Sunday, January 5, 2014

Nagel on Nozick


Robert Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia has recently been reissued with a new Foreword by Thomas Nagel.  You can read the Foreword via Google books.  In it Nagel describes the situation in moral and political philosophy in analytic philosophy circles in the late 1960s.  A group of thinkers that included Nozick, Nagel, and other notables such as John Rawls and Judith Jarvis Thomson, who participated in a discussion group called the Society for Ethical and Legal Philosophy (SELF), reacted against certain then common tendencies.  First, as Nagel writes, they rejected the logical positivists’ “general skepticism about value judgments, interpreted as essentially subjective expressions of feeling.”  Second, they rejected utilitarianism in favor of “principles that limit the means that may be used to promote even the best ends.”

In place of these rejected ideas, this group of thinkers affirmed two general themes.  The first, according to Nagel, was “a belief in the reality of the moral domain, as an area in which there are real questions with right and wrong answers, and not just clashing subjective reactions.”  The second, he writes, was:

a belief that progress could be made toward discovering the right answers by formulating hypotheses at various levels of generality and subjecting them to confirmation or disconfirmation by the intuitive moral credibility of their various substantive consequences, as well as by their coherence in explaining those consequences.  The method depended on taking seriously the evidential value of strong moral intuitions about particular cases, including imaginary cases, and then looking behind those intuitions for general principles… which accounted for and justified them.

Some comments.  First, note that when Nagel speaks of testing hypotheses by reference to their “consequences,” he isn’t talking about advocating the moral theory known as consequentialism.  That should be clear enough from the fact that the group of thinkers in question rejected utilitarianism.  Concern with “consequences” doesn’t suffice to make one a consequentialist.  The idea was rather that if a moral hypothesis turns out to have absurd implications, that is reason to go back to the drawing board.  It is, more or less, an application of the method of reductio ad absurdum in the sphere of moral and political philosophy.

Second, Nagel’s remarks are a reminder of something I’ve emphasized myself, viz. that the “man-on-the-street’s” perception of liberal academics is not entirely correct.  Conservatives, especially, are often prone lazily to label those who defend left-of-center moral and political conclusions as “relativists,” “consequentialists,” “subjectivists,” etc.  Some of them are, but by no means all. 

Having said that, a third comment is that the crucial role that “intuitions” have played in recent academic philosophy in my view pretty much completely undermines the avowed aim of the thinkers in question of avoiding subjectivism.  To be sure, the word “intuition” has historically been used in different senses in philosophy, but the sense that prevails in recent analytic usage is not a respectable one.  As A. R. Lacey tells us in the entry on “intuition” in The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (edited by Ted Honderich), “recently… the term ‘intuition’ has been used for pre-philosophical thoughts or feelings, e.g. on morality, which emerge in thought experiments and are then used philosophically.”  For reasons given in a post some years ago, I would say that intuitions can only ever have at most a heuristic value and never the sort of “evidential value” required by the method employed by the group of thinkers described by Nagel.  By themselves appeals to intuition amount to nothing more than the “subjective expressions of feeling” the SELF crowd wanted to avoid.  The Rawlsian method of “reflective equilibrium” doesn’t change this one bit; it only makes of the subjective expression of feeling a systematic and elegant expression.

It is no surprise, then, that the work of the SELF thinkers almost always tended (what are the odds?) to reflect the “strong moral intuitions” (i.e. very deeply ingrained prejudices) of the average American college professor.  Almost but not always, Nozick’s strongly libertarian position in Anarchy State, and Utopia being a famous exception.  Nagel nicely summarizes two key themes of Nozick’s book.  First:

Things or actions that may be beneficial do not come into existence out of nowhere; they often, in [Nozick’s] words, “come already tied to people who have entitlements over them … people who therefore may decide for themselves to whom they will give the thing and on what grounds.”

And second:

If some flourish and others are left behind, there is nothing wrong in that, nothing that the state may use its power forcibly to correct.  As Nozick says repeatedly, it is no more wrong than the fact that A cannot marry B because B prefers to marry C.  A may be miserable, but no one has suffered a wrong or an injustice.  There is no moral presumption in favor of equality; the separateness of persons is the basis of the moral order.

End quote.  Though I am no longer a libertarian, I still think that there is much truth in these two basic ideas, even if they need to be qualified.  As I explained in a post on my apostasy from libertarianism, what led me to find libertarianism convincing for a time were two main lines of argument, a negative one and a positive one.  The negative line of argument was that Hayek’s and Nozick’s critiques of the very idea of social justice destroyed any egalitarian (or other) justification for redistributing wealth via taxation.  The positive line of argument was that Nozick’s and Rothbard’s critiques of taxation showed that such redistribution was not only unjustified but positively unjust, and thus that no taxation at all was legitimate except perhaps what was necessary to fund the minimal state.  The positive line of argument was, essentially, too extreme an interpretation of the very real insight contained in the first of the Nozickian themes identified by Nagel.  The negative line of argument was, essentially, too extreme an interpretation of the very real insight contained in the second Nozickian theme.

For reasons I have spelled out at some length in my Social Philosophy and Policy article “Classical Natural Law Theory, Property Rights, and Taxation,” from the point of view of Aristotelian-Thomistic natural law theory, rights have a teleological foundation, and the specific ends for which property rights exist prevent our claim over our resources from being so strong that taxation per se is unjust.  It is not per se unjust, and it is not per se unjust even for some purposes that go beyond the minimal state.  However, especially in light of the fact that most of the value of resources derives (as libertarians rightly emphasize) from our labor and ingenuity rather than from raw materials themselves, there is a very strong presumption against taxation.  It is also a presumption that is, in my view, much less frequently overridden than left-of-center people suppose.  So though it goes too far to say that all taxation is in principle unjust, I think it correct to say that much taxation is in fact unjust.  Hence there is much truth in the first Nozickian theme.

There is also much truth in the second Nozickian theme.  Left-of-center types commonly conflate issues of poverty with issues of inequality, but they are not the same thing.  Suppose everyone had a standard of living at least equal to that of your typical middle manager, but some people lived like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos.  You’d have no poverty to speak of but still have massive inequality.  Would this be unjust?  I say that it would not be the slightest bit unjust, and I have yet to see a good argument to the contrary.  I think the libertarian is absolutely correct to see claims of injustice here as motivated by envy, and thus as motivated by a serious vice rather than by a concern for morality.

Poverty is different, and can be the result of injustice.  However, it need not be, and there is certainly way too much sloppy thinking about the issue.  The word “poverty” covers a variety of complex phenomena.  What counts as poverty in a First World country is very different from what counts as poverty in a Third World country.  Glib talk about the “causes of poverty” gives the impression that the possession of wealth is the default state of human beings, from which they must somehow have been pushed (by whom?) if they are not in it -- and that is the reverse of the truth.  “The poor,” particularly in a First World context, do not necessarily comprise a stable group with the same members over time.  Where individuals or families do tend to stay poor over time, in First World countries the reasons have mostly to do with social pathologies like the absence of fathers.  In Third World countries the reasons have primarily to do with corrupt governments and the absence of stable market structures.  And so forth. 

Especially in First World countries, it is very difficult to determine to what extent, if any, poverty can be attributed to any particular unjust actions, such as refusal to pay a just wage.   (Which would be what, exactly?  I also have yet to see a good argument here.  That there can in principle be such a thing as an unjust wage pretty clearly follows from natural law theory, for reasons I give in the paper referred to above.  But determining in practice exactly when a wage is strictly unjust is in my view very difficult.)

It would be nice if these issues could be settled with simple-minded slogans -- “Taxation is theft!,” “Share the wealth!,” “Pay a living wage!” etc. -- but they can’t be.  Where economic matters are concerned, things are very messy, and there is in my view way too much self-righteous posturing and too little serious, rigorous thinking, among liberals, socialists, distributists, social democrats, and many libertarians and conservatives too.  In part because of the complexities involved, though, I think that while it goes too far to say that government cannot even in principle act to remedy economic difficulties, there is also a strong presumption against regarding some particular economic difficulty as the result of an injustice or otherwise within the purview of government action. 

Now, the presumptions in question -- against taxation and against government intervention in the economy -- can be overridden.  But especially when we factor in the principle of subsidiarity, I think that classical natural law theory favors a broadly right-of-center approach to economic matters rather than a left-of-center approach -- certainly not libertarian, but closer to that than to egalitarian liberalism.  Again, see the paper referred to above for the details.

Nagel also comments on the overall quality of Nozick’s book:

The book is a dialectical feast, displaying the agility of an intelligence of the highest order.  It is also written in an irresistible style and voice, an audible speaking voice full of energy and drive.  And it is often very funny. 

I agree completely.  There are two general criteria by which one might regard a philosophy book as good.  One might think it simply gets things basically right, that it presents views that are true and gives good and clear arguments for them.  Or one might think that it does not get things right but nevertheless presents views and arguments that are of philosophical interest -- errors, perhaps, but errors from which we can nevertheless learn much.  Some great works of philosophy, like Descartes’ Meditations and Leibniz’s Monadology, are of the latter sort, and so is Nozick’s Anarchy, State, and Utopia.  And to some extent it get things right too.

247 comments:

1 – 200 of 247   Newer›   Newest»
NiV said...

"Suppose everyone had a standard of living at least equal to that of your typical middle manager, but some people lived like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos. You’d have no poverty to speak of but still have massive inequality. Would this be unjust?"

Maybe, maybe not. Whether it is just doesn't depend on the absolute level of wealth. Justice depends on whether people got what they deserved, based on their own actions and efforts. The basis of free trade is that people exchange goods voluntarily, when each gains from the exchange, and so everyone earns from others in rough proportion to what they contribute to society. You must give in order to receive. You must work for others as you would have them work for you. That's justice, and a society may be wealthy (unlikely, but possible) by unjust as well as by just means.

The confusion, I believe, is between *justice* and *mercy*. The two are separate concepts. 'Justice' means that people get what they have earned. 'Mercy' means they get what they have not earned but which they nevertheless desperately need.

Absolute poverty reflects a lack of mercy, that I think it does society credit to relieve. But relieving it creates injustice, because it means taking from those that have earned it to give to the needy, requiring them to do work for no return.

If done voluntarily, they store up treasures for themselves in heaven, but there is no virtue in it if they are made to give more than they can afford or are willing, and there is *no virtue at all* in stealing the wealth from *others* to give it to the needy.

But it is better far to use ones wealth to enable others to create wealth themselves, to get themselves out of poverty by their own efforts, to create more to go around rather than having less to ration meanly, and to make a just as well as a merciful world.

Which is better? Justice enables mercy (within limits), but mercy without justice eventually destroys all. As the left have shown every time they have had the power. But views differ on this.

Chad Handley said...

1. NiV, your analysis ignores the fact that most poor people work. The assumption is always that poor people are poor because they are doing nothing at all, but that's never been true. They're bus drivers, cafeteria workers, fast food workers, janitors, waiters, maids, etc. They're working; they're just not making a living. According to the Working Poor Families Project, 32% of American families with at least one adult working full-time live below the poverty line.

2. Discussions like this tend to go by the assumption that something like Keynesianism is incorrect, and therefore that all poverty is due to pathology within individuals or social groups and not due to large-scale economic forces like labor markets, globalization, etc. As a liberal, I tend to think that's where the disagreement really lies. If Keynseianism is correct, then an optimally-functioning capitalist economy requires between 3-5% unemployment. Even if our educational system were flawless, if there were no such thing as a broken home, even if all our citizens were morally perfect and had an indomitable work ethic, full employment is impossible in a free market economy.

In that situation, would it really be "justice" for those people to depend on charity? When the government through the Federal Reserve would take steps to prevent their employment, is it really "justice" that the do without?

3. Certainly, figuring out in theory exactly what a living wage should be for everyone would be difficult. However, if it's obvious that much taxation is in fact unjust, isn't it equally obvious that many of our wage arrangements are unjust? Would natural law theory say it's just for a person who works 40 hours a week to not be able to afford food or rent? Would natural law say it's just that the six children of Sam Walton have more wealth than the bottom 30% of all Americans combined, while full-time Walmart employees are paid so little, they depend on food stamps to get by?

There are probably some issues regarding wealth and justice that are difficult. But there's no question that there is much obvious injustice in the American economy, and that injustice is the plight of the working poor.

C.J. Caswell said...

Great post. Intuitionism deserves a thorough beating, which I think it will get one day when it can be more demonstrably proven that people's intuitions are malleable by those with the power and authority to manipulate the physical and social environment. If intuitions are conditioned, I don't see how a philosopher could maintain that intuitions have some deeper philosophical relevance.

tz said...

Godiva today can represent gluttony (chocolate, but I will leave that to you to give the extend or apportionment of the 5 types). However, it is easier and simpler to not allow Godiva access to the public square.

Taxation is similar. Fallen men will be selecting and enforcing taxes. And typically with enhanced powers.

Something like capital punishment. As evangelium vitae noted, it is licit, but in circumstances so narrow it would be a lesser evil to ban it entirely.

Taxation may be licit, but when opening the door, "something wicked this way comes" is more than a rule of thumb.

It would be easier to create an imperfect attempt at a just society by avoiding direct (income) taxes, than to try to keep direct taxes just.

John Moore said...

We can justify taxation for the sake of public investment, disregarding all the muddled concepts of social justice.

I gladly pay taxes when they achieve big returns, like transportation infrastructure, police and fire departments, hospitals, schools and parks.

I gladly pay for poverty-alleviation programs, not out of mercy or kindness, but simply because I don't want to see ugly poverty in my city. Yes, wealthy people should realize it's in their own interest to pay taxes - as long as their taxes are well invested.

So the discussion should focus on how to get the best value from our tax investment.

Crude said...

The assumption is always that poor people are poor because they are doing nothing at all, but that's never been true.

The claim is that, many times, poor people are partly to blame because of their state of affairs. That can be anything from laziness, to only doing the minimum needed to get by, to enjoying drugs or drinking or otherwise, to having kids out of wedlock, to otherwise. And yes, that includes 'starting a family' as a high school drop-out working at dairy queen.

What expectations of and duties of the poor exist? What can they do that would warrant condemnation, with or without help?

In that situation, would it really be "justice" for those people to depend on charity?

If they're receiving money, they aren't 'doing without'. And even in the case you describe, you do not automatically get to an intellectual mandate for the sort of programs - federal or federally mandated - often discussed. People who are unemployed should be helped as locally as possible.

Would natural law theory say it's just for a person who works 40 hours a week to not be able to afford food or rent?

It's going to be mighty hard for a person working 40 hours a week to not be able to afford food and rent. That's either getting into family support, which is another issue, or - at the extreme end - localities. In which case, it's time to move.

Would natural law say it's just that the six children of Sam Walton have more wealth than the bottom 30% of all Americans combined,

Depends on what's being talked of here. What is their 'wealth'? What money do they have, and what do they spend it on? Because once again, it may be immoral for someone to hoard wealth, but that doesn't automatically make it reasonable or just to mandate inane federal welfare states. And if it is immoral, I'd like to know if this means legislating morality is A-OK after all.

But there's no question that there is much obvious injustice in the American economy, and that injustice is the plight of the working poor.

It's entirely open to question, and the statements need to be qualified in ways that are disastrous for anyone looking for an easy skating to the usual left-wing conclusions.

Crude said...

I gladly pay for poverty-alleviation programs, not out of mercy or kindness, but simply because I don't want to see ugly poverty in my city. Yes, wealthy people should realize it's in their own interest to pay taxes - as long as their taxes are well invested.

How about we realize we're far better off, as much as possible, letting people invest their money themselves? People don't need a government investing their money to help the poor, in principle.

Government should be made superfluous as much as possible.

Neil Parille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
John Moore said...

In reply to Crude: Everyone recognizes that certain projects are best carried out by the private sector and others by the government.

You say "as much as possible," and that's exactly what I'm talking about. How much is possible? We shouldn't assume without evidence that the possible is an extremely large amount.

Whenever someone argues for tax cuts, I wonder: What about the opportunity cost? It's just like a big investment decision.

Crude said...

Everyone recognizes that certain projects are best carried out by the private sector and others by the government.

Pity that they tend to deeply disagree about just what those projects are.

You say "as much as possible," and that's exactly what I'm talking about. How much is possible? We shouldn't assume without evidence that the possible is an extremely large amount.

Nor should we assume without evidence that the possible is an extremely small amount. And in principle, 'an extremely large amount', certainly with regards to charity, is possible.

Whenever someone argues for tax cuts, I wonder: What about the opportunity cost? It's just like a big investment decision.

No, it's not. There is a difference between person X deciding what to invest their money in, and person Y deciding what to invest person X's money in. The 'opportunity cost' of cutting taxes may mean that a lot of government bureaucrats have less money to play with.

Too bad. Government should be reduced as much as possible, and should be as local as possible. That's going to take a lot of power out of people who want to do heroic things with other people's money. I do not care, and no one else should either. There's other problems to solve.

rank sophist said...

If some flourish and others are left behind, there is nothing wrong in that [...] As Nozick says repeatedly, it is no more wrong than the fact that A cannot marry B because B prefers to marry C. A may be miserable, but no one has suffered a wrong or an injustice.

This passage contains an equivocation and a non sequitur.

With regard to the equivocation, economic circumstances and one's decision to marry another person are totally different subjects. Marriage is a lifelong, morally good and freely chosen contract between two people, in which no third romantic party has any say. Economic flourishing, on the other hand, is a morally neutral state, and (like all economic activity) it relates one to everyone else in the marketplace.

With regard to the non sequitur, if group X flourishes economically while group Y "is miserable", this is not a morally neutral state of affairs. St. Basil of Caesarea:

"The bread which you hold back belongs to the hungry; the coat, which you guard in your locked storage-chests, belongs to the naked; the footwear mouldering in your closet belongs to those without shoes. The silver that you keep hidden in a safe place belongs to the one in need. Thus, however many are those whom you could have provided for, so many are those whom you wrong."

The question is not whether or not the rich are in the wrong, but whether or not the state should compel the rich to give to the "miserable". It's a typical capitalist mistake to conflate the moral question with the practical one.

Prof. Feser,

Left-of-center types commonly conflate issues of poverty with issues of inequality, but they are not the same thing. Suppose everyone had a standard of living at least equal to that of your typical middle manager, but some people lived like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos. You’d have no poverty to speak of but still have massive inequality.

There are two fallacies here as well: a strawman and a red herring. First of all, "inequality" is almost never used in the sense that you use it here. Its standard application is as a political slogan, which succinctly summarizes the difference between the income of the rich and the income of the poor. Only in very-far-left, semi-Marxist thought is the idea of absolute income equality even relevant. I seriously doubt that most of the "left-of-center types" you mention are lobbying for this viewpoint, if they are even aware of it.

As for the red herring, it is simply inane to hypothesize that everyone could be middle class aside from a few plutocrats. In a capitalist economy, value is determined by scarcity and demand. If, at some point, enough money existed that every single person was a millionaire, then the economy would adjust so that million dollar notes were equivalent to (say) our $10 notes. The same goes for any potentially valuable possessions that could place one in the middle class, from gold to bottle caps. As a result, the thought experiment proves nothing and serves only to distract from the issue at hand--i.e. the moral demands made on the wealthy.

I think the libertarian is absolutely correct to see claims of injustice here as motivated by envy, and thus as motivated by a serious vice rather than by a concern for morality.

This is the age-old capitalist "gotcha" attempt. The rich aren't greedy--the people below them are just envious! It fails for (you guessed it) two reasons. First, the envy that may or may not motivate the claims of the non-rich is irrelevant to the truth of those claims, and so we're left with a by-the-books ad hominem. Second, under classical natural law (as descended from the moral teachings of the Church Fathers), the rich are morally obligated to share their wealth with those less fortunate than themselves.

Edward Feser said...

rank sophist,

You are reacting emotionally rather than rationally -- and, frankly, thereby reinforcing one of my points, viz. that there is too much self-righteous posturing about these issues and too little clear thinking.

I did not say (and do not believe) that people who think the rich owe help to the poor are per se motivated by envy. I did not say (and do not believe) that we could actually have a world where everyone had at least the standard of living of a middle manager.

I was making a very narrow point in the passage you criticize, namely that it isn't inequality per se that is morally significant, but rather poverty. That's it. Therefore, people should stop going on about inequality -- which just muddies the waters -- and talk instead about poverty (albeit they should do so with greater precision). And it is people who are worried about inequality per se (not poverty) who I said were motivated by envy.

Since you seem to concede the point that inequality per se isn't important, I have no idea why your response to that passage is not "Fair enough, so let's talk about poverty." Instead you sermonize about something I never denied.

And if you think there aren't people outside Marxist circles who care about inequality per se (and not just poverty) then you haven't read Rawls's A Theory of Justice -- a somewhat influential book, no?

Jeremy Taylor said...

Rank Sophist,

But isn't there a flaw in our contemporary views of 'economic flourishing'. Implicitly at least it is usually taken to mean the amount of consumer goods that someone or family can afford.

I would suggest that economic flourishing has far more to do with the ownership by the family of real property; with an economic situation that supports strong families rather than hinders them; opportunities for dignified work.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Crude,

A lot of the talk about government intervention on the right (I'm a man of the right myself, though) tends to equate our current economy, minus the welfare state, to a near free market. There is though a loose school of economic thought, from Ralph Borsodi to Kevin Carson, which suggests that if you take out government intervention on behalf of the rich and corporate (so called corporate welfare and related intervention), then almost all large businesses and a lot of medium sized businesses would be unprofitable.

I'm not sure what the truth of the matter is, but I do think it likely that a lot of government intervention - the majority, perhaps - goes first and foremost to serve the interests of big businness and the rich. I have little time for the welfare state, but even here some have argued a lot of the spending is to keep the masses quiet, and as another form of Keynesian demand management, as much as for any other reason.

John Moore said...

The right always accuses the government of "spending other people's money," but doesn't that sound a bit anti-democratic? After all, the same people who pay taxes are the sovereign people controlling the government ... unless you believe democracy doesn't work.

Gyan said...

Massive inequality is not good for a republic. Instability results from a disequilibrium between economic and political power.

Thus, a political argument can be made to redress massive inequality. Free-market principles might well give you situation where 50% of the country is owned by Saudi royals and 25% by Communist Party of China. Would you still say that citizens who would protest this state of affairs are moved by envy?

Gyan said...

Property should be a stable and public relation between a person and the thing that is owned. Unless this is so, property does not work towards the fulfillment of the ends for which it is constituted. viz due stewardship of earth and its resources, and its social and political functions.

But modern anonymous property is neither stable nor public. People own units in giant funds that own stock in giant corporations and the quantum of ownership fluctuates daily and hourly. The person that owns units in funds neither knows nor cares about the corporations he is invested in.

Thus, effectively the giant corporations are owner-less. Much of the problems in late capitalism are related to anonymous property and owner-less corporations. People intuit that these things are problematic and ethically dubious and are causing social decline but are unable to figure our how and why. But any analysis that ignores the role giant corporations play is simplistic and unconvincing.

Chesterton wrote a century ago that an enterprise that writes its slogans in big letters in sky can not claim shy privileges of privacy, In this, he gets to the nub of matter better than libertarians and conservatives that label him an economic ignoramus.

rank sophist said...

Prof. Feser,

As always, thanks for taking the time to respond.

I did not say (and do not believe) that people who think the rich owe help to the poor are per se motivated by envy. I did not say (and do not believe) that we could actually have a world where everyone had at least the standard of living of a middle manager.

I am aware, on both counts. Only a few very ignorant people believe that a universal middle class is possible--I did not put you in that group. My objection was that the thought experiment itself, because it presented an impossible scenario, told us nothing about the nature of inequality. Real inequality, as it exists in capitalist societies, is only sometimes the inequality between rich and richer. The rage against inequality is directed at this real, multifaceted kind. It is not envious for a middle manager to resent income inequality when his boss in the next state makes one thousand times his salary, while outside his window a homeless man sits in an alleyway. His concern relates to a rampant societal ill, in all its forms. This is why I accused you of a red herring: your thought experiment addressed only an impossible and irrelevant kind of inequality.

And it did not, as you suggest, shift the debate solely to the problem of poverty. Solving poverty is not a separate issue from solving income inequality, because the income inequality between owners and workers is the main reason that poverty is so ubiquitous. A society where, as Nagel puts it, "some flourish and others are left behind" is intrinsically unjust, as suggested in ST IIb q66 a2 ro2 and explicitly stated in Evangelii Gaudium.

And if you think there aren't people outside Marxist circles who care about inequality per se (and not just poverty) then you haven't read Rawls's A Theory of Justice -- a somewhat influential book, no?

True; I haven't read it. I don't deny that I have much to learn. But I never claimed that the issue was only poverty. My distributist leanings compel me to see poverty not just as some isolated phenomenon, but as a direct result of the wealth of capitalists. Thus I agree with the liberal claim that poverty and inequality are united. My comment about Marxism was in response to your appropriation of the word "inequality" to attack something that few want: the elimination of all economic difference.

Jeremy,

But isn't there a flaw in our contemporary views of 'economic flourishing'. Implicitly at least it is usually taken to mean the amount of consumer goods that someone or family can afford.

I would suggest that economic flourishing has far more to do with the ownership by the family of real property; with an economic situation that supports strong families rather than hinders them; opportunities for dignified work.


I strongly agree. However, I took "economic flourishing" in the case at hand as referring to the original capitalist formulation, which is the amassment of wealth and capital goods. I didn't think that anyone here was supporting the consumerist ideal.

Crude said...

Jeremy,

A lot of the talk about government intervention on the right (I'm a man of the right myself, though) tends to equate our current economy, minus the welfare state, to a near free market. There is though a loose school of economic thought, from Ralph Borsodi to Kevin Carson, which suggests that if you take out government intervention on behalf of the rich and corporate (so called corporate welfare and related intervention), then almost all large businesses and a lot of medium sized businesses would be unprofitable.

I'm not a fan of corporate welfare either, and I'm not going to pretend that what is known as 'the right' isn't riddled with problems. I'm also not calling for some kind of bizarre libertarian dream over here, at least not practically.

What I see of distributivism makes sense to me: make all laws as local as possible. Make all charity as local as possible. And when I say 'local' I don't mean just state. Not even city. A poor man should be helped out, first and foremost, by his immediate family. His neighbors. His neighborhood. Sometimes, that may mean a government initiative - but said initiative should be, again, as local as possible. Direct as possible. A poor man should ideally never take money without knowing, personally, who gave it to him and why and what they expect of him. And 'who' is not 'an organization'.

The problem is, few people think like this. For some reason the consensus is that a poor man in San Diego is the responsibility of a middle class man in Michigan, or collectively, the entire country - first and foremost! That's insanity. It's a little like looking at a pothole in the street outside of your home and grumbling about how Obama should really take care of that.

Gyan said...

The moral case for addressing massive inequality arises from the political case. Since man is made, not to live alone, but in cities, the moral questions must be wider than the individual rights that libertarians solely focus on.

Contrary to liberalism, the classical tradition regards the City, the family and the individual as three irreducible levels of the human social organization. Classically, moral acts are those that seek the good of the City.
I may remark that while this formulation seems very odd to moderns, one simply can not account for things like patriotism and even the existence of republics otherwise.

A family can exist when individuals care about the good of the family more than their own individual good, at least some of the time.

Similarly, a City can exist only when individuals consider the good of the City more than their own individual good, at least some of the time.

It is good that individuals and families are embedded in a City. But they would be stably embedded only when the City itself is stable and at peace. Considerations of long-term stability of City and its flourishing may show that massive inequality is bad. Thus, it would be politic and moral to address massive inequality.

Gyan said...

Crude.
"Make all charity as local as possible"

Charity is not what State does or can do, at any time. The State welfare is justice, by definition.

The State acts by deliberation on common good. Charity is directed not to common good but to a particular good, an individual. Thus, it is impossible for State to engage in Charity.

Philothumper said...

Dr. Feser, have you read Michael Huemer's Ethical Intuitionism?

If so, what do you think of his more nuanced understanding of 'intuition'?

James said...

Gyan:

"The State acts by deliberation on common good."

No. States are made of people who act in the interest of the constituencies that keep them in power. Those constituencies are made of people who act in their own interest.

Politicians may claim to be acting to promote some thing called the common good, but no politician can succeed acting in ways that do not serve a specific constituency. The theory of public goods tells us that no one will bother to form a constituency for the common good.

If you have some evidence that the operators of some state are really acting to promote the common god, please share.

Sophist:

A thought experiment need not reference an empirically likely scenario to be a source of insight.

NiV said...

Chad,

"1. NiV, your analysis ignores the fact that most poor people work. The assumption is always that poor people are poor because they are doing nothing at all, but that's never been true."

That wasn't my assumption. The problem is not that they're doing nothing, but that they're not doing anything that other people want them to do. The low pay is saying "go do something else, we've already got plenty of that".

You have to exchange value for value. It's not simply the time you spend working, but what you produce through your work.

" If Keynseianism is correct, then an optimally-functioning capitalist economy requires between 3-5% unemployment."

If Keynesianism really says that (and I doubt it does), then it's obviously wrong. Trivially, you can have a society of two people both working and trading for the other. That's 100% employment.

Unemployment is a consequence of people saving money - e.g. for their retirement. You could think of it as that if one person works without spending, somebody else must spend without working to balance that out. e.g. in our two-person society, one person sells food to the other for tokens, but then puts them under his mattress for a rainy day instead of spending them to buy things from the other guy, rendering him unemployed. (The same thing can happen if somebody pays off debts; another way to spend without acquiring anything.) It's more complicated in a bigger society, but basically unemployment is the result of 'the marginal propensity to save', as the economists call it.

"Would natural law theory say it's just for a person who works 40 hours a week to not be able to afford food or rent?"

OK. Let's say I've spent 40 hours this week digging holes and then immediately filling them in again. Not very useful, I admit, but it was hard work! How much will you pay me for doing so?

Again, it's not about the time or effort spent, it's about what you do for others. If you can't do it for less effort than they could do it for themselves, why should they employ you? How does it benefit society, or your neighbour?

William Dunkirk said...

The great American vice is their failure to see just how vicious a vice decadence is. It corrupts the soul.

You don't need to be rich, to be sure, to be a miser or miserly. Many people, bitter, become miserly in their poverty in order to escape it; however, they often remain miserly and, therefore, permanently bitter even in their affluence. The vice is not corrected by wealth and it becomes clear that the original unhappiness could not be imputed entirely to a lack or want of material goods but also wanting was something in the soul; otherwise, the wealth of latter years would have resulted not in being miserable but in being happy or at least content.

Decadence despoils the virtues in the soul of a man and it can easily despoil the soul of an entire nation of its virtues.

The best Roman statesmen thought Romans should be content with very modest homes and livings. They detested the importation not only of foreign luxuries but of the lavishness and indulgent mindset they represented above all. They rightly feared that decadence would come to undermine and destroy the Roman's military character and virtue, a virtue necessarily for defending the State and enforcing its sovereignty over rebellious subjects. In their insistence on modest living, they spied the virtues of moderation and humility here and recognized that their destruction in individual citizens would spell disaster for society and the Roman state/republic. They saw, to an extent, something of a monastic ideal and its fruits for a man's character and integrity and ability to endure hardship.

In the end, Roman pragmatism and the consequences of decadence did so vitiate the strength of that people as to result in their ruin, in spite of their affluence, technical skill, organization and military might.

Conservatives in America need to remember that decadence is a vice that pollutes a man but ultimately can pollute all of society. It is not hard to see how decadence can breed effeminacy as a consequence. Now to be sure wealth =/= decadence but wealth would seem to come with a temptation to decadence, indulgence and all manner of vices.

I don't think it an accident that men like Bill Gates waste much of their fortunes on ideological programs that corrupt society. To what extent do men have a right to expend their wealth and its attractive and organizational power and influence to the general hurt and possible ruin of society?

Wealth and prosperity are certainly in themselves goods and even blessings; however, they also engender their own dangers that need to be vigilantly curtailed if a society's success is not to become its very ruin.

Chad Handley said...

The claim is that, many times, poor people are partly to blame because of their state of affairs. That can be anything from laziness, to only doing the minimum needed to get by, to enjoying drugs or drinking or otherwise, to having kids out of wedlock, to otherwise

And that claim is incorrect. Most poor people are children, which falsifies the claim pretty much immediately. 10.4 million people in America work regularly but still live below the poverty line. I'll say again: according to the Working Poor Families Project, 32% of all working families are classified as "working poor." (They're admittedly using a different metric than the government uses in measuring the poor. According to the absurd official poverty line, a family of four that earns $65 a day is not living in poverty.)

In the 50s, one breadwinner working full time was enough to live comfortably, pay your mortgage, and send your kids to college. Today, a family with one breadwinner that was otherwise morally and ethically identical to that 50s family would be living in poverty.

There's no need to appeal to the poor person's morality to explain this. Wages as a percentage of GDP are the lowest they've ever been. Lower than during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at an all-time high. The obvious inference is the rich are making more money than ever and are paying their employees less (as a percentage of their profits) than ever. When you add in the fact that worker productivity is also at its highest point ever, it's not hard to work out an argument for the immorality of our specific brand of contemporary American inequality.

Workers are earning their employees more money than ever, and are receiving less of those returns than ever.

Figuring out exactly what natural law says they should be paid is hard. Realizing they're not being paid enough (which is why government programs have to pick up the slack in the first place) is easy.

And even in the case you describe, you do not automatically get to an intellectual mandate for the sort of programs - federal or federally mandated - often discussed.

I think it very much does. It at least disproves NiV's notion that helping people who are poor automatically constitutes an injustice because they are paid for doing "nothing." If Keynseianism is right, their unemployment is an essential part of a functioning economy. They're keeping labor markets loose and inflation down by not working.

It's going to be mighty hard for a person working 40 hours a week to not be able to afford food and rent. That's either getting into family support, which is another issue

No, I don't think it's another issue, I think it's the issue. It's pretty easy to work 40 hours a week and not be able to afford food or rent if you're a single parent with two children working a minimum wage job.

I'm sure you'll say that's the single parent's fault for having two children while only having a minimum wage job, but it's certainly not the fault of the children, who will suffer the most.

Depends on what's being talked of here

Well, what is being talked of here was cut off by your selective quotation. The Walton heirs, who have done nothing to earn their wealth, have more than the bottom 30% of all Americans combined, yet they pay their employees so little that many Walmart workers are on food stamps, and have to conduct food drives for each other at holidays. Is there anything the least bit complicated about the moral status of that situation?

It's entirely open to question, and the statements need to be qualified in ways that are disastrous for anyone looking for an easy skating to the usual left-wing conclusions.

And just what are these disastrous qualifications?





Chad Handley said...

That wasn't my assumption. The problem is not that they're doing nothing, but that they're not doing anything that other people want them to do. The low pay is saying "go do something else, we've already got plenty of that".

Really? I think what is says is: "You don't belong to a union, you don't have the lobbying power to demand higher wages, and you have no other options."

Again, as is typical of Conservative/Liberarian reasoning in these situations, you ignore economic realities. We will always need low-skilled jobs. Our economy, our entire way of life, depends on the existence of janitors, fast-food workers, hotel maids, sanitation workers, etc. If everyone working those jobs tried to "go do something else" the entire economy would collapse. Since those people are necessary, and since they form the foundation of the rest of our economy, shouldn't we pay the people who have to do those jobs enough to live?

If Keynesianism really says that (and I doubt it does), then it's obviously wrong. Trivially, you can have a society of two people both working and trading for the other. That's 100% employment.

Two people bartering with each other pretty obviously do not constitute "an optimally-functioning capitalist economy."

As I understand it, the Keynesian claim is that full-employment is inflationary, as new industries would be required to offer increasingly higher wages to lure already employed people away from their existing jobs. Which would require their current employers to pay more to keep them, which would lead to skyrocketing wages and inflation. To keep that from happening, Keynesians advocate adjusting the interest rates to slow down the expansion of the economy when the labor markets get tight.

OK. Let's say I've spent 40 hours this week digging holes and then immediately filling them in again. Not very useful, I admit, but it was hard work! How much will you pay me for doing so?

Who are you suggesting is doing this? Is the McDonald's worker, whose corporate bosses are making record profits, just digging holes and filling them again? Or is his productive work earning his masters billions while he lives below the poverty line?

Who, among our working poor, is doing the equivalent of digging ditches and filling them in again? I see everywhere that even low-skilled, low-wage workers are more productive than ever, and are earning their corporate masters more money than ever, but are being paid so little that many depend on government assistance to get by. Their work is fantastically productive and lucrative; they're just not being adequately compensated for it.

NiV said...

"Really? I think what is says is: "You don't belong to a union, you don't have the lobbying power to demand higher wages, and you have no other options.""

Of course you have other options. Find some job that *does* pay more than the minimum wage, like a doctor or an engineer, and offer to do it for slightly less than the market rate.

"If everyone working those jobs tried to "go do something else" the entire economy would collapse."

They wouldn't *all* go do something else. All that is required is for *enough* of them to go do something else that there is a shortage of workers for those jobs, and competition will cause the wages to rise until they stop leaving.

Wages like any other prices are a signal to re-allocate resources away from things we've got too much of and towards those things we want more of.

"Two people bartering with each other pretty obviously do not constitute "an optimally-functioning capitalist economy.""

On the contrary. The same principles apply to an economy of *any* size.

"As I understand it, the Keynesian claim is that full-employment is inflationary, as new industries would be required to offer increasingly higher wages to lure already employed people away from their existing jobs. Which would require their current employers to pay more to keep them, which would lead to skyrocketing wages and inflation."

No it wouldn't. It would lead to wages rising to the point where the least efficient business could no longer make a profit, when it would go bankrupt and leave the most efficient business in place. New businesses will only start up if they're more productive than existing ones. Old businesses would only stay in business so long as they're more productive than new ones. This is how business gets ever more efficient, producing more goods for less labour, so there's more to go around for everybody.

"Who, among our working poor, is doing the equivalent of digging ditches and filling them in again?"

You're missing the point. You asked how it could be just for a person working 40 hours a week not to be paid for it. But if the person is working 40 hours a week doing something useless, that nobody wants, then it's not unjust that they won't get paid for it. It's an extreme example of a general principle.

A McDonalds worker basically cooks and assembles a burger. Well, I could do that for myself. It's very easy, requires no special skill, and can be done in a matter of minutes. So why would I pay somebody else to do it for me?

The answer is simply that they can do it more efficiently. By doing it in bulk, they can use the economies of scale to buy the capital equipment and organise the supply and the processes to do it slightly more conveniently than I could. The difference (the productivity) is very small, though, because it's not a hard task. However, this small difference, multiplied by a sufficient number of customers, is just about enough to support a minimum wage.

Fast food joints are plentiful and highly competitive, so nobody is going to be making 'record profits' in relative per-worker terms. Most business profits tend to be ploughed back into expanding the business, thus employing more people.

It's not the *business* that reaps the benefits of plentiful workers and low wages, it's the *customers*, with more choice and lower prices - many of who are themselves among the poor.

Scott said...

@NiV:

"They wouldn't *all* go do something else. All that is required is for *enough* of them to go do something else that there is a shortage of workers for those jobs, and competition will cause the wages to rise until they stop leaving."

Yep, that's pretty much it. And if that doesn't happen—which it doesn't—it's because there isn't any dearth of workers willing to take on these unskilled jobs at least for the short term. By and large, as studies have repeatedly shown, these are pretty high-turnover jobs, held predominantly (though not exclusively) by young folks just starting out in the workforce and old(er) folks looking for a little extra income; the people trying to support families with these jobs are the exception, not the rule. And because the jobs don't require any special skills, there are always people in need of work to step in and take over when the people who currently hold them move on (as they generally do).

Requiring employers to pay these workers more would simply mean that fewer would be hired, just as surely as raising the price of grapes would mean that fewer would be sold. That's not exactly a benefit to the people we're supposedly trying to help.

Chad Handley said...

They wouldn't *all* go do something else. All that is required is for *enough* of them to go do something else that there is a shortage of workers for those jobs, and competition will cause the wages to rise until they stop leaving.

This is still impossible on a large enough scale to make a difference. There will never be a shortage of workers for low-skilled jobs. Any job that can be learned by a teenager in an afternoon will never experience a worker shortage, and thus will never pay well based on pure market forces. But the overall economy depends on the existence of such jobs, and many of these low-wage workers are adults with children. You're not going to produce a living wage for necessary low-skilled workers by depending on enough of them just wandering off to "do something else." Not without some kind of government intervention, either in the form of a jobs training program or a mandated higher minimum wage.

No it wouldn't. It would lead to wages rising to the point where the least efficient business could no longer make a profit, when it would go bankrupt and leave the most efficient business in place. New businesses will only start up if they're more productive than existing ones. Old businesses would only stay in business so long as they're more productive than new ones. This is how business gets ever more efficient, producing more goods for less labour, so there's more to go around for everybody.

That's ludicrously naive, and presumes a perfectly efficient free market system, which we don't have and which is, in fact, impossible. I'm not going to argue with you whether or not Keynesian analysis of the situation is correct, I'm simply observing that you are operating on the assumption that it is incorrect, when you haven't proven or provided a (non-utopian) argument to the contrary. Your argument suggests that all poverty is based on individual character flaws which are not affected by large-scale macroeconomic realities. That kind of thinking collapses when actually functioning economies are examined. It turns out that "just go do something else" isn't a particularly helpful strategy for dealing with widespread poverty and underemployment in a slow recovery.

Chad Handley said...



However, this small difference, multiplied by a sufficient number of customers, is just about enough to support a minimum wage.

Sheer nonsense. The reason the fast food worker is paid little is because anybody can do his job, and there are plenty of people willing to do it. No further analysis needed. According to allgov.com, in 2011 McDonalds had 1 million job applications for 62,000 jobs. Are you beginning to see how ludicrous it is to suggest the minimum wage could be raised by workers "going to do something else?" If everyone employed by McDonalds in 2011 left to do something else, that would still leave nearly a million people ready and willing to take those jobs. And are you beginning to see the Keynesians point here, with regards to the role the unemployed play in keeping wages down?

Fast food joints are plentiful and highly competitive, so nobody is going to be making 'record profits' in relative per-worker terms.

I don't know what "per-worker terms" has to do with it. McDonalds has been making record profits since the economy collapsed.

It's not the *business* that reaps the benefits of plentiful workers and low wages, it's the *customers*, with more choice and lower prices - many of who are themselves among the poor.

I see. So, McDonalds didn't benefit at all from their record profits the last few years. Rather, the real winner is the single mother of two who works at McDonalds and earns 15,000 dollars a year.

And your opinion wouldn't all be affected by the fact that McDonalds can only pay its employees so little because so many of their workers are on food assistance? We are, in fact, subsidizing McDonald's low wages. Of all the working people who still get government assistance, 52 percent of them work in the food service industry. This is how capitalism works in the real world. McDonalds passes the cost of underpaying its workforce onto us, and reaps the profits for themselves. 1.2 billion tax dollars ever year goes toward government assistance just for McDonald's employees.

Scott said...

"Most business profits tend to be ploughed back into expanding the business, thus employing more people."

That's an important point as well; the "corporate masters" don't generally take all these profits home. But even supposing they did, they'd still have to spend them somewhere, thereby employing more people anyway. (And please note that even just putting the money in the bank also helps to employ people.)

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"There will never be a shortage of workers for low-skilled jobs."

Correct. And why not? Is it because the same people working those jobs today will still be working them in fifty years? Or is it because they provide opportunities for people to enter the workforce and then move on to higher-paying jobs?

"Any job that can be learned by a teenager in an afternoon will never experience a worker shortage, and thus will never pay well based on pure market forces."

Correct again. And why should it?

"McDonalds has been making record profits since the economy collapsed."

Sounds like they're satisfying their customers, then.

"And your opinion wouldn't all be affected by the fact that McDonalds can only pay its employees so little because so many of their workers are on food assistance?"

If you follow that thought through to its logical conclusions, you'll end up regarding food stamps as a form of corporate welfare. And you'll be right.

Chad Handley said...

Requiring employers to pay these workers more would simply mean that fewer would be hired, just as surely as raising the price of grapes would mean that fewer would be sold.

This argument has been raised since the minimum wage was first enacted.

In the specific case of McDonalds, a recent study by the University of Kansas shows that doubling the salary of everyone who works at the company, including the CEO, would only raise the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents. Am I really supposed to believe that paying fast food workers $10 an hour would cause them to lose so much money that they would significantly cut their workforce?

(I could link to all these studies if someone would kindly remind me how to post a link.)

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"In the specific case of McDonalds, a recent study by the University of Kansas shows that doubling the salary of everyone who works at the company, including the CEO, would only raise the cost of a Big Mac by 68 cents."

And? Are you suggesting that if the price of a Big Mac went up by $0.68, sales would be unaffected?

Scott said...

(How to post a link: <a href="URL goes here">text goes here</a>.

Scott said...

Oops, forgot to close my parenthesis.) ;-)

Jeremy Taylor said...

I can't remember the Keynesian position on full employment. But the view that a certai amount must remain unemployed is associated with free market economists,I think. Full employment in capitalist economies (meaning where a large proportion of capital is owned by a small amount of the population) makes the workers uppity. If they do not fear unemployment, then they will push for higher wages. This causes wage inflation.

Whilst I'm a distributist, I would argue that there is nothing wrong with inheriting wealth. To build up an inheritance for your children and their children is one of the perennial human desires and incentives, and it also encourages strong and independent families.

I'd also argue that there is nothing wrong with a wealthy class. Their wealth allows them time and means for leadership. It also gives a variety to the economy, allowing for the supply of more refined and cultured tastes. Of course, a wealthy class may be crass and decadent and avaricious, but in theory they have an important social role to play.

NiV,

While you have mentioned important economic realities, you have neglected some. For example, bargaining power is important in setting wages. The reason executives get large incomes and bonuses, even when their company is sustaining losses, is partly because they have such power. Menial wage workers tend not to have such power.

Of course, it is more complex even that this. In our kind of capitalist economy most capital goods are owned by a small amount of the population who are always under great pressure to increase their wealth as standing still is akin to erosion of it. If, somehow, there was a great change in the bargaining power of workers relative to executives and corporate leadership, then this would hamper the capital accumulation at the centre of our economy and cause all sorts of problems. This in fact happened with the so called Keynesian consensus and led to stagflation and all sorts of problems. Usually capitalism suffers from overaccumulation of capital (too much money to invest but not enough effective demand for the products of this investment), but the Keynesian consensus led to underaccumulation of capital.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Am I really supposed to believe that paying fast food workers $10 an hour would cause them to lose so much money that they would significantly cut their workforce?"

"Significantly?" By your own logic, not being part of the McDonald's workforce is pretty damn significant for anybody who either gets fired or is never hired. What percentage do you think it's okay to cut, and why do you think the workers thereby unemployed would agree with you?

Chad Handley said...

That's an important point as well; the "corporate masters" don't generally take all these profits home. But even supposing they did, they'd still have to spend them somewhere, thereby employing more people anyway. (And please note that even just putting the money in the bank also helps to employ people.)

Paying the workers higher wages would also help employ people, and it would arguably be a more efficient way of helping employ people. What creates jobs, after all, is not "rich people", or banks, but demand. And what creates and sustains demand is high consumer confidence, which is created in turn by stable, well-paying jobs.

The problem with our economy currently is that demand is low because people are uncertain about their futures and thus more reluctant to spend. Do you solve that problem by giving millionaires more money or by giving workers higher wages?

Chad Handley said...

Are you suggesting that if the price of a Big Mac went up by $0.68, sales would be unaffected?

It's 0.68 only if everyone working at McDonalds has their salary doubled, which no one is advocating for. If McDonald's just raised the wages of its minimum wage employees to $13 an hour, the price of the Big Mac would probably only go up by a few cents.

Correct. And why not? Is it because the same people working those jobs today will still be working them in fifty years? Or is it because they provide opportunities for people to enter the workforce and then move on to higher-paying jobs?

You're conflating fast food jobs with all low-skill jobs. Sure, most fast food workers move on to better things, but the same can't be said for most janitors, sanitation workers, waitresses, maids, etc. There are lots of careers with relatively low turnover that are low-skilled and low-wage. And most of those jobs are essential to the overall economy.

If you follow that thought through to its logical conclusions, you'll end up regarding food stamps as a form of corporate welfare. And you'll be right.

In cases where it's received by working people, I totally agree. And since we're both against corporate welfare, we should both be against massively profitable companies paying their workers so little that they need food stamps.

(How to post a link: text goes here.)

Thanks!

What percentage do you think it's okay to cut, and why do you think the workers thereby unemployed would agree with you?

If the minimum wage was raised across the board, the working class would have more spending power and that spending power would create more jobs. So, even if McDonalds had to let go of some small fraction of its workers, those workers would be in an overall much more healthy job market. Would I trade 10,000 McDonalds jobs for 100,000 more jobs overall? Quite obviously.

That having been said, I do not believe McDonalds would have to lay any siginficant percentage of its workforce to pay its workers decently. All it would require is that their profits are scaled slightly back to "enormous" from "record-breaking."

Crude said...

And that claim is incorrect. Most poor people are children, which falsifies

Sigh. Let's take a look at the claim again:

The claim is that, many times, poor people are partly to blame because of their state of affairs. That can be anything from laziness, to only doing the minimum needed to get by, to enjoying drugs or drinking or otherwise, to having kids out of wedlock, to otherwise

So no, you haven't falsified anything here. Obviously, I'm not talking about children to begin with - and unless you're all in favor of children being put to work, comments about a 'just wage' for 'the poor' are irrelevant with regards to them.

And 'work regularly' doesn't mean the problems I mentioned are not present. If someone drops out of high school, is generally unmotivated and is working at Denny's, they have contributed to their own situation. They are partly at fault. It does not matter if working at Denny's is very, very hard.

In the 50s, one breadwinner working full time was enough to live comfortably, pay your mortgage, and send your kids to college.

College is a bad idea for most people, so we can take that right out of the equation. Absolutely I will agree that the economy has gone downhill in many ways since then - but while I'm arguing that many times people in bad situations in America are at least partly culpable (which isn't a blanket claim), you're apparently going for the idea that they are never culpable (which is a blanket claim.) My position is a whole lot easier to defend.

College is also now ridiculously expensive. How about we put some nice price ceilings on a degree? I think 5k for a bachelor's from any public university is a fair upper limit, don't you?

Crude said...

Wages as a percentage of GDP are the lowest they've ever been. Lower than during the Great Depression. Meanwhile, Corporate profits as a percentage of GDP are at an all-time high. The obvious inference is the rich are making more money than ever and are paying their employees less (as a percentage of their profits) than ever.

The obvious inference is not so obvious, especially once you start accounting for little things like demographic trends (including immigration, legal and illegal.) As others have noted, 'profits' doesn't cash out to 'guy build a boat made out of diamonds.'

I think it very much does.

It doesn't, because there are a variety of options we have with responding to these issues, not all of them government initiatives, not all of them federal. What I said was basic reasoning: the existence of problem X does not automatically lead to the endorsement of particular solution Y when solutions Z, W, and A are available. If you dig in your heels and say 'No, it really does, end of story!', alright. There's no conversation to be had.

I'm sure you'll say that's the single parent's fault for having two children while only having a minimum wage job, but it's certainly not the fault of the children, who will suffer the most.

Often times, yes, the single parent is at fault. And will suffer the most'? From what? Openly acknowledging that people have made mistakes? Having expectations of everyone, including the poor? I am not going to subscribe to the idea that we have to turn a blind eye to people's faults, rich or poor, 'because children!'

The Walton heirs, who have done nothing to earn their wealth, have more than the bottom 30% of all Americans combined, yet they pay their employees so little that many Walmart workers are on food stamps, and have to conduct food drives for each other at holidays. Is there anything the least bit complicated about the moral status of that situation?

Yes. For one, 'have done nothing to earn their wealth'? Rob Walton went to school, worked hard, and is now chairman of the board for the company his father built from scratch, for example. The Waltons employ around 2 million people, based on a business model of supplying goods to communities (including the poor) at cheap prices. They give billions to charity, and a lot in work hours. 'Food stamps' are incredibly easy to get on at this point, and not every job that exists should be a 'I can support a family, buy a house, and send my kids to college often with no good reason' job.

And you probably don't want to stipulate the importance of earning what one has, when you're talking about wealth redistribution. That is a lot of things, but 'earned' it is not, at least with federal situations.

It's complicated whether or not you're willing to accept it.

And just what are these disastrous qualifications?

'Who are the poor comprised of?' 'What expectations of them are there?' 'Who, first and foremost, should be taking care of them?' 'How should those people be taking care of them?' 'What effects do these programs have on cultures, people and attitudes?'

In my view, each and every answer to those questions is going to make massive federal programs harder to justify, as opposed to alternatives.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"If McDonald's just raised the wages of its minimum wage employees to $13 an hour, the price of the Big Mac would probably only go up by a few cents."

So you say. Then again, if they don't raise wages at all, the Big Mac's price will stay the same, and their consumers will benefit. Sure, it may be only a few cents per Big Mac, but McDonald's sells a lot of Big Macs.

More fundamentally, why is any of this your decision rather than McDonald's's? Why can't you be charitable with your own money instead of other people's?

"If the minimum wage was raised across the board, the working class would have more spending power and that spending power would create more jobs."

And if thieves stole all of McDonald's's profits for 2013, then thieves would have more spending power and that would also create jobs. Never mind the obvious broken-window fallacy; precisely what moral principle are you defending here?

Chad Handley said...

Obviously, I'm not talking about children to begin with

Most of the poor are children, so you were talking about children, whether you intended to or not.

unless you're all in favor of children being put to work, comments about a 'just wage' for 'the poor' are irrelevant with regards to them.

I don't think it would be irrelevant to them if their parents made enough money to bring them out of poverty.

you're apparently going for the idea that they are never culpable

No, I'm not.

I think 5k for a bachelor's from any public university is a fair upper limit, don't you?

Sure.

The obvious inference is not so obvious, especially once you start accounting for little things like demographic trends (including immigration, legal and illegal.

Do you have an argument as to how those factors mitigate from the obvious conclusion, or do you just think naming social issues works like an incantation?

Workers are more productive than ever, but their wages adjusted for GDP are lower than ever and corporate profits are higher than ever. How does chanting "Immigration!" allow you to avoid the obvious conclusion that workers aren't being paid enough?

It doesn't, because there are a variety of options we have with responding to these issues, not all of them government initiatives, not all of them federal.

Well, yes there are more ways to deal with underpaid workers than a welfare state. But I wasn't saying that analysis supports a welfare state, rather I was merely saying it provided evidential support for a liberal economic agenda. My preferred method is not a welfare state, it's that corporations pay their workers more. But they don't usually do that out of the kindness of their hearts, so some form of government intervention is required. In our present case, I'd prefer a raise in the minimum wage.

.

Chad Handley said...

And will suffer the most'? From what?

From poverty. Obviously.

I am not going to subscribe to the idea that we have to turn a blind eye to people's faults, rich or poor, 'because children!'

All I'm saying is, since most poor people are children who aren't responsible for their situation, it's impossible that most poor people are responsible for their situation. Seems pretty straightforward.

You seem to think that poverty is mostly due to individual failings, whereas I think it's mostly due to large scale structural issues.

I'm right, of course.

Yes. For one, 'have done nothing to earn their wealth'? Rob Walton went to school, worked hard, and is now chairman of the board for the company his father built from scratch, for example

Well, he went to college (a college that has received hundreds of millions of dollars from the Walton family - total coincidence that he got in). Whether he worked hard is up for debate.

The question is, did any of his labor justify his being the 11th richest man in the world? The answer's pretty obvious. I'm not suggesting that we take his money away from him, but I also won't abide the absurd notion that he earned his money.

And I think we all know that being Chairman of the Board can be little more than a ceremonial position with little to no actual responsibility. Walton didn't even earn that title; he inherited it.

The Waltons employ around 2 million people, based on a business model of supplying goods to communities (including the poor) at cheap prices

The Waltons employ 2 million underpaid people whose underpayment is largely subsidized by the American taxpayer. Their business model is based on monopsony, and their ability to force their suppliers to provide them products at unsustainably low prices, which deflate wages all across the globe across literally hundreds of industries. Their charity wouldn't be quite so necessary if they paid their workers more and didn't use their market share to bully their suppliers.

'Food stamps' are incredibly easy to get on at this point, and not every job that exists should be a 'I can support a family, buy a house, and send my kids to college often with no good reason' job.

Sure, not every job should pay enough to support a family. Nor should full-time employees of the most profitable employer in the United States be on food stamps. I'm surprised a conservative like yourself is so blase about the taxpayer being forced to subsidize Walmart's low wages. Yes, food stamps are easy to get in on, but the taxpayer is paying the freight. You're really okay with 4 individuals who own more than the bottom 100 million Americans being subsidized by the American taxpayer in the form of food stamps? You think it's "complicated" whether obscenely rich people, whose personal wealth exceeds the GDP of most countries, should pay their workers enough to eat?

It seems you only care about the moral accountability of people below a certain tax bracket

rank sophist said...

Crude,

The Waltons employ around 2 million people, based on a business model of supplying goods to communities (including the poor) at cheap prices.

This is hilarious.

Wal-Mart strips communities of local businesses, thanks to their bulk purchases of megafarmed food and unethically produced tools, clothes and gizmos. Money that would go back into local industry is instead siphoned out to help Wal-Mart's global operations. And they muscle out businesses in other countries (such as Mexico) through bribery and other immoral practices. They prevent their workers from unionizing, even though this is one of man's fundamental rights. Salaries are low, working conditions poor and holidays all but nonexistent.

Wal-Mart is an economic disease, which boosts itself up at the expense of its customers (who purchase crap), its suppliers' workforces (whose slavery Wal-Mart enables), its communities (which are bled dry) and its employees (who are denied dignified work). Trying to paint Wal-Mart as a morally complex topic is a bit like claiming that workhouses weren't that bad. The Waltons are modern robber barons, and the suggestion that their wealth is in any way justified is an expression of capitalism at its most vulgar.

Chad Handley said...

So you say. Then again, if they don't raise wages at all, the Big Mac's price will stay the same, and their consumers will benefit. Sure, it may be only a few cents per Big Mac, but McDonald's sells a lot of Big Macs.

The customers will benefit more from the increased purchasing power of McDonalds' workers, and from the reduction in/better allocation of tax dollars from not having to subsidize McDonalds' low wages.

More fundamentally, why is any of this your decision rather than McDonald's's? Why can't you be charitable with your own money instead of other people's?

When 1.5 billion dollars in tax revenue has to go to subsidize McDonalds' low wages, it very much is my money.

Beyond that, I'm not just asking for McDonalds to pay their workers more, I'm advocating for a general increase in the minimum wage to keep pace with inflation and productivity. That's a public policy matter and, last I checked, I'm an American citizen with a say in such matters.

And if thieves stole all of McDonald's's profits for 2013, then thieves would have more spending power and that would also create jobs. Never mind the obvious broken-window fallacy; precisely what moral principle are you defending here?

The moral principle that when a worker's productivity rises his wages should also rise. The moral principle that in America, if you work 40 hours a week you should be able to live without government assistance. The moral principle that I'm tired of subsidizing massively profitable corporations who pay their workers so little they're food insecure.

What moral principle are you defending, by comparing paying people a decent wage to theft?

I have to say, if you guys were skeptical of my Christianity because I support gay marriage outside of the church, you'll excuse me being suspicious of the Christianity of those whose sympathies seem to always lie with the rich and powerful and against the poor.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"The moral principle that when a worker's productivity rises his wages should also rise."

. . . even if said increase in productivity is due to improvements in technology that make the job in question require even less skill.

"The moral principle that in America, if you work 40 hours a week you should be able to live without government assistance."

. . . irrelevantly of the kind of work one does, its value to anyone else, or whether one can secure other employment that pays more.

"The moral principle that I'm tired of subsidizing massively profitable corporations who pay their workers so little they're food insecure."

"I'm tired" isn't a moral principle. And if you're trying to offer a principled objection here, it founders on the fact that you seem to be expecting other people to subsidize them instead.

"What moral principle are you defending, by comparing paying people a decent wage to theft?"

The moral principle that people—even, heaven forfend, the Waltons—are legally entitled to spend their own money as they see fit. May I take it that you disagree? Or did you merely misrepresent my comparison?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"[Y]ou'll excuse me being suspicious of the Christianity of those whose sympathies seem to always lie with the rich and powerful and against the poor."

Oh, don't be ridiculous. Charity, social safety nets, and so forth are one thing, and nobody here has said a word against them. But revising economics is another thing, and you seem to be laboring under some pretty basic misconceptions. For somebody who objects to the assumption that Keynes was wrong, you seem awfully willing, indeed eager, to assume he was right.

Chad Handley said...

even if said increase in productivity is due to improvements in technology that make the job in question require even less skill.

Yes, even then, even though I don't think increases in productivity are always or even mostly due to technology. But even in the cases that they are, I believe that if worker productivity rises, workers should get some of the benefit from that.

irrelevantly of the kind of work one does, its value to anyone else, or whether one can secure other employment that pays more.

Yes, irrelevant to all of that. I'm of course not advocating paying someone to dig ditches and then fill them back up, but such jobs don't exist, or if they do, are usually on the other end of the spectrum (like "Chairman of the Board of Walmart").

Do you really think there are people in this country whose jobs are so worthless they should not be paid enough to be food secure even if they work full-time?

"I'm tired" isn't a moral principle. And if you're trying to offer a principled objection here, it founders on the fact that you seem to be expecting other people to subsidize them instead.

And a sentence structure isn't an argument. The moral principle is that obscenely rich people shouldn't depend on the taxpayers to subsidize employees they can easily afford to pay. That I am personally tired of obscenely rich people failing to live up to this principle was obviously not part of the point.

And a wealthy employer paying its workers a living wage isn't "subsidizing" anything. Like Crude, you assume I'm advocating a giant welfare program. I'm not against those, but my primary plan of attack is forcing corporations to pay its workers a living wage.

The moral principle that people—even, heaven forfend, the Waltons—are legally entitled to spend their own money as they see fit. ?

Well, they obviously don't have the legal right to spend their money just any way they see fit. They can't pay their workers less than the minimum wage, for example. So, if we raise it, we're not interfering with any of their legal rights, and we'll significantly improve the lives of a lot of people.

I assume you'd agree the Waltons have a moral responsibility to pay their employees a just wage. Why is that principle less fundamental in your view than your belief that they can "do whatever they want with their money?"

Oh, don't be ridiculous. Charity, social safety nets, and so forth are one thing, and nobody here has said a word against them. But revising economics is another thing,

Paying workers enough to get them off food stamps is "revising economics?"

That's all I'm talking about here - paying workers enough so that they're no longer dependent on welfare. And you, Crude, and NiV are very much arguing against that. You're saying people with more money than they can spend in 10,000 lifetimes have no responsibility to pay their workers enough to guarantee they don't go hungry. Excuse me, but that's positively anti-Christ, in the literal sense of that term. Nothing could be more fundamentally opposed to the teachings of Jesus than this privileging of the rights of the super-rich over the plight of the poor.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Do you really think there are people in this country whose jobs are so worthless they should not be paid enough to be food secure even if they work full-time?"

Completely aside from your perpetual confusion of "charity" with Using the Law to Make Other People Do Stuff, you keep using words like "should" as though they had a clear, agreed-upon meaning in this context.

How about if you drop your "anti-Christ" bullshit and just tell us your formula for calculating a just wage, and we'll go from there? For example, why is "forty hours" a magic number, and why are people who work that many hours a week economically entitled to a certain wage from their employers (rather than to the charity of their family, friends, neighbors, and so forth, or to access to a social safety net)?

Crude said...

rank,

Wal-Mart strips communities of local businesses, thanks to their bulk purchases of megafarmed food and unethically produced tools, clothes and gizmos. Money that would go back into local industry is instead siphoned out to help Wal-Mart's global operations. And they muscle out businesses in other countries (such as Mexico) through bribery and other immoral practices. They prevent their workers from unionizing, even though this is one of man's fundamental rights. Salaries are low, working conditions poor and holidays all but nonexistent.

"Strips communities of local businesses" = 'They use incredibly efficient methods in order to be able to provide basic, necessary goods at more affordable prices than local competitors are often capable of.' And by the way? Overcharging exists even with small businesses.

'Unethically produced tools, clothes and gizmos' = 'They're making use of third world labor that, for better or for worse, an incredible amount of people - including small businesses - use.'

'Unionizing', especially the sort of unions you're talking of, is not a 'fundamental right of man'.

Let me make this easy for you and Chad both: I am interested in a conversation on these topics. If you can acknowledge the good things that Walmart provides, the good things that many businesses provide, while also acknowledging the bad - even if you believe the bad outstrips, even radically outstrips, the good - then we can talk. If your end goal is 'Party dogma tells me I better reach THIS conclusion, so THIS conclusion is what I have to get to at all costs, and that means never accepting ANY upsides or complications whatsoever', I'm not interested.

The Waltons are modern robber barons, and the suggestion that their wealth is in any way justified is an expression of capitalism at its most vulgar.

I know, right? The man built an industry from nothing, he employs literally millions, the business is founded almost entirely on efficiency and logistical concerns. They donate billions to charity.

But you know what? They donate to the wrong political party, so to hell with them. They are evil to the core and have never done anything right and... hold on. The email from the political party I'm a mental slave to cut off early, so I don't know what to say. Can we continue this later after I get their talking points?

And I think there is plenty of room to criticize business and capitalism. I do so myself, regularly. I think there are concerns of greed, of the abuses of business, of social welfare (which Walmart takes part in) and more. The problem is I don't bow to the particular golden calf everyone wants me to bow to, so clearly I must be The Enemy carrying water for the capitalists. MSNBC said so!

oboe316 said...

Dear Professor Feser,

I am sympathetic with much that you say here about the sort of groupthink that goes on in a lot of contemporary moral and political philosophy. But, I am not sure I see how one can avoid appealing to intuitions in doing moral philosophy (or any sort of philosophy for that matter). I'm skeptical of much moral philosophy that relies only on intuition pumping about cases -- I'm skeptical about the reliability of intuitions about cases, especially very strange ones -- but I don't see how we avoid involving intuitions in moral philosophy at the level of principles (where I'm more comfortable) or in doing the sorts of metaphysics required for ethics. (Reflective equilibrium comes from Goodman, not Rawls after all.) And, I don't see why we ought not be skeptical if some principle or bit of metaphysics yielded conclusions in cases that seemed obviously morally depraved. Was the idea just that if we start at this level of abstraction, we are less likely simply to arrive at a systematic version of what academics thought in the early 21st century? Or what?

- A graduate student

oboe316 said...

Whoops -- just noticed your link to an older post on this issue

rank sophist said...

Crude,

'They use incredibly efficient methods in order to be able to provide basic, necessary goods at more affordable prices than local competitors are often capable of.'

Read "incredibly efficient" as "morally corrupt" and "basic, necessary goods" as "mostly worthless garbage", and you're right on the money.

'They're making use of third world labor that, for better or for worse, an incredible amount of people - including small businesses - use.'

How typical. Make the ethical status of foreign slave labor an open question, then pretend that it's an unavoidable state of affairs. It's bourgeois nonsense like this that makes modern conservatism so toxic.

'Unionizing', especially the sort of unions you're talking of, is not a 'fundamental right of man'.

I know that your knowledge of natural law is limited, but this is fairly inexcusable. See Rerum Novarum a49-51. A relevant bit: "to enter into a 'society' of this kind is the natural right of man". Benedict XVI echoes and redoubles this message in a25 of Caritas in Veritate.

The man built an industry from nothing, he employs literally millions, the business is founded almost entirely on efficiency and logistical concerns. They donate billions to charity.

First, secular achievement like "building an industry from nothing" is utterly irrelevant to morality. Second, the number of people he employs is irrelevant if their jobs are undignified--which was my argument. Third, efficiency is not a virtue. The worship of efficiency is evil: "This culture [of death] is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency" (Evangelium Vitae a12).

The only relevant comment you made was about their charity donations. These are good. But they don't magically negate the immoral practices that generated their wealth.

But you know what? They donate to the wrong political party, so to hell with them. They are evil to the core and have never done anything right and... hold on. The email from the political party I'm a mental slave to cut off early, so I don't know what to say.

Great ad hom. Very constructive.

Joe K. said...

@Chad:

"I'm right, of course."

Dude, come on...

Crude said...

Rank,

Read "incredibly efficient" as "morally corrupt" and "basic, necessary goods" as "mostly worthless garbage", and you're right on the money.

Nah, I'd be wrong. For one thing, 'mostly worthless garbage'? Not even you believe that, or your big complaint would be that Walmart is putting LOCAL sellers of worthless garbage out of business.

But no, it's worthless garbage when Walmart sells it, whereas their competitors are mom and pop stores maintaining their community with much needed goods that, blah blah blah.

This is what I mean. And no, let's not replace 'incredibly efficient' with 'morally corrupt', because that's not the case. Sometimes a local community's marketplace is poorly run, and more expensive than it needs to be.

How typical. Make the ethical status of foreign slave labor an open question, then pretend that it's an unavoidable state of affairs. It's bourgeois nonsense like this that makes modern conservatism so toxic.

It's not simply a 'slave labor' issue, and if that were your criticism, your focus on walmart would be entirely arbitrary. Nor do I espouse 'modern conservatism'. Stop fighting phantoms you want to see, because frankly? I'm a better critic of modern economic conservative policies and attitudes than you are. Largely because I can see the actual problems and benefits, instead of trying to simplify it into 'good guys' 'bad guys'.

I know that your knowledge of natural law is limited, but this is fairly inexcusable.

What's inexcusable is your blindness to the fact that labor unions don't exactly have a problem-free history in the west, and Aquinas would probably choke at seeing how a lot of them - particularly related to government workers - operate.

First, secular achievement like "building an industry from nothing" is utterly irrelevant to morality. Second, the number of people he employs is irrelevant if their jobs are undignified--which was my argument. Third, efficiency is not a virtue.

A) It's utterly relevant in terms of something that can be admired and respected - and it's going to factor in mightily when we're considering just what someone like that has earned for themselves first and foremost.

B) Their jobs are plenty dignified. You're complaining about wages, and even that melts into concerns of 'a high school dropout with 3 kids can't live comfortably on walmart wages'. Aquinas himself would agree that the worker, the poor, has certain duties and obligations they should meet. No one wants to touch that one, and everyone wants to pretend 'duties' extend only to a small group of people.

C) Please. Efficiency is absolutely a virtue the moment you start talking about wise use of natural resources and maximizing effects, which is also a valid concern here. Trying to connect logistical efficiency with providing produce with the culture of death is just amusing.

Great ad hom. Very constructive.

Pity it's accurate.

I would LIKE to talk about this. I'd be happy to have a calm discussion about particular business practices, what's good, and what's bad, what the tradeoffs are, what the emphasis should be, what solutions are available. But you want to get right to 'Walmart is bad, period, no stop talking about this!', and 'The right solution is massive expansions of federal welfare programs, stop talking about other solutions or problems with this, stop stop!' and yeah, a good share of that is ultimately wrapped up in politics.

But hey, I'm on the payroll of the Koch Brothers. Clearly, because I don't agree with your proposed 'obviously totally right' solutions. So pay this no mind.

Joe K. said...

@Rank

"First, secular achievement like "building an industry from nothing" is utterly irrelevant to morality. Second, the number of people he employs is irrelevant if their jobs are undignified--which was my argument. Third, efficiency is not a virtue. The worship of efficiency is evil: "This culture [of death] is actively fostered by powerful cultural, economic and political currents which encourage an idea of society excessively concerned with efficiency" (Evangelium Vitae a12)."

1. I don't understand how this is a "secular achievement." I don't actually know what a "secular achievement" is. I also don't understand how such a thing would be "irrelevant" to morality. Especially utterly.

2. Are Wal-Mart jobs necessarily undignified? I don't really get this. I could certainly buy into the sweatshop labor as being undignified, but I don't really see how most, if not all, Americans that Wal-Mart employs are doing "undignified" work. Does a check-out person have an undignified job? Somebody has to work at stores to sell people goods. And a lot of Wal-Mart workers actually don't work in the store. Is working in a factory undignified? Is sweeping floors undignified? Is driving a truck for Wal-Mart undignified? I'm not sure what the standard is here.

3. I don't think Crude is worshiping efficiency. At the same time, I would imagine that you think it better to be efficient than to be inefficient, assuming there is no clear exploitation in the efficiency. Maybe there is exploitation here, but focusing on his praise of efficiency seems sort of irrelevant to that point. Would you prefer they not be efficient, assuming it were no less exploitative?

I don't really like Wal-Mart either, but I think the whole Wal-Mart debate sort of misses the point. Assuming you could have no exploitation, and workers could work safe, secure jobs at somewhere like Wal-Mart, I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with doing so. At least from a purely economic perspective. I could certainly see why someone might think it good in some way. It employs, it secures, it does what economic actors need to do. Perhaps it is bad in a long-term economic way, where problems would arise in monopolies, etc. But this gets way more complex. And it's certainly not obvious on its face.

I think Wal-Mart is bad in that it perpetuates a goods-centered culture. There is very little, if any, virtue surrounding such a culture. But this is true for almost any goods-centered business today, even if the business pays its workers well and treats them justly. (And I really am not seeing a ton of evidence of Wal-Mart as a whole not treating their workers justly in the United States. Of course, what counts as a "just wage" is problematic to begin with. And now that you've thrown in "undignified"...)

Most people I come across seem pretty disinterested in meaningful and moral lives. They want stuff and things. And for cheap. This is true whether they are rich or poor. (And it's usually more true when they are poor.) Places like Wal-Mart flourish in such environments. And I don't think eliminating Wal-Mart or regulating it out of existence would really fix this problem. Another business would come in to fill the desires that flow from that vice.

Obviously there's cause and effect problems. And I think Wal-Mart is a cause and an effect. But I don't think it right to view all these humans scrambling for cheap goods as purely victims. It's way more complex than that, and it seems unreasonable to just throw blame on places like Wal-Mart. And I really don't think a systematic attempt to take down or stamp out places like Wal-Mart would really fix these issues. The society is broken at a way deeper level. It's just, I don't see how a large business is necessarily immoral. And maybe Wal-Mart is immoral (it probably is in various ways), but I doubt necessarily.

Crude said...

Oh, and just one more comment to a man who I don't respect enough to discuss things with anymore at length:

It seems you only care about the moral accountability of people below a certain tax bracket.

It only 'seems' that way to you because you're out of your mind, and you've decided that there can only be two kinds of people: good, pure-hearted, noble guys who agree with you, and the evil, wicked bad guys who do not. I disagree with you, ergo clearly I defend billionaire excess, corporate welfare (despite saying in this very thread that I'm against it), and so on.

I've written before that I think the idea that 'capitalism solves everything' is absurd, as is the idea that I only care about accountability 'below a certain tax bracket'. I point out, happily, the blind spots I see in right-wing ideology, of which there are many. Nor do I rule out all government intervention - I believe it should be minimized at all costs, and part of 'minimizing' means social change. That means encouraging family members to take care of family members (which in turn requires a defense of the family), neighbors, and more. That may also mean local initiatives for taking care of the poor, quite possibly via tax, quite possibly via other ways. I believe in changing minds and cultures, not passing ill-considered laws that often cause more harm than people realize because the issue is not one that reduces purely to bank account status.

But the problem is, because my emphasis is on local initiatives, cultural change, and more, I'm speaking greek to a lot of people who only think in terms of what law they can pass so the men with guns will take the money from the Bad People and give it to the Good People. Likewise, my emphasis on the blind spots of capitalism and the moral duty to give wealth personally doesn't exactly make many fans of the capitalist devotees. I mention that no, I don't think Walmart is evil incorporated and all you hear is 'Not of my party! Clearly he hates the poor. I bet he's racist too.'

And you know what? That's fine. You've gone well past the point of being able to so much as even discuss the duties of the poor, or the duties of their neighbors, and you translate even opening that subject as 'exonerating the worst kinds of Gordon Gecko behavior.' There is no talking with you - I move on, and will talk to others. Your kind of mentality, the one that sees the solution to every problem in terms of passing a new law - better yet, a new federal law, as far reaching as possible - is one of the very problems that I see with the left-wing emphasis, just as the right-wing is so often blind about the inadequacies of capitalism in and of itself. Unfortunate - someone else needs to cure you of that. I am not able.

None of this will get through to you - it will be overwhelmed by you telling yourself 'I'm a good person because I'm a Social Justice Warrior and I have such strong FEELINGS'. So I will leave you with a blessing - en el nombre del Padre, del Hijo y del Espíritu, I exonerate you of the hoary task of having to think about important topics critically. Go forth, and emote. Amen.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Is Wal-Mart efficient? It has certainly been argued that the sort of efficiences that come with the scale of production and distribution that large industries like Wal-Mart obtain have behind them massive subsidies and interventions. I know Kevin Carson has done a lot of work on this subject and he has suggested that what makes, for example, distribution chains beyond quite a modest distance and volume profitable is no natural efficiency but rather state subsidies and intervention largely aimed at benefitting large business first and foremost.

It is a controversial area, and more work needs to be done, but I'd be weary of talking of businesses like Wal-Mart as efficient, or even more efficient than the cornershop.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Here's Carson's chapter, in one of his works, on state intervention to support large businesses and centralisation, if anyone is interested:

http://members.tripod.com/kevin_carson/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Chapter3.pdf

It needs more work, and it is only concerned with the U.S, but it gives food for though, especially about how businesses like Wal-Mart should actually be viewed.

rank sophist said...

Crude,

Nah, I'd be wrong. For one thing, 'mostly worthless garbage'? Not even you believe that, or your big complaint would be that Walmart is putting LOCAL sellers of worthless garbage out of business.

It's telling that the only economic reality you can imagine is one in which goods are cheap, non-local, mass produced crap pawned by this or that general or big box retailer. I am talking about the distributist society of artisans; not mom and pop stores that sell the exact same products as Wal-Mart.

It's not simply a 'slave labor' issue, and if that were your criticism, your focus on walmart would be entirely arbitrary.

My focus on Wal-Mart was in response to your comment about Wal-Mart. I apply the same criticism to all megacorporations.

I'm a better critic of modern economic conservative policies and attitudes than you are. Largely because I can see the actual problems and benefits, instead of trying to simplify it into 'good guys' 'bad guys'.

How nice.

What's inexcusable is your blindness to the fact that labor unions don't exactly have a problem-free history in the west, and Aquinas would probably choke at seeing how a lot of them - particularly related to government workers - operate.

Who on earth was talking about Aquinas? I referenced two papal encyclicals from the past 150 years, one of them written by Benedict no earlier than 2009. The unions he's discussing are our unions:

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.

Now, when you're done extracting your foot from your mouth, we can continue.

It's utterly relevant in terms of something that can be admired and respected

Which has nothing to do with the topic at hand.

Their jobs are plenty dignified.

No, they really aren't. Wal-Mart employees sell goods that they did not produce and have no stake in, within facilities that they do not own, at the behest of bosses who use their employees as economically disposable tools to expand their own wealth. It's standard capitalism: the ownership of capital (in this case, Wal-Mart facilities) and the work done with that capital are separated between classes of owners and workers, with the predictable exploitation and shoddy workmanship that follows. The most dignified and sustainable work is that which is done by owners on their own capital, as RN a46-47 states. Those articles make clear that the separation of labor and capital ownership is an undesirable state of affairs.

rank sophist said...

Efficiency is absolutely a virtue the moment you start talking about wise use of natural resources and maximizing effects, which is also a valid concern here. Trying to connect logistical efficiency with providing produce with the culture of death is just amusing.

Not really. The kind of efficiency that Wal-Mart practices is immoral, for reasons I've already gone over.

But you want to get right to 'Walmart is bad, period, no stop talking about this!', and 'The right solution is massive expansions of federal welfare programs, stop talking about other solutions or problems with this, stop stop!' and yeah, a good share of that is ultimately wrapped up in politics.

But hey, I'm on the payroll of the Koch Brothers. Clearly, because I don't agree with your proposed 'obviously totally right' solutions


Where are the magical people who said these things to you, Crude? Did you see someone who looked like me accusing you of being paid off by the Koch brothers? I think you might be hallucinating.

My actual position (which you will ignore, as you always do) is distributist: grind down government and business until almost nothing remains, aside from their local instantiations. Overthrow capitalism by encouraging workers to own the capital on which they work. Let communities rebuild their social networks and infrastructure and internal safety nets. I have no time for capitalism or socialism.

Joe,

I don't understand how this is a "secular achievement." I don't actually know what a "secular achievement" is. I also don't understand how such a thing would be "irrelevant" to morality. Especially utterly.

By secular achievement, I was making a reference to a tradition of thought within Christianity--namely, the disdain for secular ambition that Augustine expresses so well in the Confessions. He was not the first or last to speak this way, however. This may seem incomprehensible to modern people, but achievement in a secular career was not seen as inherently good by most Christians for many, many hundreds of years. It was at best neutral, at worst (if it led to spiritual sloth or other vices) sinful. Hence Crude's appeal to Walton's achievement is a distraction without moral relevance.

Does a check-out person have an undignified job? Somebody has to work at stores to sell people goods. And a lot of Wal-Mart workers actually don't work in the store. Is working in a factory undignified? Is sweeping floors undignified? Is driving a truck for Wal-Mart undignified? I'm not sure what the standard is here.

As I said to Crude, the capitalist separation of work and ownership is far from desirable. Those jobs you mentioned are undignified in that they are done for a separate owner and have little in the way of compensation, despite the hours and effort involved. They're drudge jobs that breed bitterness. Obviously, though, they are not undignified to the same degree as sweatshop labor.

And it simply is not true that "somebody has to work at stores to sell people goods", unless one presupposes a capitalist economy. If the distributist ideal was actually followed through, big box stores would cease to exist. General stores, to the extent that they still existed, would be staffed by their owners.

rank sophist said...

At the same time, I would imagine that you think it better to be efficient than to be inefficient, assuming there is no clear exploitation in the efficiency. Maybe there is exploitation here, but focusing on his praise of efficiency seems sort of irrelevant to that point. Would you prefer they not be efficient, assuming it were no less exploitative?

Using efficiency as a main ordering principle for society and economics is, if one believes JPII, a very bad idea. You can see this in his criticism of efficiency in the EV citation from before, and in a4 of his Letter to Women. His point is that efficiency-based structures are dehumanizing, since they necessarily neglect the primacy of human dignity and social relationships. So, there's nothing inherently good about efficiency, regardless of the utilitarian thinking that we've been indoctrinated with.

Assuming you could have no exploitation, and workers could work safe, secure jobs at somewhere like Wal-Mart, I don't necessarily think there is anything wrong with doing so.

Well, because Wal-Mart is a capitalist enterprise, it is inherently less than ideal. I really recommend that you read a46-47 of Rerum Novarum, which I cited in response to Crude. The separation of labor and capital always tends toward vast inequality in power and well-being, as well as exploitation and unfulfilling work. They're just part of the bargain.

I think Wal-Mart is bad in that it perpetuates a goods-centered culture. There is very little, if any, virtue surrounding such a culture.

I agree with all of your criticism of consumerism following this statement. It really isn't related to my complaints about Wal-Mart, which concern its despicable business practices and capitalistic structure. Consumerism would indeed remain even if Wal-Mart died--but the same could not be said for Wal-Mart's (and similar corporations') practices and structure.

Gyan said...

rank sophist,
"It's standard capitalism: the ownership of capital and the work done with that capital are separated between classes of owners and workers,"

Situation is even worse than you say. The so-called "owners" in this stage of capitalism are purely nominal. They lack a public and stable relation to the things they own. Indeed, what does a person holding some units in a fund that holds some stock of a giant corporation, what ownership does this person actually exercise?

The distributism will be realized once the evil of anonymous property is realized. It is the stock market and funds that make possible the giant corporations. We simply do not have to acknowledge the anonymous property as real property and the whole house of cards shall fall down. You won't get to distributive state by fiddling with tax rates or labor laws.

Tony said...

With regard to the non sequitur, if group X flourishes economically while group Y "is miserable", this is not a morally neutral state of affairs. St. Basil of Caesarea:

Actually, Rank, it is morally neutral. If a Mayan village in 1132 is well off, and an Australian settlement at the same moment is miserable, this is EXACTLY a morally neutral state of affairs. You have to add in additional features to make it no longer morally neutral: that X knows about Y's situation, and that something X can do for Y would make Y's state of affairs better, and THEN, that X categorically refused to make any effort to help Y. Yes, now you have described a morally charged situation.

But even more, Ed had said "nobody had suffered a wrong or an injustice." You equated, without cause, "justice" with all moral aspects of the situation. If X has done nothing unjust to Y, and X refuses to act charitably to Y, then X has not performed an obligation of charity but this does not constitute an injustice.

See this discussion for a discussion that bears on the point.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/01/what_kind_of_poverty.html



It turns out that this isn't exactly correct. In political circles, it is true that "inequality" is generally a kind of short-hand for the kind of relative inequality between the rich and the poor. But by and large the left-of middle sorts, both out-and-out Marxists and quite a number of anti-Marxist economic liberals, base their reasoning (often without knowing it) on the philosophical distinctions of absolute inequality simply. And it turns out that this is because, by and large, the grounds for objecting to the inequality between the rich and the poor simply don't hold much weight except by reference to absolute inequality - the reliance on the absolutely common "source and destination of goods" (which is also the most significant way St. Basil's statements bear on the matter) requires the use of the philosophically pure absolute equality. Without that, the relative inequality of most rich compared to most poor becomes just a morally neutral observed datum.

Tony said...

Sorry, I quoted Rank above between my link and "It turns out..."

First of all, "inequality" is almost never used in the sense that you use it here. Its standard application is as a political slogan, which succinctly summarizes the difference between the income of the rich and the income of the poor. Only in very-far-left, semi-Marxist thought is the idea of absolute income equality even relevant. I seriously doubt that most of the "left-of-center types" you mention are lobbying for this viewpoint, if they are even aware of it.

DNW said...

"Suppose everyone had a standard of living at least equal to that of your typical middle manager, but some people lived like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos. You’d have no poverty to speak of but still have massive inequality. Would this be unjust? I say that it would not be the slightest bit unjust, and I have yet to see a good argument to the contrary. I think the libertarian is absolutely correct to see claims of injustice here as motivated by envy, and thus as motivated by a serious vice rather than by a concern for morality."

That of course presumes, as you would be the first to agree, a teleological presuppositional framework.

Marx of course explicitly rejected the notion of objective needs, and asserted that the socially important wants were socially developed. The human economic thing in its dynamic evolutionary context had a biological nature, but that was, as I believe many Marxists have commented, merely the organic foundation of the historically situated and developed man.

For Marx, and his millions of followers, man as you (or I would) conceive of him, simply does not exist. In its place is an entirely different phenomenon; i.e., an evolving species being which has no a-historical fixed nature that can be referred to to determine or fix any "moral questions".

Also, re. Rawls.

" Nagel nicely summarizes two key themes of Nozick’s book. ' First...” And second:
If some flourish and others are left behind, there is nothing wrong in that, nothing that the state may use its power forcibly to correct. As Nozick says repeatedly, it is no more wrong than the fact that A cannot marry B because B prefers to marry C. A may be miserable, but no one has suffered a wrong or an injustice ... the separateness of persons is the basis of the moral order.'
End quote. Though I am no longer a libertarian, I still think that there is much truth in these two basic ideas, even if they need to be qualified.


Rawls of course, infamously, in my somewhat heated opinion, does pretty much what the SELF group avowed it was not going to do. And Rawls does this in the passages in a Theory of Justice wherein he lays out his fundamental "shared fate" predicate. A premise which it seems he envisions might - in order to realize a more equable distribution of shared sacrifices and burdens - entail eugenic interventions or schemes.

"A commitment to a shared fate"


That, in my considered, if contempt-laden opinion, is his true Original Position. If so, so much then for the project of rejecting " utilitarianism in favor of “principles that limit the means that may be used to promote even the best ends.”

Scott W. said...

Shopping at Wal-Mart is a nice screw-you to self-righteous blowhards, but also provides a double bonus in that there you can get good, cheap toolboxes made by Keter; a (gasp!) Israeli company.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"Here's Carson's chapter, in one of his works, on state intervention to support large businesses and centralisation, if anyone is interested:

http://members.tripod.com/kevin_carson/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/Chapter3.pdf"

I am, and thanks.

Thanks also to Crude and Tony for their links.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

I don't see any reply to my question yet, so here's one final bite at the apple.

"You're saying people with more money than they can spend in 10,000 lifetimes have no responsibility to pay their workers enough to guarantee they don't go hungry."

Actually I'm (still) waiting for you to provide some—any—support for your claim that they have such an obligation as employers and that there's specifically something automatically, intrinsically unfair or unjust about a low wage.

Let me put the question more clearly. Here's the hypothetical scenario: A rich man Jones hires a poor man Smith to do a job in return for a certain wage; Smith agrees; Smith does the job; Jones pays the agreed wage; Smith still can't afford all his basic necessities.

What I'm asking you to explain is why the obligation to make up this alleged shortfall falls exclusively on Jones, why he's obliged to make it up specifically as Smith's employer and through wages (and therefore as, I take it, a matter of justice rather than charity), and (if you're really on a roll) why we're justified in requiring by law that he do so. In taking on an employee, does an employer somehow become exclusively responsible—in justice, qua employer, and in a legally enforceable way—for making sure the employee's basic needs are all met? Why? (Incidentally, what are those needs and why does "food" seem to be the only one that makes your shortlist?)

In explaining all of this, don't neglect to include some explanation of why Smith's family, friends, neighbors, church/synagogue, and so forth have no charitable obligations to him, and why Smith has no relevant obligations either.

Once you're done with that, perhaps you'll consider another hypothetical scenario, this one about unintended effects. The independent comic book industry isn't doing well, so in order to help comic book writers earn a "living wage," I propose setting a legal minimum on the price of comic books. I'm thinking at least $25 a book, and we could even go to $50. Won't that give your sales a nice boost?

What's that you say? It won't? Why not, and why does that scenario differ from the setting of a higher legal minimum wage? Do wages differ from (other) prices in some economically significant way? If not, then what in the world makes it okay to put/keep people out of work by making it illegal for anyone to offer, or take, a job that pays less than $13/hr?

Scott said...

Also:

"[I]f you guys were skeptical of my Christianity because I support gay marriage outside of the church . . . "

I can safely say that I've never, ever expressed the slightest skepticism of your "Christianity," so I'm not sure what that remark is doing in a reply to me.

Tony said...

Let me put the question more clearly. Here's the hypothetical scenario: A rich man Jones hires a poor man Smith to do a job in return for a certain wage; Smith agrees; Smith does the job; Jones pays the agreed wage; Smith still can't afford all his basic necessities.

What I'm asking you to explain is why the obligation to make up this alleged shortfall falls exclusively on Jones, why he's obliged to make it up specifically as Smith's employer and through wages (and therefore as, I take it, a matter of justice rather than charity), and (if you're really on a roll) why we're justified in requiring by law that he do so. In taking on an employee, does an employer somehow become exclusively responsible—in justice, qua employer, and in a legally enforceable way—for making sure the employee's basic needs are all met? Why? (Incidentally, what are those needs and why does "food" seem to be the only one that makes your shortlist?)


Especially when the scenario is completely undetermined as to time allocated to the job: if Jones hires Smith to do a job that takes 1 hour per week...and the contract specifies that Smith will do the job for 52 weeks...

All of a sudden, a contract for 1 hour per week constitutes an obligation on Jones to support Smith whole and entire? What about Smith's other 167 hours per week? Doesn't he have an obligation to work in any of those? What about those employers?

What if Jones can only reasonably expect to receive (gross) revenue, from the sales of the widgets Smith makes in Jones's factory, 1/3 of the amount that Smith needs to support him? Somehow, by establishing a contract, Smith lands on Jones the obligation to not only put ALL 100% of the gross revenue of Smith's labor, but 200% more in addition out of other assets (other employee's productive labor?) toward Smith's support?

There has never been, and cannot ever be, a successful theory of a "living" wage that fails to take into account the anticipated productivity / profitability of the employee's activity and the obligation of the employee to seek to make himself ready, able, and willing to provide work that is commensurate in the marketplace with his "living" support.

This discussion has additional thoughts on living wages.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2013/10/leo_xiii_and_minimum_wage.html#comments

rank sophist said...

Tony,

If a Mayan village in 1132 is well off, and an Australian settlement at the same moment is miserable, this is EXACTLY a morally neutral state of affairs. You have to add in additional features to make it no longer morally neutral: that X knows about Y's situation, and that something X can do for Y would make Y's state of affairs better, and THEN, that X categorically refused to make any effort to help Y.

Well, yes. But I took it to be implicit in Nagel's comment ("some flourish and others are left behind") that we were talking about connected members of a single economy.

But even more, Ed had said "nobody had suffered a wrong or an injustice." You equated, without cause, "justice" with all moral aspects of the situation. If X has done nothing unjust to Y, and X refuses to act charitably to Y, then X has not performed an obligation of charity but this does not constitute an injustice.

Actually, it was Nagel who wrote that. And I did not make the leap from "immoral" to "unjust". Nagel explicitly uses the term "wrong"--not merely injustice--and I was going from there. If you notice, nowhere in my first post do I make any reference to justice. I am aware that a failure to abide by one's moral obligation to do charity is not always and everywhere an injustice, although, as RN a22 states, it can become one in extreme cases.

Again, as I said initially: the question is not whether or not the rich have wronged everyone else by their actions. This is a given. The question is whether or not the state should interfere. This involves weighing practical considerations and defining "extreme cases". For example, Aquinas seems to suggest in ST IIb q66 a2 ro2 that the monopolization of previously common resources is such a case; but determining the truth would take a lot of work.

See this discussion for a discussion that bears on the point.

http://www.whatswrongwiththeworld.net/2014/01/what_kind_of_poverty.html


Your argument in there seems to be based on Protestantesque Bible-thumping, in separation from the Church Fathers--who made the claims about poverty that you find missing from the Bible. Then you ignore the natural rights of man by claiming that only his supernatural goal is "necessary".

Without that, the relative inequality of most rich compared to most poor becomes just a morally neutral observed datum.

Not if you buy Rerum Novarum's arguments regarding the undesirable consequences of the worker/master structure. Or if you believe Benedict when he writes this:

Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty), not only does social cohesion suffer, thereby placing democracy at risk, but so too does the economy, through the progressive erosion of “social capital”: the network of relationships of trust, dependability, and respect for rules, all of which are indispensable for any form of civil coexistence. (Caritas in Veritate a32)

Arguments against inequality don't need to have the elimination of economic difference as their axiom. They simply need to appeal to the common good of the polis, as the arguments in RN and CiV do.

zmikecuber said...

This is off topic, but...

Does anybody know how I can get Feser's article Existential Inertia and the Five Ways? I've been searching and searching for it, but can only find places where I have to pay $20 for it. I heard you could get it for free, but I'm not sure where. I may need it for an upcoming debate, so it would be helpful. Thanks

Tony said...

My distributist leanings compel me to see poverty not just as some isolated phenomenon, but as a direct result of the wealth of capitalists.

Rank, like you and like Crude, I too have strong leanings toward distribution of goods and property. Everything all around is better with property shared out with a fair amount of evenness (though not with anything remotely like strict equality). What separates me from most ideological "distributism" theories is how to get there, especially how to get there from here.

Here's the problem: Any political system that implies the licitness of private property - as Leo XIII insists on - allows for the possibility that a person who is smarter, luckier, or more energetic than others might increase his wealth more than others. If that inequality as such becomes an object of disapproval of the state, so that the state says "you cannot be left with your surplus intact" then he doesn't really have a private property dominion over his stuff, only a temporary lease from the state. If the state doesn't intervene directly, and allows the lucky guy the right to direct his surplus to whichever donative, charitable, public works he wishes, or to some OTHER activity that maybe not everyone things is all that beneficial to society (like tinkering with airplanes at Kitty Hawk in 1903), then that inherently leaves the possibility that he might not use his excess wealth well. That's what the control of his property means: like freedom of will, he might not use it well. It isn't freedom of will if God says "go ahead, pick a card, any card, any card at all that is THIS ONE RIGHT HERE, all others are just shams that I won't let you pick." And it isn't really private property if the guy makes a profit and the state only lets him "choose" to do with it exactly what the state decides must be done with it. Private property means some people might choose ill.

So, my sympathies rest with everyone having a modicum of property, but my intelligence says that some ways of getting there are out of order. You have to select means to that goal that are consistent with the deeper requirements of human nature. That means not by state coercion. Better to craft / plan methods of promoting and encouraging that people make choices all around (both those who have and those who do not) that are conducive to results where the have-nots gain property and the haves keep some property and don't gain all the property.

Which is, effectively, exactly what Leo XIII was describing as a just, Christian marketplace. A market where people are encouraged to make intelligent and thrifty choices so as to acquire property, and to make creative and intelligent choices to make their property productive, and where people choose freely to make humane, merciful, and intelligent choices to use their wealth for the benefit of many and not just for themselves.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

Actually I'm (still) waiting for you to provide some—any—support for your claim that they have such an obligation as employers and that there's specifically something automatically, intrinsically unfair or unjust about a low wage.

Let me put the question more clearly. Here's the hypothetical scenario: A rich man Jones hires a poor man Smith to do a job in return for a certain wage; Smith agrees; Smith does the job; Jones pays the agreed wage; Smith still can't afford all his basic necessities.


Not that I agree with Chad's broadly liberal rants, but how's this?

Wages, as we are told, are regulated by free consent, and therefore the employer, when he pays what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond. The only way, it is said, in which injustice might occur would be if the master refused to pay the whole of the wages, or if the workman should not complete the work undertaken; in such cases the public authority should intervene, to see that each obtains his due, but not under any other circumstances.

[...]

Now, were we to consider labor merely in so far as it is personal, doubtless it would be within the workman's right to accept any rate of wages whatsoever; for in the same way as he is free to work or not, so is he free to accept a small wage or even none at all. But our conclusion must be very different if, together with the personal element in a man's work, we consider the fact that work is also necessary for him to live: these two aspects of his work are separable in thought, but not in reality.

[...]

Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.
(Rerum Novarum a43-45)

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"[H]ow's this?"

Fine. How's this?

Tony said...

Well, yes. But I took it to be implicit in Nagel's comment ("some flourish and others are left behind") that we were talking about connected members of a single economy.

How connected? There is always dispute over this, because there is always some degree of separation between the guy who is flourishing and the guy who is not, and sometimes the guy who is flourishing says of the other "he isn't a connected member of my economy" with some justice. Connectedness comes in degrees.

Again, as I said initially: the question is not whether or not the rich have wronged everyone else by their actions. This is a given.

You assume what cannot be assumed in this discussion. If 10 people start out with exactly equal property, and one of the 10 lucks into a vastly profitable enterprise making X widgets, he will initially become more wealthy. Until he chooses NOT to do something charitable with his new wealth, the mere fact of having more cannot be evidence that he has done wrong. You assumption is precisely out of bounds here.

Not if you buy Rerum Novarum's arguments regarding the undesirable consequences of the worker/master structure. Or if you believe Benedict when he writes this:

" Through the systemic increase of social inequality, both within a single country and between the populations of different countries (i.e. the massive increase in relative poverty),..."


Well, as I showed in the article linked, the data seems pretty significant that there simply doesn't exist the so-called "growing" relative disparity suggested, not on a "systemic" scale. So, I might be forgiven for not accepting Benedict's attempt to describe the factual social conditions, something in which popes are not in the least protected from error.

Tony said...

Then you ignore the natural rights of man by claiming that only his supernatural goal is "necessary".

Well, perhaps you may be forgiven for thinking so, but you missed the point of my elaboration there: I was describing what I think Jesus Christ meant by the word "need" when he said

do not be anxious about what you shall eat, or what you shall wear. Your Father in heaven knows what you need

I don't think he was using the word in the sense of flourishing of temporal goods needed for this life, since God so often allows his servants not to flourish with respect to temporal goods. The so called "natural rights" of man with respect to temporal goods are rights to attempt to secure goods by reasonable means - effort, thrift, creativity, exchange, etc., not a right to actually have an equal share of all temporal goods - there is nothing in human nature that implies that.

rank sophist said...

Scott,

Fine. How's this?

What's up with all the WWWTW links? Awful site.

In any case, the article is totally unrelated to my point, which is simple. If Smith cannot afford his basic necessities with the wage that he agreed on, then that wage is unjust. Theories of minimum wage are irrelevant to the topic at hand. The value of the labor and the physical and mental condition of the worker are also irrelevant to just pay--you will notice that, whenever the article makes the opposite claim, no RN quotes are presented to back it up. The basic needs of the worker are the main criterion for a just wage.

Tony,

You have to select means to that goal that are consistent with the deeper requirements of human nature. That means not by state coercion.

State coercion would be necessary to dismantle domestic megacorporations in the event that distributism became our economic system. Following this, the state would have to dismantle and decentralize itself. Aside from that, I largely agree with your post.

How connected? There is always dispute over this, because there is always some degree of separation between the guy who is flourishing and the guy who is not, and sometimes the guy who is flourishing says of the other "he isn't a connected member of my economy" with some justice.

Perhaps I was too vague. By "connected", I meant a situation in which one's economic decisions have a direct or indirect effect on another person. Aquinas suggests this kind of connection when he writes that "one man cannot over-abound in external riches, without another man lacking them, for temporal goods cannot be possessed by many at the same time" (ST IIb q118 a1 ro2). In two wholly separated societies, whose well-being is unknown to and unaffected by the actions of people in the other society, it is fair to say that there is no moral obligation involved. But this is certainly not the case in a global capitalist economy, or (in past times) within the mostly closed economy of a commonwealth.

If 10 people start out with exactly equal property, and one of the 10 lucks into a vastly profitable enterprise making X widgets, he will initially become more wealthy. Until he chooses NOT to do something charitable with his new wealth, the mere fact of having more cannot be evidence that he has done wrong.

Yes; I am aware that the mere fact of their wealth is not a sin. I was taking for granted that the modern wealthy fail to act charitably--or, if they do, that it is inevitably a small drop of their income. The idea that they are hiding "mouldering" shoes in their closets instead of giving them to the poor, as in St. Basil's example, is quaint. Their actions are more in line with those of Imelda Marcos.

Well, as I showed in the article linked, the data seems pretty significant that there simply doesn't exist the so-called "growing" relative disparity suggested, not on a "systemic" scale.

So, you're going to take issue with the counsel of at least three popes (JPII, Benedict, now Francis) on the world's economic problems? Your funeral.

rank sophist said...

The so called "natural rights" of man with respect to temporal goods are rights to attempt to secure goods by reasonable means - effort, thrift, creativity, exchange, etc., not a right to actually have an equal share of all temporal goods - there is nothing in human nature that implies that.

One does indeed have a right to his own livelihood--not merely the seeking of it, but its attainment. This is why Leo writes:

True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth.

In other words, even if all normal means of providing one's livelihood have been exhausted, one still has a right to it. One's rights do not end merely at being "free to try". That is a libertarian bastardization of Catholic social teaching.

And, no; I am not saying that Leo XIII promoted a welfare state. The context of the quote shows that government assistance is undesirable. My point is simply that the right to one's livelihood is much more than the freedom to place one's horse in the race.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I think that we can all agree that corporate welfare and privileges should be removed. I think that this will be, if done completely, the singlest biggest spur to a more distributist economy possible.

I include corporate personhood and assorted rights in these privileges. These split ownership from control, contrary to the common law norm of property (usually you are responsible for your agents - in a corporation the owners are actually encouraged not to get involved and take responsibility) , and it encourages the accumulation of capital at society's expense: a sort of socialisation for private gain. These privileges should be removed, or reworked so that they are a more public affair.

I agree with Tony that a lot of state coercion should be avoided. I'm definitely on the decentralist wing of distributism. We need to wind back the state and localise it. Although in the abstract I would not rule out all subsidies and aid and even protectionism that might support a distributist economy. I would rule out redistributive income taxes though, as being too centralised and statist.

I also don't think Tony is framing property rights quite right. It is certainly true that property rights should confer on their own a high degree of belief in his mastery over his property. But still, property is not absolute. Property is still a partnership between community and individual (and even more so family). These need to be balanced, but what's important is not so much making the property owner think himself king is his dominions, only that we make sure things are not onerous enough that his belief in a strong mastery over his property is not eroded.

Tony said...

Yes; I am aware that the mere fact of their wealth is not a sin. I was taking for granted that the modern wealthy fail to act charitably

Rank, it seemed you were asserting it as if it were already known for all situations, since Ed's discussion is a general one, not limited to our time and place. "This is a given." I did not see that as your asking for it as an assumption, nor did you make any attempt to establish that it holds always. I guess I just misunderstood your circumlocution.

One does indeed have a right to his own livelihood--not merely the seeking of it, but its attainment. This is why Leo writes:

True, if a family finds itself in exceeding distress, utterly deprived of the counsel of friends, and without any prospect of extricating itself, it is right that extreme necessity be met by public aid, since each family is a part of the commonwealth.


Rank, to me your comment simply isn't coherent. When you say a person has a "right to" his livelihood, I am thinking "livelihood" is a job, a way of making a living by his work - either as an employee or as self-employed. If he has a right to be an employee, then there must be somebody who is OBLIGATED to employ him, which makes no sense at all. If he has a right make his living self-employed, I think that's fine, but there is no guarantee that being self-employed will actually provide for his support - he may fail because he stinks at his choice of career. There is no obligation on others to make sure his career choice is successful in the marketplace. That would be nuts. Nobody has a right to have society buy his goods even if they are shoddy, or a right to have society contract his services even if he is incompetent.

And then when you add in Leo's quote, it makes even less sense, because Leo is saying that when he doesn't have a livelihood to support him, the state should step in and support him instead. That's not a LIVELIHOOD, it is a handout, it replaces a livelihood. A livelihood is the man doing something toward generating wealth himself, not merely receiving it. It makes no sense to call state hand-out a livelihood.

And further, while it is right for rich people to give money to a poor person who cannot support himself, the poor person does not have any definite RIGHT to have this specific rich person give him money. The rightness is on the side of the obligation on the rich person, whose righteousness includes satisfying an obligation of charity. That does not create a right in the poor person to receive a gift. For gifts are gratis, not rights.

When the state takes over such care because wealthy people either are not available (in disasters?) or will not, this does not create any greater right in the poor person than he had when the rich were meeting his need. A person has a right to have the state protect his participation in the COMMON goods of the state - safety, knowledge, etc. He does not have a right to quasi-public goods, i.e. private goods doled out en blok. Those are doled out at the state's discretion as best suits the general welfare, but the situation where this best satisfies the general welfare is not "due to" him in *justice." As was discussed by John Mueller in "Redeeming Economics": quasi-public goods are not rights. Again, what it is "right for the state to do" on behalf of an individual does not create a personal right in the individual, any more than it does when it is right for the rich to take care of the poor guy.

Step2 said...

What's up with all the WWWTW links? Awful site.

Uh, because Tony is a contributor there. As was Dr. Feser for a while.

Tony said...

I also don't think Tony is framing property rights quite right. It is certainly true that property rights should confer on their own a high degree of belief in his mastery over his property. But still, property is not absolute. Property is still a partnership between community and individual (and even more so family). These need to be balanced, but what's important is not so much making the property owner think himself king is his dominions, only that we make sure things are not onerous enough that his belief in a strong mastery over his property is not eroded.

Jeremy, my earlier comment was a bit hurried, so I may have missed a nuance or something. But I certainly did not push or intend to push the idea that private property is absolute. I have argued forcefully against such absolute theories time and time again. But it is not necessary to push absolute ownership to support private property in its proper, limited sphere.

As Ed says in his main post, private property is not absolute, but it is presumptive. And that's enough for my point (and his). When a man gains new property without specific injustice to others, he is the owner of that property. To be the owner means he is the one whose judgment and discretion rules its usage. If he wants to give it to the poor over on the left, and the state thinks it would do more good to the poor over on the right, for the state to take away that wealth (to take away his executive choice on the use of the wealth) means that he doesn't get to decide its use even though he was going to use it for others. Which means that the state wasn't granting him real ownership of it after all.

Now, I am not in the least saying that the government cannot tax people, nor that the government cannot ever use taxes for relieving the misery of those in extreme poverty. What I am saying is that the government can only do this lawfully when it observes the bounds of subsidiarity, which means (generally) that it can only claim the right to supercede the individual's judgment about how to help the poor when the decision is really on behalf of a broader need, in the pursuit of a need that cannot reasonably be met at the level of personal and community charities. It requires a fairly significant argument to meet such a standard, and it is not usually met by saying "but individuals and charities are NOT currently meeting that need." For in that situation, the REAL, proper role for government is to find out why individuals and charities are not meeting their proper roles, and help them, assist them, train them, clear out hurdles and barriers that prevent them from fulfilling their proper roles in the social sphere, not to simply replace them in those roles.

Do to the fact that the wealth comes into his own hands first, and due to subsidiarity, the presumption is that the owner of property is the one whose judgment on its best usage for mankind holds, and the state must overcome that presumption with a greater need, not just a different judgment.

Tony said...

The value of the labor and the physical and mental condition of the worker are also irrelevant to just pay--you will notice that, whenever the article makes the opposite claim, no RN quotes are presented to back it up. The basic needs of the worker are the main criterion for a just wage.

Not even Leo XIII makes that last claim about "the main criterion".

Here's a quote from RN for you:

that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner.

You notice that Leo also includes "frugal and well-behaved". He makes qualifications on both the wages and employee. You might also notice that the entire context of his discussion in this place assumes that the worker at issue here is (a) going to work full time, and (b) is going to be doing the work of a full-grown adult man. Which is to say, (generalizing), that the employer is contracting to use effectively all or most of the man's capacity to work, and is going to be using that capacity on work that is well fitted to the capacity of an adult. Such conditions would exclude, for example, a student working part time. A part-time student's wages need not be such as to support him, and this does not defy Leo XIII's statement in the least.

Which is what I said. All I did beyond that was to extrapolate an additional criterion that I think is implied in Leo's words: the worker also has an obligation to prepare himself for work that is commensurately productive in comparison to his needs, and make reasonable effort to seek and request such work. A father of 8 who thinks to make a family living as a janitor may not be meeting his obligation to seek to make his productive capacity commensurate with his family needs. If he is actually capable of running a household of 10, then he is capable of more complex and responsible work than being a janitor, and his full productive capacity is not being employed. An employer who pays him a janitor's wages because that's the only job the man asks to do is not paying an unjust wage even though a janitor's wage does not support the man and his family. I think all this falls necessarily from what Leo says.

Matt Sheean said...

This discussion has gone on for a while, but one issue that bugs me a bit is the assumption, by the left-leaning participants, that in the case of full-time, low wage, working class type jobs that the wage is the only relevant data. I worked such jobs (in retail and also in the 'custodial arts') for about 10 years of my life. In both cases my hourly wages were low (but enough for rent, utilities, food and car insurance). My wages were not the only thing I received from my employers, though. I also had, in both jobs, complete medical coverage. When I was a janitor, my employer also deducted 2% of my check toward a retirement plan and contributed an additional 8% on top of that to the same account (I still have the account, and there is a decent amount of money in it for only having worked 2 years). On top of that, I was a janitor for a university, and many of my middle-aged fellow employees had children who were attending the university for free (an undergraduate degree from this university normally cost well over $100k, so that's quite a good value for custodial work). At any rate, my point is that isolating the wage when talking about these issues makes things sound much more dire than they are. Certainly there are some jobs that pay very poorly by any reasonable measure, but they are more rare, I think, than is being suggested in order to disparage "the rich".

rank sophist said...

Jeremy,

Pretty much agreed.

Tony,

When you say a person has a "right to" his livelihood, I am thinking "livelihood" is a job, a way of making a living by his work - either as an employee or as self-employed.

When I said "livelihood", I should have been clearer. A livelihood is not a job; it is (dictionary definition) "a means of securing the necessities of life." I meant that he has a right to have his life sustained, by his own work or (if this is impossible) by the work of others. I didn't mean that he has a natural right to be hired--getting hired is simply one possible expression of his natural right to life.

And further, while it is right for rich people to give money to a poor person who cannot support himself, the poor person does not have any definite RIGHT to have this specific rich person give him money.

It's more complicated than that. Benedict argues in a27 of CiV that "food and access to water [... are] universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination". This is an issue of rights--justice. If a man is barely able to get enough food to feed his malnourished children, in some third world scenario, then it is unjust for someone to fail to help him. Whoever could help him but fails to do so has wronged him, to paraphrase the St. Basil quote from before. He does not have a right to any specific form of aid; simply to the aid of anyone who could help him.

You notice that Leo also includes "frugal and well-behaved". He makes qualifications on both the wages and employee.

The qualification has to be understood properly. He is not saying that pay is based on the frugality and behavior of the employee. He is saying that wages should be high enough that, if the employee is frugal (i.e. thrifty) and well-behaved (i.e. not a drunkard or similar), then he will have enough to take care of his needs.

Such conditions would exclude, for example, a student working part time. A part-time student's wages need not be such as to support him, and this does not defy Leo XIII's statement in the least.

They might not need to be that high. Just wage is applied on a case by case basis; not indiscriminately. If a student is working part-time during education, and he does not have the financial support structure of the typical middle-class child, he may very well need a living wage. If he is simply a teenager getting some extra pocket money, then, certainly, you don't have to pay him as much as a man with five children. But that is not the reality of many young people who work.

the worker also has an obligation to prepare himself for work that is commensurately productive in comparison to his needs, and make reasonable effort to seek and request such work.

This is not entailed by anything in RN. In fact, a45 can (potentially) be read as directly contradicting this idea, when it states, "If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony,

I largely agree with your comments on property and charity. I don't think it is the state's job, except in extraordinary circumstances or as last resort, to take the place of private charity.

I think a few extra considerations should be taken into account, though.

I think, firstly, that property rights as a collective term should be recognised as containing a bundle of different rights. These distinct rights vary in importance and how they should be viewed with respect to regulation or even legitimacy (in the case of intellectual rights, for example).

To paraphrase R.H Tawney, Lord Abegavanny's ownership of the ground rent of half of Cardiff is quite a distinct claim of property right to a family's ownership of freehold farm of a dozen acres.

Related to this, we might also say that the central claims of the distributist are not about individual charity, but about the justice of society's basic economic arrangement. Distributists differ on the means to be used. Thomas Storck, for example, appears to advocate a distributism that looks a lot like a modified social democracy. But even those of us who think a lot can be achieved by simply removing support for big business and the rich by the state, and who generally favour strongly decentralist approaches, do accept that the state might use its power to promote distributism, including interfering with existing property rights. There would be a lot of debate about which sort of property rights can be restricted and in which ways, as well as the best way to achieve the desired results, of course.

Tariffs, for example, might be used to make international trade less profitable in some goods (though, as I noted above, I'm skeptical that many efficencies here are natural rather than due to massive subsidies); or subsidies might be given encourage distributist economic arrangment; or various regulations or taxes might be used to the same end.

I would, of course, favour the least intrusive and most decentralised methods possible, but I don't think there need be any blanket restriction on interfering in current property arrangments to achieve economic ends.

Tony said...

"If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice."

Rank, I have no problem with this, what I have been saying is perfectly conformable with it. This is far, far away from saying that when a man has the opportunity to make himself ready and able for more productive work, and he declines to take the opportunity, that he has a just claim to the wages suited to the more productive job merely because he has made himself (by making a large family) need that level of wages. Effectively, I am just applying St. Paul's "if any man will not work, neither shall he eat." I don't think St. Paul and Benedict are in opposition here.

Benedict argues in a27 of CiV that "food and access to water [... are] universal rights of all human beings, without distinction or discrimination". This is an issue of rights--justice. If a man is barely able to get enough food to feed his malnourished children, in some third world scenario, then it is unjust for someone to fail to help him. Whoever could help him but fails to do so has wronged him, to paraphrase the St. Basil quote from before. He does not have a right to any specific form of aid; simply to the aid of anyone who could help him.

See, this is the root difficulty here, I think. Let us admit that the rich have an obligation to help the poor. Nothing about this general obligation specifies precisely how the rich are to carry it out, and that lack of specificity precludes any possibility of a DEFINITE right, in justice, of a poor person to the specific help of a specific rich person. If a poor person knocks on my door begging for food, and I have already made a commitment to the community soup kitchen that I am bringing them all of the food in my house, I can legitimately say to this poor person in front of me: ask elsewhere, and God go with you, I have no food for you.

The UNIVERSAL right of all men is a right of general standards: all men have a general right to seek to obtain the goods of life through licit means. It is not a specific right to be supported by X person. Even when specific conditions impinge to make it morally right for X person to support Y person, nothing about the general right turns into a specific right of Y to have X's help, because X always, always, ALWAYS has more than one option for where he can be helping the poor, and they can be mutually exclusive. Nothing about Y makes it so that X's obligation in charity to help the poor must point specifically at Y, and even when X does help Y, that action cannot be an action of gratuitous charity on the part of X if it is in satisfaction of a DEFINITE claim in justice on the part of Y.

He does not have a right to any specific form of aid; simply to the aid of anyone who could help him.

I don't think that word means what you think it means. I think "right" in this context means that he has a definite claim, and you accept that his claim is NOT definite. I would propose that we not use the word "RIGHT" in the sense of Y specific person "has a right" to w amount of food when there is nobody specific on the other end of the relationship and no specific amount of food that is the satisfaction of the claim. Definite, specific claims in justice that have a definite, specific terminus in a known person so obligated under the claim are "rights," unspecified, generic claims should be called by a different term. If we were to denote these general, non-specific claims by the poor as something other than the term "right" the conversation would go a lot smoother.

Tony said...

They might not need to be that high. Just wage is applied on a case by case basis; not indiscriminately. If a student is working part-time during education, and he does not have the financial support structure of the typical middle-class child, he may very well need a living wage.

Correction: he may very well have need of support equivalent to a living wage. There is no obligation on any employer to be the one who supplies that support, given that the part time labor may not generate that level of revenue. If the student is old enough to be emancipated, his being in school instead of working must be commensurate with his LICIT means of support, and if he can find work full time, and that is the only way he can arrange support for life, then he is obligated to do that instead of being in school - his education is an optional extra at that point. If he is not old enough to be emancipated, then he ought to have the claim of support from a family, and thus not need it from his wages. Either way, the obligation is not an obligation of justice on the part of the employer to be the one to supply the support of life for part-time (probably unskilled) labor.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"What's up with all the WWWTW links?"

In this instance, (a) it's on point, (b) Tony wrote it, and (c) he'd already posted a link to it.

Tony said...

But even those of us who think a lot can be achieved by simply removing support for big business and the rich by the state, and who generally favour strongly decentralist approaches, do accept that the state might use its power to promote distributism, including interfering with existing property rights. There would be a lot of debate about which sort of property rights can be restricted and in which ways, as well as the best way to achieve the desired results, of course.

Jeremy, I think that in principle this is reasonable: if current ways of regulating private property are encouraging poor use of resources, we can come up with better ways: major changes to corporation law so that large corporations (especially multi-nationals) are less desirable, change stock market rules to discourage speculation, etc. I would only add that because the basic structure of the current system has been in force for quite some time, a major re-vamping of the system would have the incidental effects of (a) reducing the "rule of law" aspect of stable systems (which is, we think, one of the major factors of the success of the free market system), and (b) in addition to discommoding many of the extremely rich, it would have similarly damaging effects on many of the little people, those with small stakes in the marketplace but whose stakes are completely altered by new laws, so special delaying, or transitioning approaches may be needed in justice to soften the impact over time on these people, and (c) special thought would have to be taken in particular for long-term contracts where the terms of the contracts depend altogether on the underlying fabric of property law that you are changing.

Gyan said...

The deserving poor have claims on State as matter of justice.

The undeserving poor, having no claims on State, have claims on the rich as matter of charity. But charity is not a matter of law and can never be.

Great confusion is caused by looking on State welfare as charity. But State can not do charity, by definition. The State acts by deliberating on common good so when State acts to help particular people, the action is not intended to relieve particular wants but the good of society.

That is, the State welfare is properly intended for the good of the nation or community, and only incidentally for the good of the recipient.

Thus, arguments for welfare are couched in terms of the good of society at large.

But charity is particular and makes no reference to the good of the community. It is properly directed to the good of the recipient. But State has no charge to intend acts for particular welfare.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

This is far, far away from saying that when a man has the opportunity to make himself ready and able for more productive work, and he declines to take the opportunity, that he has a just claim to the wages suited to the more productive job merely because he has made himself (by making a large family) need that level of wages. Effectively, I am just applying St. Paul's "if any man will not work, neither shall he eat."

The problem with this line of thought is that it is incoherent in the contemporary job market. The idea of "productive" work makes perfect sense if, with Paul and Leo XIII, we are thinking in terms of the traditional laborer who eats "in the sweat of [... his] face". He works the earth, from which he earns his livelihood. His labor's productivity is determined (barring disastrous circumstances) by the amount of effort he puts in. If a man who could be working the earth more productively chooses instead to work less productively, his livelihood suffers by his own hand.

But that isn't how labor works today. How exactly do you measure the productivity of (say) a McDonald's employee, compared to that of (say) a janitor? There is no easy answer. A standard way to dodge this question is to make a sharp distinction between "skilled" and "unskilled" labor. "Skilled" labor is something that less people can do, and so the pay is higher. But does a windowcleaner or mechanic really work more productively than a McDonald's employee or a field hand? That is, do they (like the industrious earth-worker discussed above) expend more effort and reap a better "harvest" than their unskilled neighbors? I don't think anyone would be willing to make that claim. Unfortunately, that means that your measurement of the "productivity" of work is not its actual productivity, but merely its wages.

The basis of your argument would therefore be circular. If you need X amount of money to survive, then you should apply for work "productive" enough to give you that income. But "productivity" is defined by the amount of money that one makes in that profession. This leads us to the tautological claim that a man should seek to earn the amount of money that he should seek to earn. It's vacuous, and it solves nothing.

So, you have not addressed the problem with the RN passage I cited. It's still not clear that (for example) a married father who works full-time at McDonald's, and who as a result does not make enough even to cover his own expenses in most cities, should look for another job rather than have his current conditions improved by his employer.

Nothing about this general obligation specifies precisely how the rich are to carry it out, and that lack of specificity precludes any possibility of a DEFINITE right, in justice, of a poor person to the specific help of a specific rich person. If a poor person knocks on my door begging for food, and I have already made a commitment to the community soup kitchen that I am bringing them all of the food in my house, I can legitimately say to this poor person in front of me: ask elsewhere, and God go with you, I have no food for you.

You can legitimately say this because your food is already, in essence, donated. Therefore, your help is no more than that of another starving father who this man might run across. You cannot help him. If you could help him, then his right to aid would apply.

I don't think that rights are precluded by a lack of specificity. You're looking at this wrong. There's an ends/means structure to every moral obligation. From the perspective of the end, this man has a right to aid (descended from his right to life) in a non-specific manner. From the perspective of the means, this man has a right to the aid of this or that specific person he encounters, insofar as they are able to help him.

rank sophist said...

I think "right" in this context means that he has a definite claim, and you accept that his claim is NOT definite.

It is not definite with regard to the general principle that this man has a right to aid. It becomes definite in particular cases. The same situation applies if a man is, for example, dangling off a cliff. His right to life has a non-specific element with regard to the end, but, with regard to the means, this or that person watching him dangle--assuming that they are capable of saving him--commits an injustice if they simply let him fall.

There is no obligation on any employer to be the one who supplies that support, given that the part time labor may not generate that level of revenue.

And so we're back to the subject of productivity again. Unless you can provide a non-circular method for measuring productivity and effort relative to wages, then this does not follow.

If he is not old enough to be emancipated, then he ought to have the claim of support from a family, and thus not need it from his wages.

Assuming, again, that we're talking about the average white, middle-class, American high school kid. Which in no way settles the issue, because just wage is applied on a case-by-case basis. A stereotypical example will apply in some cases, but not all. It doesn't work as a general rebuttal of my point.

DNW said...


"Blogger rank sophist said...

I think "right" in this context means that he has a definite claim, and you accept that his claim is NOT definite.

It is not definite with regard to the general principle that this man has a right to aid. It becomes definite in particular cases. The same situation applies if a man is, for example, dangling off a cliff. His right to life has a non-specific element with regard to the end, but, with regard to the means, this or that person watching him dangle--assuming that they are capable of saving him--commits an injustice if they simply let him fall.

There is no obligation on any employer to be the one who supplies that support, given that the part time labor may not generate that level of revenue.

And so we're back to the subject of productivity again. Unless you can provide a non-circular method for measuring productivity and effort relative to wages, then this does not follow. ..."



Rank, or anyone else ...

Do you conceive of a situation wherein anyone in particular is obligated to be an employer? That is to say, to undertake uninsured entrepreneurial risk and sacrifice in order to provide others, who are presumably incapable of or uninterested in self-directive economic activity, a satisfyingly remunerative way to occupy their time?

If so, on what basis?

Though this may be phrased in a somewhat "Smart-assed" sounding way ... it's not meant to be snarky.

I'm trying to get at the root of what is socially implied, what it means to be an "employee", rather than a free agent and at-will seller of labor power or skills.

DNW said...

Anyone here ever done manual labor in a group that included shirkers?

I'm not referring to those summers you (or I) worked for your contractor uncle doing roofing or rough framing.

I'm referring to labor-gang like work; like loading dock work, or fence post planting or uprooting, or maybe even night crew style supermarket shelf stocking work.

Physically taxing work involving the distribution and apportioning of roughly calculable burdens; but one that does not factor in the actual division of the overall burden into the participating individual's rate of return.

That is, you get paid by the hour, or for an equal share of the job as a whole; but not based on individual piecework output.

Just wondering ...

Not sure as to what purpose, at the moment.

NiV said...

"But "productivity" is defined by the amount of money that one makes in that profession. This leads us to the tautological claim that a man should seek to earn the amount of money that he should seek to earn."

The appropriate price to ask is the one that balances supply against demand, so that the right amount of resources are applied to producing the exact amount of each sort of good people want given the resource cost of doing it. The higher the price, the more people are prepared to do it, but the fewer people are prepared to buy it.

If the price is too low, then there will be a shortage of workers and employers will have to raise wages to get the staff (and will profit more by doing so). If the price is too high, there will be a shortage of jobs and employers can lower wages in that industry, leading to the excess workers switching to a different industry where there is still a shortage of workers.

So you just need to plot a graph of how much everybody else is willing to produce versus price, and how much everybody else is prepared to buy versus price, and see where the lines cross.

If you force a different price through regulation, the inevitable result is either a glut or a shortage, depending on whether the price is too high or too low. The same is as true of the market for labour as of the market for any other product.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Tony,

I don't disagree Tony. That is one of the many reasons I feel that most important spur to distributism will be removal of corporate welfare.

I also support gradual positive regulation or policy to do whatever else is needed, and action as unintrusive as possible.

I would question whether capitalism is, or ever really has been, anything like a proper free market. I would also note that there are plenty of changing regulations and the like in our current and historical economy, and that smaller, gradual changes that add up to quite a large shift could be achieved without underming the rule of law.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV,

I, of course, accept the basic concept of supply and demand, but your analysis leaves certain important details out.

Firstly, it seems to treat the current economic arrangements and relationship as fixed and given by nature. That is, who owns what, what is produced, how it is produced, where the returns go, who has the bargaining power, are neglected. A CEO can get a golden parachute not because he deserves it but because (1) he has the power to, and (2) in our economy a great, constant and increasing, accumulation and investment of capital is required amongst the rich, the capitalists.

Also, when you start talking about graphs et al you seem to be straying into the territory of neoclassical economics. The problem is that this sort of mathematical modelling relied on by neoclassical economics is seriously flawed. I recommend heartily Steve Keen's Debunking Economics.

http://www.amazon.com/Debunking-Economics-Revised-Expanded-Dethroned/dp/1848139926

Also, as Keen mentions in this book, Piero Sraffa pointed out that if we take large aggregate commodities such as labour, we cannot have the usual supply and demand analysis. This is becauze the nature of a commodity like labour is that changes in its price have an effect on the demand curve itself, shifting it to the left or right. That is, it is crucical to usual thought on the subject that demand and supply are independent, but they are not in an aggregate commodity such as labour. Keen has an interesting chapter in the work mentioned on the flaws in neoclassical thinking on the labour market. He notes that it cannot be treated, as you do, like other goods, because in it the producers (firms) are those demanding labour and the consumers (households) are supplying it:

http://books.google.com.au/books?id=KdITT4ukfhoC&pg=PA110&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

Tony said...

Me: This is far, far away from saying that when a man has the opportunity to make himself ready and able for more productive work, and he declines to take the opportunity, that he has a just claim to the wages suited to the more productive jo...

Rank: The problem with this line of thought is that it is incoherent in the contemporary job market. The idea of "productive" work makes perfect sense if, with Paul and Leo XIII, we are thinking in terms of the traditional laborer who eats "in the sweat of [... his] face". He works the earth, from which he earns his livelihood. His labor's productivity is determined (barring disastrous circumstances) by the amount of effort he puts in.

Oh. Golly. I didn't know that you were a denier on the principle of supply and demand. Well, as NiV indicates, there is a way, and while it is not easy for the person who has never had to hire someone to figure out its application from first principles, but as soon as you actually TRY it, it works like a charm - people will or won't take your offer at various prices. But it isn't restricted to employers and employees, it's just as effective for farmers with their own work. If you are a potato farmer, unless you want to wear your peelings for clothes and shoes, you have to trade with other farmers and craftsmen, and very quickly you find out what your potatoes will bear in the market. It does absolutely no good whatsoever to argue "living wage" to another farmer, if he can get his potatoes from someone else charging half as much, he will. And if the cobbler insists on selling shoes for more than you can make them yourself, you won't buy them from him, but as soon as you can generate more total wealth putting your otherwise shoe-making time into potatoes than he is selling shoes for, you buy from him.

His labor's productivity is determined (barring disastrous circumstances) by the amount of effort he puts in.

is so disastrously not true as to defy my ability to describe adequately. Over the last 5000 years, farmers have learned and learned and LEARNED better ways of applying their labor to increase productivity, even without a single powered tool: irrigation, crop rotation, fertilization, fallow periods, better strains of seed, putting pest-resistant crops next to at risk crops, and the McCormick reaper, for goodness sake. If you continue to use poor methods (i.e. the ones that were used 5000 years ago) and the guy across the valley uses all of the good productivity options available, he will out-produce your labor (even without power machines) at probably 5 to 1, maybe more.

Tony said...

Me: There is no obligation on any employer to be the one who supplies that support, given that the part time labor may not generate that level of revenue.

Rank: And so we're back to the subject of productivity again. Unless you can provide a non-circular method for measuring productivity and effort relative to wages, then this does not follow.

Actually, I changed the item of measure here, but you didn't notice: I said revenue, not productivity. If a shop keeper needs someone to run his store on Saturday mornings while he is off practicing with the choir, he isn't going to hire someone at $100 for the morning if his total SALES (total revenue) for the morning only come to $50 - not if that continues week after week. He'll close the shop instead. That's a given, guaranteed, rock solid certainty: he won't pay $50 a week out of his own pocket for the privilege of having customers walk away with his goods. The person who (otherwise) would be employed for Saturday morning can complain about not getting a "living wage" forever and a day, but he can't complain to the shop-keeper because the shop-keeper never had a job prospect to offer him in the above conditions.

Now, the potential employee can say to the shopkeeper: "I need $100 for Saturday labor as a living wage, but your sales on Sat. morning are only $50. Let's make a deal: I will take only $30 to start, but I will also try to increase your sales in that period by various means. If I can get your sales above $200 per Sat morning, I want $120. That's the employee-prospect taking a lower-than-living wage because that's the only possible wage the conditions can provide, and tjem working to change the productivity of the situation - the entrepreneurial capitalist approach. Which is legal, observes real economic constraints, and is totally morally upright.

Tony said...

But "productivity" is defined by the amount of money that one makes in that profession. This leads us to the tautological claim that a man should seek to earn the amount of money that he should seek to earn. It's vacuous, and it solves nothing.

Of course, if you want to define "productivity" by such a silly measure, it ends up being circular. Nobody else would use that. Although there are various levels of sophistication, basically productivity is measured by the amount of new real wealth generated from the effort involved. If a shoe maker used to make 3 pairs in a day, and a new tool allows his same efforts produce 4 pairs in a day, the tool's gross productivity change is one pair a day. But the tool costs something (presumably, if he had to make the tool himself, it took up some of his time, which could have been spent making shoes), and that has to be factored to determine the net productivity gain from the tool. If the tool will last 100 days and took 3 days to make, over the 100 days he will make 400 pairs instead of 300, and the making of the tool cost him 9 pairs' time, so the net gain in productivity is 91 pairs over 103 days.

The same analysis applies to hiring a new employee in the shoe shop, and determines the employee's productivity: the gain in new real wealth generated that wouldn't have been generated without him.

Of course it is a lot more difficult to DIRECTLY track the amount of new real wealth when you add a 10th waiter to the restaurant's staff, and still harder when you add a second violinist to the string ensemble. I don't know anybody who thinks it would be possible without using intermediate measures of value, but that's OK, it doesn't undermine the principle one iota.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I agree with Tony if one is talking about the individual situation of an employer and employee. I do not think we can ask an employer to go around giving someone vastly more than the market value of their labour, especially if the employer is not drawing out massive profits himself.

The distributist critique should be a more structural and general critique of capitalism, I feel.

Capitalism here meaning our current economy where a large proportion of capital is owned by a minority, largely thanks to state intervention, and where there is great pressure for this minority to constantly accumulate more capital and invest that they have in order to maintain their relative position of wealth.

I would, though, caution against treating the conditions that face an employee, or indeed an employer, as given by nature separate to the social and economic structure.

rank sophist said...

DNW,

I'm trying to get at the root of what is socially implied, what it means to be an "employee", rather than a free agent and at-will seller of labor power or skills.

I don't think that any non-employer could have an obligation of justice to be an employer. The question is what they do once they have become an employer. Free agent work without a boss isn't really viable for most people in a modern capitalist society, thanks to the concentration of capital. Thus certain obligations to provide work might apply to an employer. The exact details would be case-by-case.

Not sure as to what purpose, at the moment.

I have been fortunate enough not to encounter shirkers. However, your question raises an important point: is an across-the-board wage, which takes no account of each individual's performance, just? I would suggest that the answer is "no".

NiV,

An appeal to supply and demand fixes the circularity, but it does not provide a workable solution. This is because supply and demand is an amoral, descriptive measurement of capitalist market activity. If you allow it to become prescriptive, then you get an economy based on efficiency over and above human dignity. The worker's actual quantity of labor is left out of the wage equation.

Tony,

It does absolutely no good whatsoever to argue "living wage" to another farmer, if he can get his potatoes from someone else charging half as much, he will.

This, and the rest of your comment about supply and demand, is irrelevant. Compare: most who can get consequence-free, effort-free sex will do so. Moral relevance: none. In fact, as we've discussed before, the law of supply and demand has fundamentally immoral characteristics (such as charging more based on the need of others), illustrated by ST IIb q77 a1.

The value of labor is not relative to supply and demand. It has an inherent value measured by quantity, just like any good. If the other guy doesn't buy your potatoes at a just price, and instead buys cheaper potatoes, then he is in the wrong.

Over the last 5000 years, farmers have learned and learned and LEARNED better ways of applying their labor to increase productivity, even without a single powered tool: irrigation, crop rotation, fertilization, fallow periods, better strains of seed, putting pest-resistant crops next to at risk crops, and the McCormick reaper, for goodness sake.

This is true. However, it doesn't refute my point. It simply clarifies that the conversion of X amount of labor into X amount of product (assuming that the quality is the same across all periods) is in part historically relative. Therefore, choosing to work "less productively" or "more productively" is historically relative. But we already knew that just wage and just price were historically relative in certain ways, and so your point simply elaborates on mine.

If a shop keeper needs someone to run his store on Saturday mornings while he is off practicing with the choir, he isn't going to hire someone at $100 for the morning if his total SALES (total revenue) for the morning only come to $50 - not if that continues week after week. He'll close the shop instead.

True enough. This would be similar to selling something for significantly less than it is worth, which is required of no one.

Tony said...

OH. MY. WORD.

Wow.

The value of labor is not relative to supply and demand. It has an inherent value measured by quantity, just like any good.

I am speechless.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

I'm fairly certain you misunderstood my point by assuming the least charitable interpretation possible, because what I said was not nearly controversial enough to warrant that reaction.

Here's what I meant. Obviously, not all labor is inherently valuable. Digging a ditch for no reason at all may be hard work, but it produces nothing. The value of labor is determined in part by its end: that which the labor seeks to produce. The product of labor is a good whose monetary value is determined by its usefulness (ST IIb q77 a2 ro3). By extension, labor is inherently valuable to the extent that it is directed toward producing things that are useful. Hence labor has value that is not relative to the simple fluctuation of supply and demand, because supply and demand can influence but cannot wholly reshape usefulness. The measure of a job's wages should therefore be determined by the worker's industriousness in producing useful things.

Mr. Green said...

Suppose everyone had a standard of living at least equal to that of your typical middle manager, but some people lived like Bill Gates, Richard Branson, or Jeff Bezos. You’d have no poverty to speak of but still have massive inequality. Would this be unjust? I say that it would not be the slightest bit unjust, and I have yet to see a good argument to the contrary.

I have to agree with those who identified this as unjust — and it doesn't need an argument, because it's pretty much true by definition that getting more than you deserve is as unjust as getting less. (It may not be a bad thing, but it's an unjust thing. Or maybe it is a bad thing but we couldn't do much about it. Or maybe we could but the cure would be worse than the disease. Or lots of other things, but those are different issues.)

Unfortunately, these discussions are not typically the most helpful. Both sides tend to read each other in the least charitable way, or infer the most extreme (or the most idealistic) circumstances. I don't think any of the people posting so far disagree half as much as they appear to.

It's trivially true that from a moral perspective, everyone is obliged to pay reasonable wages, charge reasonable prices, pay reasonable costs, etc. "Reasonable" is of course almost the same as "just" except that in dire circumstances it is not reasonable to do something that would be impossible. But in practice, that provides little guidance as that just what counts as "reasonable". Realistic scenarios quickly become too complex to come up with any clear or simply answers.

That in itself seems to be a problem to me. Moral quandaries will always arise, but given such ordinary everyday activities it surely ought to be possible for an ordinary everyday person to figure out the right thing to do. Perhaps the problem is that we have backed ourselves into a corner with our modern overly-complex economic systems, and there is no easy way out. Or maybe the moral course of action is not so much complex as unpalatable, given the modern context (though it's still going to be comparatively complex, I'm sure). But as much as I possess a theoretical temperament, I would prefer to see specific examples, worked out in terms of ethics, rather than in terms of grand economic systems. I think the conversations might turn out more productive that way.

NiV said...

Jeremy,

"I, of course, accept the basic concept of supply and demand, but your analysis leaves certain important details out."

Of course it does! It's a blog comment. I'm not going to be able to explain every nuance of free market economics in four paragraphs.

"Firstly, it seems to treat the current economic arrangements and relationship as fixed and given by nature."

Not at all - I thought I was clear that it depended on the economic calculations of everyone else. I will agree that I didn't *say* how supply and demand changed, but I didn't say they didn't, either.

"That is, who owns what, what is produced, how it is produced, where the returns go, who has the bargaining power, are neglected."

Economics is how these are all decided.

"A CEO can get a golden parachute not because he deserves it but because (1) he has the power to"

A CEO can demand high pay (including things like golden parachutes) because he or she has a rare skill and experience for which demand vastly exceeds supply. That's what gives them the power.

"and (2) in our economy a great, constant and increasing, accumulation and investment of capital is required amongst the rich, the capitalists."

It's not *required*, but it *is* useful. It's a consequence of positive feedback. People can spend their time or what they earn either creating things for immediate consumption, like food or cloth, or creating things to enable them to create more or more efficiently, like tractors and sewing machines. It can be applied recursively - you can build machine tools for making tractor parts, and you can build tools for making the machine tools, and so on. The deeper you go, the more beneficial impact the work has, but the more you have to spend up front before you can make anything actually directly useful.

Rich people *could* spend it all on themselves in an orgy of consumption. Or they could philanthropically give it away for others to consume. And once they'd done so, it would be gone. But if they choose to invest it instead on deepening the supply chain, then every dollar spent is not just a dollar's worth of food on the table, it's a dollar towards a machine tool supplier in every country enabling a tractor factory in every city enabling a tractor on every farm enabling (along with all the other innovations) a thousand-fold increase in the food available.

Which course of action is better for the poor?

"Also, when you start talking about graphs et al you seem to be straying into the territory of neoclassical economics."

Not really. This is just basic economics.

...

NiV said...

...
"The problem is that this sort of mathematical modelling relied on by neoclassical economics is seriously flawed. I recommend heartily Steve Keen's Debunking Economics."

With the greatest respect to the sincerity of those doing so, I've seen about as many people "debunking economics" as I have debunking Einstein's relativity, or quantum mechanics, or the second law of thermodynamics. I've found they're mostly based on misunderstandings, quite often taking some simple toy example used for explanation too seriously.

"This is becauze the nature of a commodity like labour is that changes in its price have an effect on the demand curve itself, shifting it to the left or right."

That's already accounted for in the curve - it's what the curve measures.

I'm guessing you're thinking of effects like if wages go up, then manufacturing costs go up, so prices in the shops go up, and people want more wages to be able to afford to live. It means the supply curve is slightly flatter than it would be if prices were not affected, but it's not changing the curve itself.

This is an example of a simplification being taken too seriously. A real economy has many goods, each with their own price, so the supply/demand curves are actually intersecting hyper-surfaces in a multi-dimensional space. The simple analysis involves holding all but one price fixed, taking a cross-sectional slice through these surfaces, resulting in a pair of lines. Changing the price in question doesn't shift the lines, it just moves to a different point along them. But changing one of the *other* external prices results in a different cross-section being taken, which appears to shift the curves.

Further, this is what one might call the instantaneous state of affairs. The hypersurface does shift over time because prices motivate the development of innovations for doing things differently, which changes the shape of the surface. It's really a system of stochastic differential equations, of which the curves are a single coefficient.

Economists know all this, but they start off explaining it to newcomers with the simple one-dimensional picture, which is surprisingly useful and powerful for such a gross simplification, and many people don't stick around to discover how much more there is to it than that.

NiV said...

rank_sophist,

"This is because supply and demand is an amoral, descriptive measurement of capitalist market activity."

It's an amoral description of a moral process. The rules of ownership and liberty by which a free market works are moral ones. Supply and demand describes the consequences.

"If you allow it to become prescriptive, then you get an economy based on efficiency over and above human dignity."

Human dignity is included in the price. You'll charge more for an undignified job than a dignified one.

But efficiency is about helping more people for a given amount of effort. Is it better to help one, or a hundred? If you think it is better to help a hundred, you're in favour of efficiency.

"The worker's actual quantity of labor is left out of the wage equation."

And rightly so! What about the *value* of that labour?

"Compare: most who can get consequence-free, effort-free sex will do so."

I have no idea what point you're trying to make here.

"If the other guy doesn't buy your potatoes at a just price, and instead buys cheaper potatoes, then he is in the wrong."

Why are you wasting effort producing potatoes by an inefficient method?

Cheaper potatoes mean poorer people can buy more of them. Expensive potatoes denies them to the poor. How is this moral?


"Hence labor has value that is not relative to the simple fluctuation of supply and demand, because supply and demand can influence but cannot wholly reshape usefulness."

The village has 100 people each of who need one pound of potatoes per day. Potatoes are therefore "useful", yes?

No, not quite. The *first* hundred pounds of potatoes (per day) are useful, but further potatoes are not. A farmer who produces a thousand pounds of potatoes per day is not doing useful work. Supply and demand are relevant to the usefulness of goods. And the effort wasted could have been used to supply some other human need, of which there are many, and that now will be denied.

Tony said...

The product of labor is a good whose monetary value is determined by its usefulness (ST IIb q77 a2 ro3). By extension, labor is inherently valuable to the extent that it is directed toward producing things that are useful.

So, how does one decide the value of the 10 hours of labor a choir expend learning a new song, with which they regale the village at festival? Everyone in the village walks away saying "I am glad they spent the time learning the song" but nobody in the village can feed themselves with it, build a house with it, make a blanket out of it, or USE it in any reasonable sense. So, was the labor expended by the choir value-less because useless? Will not one person in the village give them any money at all for their time spent, because it was useless in terms of productivity?

Hence labor has value that is not relative to the simple fluctuation of supply and demand, because supply and demand can influence but cannot wholly reshape usefulness.

Ah, finally, you use a phrase that was utterly missing earlier: "not ...simply." The value of work intended to produce a physical product cannot be expressed solely and simply in the fluctuations of supply and demand alone. However, nor can the value of that same work be expressed without input from supply and demand as significant factors. To ignore supply and demand as wholly irrelevant is to deny everything that Leo XIII and Pius XI and JPII said supporting basic market structures (even though they put qualifiers on the market).

An hour of physical labor of carrying 50 lb boxes by a strong man has a certain "productivity" result regardless of how much 99% of the people around want those boxes moved - as long as there is SOMEBODY who wants the boxes moved for some eventually productive end result which he foresees by mental effort and prudence. The same physical result (moved boxes) by a 98 lb weakling has much more moral and physical effort, does the labor have the same value? Answering that can only be addressed by other other considerations than that physical result, but there can be no doubt that the work achieved is identical.

If a smarty-pants comes along and sets up a tripod and a pulley and moves the boxes with 1/3 the effort in 1/2 the time, is the labor to be measured by the moral difficulty of the effort (1/3), the time of the effort (1/3), or the physical result (equal) of the effort? There is no answering that question without knowing - on other, more general grounds - how to factor the supply and demand part of the equation into the actual physical result and the moral effort involved. Neither the measure of the physical result nor the experience of the moral effort can TELL you how they all fit together.

In fact, there is absolutely no model of moral / mental / physical effort equivalencies that, a priori, can tell you how to value the work done absent the factors of supply and demand. There is only one equivalency mechanism known to man to tell you how they fit together: the market. It may be flawed in many respects, but it exists, unlike all the other ones. The popes from Leo forward to Benedict have been telling us that we need to temper the market's lacks, not to ditch or ignore the market altogether.

Tony said...

Sorry, the time of the effort was (1/2)

rank sophist said...

Mr. Green,

Perhaps the problem is that we have backed ourselves into a corner with our modern overly-complex economic systems, and there is no easy way out.

I think this is true to a large extent. It is simply impossible for moral reasoning to remain coherent in the massive, capitalistic structure we have today. There are too many variables to take into account, and too many structural injustices that have to be taken for granted.

But as much as I possess a theoretical temperament, I would prefer to see specific examples, worked out in terms of ethics, rather than in terms of grand economic systems. I think the conversations might turn out more productive that way.

I agree. I've been trying increasingly to steer in that direction. I think that if you follow out the case-by-case ethical problems, the wider economic conclusions will follow.

NiV,

Human dignity is included in the price. You'll charge more for an undignified job than a dignified one.

That's basically the exact opposite of what's really happening.

But efficiency is about helping more people for a given amount of effort. Is it better to help one, or a hundred? If you think it is better to help a hundred, you're in favour of efficiency.

It depends on the quality of the help, among other things. Compare one-on-one education to one-on-thirty education. One-on-thirty education is much more efficient, but it's also much worse.

And rightly so! What about the *value* of that labour?

Labor has to be judged in the same way that goods are judged: by quality and quantity. This is the two-part distinction that Aquinas uses in his discussion of just price, and it carries over nicely to the question of wages.

I have no idea what point you're trying to make here.

My point is that taking advantage of an easier or cheaper opportunity is not necessarily moral. It isn't your fault if you charge a just price and then get undercut by some other farmer.

Cheaper potatoes mean poorer people can buy more of them. Expensive potatoes denies them to the poor. How is this moral?

That's standard capitalist utilitarianism: the best methods are the ones that produce the most efficient results. You're completely ignoring the questions of just price and just wage.

No, not quite. The *first* hundred pounds of potatoes (per day) are useful, but further potatoes are not. A farmer who produces a thousand pounds of potatoes per day is not doing useful work.

As I said, supply and demand influence but do not wholly reshape usefulness. Aquinas makes the same point when he notes that "at times a horse fetches a higher price than a slave" (ST IIb q77 a2 ro3). The thing is that both horses and slaves are useful things. Their prices may be influenced by their usefulness relative to this or that situation, but they are inherently adapted to man's use. The same goes for sources of food. Potatoes are inherently useful to man, even if their usefulness can become greater or lesser given certain conditions.

Therefore, wages are not relative to (read: completely dependent upon) supply and demand. They may be influenced by them, but work that has an inherent use retains an inherent value regardless of historical conditions. Supply and demand are logically antecedent to usefulness: a consequence of usefulness; not the sole conditioning factor of usefulness. Quality (which comes packaged with usefulness) and quantity are the primary determinants of price and wage; the historically relative usefulness (i.e. supply and demand) is a secondary determinant.

rank sophist said...

Tony,

So, how does one decide the value of the 10 hours of labor a choir expend learning a new song, with which they regale the village at festival? Everyone in the village walks away saying "I am glad they spent the time learning the song" but nobody in the village can feed themselves with it, build a house with it, make a blanket out of it, or USE it in any reasonable sense. So, was the labor expended by the choir value-less because useless? Will not one person in the village give them any money at all for their time spent, because it was useless in terms of productivity?

You are mistaken: the work of the choir is useful, in a very real sense. Something is useful to man insofar as it is a means to an end. You admit in your example that the people were "glad" that the choir sang, and gladness is pleasure. But pleasure is the rest of the soul, in which it is necessary to indulge if one is to avoid becoming "soul-wearied" (ST IIb q168 a2). Therefore, the choir is useful in that it provides rest to the souls of the village.

The value of work intended to produce a physical product cannot be expressed solely and simply in the fluctuations of supply and demand alone. However, nor can the value of that same work be expressed without input from supply and demand as significant factors.

As I said, roughly, in my response to NiV. The mistake--which I have been reacting against from the start--is when you take supply and demand to be the foundation of wage. Labor has value independent of supply and demand, which can be influenced but not erased by supply and demand. You seem to acknowledge this here.

The same physical result (moved boxes) by a 98 lb weakling has much more moral and physical effort, does the labor have the same value? Answering that can only be addressed by other other considerations than that physical result, but there can be no doubt that the work achieved is identical.

Indeed. This is the kind of challenging question that needs to be debated if we're going to determine what a just wage really is.

In fact, there is absolutely no model of moral / mental / physical effort equivalencies that, a priori, can tell you how to value the work done absent the factors of supply and demand.

This, I would disagree with, for reasons I outlined in response to NiV.

It may be flawed in many respects, but it exists, unlike all the other ones. The popes from Leo forward to Benedict have been telling us that we need to temper the market's lacks, not to ditch or ignore the market altogether.

I don't think anyone suggested that the market should be done away with. Markets have existed in every non-communist economy throughout history. Even liberal socialist countries in Europe retain their markets.

NiV said...

"That's basically the exact opposite of what's really happening."

No, it is what happens, but it's not the only factor. Another factor is skill, and people can trade a lack of skill for a sacrifice of dignity. However, other things (such as skills) being held equal, indignity would raise the price.

"Compare one-on-one education to one-on-thirty education. One-on-thirty education is much more efficient, but it's also much worse."

One-on-thirty education results in thirty educated people, instead of only one. That's better.

Unless you leave the 29 totally uneducated people out of your calculation?

"Labor has to be judged in the same way that goods are judged: by quality and quantity."

The farmer produces a thousand pounds of potatoes of the highest quality. Each potato is individually hand-polished by agricultural craftsmen. Nevertheless, only the first hundred can get eaten, and all the rest go to waste. People simply cannot eat them; they're full up. In the meantime, the dozens of labourers employed by the farmer are occupied, and not available for producing all the other things society wants. People don't have enough warm clothes or glass for windows because all the workers are busy polishing potatoes.

"It isn't your fault if you charge a just price and then get undercut by some other farmer."

It isn't the other farmer's fault, either. Why should *you* get the trade and not *him*? And if the buyer buys the cheaper potatoes, he will have more money to spend with other suppliers of goods. It's not their fault either. Why should *you* get the trade, and not *them*?

NiV said...

"You're completely ignoring the questions of just price and just wage."

Are they relevant?

OK, let's consider them. Aquinas argues that one should not sell to the buyer for more than the buyer thinks it is worth. Agreed. He argues that one should not deceive. Agreed. He argues that the seller can raise the price if he has great need of the article himself. Agreed. He argues that the seller ought not to raise the price if the buyer has great need but the seller does not. I don't agree, I'll explain why in a moment. He argues that a buyer may voluntarily pay more than is asked for something he values more, out of honesty. Agreed.

He argues that it is only sinful to sell faulty goods if it is done knowingly, but that restitution should be offered anyway. Agreed, unless the buyer agrees to waive the right for a discount. He argues that the seller should reveal the defects he knows about. Agreed. He argues that it is legitimate to sell goods for more than you bought them, because their value has been changed by work done to improve them, to transport them, or because their value changes over time. Agreed.

The only point here that conflicts with modern free market thinking is that a seller should not raise the price when a buyer is in need, but the seller is not. The argument against this is that the excess price pays for the cost of maintaining excess stock for such emergencies, and the practical costs of supplying them (transport logistics, setting up new supply chains, overturning existing plans and processes, working overtime, etc.). If there are no such difficulties, then suppliers would be in competition and would not be able to overcharge (the buyer would go elsewhere). It is only when it is difficult that a supplier can charge more, and there needs to be some incentive to get them to maintain the ability to do so. People will make preparations to enable them to supply extra goods in emergencies precisely because of the higher prices they know will be available, and motivating such preparation is a good thing.

I think that if someone had argued to Aquinas that genuine value is added, he would have agreed that it is legitimate, as he did for the question of selling for more than it was bought.

As I argued in my first comment, free markets are founded on the idea of a *just* price, agreed by mutual consent for mutual advantage. The argument everybody has with it - judging by their objections - is that it does not require *mercy*, which is a different virtue.

If a particular way of implementing a free market is entirely *merciless*, then it can still be morally wrong, even though it may be perfectly *just*.

I would not argue that a free market untempered by mercy is a good thing. Mercy is a moral imperative, too. But it cannot justly be forced. It has to be voluntary, or there is no virtue in it.

rank sophist said...

NiV,

No, it is what happens, but it's not the only factor. Another factor is skill, and people can trade a lack of skill for a sacrifice of dignity.

In other words, people work crappy, undignified jobs and get paid next to nothing. Got it.

One-on-thirty education results in thirty educated people, instead of only one. That's better.

Not at all. I would argue that it's better for one person to be educated properly in a one-on-one fashion than it is for thirty people to be educated in a mediocre way. But this is a side issue, so let's not get distracted.

Unless you leave the 29 totally uneducated people out of your calculation?

Who said anything about 29 totally uneducated people? Each of them could potentially be educated in a one-on-one fashion. It's simply less efficient.

The farmer produces a thousand pounds of potatoes of the highest quality. Each potato is individually hand-polished by agricultural craftsmen. Nevertheless, only the first hundred can get eaten, and all the rest go to waste. People simply cannot eat them; they're full up.

I already acknowledged that use is in part historically relative. This example tells us nothing that I did not already accept.

It isn't the other farmer's fault, either. Why should *you* get the trade and not *him*? And if the buyer buys the cheaper potatoes, he will have more money to spend with other suppliers of goods. It's not their fault either. Why should *you* get the trade, and not *them*?

Actually, it is the fault of the buyer. Recall that I said you were selling potatoes at a just price. The person selling them for less than you is therefore selling them for less than a just price. Thus, what Aquinas said follows: "to sell a thing for more than its worth, or to buy it for less than its worth, is in itself unjust and unlawful" (ST IIb q77 a1). The buyer should have purchased potatoes at a just price, either from you or from the other seller.

The only point here that conflicts with modern free market thinking is that a seller should not raise the price when a buyer is in need, but the seller is not.

Way to ignore labor once again.

And I have no interest in debating whether or not Aquinas was correct in stating that raising prices in response to need is wrong. I personally doubt that he was, but all I'll say in response to your argument is what I said to Tony earlier: your funeral.

As I argued in my first comment, free markets are founded on the idea of a *just* price, agreed by mutual consent for mutual advantage.

Free markets are founded on the idea of prices and wages that are completely relative to the choices of individuals. As long as there is an agreement, and this agreement is followed through to the letter, there is justice. This kind of relativism is incompatible with Catholic social teaching.

NiV said...

"In other words, people work crappy, undignified jobs and get paid next to nothing. Got it."

If they choose to exchange dignity for skill, then yes. That's their choice.

"Who said anything about 29 totally uneducated people?"

It is implicit in the choice you offered between 1-on-30 and 1-on-1.

The point about inefficiency is the opportunity cost in all the other useful things people could be doing that they don't. If a teacher teaches one student there are another 29 students not being taught. Or another 29 people who have to be teachers instead of producing something else. Such lost opportunities make everyone poorer.

"Recall that I said you were selling potatoes at a just price. The person selling them for less than you is therefore selling them for less than a just price."

No, because the just price is different for different people. The other (cheaper) farmer is selling for a just price too, he wouldn't be selling otherwise, it's just that his just price is lower than your just price.

"This kind of relativism is incompatible with Catholic social teaching."

Quite possibly. And so much the worse for Catholic social teaching, I'd say.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Actually, it is the fault of the buyer. Recall that I said you were selling potatoes at a just price. The person selling them for less than you is therefore selling them for less than a just price. Thus, what Aquinas said follows: 'to sell a thing for more than its worth, or to buy it for less than its worth, is in itself unjust and unlawful' (ST IIb q77 a1). The buyer should have purchased potatoes at a just price, either from you or from the other seller."

If you read that passage in context, I think you'll find that Aquinas's concern here is with injustice done to the seller, not to some third party with whom one isn't dealing. The idea is that it's unjust to take advantage of a seller who may (for example) be under pressure to sell.

(I'm leaving aside a whole host of other issues, not least among which are such questions as whether a "just price" is one single precise figure or an entire range, and whether the "just price" is the same for every seller-buyer pair.)

Scott said...

(And I see that while I was writing my own post, NiV did go ahead and deal with one of the questions I set aside.)

Chad Handley said...

Completely aside from your perpetual confusion of "charity" with Using the Law to Make Other People Do Stuff

I don't think I'm the one confused. I haven't brought up charity. I've only been talking about Using the Law to Make Everybody, Including Myself, Do Stuff.

I am, occasionally, an employer. And when I am, I pay my workers a living wage. I don't tell them to make up the difference between what I'm paying them and what they need to live from their relatives or welfare, and then go laughing off with billions in profits, believing that I've just done what Jesus would do.

(I'm starting to get the impression that bringing up the J-man is the most offensive thing you can do in a group of Catholic natural lawyers. Seems like what Jesus explicitly commanded us to do is irrelevant until we've worked out some complicated formula on exactly how to obey him. Luckily, that work is so complicated it'll never get accomplished, absolving us of the responsibility to ever do anything. Figuring out a just wage is complicated, so let's just pay everybody as little as the government requires and dare anybody who complains to come up with a precise mathematical formula for calculating a just wage.)

For example, why is "forty hours" a magic number, and why are people who work that many hours a week economically entitled to a certain wage from their employers (rather than to the charity of their family, friends, neighbors, and so forth, or to access to a social safety net)?

I think people are entitled to a share of the wealth they help create. If an employee will lose wages (or his job) if the company is doing poorly, he should be compensated when the company is doing well.

Initially agreeing to do a job for a certain wage does not entail signing an iron-clad contract that you will work for that wage for life, regardless of circumstances.

Let me ask you a question: do you think wealthy people have any moral responsibilities at all with regards to their money? I'll say again, you speak as though the most fundamental moral law of economic justice is not "if you have two coats, give your brother one," but rather "rich people can do whatever they want with their money."

Your moral compass in this area seems to start with this divine sovereignty of the wealthy over their wealth, regardless of how dependent that wealth is on the under-compensated labor of others.

rank sophist said...

NiV,

If they choose to exchange dignity for skill, then yes. That's their choice.

Certainly, blame their working conditions on their choice. They deserve those conditions, am I right?

The point about inefficiency is the opportunity cost in all the other useful things people could be doing that they don't. If a teacher teaches one student there are another 29 students not being taught. Or another 29 people who have to be teachers instead of producing something else. Such lost opportunities make everyone poorer.

Because you see "education" as an on-off switch--which is one of the least intelligent things I've seen said in this combox. It's absurd to suggest that one-on-one and one-on-thirty education are even comparable in quality. But enough of this.

No, because the just price is different for different people. The other (cheaper) farmer is selling for a just price too, he wouldn't be selling otherwise, it's just that his just price is lower than your just price.

In the example, he should be taken either as a dunce who doesn't understand the value of his product or as a devious seller trying to bankrupt his competition. The idea that his just price is different from yours is highly unlikely, all things considered. It's possible, but it isn't likely outside of freak scenarios.

Quite possibly. And so much the worse for Catholic social teaching, I'd say.

Again: your funeral.

Scott,

If you read that passage in context, I think you'll find that Aquinas's concern here is with injustice done to the seller, not to some third party with whom one isn't dealing. The idea is that it's unjust to take advantage of a seller who may (for example) be under pressure to sell.

I am fully aware of this. Hence I said that the buyer should have paid a just price for the potatoes that he bought from the cheaper seller. The damage was done to the cheaper seller, who was cheated out of his goods. I didn't mean to suggest that the buyer had morally wronged the more expensive seller; simply that, out of the three parties involved in the example, the one at fault was the buyer.

Chad Handley said...

But the problem is, because my emphasis is on local initiatives, cultural change, and more, I'm speaking greek to a lot of people who only think in terms of what law they can pass so the men with guns will take the money from the Bad People and give it to the Good People.

No, the problem is, in listing the moral responsibilities of people in the economic sphere, you leave out the responsibilities uber-wealthy employers have to their impoverished employees.

You still haven't explained why it's the least bit complicated as to why the Waltons, whose combined wealth is greater than the total wealth of the bottom 1/3 of all Americans, have no responsibility to pay the workers who help create their wealth enough to eat.

As to why I'm not aware of what you've said in discussions of economics I was not privy to, may I invite you to get over yourself? No, I haven't read everything you've ever written, so I can't comment on that. I only know that in this conversation, you've mentioned nothing of any responsibility wealthy employers owe to their employees. You only have mentioned the moral responsibility the rest of the country has to subsidize those wealthy employers with our charity and our tax dollars.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"I haven't brought up charity."

That's right. And why haven't you?

This is not about my "moral compass" or anyone else's; it's about your implied claim that you can tell a wage is unjust solely from the fact that a wage doesn't cover all of an employee's necessities.

Most or all of the parties to this discussion have acknowledged that the wealthy have charitable obligations. The question I posed to you, which you still have not answered and are now trying to duck by yet again questioning the morality of others, is why an employer automatically has, purely qua employer and regardless of any other circumstances or considerations, an obligation in justice to see that all the needs of his/her employee are fully met. The question is not rhetorical, and one or two other people have proposed answers to it. You haven't.

If you think waving around the J-word relieves you of the responsibility of clear reasoning on such issues while you're calling other people "anti-Christ," you're very much mistaken.

Tony said...

Rank, you are just plain setting aside the whole foundation, which Aristotle and St. Thomas accept, of *finding* or *setting* the so-called "Just Price" (tm).

If Bill can sit down and produce widget X with a supply of wood sticks in 1/2 hour apiece, and it takes Henry 32 minutes, and Frank 29 minutes, it appears that the "Just Price" of an X is about 30 minutes of labor. If they can all average out their labor of producing Y widgets to roughly 40 minutes per Y, the just price can be approximated as 40 minutes worth of labor. If they can all produce Z widgets at the rate of one per 20 minutes (averaged out, with one taking 18 and the others taking 21), then the "Just Price" of Z is about 20 minutes worth of labor. Or, on an equivalence ratio, 4 of X are worth 3 of Y or 6 of Z. In 8 hours with each of the 3 workers spending equal time on all types, the group together has 16 of X, 12 of Y, and 24 of Z.

However, along comes John, who takes just a little longer than everyone else at doing Y's and Z's but has a very dexterous hand and does X's in only 16 minutes. And Jake comes along and has really strong hands, so that one twist with a Y that takes 3 times as much force as everything else is easy for him, and so he can make a Y in 32 minutes - even though he can't make X's or Z's any faster than the others, and is actually a little slower on them. And Jeff has tiny hands which helps in making Zs so he can produce one in 16 minutes instead of 20, though he can't make an X any faster than the average and as for Y, he stinks at it because it requires strength, and it takes him 45 minutes.

When you add John, Jake, and Jeff to the mix, the AVERAGE time it takes to make each item doesn't change significantly, 5 of the the 6 people still take the same amount of time to make each of X, Y, and Z, so the "JUST PRICE" (tm) for an X, Y, and Z hasn't changed, it is still 30, 40, and 20 minutes, or 4 of X is worth 3 of Y and 6 of Z.

However, when the group of John, Jake, and Jeff make the items, John only makes Xs, and Jake makes Ys, and Jeff makes Zs only. And at the end of an 8 hour day we have 30, 15, and 30, instead of 16, 12, and 24. More Wealth!!!! More goods for everyone. Everybody in the group of 6 agree that it makes more sense for John, Jake, and Jeff to make these widgets, and that they will now trade at the new price ratios of 2:1:2 (30:15:30) instead of the former 4:3:6.

Tony said...

If the average amount of labor it takes an average worker to make X, Y, and Z completely defines, at root, the "Just Price" (tm) for each item, then the specific "Just Price" (tm) ratios of 4:3:6 is clearly and certainly correct, and then changing the price ratios from 4:3:6 to 2:1:2 is unjust. But when the community of those 6 workers decides to shift the work arrangement so that those who do X more efficiently get all the X work, and so on with Y and Z, so that more wealth is produced, then the community accepts that there will be NEW "Just Price" (tm) ratios, new ratios that reflect not only the average labor it takes the AVERAGE laborer to produce, but the CURRENT labor of the specialized laborer. It is stupid for an average worker to make Xs at 30 minutes each and try to sell them under a 4:3:6 ratio when John can do them at 16 m each - the stupid worker isn't going to be paid extra for being stupid about it. So it really is true that the "Just Price" (tm) depends in part on supply, even though it does not depend on supply alone.

It is easy to construct a scenario doing the same for demand. This exercise is left for the student.

The thing is, there is no pre-arranged, a priori and systematic enormous chart in the world that tells us what the equivalencies are for "the average hour of labor, from the average unspecialized laborer, in conditions T' of tools and machinery help" for each productive act possible, as a starting point from which to deviate in re-setting values for labor that is put forth with (a) more effort, or (b) more trained skill, or (c) more raw talent, or (d) with better tools. All we actually have, at any one moment, is what is currently being produced, with a recollection of what was previously produced with similar but not exactly the same conditions only a few days, weeks, months ago. We make estimates on the change in value ratios by incremental changes in conditions: adding in a new tool reduces the time needed by 10%, but the tool costs 12 hours, its useful life is unknown but probably more than 400 hours, its storage costs are less than 5% (have to buy a lock, get keys made, distribute to the right users), etc, on into considerations of diminishing significance. There is no defined, base, fundamental "this is the fair value of X act" in the world that is separate from all the conditions applicable to production (a, b, c, and d above and many others), affecting supply and a similar set of conditions affecting demand. And even if one existed in the mind of God, we mere humans have no access to it. The only thing we can ACTUALLY do is compare what people are ACTUALLY willing to pay for a product or service and make a rough estimative approximation which INHERENTLY allows for variation between many different actors whose conditions are also slightly different from the average. In human affairs, the "Just Price" is, really, located by the acts of many individuals making their own estimates of likely, approximate pricing ratios, offering those estimative results to others, re-adjusting their ratios with feedback on pricing from everyone else, and making rational choices about increasing production or demand or what not based on all of that feedback.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"Hence I said that the buyer should have paid a just price for the potatoes that he bought from the cheaper seller. The damage was done to the cheaper seller, who was cheated out of his goods."

In that case the question is why the cheaper seller's price is "unjust" merely because the more expensive seller's price was "just." Unless there are some grounds for thinking the transaction with the cheaper seller is unfair on other grounds, there's no reason to believe this. As NiV says, a "just price" between Seller A and Buyer 1 need not be the same as the "just price" between Seller B and Buyer 2, or even between Seller B and Buyer 1. Nor, I would add, is there any reason to think there's just one single "just price" between Seller A and Buyer 1; it could well be, and usually is, that there's a range of prices that would qualify as "just" in Aquinas's terms.

NiV said...

Chad,

"I am, occasionally, an employer. And when I am, I pay my workers a living wage."

OK. Good.

So there's an easy solution! For all these people on wages lower than the living wage, you can offer them jobs. The workers who jump jobs will get that living wage, and the employers who don't won't be able to hire anyone unless they raise wages to match.

It's a free market, so there's nothing to stop you.

" I'll say again, you speak as though the most fundamental moral law of economic justice is not "if you have two coats, give your brother one,"..."

I'll say it again. That's not economic justice, but economic mercy. Your brother has no right to your coat. He hasn't done anything to earn it. But if he has desperate need of one, and has not the means to buy or make his own, then it would be an act of mercy to give him yours. (Or better, to give him the means to earn it.)

However, nobody here has any problem with you choosing to give your brother your own coat (whether he needs or deserves it or not). The issue everyone has is with the rule: "If your neighbour has two coats, steal one and give it to your brother." That's the rule the Left apply to the 'rich'.

People get rich by helping their neighbours. They work hard all their lives serving others, for which those others given them a token to claim against the assistance of others in return. If that assistance is not claimed, the tokens build up - measuring what an individual has contributed to society that society has not yet repaid.

But if they give it away, that means they did their work, sold their goods, for less than what they were worth, since they themselves didn't get the benefit of the agreed-on price in return. As Aquinas says, that is an injustice.

People who work for a return are not as virtuous as those who work for none, but good is nevertheless done, and it is a way of getting people who would otherwise not help their neighbours to do so. You can *encourage* and exhort their charity, but if you try to *force* it, then most of them will simply stop working so hard. Taking the wealth they earned punishes most those who do the most for others, and rewards most those who do the least for others. People respond accordingly. And nobody would lose as much from that as the poor.

It's a matter of practicality. Bishops preaching the virtue of charity from their palaces have not achieved as much for the poor in a thousand years as the capitalist free market has done in a mere hundred. It's less than it might be, true. But if you care about the poor more than the means you use to help them, you'd encourage it.

NiV said...

"Certainly, blame their working conditions on their choice. They deserve those conditions, am I right?"

No, they choose them. It might be the right choice for them.

" It's absurd to suggest that one-on-one and one-on-thirty education are even comparable in quality."

OK, let's say that 1-on-30 education is only half as good per person educated as 1-on-1. (I'd think it was higher, but it doesn't matter precisely.) Then the total benefit is 15 times greater with 1-on-30.

"In the example, he should be taken either as a dunce who doesn't understand the value of his product or as a devious seller trying to bankrupt his competition. The idea that his just price is different from yours is highly unlikely, all things considered. It's possible, but it isn't likely outside of freak scenarios."

On the contrary, I'd regard it as the most typical situation. It costs different people different amounts to produce goods. They have different preferences, and make different trade-offs. Of course their prices are going to be different.

"Again: your funeral."

Just what I was thinking. Except it's also the funerals of millions of people who died young and in poverty because of the opposition to free markets. The stakes are high.

Chad Handley said...

That's right. And why haven't you?

Why should I? Why should people who work full time for uber-wealthy employers have to depend on charity for food?

Here's a no-brainer just wage formula for you: if your wealth exceeds that of the bottom 42% of all Americans*, your employees should be paid enough to eat.

Does anybody seriously disagree?

(*The 30% number was from 2011. In the intervening two years, the Waltons have added about 50 billion dollars to their net worth, and now own more than the bottom 42% of all Americans.)

Furthermore, where do you think money that goes into the social safety net and charity comes from? It comes from other employers. So, what you're really advocating for is for employers who pay their employees a living wage to subsidize employers who don't.

If everyone followed Walmart's example, there'd be no safety net and there'd be no charity.

The question I posed to you, which you still have not answered and are now trying to duck by yet again questioning the morality of others, is why an employer automatically has, purely qua employer and regardless of any other circumstances or considerations, an obligation in justice to see that all the needs of his/her employee are fully met.

I never said any of the bolded portion of your statement. An employee has no obligation to pay a part-time employee enough to take care of all his basic needs. An employer that is going bankrupt has no obligation raise its employees' pay if that would cause the employer to go out of business.

I've never said anything as absolutist as the claim you are attempting to require me to defend. I said that extremely profitable companies like McDonalds and Walmart, who are absolutely dependent on their workers for their profits, should pay their full-time employees enough to get them off any form of welfare. Given that those companies won't do such things of their own accord, I advocate raising the minimum wage.

Look, if any employer doesn't pay its full-time employees enough to live, that difference is going to have to be made up by somebody. Why do you think that the employer, which is making itself wealthy off the labor of the worker, has no more responsibility to make up that shortfall than the government or charitable organizations?

I don't know how to draft this into some completely philosophically defensible formula, but common sense seems to dictate that if I'm dependent on your labor for my wealth, then I am more more morally obligated to keep you from falling into poverty than any given taxpayer or any given charity.

If you think waving around the J-word relieves you of the responsibility of clear reasoning on such issues while you're calling other people "anti-Christ," you're very much mistaken.

And if you think wasting time in interminable exegesis of the words of a medieval philosopher absolves you of getting around to doing what the J-man clearly commanded you to do, you're making the bigger mistake.

We don't need to await a perfect formulation of just wage theory to know that incredibly wealthy employers should pay their workers enough to cover their food.

NiV said...

"You still haven't explained why it's the least bit complicated as to why the Waltons, whose combined wealth is greater than the total wealth of the bottom 1/3 of all Americans, have no responsibility to pay the workers who help create their wealth enough to eat."

The same is true of lots of people, since a larger proportion than that of Americans have a zero or negative net worth.

The point, though, is that the Waltons have done far more for the poor than all their critics put together, by supplying goods cheap enough for them to afford, and providing jobs for those without the skills to do anything better. The value they have given to the world is far greater than what they have received.

But if you think you can do better, please do so. Set up 'Chadmart' in competition, provide a better service, and offer better conditions to workers. I'm genuinely all in favour of that.

"Why should I?"

Because you're a nice person!

Seriously, this "Why should I?" attitude is precisely the problem. Everybody says something should be done, but none of them is willing to do it. They all want *somebody else* to pay the price.

That's not virtue. That's theft.

Chad Handley said...

I'll say it again. That's not economic justice, but economic mercy. Your brother has no right to your coat. He hasn't done anything to earn it. But if he has desperate need of one, and has not the means to buy or make his own, then it would be an act of mercy to give him yours. (Or better, to give him the means to earn it.)

Well, that's interesting. When I look at my Bible, I can't find that addendum. But thank you for correcting the Son of God on this matter.

However, nobody here has any problem with you choosing to give your brother your own coat (whether he needs or deserves it or not). The issue everyone has is with the rule: "If your neighbour has two coats, steal one and give it to your brother." That's the rule the Left apply to the 'rich'.

No, the rule of the left is more "if you acquire incredible wealth largely due to the productivity of your workforce, it is primarily incumbent upon you, rather than taxpayers or charities, to compensate your workforce sufficiently for them to live. If you refuse those responsibilities, then we will exercise the powers granted us by God through the will of the people to raise the minimum wage you can pay your employees, or to raise your taxes to cover the cost of taking care of your employees through the social safety net."

Chad Handley said...

Seriously, this "Why should I?" attitude is precisely the problem. Everybody says something should be done, but none of them is willing to do it. They all want *somebody else* to pay the price.

I'm not talking about who should pay for the unmet needs of the nonworking poor.

I'm talking about who should pay for the unmet needs of full-time employees of extremely profitable companies.

If you really think that taxpayers and charities have equal moral responsibility to make sure Walmart's full-time employees can afford to eat as Walmart does, we're living in different moral universes.

It would be a different story of Walmart couldn't afford to pay their employees enough to cover their food. But given that they can, why should the rest of us have to subsidize their decision not to?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"I said that extremely profitable companies like McDonalds and Walmart, who are absolutely dependent on their workers for their profits . . .&nbsp"

They're not dependent on any particular workers, though, and I have yet to hear a reasonable argument from you as to why there's any justification for legally requiring anyone (no matter how wealthy) to pay higher wages (prices) for unskilled labor than it can get in a free market.

Since you don't seem to have anything more to offer than vague, self-righteous pronouncements about the "J-man," I'll bow out and leave you to it.

"[W]hy should the rest of us have to subsidize their decision not to?"

Ah, so it's really food stamps you oppose. Well, that's a start.

Chad Handley said...

They're not dependent on any particular workers, though, and I have yet to hear a reasonable argument from you as to why there's any justification for legally requiring anyone (no matter how wealthy) to pay higher wages (prices) for unskilled labor than it can get in a free market.

Because the alternative is passing on the cost of those workers unmet needs to the rest of us.

It's funny that you don't require any sort of argument as to why the rest of us should have to take care of Walmarts underpaid employees, but you do require an argument as to why Walmart should have to.

Ah, so it's really food stamps you oppose.

Close. I oppose full-time employees of profitable companies needing food stamps.

NiV said...

"Well, that's interesting. When I look at my Bible, I can't find that addendum."

You would need to look at a dictionary rather than the Bible.

"But thank you for correcting the Son of God on this matter."

I agree with Jesus on this matter.

"if you acquire incredible wealth largely due to the productivity of your workforce, it is primarily incumbent upon you, rather than taxpayers or charities, to compensate your workforce sufficiently for them to live."

No, it's primarily incumbent on the workforce to contribute to society enough to match society's support for them.

In practice, it should be done not by charities or taxpayers, but by competition. Set up a rival business, and pay the owners less and the workers more. It's your business, so you can do what you want with it. The opportunity is open to everyone.

But you never want to give your brother your *own* spare coat, do you? It takes huge talent and effort to build up a business like that, and you all say "Why should I?" when asked to do yourself what you demand of others. When the Left find somebody willing to give much, they demand they give more, and hate them for not giving everything they have.

Free market capitalism has for the first time in human history raised the realistic hope that we might within the next century be able to finally end poverty. And the Left want to destroy it.

I feel there's nothing more I can say about that.

Chad Handley said...

I agree with Jesus on this matter.

Doesn't seem like it. Jesus seemed to think taking care of even the unworthy poor was an absolute moral obligation. In Matthew 25, he pretty clearly said that failure to do so was sufficient to consign a soul to Hell.

You speak as though it's morally supererogatory: something that's nice to do but not required.

Who to believe?

and you all say "Why should I?" when asked to do yourself what you demand of others.

You do realize you're taking that "why should I" completely out of context, right?

When I said "why should I?" I wasn't saying "why should I pay for the poor" I was saying "why should I bring up charities in a discussion of why Walmart isn't adequately compensating its employees, since surely Walmart has more of a responsibility there than any given charity."

I give to charity, I give to the social safety net through my taxes, and, despite the fact I'm not even close to rich, when I hire artists to work on my scripts, I pay them a living wage.

So, you really couldn't be more wrong on every single point. I'm not asking anyone to do anything I'm not doing. I'm asking them to do what I'm doing.

Free market capitalism has for the first time in human history raised the realistic hope that we might within the next century be able to finally end poverty. And the Left want to destroy it.

Right, because raising the minimum wage to keep pace with productivity and inflation will just obviously destroy capitalism.

I mean, that's just common sense, and not at all absurd hyperbole.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"It's funny that you don't require any sort of argument as to why the rest of us should have to take care of Walmarts underpaid employees, but you do require an argument as to why Walmart should have to."

I'm not sure why you think I don't require argument about the first bit, since (a) that's not what you and I have been talking about and (b) I have implied that the current system is designed more for the benefit of the corporations than for that of the poor.

But be that as it may, what's even funnier is that you don't seem to be able to engage in a discussion of this subject without reading every response in the most uncharitable way possible and hurling moral accusations ("anti-Christ"? And I still haven't managed to recall when I was ever "skeptical of [your] Christianity") at everybody you think you disagree with.

Oh, wait, that's not actually all that funny, is it?

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Right, because raising the minimum wage to keep pace with productivity and inflation will just obviously destroy capitalism."

I do seem to recall asking you why the same policy shouldn't be applied to the prices of comic books, and I don't seem to recall getting an answer.

Applying your proposed policy across the board would "just obviously destroy capitalism," so the question why you think it should be applied in this one instance is a pretty danged good one.

Scott said...

Sorry, I said I was bowing out, and now I'll do it. The last word is yours if you want it, at least as far as you and I are concerned.

Chad Handley said...

I do seem to recall asking you why the same policy shouldn't be applied to the prices of comic books, and I don't seem to recall getting an answer.


I don't understand what you're asking, so if that was your last word, you'll have to make do with what might not be an answer to your question.

Are you asking if the price of a comic should keep pace with inflation? The price of comics has gone up way more than general inflation. Comics today cost more than 4 times as much as they cost in the mid-80s. (Up to $4 for an average comic now vs $0.75 for a comic in the late 80s.)

Are you asking if the wages a comic book artist is paid should keep pace with productivity and inflation? The answer is yes, and for the most part, they are, at least by the major companies.

True, a writer might have to write 2-3 comic books a month to make ends meet solely through their comic book writing, but even writing 2-3 comics a month probably wouldn't amount to full-time work. (An experienced comic book writer can write a comic book script in a little over a week.)

Things are a little more dicey for beginning artists, but by the time they're good enough to work for a major company, they're being paid pretty darn well.

Unlike Walmart and McDonalds, the comic book division of companies like DC and Marvel don't actually make a whole lot of money in a given year, if they make any money at all. (They make their money from movies, toys and merchandising, not the comics.) So, it would be much more excusable if they paid their employees so little that they were on food stamps. But they don't. Walmart does.

Why can't any of you bring yourselves to say that Walmart probably has a moral obligation to pay its employees enough to not go hungry?

Chad Handley said...

I'm not sure why you think I don't require argument about the first bit, since (a) that's not what you and I have been talking about and (b) I have implied that the current system is designed more for the benefit of the corporations than for that of the poor.

That is what we've been talking about. You've been speaking as if I should hold charities and taxpayers equally responsible for a Walmart employee's economic plight as I hold Walmart. You've demanded arguments as to why Walmart should have to bring their workers up to a living wage, but you haven't given an argument as to why charities and government assistance should have to subsidize Walmart's decision to not pay their employees a living wage, despite the fact that they can easily afford to.

That's the most charitable interpretation of the position you've defended in our debate that's possible.

But be that as it may, what's even funnier is that you don't seem to be able to engage in a discussion of this subject without reading every response in the most uncharitable way possible and hurling moral accusations ("anti-Christ"? And I still haven't managed to recall when I was ever "skeptical of [your] Christianity") at everybody you think you disagree with.

I'm not being uncharitable at all. Your sympathies (and NiV's, and Crude's) seem to primarily lie with the rich and powerful over the poor. You don't think the fact that somebody is hungry is sufficient reason to give them bread, even if the hungry people work for you and have made you wealthy. You think some further argument is needed as to why you should alleviate the hunger of the people on whose labor your wealth depends.

That attitude just is the antithesis of Jesus' teaching about the poor. It just is. Period. I'm sorry if pointing out that obvious fact offends you, but it is an obvious fact.

When I referred to people questioning my faith, I was referring mostly to Crude's comments towards me in the anti-gay marriage thread. (I suppose he thinks Pope Francis is also not a Christian, since he's pretty much steered the Church onto exactly the same path I advocated in those discussions.)

Matt Sheean said...

I can't resist an interjection here concerning the finer points of comic business.

What is preferable in the independent comic business is the freedom to set the price for your product that people will pay for it. It's quite expensive to print one's own books, and it takes some experience to determine what the greatest number of people will be willing to pay. If you have zero notoriety, then you set the price somewhere between what it cost you and what will present the least problem for the casual consumer perusing the convention floor. Maybe that price that you set isn't "Just" in the sense that you would have to sell an unlikely number of books to profit after all your overhead for printing, table costs, hotel, and so on. It would be unjust to set a minimum price for the books as it would most certainly damage the sales of the up-and-comers. The analogy to the regular working world seems pretty straight-forward here, in that setting minimum wage too high would make entry-level jobs too precious a commodity for uber-rich employers who would proceed to set up stricter standards of scrutiny for those entry-level jobs. This is much in the same way that even the wealthy comic-buyer would suddenly become much more discriminating if they knew that the minimum price of all the books at a convention was, say, $6. They might have bought your comic for a dollar and that dollar woulda bought you a soda, but they didn't and now you have no money and no soda. But, you know, you could, in principle have had $6 and then a burger or something if only they would have stopped and recognized your greatness.

While this is hypothetical for comics, this is a real problem in the world of gallery art! Galleries do set prices for work based on a lot of bourgeois nonsense, often far in excess of what any reasonable person would pay for whatever it is. As a result, some very talented artists make zero money and pay the price for the "prestige" of representation.

So yea, there's two fairly clear examples of where a minimum value on a product would actually be unjust. This is what I think you're not willing to acknowledge, Chad. This being that raising the wage for McDonald's employees doesn't just raise the price of burgers. It might just increase the number of people who can't buy those burgers, too. Otherwise, yea, I agree that there's a lot of problems with the corporate world, My brother just got squeezed out of his job by an ass of a supervisor who didn't think that my nephew's slow death of cancer exactly required my brother's attention. There's a gross lack of connection to local needs that seems to me to be inherent in the structure of big corporations, and this is just one issue. The point that you don't seem to be grasping is that requiring those corporations to pay everyone in their employ a "livable" wage is just not the way to help the poor. In the case of the comics though experiment, and the galleries, the setting of a minimum value actually increases the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' by moving all the 'have a littles' into the 'have nots'. For what it's worth, I'll reiterate that I agree with you that there is a problem with "Corporate America". It seems clear enough that your solution is too simplistic, though.

Matt Sheean said...

Also, the examples you give from the comic book industry are not really analogous to the Wal-Mart corporate structure. A writer working for Marvel or DC does make a decent paycheck, but so does a Wal Mart store or branch manager or what have you. A writer or artist just starting out in comics makes FAR less than a cashier or stocker at Wal-Mart, in fact, they just might subsidize their comic-making ambitions with one of those jobs.

NiV said...

"Doesn't seem like it. Jesus seemed to think taking care of even the unworthy poor was an absolute moral obligation. In Matthew 25, he pretty clearly said that failure to do so was sufficient to consign a soul to Hell."

I assume you're not referring to Matthew 25:26-30! :-)

Many people do indeed get their food, drink, clothes, and over-the-counter medical supplies at Walmart, and they are always ready to welcome strangers to their doors. I admit they don't do prison visits, but maybe they can be forgiven for that little lapse!

"I'm not being uncharitable at all. Your sympathies (and NiV's, and Crude's) seem to primarily lie with the rich and powerful over the poor. You don't think the fact that somebody is hungry is sufficient reason to give them bread, even if the hungry people work for you and have made you wealthy."

On the contrary. I am, as I have said repeatedly, very concerned for the fate of the poor - it is one of the primary reasons I take the position I do, and the reason I have such strong feelings about the topic. The rich can look after themselves, but it is the poor who truly suffer from the policies of the Left.

The Left's problem is that they assume that just because somebody doesn't agree with their *solution* to the poverty problem, that they are therefore not concerned about the poor. We are. And I for one respect the Left for their sincere sympathy, I just think their proposed policies to address it are an unfolding disaster.

No, I don't think that somebody being hungry *on its own* is sufficient reason to give them bread. If they're capable of obtaining their own bread, they ought to do so. If they're temporarily incapable through circumstances beyond their control, I'm happy to support them for a short time until they get back into production, and they can pay the favour back when they're able. If they're permanently incapable, through being physically or mentally disabled, then I won't let such people starve.

But the vast majority of healthy adults can and should support themselves, and I support the only known economic system in history that makes it possible for them all to do so. I want the poor to become prosperous or rich. I don't want them to be doomed to a life of permanent dependence on charity. But I want them to do so by developing the capability to contribute as much to society as they receive, as trading partners. I don't want for society to have to forever transact unjustly with them: always selling to them for less than the just price, because they cannot afford it. If you give a man a fish he will eat for a day. If you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

Chad Handley said...

The analogy to the regular working world seems pretty straight-forward here, in that setting minimum wage too high would make entry-level jobs too precious a commodity for uber-rich employers who would proceed to set up stricter standards of scrutiny for those entry-level jobs.

Okay, maybe this is what Scott meant. I'd agree, as would all sensible, thinking people, that it's possible for the minimum wage to be too high.

But I'd argue, as do most sensible, thinking people, that $10 is not too high, and could lift millions out of poverty.

There is no legally-mandated minimum price of comics, nor is there a minimum wage law covering people who contract themselves out to work in comics. However, it's still the case that most people who work in comics full time make a decent living. Those who can't make a decent living just from comics (like myself) don't work in comics full time.

This being that raising the wage for McDonald's employees doesn't just raise the price of burgers. It might just increase the number of people who can't buy those burgers, too.

This argument has been analyzed to death recently, and has been thoroughly debunked. Raising the wage of McDonalds' workers to $10 an hour will barely raise the cost of their food at all. It will raise it less than the sales tax on the food in most cases.

The point that you don't seem to be grasping is that requiring those corporations to pay everyone in their employ a "livable" wage is just not the way to help the poor. In the case of the comics though experiment, and the galleries, the setting of a minimum value actually increases the gap between the 'haves' and 'have nots' by moving all the 'have a littles' into the 'have nots'

The slight problem with that analogy is that when we analyze the actual numbers with respect to McDonalds and Walmart, we find it's not true of those companies. Neither would have to layoff any workers or raise their prices by more than a negligible amount to pay their workers between $10 and $15 an hour. They're refusing to pay their workers simply because they don't want to set the precedent of workers sharing in the wealth they help create.

A writer or artist just starting out in comics makes FAR less than a cashier or stocker at Wal-Mart, in fact, they just might subsidize their comic-making ambitions with one of those jobs.

A worker just starting out in comics isn't working for anybody and thus doesn't technically have a job. I'm okay with a person who doesn't have a job not being paid a living wage, because he has no job to pay him a living wage.

My opinion changes when we're talking about the single biggest corporation in American history not paying their full--time employees a living wage, with the American taxpayer being forced to pay the difference.

There's a slight difference between not being paid enough when working for yourself and not being paid enough when you're working for a business that clears hundreds of billions in profits every year. Wouldn't you agree?

Anonymous said...

@Chad

Have your opinions regarding economics put you in the position where you've been forced to vote for pro-choice candidates?

EMV

Chad Handley said...

Many people do indeed get their food, drink, clothes, and over-the-counter medical supplies at Walmart, and they are always ready to welcome strangers to their doors. I admit they don't do prison visits, but maybe they can be forgiven for that little lapse!

Interesting. In my Bible, we are required to give these things to the poor. But apparently, in your Bible, we're to sell these things to the poor at prices only sustainable by dependence on slave child labor from third world nations.

No, I don't think that somebody being hungry *on its own* is sufficient reason to give them bread.

Jesus does.

Like I said: anti-Christ.


But the vast majority of healthy adults can and should support themselves, and I support the only known economic system in history that makes it possible for them all to do so.


So does literally everyone in the conversation. Not just this particular conversation, but everyone involved in the movements to increase the minimum wage.

The McCarthy era called, and asked me to remind you that advocating for an increase in the minimum wage is not equivalent to calling for an overthrow of capitalism.

I don't want them to be doomed to a life of permanent dependence on charity.

I don't either. Which is why I want their uber-wealthy employers to pay them enough to not be dependent on the government or charity.

NiV said...

"But I'd argue, as do most sensible, thinking people, that $10 is not too high, and could lift millions out of poverty."

A minimum wage doesn't lift people out of poverty any more than a minimum height restriction on fairground rides makes children taller. All it does is ban people incapable of delivering that amount of value from getting a job.

Artificially raising the price of any good above the equilibrium price produces an excess in supply of that good, and a shortage of demand. The minimum wage thus causes more unemployment. It's not what you intended, but it's what results.

"My opinion changes when we're talking about the single biggest corporation in American history not paying their full--time employees a living wage, with the American taxpayer being forced to pay the difference."

So set up a rival and take all their staff away from them!

"Jesus does."

OK, so if the CEO of Walmart says to you: "Hey! I'm hungry! Fancy going out for a snack?" you'd reply, "Certainly, let me pay."?!

I don't think that's what was meant at all!

Chad Handley said...

Off-topic: Matt, I really like your art.

Scott said...

I think I'm going to have to go with Paul's understanding of Jesus rather than Chad's:

εἴ τις οὐ θέλει ἐργάζεσθαι μηδὲ ἐσθιέτω [If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat].

Apparently Paul didn't think the fact that someone was hungry was on its own a sufficient reason to give him bread.

Chad: "Okay, maybe this is what Scott meant."

No, it isn't.

NiV: "A minimum wage doesn't lift people out of poverty any more than a minimum height restriction on fairground rides makes children taller. All it does is ban people incapable of delivering that amount of value from getting a job.

Artificially raising the price of any good above the equilibrium price produces an excess in supply of that good, and a shortage of demand. The minimum wage thus causes more unemployment. It's not what you intended, but it's what results."

That's what Scott meant.

Chad Handley said...

Artificially raising the price of any good above the equilibrium price produces an excess in supply of that good, and a shortage of demand. The minimum wage thus causes more unemployment. It's not what you intended, but it's what results.

That's at least debatable, and in my opinion, thoroughly debunked.

Your analysis ignores the increased buying power of the worker. An increased minimum wage will lead to the market being flooded with millions of people with more money, which will lead to increased demand for goods and services, which will lead to the creation of new jobs.

Thus, while raising the minimum wage might cause a decrease in the number of employees with some particular employer, it will raise the number of jobs overall by injecting more consumer confidence and more demand into the economy.

If you look at the situation from the perspective of the entire economy, rather than from the perspective of one company, raising the minimum wage results in the net creation of jobs.

See? Everyone who disagrees with you is not out to destroy capitalism! Some of us think paying workers more will make capitalism stronger!

So set up a rival and take all their staff away from them!

No thanks. I'll join the movement to increase the minimum wage, instead. I'll still get what I want, without having to raise trillions in capital. Seems a bit more sensible and effective, no?

OK, so if the CEO of Walmart says to you: "Hey! I'm hungry! Fancy going out for a snack?" you'd reply, "Certainly, let me pay."?!

I sure would! It would give me a chance to box his ears.

I don't think that's what was meant at all!

I agree! By "hungry", I don't think he meant people momentarily peckish, he meant people who couldn't afford to eat regularly. You know, like the people who work at Walmart.

About those people, he made no exceptions or qualifications about our absolute moral obligation to feed them. I can't see that he ever required us to first ascertain whether anyone was "worthy" of our charity. He commanded us to give, and leave the judgments of worthiness to Him.

But maybe you have a better idea. So, maybe instead of me starting a competing business to Walmart, perhaps you should set up a competing religion to Christianity.

Chad Handley said...

Apparently Paul didn't think the fact that someone was hungry was on its own a sufficient reason to give him bread.

Conservatives always quote that verse without quoting the verse before it, where Paul suggested that he (and by extension, the poor) have a "right" (his word) to be fed even if they don't work:

2. Thes. 3-9" We did this, not because we do not have the right to such help, but in order to offer ourselves as a model for you to imitate.

He was saying that Christians should work for what they get in order to set a good example, but he was absolutely not suggesting that we could withhold charity from those we found unworthy. Indeed, he suggested that those people have a "right" to our charity.

So, I think your understanding of Paul's understanding of Jesus is completely wrong.

But the good news is, we don't need to agree on Paul's exegisis to agree that the people who work at Walmart are not just willing to work, they're actually working. For a hugely profitable corporation that doesn't pay them enough to eat.

That's what Scott meant.

Well, I still think Scott's wrong, for the same reason NiV is wrong: failing to consider the impact in the overall economy of the buying power of those whose wages have been raised.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV,


Economics is how these are all decided.

This is false. Much of what I mentioned is not decided by strict economics, but by broader sociological, cultural, and political factors. It is wrong, like many big on free market economics, to take all these as if they were set in stone, the product of nature alone and not artificial.

I disagree with your opinion of Keen's work.

You are wrong about supply and demand curves. The demand curve is not supposed to move with changes in supply. They are supposed to be independent. If the demand curves changes with changes in supply then there is a new demand curve for each change in supply, which destroys the usual means of analysis.

I disagree, also, about neoclassical economics. Its supporters always claim that its flaws don't really matter. But its flaws are massive. Absurd assumptions ( for example, rely on assumptions like only one good in the economy, or an infinite number of identical goods; only one consumer in the economy, or an infinite number of identical consumers; an infinite number of firms so small they cannot influence prices; an omniscient auctioneer; and so on), inappropriate, mathematical methodology for human behaviour, incoherence (the models don't work - as my point about aggregate industries showed, even with many of the absurd assumptions the models often don't work and have things like multiple equilibria or circular reason, such as in the marginal revenue theory of productivity).

No other field of social science could get away with such nonsense. All that is meaningful in neoclassical economics seems to be basic common sense. I can't see much point in the rest of it. I'm no Austraian school fanatic, but they seem better in this regard.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Well, I still think Scott's wrong, for the same reason NiV is wrong: failing to consider the impact in the overall economy of the buying power of those whose wages have been raised."

No, we've considered that. It's just that we've also considered the fact that the same buying power, plus the difference between the market price of labor and the higher legally enforced price, is lost elsewhere, thereby more than offsetting the supposed gain.

I did refer you earlier to the broken window fallacy.

Scott said...

"He was saying that Christians should work for what they get in order to set a good example, but he was absolutely not suggesting that we could withhold charity from those we found unworthy. Indeed, he suggested that those people have a 'right' to our charity."

Actually he says that his order was that anyone unwilling to work shouldn't eat; end of story. that's quite sufficient to rebut your notion that being hungry is in and of itself a sufficient reason for someone to be given bread, no matter what.

If you want to put the statement in context, try starting at verse 6 rather than verse 9. Paul is pretty clearly saying just that even though he himself had a right to support, he thought it better to set an example rather than be a burden. Nothing in his words suggests that he thought being a burden was a universal right.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV

A CEO can demand high pay (including things like golden parachutes) because he or she has a rare skill and experience for which demand vastly exceeds supply. That's what gives them the power.

How do you prove this?

A little thought should show that it probably isn't strictly true. That renumeration has to do with a lot of factors, as well as strict productivity, like property arrangments, bargaining power, and all sorts of political and social factors.



It's not *required*, but it *is* useful. It's a consequence of positive feedback. In our capitalistic system constant invest and increasing accumulation of capital is required in order to maintain one's relative wealth. If one didn't invest it, even if one didn't spend that much of it, it is would decline in its relative worth. This is a basic part of our system - it is a system in which whirl is King and their must be massive and everincreasing investment and capital accumulation on a gigantic scale. The problem is that this must be done by getting as much of the wealth in society as possible accumulated by capitalists, but the capitalists need to invest profitably and to do this they need effective demand. And there is the rub, one of the basic imbalances of our system. Ever more state intervention is required to create demand and profitable investment, in an everincreasing cycle. One day the system will just be too heavy, however, and come crashing down.

Of course, the capitalist doesn't have to invest. He can just retire. But his relative worth will shrink and most people, especially capitalits, in our economy do not want that.

Which course of action is better for the poor?

I'm not a capitalist. I'm a traditional conservative and a distributist (I think the two go hand in hand). I do not worship whirl as King. I do think the constant increase in growth and technological innovation and change is necessary or even, often, a good thing. I would be perfectly happy to have a slower rate of growth and innovation in return for most people having easier access to real property and capital goods, as well as things like a better rural-urban balance, stronger families and local communities, more dignifying and humane jobs, more dignifying and humane use of technology, less power for massive centralised institutions, state or private, and so on.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Scott writes,

I did refer you earlier to the broken window fallacy.

But the Broken Window fallacy relies on applying microeconomics to macroeconomics in a fundamentally pre-Keynesian way. It takes no notice of the effect that changes in demand may have. If effective demand is increased in the economy, it is perfectly possible that a rise in the minimum wage, for example, might actually increase employment.

I certainly believe that it has never been empirically shown that the worst predictions about such increases were correct.

Chad Handley said...

No, we've considered that. It's just that we've also considered the fact that the same buying power, plus the difference between the market price of labor and the higher legally enforced price, is lost elsewhere, thereby more than offsetting the supposed gain.

"Research shows minimum wage increases do not cause job loss:"

http://www.businessforafairminimumwage.org/news/00135/research-shows-minimum-wage-increases-do-not-cause-job-loss

Tony said...

I do not worship whirl as King.

Yeah, me too. On the other hand, some people seem to:

What are truly human conditions? The rise from poverty to the acquisition of life's necessities; the elimination of social ills; broadening the horizons of knowledge; acquiring refinement and culture. From there one can go..."

Pope Paul VI, I guess not a traditionalist, seems to DEFINE human conditions in terms of a condition of growing rather than a condition of sufficiency. To him, it seems, to be human is to seek for more, there is no such thing as "enough" that satisfies man's nature.

NiV said...

"Your analysis ignores the increased buying power of the worker. An increased minimum wage will lead to the market being flooded with millions of people with more money..."

No, there will be millions with *less* money. Everyone earning above the minimum wage will be unaffected. Everyone earning less than the minimum wage will be made unemployed, and indeed unemployable.

Some few people will have their wages raised, but then the business will have to raise revenue or cut costs elsewhere, which will put additional pressure on those staff to deliver more.

And as business costs rise, so prices will rise, sales will fall, more businesses will go bankrupt, and more employees will be cast out of work.

The economics is about as basic as you can get. If you raise the price artificially above the equilibrium, you will get more unemployment and a reduction in overall wealth. All protectionist barriers to trade cost society more than they gain, and generally increase poverty. It's been well known to economics since 1845 or before.

"No thanks. I'll join the movement to increase the minimum wage, instead. I'll still get what I want, without having to raise trillions in capital. Seems a bit more sensible and effective, no?"

No. If you want to increase the wages of the poor, by far the most effective method is to do it yourself. That's how the system is supposed to work. Whenever some business is taking too much profit, other businesses are attracted into the trade by the opportunity to undercut it.

The real reason you don't is because you can't. Because they know what they're doing and you don't. Because you can't run a successful business paying the staff much more, because Walmart are so expert at it that they can pay their staff more than anybody else could.

But talk is cheap, and it's easy to demand that others do what you can not and will not. And so we go on.

Chad Handley said...

Actually he says that his order was that anyone unwilling to work shouldn't eat; end of story. that's quite sufficient to rebut your notion that being hungry is in and of itself a sufficient reason for someone to be given bread, no matter what.

No, your proof-texting doesn't come close to supporting that. In the very previous verse, he suggested that he (and by extension, everyone) had a right to be helped, even if they weren't perfectly deserving. In context, he was quoting a proverb to show that Christians should work for what they can get, but you have to rip that quote out of context to try to apply it to the poor generally. He wasn't talking about the poor generally, he was talking about a bad example certain specific Christians were setting.

If you want to put the statement in context, try starting at verse 6 rather than verse 9. Paul is pretty clearly saying just that even though he himself had a right to support, he thought it better to set an example rather than be a burden.

He pretty clearly wasn't talking just about himself, he was talking about everyone who traveled with them. He spoke as if they had a right to be fed and taken care of by the Christians in Thessolinica even if they didn't do anything. But he worked to set a good example.

Read in context, there's nothing in 2 Thessolonians to suggest that it's our job to judge the poor generally to determine if their worthy of charity. Paul was writing about a specific group of loafing Christians, not about poor people generally.

Nothing in his words suggests that he thought being a burden was a universal right.L

He did suggest that everyone has a universal right to our charity. And Jesus did more than suggest it, he outright said it. As did nearly all the prophets in the Old Testament. As did God Himself countless times in the Old Testament.

There's just no way a general study of the words of the Bible on our responsibility to the poor will support your proof-texting of 2nd Thessolonians.

The Bible doesn't say that we have to continue being defrauded by people who are proven frauds, but it does clearly teach that the poor are in some sense "innocent until proven guilty." We don't wait to ascertain if the need is "worthy" before we are commanded to act to meet it.

Jeremy Taylor said...

I'm not a Roman Catholic.

Anyway, that quote doesn't exactly prove the opposite of what I suggested. I did not suggest that real poverty should be acceptable - although one man once suggested it would always be amongst us. It simply talks about the elimination of social ills (in a strangely unqualified way), broadening horizons, and increasingly cultural achievements. I'm not sure one can deduce from this that the sort of rapid growth and technological innovation of contemporary capitalism is a moral necessity.

Even if we talk from a largely secular perspective, I'm not sure, once grinding poverty is removed, ever increasing acquisition of consumer goods is a social priority. Things like family, community, good work, cultural achievement, beauty, healthy enviroment, and so forth seem far important. By trying to replace such ends with material goods alone, you just make men bored and alienated.

Besides, isn't the real growth of human nature spiritual? One might suggest that one of the many reasons our culture seeks to satiate everincreasing desires for material goods, is a sort of inversion of man's natural desire for the limitless growth of spiritual potential.

Chad Handley said...

Some few people will have their wages raised, but then the business will have to raise revenue or cut costs elsewhere, which will put additional pressure on those staff to deliver more.

I'm just going to keep countering your naked, amateur assertions wit peer-reviewed studies from economists:

"A 10.10 minimum wage could lift 5 million out of poverty."

https://www.blogger.com/comment.g?blogID=8954608646904080796&postID=8076669101784945378&page=1&token=1389400307395

Chad Handley said...

Whoops, wrong link above, correct link below:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/01/02/1010-minimum-wage_n_4532723.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

Anonymous said...

Out of curiosity, could raising the minimum wage in effect give Wal-mart like businesses even more power over the market?

Wal-mart has the capital to pay their workers more, but many of their less successful competitors do not.


Just asking. I'm enjoying the discussion

Eric

NiV said...

Jeremy,

"The demand curve is not supposed to move with changes in supply."

And it doesn't. It's the shape it is partially because of those effects, but its shape doesn't change.

" I'm no Austraian school fanatic, but they seem better in this regard."

The Austrian school says exactly the same thing. I favour the Austrian school myself.

"How do you prove this?"

By offering to do the job for slightly less money. See what questions about your knowledge and experience they ask you.

"Of course, the capitalist doesn't have to invest. He can just retire. But his relative worth will shrink and most people, especially capitalits, in our economy do not want that."

That seems to me a very odd view of what motivates capitalists. In my experience, they carry on doing it because they simply enjoy running businesses. It's a game. The money is just a way of keeping score - it's not like they can spend it all, anyway. That's why they invest it instead.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor and Chad Handley:

Okay, so according to each of you the best case is that minimum-wage laws cause no overall loss. That's a pretty far cry from Chad's claim that they cause a net increase in buying power.

Jeremy Taylor said...

NiV,


And it doesn't.


Yes it does. That is the point. If you take an aggregate and important good like labour, changes in its supply affect its demand. This violates a basic rule of the supply and demand curves: that they must be independent.


The Austrian school says exactly the same thing.


I never would have guessed.

Anyway, I was talking in general. The Austrians don't go in for the all the mathematically modelling and the like.


By offering to do the job for slightly less money. See what questions about your knowledge and experience they ask you. This simply is not proof for the overall claim that what determines wages is entirely productivity, and things like bargaining power or numerous other social, cultural, and political factors have no role to play.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"Read in context, there's nothing in 2 Thessolonians to suggest that it's our job to judge the poor generally to determine if [they're] worthy of charity."

Of course there is. Even apart from the context, the single verse I quoted says that Paul's order was that if anyone was unwilling to work, he shouldn't eat.

And don't get carried away here. I offered that only as a counter to your own claim that Jesus thought anybody who was hungry deserved in justice to be fed no matter what (as opposed to "other things equal"). Paul very obviously did not agree with you.

Chad Handley said...

Okay, so according to each of you the best case is that minimum-wage laws cause no overall loss.

No, according to me, the worst case scenariois no overall job loss, unless the minimum wage is raised to $20 an hour or something.

The best case scenario is 7 million people moved out of poverty, which is what the report the Huffington Post link cites says will happen.

Given that one of the biggest problems in our economy is lack of demand at retail, I think immediately increasing that demand will cause unemployment to drop. That's the good thing stimulus measures directed at workers rather than at investors: workers will immediately spend that money at retail in America. Unlike wealthy investors, they have no other choice.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"No, your proof-texting . . . "

Wait a second—proof-texting? I don't think that word means what you think it means. Nothing I've said depends on my views of Jesus, Paul, the Bible, or anything else; I haven't argued that anything is true just because this or that verse of the Bible says so. My sole concern in quoting Paul is to rebut your assertion that according to Jesus, anybody who's hungry is entitled to receive bread, period.

Scott said...

"Given that one of the biggest problems in our economy is lack of demand at retail . . . "

No doubt. But then if I were willing to accept your Keynesian assumptions as "given," we probably wouldn't be disagreeing, would we?

Good night, all.

Chad Handley said...

Paul very obviously did not agree with you.

That's not obvious, nor is it so much as plausible, since the very previous verse seemed to support my interpretation of Jesus (and of nearly every other verse in the Bible about poverty). And since Paul is explicitly just talking about a small, specific group of Christians, not the poor generally.

Even if you want to ignore every responsible rule of Biblical interpretation and choose to believe, against the evidence, that Paul is advancing a Republican agenda there, that should be balanced against the vast majority of verses in the Bible that suggest we should help the poor regardless of our estimation of their worthiness.

So if someone were to try to live by the (badly misinterpreted) Paul proof-text, one might ask whether that person was trying to obey Jesus or trying to find an excuse not to.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Scott,

Minimum wages are not something I've put a lot of thought into, one way or the other.

To be honest, I just like to challenge neoclassical economic thought on economics and bring up complicating factors.

It is perfectly possible that a higher minimum wage might raise overall employment according to the Keynesian model. To be honest it is the sort of thing that would take empirical investigation to establish.

Chad Handley said...

My sole concern in quoting Paul is to rebut your assertion that according to Jesus, anybody who's hungry is entitled to receive bread, period.

1. Depending on one's view of the Bible, just quoting Paul wouldn't rebut what I said of Jesus.

2. On any responsible view of the Bible, your quote from Paul did not, in fact, rebut what I said of Jesus.

3. I am not saying that the poor have some sort of secular right to bread from his non-Christian fellow man or from the government. I said that Christians are commanded to give to the poor without consideration of their worthiness.

Chad Handley said...

To be honest it is the sort of thing that would take empirical investigation to establish.

And the empirical data says the Keynesians are right.

We've had a national minimum wage since 1938. We raise it every couple of years. If Scot and NiV were correct, we'd have seen a steady decline in employment since 1938 directly attributable to minimum raise increases.

We haven't seen anything of the kind.

(I'm not saying that it's impossible to raise the minimum wage too much at the wrong time, or that we've never done that. I'm saying the general belief that having any minimum wage increase is sufficient in and of itself to increase unemployment is demonstrably false.)

Chad Handley said...

No doubt. But then if I were willing to accept your Keynesian assumptions as "given," we probably wouldn't be disagreeing, would we?

Wow, I really didn't think the claim that lack of demand at retail is "one of our biggest problems" was controversial at all.

Is there anyone who thinks this is not so much as "one of our biggest problems?"

Chad Handley said...

Out of curiosity, could raising the minimum wage in effect give Wal-mart like businesses even more power over the market?

Wal-mart has the capital to pay their workers more, but many of their less successful competitors do not.


It's definitely possible. But Walmart is more able to deal with any given economic circumstance than their competitors. That's no reason not to help workers if we can.

Anonymous said...

"Even if you want to ignore every responsible rule of Biblical interpretation and choose to believe, against the evidence, that Paul is advancing a Republican agenda there, that should be balanced against the vast majority of verses in the Bible that suggest we should help the poor regardless of our estimation of their worthiness."

Yes, Paul is definitely advancing the Democratic agenda here. Democrats have an amazing track record in regards to those who are powerless. Take abortion for example.

NiV said...

Chad,

I found your HuffPo link amusing. It's a data dredge, and like a lot of social science papers blindly interprets correlations without too much thought as to what is actually going on. But it would take me some time to disentangle exactly what they did to get that result.

In the meantime, I thought you might be equally entertained by this one: http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/economics/theres-no-such-thing-as-a-free-minimum-wage-hike

I don't expect you will be any more persuaded than I was by yours, but at least we can see there is a wider discussion we are a part of.

Thanks for the entertaining discussion, but I think I will retire at this point.

Matt Sheean said...

"Matt, I really like your art."

Thanks! I appreciate that

"There's a slight difference between not being paid enough when working for yourself and not being paid enough when you're working for a business that clears hundreds of billions in profits every year. Wouldn't you agree?"

Yea, I would, but that's just not the point.

I'm also puzzled by your statement concerning the minimum wage, that, should we follow Scott or NiV's line of thinking, we should expect to see employment directly affected. I think here you fail to imagine that your opponents views of economics could be a great deal more subtle. Employment need not be the only variable adversely affected (and you'll easily find folks, like Thomas Sowell, who will adamantly argue that employment has indeed been affected adversely - particularly with respect to minorities).

I do think it has NOT been established by your protestations that a person SHOULD be able to make a living working as an entry-level employee for either company mentioned. Do you think that this has been established? If so, why?

I think that will be it for me, but I am interested in your reply.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

"On any responsible view of the Bible, your quote from Paul did not, in fact, rebut what I said of Jesus."

(1) What you "said of Jesus" is that he does, contrary to NiV, "think that somebody being hungry *on its own* is sufficient reason to give them bread."

(2) What Paul says (and indeed says he ordered) is that those who are not willing to work should not be fed. The verse I quoted suffices to establish this fact, and the context further makes clear that (a) Paul is speaking of believers generally and that (b) even though he (and, yes, his entourage) might qualify as an exception, he doesn't want to set a bad example.

(3) Paul thus does not think that someone's being hungry constitutes sufficient reason on its own to be given bread; he thinks other conditions must be satisfied.

(4) If you're right that "[o]n any responsible view of the Bible, [my] quote from Paul did not, in fact, rebut what [you] said of Jesus," then it must be the case that on any responsible view of the Bible, Paul didn't speak for Jesus.

(5) You must therefore think that any view of the Bible according to which Paul did speak for Jesus is irresponsible.

Interesting.

Jeremy Taylor said...

Personally, I think what needs to be considered are more general topics, such as the relationship of economics to ethics and human nature, its relations to the rest of society and culture, what the end of the economy truly is, and so forth. Until such questions are addressed, I'm not sure that there is much point in examining specific policies or the situation faced by individual employees or employers.

One of the flaws in NiV's analysis is he seems to take the situation faced by an employee to be a thing of nature, given only by immutable economic laws, as if there were not all sorts of sociological and political factors, as well as strictly economic ones, that lead an employer and employee to their present bargaining positions.

This overly simplified perspective is, of course, quite usual for the Austrian school and other free market schools of economic thought (not that I disagree with free markets in general). In fact, they infamously often like to try and think about complex, contemporary economic situations with reference to Robin Crusoe -like thought experiments.

rank sophist said...

Wow, a lot has happened since I last commented. And NiV has revealed himself to be the callous, amoral capitalist I always suspected he was. Anyway,

NiV,

No, they choose them. It might be the right choice for them.

Degradation cannot be a right choice: only a necessary one. Rerum Novarum states this unequivocally.

OK, let's say that 1-on-30 education is only half as good per person educated as 1-on-1. (I'd think it was higher, but it doesn't matter precisely.) Then the total benefit is 15 times greater with 1-on-30.

Actually, the benefit is half per person. Instead of a fully educated person, you get a somewhat-educated person, who has the great benefit of believing that he knows far more than he really does. The New Atheist movement, and indeed every movement in which the modern bourgeoisie takes part (unexamined feminism and liberalism, for instance), is propelled by the somewhat-educated person. Give them one-on-one education instead, train their minds properly, and you end up with virtuous, intelligent citizens. If this means that some cannot be educated in most subjects, and must rely on an educated class for much of their information, then we have simply returned to the state of affairs in which Christianity appeared--and in which it flourished for almost two-thousand years.

Scott,

In that case the question is why the cheaper seller's price is "unjust" merely because the more expensive seller's price was "just." Unless there are some grounds for thinking the transaction with the cheaper seller is unfair on other grounds, there's no reason to believe this.

The more expensive seller's price is not the measuring stick of the cheaper seller's price. It's simply that, given the economic, technological and social conditions of two neighbors in the same historical period and location, it is unlikely that the just price of one will differ (except perhaps by a few cents) from that of the other. Therefore, we can infer from the fact that the more expensive seller charges a just price to the conclusion that his neighbor was paid an unjust price.

Obviously, there must be exceptions based on differences in the manner of production between both parties, among other things.

Tony,

In 8 hours with each of the 3 workers spending equal time on all types, the group together has 16 of X, 12 of Y, and 24 of Z.

So far, so good. You have weighed the cost with the amount of labor relative to the wider historical conditions, which is correct.

rank sophist said...

Everybody in the group of 6 agree that it makes more sense for John, Jake, and Jeff to make these widgets, and that they will now trade at the new price ratios of 2:1:2 (30:15:30) instead of the former 4:3:6.

What you describe here is by-the-books division of labor, in which positions are delegated to those who can best perform them. This is certainly not contrary to anything I have written here.

So it really is true that the "Just Price" (tm) depends in part on supply, even though it does not depend on supply alone.

I don't disagree with anything you wrote, in this passage. I'm getting the sneaking suspicion that we're using different terminology to describe the exact same thing.

There is no defined, base, fundamental "this is the fair value of X act" in the world that is separate from all the conditions applicable to production (a, b, c, and d above and many others), affecting supply and a similar set of conditions affecting demand.

Again, we're agreed. When I said that the value of an act could be determined a priori, I did not mean to suggest that an actual just price could be discovered separately from particular historical circumstances. I simply meant that a priori considerations regarding the adaptedness of certain things to man's use, and a priori facts regarding the value of labor, always condition talk of just price before supply and demand are even introduced. My distinction was one of logical order: I had no intention of suggesting that just price, or any moral question whatsoever, could be determined in a vacuum.

Given all of these considerations, though, a few things are clear. First, the failure of companies like McDonald's to pay based on quality and quantity of labor is unjust, particularly in cases like that of the father who works full time. Unless wage fluctuates based on the relative quality and quantity of labor, and partly (though not entirely) on market conditions, it is impossible to claim that the wage is just. Hence poor work should be met with the command of 2 Thessalonians 3:10, while good work should pay enough "to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner". And this should remain the case regardless of the skill level of the job, barring (of course) the incredibly rare situations in which a job's wage outpaces its historically-relative usefulness to people. (Currently, this latter case almost never applies to anyone but a capitalist overlord.) Therefore, as I said earlier, the measure of a job's wages should be determined by the worker's industriousness in producing useful things--but (to add a clarification) conditioned by the historical circumstances pertaining to supply, demand and production. When all of this is taken into account, the abuses of contemporary capitalism become very clear.

Scott said...

@Chad Handley:

Just one more brief point before I bow out of this part of the discussion as well:

"Wow, I really didn't think the claim that lack of demand at retail is 'one of our biggest problems' was controversial at all."

Your surprise would be lessened if you distinguished more carefully between problems and symptoms.

Scott said...

@rank sophist:

"[G]iven the economic, technological and social conditions of two neighbors in the same historical period and location, it is unlikely that the just price of one will differ (except perhaps by a few cents) from that of the other. Therefore, we can infer from the fact that the more expensive seller charges a just price to the conclusion that his neighbor was paid an unjust price."

Perhaps, but I think the presumption runs the other way. Generally I think there's a strong (defeasible, but strong) presumption that the price agreed upon by the two parties to the transaction is a "just price" for them under their current circumstances (including but not limited to various subjective factors).

I say the presumption is "defeasible" because I don't mean simply that the two parties have "agreed" and that's that. There are lots of factors that can indicate that an agreed price might be unjust, and they're generally those that render a contract voidable according to the common law of contracts (coercion/duress, fraud/misrepresentation/nondisclosure, mistake, and so forth—even the very broad "unconscionability"). The presumption is that a price agreed in the absence of such factors is just, not that agreement alone suffices.

"And NiV has revealed himself to be the callous, amoral capitalist I always suspected he was."

I think that's a very unfair statement. By and large, NiV has just been maintaining that a free-market economy is the best thing that ever happened to the poor, and I agree.

Whether we have such a market now is another question, and I agree with much that Jeremy Taylor says on the subject (particularly with his view that treating corporations as legal persons constitutes a kind of corporate welfare; I would add certain points of patent law to the list as well). But such structural problems aren't solved by fiddling around with minimum-wage laws.

Scott said...

@Jeremy Taylor:

"To be honest it is the sort of thing that would take empirical investigation to establish."

Empirical investigation is rarely as decisive as we'd like, especially on this subject. But at any rate that link will take you to some of it if you follow Caplan's own links.

Anonymous said...

Interesting argument showing the logical absurdity in thinking consciousness is an illusion:

http://voices.yahoo.com/conscious-illusion-consciousness-12294896.html?cat=58

Mr. Green said...

This thread contains verbal ambiguities and misunderstandings of Abbott and Costellian proportions, though alas without being as amusing. Part of the problem is that too many examples and hypotheses are being flung about too freely. Another is that people are switching between moral and economic horses possibly without noticing.

To pick on just a few random comments:
Matt Sheean: So yea, there's two fairly clear examples of where a minimum value on a product would actually be unjust.

There's lots that isn't clear in these discussions, but even accepting everything you said, it doesn't show injustice. At most it shows that maybe the just thing wouldn't work. But that's no surprise. We all know that doing the right thing doesn't always pay off (in this life).


Scott, in response to Chad: and I have yet to hear a reasonable argument from you as to why there's any justification for legally requiring anyone (no matter how wealthy) to pay higher wages (prices) for unskilled labor

That's the wrong question. Some things are morally supererogatory; some are morally neutral; some forbidden; some vices to be tolerated, some discouraged, some outlawed. There's a lot of work to be done before getting to what's "legally required" and we haven't even agreed on what's morally required yet.


NiV: It's a matter of practicality. Bishops preaching the virtue of charity from their palaces have not achieved as much for the poor in a thousand years as the capitalist free market has done in a mere hundred.

True, they have not achieved as much — they have achieved more. But of course that's because it is not a matter of practicality at all: it's a matter of spirituality. Material goods ultimately just don't matter. I do not care about the poor more than the means of helping them, because that would entail using any means whatsoever, and the ends do not justify the means.
I hate to dash your hopes, but the poor will be always with us. But I'm not really interested in economic systems. I do have an interest in right and wrong; and whatever economic principles you might be able to tease out of the moral facts, right and wrong is where we must start.

Mr. Green said...

Anyway, let me try to pose an example. The claim that to be just a man's wages ought to be enough to live on does not — very broadly speaking — strike me as at all outlandish. Of course the devil is in the details, or perhaps the lack thereof, so let me lay out a very specific situation. Suppose we have a rich employer — let us dub him S. McDuck — and suppose Mr. McDuck hires an employee to perform a job at McDuck's burger joint. This employee (call him Donald) has to support himself and his three orphaned nephews. McDuck is entirely able to pay him this much (he's rich, remember — in fact he has so much money lying about that he can literally go swimming in piles of cash). In fact, his burger joint is successful enough to support this level of wages and still leave him with profit left over.

Let me further stipulate that Donald is good employee. He is not a layabout, he is not crippled, he is not incompetent; nor is there a machine that could do the work at a fraction or the cost. He provides an efficient and useful level of full-time work, from which a man might be reasonably expected to provide for himself and his family. This is not a time or war or depression. The town is not being invaded by aliens from another dimension. Etc.

However, McDuck could find someone else to do the job more cheaply. Perhaps he could divide the work part-time at lower wages among some Junior Woodchucks who have no families to support, and who are interested not in making money but rather in building character. (In some places it may of course not be legal to pay different people different wages for doing the same job. McDuck can afford so many lawyers that we can safely ignore such appalling possibilities and assume that he is able to pay anyone as much or as little as he wants.)

Thus the question is: is McDuck morally obligated to pay Donald a reasonably frugal level of wages to support his family? Your response must spell out any additional assumptions you call into play, and identify the moral principles at work. Please answer in two parts:

(a) assuming that Donald can reasonably be expected to find another job in town that would pay enough to support him

(b) assuming that Donald cannot reasonably be expected to find such a job

And remember, I am asking a moral question, not an economic one.

Tony said...

There is no easy way to resolve the apparent incoherence between the Church's call for men of wealth to exercise charity and gratuitousness in their dealings with the poor, and other (perhaps hyperbolic) claims that "property is theft" and "when you give money to the poor, that's not a gift you are only giving what is theirs already."

Until someone can resolve these incompatible positions, I feel free to apply reason and the natural law to understand the situation. And reason and the natural law say that when a man applies his own labor to generate new wealth, his giving that wealth to another is normally an act of gift, charity, not an act of justice as if the recipient is owed the product in justice. Situations where the recipient needs the product, even desperately needs it, does not change the character of the giving to one of being owed in justice, it remains a gift.

NiV said...

"But of course that's because it is not a matter of practicality at all: it's a matter of spirituality. Material goods ultimately just don't matter."

Well, that's certainly a point of view, although I always did wonder about that. Does that mean it would be wrong to end poverty, because that would deny them heaven? Is it wrong to give the poor material rather than spiritual charity?

That could prove a rather popular line of thought with the corporate executives - "we cut your pay again to give you a better chance at heaven - remember, the last shall be first!"

I'm not the only one to have thought of it, of course. A certain comedic author wrote of the "Yen Buddhists", who held that since material wealth was a trap for the soul, they saw it as their duty to acquire as much of it as possible so as to prevent other people being harmed by it.

In short, I don't think you can consistently argue that the poor are to be helped materially, and simultaneously hold that material goods are of no importance. Or that the way most people think of "storing up treasures for yourself in heaven" isn't still greed.

Material goods *do* matter, like pain and suffering matter - they are what people need to be spiritual *about*. It is what the spirituality is *for*. They fit together like body and soul. The point is that it is good to have material things, but not at the expense of other people - *how* you get it matters too. People working together to help one another face adversity is good. People fighting and stealing it from one another is not. It doesn't just cause pain and suffering and injustice directly, it destroys the trust and cooperation needed for creating wealth in the first place.

This world, this life is not just a meaningless trial, with nothing mattering about it besides your spiritual 'score', by which you enter heaven or hell. This world *matters*. What you achieve here is the entire *point*. This world is not just a badly-flawed antechamber to heaven, that we must struggle through on the way there, it is the perfect *centrepiece* of creation. Do please try to take it seriously.

"I hate to dash your hopes, but the poor will be always with us. But I'm not really interested in economic systems."

You should be. Economics is a vital part of how the world works, and the key to success (both material and spiritual) within it. And you may rest comforted that my hopes remain undashed. There will always be some poorer than others, and people who will complain about it, but the poor in the absolute, Biblical sense should be rare by the end of the century. And that's a good thing!

Scott said...

@Mr. Green:

"There's a lot of work to be done before getting to what's 'legally required' and we haven't even agreed on what's morally required yet."

That's not too terribly far from my point.

NiV said...

"Thus the question is: is McDuck morally obligated to pay Donald a reasonably frugal level of wages to support his family?"

As a matter of trade, the way it works is that each partner offers something in return for something in return. S McDuck offers a certain level of wages in return for a certain amount of labour. Donald offers a certain amount of labour for a certain wage. If the two offers overlap, then they can form a contract for mutual benefit, each gaining more (by their own judgement) than they give up.

Having formed such a contract, it is then not moral for either partner to force the other to give up more than they originally agreed to. If the offers change and no longer overlap, the contract is terminated and they go their separate ways.

If McDuck finds someone willing to do the same work for a lower wage, it means there is a bigger overlap and more wealth mutually created. The difference in wages is then available to go towards employing somebody *else*, such as Donald, in another new job that creates more goods.

And remember, it is not money that constitutes a society's wealth, it is the goods made. So if this arrangement allows more goods to be made, that's better for everyone.

To put it another way, we can employ 9 workers on $10/hr selling 90 burgers/hr between them, or we can employ 10 workers on $9/hr selling 100 burgers/hr between them. Society has more burgers. More people have jobs. Everybody is still getting more out of the arrangement than they are putting in.

So what about Donald, who it turns out needs $10/hr to support himself and his nephews? Well, it is his duty to contribute to society at least $10-worth of effort for every $10 he receives, and burger-flipping is only worth $9 now. So he needs to find a new trade - like burger store manager - acquiring the skills to go with it, and then he can go and run the new store opened up across town for $12/hr, helping to sell even more burgers to a hungry public. The course cost a lot, and was hard work, but with the extra money he is paying back the loan steadily, and will soon have even more income.

The only time charity is appropriate is if Donald cannot, by any means, contribute $10/hr-worth of labour to society. Then he must receive more from his neighbours than he gives, and somebody else must give more than they receive. This does a lesser wrong in order to prevent a greater one. It means that the money given charitably is not being paid to another worker for more productive work to be done, making society poorer. It's better than seeing poor Donald starve, but it's still not good.

Is S McDuck *obliged* to give that charity? That's more complicated. He cannot be *made* to do so, either by legal or moral force, because that would make a wrong action the right one, which is contradictory. But if a generous heart chooses to extend that offer freely, giving an extra dollar in exchange for gratitude and love, say, then the contradiction can be circumvented and good done.

It is the paradox of free will - it is not virtuous unless it is done freely, so you have to allow people the freedom to sin in order for virtue to exist. An omnipotent being could *make* people do good, but that would be to enslave them, which would itself be a worse evil by far.

In the sense that it is the only fully moral outcome, it is logically 'morally obligatory' that *someone* be charitable to poor Donald. (Perhaps one of the Junior Woodchucks, who doesn't need the money?) But it also has to be a matter of free choice, and so not even moral pressure can rightly be applied to induce people to do so. Do it because you want to. And work to build a world where it is not necessary.

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