A (Second) Response to 'Just Economics'

Baskets of bread sit outside U.S. Capitol as faith leaders prepare news conference on budget proposals.

I have read and re-read Dr Stacie Beck’s article, "Just Economics." I still wonder who these Catholic “social justice advocates” are whom Dr. Beck is criticizing. She names only a fourth grade religion text.

Not having seen that text, one presumes that she may be right—about that text. It may not teach muscular self-reliance and ambition, and perhaps her main argument is that we ought to be doing that. If so, she would have done better to go to something like Emerson’s Self-Reliance. Or even, it might be said, to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead.

Advertisement

For like Rand, the doctor goes very much further than urging self-reliance. She turns to a general criticism of the church’s “social justice agenda.” It clearly troubles her, though why is no so easy to discern. She is certain, though, that the whole Catholic Church “should think through much more carefully what social justice entails in a modern market economy.”

This is quite a leap: from correcting a fourth grade text to admonishing the whole Catholic Church. That may be possible to Dr. Beck because her reading in Catholic social thought is too limited—no sign, for instance, of America’s John Kavanaugh, S.J., or the American bishops’ teachings.

The thinking here is mistaken in three ways. To begin there, her own first principle will not support a social agenda. It sounds like current economic theory: “The goals of social justice assume a society prosperous enough to support them.” Catholic social teaching assumes no such thing about the goals of social justice.

The “goals of the social justice” espoused by the church are not based on economics, politics or philosophy. In Gaudium et Spes, “the human person is the source, the focus, and the end of all economic and social life.” In Populorum Progressio, “from the human and supernatural brotherhood of man[rises] a three-fold obligation: mutual solidarity; social justice; universal charity.” In Laborem Exercens, “recall a principle that has always been taught by the Church: the principle of the priority of labor over capital.” And in Caritas in Veritate, “business management cannot concern itself only with the interests of the proprietors, but must also assume responsibility for all the other stakeholders.” In none of these do the goals of social justice depend society’s prosperity. They depend only on the equal dignity of each human being under God—owner, laborer, consumer.

That dignity, in the Catholic social agenda, calls for a society organized to offer sufficient labor for those who want and need it. Perhaps Dr. Beck could think more carefully about this lack of sufficient labor in the U.S. today. It is not a failure of government, of the consumer, or of labor; it is failure of capitalists.

How does it happen that so much capital lies idle today? Idle, that is, except for a specific kind of “rent-taking” that capitalism makes plenty room for. The price of gold rose after 2008 because very wealthy people were putting their capital into cold storage, not investing in a capitalistic blaze. Capital is still frozen. What would Dr. Beck’s  social justice agenda do about this?

A second limit to the thinking here is Dr Beck’s devout embrace of the unbridled capitalism that is the current orthodoxy. That capitalism, Dr. Beck believes, and that capitalism “alone produces prosperity.” She states flatly,  “There is no alternative.” Capitalism or nothing. This is too narrow a view even for a serious economist. Isn’t oligarchical China prospering? Isn’t tightly managed Saudi Arabia? Aren’t  Denmark, Norway and Sweden fairly socialist and also prosperous?  

The statement, “capitalism alone,” is not argument, it is dogma. And it is contrary to church social teaching. Pope Benedict, who has “thought carefully about what social justice demands in a modern market economy” before writing Caritas in Veritate, concluded that “Today's international economic scene, marked by grave deviations and failures, requires a profoundly new way of understanding business enterprise.” The church thinks that there is an alternative to the poorly regulated capitalism we now grieve under, if Dr. Beck does not.

That raises the third and final problem with the thinking here. Dr Beck disdains “redistributionism” and thinks that redistribution “through the tax and transfer system erodes prosperity and undermines the attitudes that created it.” There are two problems with that. The first is purely economic. It is the claim that high tax dampens development. However, some well known numbers make it hard to believe.

Dr. Beck considers economic evidence for that  “embarrassingly scanty,” but as that does not deter her, it needn’t deter us. Compare American taxes to other great countries'. The top American combined income tax rate, federal and state, falls in the middle of the list of the major countries. Roughly, the American rate is at most 44 percent (for the highest incomes, and it seems to berarely paid). The rate elsewhere is higher: in Denmark it is 60 percent; in Belgium, 54 percent; in the Netherlands, 52 percent; in Japan, 50 percent. We also train Australia, Germany and Brazil. Now, these are prospering nations, no matter how you chop statistics. Their tax and transfer system has not eroded their prosperity, and Danes and Japanese are as entrepreneurial as anyone in Silicon Valley. The wisest economic conclusion is that we have no real data proving that higher taxes reduce productivity or prosperity.

The second problem with this disdain of “redistributionism” is not economic. It is philosophical and theological. It is the tightly held belief that wealth is the uniquely personal possession of the one who currently has it. Taxes for the common good are taking away what is mine and no one else’s. This is not Catholic social teaching.

In Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI urged attending to the Second Vatican Council’s teaching: "God intended the earth and everything in it for the use of all human beings and peoples. Thus, under the leadership of justice and in the company of charity, created goods should flow fairly to all." He turns this into the first principle, having nothing to do with any level of prosperity: “All other rights, whatever they may be, including the rights of property and free trade, are to be subordinated to this principle.”

This is a huge challenge to American capitalism. Americans think that the rich man’s wealth is his the way his skin is his. But it is not; his wealth is his like the air is his.  He takes it into himself and uses it, but it is not his air. It is our air, some of which he has and uses for a time. That is how it is with his wealth: it is ours, some of which he has just now. And all political regulation must begin in that universal destination of wealth, as it does for the universal resource of air.

America’s wealth it is like the water that runs down our rivers and falls from heaven on our fields and forests. It is gift to us. The water may wet a woman’s face and hair, and she may drink it. But it is not her water. It is our water, some of which she has for a time. And all economic regulation must begin in that universal destination of water—and of wealth.

It is the same with the nation’s aggregation of wealth. What do the thousand dollar bills that some pile up say? THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, and in little print, “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.” And there are some numbers on each bill, indicating that the government keeps track of this sign of its wealth. The nation’s money is owned by the nation, first of all. This is the principle of the universal destination of resources and goods—of air, or water, even of money.

Dr. Beck does not seem to appreciate how far privilege has penetrated not only into pure economics and finances, but also into our laws and politics. Economists, after all, can only report what they think their data sees. It is hard for their data to see that every single one of the really rich 1,342 billionaires in the United States today stands at the headwaters of privilege—in law, education, opportunity—and believes that he is free to take whatever he can, or whatever he wants to take. He is correct in this nation at this time; he is not only not trammeled by the law from excess, he is helped by it. And currently, the super-wealthy make sure the laws remain favorable to them through their lobbyists. Anyone who believes otherwise should be kept from teaching our young.

So the Catholic social agenda—and all political and economic regulation enacted in this democracy—must begin with this truth: This land is our land. Currently, it does not seem to, and that is what the Catholic social justice agenda is really lobbying for, though maybe we need to do a better job with our fourth graders.

In the end, the article’s title is exact: Just in the sense of only or merely Economics. So the argument must not be mistaken for anything like a social justice agenda.

Joseph Tetlow, S.J., is the director of Montserrat Jesuit Retreat House in Lake Dallas, TX, where he gives retreats and workshops and writes. He previously served for eight years in Rome as head of the Secretariat for Ignatian Spirituality.

Comments are automatically closed two weeks after an article's initial publication. See our comments policy for more.
Kevin McDermott
5 years 5 months ago
I’m in agreement with the outline of your argument, Joseph, except for this: it mixes up being virtuous with making change. Beck was trying to begin a conversation about untangling the two in pursuit of remaking the American economy so that it works for everyone, not just the happy few. That took guts, since Beck must have known the response from the typical America reader would be just what it was: an argument about right-mindedness instead of economics.
Bill Taylor
5 years 4 months ago
If economics cannot be right-minded, then we need another economic system. As one pope after another has insisted, economics must serve the common good. If it does not, it has no reason to exist.
Marie Rehbein
5 years 5 months ago
These days net worth is synonymous with wealth. If someone's assets are more than someone's debts, he is said to have a positive net worth. The judgment that he is wealthy is can only be made in comparison with the net worth of others. If one were the only living being on earth, one would be infinitely wealthy, but one would not see it that way given that there would be no comparison possible. If there were only two people on earth, they could each be quite wealthy even though one could have more than another. In my opinion, in such a situation, they would choose to define and measure wealth in such a way that it would place the most value on those things they have in the greatest differing quantity. It is also possible that one of the two only people on earth could dominate the other so that the other is denied access to the resources and becomes impoverished; barely able to survive or possibly dying as a result. The current situation in which the world's assets go disproportionately to those who already have the most assets is basically due to people making the rules of government such that their interests dominate the rest and deny access to others whenever possible. They do this without recognizing a personal responsibility due to the fact that they operate as corporations rather than individuals. The answer, in my opinion, is not to redistribute the wealth of individuals, such as the corporate CEO or the highly specialized physicians, for example, and to hand people money beyond what they agree to take when they take employment, but to reward the corporation for sharing its profits with its lower ranking employees. In other words, the clerk at McDonald's gets a cut of McDonald's profits just as the CEO is rewarded with bonuses for meeting his goals. How to reward the corporation may be a sticking point in that the tendency is to squawk that everything from the tax code to environmental regulation undermines competitiveness. So the answer has to be that the reward, whatever form it takes, must be exactly the same for every business.
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 5 months ago
While Fr. Tetlow's criticisms of some of Beck's characterizations of Catholic Social Teaching are fair game, it seems he misses, and in so doing, verifies, one of Beck's primary contentions: that much of Catholic social justice advocacy seems wholly undivorced from economic reality. Take one example from Fr. Tetlow: his criticism of the growing capital accumulation on the books of US corporations. He apparently thinks this should cash should be distributed, yet he ignores that a primary factor in this is that much of this cash sits outside of the US because the US corporate tax rate is among the highest (if not the highest) tax rate. This means that if a US company were to bring this cash into the US and distribute it to its shareholders, it would pay 40%, and it would be taxed again upon its distribution to its shareholders. Of the other countries Fr. Tetlow mentions: Belgium's corporate tax rate is 33%; Denmark's is 25%; China's is 25%; the Netherland's 25%; and Japan 38%. Moreover, much of the cash build up is due, in certain sectors such as financial institutions, as a direct requirement of US & international capital regulations passed in response to the over-leveraged books only a few years ago. He would, I would suspect, support those regulations. This begs the question: he clearly disagrees with the notion that tax rates impact productivity, yet would he support cutting corporate tax rates in order to spur investment? If he were to allow re-patriation of funds, would he allow it to be done tax-free? If not, at what rate? Moreover, he mentions China's economic success, yet ignores both the clear violations of international law by Chinese firms (such as in the area of intellectual property) & ignores that China's sovereign wealth fund participates in many US businesses such that the lows tax rates seem to be producing some of that economic success. But none of these tensions are apparent in Tetlow's comments. "This Land is Your Land" is an awesome song; I'm afraid it does very little to move us down the road of examining these thorny complexities.
Christopher Lawson
5 years 4 months ago
Fr. Tetlow's response to "Just Economics" is quite correct in referencing prior encyclicals. Populorum Progressio, Laborem Exercens, Gaudium et Spes are well thought out documents that provide an excellent compass to steer thought about economics. Unfortunately, like many Catholic thinkers, the economic arguments suffer in the details. Here are three examples: two from Fr. Tetlow's response and one from the May 13 editorial "Glaring Inequalities". (These, I hope, will complement the comments left by Joshua DeCuir). First, Fr. Tetlow ascribes the 'lack of sufficent labor' in the United States to failure of capitalists.By this I will assume he means the unemployment rate. This is like saying a drought is caused by clouds failing to make rain. Much goes into the unemployment rate. On a micro-scale a company must decide how much an employee will cost to pay, to provide health insurance, to train, to fire if that employee doesn't work out etc. On a macro-scale companies must judge: is my business expanding, is the economy going to continue to grow, what are the tax rates, does any one really want more shoe horns (no) or iphones (yes). Second, Fr. Tetlow describes, " the poorly regulated capitalism we now grieve under." This gives poor credit to the good capitalism and globalization have done over this past century. At no other time in human history has life expectancy increased so rapidly, nor access to medication, nor access to food and clean water nor literacy, nor removal of child labor. I would argue that capitalism/free trade has provided the wealth to make these changes possible and that the international community is doing a very good job regulating abuses. (More can always be done and tragedies like the one in Bangladesh will happen again--but even there the buildings stood in violation of existing laws and international companies are frantic to move work to safer places). Third, the May 13th editorial 'Glaring Inequalities' calls for 'increased social spending on health care'. Is the author aware that we spend over 15% our GDP on healthcare, more than any other rich nation? And that at current rates this will continue to expand? And that the overall quality of health care in this country is below that or many other rich nations? Truly human dignity, as it is given meaning by God through Christ and his Church must be the ever guiding light by which we order our society, but please there has got to be someone out there who has read the encyclicals from Rerum Novarum to Gaudium et Spes (at least) and has taken a few economics courses. Please! or maybe invite Dr. Beck back to defend some points...?
Vincent Gaitley
5 years 4 months ago
The nation's money is not owned by the nation, first of all, as you assert. Those notes are bearer notes and are private property while in possession. The other designations on the bills are to prevent fraud and counterfeiting. In the past they also sometimes stated that they could be exchanged by the bearer for an equal amount in silver and gold; that they are so exchangeable is what makes the currency work. While the government backs the value and legality of the tender offer with a common currency, it does not own the currency. Again, the Church and so many of its good servants have no competency in economics, business, finance, etc. Leave the economy to the laity. I don't think a single billionaire feels free to "take" anything; but the government does. Those billionaires are wealthy because they understand value, and how to create it. Generally, they "sell" something to someone, and often the mechanism of that sale (production) capacity--a company--has a publicly traded value in stocks. Calling the billionaires "takers" in such a glib fashion, i.e., "whatever he wants to take" exposes your underlying idea that all success is somehow criminal or at the vast unfair expense of others. As for the "headwaters of privilege", well, those privileges were earned, if they exist. Besides, most billionaires are "rivers to their people". Their money, business, and charity all serve some public good because they invest in growth and continued prosperity by putting their money at risk. They are rewarded for that and so are we. Successful investing is a fine art and a social justice by itself.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
The present economic system is a game only loosely coupled to reward and even to physical reality. If people were rewarded proportionally for accomplishment, the Einstein family would be worth a couple hundred billion, the descendents of James Clerk Maxwell around ten trillion. The present system has driven us to 400 parts per million CO2 by molecular count with no end in sight and thrown away vast amounts of energy to move large inefficient vehicles (auto engines are 20% efficient) around just for the sake of moving large inefficient vehicles around. The wealthy and conglomerates use their wealth to control the government and the media, leading to a positive feedback loop, and such things are invariably bad and dysfunctional in any system. I think cancer could be called a positive feedback loop in the body. At the present moment, it seems that capitalism isn't the solution to the problem, it IS the problem. One of the concerns with the research at the CERN super-collider was that it could form a black hole. Shouldn't we be concerned about the formation of economic black holes? Aren't multi-national megacorporations and superrich economic black holes?
Mike Evans
5 years 4 months ago
And so in the news today, Apple is described as having $1.5 trillion in untaxed earnings stashed offshore. General Electric pays almost zero taxes. The average corporation tax rate is only 9% compared to 32% in 1970. It would certainly seem right and just to rearrange the laws so that these holders of extreme capital pay at least a fair amount in taxes instead of shifting the burden to individuals and consumers. We have many common good projects that are needed that would enrich everybody. Infrastructure, education, and rebuilding our economy and its various components such as housing, manufacturing, and energy production/usage. That will require investment both public and private, communal and individual.
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 4 months ago
"The average corporation tax rate is only 9% compared to 32% in 1970." Not sure where you got this fact, but it is demonstrably false. As the linked chart shows, the current US corporate rate is 40%, and has been unchanged for some time. It is the highest corporate rate among developed economies (including the frequently lauded Scandinavian economies) which generally hover around 25%. http://www.kpmg.com/global/en/services/tax/tax-tools-and-resources/pages/corporate-tax-rates-table.aspx
James Collins
5 years 4 months ago
Redistribution, socialism, and what amounts to most Catholic social thinking are of no use in a stagnant or declining economy such as we have experienced the last four years with the longest running recession since the last depression. It is easier to redistribute from a growing pie to a shrinking one.To achieve all the social justice and gain the most prosperity for the poor, which we would like to have, we must have a growing if not robust economy. Most of the programs promoted by Catholic social advocates are counter productive to a growing economy. The first criteria in evaluating a social program must be will it help or hinder a growth economy. Apple is being criticized for their tax avoidance strategies. No one has claimed they were not legal. Congress always has and always will create more and more ways for companies and individuals to avoid taxes when they create subsidies and loop holes for favored constitutents and special interests. Congress and Obama have created hundreds of them with their green enegy favors and regulations. The reason companies send or leave money overseas is because the U.S. is the only country foolish enough to tax it at such a high rate, 35%. That money is not coming to the U.S. so the tax is useless. Eliminate the tax and most of that money will come back here and be invested in this country. That overeas wealth has been estimated at 1.7 trillion and growing. Now that would be a "stimulus" and be sound economic policy to help the poor. We now have the lowest labor participation rate since the 1970's and the poor suffer for it. Remove the tax on overseas profits and watch the job creation and all the poor finally getting a job.
J Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago
Fr. Tetlow, I would assume that you and Dr. Beck have similar objectives. What you may argue over is how best to achieve them. I happen to agree with Dr. Beck on nearly everything because I have seen the arguments that support the positions she takes and see no flaws in them. A couple specific comments: There really is not an alternative to Free Market Capitalism that is better for the poor. I have seen nothing else put forth that comes close to it. Free Market Capitalism and Rent Seeking are at complete odds with each other. All rent seeking requires that free market capitalism be suspended in preference to a minority, just the opposite of free market capitalism. My observation here is that few really understand just what free market capitalism is and it is certainly not a system that would sanction "rent seeking." The new term for rent seeking being used by the free market people is "crony capitalism." However, while this term refers to some of the most egregious forms of rent seeking it does not close to covering most of it. The editors here at America would do all their readers a huge service by fleshing out the arguments both for and against free market capitalism. There is quite a rich literature on this topic and as I said few seem to really understand it. In many instances they confuse it with rent seeking. Second, it is unfortunate that the Catholic Church has endorsed the concepts of "social justice" and "common good" because they are so vague. As a consequence they can mean anything and the result is they have become a mantle that one wraps around a particular political program they endorse. A lot of what has been offered up in the last 45 years in name of social justice has had some very damaging effects on the poor. That is my perspective of the term and I would bet that is part of what Dr. Beck has in mind when she criticizes it. Friedrich Hayek made a devastating critique of these terms almost 40 years ago and his criticisms are still appropriate. I have frequently asked the question on this site which no one has answered. Is something socially just if it harms the poor? A lot of what passes for social justice does just that. Please do not think that is a call for abandoning the poor. It is just the opposite. It is an attempt to identify what works best to alleviate poverty. You can disagree with Dr. Beck and that is fine but I have not seen anyone come up with a better economic system for the common good than the free market. Those who criticize it usually do so by comparing it to some utopian society/system which has never existed or probably could not exist. All that those who criticize the free market do is offer up is some unknown and unnamed system. Until such a system has been found, I suggest we praise what we have and not try to kill it with good intentions. It has created the incredible wealth we see in our society today.
Jim Lein
5 years 4 months ago
But where is that wealth? What is it doing for the common good? Selfishness and greed and concentration of wealth is the best way to help the poor? In theory you may see it as the best or the only way. In reality our current system has cut out millions, left them hanging, has sent jobs overseas, has regarded labor (or workers) as a commodity and corporations as persons and money as speech. This is skewed and delusional and unChristian thinking.
J Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago
Mr. Lein, "In reality our current system has cut out millions, left them hanging, has sent jobs overseas" This implies that the person overseas is less worthy than the person in the United States. This is a political argument, not a Christian one. We export trillions of dollars of goods every year to the rest of the world. Are we stealing their jobs? When we purchase a good from China that cost $100 that would have gone to someone in the US, we are probably employing 10 people who in the very recent past made a dollar a day. Now they are making $10 a day making goods for the rest of the world. Do you want to cut these opportunities off for these people because they are not here in the US?
Jim Lein
5 years 4 months ago
The jobs were moved where there are lower wage workers and less concern about pollution. (With little or no concern for workers right here.) This is Christian? This is showing Christian concern for these foreign workers and their often dangerous and deadly working conditions? Come on. What about caring for your neighbors first and then reaching out across the world? We aren't taking care of our own.
Jim Lein
5 years 4 months ago
Dr. Beck strays or errs by somehow interpreting Christ's injunctions, "Feed my lambs...Tend my sheep... Feed my sheep" to mean doing this through a corporate capitalistic system guided by selfeshness and greed -- rather than by more directly helping persons in need. Instead she seems to favor removing the safety net that is necessary in our lopsided one percent-99 percent society. If our corporate and crony capitalism weren't sucking wealth into a concentrated tiny sector, a safety net wouldn't be needed; more people would have living wages. But they don't, and it is needed. Until the economic inequality is corrected to some degree, it is cruel to turn a blind eye to those in immediate need and to teach them a lesson by letting them and their children get hungry enough to somehow transform their lives. Some compassion please.
J Cosgrove
5 years 4 months ago
Mr. Lein, I am sure Dr. Beck is against crony capitalism. That is a form of rent seeking. So you and Dr. Beck are on the same page.
Jim Lein
5 years 4 months ago
Well, then she is against our current system, which has, according to economist Joseph Stiglitz, "drawn our most talented young people into financial shenanigans, rather than into creating real businesses, making real discoveries, providing real services to others. More efforts go into... getting a larger slice of the pie than into enlarging the size of the pie." Wealth is more concentrated than ever before or at least since the 1920s or the Gilded Age. And this isn't a problem? The Vatican thinks it is. You and Dr. Beck seem apologists for this economic situation. And some of those commenting seem to see Jesus and the church as foolish and misguided.
Joshua DeCuir
5 years 4 months ago
Yet again, the commentary seems to be wholly ignorant of inherent tensions in the rhetoric being employed: tensions which can only be addressed through dispassionate analysis. Take "crony capitalism"; much of the cause of a misallocation of labor in the financial sector is due - as she points out - to government regulations which actually strengthen large financial institutions by imposing prohibitive costs on smaller, would-be competitors. Take Dodd-Frank, a hopeless complex piece of legislation: the compliance costs that are being imposed on smaller, community and state based banks are increasingly high such that they cannot effectively compete with the big banks. Indeed, the biggest financial institutions today are even bigger than they were prior to 2008. Yet, when one says we should repeal Dodd-Frank & replace with something simpler, one is charged with being "anti-regulatory" or "apologists" for wealth concentration. So what is the answer here: do we continue to pass regulations that are anti-competitive, or allow a looser market with clearer rules? Whatever the answer, Fr. Tetlow's piece frankly doesn't begin to acknowledge these issues.
Ed Jones
5 years 4 months ago
Fr. Tetlow here embarrassingly under-reports on a range of topics; it's surprising that a magazine of this caliber would highlight this piece. To begin on the more concrete, economic side, unemployment in America is not caused by the failures of capitalism, it is caused by the minimum wage laws. Every one of us can look about and see work that needs to be done. Why do we not hire someone to do it? Because the minimum wage laws make it too expensive. Youth unemployment is around 25% in some places. Any kind of work would be preferable to having young men sit idle. If their wage were but a dollar, at the end of the day at least they'd look back on the wall they'd built, the street they'd cleaned, the park they'd policed, the tree they'd nurtured, the child they'd mentored and say, "Hey, I did that. And I learned from the people I met" For my own part, I've certainly worked thousands of hours at less than $1 wage. "But", you say, "government must assure fairness to the worker". What fairness? All a minimum wage law does is cause the price of things to rise. Recently in the US the minimum wage law was raised. What happened? Every item on the McDonald's menu immediately went up to pay for this. At least McDonald's can raise prices and keep the same number of workers. A small non-profit faced with this rise might have to reduce the hours of it's employee. A budding non-profit looks at the cost of labor and just decides that the job won't be done. Should capitalism be regulated? Surely. But by what? Jesus and the American founders would have capitalism regulated largely by the self-control of the individual engaged therein. Humans being sinful, we have mechanisms to lift and encourage and cajole the self-control of the individual. We call this religion. It is the business of men and women like the Fathers of the Society of Jesus. Father Tetlow might rather here concentrate on the souls of the billionaires and even the mere millionaires among us. He would, first, see much more hope. For American businessmen by and large are an extraordinarily generous breed of people. Americans are the most generous people on earth, and its business leaders are far more generous than, say academics. But even that is in monetary terms. There is no measure for what the entrepreneur gives of his life to see that his people have a job to come to each morn, and a rasher of bacon to take home come end of day to her children. Secondly, that Father Tetlow even enters a discussion of tax rates is far below him; perhaps for that reason we could forgive his confusion on what nations do with their taxes. European nations largely get a free ride on the backs of American workers. The innovation that increases their productivity and allows them to put off the debt collectors comes from Americans working in relative freedom. The Internet, with all its various time-saving, communication-enhancing components, is vastly an American invention. To the admonition that "created goods should flow fairly to all", how about me buying a $20 Apple cable for $2.65, the money going to a poor worker in China rather than toward the 3rd HDTV to an Apple exec in Cupertino? Amazon and American ingenuity do this, just as they bring the arts of South American craftswomen to the shelves of Walmart, (and American dollars back to the barrio). America's university system, with its private donations and endowments and sometimes even private tuition still leads the world and produces much of the innovation and innovators the world consumes. Too, Europe has for decades evaded its security duties, leaving them to the American soldier and the American inventor. Who can help bring peace to Syria, President Obama asks? The world's answer is largely silence. Not unless the Americans lead. Go back twenty years and the nations east of the Iron curtain are now free. Not with help from the nations of Western Europe, but rather from US freedom and strength to deny that goal. And, when war or natural disaster occur, it is US technology and process that minimize loss of life. The defense of Kuwait in 1991 took 1/100th of the projected casualties, due to American freedom to innovate. Haiti was addressed first by the US Air Force, which had the assets to rapidly open an airfield, and by the US Army who had the organizational skills on the ground. In health care, it is America's "expensive" private health system that pays for the innovation the rest of the world enjoys. A command system could never produce such innovation, simply because so much innovation is fueled by hope of gain rather than immediate pay. A market system provides this "free" R&D; a command system doesn't. Which brings us to the real issue with Fr'. Tetlow's analysis: it replaces the power of God to work through individuals, with the power of the state to command them. Instead of allowing works of charity and innovation and education to be done via private foundations and 501c(3)'s and the gifts of billionaires and millionaires and thousandaires, Fr. Tetlow would take even more and hand it to the monolith that is government. Instead of trusting Jesus to work in the hearts and souls of men (with not a little aid of people of the cloth), Tetlow here asks us to trust one President, 9 Justices, and 535 sinners in Congress to control even more of our lives. As if God only bestows his wisdom on those 545 souls, leaving the other 300 million of us too stupid to make improvements ourselves. God did not make the other 300 million of us stupid. He made us in His image. He gave us far more faculty than the Sparrow, and just to make it clear, he sent his Son to explain our charge.
Stanley Kopacz
5 years 4 months ago
It would seem that raising the price of McDonalds' pseudo-food would be a good idea. Society, as a whole, would benefit enormously in improved health and reduced health care costs. They are the prime example of the corporation, maximizing profit through economic activity that sickens their customers. My guiding principle with regard to large corporations is that they are my personal enemies and the enemies of a healthy community. I keep my transactions with them to the minimum possible. God may not have made us stupid, but it is to the benefit of the corporations to make us stupid, via advertising propaganda and poor education.
Ed Jones
5 years 4 months ago
Mr. Kopacz, are you accusing McDonald's of being too good at providing jobs for American workers? (McDonald's employs over 500,000 Americans at any time. If McDonald's disappeared, US unemployment would nearly triple.) There are many other things McDonald's shareholders (pension funds/retirees) could do with their capital besides open new stores or expand employment at existing stores. Perhaps you are prepared to bring replacement jobs to my small community, where the local McDonald's and Wendy's are among the largest employers? And to the rest of the nation, including the employees of McDonald's many, many contractors and farmer-suppliers? I am with you that we all need to eat healthier, and I wish that I could eat at the nice restaurants you eat at. However, when on the road, I must make do with a small portion of the affordable fare at McD's.

You do bring up a good mission for Jesuits besides advocating for higher taxes. They could build into the Catholic catechism a mandate to not just eat in moderation, but to learn and to share tasty, filling recipes which are more healthy than those most of our families brought from England, Ireland, Germany, etc. Recipes high in olive oil, vegetables, whole grains, etc. This would be an excellent ministry for every small parish in the country.
John Walton
5 years 4 months ago
"America’s wealth it is like the water that runs down our rivers and falls from heaven on our fields and forests." No necessity of ingenuity, studying hard, brushing your teeth or intelligent risk taking. "That sure takes a load off my mind." to quote W.C. Fields.
Edward Burton
5 years 4 months ago
Ah, Mr Jones, never have I read a more succinct statement of several misunderstandings of economics. If a major retailer can't afford to pay workers enough to support a family, then obviously it couldn't afford to pay its upper echelon sums with more than one comma. But they do. Raising the minimum wage does not, repeat, does not automatically result is less employment, nor higher prices. If the business needs x number of employees to function before the wage increase, it still needs them afterwards. At that point the question is whether the company can absorb having less profit, or can in effect do what so often it is promised they will do, 'trickle down' some former profit into employee compensation. We did so in this country in the 1950's, when productivity gains were shared all the way down the ladder, not just glommed onto by the bosses. Go back to school, sir, study economics (and not just the London school of v. Mies and ilk).
Ed Jones
5 years 4 months ago
Mr. Burton, thank you for the complement on my rhetoric, and for the opportunity to further explain. The unintended effects of the minimum wage go far beyond what I here listed. They involve the psychological value of labor, which the minimum wage laws bias downward. You needn't go to grad school to learn this, simply apply for a common-skill job. However, if you wish to be more mathematical about it, compare the minimum wage and the wages it affects with the growth of GDP. You'll see that low wages have not kept up since the advent of the minimum wage laws. Profits: who are these profiteers? You know them as your neighbors. The California Public Employees Retirement Fund, the Ohio Teachers Retirement Fund, Although, some profits are not in greenbacks. When your child holds the power of a supercomputer in their palm, they too reap the rewards of productive gains.

Advertisement

The latest from america

The tête-à-tête between Paul Krugman and Nancy Pelosi in Manhattan was like a documentary about a once-popular rock band. (Rod Morata/Michael Priest Photography)
Speaking in a deep blue stronghold, the Democratic leader of the House calls for “civility” and cautiously hopes that she will again wield the speaker’s gavel in January.
Brandon SanchezOctober 16, 2018
The lecture provoked no hostile reaction from the students who heard it. But a media firestorm erupted.
John J. ConleyOctober 16, 2018
Though the current synod appears to lack the sort of drama and high-stakes debates of the previous two, the role of conscience appears to be a common thread.
Michael J. O’LoughlinOctober 16, 2018
When Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists on the Olympic podium, their act drew widespread criticism. Now Colin Kaepernick is the face of Nike.
Michael McKinleyOctober 16, 2018