I’ll show you mine…

August 25, 2008 § 82 Comments

I think it is blindingly obvious that Mater et Magistra forbids the treatment of labor as a commodity, and requires that the wages of a full-time employee be set as a matter of justice and not to whatever prevailing market rates happen to be. Setting wages to whatever the prevailing market rate happens to be, while ignoring the particular needs of the employee and his family, is inherently unjust.

It is of course always possible that I am wrong though: I am after all just some guy with a blog and a funny pseudonym that I acquired years ago almost by accident.

However, one thing that should be clear to everyone is that a doctrine expresses a truth; and a moral doctrine expresses a moral truth. A moral truth (among other things) divides actions up into permissible ones and impermissible ones. So if someone disagrees with my take on the doctrine on the just compensation of labor expressed in Mater et Magistra, which is specifically set against the errors of both capitalism and Marxism, he ought to be willing to say what in capitalist practice he believes the doctrine forbids.

My fellow Catholics should feel free to say what in capitalist practice you think the doctrine forbids in the combox, as prerequisite to other comments being taken seriously.

Tagged:

§ 82 Responses to I’ll show you mine…

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “Setting wages to whatever the prevailing market rate happens to be, while ignoring the particular needs of the employee and his family, is inherently unjust.”True.____________Zippy writes : “Mater et Magistra forbids the treatment of labor as a commodity”When I hire someone’s services, what am I buying? if not a commodity?

  • zippy says:

    <>…what am I buying? if not a commodity?<>You are paying for the help of a human being in accomplishing some goal.

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “You are paying for the help of a human being in accomplishing some goal.”True. The ‘help’ is the commodity. It is that which is in demand.For instance, let us say that the help that is needed is stitching up some flesh.In order to accomplish the particular end of stitching up flesh, the human being in question must be proficient in the art surgery. A man does not hire a painter when he is in need of a surgeon, thus while both painter and surgeon are human beings, it is the proficiency of the art surgery which is in demand, and thus paid for.

  • zippy says:

    LTG: If setting his compensation to whatever the market rate happens to be is unjust, then what is the point in labeling his work a ‘commodity’? What does that labeling accomplish for you, that acknowledging that work is not a commodity would undermine?

  • Anonymous says:

    “Mater et Magistra forbids the treatment of labor as a commodity, and requires that the wages of a full-time employee be set as a matter of justice and not to whatever prevailing market rates happen to be”I suppose then, that it also forbids employers from paying more than a just wage (sometimes much more) if that wage is market based (which it frequently is) It would seem implicit also, that employees should not accept a wage that is more than what they need (if it is market based).

  • Bob says:

    <>he ought to be willing to say what in capitalist practice he believes the doctrine forbids.<>Sure thing. We’ve got a high illegal immigrant population in this country, and none too few businesses that are willing to exploit that illegal status. The market level of those wages is unjust. It seems very much like the 19th century economic exploitation Pope Leo was condemning.

  • zippy says:

    <>I suppose then, that it also forbids employers from paying more than a just wage (sometimes much more) if that wage is market based (which it frequently is)…<> There may indeed be such a thing as an unjustly high wage in some cases, sure. I expect that there is quite significant room between unjustly low wages and unjustly high wages, but I would not deny the possibility of the latter.

  • Anonymous says:

    Dear Zippy,To support your point–if ora est labora, and we reduce human labor to a commodity, then prayer becomes a commodity.There is something intrinsically wrong (although I am hard-pressed to say what that something is) in referring to human beings or their labor as “commodities.” Commodities are, to my mind, inanimate, insensate, and static. Labor under most circumstances is none of the three. To refer to labor as a commodity is to demean the person as another object is intrinsically wrong. And for an employer to so regard their employees leads to abuses. Probably best at this point to go to the legal recourse–further the deponent sayeth not.

  • Kevin says:

    “<>Setting wages to whatever the prevailing market rate happens to be, while ignoring the particular needs of the employee and his family, is inherently unjust.<>“Its a continual source of confusion to me that so many Catholics seem to imagine that a prevailing wage rate in today’s capitalist society is likely to be below what justice requires. America’s middle class is richer than any group of people in history. If they don’t consume enough, who does? Even a single middle-class income is more than enough to raise a family on. Much, much more. If it isn’t, you wind up saying that nobody in history ever had enough to raise a family on. Ever.???

  • love the girls says:

    Zippy writes : “What does that labeling accomplish for you, that acknowledging that work is not a commodity would undermine?”It not so much undermines as ignores an important distinction. If I purchase a book which informs me how to perform surgery because I want to know the art so as to be able to practice the art of stitching up flesh myself, what am I purchasing?If I hire the surgeon, who wrote the book, to come to my house himself and explain to me how to perform surgery because I want to know the art so as to be able to practice the art of stitching up flesh myself, what am I purchasing?Setting the paper, ink, glue and all else the book is physically made of aside and look exclusively at the intellectual property in the book, is the book a commodity?Those who deny that intellectual property can be sold, would say that there is not a commodity except for the physical book. They would likewise hold that the surgeon sitting in my house is not selling him intellectual property, but selling his time.If I hire an engineer to do the structural engineering on a house which falls down because he miscalculated the loads, is he responsible for those miscalculations if all I actually purchased was his time? If a man writes a book where he informs the reader that a nice mixture of ammonia and chlorine is great for breathing in to clear out the lungs. If all that was purchase was the physical book, is the writer responsible for the death of anyone who follows his advice?A book on surgery is an instrumental cause of my learning the art of surgery, just as a pen is an instrument cause of my writing on paper. A carpenter is the instrumental cause of the architect. The difference is that the carpenter is also a living human being, and I have an obligation to treat him as such, but that does not change his relation to the architect so as to cause him to not be an instrumental cause.The surgeon who wrote the book may also be a proficient painter, but it is qua surgeon that he is hired or his book is purchased, his proficiency at painting is accidental. So likewise is his being a human being. I must treat him with dignity because he is a living breathing human being but his being so is accidental to my learning except insofar as I need a person to directly correspond with in a way a book cannot. The same with the carpenter, the same is true of the carpenter, he has a dignity that his hammer does not, and while I need his direction of his hammer according to the art of carpentry, what I need is his direction, his direction is what is paid for. His capacity at directing a hammer is what he is in turn selling to me. He is selling his intellectual property. Or renting his intellectual property, if you prefer.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy,I cannot believe I am actually hearing this type of rhetoric from you.Are you saying then that persons whose expertise and unique skill set should not be rewarded the compensation due them?Further, you once admitted that you yourself were an entreprenuer; are you then telling me that particular individuals possessing particular skills would not actually be paid a higher salary regardless of their inherent worth which they uniquely provide to the enterprise?– e.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:<>Its a continual source of confusion to me that so many Catholics seem to imagine that a prevailing wage rate in today’s capitalist society is likely to be below what justice requires.<>Really? It is unimaginable that the outsourced work American corporations are having done in (e.g.) Indonesia is compensated at below a living wage? It is unimaginable that illegal aliens and even “under the table” citizen workers are being paid less than a living wage?e:<>Are you saying then that persons whose expertise and unique skill set should not be rewarded the compensation due them?<>No. Where have I said anything even remotely like that? I said that it is possible in particular cases for wages to be unjust on the side of excess, yes.I think at least some people are reading in a great deal which is not being said. For example, that it is possible for compensation to be excessive to the point of being unjust does not imply that everyone must make the same amount, or that there is a number beyond which any compensation is unjust. Justice is not ‘liquid’ in the way that the modern capitalist and communist mindsets want it to be liquid: it cannot be reduced to the sort of quantitative rules which can be deterministically applied by economists. Justice, in other words, is not a machine.

  • Kevin says:

    Zippy, people in countries with genuine economic freedom, like the USA, who are not breaking the law (ie not drug dealers, illegal immigrants, or working under the table) have every opportunity to achieve a luxurious standard of living (relative to human history).Third-world countries with poverty generally suffer because of corruption, absence of the rule of law, and a lack of economic freedom (as opposed to an excess of it).Capitalism (also known as economic freedom) is a Good Thing. It works best with political and religious freedom, also Good Things.

  • Danby says:

    The first question is “what constitutes a commodity?” Here is one definition:<> “A commodity is anything for which there is demand, but which is supplied without qualitative differentiation across a market. In other words, copper is copper. Rice is rice. Stereos, on the other hand, have many levels of quality. And, the better a stereo is, the more it will cost. Whereas, the price of copper is universal, and fluctuates daily based on global supply and demand.”<>Kevin,Capitalism is not a Good Thing. It is not “a Thing” at all. In so far as capitalism is consonant with the greater spiritual and material good of the people, it can be called good. In so far as it participates in Man’s sinful nature and degrades, exploits and abuses man and creation, it is bad.

  • Kevin says:

    Danby, capitalism means economic freedom. You don’t think freedom of action in the economic sphere is a good thing in and of itself?Freedom may not be man’s ultimate good. It may be a good that is subordinated to other goods. But for crying out loud, of course it is a good.In addition to the abstract good of freedom, it is a good that results in greater wealth and abundance than any other system conceived. I’d like some more of THAT, please.

  • Danby says:

    Capitalism does not mean economic freedom. You may have equated the terms, but that’s <>NOT<> what the word means.First you should tell us what type of capitalism you mean. Finance Capitalism? Mercantilism? Laissez Faire? State Capitalism? Corporate capitalism?Second, economic freedom is always relative. Those with sufficient capital are almost always free economically, the poor always less so. Is a dirt-poor rice farmer in central China more or less free with the introduction of State Capitalism in that country? Is the janitor at your local high-rise office building more free that his counterpart in your local community college. After all, he’s part of the capitalist system.In short, you assertion makes no sense except as an unthinking slogan. It sheds no light.

  • Anonymous says:

    Zippy:<>I said that it is possible in particular cases for wages to be unjust on the side of excess, yes.<>What would you classify as ‘excess’?How do you define it within the context of <>just<> employee compensation?

  • Danby says:

    Anonny,Justice has been defined as “everyone getting what’s coming to them.” Unjustly high compensation can only come at the expense of another, whether those others are employees, shareholders, or the public.A recent instance of unjustly great compensation I can think of is Carly Fiorina (McCain’s economic advisor). She made 78 million in 3 years running HP into the ground, destroying the stock price and laying off 10’s of thousands of employees. She definitely got more than was her share, at the expense of others.More generally, it’s commonly the case that CEOs and other top-level corporate types have their compensation set by a board of directors at levels that constitute theft from the shareholders. Any executive that gets a bonus while laying off employees is benefiting unfairly.

  • Kevin says:

    Danby,capitalism = the free marketThis is the common usage. If you really insist on disagreeing, just go substitute “the free market” for all the places where I said “capitalism”, and then reply substantively.

  • Anonymous says:

    Danby,You needn’t isolate Fiorini’s case as if hers was the most blatantly unjust compensation there ever was and somehow implicate McCain in the matter, however remotely. I may not be such a great admirer of the guy, but there is something to be said about a matter of decency here in addition to, ironically enough, justice.IF you kindly recall past (as well as current CEOs) who have obtained such extravagant compensation packages:“Attention to corporate pay has been fueled by some notable cases. Recently, Home Depot chief executive Bob Nardelli was earning an average of $25.7 million a year — excluding stock options — before he was forced out in a furor over his compensation. He left with a severance package worth about $210 million.”SOURCE: < HREF="http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/business/301942_bushceos01.html" REL="nofollow">Bush targets extravagant CEO salaries<>AND“State Controller Steve Westly today denounced the outrageous compensation packages given to outgoing Morgan Stanley CEO Philip Purcell and co-president Stephen Crawford…“We cannot support major league pay for minor league performance,” Controller Westly said…The Morgan Stanley Board of Directors recently approved a $113.7 million severance package for Purcell, complete with medical benefits, access to an office, administrative and secretarial staff for life, and $250,000 per year in lieu of other benefits.Morgan Stanley announced recently the resignation of co-president Crawford. After only three months as co-president, Crawford will walk away with a $32 million severance package – the same compensation he would have received had he remained co-president for two years.”

  • Anonymous says:

    SOURCE: < HREF="http://www.sco.ca.gov/eo/pressbox/2005/07/morgan_stanley0719.pdf" REL="nofollow">Westly: Excessive Executive Compensation Bad for Business<>

  • Silly Interloper says:

    The term “free market” is almost always circumscribed in economic discussions. Like all discussions about <>freedom<>, everyone and every ideology has exceptions to it, unless they are a radical anarchist or radical laissez faire economist. One example is restrictions of child labor. A pure “free market” would be free to employ and exploit children as a labor force. So looking for clarification as danby did is good and necessary. Dodging clarification as kevin did–not so good.

  • Danby says:

    Kevin, if by “free market” you mean “Laissez Faire Capitalism”, then you are either ignorant of history or an ideologue who has no concern for the common man. Laissez Faire capitalism as a disaster, not only for working men, but for families, the nations that practiced it, and the economy as whole. The 19th century had an economic depression about every 20 years. If you’re looking at what we have now, in the US, then it’s largely an unfree market, and that’s largely a good thing.

  • 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.

  • Kevin says:

    Popes Leo XIII and Pius XI (XII?) both testified that economic life was pretty difficult in those days. What is interesting is to ask why things changed.Everybody will have their own spin on things, of course, but I would give a lot of credit to the Federal Reserve post-1940 for keeping the boom/bust swings under relative control. What economic freedoms existed through the 1930s, but were taken away shortly after? FDR’s reforms can’t take too much credit. Most were enacted early in the thirties and only served to prolong the depression. It was when the spectre of random new government action was somewhat relieved that business began to really grow again. The “Great Society” reforms were likewise followed by a 15 year mediocre period before the economy began to really move again.

  • Kevin says:

    “<>Second, economic freedom is always relative. Those with sufficient capital are almost always free economically, the poor always less so. Is a dirt-poor rice farmer in central China more or less free with the introduction of State Capitalism in that country? Is the janitor at your local high-rise office building more free that his counterpart in your local community college. After all, he’s part of the capitalist system.<>“Equivocations: you should talk!I quote myself from the other post on this website: “<>There is a fundamental misunderstanding occurring here concerning the word “freedom”. Having the economic freedom not to work does not mean being independently wealthy. It means you can quit your job without getting in trouble with the LAW. It means it is for you to decide whether you should work or not. Just because you decide that you REALLY need to work does not mean you are not economically free. If you were homeless, penniless, naked, and unskilled, you would still be economically free in America. You would just be in poverty. This is the freedom that economists are talking about.<>“Wealth is not a necessary precursor of freedom.Further your distinction between an American working for a private or public institution is completely missing the point. Government employees are just as much a part of our economy as private employees, and no less free.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin: you seem to be adopting a very narrow conception of ‘free market’ to mean something like, say, “lack of debtor’s prison”. This is typical of inherently equivocal terms like “free market”, which describe a tendency, but when an attempt is made to understand them as an ideal they become incoherent. When the ideal is criticized, the most attenuated possible understanding is held up as defensible. But when on its utopian warpath its demands go well beyond the attenuated defensive understanding: no way would economic libertarians proclaim “mission accomplished” and stop talking when we’ve achieved a state such that … you can quit your job without going to prison.So Silly Interloper is quite right about the equivocation. It is built into the term “free market”.

  • Kevin says:

    “Lots of economic freedom is a good thing.”That’s a generalization. But it is also true.Are there values that economic freedom is secondary to? Of course. I’ve already said that.Does that mean it is incorrect to sing the praises of economic freedom, in the abstract? No.There is nothing “incoherent” about any of this.With regard to “debtor’s prison”, I wasn’t narrowing the definition of economic freedom: I was contrasting it to the specific, incorrect usage being employed by other commenters. Compulsion by the state is not the same as self-compulsion. One negates economic freedom and the other doesn’t.Re: child labor — I had a newspaper route at a young age and it did me a lot of good. I’m going to expect my two-year old to start picking up his toys in a couple years, without being paid at all. I guess I’m all for that kind of “exploitation”.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin, in the interest of avoiding a whole ‘nother series of red herrings, I am going to ask you the same thing I asked LTG in the other thread: do you unequivocally acknowledge that the encyclical <>Mater et Magistra<> teaches against laissez-faire capitalism on the specific point of the state of the market setting wages, or not?

  • Kevin says:

    Haven’t read it, but basically yes. The just wage is an objective standard that doesn’t rise and fall with the prevailing wage. It is possible that the prevailing wage could fall below it.That said, I think the just wage is a lot less than American Catholics tend to imagine. It is probably below the legal minimum wage, for example.

  • zippy says:

    Fair enough then. I don’t see any reason to pursue non-substantive semantic disagreements when we agree on the substance of the matter.

  • zippy says:

    (I should say, we agree on the <>principle<> of the matter. Not to spoil a moment of agreement, but I do have serious doubts as to whether a family in modern American can be dignifiably raised by an individual breadwinner earning the minimum wage, and I’ve < HREF="https://zippycatholic.wordpress.com/2008/01/single-people-and-women-should-receive.html" REL="nofollow">posted before<> on at least related issues).

  • love the girls says:

    Kevin writes : “I think the just wage is a lot less than American Catholics tend to imagine. It is probably below the legal minimum wage, for example.”While it is true, that the social norm is not the final standard by which the just wage is known and determined,and thus it could be argued that the social norm in a materialist consumerist culture is by its nature extravagant and far beyond that which is proper to man, and thus beyond that which is a just wage.But even if true, there are certain characteristics of the just wage which cannot be met by a man earning a minimum wage in America, for instance, he cannot feed and clothes a family while still earning enough money to put some aside to purchase property. Even taking into account the elimination of those items which are unnecessary beyond the minimum social norm.Or looking at it another way, the just wage is akin to modest dress, it’s known and is commensurate to the social norm. Thus, it can’t be below the minimum wage, because the minimum wage is below the social norm.Or look at it this way, what is extraordinary medical care in one society, is ordinary to another according to social norm.The minimum wage in each instance does meet that which is considered proper to a just wage.

  • love the girls says:

    my last sentence should read: The minimum wage in each instance does NOT meet that which is considered proper to a just wage.

  • Kevin says:

    There are definitely places where you could get by on the minimum wage. You would just have to find a cheap apartment with employment within walking distance. There are cities where you can rent for $500 a month or so. You could save a few hundred a month and eventually use that to make a down payment on a modest home. It might take 15-20 years, but you could do it.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:You’ve just argued that the minimum wage is a just wage <>in certain places<> and <>in certain circumstances<>. I agree.I’d suspect that a good Catholic man raising a family with (say) twelve children cannot get by on the minimum wage anywhere in America.And I’d suspect that there are places where just about nobody can get by with dignity on the minimum wage.So again, <>depending on the particular circumstances<>, the minimum wage is not universally a just wage.

  • Kevin says:

    I agree that determining the just wage requires consideration of the cost of living from place to place.We have to remember that even minimum-wage-type work pays more in areas of high cost.If there are limited areas where the minimum wage available isn’t enough, I don’t think that’s an unjust social structure. The jobs are probably held by teenagers and students and the like, and unskilled men who need to support their family can simply go to one of the many areas where a minimum wage is enough. It seems a little odd to say a man is being wronged because he refuses to move out of a high-cost area where work isn’t available. I’d say he was committing an injustice by staying!

  • Kevin says:

    “<>I’d suspect that a good Catholic man raising a family with (say) twelve children cannot get by on the minimum wage anywhere in America.<>“He could. I would really question why he has 12 kids and he can’t earn any more than the minimum wage, but to defend my point, I think he could do it. He would probably have to work a 60-70 hour week and his wife would have to clip a lot of coupons, etc. They wouldn’t own a car. But they could do it.

  • JohnMcG says:

    <>He would probably have to work a 60-70 hour week and his wife would have to clip a lot of coupons, etc<>Is this a model of family life that we want?And what happens when this 60-70 hour a week working man gets sick?

  • Kevin says:

    “<>Is this a model of family life that we want?<>“No, we want to earn $150k a year and retire at 45.But we’re talking about the minimum that justice requires, not what we “want”.You can get a minimum wage just about anywhere, so your commute time is approximately zero. Even without a paid lunch, you can leave the house at 5:30 am and be home at 5:00 pm. You have the rest of your afternoon and evening free to play with your kids. You have Sundays off. You have indoor plumbing, a fully functioning kitchen, clean clothes, and plenty of food. If you put in one or two extra long days, you can take Saturdays off too. Your work environment is relaxed and non-challenging, unless you count boredom as a challenge. You may be putting in a lot of hours, but in terms of effort you are barely lifting a finger compared to most people in the economy.It doesn’t sound that bad to me. Anybody who doesn’t like it can take night classes and better themselves.

  • Kevin says:

    Oh, and when he gets sick his healthcare is paid for by me, because he is below the poverty line.His expenses can be paid out of his considerable savings (my simulation has him putting away a good $2000 a year for a future house downpayment.)Failing that, he might ask for help from his parish.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Have you also factored in the possibility that several of those children may have a chronic disease? Or that the local public school may be inadequate or teaching immoral things, making private or home schooling necessary? Or for the family to support their parish or their neighbors in time of need, since that is apparently your solution?Now, I suppose there’s a difference between what an employer ought to and what they shoud be legally required to do. But if an employer is getting 60-70 hours a day of a person’s labor and he gets sick, I think they owe him more than the address of the local parish.And yes, there may be employers within walking distance, but are they likely to also be able to consistently offer the hours that would make the worker’s engagement in family life possible? I live in a fairly dense area, but I woudln’t be confident I could find a minimum wage job with a steady 6am – 5 PM shift.

  • JohnMcG says:

    And how is someone working 60-70 hours with a family supposed to take night classes?

  • love the girls says:

    Kevin,your comments are no more close to reality than if you had suggested surfboarding to Hawaii for Santa Barbara as a family vacation.

  • zippy says:

    <>It seems a little odd to say a man is being wronged because he refuses to move out of a high-cost area where work isn’t available. I’d say he was committing an injustice by staying!<>Well, again, it depends on the particulars. If his family has lived there for generations I would say that presumptively any businesses that move in had better be prepared to provide a living wage. I agree that it is imprudent for a man to move <>into<> a high cost area where he cannot afford to live. On the other hand I place a pretty high bar on forcing people out of their homes even indirectly.Mind you, in my view this is a both/and thing not an either/or thing. I have little sympathy when it comes to laziness, the pervasive sense of entitlement, self-inflicted adversity, etc. But I also have little sympathy for corporate exploitation. And as a result of both of those, I have little sympathy for rhetoric which pretends that one or the other doesn’t exist, or attempts to minimize the reality of either of their existence.

  • Kevin says:

    “<>Have you also factored in the possibility that several of those children may have a chronic disease? Or that the local public school may be inadequate or teaching immoral things, making private or home schooling necessary? Or for the family to support their parish or their neighbors in time of need, since that is apparently your solution?<>“What if he is a single dad? What if he has no legs? What if he is speared by a wayward javelin at a high school track and field meet and the javelin can’t be removed without killing him and he has to walk around with a SPEAR STUCK OUT OF HIS BODY, HOW IS HE GOING TO GET BY ON THE JUST WAGE THEN, HUH?

  • Kevin says:

    “<>your comments are no more close to reality than if you had suggested surfboarding to Hawaii for Santa Barbara as a family vacation.<>“I did that one time it was awesome LOL.

  • Kevin says:

    “<>But I also have little sympathy for corporate exploitation. And as a result of both of those, I have little sympathy for rhetoric which pretends that one or the other doesn’t exist, or attempts to minimize the reality of either of their existence.<>“You’re begging the question if this is directed at me. We are discussing what the just wage might entail. We don’t know if corporate exploitation (in the form of an unjust wage, I assume is what you mean) is taking place until we’ve established that the just wage is NOT being paid.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Do you know many families with more than one child who have not had to deal with a serious health problem with at least one of them?I’m 2 for 2.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:Are you seriously of the opinion that no corporate exploitation takes place? Because if you are, then I doubt it is possible for me to even discuss the matter with you productively.

  • Kevin says:

    zippy- no, I took you to be talking about exploitation specifically in terms of wage that was beneath the just wage.john – people making the minimum wage currently have a great health care plan called OPM: Other People’s Money.

  • zippy says:

    Yes, that was what I was talking about. Are you seriously contending that no corporation pays any employees an unjustly low wage? Anywhere?

  • JohnMcG says:

    Zippy, I don’t want to put words in his mouth, but I think Kevin is arguing that the current minimum wage is more than a sufficient safeguard against exploitive wages.

  • zippy says:

    I understand, John.His premise seems to be that that is the case in <>some places<>, that where it is not the case the wages are sufficiently higher anyway, and where they aren’t sufficiently higher the jobs in question are high schooler jobs not jobs for men with families. IOW, in no case does corporate exploitation in the form of unjustly low wages actually take place.If so, it would be an extremely odd moral law which was literally never broken in practice. (And can you say “Wal Mart”?)

  • Kevin says:

    “<>If so, it would be an extremely odd moral law which was literally never broken in practice.<>“Is it so hard to imagine that the people who live in the richest country in human history are not paid too little? Even our grandfathers had it pretty good, and we are doing much better than they.

  • zippy says:

    Averages are not particulars.

  • Kevin says:

    Look, I’m not saying that it is impossible that there is somebody somewhere who somehow is doing their best and not making a just wage. But they are the very rare exception.If you are a man with a Bachelor’s degree, which, lets face it, anybody can get these days, what kind of income can you expect for a full year of work? If you are between the ages of 25 and 34 (not a whole lot of experience), you have only a 7.9% chance of earning less than $25k. (The 65 hr a week minimum wage we have been discussing comes to a little over $22k.) Now you tell me, how motivated are the bottom 7.9% of earners in that group? How many of them are supporting a family? I guess: approximately none of them.Radicaly scenarios aside, you can raise a family on the minimum wage. But nobody is actually doing that. They are making 3, 10, 15 thousand a year more than that. Why do they FEEL like they are struggling? Lifestyle inflation. Its all psychological. They get an extra $300 a month in income, and instead of saving it, they move to a bigger house or a bigger apartment. Then when there is a random expense they didn’t anticipate, they don’t have the money for it.People don’t save, but that doesn’t mean its impossible. They just willingly take on more risk than they have to. They are free to do that, and they are free to deal with the consequences. That’s life.

  • love the girls says:

    Kevin, The dentist and sundry other doctors, , a car that can hold a min. of 8, the mortgage, food, clothing and shoes, catholic schools, the midwife for home birth ,insurance, washing machines and dryers, and the list goes on and on, all cost a fair amount of money each. I live those expenses, and I do know the struggles.And forget the corporations. Let’s talk about those who work for small businesses and are self employed. Life is a struggle, and the wages are tough to live on.It’s one of the reasons people shop at places like walmart, buying inferior products, who outsouce and pay bad wages, its so they can get the minimum to get by on.

  • love the girls says:

    btw, your $2000 a year savings is laughable. That money is never there. Do you know what an emergency room visit costs? And they do happen, (and stitches and broken bones can’t wait nor can they be purchase at the thrift store), and the insurance to cover it is more than attempting to cover it oneself.Electricity and water, are expensive and the price keeps going up and up. If a vacuum cleaner lasts a year its a blessing. The same virtually goes for the washing machine which is constantly running. And carpet and vinyl are expensive and don’t last. Roofs leak, paint needs replacing, faucets break, cars break, and you do need them, and to say otherwise is nonsense. Nothing lasts. And we can’t go back to living as Laura Ingles Wilder did. And if you did try it, the social services would not approve of it, and the building dept. wouldn’t let you build the house or live in it.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:Again, while there are any number of things you are saying with which I agree, you are completely and wrongly one-sided on it, and you intersperse ridiculous comments like <>“If you are a man with a Bachelor’s degree, which, lets face it, anybody can get these days, …”<>Hopefully you do realize that 1) The great majority of Americans do not have bachelor’s degrees;2) This is not simply a matter of laziness or lack of will; and in addition3) Many bachelor’s degrees are quite literally useless in terms of employment.I get the impression that, like many people, you are probably universalizing your own experiences.

  • Kevin says:

    Who can’t go to a community college and get a degree, and why? Tell me.

  • Kevin says:

    “<>btw, your $2000 a year savings is laughable. That money is never there.<>“Most people feel that way, although they make drastically different amounts of money from one another.I cannot stress that enough.Why do we feel this way? Because it is a psychological issue. Your impression of you expenses rises to meet your income. I will be the first to say it is amazingly difficult to counter this natural way of managing money. You have to build unexpected expenses into your budget, and find someplace to put the savings where it doesn’t burn a hole in your pocket.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:On the matter of college degrees, you are talking out of your hat. In the first place, most community colleges offer associates degrees not bachelors degrees. In the second place, not everyone is capable of or suited to going to college, for reasons as varied as human beings and their circumstances are varied[*]. I believe the percentage of Americans who get bachelors degrees is somewhere less than 20%. Not everyone finishes high school, though the majority do. People who go to college are now, and have always been, in the minority.Again, you are to all appearances attempting to universalize your own experience. Wherever you happen to be on various bell curves, that is not where <>everyone<> is on those same bell curves.[*] These days this is treated by hypercapitalists as a moral failing, as if there was something wrong with anyone who is not “college material”. That little dehumanizing attitude gets no more sympathy from me than the entitlement attitude which, you correctly point out, is also widespread.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Everybody in this thread probably knows that I’m unsympathetic to the living wage principle, at least as I understand it. But I’ve wondered for a long time what it actually amounts to, and from this thread I’m getting a bit of a sense that I find rather eye-opening. John McG brings up the question of whether a Catholic man with 12 children could raise them on the minimum wage, then we have a discussion of that. Others bring up the cost of education, vehicles, and so forth. Now, I would like to see how many people would actually sign on to the following statement: “It is an employer’s duty, if he employs any man full-time, to pay him enough money for that full-time job to support himself, his wife, and however many children he has, including quite large numbers like 12 or more children, where ‘support’ includes medical care/benefits, a large enough vehicle or vehicles for the family to ride in, and educational expenses, as well, of course, as food, clothing, shelter, household appliances, and household items. If an employer cannot pay a man that much, he is obligated not to offer a full-time job and to do whatever is required to avoid offering such a job, up to and including shutting down his business, for a failure to pay a man a living wage for his family of whatever size for a full-time job is objectively morally wrong. He is also morally obligated not to disaggregate (sp?) the full-time job into part-time jobs in order to get the work done, so the employer doesn’t have very many moral options if he can’t fully support the man with twelve children.”

  • Kevin says:

    Census.gov says 28.8% of people aged 25-34 have a bachelors or higher. But I still see no reason why anybody with an IQ over room temperature could get a degree in something if they really wanted to.

  • Kevin says:

    Lydia, I think employers who cannot pay a high wage are morally permitted to discriminate against men with families.The just wage for someone with 2 kids is obviously less than the just wage for someone who has 12. I don’t think anyone is going to pounce on an employer for hiring the first guy and not the second. Therefore we have to apply the principle on a case by case basis.

  • Kevin says:

    Oh, and the question of a vehicle depends on your area. (Many people in cities don’t bother to get a drivers license.) If you have the possibility of using public transportation to get to your workplace from somewhere that has groceries etc nearby, then I don’t think your employer is obligated to fund your car just because you want to live in the suburbs.

  • zippy says:

    Kevin:<>But I still see no reason why anybody with an IQ over room temperature could get a degree in something if they really wanted to.<>That is one reason why I see no reason to take you seriously.Lydia:Part of the problem with these kinds of discussions is that the right answer can’t, at least in my understanding, be reduced to a small set of rules or case-archetypes which we can apply more or less universally. For that reason I am very skeptical of the usual proposed government interventions, and I don’t have any great alternatives to them. On the other hand I have little sympathy for the “see no evil” approach which segueys from there to the notion that there just isn’t, as a practical matter, any such thing as econonomic injustice or unjust practices in setting wages in particular cases.

  • Kevin says:

    All you’ve really said on the issue is “<>not everyone is capable of or suited to going to college, for reasons as varied as human beings and their circumstances are varied<>“That’s pretty weak. Make your argument!

  • Kevin says:

    Its also worth noting that there is a lot of union-type alternative labor that pays pretty well. You can be an electrician, a plumber, etc etc, and make a significant premium over the minimum wage without a college education.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    Kevin, I’m a little confused. I thought you were the guy arguing _against_ the whole just wage thing. Now, is the point you are making here that the employer _should_ discriminate against the man with 12 kids, because otherwise he won’t be paying him a living wage? But in that case, isn’t that harming the guy with 12 kids? It’s hard to see how a moral principle that you have to refuse to hire the man who needs more is going to help the man who needs more.Zippy, the reason I ask questions like that is because I get the impression from you that you consider certain wages unjust apart from consequences. So, for example, you aren’t much moved by the argument that a particular principle will cause a rise in unemployment. My impression is that you are saying that that doesn’t matter, because it’s not right to do wrong (hire a man for too little) in order to avoid increasing unemployment. Well, okay, then I’m trying to figure out just how far this all goes. One of the reasons I balk at the whole living wage idea is that it seems to me to be saying that the employee takes on responsibilities and that this then automatically places on the employer the responsibility to take care of him. To get the issue of NFP or contraception out of the picture, suppose that the employee and his wife are totally infertile but that they have deliberately _adopted_ 12 children. Now, why can’t the employer say, “Well, that was a pretty darned imprudent thing to do, and I’m not obligated to pay enough to subsidize it”? Or suppose that the employee is so unskilled that the work he is proposing to do wouldn’t even support the _five_ children he and his wife have adopted. Or whatever. I’m trying to get a handle on what it means to say that the employer is doing an injustice _in itself_ not to pay him a living wage. What kind of living? Why can’t the burden of making those prudential calls be left with the employee, who doubtless does have at least some responsibility in the matter? And what is the employer obligated to do if he can’t afford to pay such a living wage–whatever that wage might be? Shut down his business altogether? Discriminate against the man with a family?The whole thing just seems to me misguided and counterintuitive to the max.

  • Kevin says:

    Lydia, I am arguing that the just wage is a lot lower than most people think it is.I don't think an employer generally “should” discriminate against a guy with a large family, but if justice requires that guy to receive a larger pay than the prevailing (&just) wage for another applicant, I think the employer may discriminate against him with a clear conscience. I agree that this isn't good for the guy with the big family.The key is I don't think the prevailing wage drops beneath the just wage almost EVER in our society. Wages in a free market tend to equal the marginal product of labor, and capitalism makes productivity go sky-high, even for the “marginal” employee.The proof is in the pudding: We're richer than any society in human history. Even our poor are rich by historical standards.

  • JohnMcG says:

    Part of what our grandparents lived without that we aren’t is modern medical care. They would not be paying for perscriptions, vaccinations, etc.Just because people lived without those things in previous generations doesn’t mean that it is just to make people live without them today. Without modern medical care, I doubt either of my daughters would still be alive today. I am blessed to live at a time and be able to be employed such that they and my wife received and recieve top-notch medical care. And I think an employer who would compensate it’s full-time employees such that they did not have access to such care for their families is exploiting them.Now, I have little patience for the notion that 21st Century is so inhospitable to raising children that 1 million annual abortions is a natural consequence. But it still ain’t a picnic.It’s not all about cable TV and souped-up SUV’s.

  • zippy says:

    <>My impression is that you are saying that that [a rise in unemployment] doesn’t matter, because it’s not right to do wrong (hire a man for too little) in order to avoid increasing unemployment.<>That is right. Remote aggregated economic effects like ‘unemployment will be less’ do not justify individual unjust acts; even if the connection is clear. (I think it is far from clear if our ‘metric’ is quality of life, but even a higher aggregate quality of life would not justify individual unjust acts).Your other questions are (as usual) interesting and illuminating. I would say that <>at the time of hire<> an employer is responsible to insure that he is providing a living wage to the man he hires, as he is, which includes reasonable expectations for the future. If that employee subsequently and voluntarily takes on some responsibility that (say) triples his expenses, it is far more incumbent upon the employee to find provision for that increase than the employer. On the other hand there are incremental costs as a family grows which are ordinary and should be expected by the employer as time goes on; they should work together on these. An employment relationship is necessarily and always (when moral) a partnership between mutually responsible human beings; not an entitlement for the parasite-worker, not a fungible productivity unit for the employer.<>I’m trying to get a handle on what it means to say that the employer is doing an injustice _in itself_ not to pay him a living wage. What kind of living?<>Well, I think as with any number of virtues the virtue of paying fairly is like chastity, in the sense that there are some very obvious cases and a very great many not so obvious cases; and only the former is the kind of thing amenable to regulation. But that doesn’t make me soft on porn. If full time employees are homeless, living in subsidized housing, living on food stamps, require three breadwinners to stay in a small apartment, etc that is a pretty good indication that there is injustice going on.

  • Tomm says:

    While I agree with the idea in theoretical form that it is morally wrong to pay a man an unjust wage merely on account of its being the “going rate”, I don’t believe that the Church has ever helpfully indicated how a businessman is to avoid the moral error as a systematic practice. Especially if he employs many. The problem is, at root, identifying a “just wage”. For example, there is the basic “living wage” concept, enough for the basics of life. In some arenas, people are extremely confident that any wage below minimum wage is unjust (indeed, they think it needs to be much higher) because it is impossible to support even a husband and wife on min wage, much less children. This neglects the fact that some components of the work force are already supported by their parents, live at home, and don’t need to sustain themselves. But for such teenagers, is paying a “living wage” a moral requirement? Not obviously. (Historically, too, teens were apprenticed just starting out and were not expected to earn enough to support themselves for quite some time.) More broadly, nobody can gather the threads of the whole economy in his hands and sort through them IN DETAIL to say with even a modicum of confidence how much is the “just amount” to pay a mid-level manager, except by reference to the market. Some time ago, I wrote a paper suggesting the following thesis for a potential help in getting at a just wage: that wage is just which is adequate to support, in a person’s private life, those responsibilities which are proportionate to the responsibilities he manages at work. Probably the largest disconnect in application of just wage theory, if this thesis is valid, is that there are not enough jobs whose responsibilities are proportionate to those of raising a family, so that the natural effect is too many people who cannot support their families adequately. Possibly the real culprit in bad business practice is the practice of watering down jobs to make them fit only for mindless automatons, thus reducing their fitness for a single family breadwinner.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I’d have a lot more sympathy for a much weaker thesis. Suppose we just said that an employer is obligated to take into account an employee’s needs as one factor among many in considering wage, and that a proper consideration of employee needs will likely sometimes result in paying higher than the going market rate for some given employee’s work. That’s something I might well be able to get on board with, or at least it’s something I would take seriously. But, as I think often happens with Protestants considering Catholic teachings, I see it as a very strong teaching. (Often, I think, the Protestant who doesn’t accept the teaching may see more clearly how strong it actually is than the Catholic who ostensibly does accept it.) The employer is obligated, for all his full-time workers supporting a family, to provide a living wage. Now that’s very strong. It seems to imply that, whatever a living wage is, if you can’t provide it to all your full-time, family-supporting workers, you should close up shop. Or fire the family men among your workers? (Which seems a strange way to show your support for the family in society!) And all the more so if a corollary to it is that it is immoral to break the full-time jobs down into part-time jobs in order to get the work done while not expecting anybody to live on the wages. This seems to me an enormous burden to place on businesses, and all the more so since its _intrinsic_ force simply is not clear to me at all. For one thing, you could very well be treating your workers as people, wish you could pay them more, but not be able to pay them a living wage without going out of business. And you might realize that _all_ of you, including your employees with whom you have a personal relationship and for whom you feel responsible, will be worse off if that happens.

  • Tomm says:

    Lydia: Yes, I agree very much with that. My thesis is not intended to say that ONLY that wage is just if it is sufficient to meet the proportionate private responsibilities, merely that such a wage is in fact just, without needing to ask further questions. Or maybe as the starting point for the just wage in itself – before other considerations enter in. When you offer a lower wage, that wage might ALSO be just, but it can only be so by reason of further considerations, as you indicate: the going wage, business conditions, the exceptional needs of this family, etc. As for fine tuning a person’s wage to his personal situation – is that even remotely realistic when you have a large manufacturing plant with hundreds (or thousands) of workers to fit into the operation? Since the individual worker knows his own family situation intimately, and his needs, HE is the one who bears the first and most critical responsibility for matching the work and its pay to his needs. After that, yes I do believe that the employer bears an obligation to consider it, but only as a secondary issue, such as paying a worker a higher wage for 6 months while X condition at home is working itself out, or for 3 years while he trains for a higher-level job that will pay more – but not a permanent obligation to pay more for this one worker merely because his need is higher.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I’m sorry for being unclear, Tom. When I said “a weaker thesis,” I meant “weaker than I interpret the Catholic teaching on the just wage to be” not “weaker than your thesis as stated.”I’ve wondered a bit about this business about treating each worker as an individual and fine-tuning to his needs. It seems like an ideal, but an unreachable one. More ironically still, it is *utterly incompatible* with the goals and demands of unions, who are the Great Standardizers. In fact, even paying married men or men with children more than men without these responsibilities would be flatly against the demands of every union in the country. Yet the very papal encyclicals that kicked off this discussion and that guide Catholic thinking and teaching on this subject are *strongly* pro-union, casting the entire discussion in heavily positive language about the “rights of workers to form associations,” which doesn’t take much interpretation to see as a thumbs-up vote for closed shop. After all, we never hear about “the rights of workers _not_ to form associations, or not to join them”!!! Yet unions are extremely standardizing and impersonalizing and run exactly counter to the thrust that is the best “spin” one can put on Catholic teaching here–namely, that people should be treated as individual persons and their individual needs and abilities taken into account, a personal relationship of loyalty developed between employee and employer, etc.,etc.

  • zippy says:

    Lydia:FWIW, though ‘wind down’ and recession situations can get complex, on the <>initial hiring<> side of things I tend to agree that there is a ‘strong thesis’ here. If there are some businesses one cannot get into in current market conditions without acting unjustly toward emplolyees, one ought not get into those businesses. When previously viable businesses become unviable it is a more complex situation both morally and otherwise; but yes, I would say that it is not OK to adopt unjust practices in order to save a business. It may be fine for everyone to mutually agree to something as a temporary solution, with the understanding that they are working toward making things materially better — when everyone is hurting. But in particular the case I think the doctrine most clearly addresses is the one where the business is making great profits, is taking up the full-time labor of employees, and is not paying those employees enough to live on. These cases are not at all uncommon inside the US, though these days the exploited labor is most often (but not always) illegal aliens.I agree with you about unions as they have actually been carried out. Like companies in practice, or international organizations like the UN in practice, they have tended to be far from good or even benign actors. On the other hand it would be foolish to rule out unions (organized labor), companies (organized capital), and international organizations (or other organized politics) <>in principle<>.

  • Tomm says:

    Zippy, yes, I think you are right: insofar as unions have been set up here in the US, in most places/businesses/industries, they have been as much problem makers as problem solvers. But as a general rule and over the long term (centuries and more), the standards to be laid out in encyclicals must be valid in general, and that clearly includes the right of labor to organize and associate. I recall some of the nonsense USAirways went through: they were about to go bankrupt, so they pushed the unions into accepting an actual DECREASE in salaries (now THAT’s amazing) and reduction in pension accruals, with some kind of implicit promise that at a later date these would be reversed. Some year later they paid huge bonuses to execs, and (now why does this not surprise me) it appeared that some of the union leaders also had been paid a large amount. Hmmmm. Makes you wonder. Yes, I think that when you have an existing business that is facing desperate times, it is very reasonable to ask the employees to take a hit along with the owner(s), with the understanding that eventually that loss WILL BE MADE UP out of profits later on.

  • Tomm says:

    Lydia, I always thought that the concept of a closed union shop is DIRECTLY antithetical to Catholic principles as laid out by the Popes in encyclicals, etc. The notion that you <> have to <> belong to the union to hold the job is as much contrary to freedom of association as that you <> must not <> belong to a union. Freedom of association includes within it the notion of freely choosing not to associate with X. Same as freedom of religion – it implies freedom to NOT associate with some state religion, even through taxes, for example.

  • Lydia McGrew says:

    I think we’d have to ask the popes what they thought about that. I have a feeling they might not agree with you. Remember that the notion of closed shop isn’t new-fangled. Yet AFAIK (I’d be happy to be corrected) they never condemned it. And in my own highly unionized state, right-to-work laws are always called “union-busting.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

What’s this?

You are currently reading I’ll show you mine… at Zippy Catholic.

meta

%d bloggers like this: