously indignant at the deregulation of the financial industry, the unchecked wave of predatory lending, the failure to enforce existing regulations, and the wide-scale, massive fraud perpetrated by several financial institutions.

  • Kathy

    Joe,
    How is it decided what is “rightfully ours?” Food? Shelter? A
    Mercedes-Benz? I prefer to work hard for what my family needs and share what I am able with those less fortunate than myself.
    I do not want the state to mandate what I am “required” to share. That is between the Lord and I.

  • Joe H

    Kathy,

    I didn’t write the Compendium, or the list of rights found in it (which I listed in my first post here, if you care to look).

    The Church says that we have inherent dignity as human beings, and especially as workers, and that this means we have a right to certain things. What we have a right to, society has a duty to provide. Otherwise they would be called privileges or commodities.

    The Church is also interested in society not falling apart. Whether you accept the reality that great inequalities in wealth lead to social polarization and societal decay or not, the Church does, and says that it must be remedied. It is an injustice, Kathy.

    The good news is, it has nothing to do with you. We’re talking about the top 1% owing 40% of the national wealth, about the ratio of CEO to worker pay being over 400:1, about a 10% unemployment rate. This isn’t about government forcing you or any other hardworking family to hand over more income, it is about redressing imbalances in the economy that are a) manifestly unjust and b) that threaten to destroy society.

    The Church rejects out of hand the equating of the just demands of workers, again outlined in my first post, with “envy”.

    I’m not lying when I say I’m taking this from the Church. You can read paragraph 303 of the Compendium, you can read paragraphs 88 and 109 of Quadragesimo Anno. Don’t shoot the messenger.

    Our moral law does not speak of specific quantities, it speaks of specific rights. Whatever quantities would be sufficient to provide them would suffice. In providing them government would simply be doing its moral duty, with which I have no problem.

    The Compendium compiles the wisdom of several Popes and other Church officials and thinkers for the last 150 years. Before rejecting it out of hand, consider that that wisdom might have a better grasp of the situation than the standard paradigm of American left/right politics we are all indoctrinated with on a daily basis.

  • Faciamus

    I would encourage everyone to read up on some basic economic principles, specifically http://www.mises.org. The Compendium is not the end-all-be-all, as the Church cannot speak Ex Cathedra on economic matters, since it is not a matter of faith and morals.

    When speaking of “workers”, it must be remembered that the ONLY reason they have a job to begin with is because of the ingeniuty, risk, and sacrifice of the business owner. Therefore, the business owner deserves the spoils of his business if it succeeds, and the misery of his poverty if it fails. What has the worker risked and how has he contributed to the betterment of society? The fact is, he hasn’t. The wage he receives should be directly preportional to the value of the service rendered. To compensate someone over and above the value of the service rendered will artificially inflate the market, both for wages given, and for the prices of the goods or services produced.

    When mentioning “slave-labor”, it must be noted that in these 3rd world countries their currency has not been inflated to the extent that ours has, so they are able to live on considerably less than what someone in the U.S. is able to. Also, if the companies who are exporting jobs to these countries did not do so, the “slave-laborors” would have no opportunities to earn wages and provide for their families.
    Please don’t think I am condoning the spread of huge multi-national corporations exploiting people, far from it. I am just trying to point out that the situation is not as simple as it is made out to be.

    The redistribution of wealth can never be condoned. It is not the job of government to decide that someone earns too much or another does not earn enough. Individuals should tithe and distribute charity of their own accord. Charity loses it’s meritorious value when it is forced upon someone.

  • Joe H

    The website “The Chesterbelloc Mandate” has an excellent article on exposing the “Austrian heresy”, i.e. the philosophy peddled by the Ludwig von Mises Institute.

    The Compendium may not be the “be all end all” but it is the summation of well over a centuries worth of Papal encyclicals and other important Church documents on social and economic questions. It certainly carries, or should carry, more weight with Catholics than the musings of the von Mises people, who take their inspiration from atheistic anarchists.

    The redistribution of wealth can be, and is condoned, by the Church. If it’s good enough for Christ’s Church, it’s good enough for me. The Compendium makes it abundantly clear that labor is always given priority over capital, that the subjective nature of work is always more important than the objective nature, and that the economy is always to serve definite moral ends and is never to be an end in and of itself.

    While these truths may not be stated with the same amount of urgency as other moral truths, they remain moral truths just the same. Ignoring them or scorning them can only put you in the same camp as the “Catholics” who disregard the Church on birth control and divorce. “It’s not that big a deal”. Wrong.

  • Joe H

    “When speaking of “workers”, it must be remembered that the ONLY reason they have a job to begin with is because of the ingeniuty, risk, and sacrifice of the business owner.”

    Yet the Church says we have a positive right to employment and that governments have a moral duty to pursue policies that lead to full employment.

    “Therefore, the business owner deserves the spoils of his business if it succeeds, and the misery of his poverty if it fails. ”

    The only thing that follows from “ingeniuty, risk, and sacrifice” is a share of the profits, not the whole of them. Basic justice, not to mention any honest assessment of how things are produced and made, requires that everyone who participates in production, reaps the benefits as well. That is why the Church has always been for more worker ownership of industry through the cooperative model.

    “What has the worker risked and how has he contributed to the betterment of society? The fact is, he hasn’t.”

    This is in direct defiance of what the Church has taught about the working class for 100 years, recognizing the moral priority of labor over capital and the role that labor plays in sustaining a healthy society.

    “The wage he receives should be directly preportional to the value of the service rendered.”

    The Church says that the personal aspect of work is more important than the impersonal, the objective. We have dignity and rights that follow from that dignity. The Catechism states,

    “[The Church] has likewise refused to accept, in the practice of “capitalism,” individualism and the absolute primacy of the law of the marketplace over human labor.”

    Once again, your idea is in direct conflict with what the Church proclaims.

    Finally, again, this is why the Church is for more direct ownership of the means of production. On the basis of ownership the worker reaps what he sows, instead of merely being paid what objective market forces decide. This is far more aligned with a Christian social vision.

    “To compensate someone over and above the value of the service rendered will artificially inflate the market, both for wages given, and for the prices of the goods or services produced.”

    Is that why inflation continues on its merry way while workers wages decline? All of the wage cuts, the union busting, the benefit stripping, the outsourcing – none of it has done a thing to reverse inflation.

    “When mentioning “slave-labor”, it must be noted that in these 3rd world countries their currency has not been inflated to the extent that ours has, so they are able to live on considerably less than what someone in the U.S. is able to.”

    When I mention slave labor, I mean slave labor – people held by violence against their will to perform work. There are 25 million real slaves in the world today. Then there is labor performed under oppressive governments that deny the workers their God-given rights recognized by the Church, and are murdered or jailed when they ask for them. Our government and our corporations do business with these regimes and we as consumers profit from them.

    Part of our moral duty to resist this evil is bound up with our moral duty to resist abortion – in places like China female workers who get pregnant are forced to abort to keep working. In many other countries they may not be forced to abort but if they don’t they will lose their job.

    “Also, if the companies who are exporting jobs to these countries did not do so, the “slave-laborors” would have no opportunities to earn wages and provide for their families.”

    And if the companies paid them a wage that enabled them to exercise their basic human rights, they would be fulfilling their minimum moral duty.

  • Faciamus

    You can argue for Distributism all you want, but the fact of the matter is that it is a form of neo-socialism, and the Church has certainly never said it is a preferred economic model. Last time I checked, Belloc and Chesterton were great writers, but certainly not economists.

    http://tinyurl.com/5uqegl

    I am certainly not arguing that economy is an ends in and of itself, this is the problem with capitalism, in that it loses all sense of morality at the sake of profit at all costs. However, without the motive of profit there is no incentive for growth or improvement of the business/industry.

    To say that ignoring a system of thought that has never actually been used or proven

  • Jim

    Joe, allow me to complement you on a point well made and say that I couldn’t agree with you more. I wonder if you could recommend some good reference material for me. I’m frequently getting into debates on this issue with a relative who insists “that the Catholic Church

  • Joe H

    First, for Jim,

    First I would suggest, read as much of the Compendium as you can. It is all available online. So are the encyclicals I like: Quadragesimo Anno by Pius XI, and Laborerm Exercens by JP II.

    Definitely visit the ChesterBelloc Mandate as well. They have a vast archive of articles on all things economic and Catholic.

    Now, for Faciamus,

    I don’t have time to respond in detail like I usually do, but for now I will say this. First, it is wrong for you to equate all of my points to Distributism.

    What I accused you of ignoring was not in fact the idea of Distributism, which I mentioned only once, but simply the Church’s basic teachings on the economy and the rights of workers. It’s “absurd” to ignore those. Distributism is something else. It is a solution, a means of realizing the Catholic teaching on the economy and workers rights, but perhaps not the only one (just the best one in my view).

    Secondly, the Church herself has endorsed distributism in all of the social encyclicals and in the Compendium, and especially in Laborerm Exercens. Hardly the work of laypeople, and actually the work of the Pontiffs.

    Finally, Distributism has been implemented and does work – there are millions of workers in cooperatives around the world. The problem is that there are few communities built upon the model, as most cooperatives exist as isolated businesses. The Mondragon is a good example of a Distributist community. And it is certainly no heresy in the way the Austrian school is.

  • Joe H

    Describing Distributism as “neo-socialism” is not a very nice thing to do, since you are really just trying to scare people away from it, and misrepresenting the positions of the Pontiffs, the Compendium, the Catechism of our Church and centuries of Catholic tradition.

    From Rerum Novarum, Pope Leo XIII:

    “If working people can be encouraged to look forward to obtaining a share in the land, the consequence will be that the gulf between vast wealth and sheer poverty will be bridged over, and the respective classes will be brought nearer to one another. A further consequence will result in the great abundance of the fruits of the earth. Men always work harder and more readily when they work on that which belongs to them”

    Sounds like Distributism to me.

    From Quadragesimo Anno, Pope Pius XI:

    “We consider it more advisable, however, in the present condition of human society that, so far as is possible, the work-contract be somewhat modified by a partnership-contract, as is already being done in various ways and with no small advantage to workers and owners. Workers and other employees thus become sharers in ownership or management or participate in some fashion in the profits received. ”

    Sounds like Distributism, once again.

    From Laborerm Exercens, Pope John Paul II:

    “In the light of the above, the many proposals put forward by experts in Catholic social teaching and by the highest Magisterium of the Church take on special significance23: proposals for joint ownership of the means of work, sharing by the workers in the management and/or profits of businesses, so-called shareholding by labour, etc. Whether these various proposals can or cannot be applied concretely, it is clear that recognition of the proper position of labour and the worker in the production process demands various adaptations in the sphere of the right to ownership of the means of production.”

    Sounds like… ah you know what it sounds like!

    No laypeople, these.

    “You say that

  • Mark

    Joe, if we did not have fallen natures, your system would be perfect.

  • Joe H

    I’ve read three articles by Woods on Distributism and he gets it wrong, or only partially right, every single time.

    I am writing an essay for my own website that will answer the Austrian/Woods critique of Distributism. Look for it soon.

  • Joe H

    Jim,

    Read the quotes above. I didn’t make them up. You may as well say that if we didn’t have fallen natures, there would be no evil in the world. Yes, that’s true. But it doesn’t mean we can’t strive for the good, and even the perfect. If the Popes had thought that such goals were impossible, why would they make the suggestions they did?

  • Faciamus

    Joe,

    The Church has not endorsed

  • Joe H

    Faciamus,

    Since I don’t want to take up space quoting each paragraph, I will refer to them by number.

    1) No, the word “distributism” does not appear in the documents mentioned. But it is indeed splitting hairs to bring it up, since the ideas are plainly distributist. Any distributist would, in other words, use what the Pontiffs have said as a definition/description of distributism. Assuming that you grant us the right to define ourselves, of course. As for the word “endorse”, what do you call it? You added the phrase “single system” – I never said that, no distributist has said that. Because they endorse distributism does not mean they condemn everything else, or could not possibly endorse anything else. That is a simple point of logic.

    2)Yes and no – in the particulars, yes, in the general idea, no. But even if I were to grant that it were 100% contextual, considering our current “context” – the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression – we are in the same context as Pius XI. And the time between JP IIs Laborerm Exercens and the present day has only seen the conditions of the workers decrease. (On a side note, doesn’t your man Woods argue that the “context” of the Industrial Revolution was pretty benign, and that Distributists were all wrong to base anything on its supposed horrors?)

    Distributism, at any rate, is not merely a response to a major crisis but to the general condition of the masses of people under this thing normally called “capitalism”. I won’t quibble over the term. If you don’t think it is true capitalism that’s alright by me. But whatever “it” is, we believe it is an illness for which distributism is at least a part of the cure.

    If the quotes don’t sound like Distributism to you, then I don’t know what possibly would. When the Pontiffs call for greater worker ownership of the land and the means of production, that is Distributism. That is the core, central tenant of Distributusm.

    3) We generally agree here, though I think the necessity of large enterprises makes democracy more and not less practical in the economy. In that sense I am not like the “Distributists” that Mr. Woods is criticizing. I don’t think most of us are. I’ll note too that the Mondragon is an industrial cooperative consisting of, I think, over 150 businesses. They also have a school.

    4) The ownership structure of a firm, and the degree of freedom in the market, are really two totally different things. If I make no other point clear, I wish to make that one clear.

    While I do believe in some necessary regulations – safety, health, environmental, and others – that has nothing to do with how I think property ought to be distributed. I would want a worker owned firm to be regulated in the same way I would any other kind of firm.

    Personally I think that if the majority of firms were cooperatives, and if these cooperatives were rationally organized on the local level, there would be little for the federal government to do. So, I am not a “statist”. More a communitarian, in accordance with the principle of subsidiarity. I believe local communities have a right to say no to Wal-Mart and McDonalds, no to the pollution of their air and water, no to economic desolation wrought by outsourcing. Usually I find “free market” advocates telling them to keep quiet and accept the “creative destruction” of their homes and neighborhoods in the service of a greater economic good. Presumably you don’t fall into that category.

    5) We cannot all be entrepreneurs, nor should we be. Medieval society had a place for everyone, theoretically anyway. The point is that different people have different talents. Some have little talent. But all have human dignity, and all are entitled to some pretty basic things, as outlined in our social teaching. I don’t want to be an entrepreneur myself, nor do I want to be rich. I simply want to earn enough to support me, my family, and my favorite hobby, writing about and discussing political theory with strangers on the Internet.

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