"Labor is a commodity": Heretical

August 24, 2008 § 58 Comments

Jeff Culbreath quotes the encyclical Mater et Magistra

They concern first of all the question of work, which must be regarded not merely as a commodity, but as a specifically human activity. In the majority of cases a man’s work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.

[…]

Unrestricted competition in the liberal sense, and the Marxist creed of class warfare, are clearly contrary to Christian teaching and the nature of man.

(Someone should phone the Holy Office of the Inquisition).

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§ 58 Responses to "Labor is a commodity": Heretical

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: Here are two statements: 1) Labor is a commodity. 2) Labor is merely a commodity. Notice any differences?

  • love the girls says:

    Blackadder writes : “1) Labor is a commodity.2) Labor is merely a commodity.Notice any differences?”Yes, I notice the difference, but as a practical matter, is the distinction recognized? Especially when entering into contract where each man owns his means of production?It’s a relatively simple matter for an employer to recognize the needs of his employees, and thus when it is possible to pay them a living wage. Not that it is done, but the recognition is not difficult, but the same recognition is not so easy a matter when entering into contract where the relation is not employee to employer, but for instance, a consultant to business, or a consultant to non business consumer.When shopping for eggs and milk, I may choose nest fresh and horizon because they are best for my children, but how do I go about choosing the products except as commodities in relation to my use?Businesses sell not only their hard goods, but also service, and if I pay more than their competition for the prior, it’s because the latter makes up the difference, but nevertheless, I am choosing their business based on their business as commodity, and solely as commodity.Or how do I determine what the living wage of my dentist is? I know he lives in the mountains, and likes spending time in the wilderness, but does that make him any less of a mere commodity? Or if I look at my car mechanic, I know he’s getting squeezed by inflation because we had a conversation on that we are not able to drive up our prices to clients as fast as inflation is driving up what are in turn paying to live. But I didn’t offer to pay him more than he asked to repair my brakes, should I have? And as a self employed architect, I am paid according to the value my clients perceive. A value which is according to my services as commodity, and only as commodity. Just as I in turn choose and pay for my printing and plotter paper grounded in perceived value of those commodities. My relationships with my clients may be cordial, just as my relationship with my printer may be cordial, but the relationship is grounded in relationship as commodity. There are exception which go beyond merely looking at the other business as commodity. For instance, a retailer’s loyalty to a bank or wholesaler who helped them when they were first starting. But such long standing relationships are the exception, not the rule.In society as it exists today, how does one implement the distinction between labor as commodity and labor as merely a commodity? The relationship of employer to employee is an easy one to implement the distinction, although it’s also an easy way to get a lawsuit shoved down your throat by an unhappy employee who sees you paying the man with the family more than the single man for the same work . But other than that one of many relationships, how does a man enter into contract with another man where the relationship for all practical purposes is not merely one of commodity?

  • zippy says:

    If I compare “a woman is not a piece of meat” and “a woman is not merely a piece of meat”, there is no substantive difference between the two statements. Though a man who wants to justify treating a woman like a piece of meat might strain to see one.

  • love the says:

    To a lion, or a shark, a women is merely a piece of meat. Piece of meat is intrinsic to man who is by nature both flesh and immortal soul.To treat a man as merely a piece of man, that is, to treat him without taking into account the immortal soul, is to treat him according to a dignity which is beneath him because it does not act in accord with his fully human dignity.The concupiscible appetite is directed toward the material, that is, it treats a women as a piece of meat because its object is her flesh, and thus does not distinguish between wife and prostitute. And while fallen nature has put the concupiscible appetite at war with the will, i.e. St. Paul write there a two laws within him, nevertheless we are responsible to restrain the concupiscible appetite and treat a women according to her fully human dignity.Lions and sharks eat men because of a result of the fall because the relation of men to beasts was corrupted because of man’s corruption, but unlike the sharks we’re responsible to treat men according to the proper relationship in spite of our fallen nature.Thus there is all the difference in the world in the qualifying ‘merely’

  • zippy says:

    I’m not following the argument. We should not, like a shark, treat a woman as a piece of meat, or as merely a piece of meat. What does “merely” add to the discussion other than emphasis on the fact that treating a woman as a piece of meat is treating her as something other than a person? BA speaks as though “merely” modifies the proposition to mean something entirely different, as opposed to merely (hah) adding emphasis.

  • love the girls says:

    Sorry, to treat a women as merely a piece of meat is to treat exclusively as object of the concupiscible appetite. Where as to treat her as a piece of meat is not to treat her exclusively as object of the concupiscible appetite, but to also treat her according to her fully human nature.To appreciation of a women’s flesh is natural and a good, but it’s a good which must be restrained by greater goods. Such as the good of matrimony and all that follows from that good.

  • zippy says:

    <>Where as to treat her as a piece of meat is not to treat her exclusively as object of the concupiscible appetite, but to also treat her according to her fully human nature.<>Good luck getting the ladies to agree that it is fine to treat them as a piece of meat.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: I’d say there’s quite a bit of difference between saying “a woman is not a piece of meat” and saying “a woman is not merely a piece of meat.” If a guy were to stand up in front of a group of women and say “a woman is not a piece of meat” he might get a nice round of applause. If he were to stand in front of the same group and say “a woman is not merely a piece of meat” he would get blank stares, or worse. Why? Because when the guy says that a woman is not merely a piece of meat, the implication is that he does think women are pieces of meat, even if he doesn’t think that’s the whole story. Thus, not only is the claim “X is not merely Y” not equivalent to “X is not Y,” but it tends to imply just the opposite. Compare “man is not merely an animal” with “man is not merely a vegetable.” So when the Pope says that labor is not merely a commodity, this is, if anything, evidence that he accepts that labor is a commodity, rather than the reverse. And indeed, as I pointed out in my supposedly heretical post, the very concept of the just wage implies that the buying and selling of labor is morally permissible, which means that labor is a commodity, at least in a sense.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I hate to sound like a agree with Blackadder, because I have a feeling Blackadder and I would disagree about a lot of things. But on this point, I don’t see what the problem is. Why can’t we just have different senses of the term ‘commodity’ and be done with it? Is there something so horrible about treating labor as *in one sense* a commodity? It seems to me that the “women are a piece of meat” analogy is flawed. Selling sex is _always_ wrong, whereas, as the commentator above has shown with several examples, there is not only nothing wrong with selling your labor, but often there really is no good way to personalize the relationship between the person selling the labor and the person buying it. I think that was a good question: Should you pay your mechanic more if you know he’s getting hit by inflation? Should you pay the self-employed accountant more than he charges, insisting on thrusting more money into his hands, because you know he just had a child? Why not send them a generous baby gift instead? Even when it comes to a situation where I have a _very_ personal relationship with the seller of labor, I see a lot of resemblance among the following: 1) hiring my daughter, with her consent, to shovel the front walk in the dead of winter, 2) hiring a lawn service to put GrubX on my lawn in July, and, say, buying a cake. In all three cases, these are things I could do without. In no case is there anything “heavy” about the transaction. And nobody is doing anything wrong in entering into the transactions. They are all just perfectly ordinary cases of willing seller/willing buyer transactions, and none of them bear any resemblance to buying pieces of a person’s body. (I bring up this last because of Zippy’s rather odd analogy between buying a person’s time and buying his hands in the thread at V.N.)

  • zippy says:

    Blackadder:<>So when the Pope says that labor is not merely a commodity, this is, if anything, evidence that he accepts that labor is a commodity, rather than the reverse.<>Your self-serving hermeneutic is probably far more unintentionally funny than you realize, particularly in light of the fuller context of the Pope’s remarks.<>And indeed, as I pointed out in my supposedly heretical post, the very concept of the just wage implies that the buying and selling of labor is morally permissible, which means that labor is a commodity, at least in a sense.<>If we postulate a ludicrous meaning for ‘commodity’ then naturally we can get any outcome we please. But a commodity is not everything that is ever involved in any way in a permissible monetary exchange. If it were, then the Mona Lisa would be a commodity. I don’t know if you are aware of the fact that you’ve adopted a question-begging (and obviously wrong by reductio) conception of ‘commodity’, but you have in fact adopted a question-begging conception of ‘commodity’.It is of course almost always possible to willfully resist doctrine by playing semantic games.Lydia: Every analogy does have weaknesses; but in my understanding it is wrong for a man to treat his wife like a whore, so I’m not sure it is as weak an analogy as may be at first supposed.The Pope is pretty clearly referring primarily to those cases where a full-time wage is being set by an employer for an employee, for whom that wage is his primary or sole income. I’d be perfectly happy if Blackadder would just admit that in that particular kind of case — the case of full-time employment — allowing the market to set the wage is morally wrong.How that translates into other transactions is no doubt interesting. But as usual, in order to discuss more difficult cases agreement must first be reached on less difficult ones. If agreement can’t be reached on those less difficult ones then there isn’t any point in discussing the more difficult ones.

  • As a trained economist, I think I side with Zippy on this one. The problem as I see it is that Blackadder’s underlying anthropology is based on personal autonomy– workers and employers have the right to meet each other on a free market and exchange their services.In fact, as recognized all the way back to Leo XIII, such an exchange is one of inequality and injustice. I am an old-style corporatist, and see great wisdom in the thought of Pius XI on this matter. Today, we are in a situation whereby inequality is back to the levels before the New Deal, and the real median wage (the best estimator of living srandards) has been stagnant for over 30 years now. There are many factors at play here, but surely one of them is the breakdown in the consensus that owners of capital should not earn exhorbitant rates of return. Simultaneously, unions have all but collapsed, and unions are an indispensable component of the modern social order.Elsewhere, Blackadder has argued in favor of the right of a worker to opt out of a union, which I think is misguided: this exercise in “free choice” makes it extremely difficult for labor to organize in a way that would allow it to meet capital on an equal footing.One final word on economics. The world, unfortunately, is full of people who think what they learned in Econ 101 explains everything. Not true, and labor economics demonstrates this quite well. There is very little evidence in the US that the minimum wage affecte unemployment adversely (this is not the case in other countries). Also, people are moving away from the idea of free labor markets to seeing the wage as the outcome of a negotiation between corporation and worker, where the outcome depends on the bargaining power of each side.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Man I wish people would start with Church teach rather than starting somewhere else and then shrinking Church teaching so ther is no conflict.Then again, I’ve long since realized that most Catholics use Church documents the way baseball managers use statistics and drunks use lampposts — for support, not illumimation.

  • love the girls says:

    Morning Minion writes : “Blackadder’s underlying anthropology is based on personal autonomy– workers and employers have the right to meet each other on a free market and exchange their services.”They do have such a right. Within reason. The worker has an obligation to his family, and the employer likewise has an obligation to the worker’s family, but within the context of their mutual obligation there is great leeway as to what should be the compensation for the exchange.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “Good luck getting the ladies to agree that it is fine to treat them as a piece of meat.”Or you could say:“Good luck getting the ladies to agree that its fine to appreciate the efforts they take to make themselves lovely to behold.”There is nothing wrong with appreciating the beauty of a woman, as long as that appreciation is within proper limitations. The same holds for treating a man’s labor as a commodity. Labor is a commodity, but it is not exclusively a commodity. Likewise a women are lovely to behold, but that is not exclusively what a woman is.The error is in the exclusivity where the man is seen exclusively as commodity, or where a women is seen exclusively as a lovely object to behold.

  • Bob says:

    <>I’d be perfectly happy if Blackadder would just admit that in that particular kind of case — the case of full-time employment — allowing the market to set the wage is morally wrong.<>That’s just silly.It’s very clear to me that when I encounter the word “merely” then it’s not an either/or situation but a both/and situation.The difference between “labor is a commodity” and “labor is not merely a commodity” is that it’s not exclusively true that “labor is a commodity” and nothing else. It’s easy enough for me to see that in context, the encyclical is asking that at bare minimum, the wage is determined by justice and equity, before consideration of labor as a commodity.That is, the Church recognizes the truth of economic activity, yet she will not let us forget that this is a human activity first and primarily.

  • zippy says:

    I’d like to know just what Blackadder (and others, but especially BA) think <>would<> be heretical under the doctrine quoted.LTG:<>There is nothing wrong with appreciating the beauty of a woman, as long as that appreciation is within proper limitations.<>It seems to me that “appreciating the beauty of a woman” is not another way to say “treating a woman as a piece of meat”.Bob:<>It’s easy enough for me to see that in context, the encyclical is asking that at bare minimum, the wage is determined by justice and equity, before consideration of labor as a commodity.<>I agree with that, except that I think the part after “before consideration as…” is superfluous: a man’s work and compensation cannot simultaneously be a commodity and at the same time be primarily a matter of justice and equity. That, and the encyclical isn’t asking, it is telling.

  • Bob says:

    Zippy,Perhaps I’m too stupid to see through the abstractions here. Let’s try an example.Let’s say man A needs 25 Dinars a day to support his family. Man B needs 35 Dinars a day to support his family. Man A produces 100 widgets a day. Man B produces 50 widgets a day. The labor market says that man A’s work is worth 100 Dinars a day, and man B’s work is worth 50 Dinars a day. Since both men have substantially more than the minimum needed to support their families (A: 100-25=75, B: 50-35=15), the boss has no problem paying the market rate for the two men since 1) it seems that it meets the primary criteria of fair and equitable and 2) it seems that the market has determined the wage. It’s a both/and situation. But it appears that you’re calling this situation an immoral situation (“allowing the market to set the wage is morally wrong.”)I can certainly understand if it’s one of semantics (i.e. that laborer in front of you is not a “commodity”, he’s a man), but that doesn’t seem to be the point. You seem to be saying that it’s morally impossible for the market to determine a fair and equitable wage. If that’s the case, it seems morally impossible for someone to hire labor (it makes more sense to buy the widgets, than to hire labor). The economic value of a person’s labor cannot be morally connected to a person’s wage.I’m sure that I’ve misunderstood you, and you’ll clarify this for me.Peace,Bob

  • Anonymous says:

    While I disagree with Blackadder, I disagree with Zippy as well in calling out the Inquisition (is this some sort of veiled desire of Zippy to use torture?) on Blackadder for heresy. Even if mistaken, there is no heresy involved.

  • zippy says:

    <>You seem to be saying that it’s morally impossible for the market to determine a fair and equitable wage.<>It obviously isn’t impossible for the market rate to <>happen to come out to a number which would be just, by accident<>. If we flipped a coin to determine innocence or guilt in a criminal trial, the coin flips would sometimes happen to get the “right” answer. But it would be completely wrong to claim that it is a both/and situation, where a coin flip represents a fair process for determining guilt.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I wouldn’t want to bet my eternal life on “merely” almost inverting the meaning of a sentence.—The more I read the Catholic comboxes, the more I’m amazed at the equivocations:“Well there’s a comma between “which”, so the list after “which” represents an exclusive list of cases in which torture is illegal, therefore it’s OK to torture to save a city.“Well, the term “waterboarding” also applies to training soldiers and agents to withstand interrogation, and people don’t claim that’s evil, so therefore waterboarding isn’t intrinsically evil, and therefore not torture.”“Well, the Holy Father said “merely” a commodity, not simply a commodity. The addition of the emphasizer merely almost reverses the meaning of the sentence from forbidding treating labor as a commodity to acknowledging that in some sense, labor <>is<> a commodity.”Arrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhh!How about, “seek first the Kingdom of God.” How about using the brains God gave us and starting from Catholic teaching, rather then the other way around.

  • Bob says:

    Well, as usual, you’ve given me the unexpected answer. But at least this time, I’m clear about what you’re saying.Zippy, he’s just this guy, ya know?I’ve looked over the relevant parts of Rerum Novarum (starting from paragraph 44), and then there is paragraph 31 of Mater et Magistra which says, “As for the wage system, while <>rejecting the view that it is unjust of its very nature<>, he condemned the inhuman and unjust way in which is it so often implemented, and specified the terms and conditions to be observed if justice and equity are not to be violated.” (emphasis added) Paragraph 31 contradicts “allowing the market to set the wage is morally wrong.”

  • zippy says:

    Bob: I agree that a system of wages, as opposed to I suppose some ad hoc system where the pay rate changes every cycle or whatever, is not by its nature unjust. I’m not sure why you think that counts against my argument though.

  • Bob says:

    Zippy, I don’t see how “system of wages” and market are different things, especially in the context of wages. Wages don’t fluctuate as rapidly as the price of gas. So I can talk about the market value of widget makers in Boston as opposed to the market value of widget makers in San Francisco. In either case, the “system of wages” refers to the value of labor in each locale.While the idea of wages fluctuating from day to day is not completely unknown to me, it’s mysterious to me why we should both assume that’s what is meant by the market in the context of wage. Perhaps that’s what economists do, but it doesn’t seem to be common usage.

  • Anonymous says:

    The Blackadder Says: I fail to see how it is “ludicrous” to say that if something is capable of being bought and sold, then it is a commodity. Zippy cites the Mona Lisa as a counter-example. But if the Mona Lisa were up for auction, then it would be a commodity. No doubt there are other senses in which one could use the word “commodity,” but I fail to see what is so outlandish about using it in the way I did. And, in any event, since I made it clear in my post in what sense I was using the word “commodity,” it is vain to try and refute me and/or prove me a heretic by arguing that labor is not a commodity in some other sense of the term, let alone that it is not “merely” a commodity in that sense. P.S. I would disagree with Morning’s Minion’s characterization of my view as being “based on personal autonomy,” though unlike the charge of being a heretic, I do not consider this a calumny.

  • Bob says:

    Johnmcg,I’m not sure who you think is inverting the meaning, but I thought I’d provide a counter example.Original line:<> *** work, which must be regarded not merely as a commodity, but as a specifically human activity. ***<>Ex: Tiger Woods is not merely a golfer.This means a) Tiger Woods is not a golfer.b) Tiger Woods is a golfer.c) Tiger Woods is a golfer, but he is something more.I think answer “c” is the most correct meaning. I doubt that Zippy would claim that Tiger Woods is not a golfer, but Zippy seems to be saying that “a” is the correct parsing of the original statement. I’ll willing to take “not merely” as meaning that “something more” has vastly greater priority over “Tiger Woods is a golfer” but “not merely” doesn’t make the sentence mean “not” as in, “Tiger Woods is not a golfer.”The original phrase could have been worded this way for clarity, if it means what Zippy thinks it means:*** work, which is not a commodity, but a human activity. ***

  • JohnMcG says:

    I think that when we read the Magisteriums’s statements, we should assume they are addressing the controversial aspects of it.That Tiger Woods is a golfer does not alter the way we treat him, as it is a descriptive rather than morally weighty distinction. So the observation that he is not merely a golfer is not morally interesting.If golfers were considered subhuman, then the observation that he is not merely a golfer would have moral consequences, consequences that I could not esacape by observing that Woods does, in fact, play golf.I think the same applies here — being a commodity or piece of meat says something about how it is to be treated. When the Magisterium asserts that something is not merely a commodity, I think it is very difficult to escape that they are addressing precisely that moral aspect of it.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Let’s take one more example that’s probably familiar to all of us — “mere cluster of cells.”The assertion that an embroyo is a mere cluster of cells is an assertion of its moral worth. Likewise, when we assert that the embryo is not a mere cluster of cells, we are stating that it would be wrong to reduce the status of the embryo to that of a cluster of cells in our moral argument, in spite of the fact that scientifically, it could be regarded as a cluster of cells.I would find it odd if, in the face of such a Magisterial teaching, a Catholic blogger were to launch a discussion about in what aspects an embryo <>can<> be treated as a cluster of cells, using “merely” as a way to note that the Church does acknowledge that an embryo is a cluster of cells in some aspects.Yes, but not in any morally

  • JohnMcG says:

    Let’s take one more example that’s probably familiar to all of us — “mere cluster of cells.”The assertion that an embroyo is a mere cluster of cells is an assertion of its moral worth. Likewise, when we assert that the embryo is not a mere cluster of cells, we are stating that it would be wrong to reduce the status of the embryo to that of a cluster of cells in our moral argument, in spite of the fact that scientifically, it could be regarded as a cluster of cells.I would find it odd if, in the face of such a Magisterial teaching, a Catholic blogger were to launch a discussion about in what aspects an embryo <>can<> be treated as a cluster of cells, using “merely” as a way to note that the Church does acknowledge that an embryo is a cluster of cells in some aspects.Yes, but not in any morally

  • Bob says:

    Ex: Madam X is not merely a whore.a) Madam X is not a whore.b) Madam X is a whore.c) Madam X is a whore, but she’s something more.Ex: Everyone is not merely a sinner.a) Everyone is not a sinner.b) Everyone is a sinner.c) Everyone is a sinner, but they are something more.Ex: Britney Spears is not merely a slut.a) Britney Spears is not a slut.b) Britney Spears is a slut.c) Britney Spears is a slut, but she is something more.Ex: Britney Spears is not merely a fruitcake.a) Britney Spears is not a fruitcake.b) Britney Spears is a fruitcake.c) Britney Spears is a fruitcake, but she is something more.Each time I parse these sentences, I come up with answer “c” as the best meaning. Are you saying that some or all of these sentences are answer “a”?Let’s use the phrase already suggested.Ex: Your wife or girl friend is not merely a piece of meat.a) Your wife or girl friend is not a piece of meat.b) Your wife or girl friend is a piece of meat.c) Your wife or girl friend is a piece of meat, but she is something more.It still doesn’t seem to move from answer “c”. Perhaps it is not what is said, but who is saying it. The Church can’t possibly mean that X is a whore, slut, fruitcake, or piece of meat, so if the Church says that “X is not merely Y” and Y denotes something less than full human dignity, then the meaning changes.So when the Church says:“Tiger Woods is not merely a golfer” she means “Tiger Woods is a golfer, but something more”.But when the Church says:“Britney Spears is not merely a fruitcake” she means “Britney Spears is not a fruitcake”.So the meaning of “X is not merely Y” depends on the value of Y.

  • Bob says:

    Sure, I’ll deal with that “cluster of cells”.Ex: A human embryo is not merely a cluster of cells.a) A human embryo is not a cluster of cells.b) A human embryo is a cluster of cells.c) A human embryo is a cluster of cells, but something more.I wholeheartedly endorse answer “c” as more representative of the truth.Peace,Bob

  • zippy says:

    I get the sense, Bob, that you are resisting John’s very clear explanation. The “not merely X” clearly means (especially in full context) that the thing cannot be treated morally as if it were X.The Magisterium is in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation in terms of using the qualifier in talking to a hostile reader. If the Magisterium, in making a moral assertion, writes “not X”, the hostile reader will of course insist that X, since under a value-free description one can indeed say X. If the Magisterium writes “not merely X”, the hostile reader will infer that X. Therefore the hostile reader always gets to infer that X.It all really depends on whether we as reader are trying to make sense out of what the Magisterium wrote, or make nonsense out of it.

  • Anonymous says:

    The encyclical could have just stated that: work must not be regarded as a commodity;… but it didn’t state that. Zippy is incorrect, Bob is correct, “C” is the correct answer.

  • JohnMcG says:

    I agree that C is the correct answer.What I disagree with is that after the Magisterium asserts that something is not merely some object of negligible value, they are granting a license to consider it the object of negligible value in some contexts.

  • Bob says:

    No Zippy, I think John’s logic is flawed. If I think that, then I’m bound to resist it.If a woman were to say that “I ain’t no slut” I would understand her to mean that she isn’t a slut, even though logically, her double negative indicates the opposite. Similarly, if a woman said “I’m not merely a piece a meat” I would understand her to mean that she isn’t a piece of meat. However, it’s unlikely that I would choose to word it that way, but if I did and someone else corrected me, I would immediately agree with the correction.I tend to assume that the Church makes logical statements.I certainly understand that men identify with their jobs. Statements like “I’m a programmer” or “I’m a sanitation engineer” point to a pride of work or intended pride in work. So I do understand the emotional value given to the word commodity. However, the negative value associated with the word “commodity” deflates for me as soon as I realize that the Church is making a statement of fact.So when I come across the statement, “a human embryo is not merely a cluster of cells”, I immediately identify the truth of the statement that a) “a human embryo is a cluster of cells” but also see that b) “a human embryo is something <>more<> than that previous factual statement”. I do not feel the slightest impulse to treat a human embryo as a “cluster of cells”, since I readily acknowledge statement b).To be clear here, the encyclical is not saying, “human beings are not merely commodities” but rather the statement goes to“work is not merely a commodity”It does not upset me in the least to realize that some work of mine has potential economic value. “work is a commodity” is a simple statement of fact, just as “human embryos are clusters of cells” is a simple statement of fact.However, “work is not merely a commodity, but a human activity” expresses a very rich statement. The oxen’s work in plowing the field is a mere commodity, but my work takes on special value, because it was me, a human being, who performed it. Work qua work has no special value until a human being is associated with it. The statement “human activity” has all the emphasis in the word “human”. The statement “work is a commodity” does not diminish the word “human”, it’s a simple statement of fact. Peace,Bob

  • JohnMcG says:

    I’m not just a pretty face….—The morally interesting part of an embryo is not its resemblance to a cluster of cells, but how it is not. I (perhaps uncharitably) assume that someone wishing to dwell on how an embryo is a cluster of cells in the context of a moral discussion is up to some form of mischief. I apologize if I have incorrectly done that in this case.

  • Bob says:

    No John, I’m not up to any mischief by acknowledging that a human embryo is a cluster of cells. For some pro-abortion types, like Obama, it a huge concession for them to admit that an embryo/fetus is alive (“cluster of cells”). As you rightly point out, that’s not the morally most significant point, which is that they are individual human beings.Apology accepted.Peace,Bob

  • zippy says:

    <>But if the Mona Lisa were up for auction, then it would be a commodity.<>The word doesn’t mean what you say it means. A commodities trader does not trade Mona Lisas.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “The word doesn’t mean what you say it means. A commodities trader does not trade Mona Lisas.”Commodity is best not understood as is used in commodities trading.The understanding of the term is much broader. It’s generally understood as: advantage, benefit, profit or consideration.The object in question can be sold and consumed by its use. Sold, but not consumed by its use. Leased for money, or leased for a return of the same.Thus the Mona Lisa is a commodity. It simply is not a commodity a commodities trader would have interest in because it is not within the scope of his art. But it is a commodity within the scope of art of an fine arts dealer.___________________Bob,Thank you for your clarifying examples.

  • love the girls says:

    On second thought, Perhaps commodatus, or commodum is perhaps a bit more accurate. I was looking to them in my explanation, while considering commoditas in my definition.

  • zippy says:

    LTG: <>Thus the Mona Lisa is a commodity.<>Defining a commodity as anything which could ever conceivably be involved in a financial transaction in any way is – obviously – question-begging. The whole point of the quotes from the encyclical is – again obviously – that labor as an economic thing is fundamentally morally different from (say) a bushel of wheat as an economic thing.This is typical pointless, equivocal, nominalist semantic nonsense. The effect – one suspects the deliberate effect – is to render discussion of economic justice with respect to labor, as something distinct from commodities, impossible. Because when discussion is impossible, criticism is impossible.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “labor as an economic thing is fundamentally morally different from (say) a bushel of wheat as an economic thing.”That is your conclusion. A conclusion which must be proved by you because your conclusion is what is in dispute. To say that it is obvious, is to say that it is in some manner self evident or prior known.While you may be correct in your understanding of the encyclical, you are not correct in your understanding that it cannot be proved, or should not be proved, i.e. “(t)his is typical pointless, equivocal, nominalist semantic nonsense”Numerous arguments have been given as to why there is a distinction between various types of commodities ,and as to why labor falls within the category of commodity. So far, those various arguments have not even been addressed beyond tangentially, let alone disproven. While a science is not required to prove a definition, that does not mean that definition cannot be proven. Further, when an understanding of a definition is in dispute, that understanding must be clarified, and is best clarified by going back to a prior science which does prove that definition. The definition of commodity as understood by the encyclical is in dispute, thus we must go back to a prior science to prove it. So while it may be begging the question so to speak within the science of the encyclical, it is not begging the question according to the prior science the encyclical is grounded in, nor when the definition is in dispute.This may seem like a pointless waste of time to you, but understanding the principles of a science, and looking at them according to their prior science is the surest method of avoiding error.I could see you not wanting to prove Euclide’s first definition is correct when your interest is whether or not prime numbers are infinite, (although I would because I think his first definition is far more interesting), but in this instance the definition in dispute is central to the entire discussion.

  • JohnMcG says:

    <>That is your conclusion. A conclusion which must be proved by you because your conclusion is what is in dispute. To say that it is obvious, is to say that it is in some manner self evident or prior known.While you may be correct in your understanding of the encyclical, you are not correct in your understanding that it cannot be proved, or should not be proved, i.e. “(t)his is typical pointless, equivocal, nominalist semantic nonsense”<>I have to go back to suspecting mischief then.I can see two reasons for asserting that labor is a commodity in the context of a moral discussion:* To score a meaningless semantic point. * To undermine the Church's teaching on the treatment of labor.So yes, labor is in some sense a commodity. And an embryo is in some sense a cluster of cells. And a women in some sense is a piece of meat. And a D&C after a miscarriage is an “abortion.” And training a soldier to withstand interrogation is “waterboarding.”But none of these are critical facts in discussing the morality of the treatment of labor, embryonic research, abortion, or torture. And I have learned to be suspicious of those who seem to think it is important to assert the above.

  • love the girls says:

    I assume that John McG and Zippy are the same.Mr. McG writes : “* To score a meaningless semantic point.* To undermine the Church’s teaching on the treatment of labor.”Your second is below contempt.At to your first, the encyclicals are not intended to be fully developed arguments, but a starting points from which to develop a fuller understanding of the mind of the Church, a fuller understanding which requires an understanding of the terms used. A fuller understanding of the term commodity is no more required of the layman than understanding what is meant when it is said that Christ is present while the accidents of bread remain. To say that Christ is present according to his substance is intelligible to few, but it is not meaningless. The same holds with understanding what commodity means.We are required to assent to Church teaching, we are also required to treat our fellow man with dignity, but we are not required to read the encyclicals, let alone understand them. But if you do desire to understand those same encyclicals, and expound upon them, and pretend to know them, then you should likewise be prepared to defend your understanding of them.

  • zippy says:

    LTG:You assume wrong.And semantic dances with the word “commodity” aside, the encyclical says outright that <>“In the majority of cases a man’s work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.”<>

  • JohnMcG says:

    Zippy and I have disagreed about several things in the past year, so I can assure you you are not the same.—When PZ Myers says the Eucharist is a frackin’ cracker, is he lying or telling the truth? Should Catholics be thankful to him for his contribution to the discussion?—My defense is simple and has been provided above. When the bishops, or anybody else, say that something is not merely something of negligible moral value, they are saying that it would be wrong to consider them as such in the context of a moral discussion. I acknowledge that labor is a member of the set “commodities” from a firm’s perspective. But in a moral discussion, this is not an interesting observation.

  • Bob says:

    <>But none of these are critical facts in discussing the morality of the treatment of labor, embryonic research, abortion, or torture. And I have learned to be suspicious of those who seem to think it is important to assert the above.<>It’s critical in the sense that truth is involved.The treatment of capitalism and communism in Rerum Novarum is that communism qua communism is hideously wrong and capitalism is wrong in excess. It appears that Zippy thinks both systems are wrong in equal respects, and that colors his approach to the encyclicals.By analogy, fundamentalist creationism is only right in one respect, we are created by God, while Darwinism is horribly wrong in one respect, in that it denies God as creator. In this analogy, Zippy claims that evolution is heretical, in a pox on both houses approach.Zippy wants to take a piece of economic knowledge, “work (labor) is a commodity” and make it a heresy. The Church doesn’t approach things that way. She’s not about to start making denials about the workings of the free market. Rather, she is going to point out a fact forgotten by economists and laissez-faire ideologues — to paraphrase the Bible, economics is at the service of man, not man at the service of economics (or economics was made for man, not man for economics).Absolutely, “labor as a commodity” is not the final word. Labor is a human activity, therefore justice cannot be dispensed with because the workings of the economy dictate otherwise.The truth doesn’t become a heresy because it appears to make human beings smaller.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “You assume wrong.”Glad to read it._______________________Zippy writes : “Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity.”Since justice is giving each man his due, I suspect that equity as used is redundant of justice.But more to the point, what is his due? To say that it cannot depend on the market, is not to say that the market does not have a say. An employer is dependent on the market in order to pay his employees. As mentioned previously with my car mechanic, do I have a duty to pay my car mechanic a living wage for fixing my brakes? Because if I do not, he cannot in turn pay his mechanic who actually repaired my brakes a living wage.In other words, the market does see the mechanic who actually repaired the brakes as a commodity, and solely as a commodity.

  • zippy says:

    <>It appears that Zippy thinks both systems are wrong in equal respects, and that colors his approach to the encyclicals.<>That isn’t so. Communism is worse than capitalism, at least as they have instantiated in our actual history. As far as their instantiation in our actual history is concerned, communism is overtly materialistic, atheistic, genocidal, and tyrannical; capitalism has enough vestigial decency to deny and try to hide its materialism, atheism, genocides, and tyrannies. They do share in common though an understanding of labor as a commodity, as well as common roots in Enlightenment liberalism and medieval nominalism. (The latter really shows up in these kinds of discussions, which become all about semantics and equivocations on terminology).

  • zippy says:

    LTG: The words you are quoting and questioning are from the encyclical; they are not my words. Your questions are good ones. The encyclical may not tell you the specific answers, but it tells you how you must as a Catholic think about them: <>“In the majority of cases a man’s work is his sole means of livelihood. Its remuneration, therefore, cannot be made to depend on the state of the market. It must be determined by the laws of justice and equity. Any other procedure would be a clear violation of justice, even supposing the contract of work to have been freely entered into by both parties.”<>This is not some optional thing. The Church – and right reason about the moral treatment of others – are set directly against modern laissez-faire capitalism on this particular point.

  • love the girls says:

    zippy writes : “The latter really shows up in these kinds of discussions, which become all about semantics and equivocations on terminology”Nonsense. Nominalism is finally a form of materialist pantheism because it holds that all change is accidental, and that the accidents are the substance. In other words, virtually all Americans are material nominalists. But nominalism has nothing to do with this discussion because the universal, i.e. the nature of man is a given.The argument is more in line with application of the universal to the particular. In other words, it has to do with what is the most prudent means of applying the encyclical, which in turn means that the practical intellect must know its science which in turn means that it must know the principles of its science, with the understanding of those principles in dispute.

  • zippy says:

    LTG: Do you unequivocally acknowledge that the encyclical <>Mater et Magistra<> is directly against l-f capitalism on the question of setting wages based on the state of the market, or not?

  • love the girls says:

    zippy,That’s a rather disappointing question since it means I’ve done a very poor job of making myself understood.Capitalism assumes that the worker is solely understood as a means of production which is in error because it does not recognize the worker qua man, but only recognizes the worker qua carpenter or worker qua commodity or worker qua accidental cause. Which is to treat the worker as less than required according to the worker’s natural dignity which is in turn a violation of justice because it denies the worker that which is his due.Does that answer your question?

  • zippy says:

    Yep, it does. Thanks.

  • love the girls says:

    “(Someone should phone the Holy Office of the Inquisition).”And the office should start with the exceptionalist libs over on Vox Nova that you link to. Or better still, leave ’em alone, as I find them a horrifying insight into the modern catholic thought promulgated at the universities.

  • Anonymous says:

    Love The Girls Wrote: “To say that it cannot depend on the market, is not to say that the market does not have a say. An employer is dependent on the market in order to pay his employees.”This is actually true in the case of some companies who have consultants provide them the current range of salaries for particular job positions in order to ensure that the current pay of employees rightly falls within such a range.If this were not done, there is the greater likelihood that the pay of certain employees may actually fall way beneath that of what is priced for them in the existing market, which had been the case in certain companies.e.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy — Further to the above (i.e., in other words), not consulting the very Market you have so railed against could ironically lead to the unjust wages you accused it of in the first place.e.

  • zippy says:

    e:Not understanding what is possible and what is prevalent would be like a policeman not consulting what is in the arms cabinet. That doesn’t make the justice dispensed at the dangerous end of the policeman’s gun a matter of material evaluation. Wages are a matter of justice. Justice in a finite world is always constrained by material reality, yes. In no case does this ever excuse us for acting unjustly.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Anon,I don’t think Zippy has argued that the Market is useless. Your example shows it being one tool among many.What I think Zippy (and the Church) is arguing against is the notion that the Benevolent Invisible Hand of the Market will deliver just wages to all workers without any other consideration from us, and so if an employer sets his wages according to the market rate, said employer has discharged its duty to provide just wages.

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