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Tuesday, December 03, 2013

Thinking Out Loud

This merits some reflection. On the other hand, before the anti-"capitalism" forces get too pleased with themselves, how much is too much? Who gets to decide? What gives the social teaching its reality, its practicality? What keeps the social teaching from being a bunch of platitudes, spouted by amateurs, determined to appear "above the fray?" If you think that sounds harsh, just keep in mind that 1) I'm a Catholic, determined to keep the teaching so far as I'm able; and 2) the questions will be just as direct from the economists, and the non-Catholics. Paging David Anders!

The science of economics was created to try to deal with the problem of scarcity. We have to assume several things because of the social teaching as I understand it at this point: 1. the right of private property is real, but not absolute; 2. there is such a thing as "distributive justice," such that massive inequities of wealth are an injustice to him who has little; 3. socialism is wrong. I'm already inclined already to agree with (3), but I guess I need to know more about why, beyond the snarkily obvious point that loads of people tend to end up dead. Because it certainly seems that someone with charge of the common good could, in the name of that good, simply decide to dispossess Bob the Banker and whomever else in the name of "distributive justice," and get a pat on the back while they do it. We're right back where we started.

Thankfully, that raving socialist, F.A. Hayek, (full sarcasm on) said that a system of social insurance was not incompatible with markets. OK, then. Let's take a step back, and recall that the construction of that system here in the US gains its explicit sanction from "promote the general welfare" in the preamble to the US Constitution. Just for fun, I'm gonna take the whole preamble as an affirmation of Natural Law, and the specific quoted phrase to be synonymous with "common good." If you have any intense objection to that, let me know. But it would seem that without that, we can't define the salutary words. Look at the plain meaning: They established this Constitution and nation to secure those salutary goods, which must have been in existence before this nation existed. And they couldn't name them if they derived their existence from the government itself. So, right there, some kind of positivism is dead on arrival. On the other hand, look at the other obvious implication: A law is presumed just as long as it's consistent with the Natural Law, and in accord with the Constitution, even if it's a horrible idea that has tons of really unpleasant side effects no one saw coming. That stings a bit, eh? But I guess we'd better decide whether Social Security does what its name says, or it's a reward program. (in other words, an entitlement) My view: It's a program for the general welfare. As such, means-test it, yes. I don't care if that's "liberal." If you're gonna use government coercion, make sure you're not wasting it. Everybody should have understood that it really was a wealth-transfer program. Are people so massively dumb that they need to be dispossessed for a mandatory savings program? Of course not. One word: Lockbox. And if we do allow younger people to eventually invest a portion of their Social Security taxes, it must be with the explicit understanding that they do so at their own risk, and with instruments and a program that is distinct. Common good is common good; Uncle Sam doesn't owe you squat. I digress.

It seems to me, therefore, that the first duty of a public official is to preserve the means of social insurance, to see that the system of free exchange is just for the participants, and is conducive to the good of all, and uphold morality for the good of all. A big responsibility, and not exactly conducive to simplistic characterization.

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