Monday, September 05, 2011

On Labor

“SOCIAL JUSTICE.” You keep using that phrase. I do not think it means what you think it means.

In the nineteenth century, appalled by the poor conditions of the working class in the cities, revolutionaries fought for structural changes in society. At that time, there was a strong division between the working classes who labored in the factories of the bourgeois capitalists. The revolutionaries intended to balance the equation more in favor of labor, typically by creating strong labor unions which would agressively pursue the interests of the working class in opposition to the capitalists.

But how did this division between labor and capital come about? It was the revolutionaries themselves that did it. They caused the problem in the first place. They must accept the blame. May God have mercy on the souls of revolutionaries past, who caused so much misery. May God convert the hearts of living would-be revolutionaries so that they do not cause more problems in the future.

The division between labor and capital was planned, encouraged, and is sustained by greed, hatred, faithlessness, and by the rejection of charity. This division came about first by Original Sin and the rejection of Grace, then by skeptical philosophy, then Absolutism, then the Reformation, the Enlightenment, the French Revolution, and then by socialism and libertarianism. All these are heresies, and any truths that they may rightly propose are merely and conveniently one-sided. If you examine the philosophies behind each of these changes, you can easily see that they may be sins worthy of eternal damnation.

The pursuit of social justice is de fide, a matter of faith, but that phrase (which came out of Catholic social teaching) has been taken over by revolutionaries of the kind who caused our problems in the first place. Social Justice doesn't mean what they think it means. Social Justice, first and foremost, is intended for the support of families, of the traditional kind whose bonds are broken only by death (But not necessarily the more fluid and indistinct definition of family favored these days.) A socially just economy will allow a single worker to support an entire family (including children, sick, and elderly) without undue hardship, even if that worker dies or is incapacitated.

Our current economy, designed by the revolutionaries, lacks two critical components: subsistence farming and trade guilds. Both of these were wiped out by the threat or use of force.

The old open field system allowed groups of peasants, living in a traditional society, the ability to support their families, without undue outside interference. Even under feudalism (a system criticized by the Church), a peasant had to give perhaps three days' labor to his liege-lord every year. That was a burden often resented, but how does that compare to our current system of taxation in the United States, where a worker has to give perhaps 70 or 100 days of wages to the various levels of government every year? Taxation, regulation, and competition, depending on locality, hardly makes substance farming practical. But the revolutionaries did not want to have people working on farms, but rather in offices, government agencies, and factories, and so the alienation of labor from farms has been aggressively pursued. For example, the Enclosure Acts in England removed 21% of the total land area of that realm from subsistence farming, forcing workers to the cities; this is in addition to the removal of lands formerly open to subsistence hunting and gathering. In the Americas, slavery made subsistence farming unprofitable.

The trade and merchant guilds, important social and economic institutions of the Middle Ages, were weakened by new trends and eventually eliminated via revolution. The guilds were integral associations of local workmen and merchants which organized and rationalized the trades in cooperation with municipal government. The striking fact of the guilds was that tradesmen were both the workers and the owners of their own businesses. There was no division between capital and labor. Each worker set his own hours of business and work schedule (rather unlike the rigid working conditions found today), and directly owned his tools and workshop. A guild member could support his family comfortably and be certain that they would be cared for if anything happened to him. While a lack of competition may have meant that prices were somewhat higher, they also avoided the problems of concentration of power in single individuals and confiscatory levels of taxation that made prices significantly higher. The guilds provided stability and predictability, and added significantly to the harmony of society.

The last remnants of trade guilds in the US were found in the real estate, medical, and legal fields. The organization of real estate professionals was broken in the 1970s with the influx of many part-time agents, and the medical professions were broken by institutionalized managed care in the 1990s. Lawyers are next — and so they had better watch their backs.

Our current economic system claims to be free, and our current government system claims to be democratic, but both merely concentrate power significantly. In the old days, if you did not like how a local guild was handling matters, you could simply walk to the shop down the street and directly complain to the owner. That is no longer possible today, since your local elected official may have to answer to a million voters, and the corporate office of your local store may be located a thousand miles away.

Also see my articles The Old Boy's Club and Universal Health Care - An Alternative for further reading.

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