The National Catholic Review

Since “redistribution” is in the news these days, I thought it might be valuable to offer some passages from Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritate on the theme.  He uses the term 8 times.  The basic concept of redistribution is accepted as moral obligation to achieve distributive justice that the market alone cannot deliver on both the national and international scale.  This doesn’t preclude critical awareness of the need for doing it well and preserving the participation and full development of persons in need.

As Tom Reese says so often, in these matters, the Popes are far to the left of any politician in America. 

The final passage does not mention redistribution, but so tracks the current stakes in our politics I have found myself returning to it repeatedly since it was written.

 

32. Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country's international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development. Moreover, the human consequences of current tendencies towards a short-term economy — sometimes very short-term — need to be carefully evaluated. This requires further and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals, as well as a profound and far-sighted revision of the current model of development, so as to correct its dysfunctions and deviations.

36. Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

37. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

39. Paul VI in Populorum Progressio called for the creation of a model of market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off. He called for efforts to build a more human world for all, a world in which “all will be able to give and receive, without one group making progress at the expense of the other.” In this way he was applying on a global scale the insights and aspirations contained in Rerum Novarum, written when, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the idea was first proposed — somewhat ahead of its time — that the civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution.

42. The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; if badly directed, however, they can lead to an increase in poverty and inequality, and could even trigger a global crisis. It is necessary to correct the malfunctions, some of them serious, that cause new divisions between peoples and within peoples, and also to ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty: a real danger if the present situation were to be badly managed. For a long time it was thought that poor peoples should remain at a fixed stage of development, and should be content to receive assistance from the philanthropy of developed peoples. Paul VI strongly opposed this mentality in Populorum Progressio. Today the material resources available for rescuing these peoples from poverty are potentially greater than before, but they have ended up largely in the hands of people from developed countries, who have benefited more from the liberalization that has occurred in the mobility of capital and labour. The world-wide diffusion of forms of prosperity should not therefore be held up by projects that are self-centred, protectionist or at the service of private interests. Indeed the involvement of emerging or developing countries allows us to manage the crisis better today. The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity. Unfortunately this spirit is often overwhelmed or suppressed by ethical and cultural considerations of an individualistic and utilitarian nature.

49. What is also needed, though, is a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them. The fate of those countries cannot be left in the hands of whoever is first to claim the spoils, or whoever is able to prevail over the rest.

 

 

25. From the social point of view, systems of protection and welfare, already present in many countries in Paul VI's day, are finding it hard and could find it even harder in the future to pursue their goals of true social justice in today's profoundly changed environment. The global market has stimulated first and foremost, on the part of rich countries, a search for areas in which to outsource production at low cost with a view to reducing the prices of many goods, increasing purchasing power and thus accelerating the rate of development in terms of greater availability of consumer goods for the domestic market. Consequently, the market has prompted new forms of competition between States as they seek to attract foreign businesses to set up production centres, by means of a variety of instruments, including favourable fiscal regimes and deregulation of the labour market. These processes have led to a downsizing of social security systems as the price to be paid for seeking greater competitive advantage in the global market, with consequent grave danger for the rights of workers, for fundamental human rights and for the solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State. Systems of social security can lose the capacity to carry out their task, both in emerging countries and in those that were among the earliest to develop, as well as in poor countries. Here budgetary policies, with cuts in social spending often made under pressure from international financial institutions, can leave citizens powerless in the face of old and new risks; such powerlessness is increased by the lack of effective protection on the part of workers' associations. Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum,60 for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.

 

Comments

Vince Killoran | 9/24/2012 - 6:12pm
I take your point David-but when the same points are submitted time & again it isnt' dialogue. It's tedious.
J Cosgrove | 9/26/2012 - 10:18am
'' I got your position correctly It does not allow for bargaining between roughly equal human beings but only for one master in an enterprise and everyone else a servant. ''


That correctly describes the world of public service unions in a large part of this country.  Public service unions are where the unions elect those they negotiate with and the people who pay both the union personnel and the ones they elect are a third party not in the negotiations.  Mancur Olsen described this process in his book, The Rise and Fall of Nations, where smaller groups can organize but large diffuse groups cannot.  In that way small cohesive groups actually rule the majority for a certain period of time.  It is a major problem with our society as these ''rent seekers'' end up controlling a lot of the economic power without the rest realizing it.


For example, The discussions on unions on this blog is mainly on a now minor form of unions in the private sector not on what they have morphed into in the public sector.  Arguments in favor of the public sector unions use the arguments for the private sector unions of over 50-100 years ago even though the unions are very different types of organizations and have very different bargaining practices.  It is exactly the same rhetorical technique Clayton Sinyai has used often on this site.  Bring up past grievances in the private sector to justify modern public service unions.  Complete non-sequiturs but useful for obscuring the actual debate. 


Unions are not a small part of redistribution which is the theme of this OP but nevertheless they are a redistribution in our society.  Today for the public service unions it is a redistribution of the lower middle class to the upper middle class, not what I am sure Mr. Miller wants one to focus on.  There is a similarity in the arguments used here on the discussion of unions with the arguments of the OP.  The OP uses rhetorical techniques to obscure the basic issue.  It is a technique the authors here are good at.  They never want one to focus on the actual core issues but use mis-direction or vagueness to get one to nod their heads without any real insight into the actual issues.  All geared to support a particular political approach as opposed to the implementation of a religious principle.  If you believe the terms ''social justice'' or ''subsidiarity'' or ''solidarity'' as used here has anything to do with helping the poor then I have a bridge I want to sell you in lower Manhattan.
T BLACKBURN | 9/25/2012 - 7:55pm
Give it up, Tim (45.) You failed to mention that the union you support would always accept graciously the wage and working conditions the employer deems appropriate, and the union members would tug their forelocks when speaking to their job-creatorsw. But it's implicit in whatever else you said.
Stanley Kopacz | 9/21/2012 - 8:38am
The ability of global energy and mineral corporations to get richer by screwing poor countries out of their just compensation for their resources and leaving an environmental mess has been conclusively proved.  It's not charity. It's justice.  And if what we have done hasn't worked, we better figure it out or just stop mucking around in the world and leave them the hell alone to figure it out themselves.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 9/21/2012 - 8:25am
I agree with David Smith; the history of the Vatican's financial dealings suggest the Holy Spirit's expertise in economics is something less than infallible.

It is true that it is much harder to verify hypotheses in economics than in, say, chemistry. But some hypotheses are so easily falsified there is no point in discussing them. The proposition that the way to end global poverty is for rich countries to simply throw money at poor countries has been conclusively disproved.
Tim O'Leary | 9/25/2012 - 5:53pm
Jim #44 and Tom #43
I agree the Christian call is radical, but there is a key feature you and others seem to have missed. It should not be coercive. It shouldn't try to capture one's allegience by power, by force, but by a call and a response of the heart and mind. Even though Christians have often used force in history, it is not the way of Christ and it was wrong. By all means, call the rich to conversion and the virtues, like generosity. Also, there is a lot of unapologetic and robust hate expressed for the ''rich'' on this blog, even on this post. Just read the earlier entries above.

Regarding unions, it is completely within Catholic teaching to decry the coercion and violence and other bad behavior of powerful organizations, whether unions, or corporations or banks, etc. I did point out above that unions can be good as well as bad. I fully support unions that are arranged voluntarily, are free of political and organizational corruption and especially that abjure violence and coercion. many unions need to be reformed - transparency, no closed shops, regular elections, always with secret ballots, and they should not give money to political campaigns that go against the wishes of their members.
David Smith | 9/25/2012 - 2:22am
As  for ''coerced dues'' I believe you are (once again) referring to the ''closed shop'' practice.  Here it is in short form: workers vote on whether to have union representation in the workplace.  The workers vote in a democratic election to have the union.  Now you abide by the election and are a union member.  Don't like the results? Work for a decertification of the union.

When you are part of a democratic society do you just ignore the results you don't like? Does this mean that Barack Obama isn't really president of the USA because you never voted for him?

Vince, perhaps the parallel fails fatally in that presidential elections are held repeatedly, every four years, whereas, so far as I know, union members vote only once on what kind of shop to have, then there are no more elections. This is what the wikipedia ''union shop'' article says about subsequent elections:
Union-represented employees covered by a union shop agreement may ask the NLRB to hold a ''deauthorization election'' to allow all bargaining unit employees to vote to determine whether the clause will continue to remain in effect.

That seems to say that any subsequent elections are unusual, extraordinary, not normal. And that suggests that once a union is in, it's unlikely to be voted out.
Vince Killoran | 9/25/2012 - 9:27am
David-Like political elections union elections for officers occurs on a regular basis. It's true: union recognition elections can best be likened to the formation of a country or nation, i.e.,we don't hold elections every four years in the USA on whether to continue as a republic. Decertification, however, is quite possible and (unfortnately) occurs on a regular basis and are determined by a majority vote. Given the protection against workplace abuse and unsafe working conditions as well as the higher wages and benefits that come with a union contract it's no surprise that unionized employees endorse the labor movement as a response to unchecked abuses.
J Cosgrove | 9/26/2012 - 5:24pm
Mr. Dunn,

We have a couple things in common.  First, I just downloaded your book to my kindle and will read it shortly and second, I also grew up in Philadelphia.


Mr. Killoran,


You introduced private sector unions while my comment was mainly about public sector unions.  You did what I said everyone who supports unions do, switch the discussion to private sector unions instead of dealing with a completely different type of situation, public sector work.  I believe the Wagner Act does not apply to public sector unions and the master servant relationship is certainly not appropriate for public sector unions in the way you used it.  Actually the master is mainly the union and the servant is who they negotiate with because often they receive donations from the unions.  There are thousands of examples from all across the country with California being a good example of their excess.  Those who pay are usually people who never see let alone participate in the negotiations.  Not true in private sector unions.


My objection to a lot of private union activity is less than my objections to the public sector unions.  They are now a minor factor and they have less effect now with strikes which was their main threat till the late 70's.  Let's just say my main objection to private unions is that they are suboptimal for all while favoring a select sub group, themselves, and in the process reduce the efficiency of the economy overall which means that there is less on average for everyone except themselves who end up with a greater share.   See Mancur Olsen's book for a discussion of this.


Private sector unions do this in numerous ways but two are work rules and demand for high compensation which reduces the ability of the employer to compete in a private sector nationally and internationally because of higher costs.  They also exclude non union workers which are generally poorer and must find somewhere else to use their skills that are frequently less appropriate for the jobs they find.  Private unions essentially create more poor.  But today this is generally not as true since they are a minor factor in the economy.


My guess is that Catholic social policy would change if they examined more carefully just what effects unions have on the economy.  I can see some benefits of private union activity, an important one is safety and work conditions for the workers.  I can also see some economic benefit for a corporation if the union ensures stability of the workforce.  So I would not try to make blanket accusations about how someone else thinks.  I would support unions if I thought they led to the common good.  They mainly lead to the good of a select subset of the economy and in the case of public sector unions, some who are very, very comfortable.
Joseph J Dunn | 9/26/2012 - 2:42pm
Redistribution, through charity or government institutions, has long been a part of America's culture. Our numerous experiments in promoting the general welfare show that some worked well. Others, however, failed. Those failures wasted resources, and caused real suffering for the very people they were intended to help. One example: FDR's WPA and related programs were intended to provide jobs for those who could work, and relief for the ''unemployables'' (his term), all funded by high taxes. But five years into this, in 1939, one third of American households had income below the poverty level, the unemployment rate was 14%, innovation in industry and other fields was dormant, and non-profit organizations were struggling from diminished cash flows. My book, After One Hundred Years: Corporate Profits, Wealth, and American Society, provides much more on this.
Vince Killoran | 9/26/2012 - 1:06pm
" Public service unions are where the unions elect those they negotiate with and the people who pay both the union personnel and the ones they elect are a third party not in the negotiations."


Again with this argument Cosgrove?  In fact, public officials are no push overs when it comes to negotiating with public sector unions.  Ask the Chicago teachers. . .

But that doesn't matter.  There are no facts or references to Catholic social teachings that will move you (or Tim et al.) to support unions. Fair enough.  You are idelologically opposed to unions and collective bargaining rights. Why not just admit that you guys endorse the old master-servant relationship that ruled labor relations before the Wagner Act and be done with it?  The not-so-coy provisio that you guys do really support unions-just not any unions that have ever been in exisitence is tiresome and transparently glibe. 
T BLACKBURN | 9/26/2012 - 5:40am
Tim, I guess I got your position correctly It does not allow for bargaining between roughly equal human beings but only for one master in an enterprise and everyone else a servant. It's either the rich "job creator" or the "union boss" for you. No Mr. In Between. There is a time warp all right. You are in the middle ages.
Tim O'Leary | 9/25/2012 - 8:08pm
Tom #46
I think you have just said the only way to accept unions is to give them coercive power over workers. So, like Animal Farm, you just want to replace the people in power, not empower the workers. I feel like I am stuck in a time-warp, arguing with ideas discredited in the last century.
James Palermo | 9/25/2012 - 12:39pm
No wonder Jesus was so misunderstood. His audience probably included people like those whose comments herein distort His simple teachings. No one says "Hate the rich." I say "Hate greed." Read Acts 2: Early Christians sold all they had and distributed the money among their neighbors based on thier needs.  Being Christian is radical: we have the obligation to ask how many homes a person needs, how many millions of dollars do people need to stuff under mattresses (bank accounts in foreign countries.)  Jesus did not hate the rich, but neither did he seek out their company. When they called upon Him, he responded (as with the rich man's daughter) but His compassion was for the poor, whom we are called to serve.  We are called to do justice.  The message of Jesus is simple: love your neighbor as you love yourself...and who is your neighbor? 
T BLACKBURN | 9/25/2012 - 9:42am
I'm surprised you guys are still going, and I am still not sure how this got from distribution-wth-justice to union-bashing. Union-bashing always shocks me on Catholic Web sites.
 (What next? No virgin birth?) But anyway, I want to suggest to Mr. Smith and Mr. O'Leary that they try to explain their oppositon to unions to Green Bay Packer fans this morning. In their explanations, I hope they devote particular attention to the equivalency of scabs.
Tim O'Leary | 9/25/2012 - 12:12am
I didn't say google Trumka and Reuters (it was union bosses! - you missed it twice). You really should read before you write. An email exchange would be unlikely to shed more light. You are making excuses for the bad acts of unions, and hiding their coercive methods under a democratic veneer.
Vince Killoran | 9/24/2012 - 11:49pm
Jimmy Hoffa was a good guy?!  Huh? I'm not certain what you mean but the overwhelming majority of labor activists would never make that claim.

Do you feel coerced by elections?  My point is that unions are democratic workplace organizations-they aren't a men's fraternal organization or a wine tasting club.

Why is Rich Trumka a "political hack"? If you have evidence of Trumka's wrongdoing please share it with us-but telling me to Goggle "Trumka" and "Reuters" and I will find references to "union bosses" is downright silly.  Please Goggle "Santorium" and tell me what you discover in the first couple of results.

p.s. Your laundry list of labor's positions is inccurate.  As for "sceret ballots" I take it you are referring to the defunct card check legislation. I was never a fan of it-but the current labor law regime is lopsided to a significant degree in the employers' favor.  The labor law system has been broken for a long, long time.  I have a couple of acquaintances who worked in personnel and HR.  They report that interferring with a union recognition campaign is easy and few penalities apply for companies.  They will gladly pay them. Even if the union wins they drag their feet on signing the first contract so it never sees the light of day.  Real fair, democratic, and Christian. That brings us back to Catholic social teaching.

Since this seems to be a debate between us I'd be happy to continue it through e-mail exchange.
Tim O'Leary | 9/24/2012 - 11:04pm
Vince - you probably didn't follow the other posts above about the urge to hate the rich. The meaning of the comment is that vilifying the 1% shows a lack of understanding of economics and statistics. Anyway, back to your more recent point and naive union advocacy.

Voluntary collective bargaining is moral, but coercing a worker to join a union if he/she wants to work there is not. Also, secret ballots are the norm for most democracies - why are unions opposed to it - only to coerce and bully workers, in my opinion. Any worker should have the right to work whether he/she joins a union or not. Imagine how much bullying goes on in a closed shop. What are they afraid of? It should be voluntary and an open shop.

You feign surprise at the mention of Hoffa (wasn't he one of the good guys, relatively?) but avoided my reference to the current political hack, Richard Trumka. I mentioned Hoffa because he came up in the first page of the Google search on ''union bosses.'' And Reuters did too -  not exactly a conservative think-tank!

Anyway, my point is that unions, being human, can be good and bad, and a lot of the time they are bad, most famously in the fight against Communism in the past century. Union bosses can be as greedy as any Wall Street boogeyman. And they support purely political policies that have nothing to do with their mission, such as abortion, gay marriage, and what-not, often against their members views. They are reflexively against fair trade (the means where wealth is distributed internationally to the very poor), against immigration (too much competition in the workplace, etc.) and against any pension reform, so needed in the current financial situation we are in. I am amazed you can't see all this.
Vince Killoran | 9/24/2012 - 9:10pm
It's a "common term" by people who oppose the collective bargaining rights of Americans. The term came into use in the 1950s by conservative think tanks as part of a decades-long effort to attack labor unions. I'll tell you what-you continue to use "bosses" to refer to elected union officials and I'll refer to all business owners as "life-sucking exploiters of working Americans."

I'm sorry Tim that you can't do better than Hoffa.  Good grief. The percentage of unions with any history of corruption is in the low single digits.  

As  for "coerced dues" I believe you are (once again) referring to the "closed shop" practice.  Here it is in short form: workers vote on whether to have union representation in the workplace.  The workers vote in a democratic election to have the union.  Now you abide by the election and are a union member.  Don't like the results? Work for a decertification of the union.

When you are part of a democratic society do you just ignore the results you don't like? Does this mean that Barack Obama isn't really president of the USA because you never voted for him?

Finally, I don't understand your reference to the Global 1% Are you inferring that I shouldn't  endorse redistribution for that reason?  Or that I should? BTW, I do.
Tim O'Leary | 9/24/2012 - 8:48pm
Vince #35
(and probable fellow member of the Global 1% - defined globally as someone making over $34,000/yr).

Being a reader of this blog, I can certainly ''feel your pain'' about tedium and verbal gyrations, as the same complaints about the Church seem to come up again and again no matter what the topic.

In any case, to address your question on the meaning of ''union boss'', it is a common term for people who get to the top of unions through manipulation and coercion and then maintain discipline with an iron hand (sometimes criminal) or use threats of violence against company owners.  Forcing workers to become union members and using their coerced dues to support their political opponents is an recent example in the news. There are indeed honest unions, but there are also many unsavory characters hovering around the strikes, yelling ''scab'' and worse and causing riots.

I googled ''union boss'' and got over 600,000 links. One was for Jimmy Hoffa, another for Richard Trumka (AFLCIO). Here is just one on yahoo news (Reuters). As we know from politics, a democratic process does not prevent bad actors gaining and clinging to power (such as Hugo Chavez, or even Hitler). Also, note the LA times article on the California Teacher's Union from a few months ago: The latter fought to prevent removal of abusing teachers, even in a case with photographic proof (see LA story on Mark Berndt and SB1530)
David Smith | 9/24/2012 - 1:43pm
It's called dialogue, Vince - thinking out loud - talking it over. It's discomfort only in the sense that all progress, all development is the result of the human impulse to constantly make things better. Standing in one place, never budging from a narrow position, is non-human.

The dialogue that goes on in the comment tails of these blog entries ought to be seen as a richness, not an annoyance. Since they're only lightly moderated, I think we can assume that the editors see it that way, too. At least, I hope so. 
Vince Killoran | 9/24/2012 - 1:12pm
Amusing to read our conservative friends discomfort and verbal gyrations on this one.

I do have a question for Tim: what is a "union boss"? Unions are democratic institutions that hold regular free & fair elections.  The few that don't face government intervention and rank-and-file protests.  
Tim O'Leary | 9/23/2012 - 10:33pm
Stanley #30-31
The biblical passage is about those who oppress the poor, which of course is not the same as the rich. It could be middle-class oppressors, government bureaucrats, lawyers, planned parenthood, criminal organizations, or foreign invaders, etc. I think we could all agree that oppressors of the poor should be stopped but it is wrong to justify everyone with a high salary (like President Obama, a union boss, a movie actor, a baseball player, or a banker, or CEO) as an oppressor of the poor, especially if we are relying on them to create new jobs.

Another point about the rich - is it everyone in the West (the top 1% of the world in wealth or income?), or just those who have a lot more money than I do? If we consider what wealth was in biblical times, almost everyone today would be seen as dramatically better off. Also, is a person with poor health and little time left to live really richer than someone who has less money but is young and in full health?

Better to focus on helping the poor and on incentives to facilitate their independence rather than on dividing the population by some financial metric so we can vilify them (whether the top 1%, 10% or 20% - of those with assets or those with high incomes). Good and bad people do not easily fit into these categories.

''A good man leaves an inheritance for his children's children, but a sinner's wealth is stored up for the righteous'' Proverbs 13:22
Stanley Kopacz | 9/23/2012 - 12:37pm
If just recompense is the only fuel for endeavor, why isn't the Einstein family or the Salk family among the richest in the world.  Scientists like to be paid enough to be comfortable, but it's not the money.  Mostly, they like to get credit for what they've done and attribution.  and the biggest reward is the work itself.  There are a lot of people who like to work.  And then their jobs get sent to China.
Stanley Kopacz | 9/23/2012 - 12:12pm
My favorite biblical quote from the Bible about the rich:

amos 4:1-9

Hear this word, you cows of Bashan,
You who are in the mountain of Samaria,
Who oppress the poor, who crush the needy,
Who say to their husbands,"bring that I may drink!,
The Lord God has sworn by His holiness,
That, behold, the days are coming upon you,
When they shall take you away with hooks,
Even the last of you with fishhooks.
And you shall go out through the breeches,
Everyone straight before her;
And you shall be cast forth into Harmon, says the Lord. 
J Cosgrove | 9/23/2012 - 11:14am
Mr. O'Leary,


There is new book by Charles Kesler which provides an interesting history of the Progressive movement in the United States and how Barack Obama fits into its long history.  It is called ''I Am the Change: Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism''


http://www.amazon.com/Am-Change-Barack-Liberalism-ebook/dp/B007BCFSQQ/ref=dp_kinw_strp_1


I am about a quarter through it and right now in the chapter on Woodrow Wilson.  In this chapter it describes the origin of the US progressive movement in the university system which developed in the US after the Civil War.  The university system modeled itself after the Prussian system of universities and its goal was to change our government to something similar to the Prussian model of government.  In Prussia the government was run by experts from the universities.  Prior to WWI Germany was considered by many to be most effective form of government in the world and was quickly surpassing Great Britain in economic power.


Obama is considered the fourth wave of Progressivism in the US as Wilson, FDR, and Lyndon Johnson were the ones that proceeded him.  Actually the original model was implemented in Wisconsin by La Follette in the early 1900's.  Interesting sidebar to all this is that La Follette would not support Wilson's war aims against Germany in 1917 because of his affinity for the German model of government and essentially was silenced because of it.  Wilson made him the most hated man in America.  Until the war La Follette was a big Wilson supporter as they both thought the US model of government and Constitution was inferior.


The essence of progressivism is that smart people can solve all of society's problems.  It originally did not have as part of its agenda the running of economic activity by the government but that grew into it over time and is why progressives were very fond of Mussolini and the Soviets because they thought they saw an even better way to get to a new and better tomorrow.  Some of the original important progressives were Republicans (e.g. Theodore Roosevelt) and La Follette was originally a Republican before becoming a Progressive.  And Obama has channeled Lincoln in some of his oratory.  It is hard to get away from Progressive thought as nearly everyone thinks they have a better way of making life better by government intervention.  The problem is always the unintended consequences that no smart person has yet solved.
Tim O'Leary | 9/22/2012 - 10:22pm
If one believes Jesus when he warned how hard it would be for the rich to get into heaven, then one should pity the rich and not hate them (Stanley, Ed and Taylor (?1st name) etc.). So, isn't it a lack of faith to hate them? Instead, pray for their conversion and generosity. But lose the hate. It has a boomerang effect on one's soul.

Progressives want something like a perpetual motion machine - investors to invest and employers to create new jobs, both without any prospect of keeping their earnings. They want people to have similar incomes despite marked differences in willingness to work really hard. They can't understand that if taxes are increased, the most talented people will figure out that long hours and short vacations and late retirement are not worth it. They don't understand that long-term dependency has a corrosive debilitating effect on the very poor they want to help.

Also, most taxes do not come from the rich and most benefits do not go to the poor, but to favored groups. There are not enough rich, and they are better at avoiding taxes (whether through retiring early, moving abroad, changing their use of the money, using politically favored loopholes, etc.). That's why GE and GM can get away with paying no taxes.

As JR said, coercive redistribution has the added effect of diminishing wealth of the whole community, as the incentives for hard work, honest trade and ingenuity are diminished, as has happened in every country where this has been most marked (see especially 70 years of Communism - the redistributing revolution par excellence).

Free open markets, flat fair taxes (as in transparent without an accountant), no loopholes, simple regulations (transparent without a laywer), and a safety net for the truly poor is the only way to grow ourselves out of our debt. And even Obama has said raising taxes in a recession hurts the economy.

If we don't grow the economy, then the only way to pay back the $16 trillion (or $20 trillion if Obama has another 4 years) is through reduced spending and massive inflation. And guess who gets most hurt by inflation (think gas prices and food prices - both have gone up dramatically in the last 4 years)?
David Smith | 9/22/2012 - 8:51pm
Redistributionism is a good fit with Catholicism, since both are authoritarian. Both find personal ownership of material goods unacceptable. Both believe that man is inherently sinful, in need of external correction, immature and in need of external control, helpless and in need of external care.

It's interesting that progressive Catholics seem to have rejected one of these authoritarian beliefs for the other. Or maybe it's just a shift of emphasis, from heaven to earth.
James Palermo | 9/22/2012 - 5:02pm
            The Church, as in the instant matter, talks a beautiful talk, even when it does not always walk the walk.  Perhaps a good way to begin the walk would be for the Bishops to direct priests to proclaim from the pulpit the Church’s teachings with regard to the poor and the need for the redistribution of wealth.  Too many Catholics, smug in their material comfort, believe privatizing Medicare and reducing Social Security and shrinking “entitlements” are consistent with the Church’s social teachings – including too many priests.
ed gleason | 9/22/2012 - 12:49pm
JR uses a lot of words telling us he does  not like defined pensions for the middle classes and upper middle classes. That tells us a lot about JR. Note his no mention of Military pensions for the officer classes.
The sucker middle class pays up to 35% tax  on their pensions but Romney and his ilk only pay 15% on their carried interest pensions worth millions. Try short and sweet JR.
Bill Taylor | 9/22/2012 - 12:12pm
Mr. Cosgrove repeats the tired old verse about the collapse of the housing bubble. But what does that mean? First, mortgages were turned into securities, which could then be labeled AAA, AA, or whatever and bought, sold, traded. Then the banks shuffled AAA mortgages into bundles with CCC mortgages, and Moody's and other shills labeled these packages of smelly fish AAA. People invested in those mortgages based on that rating. Then there was the creation of derivatives, such as credit default swaps, and other bets which allowed banks to make money no matter what. The big guys that they could make the most money out of the weakest borrowers, and so they pursued people who could not afford houses in what surely amounts to fraud. AIG etc. insured those risky bets without the reserves to cover them. Read somewhere in the middle of the crisis that the amount of derivatives, swaps, bets, and whatever amounted to several times the value of everything on earth.  An insane, uncontrolled monopoly game. Mr. Greenspan recklessly thought that all this was rational and needed no regulation. Is it regulated, even yet?

All this was done by the rich, for the rich.
Amy Ho-Ohn | 9/22/2012 - 11:30am
Benedict's criticism is the same criticism one always hears from the self-described European intelligentsia: free market mechanisms are bad because they make it impossible to maintain European welfare state beneficiaries in the opulent lifestyles they are accustomed to. But they are good because they increase employment and income for developing world factory workers.

Benedict and the European intelligentsia demand that something be done so that workers in the developing world can have an increase in employment and income with no adverse effect on European welfare state beneficiaries.

What should be done? How can these conflicting demands be reconciled? On this question, Benedict and the European intelligentsia are silent. The role of Great Intellectuals is to criticize; figuring out solutions is for technicians. But they all agree that somehow or other it's all America's fault and the Americans ought to pay for it.
J Cosgrove | 9/22/2012 - 12:42am
Mr. Miller,

I have two major issues with your reasoning and both I consider immoral.  I will explain why.  I want to propose to you that some forms of redistribution may be immoral and that defined benefit plans in general are immoral.  Use the term immoral in anyway you want, but I will use it in the sense that the common good is being hurt by some forms of redistribution and definitely by defined benefit plans.  Notice I did not say all forms of redistribution but some.  I find only very limited defined benefit plans as moral.


Redistribution - The average wealth of any group of people, whether they be the individual, family, community, state, region, country, sub-continent, continent and the world depends on the total amount of goods produced within each separate group.  As the total wealth goes up, the average wealth goes up though not all will see their wealth increased as the total wealth increases.  Redistribution is meant as a way to increase the wealth of the poor within any sub-group.  Redistribution in the form of money transfers often do not increases the total wealth of all so it is a sub-optimal process in most cases but some can be justified for those truly in need.  For example, the much maligned hero of libertarians, Frederick Hayek, was in favor of providing a basic level of subsistence for all.  There are also some highly desirable forms of redistribution (for example the education of all within a group to a certain level is highly desirable and it takes redistribution to make this happen and as suggested a basic level of subsistence for the poor is probably an exception that benefits all.)  Some individual groups may become wealthier through redistribution but most often the whole is less well off as a result.  If the whole is less well off, then under what circumstances is the common good greater.  I can think of some but generally this does not happen for a lot of reasons.


What many who propose redistribution should discuss is under what circumstances does redistribution increase the common good of everyone and what types of redistribution are positive.  And just what does one mean by the term ''common good?''  Very often people who favor redistribution think that what they are doing is removing wealth from those who already have too much of it so their marginal lost is meaningless to them where those who receive the redistributed wealth have a large marginal increase in perceived wealth.  Hence one justifies the redistribution on this basis.  Seems like a reasonable process if in fact it actually happens this way.


But does such a thing happen in every case and when might the total wealth actually decrease as a result of the redistribution including the perceived wealth of the poor. For example, taxing the rich to redistribute might result in less economic activity and less jobs for the poor.  Also suppose there were situations where instead of redistribution the use of the wealth by the rich actually increased the total wealth of the group including the wealth of the poor.  I can describe real world situations in both cases.  In one, redistribution would be good but in the other it would be harmful.  To just blithely say there must be redistribution is meaningless unless one considers all the implications of the redistribution process.  (The experiences with the Great Society programs provides numerous negative effects of redistribution) So there can definitely be times where redistribution hurts the poor and in those cases it is immoral.  The discussion should be on when does it help and when it doesn't.


Defined Benefit Plans - The other topic which you brought up in another OP, and which I often consider immoral is the defined benefit plan.  There are two major problems, with defined benefit plans which I see.  There may be many others but these two problems to me are immoral because they are inherently not available to all and they force others without such plans to finance others with them.  When these plans were first the norm the average age at retirement was 65.  People did not live on the average many years past 65 but now it is not uncommon for one to live till their late 80's.  That is often more than 20 years of retirement most often without any contributions to the total wealth of the group but yet the retiree is sharing in the total production of wealth by the entire group.  It means less on the average for all.


The first problem with the defined benefit plan is that financing authority may not have the resources to fund the plans which puts the financing requirement on others who have nothing to do with the workers and the second problem is that not all members in our society are able to have such plans which means that a privileged sub group has much better retirement benefits than others because there are just not enough available resources for all.


Another issue with a defined benefit plan is how big it is supposed to be.  Everyone tries to get the most for themselves but in doing so they may be mandating others to pay for their financial good fortune who are confined to a much smaller payout.  There are teachers and policeman who are making over $100,000 a year in retirement while many in the surrounding community funding these generous benefits will never hope to come close to this. 


It common now for public service union and some private union contracts to provide defined benefit plans that are beyond the funding authority to finance and in order to meet the requirements, others are forced to pay in higher taxes or reduced services.  This is happening in our society now as public sector unions have negotiated retirement benefits far in excess of the benefits available to those who must fund the benefits.  Because of this less funds are available to those who are financing the retirement benefits and less funds are available for social programs to help the poor or others in need by the funding agency.  This is an immoral situation where a small group receive a large sum at the expense of others.


There seems to be an attitude that there is an bottomless pit full of money, mainly from the rich, that could pay everything for everyone.  But in fact that is not the case and when the costs of these defined benefit plans come due, it is often others besides the rich which suffer.  If such is the case, and I believe there is strong evidence to support such a conclusion, then how can one justify a defined benefit plan for a privileged few.  It certainly is not possible for everyone and in some cases it may not hurt anyone to provide it but in a large number of cases it does.  Hence, one could make the argument that a defined plan is often immoral.

Now before anyone jumps on this to say I am claiming that social security is immoral. My experience is that social security benefits are far less than private sector or public sector retirement plans and no major threat to our financial well being if they are kept at current modest levels.  they may have to be cut back somewhat but the country should be able to fund them.  Health care plans are another issue as often health care costs exceed actual payouts for social security and must somehow be brought under control or they could end up harming the common good.  To just put off the discussion or hand waive them away is I believe immoral.
Stanley Kopacz | 9/21/2012 - 11:44pm
"You are always displaying more hate for the rich than love for the poor (a legacy of 20th century socialism). But it is only those with excess capital who will start new companies and employ people. You cannot get more employees by crippling the employers. You also seem to miss the fact that without the technological inventions of the West, the minerals of the undeveloped countries would just be stones, and oil would just be a contaminant of the soil, something to be avoided and lamented. "

There is plenty of excess capital.  But there is no one buying.  That is the problem.  So why invest.  Also, a high tax motivates them to invest because that is one way the government can't tax it.

I'm not complaining about the use of minerals and oil, at least up to the point of 20 years ago.  The thing is, it was removed without responsibility as is seen most obviously in the Gulf of BP.  A contaminant in the soil becomes a contaminant in the oceans.  This has been previously done throughout the world, but we only barely noticed it when it finally lapped up on the shores of our own contiguous states.  But they will handle us the same way they handled the other third world countries now that we are becoming one.  For the most part, the oil was stolen.  Probably based on the experience of stealing land from native peoples.

I shouldn't hate the rich but a man has to know who his enemies are.  They use their big bucks to bend the government to their purposes and that I despise.  Don't love anything that can't love back, like a corporation.  They don't like you or care about you, no matter what their commercials say.

As far as my logic is concerned, it helps when I apply it to the climate data and research that I don't think of Forbes as a science journal.  I also don't get my science from slanderers and conspiracy theorists.
J Cosgrove | 9/21/2012 - 11:01pm
''Jr, I'm pretty sure you could replace your 3 points with ''hate reading'' and just be done with it;''


Interesting comment.  I really cannot think of one person I hate or have ever hated.  I disagree strenuously with lots of things because I think they are dysfunctional and which hurt people but hate, no.  There is absolutely no one that I will not converse with if the other person wants to.  Maybe I have never been exposed to situations that would generate hate of anyone.
Kang Dole | 9/21/2012 - 8:06pm
Jr, I'm pretty sure you could replace your 3 points with "hate reading" and just be done with it; it'd be more honest.
Michael Cremin | 9/21/2012 - 7:53pm
You can just feel the Christian love in this forum. It's heartening. 
J Cosgrove | 9/21/2012 - 7:50pm
''Then why do you read and post on this leftie website.?''

Three reasons:

First, because this is the online public face of the Jesuits in the United States and I was taught by them at the college level.  They had a very definite effect on me so someone suggested I look at their website to see how they are now.  I find the shallowness, incoherence and bias of the presentation here an interesting phenomenon for the once most respected intellectual voice of the Church.  It should not be a leftie website which almost by definition can not be respected.  How they justify what is posted here boggles my mind some times.

Second, it is an easy way to keep up with what the Left is thinking.  I don't have much time to pursue what nonsense they are up to lately and this site gives a quick insight into that and because I have a Jesuit background find it easy to get a quick read.  If the Left thinks they have an advantage in anything, it will often be posted here but also like the dog which barked in the night, the lack of posting on many topics is an indication that they do not think they have an advantage.  I find the mindset of the left fascinating.  The left's lack of both logic and information and the constant use of insulting verbal attacks is one that I rarely saw growing up, in my Catholic education and in my professional career.  But to watch it in supposedly grown people is as I say fascinating but almost incomprehensible that it is on a Jesuit site.


Third, there is often some good stuff about Catholicism here.  I love the Church and am proud of it so I enjoy some of the non political articles here.  It is the politics that is absurd and very often the religious topics are good.
ed gleason | 9/21/2012 - 3:02pm
Wow JR..
'I have rarely seen one of the so called 'lefties' say anything coherent on this web site"
'
Then why do you read and post on this leftie website.?

We lefties have DOW up, Obama UP, lefties up. and you find this insulting?  
How about your 'Incoherent.. not factual, illogical, bizarre, unpleasant with insults, and denigrate others." remarks
I can't wait for your 'calm' adjectives for me after the Nov.election when the GOP loses WH and both Houses.   
Tim O'Leary | 9/21/2012 - 2:55pm
Rick #8
The National debt reached the milestone of $16 trillion during the Democratic Convention. How many speakers there noted that? Was there even 1 speaker who mentioned it?

President Obama said it would be counter-productive to increase taxes on the employers and investors in a recession, yet now he plans to do that this January. How many times do we hear him and those on the left say the reason the ''stimulus'' didn't work was because it needed a couple of more $trillion to work? 

They have tried to borrow and spend their way out of the recession for 3 years and promise to do the same again for the next 4 years. That's what I mean by ''heads in the sand.''

J Cosgrove | 9/21/2012 - 2:35pm
''Once the we lefties''


I have rarely seen one of the so called ''lefties'' say anything coherent on this web site, and that includes most of the authors.  Oh, occasionally there is something to consider and agree with but in general it is incoherent, lacks a factual basis, illogical, often bizarre, unpleasant with insults directed at those they do not like.  There is a refusal to engage in any serious conversation and the best that many of the ''lefties'' can often do is denigrate others.  Interesting world the lefties come from.


When anything on the left leads to something worthwhile, let me know.  It will be interesting to discuss it and maybe the non lefties can see what is in it that is worthwhile.
ed gleason | 9/21/2012 - 1:26pm
JR ..my previous post was truncated.. but if you don't think that banks leveraging and their  greedily writing and  holding all those mortgages and causing a decline of US wealth by 17 trillion, the amount of the US , debt you have learned nothing. You and Romney are blaming the lower middle class for investing in home ownership The WS wise guys like John Paulson shorting  the mortgage market and watched the banks get a trillion bail out. [he alone made 5 billion and only paid 15% income tax]. Watch Romney  lose big time and lose both Houses too.. 
 
Once the we lefties get the Bush wars over we can reduce the defense budget ,, unless FOX news convinces the crazies we need more aircraft carriers to control riots in numerous Muslim countries. Then we get those 4000 millionaires who pay no taxes, and the Tech companies to close their overseas tax shelters and bring the money home, and raise taxes on the 10% to 35% and eliminate carried interest and multi million dollar IRAs like Romney's and start taxing Swiss, Cayman Is. accounts..
THE DEBT will start to shrink. See we love specifics. check the polls.. the above is going to happen.. the WS traders are betting on it too. get aboard.. the train is leaving the station.
Mike Evans | 9/21/2012 - 1:15pm
Is there no end to the selfishness that sees foreign aid as robbing the rich? After WWII we proved that the Marshall Plan brought peace and new prosperity not only to devastated Europe but back home to us in trade and new markets. USAID has been the engine that has helped so many developing countries to afford improved infrastructure, financial strength and the acquisition of peaceful products instead of weapons of war. NPO's such as Bread for the World, CARE, Bishops' Overseas Aid, Catholic Relief Services, World Vision and so many more have all committed to serious and practical help for our poorer brothers and sisters. Even major philanthropic givers from U.S. industries (Microsoft, musicians, doctors without borders etc.) have become sponsors of major assistance to help people learn to help themselves. Why would we want to inhibit such giving and sharing? The Lord hears the cry of the poor...
J Cosgrove | 9/21/2012 - 1:00pm
''Weren't you debt worriers happier when the banks and investment banks were leveraging their assets by 40 to 1, which caused the mess we are in.''


Bank leveraging has nothing to do with the mess we are in.  What caused our current problems was the collapse of the housing bubble.  That collapse also led to the financial liquidity crisis of 2008.  It also led to a moribund housing/construction industry.  These are two separate events that are the result of the same cause. 


The financial crisis was an old fashioned bank run as the result of liquidity problems by many of the banks but our unemployment problems and GDP growth have much different origins.  The liquidity problem was over by late November or early December of 2008.  Subsequent unemployment and low growth starting in early 2008 but exacerbated by the fears of the financial crisis are also mainly due to the housing bubble collapse.  However, there are additional problems that have made it worse and extended it so that our current malaise is due to both low housing/construction (too much inventory so why build anything new) and bad economic policies implemented since 2009.
ed gleason | 9/21/2012 - 12:44pm
Weren't you debt worriers happier when the banks and investment banks were leveraging their assets by 40 to 1, which caused the mess we are in. The Say hello to Lehman Brothers.. THE DEBT will start to shrink. See we love specifics. check the polls.. the above is going to happen.. the WS traders are betting on it too. get aboard.. the train is leaving the station.
ed gleason | 9/21/2012 - 12:41pm
Weren't you debt worriers happier when the banks and investment banks were leveraging their assets by 40 to 1, which caused the mess we are in. The total US wealth loss was 17 trillion.. pretty close to the total debt [with a surplus]  Say hello to Lehman Brothers.. THE DEBT will start to shrink. See we love specifics too. check the polls.. the above is going to happen.. the WS traders are betting on it too. get aboard..  the train is leaving the station.  
Rick Fueyo | 9/21/2012 - 12:16pm
"The left has their heads in the sand about debt but it is a cold hard fact."

Bizzarely wrong. 

Unmoored to reality

Tim O'Leary | 9/21/2012 - 11:20am
But how do we redistribute the debt of Europe and the USA? Pope Benedict also has said that is grossly immoral to put the burden of debt on the next generation. The left has their heads in the sand about debt but it is a cold hard fact.

Stanley (#4)
You are always displaying more hate for the rich than love for the poor (a legacy of 20th century socialism). But it is only those with excess capital who will start new companies and employ people. You cannot get more employees by crippling the employers. You also seem to miss the fact that without the technological inventions of the West, the minerals of the undeveloped countries would just be stones, and oil would just be a contaminant of the soil, something to be avoided and lamented. 

As long as the US is building mountains of debt, it will be impossible to even consider spending for the environment, which is frankly a luxury of those who are well-fed and reasonably well-off. We need to make the social safety net sustainable and refocus it on only the truly needy, and get everyone else back to work. This will only happen if there is a change in leadership in this country. Another 4 years of the current plan, and redistribution will be impossible.
ed gleason | 9/21/2012 - 10:46am
Countries that are well governed like in Scandinavia redistribute big time to the benefit of all. Norway shares the oil revenue so that every youngster can afford college any where in the world. Countries that have wonderful resources e,g. Central America [ Guatemala] where the hogs rule, with no redistribution, giving that country  poverty and crime. Amy .. this is not "much harder to verify hypotheses in economics'
T BLACKBURN | 9/21/2012 - 10:43am
Amy, only in barber- and beauty-shop "wisdom" have rich countries "simply thrown" money at poor countries. Rich countries' foreign aid (more in the past than recently) has been conditioned on the poor countries spending the money in the rich country. I.e., the U.S. gives Egypt money to buy Lockheed products. When the public sector of the rich countries isn't using foreign aid to enrich the private sector of the rich countries, the international banks condition their lending - not "thrown" money - on the recipients acting more like the donor countries. I am sure you can find any number of politicians, especially this year, who share your view of foreign aid, but it is fiction.

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