I actually think quite a bit about what it means for society to be “economically just.” Social justice is one of my favorite phenomena. Justice in general is a deep and wide topic which is infinitely fascinating. My penchant is for an approach to economics that I suppose could be called progressive. I have also entertained descriptors such as egalitarian, communitarian, liberal, fiscally liberal, democratic-socialist, and even some libertarian principles. I considered myself a big Bernie Sanders supporter, and was disappointed in his loss. America is a bit difficult to stomach in the past decades. I sincerely hope we are not witnessing the waning years of American Empire. I still sometimes hold out hope that we can govern ourselves (some would note, work ourselves, or invent ourselves, or educate ourselves) back to a more functional, humane, progressive, respectful, legitimate, and responsive political system. This blog details five of my premises/beliefs about how economic justice can be fomented and nurtured. Godspeed!
- People will work hard to achieve when they feel a goal is likely to be met. Typically, but not always, they work for money, status, prestige, etc. They will work less hard when it’s just “a job.” Nowadays, people’s character is somewhat wanting. A job today just doesn’t mean what it did in bygone eras. Work ethic is flagging. A person nowadays might forget to even call in sick, whereas a job that was part of the WPA in 1936 would have called forth 100% enthusiasm. It is said that people don’t like to “start at the bottom.” I am wondering if this is due to the corrosive effect of money on the Commons. Perhaps we are just declining as a society. One must do one’s part if we are to usher in an era of increased economic justice.
- We are too concerned about money. At the same time, I do like to buy things. I also recognize that there is serious income and wealth inequality in this country, and the middle and lower classes are under duress. Ideally, though, we should be less materialistic and less focused on “keeping up with the Joneses.” I do believe that in European social democracies, folks have fewer economic worries (e.g., greater economic justice) and so they focus more on things such as family, vacationing, and just enjoying life. Government functions better and so they appreciate that kind of system.
- There is a group of capitalistic (crony-capitalistic?) individuals in this country who have undue influence on politicians, and have engineered a kind of society that suits their interests. They are the moneyed class. Much of what goes on is due to their goals, means, desires, and actions. They have little regard for the Commons and truly “look out for #1” (which includes their nuclear family). They are the CEOs, investment bankers, lawyers, politicians, independently wealthy, etc. They seem to be comfortable with unfettered capitalism and wealth/income inequality. They are the reason that the Trump Administration is now turning to “tax reform” (a euphemism, I believe). Progressive politics rightfully considers them adversaries. It is an attitude more than a net worth; Martin Shkrelli wants to be a member, but Warren Buffett really doesn’t. These folks really don’t care about economic justice for the many, as long as they “get theirs.”
- As the Ayn Rand-loving lyricist Neil Peart wrote: “You don’t get something for nothing/ You can’t have freedom for free.” However, I believe that persons would prefer a job and unfettered access to social mobility over sitting around and receiving a welfare check (to the degree that welfare is still a thing; it mostly got gutted in the Clinton years). Having said that, though, they should receive a fair shot at “making it” in this society. That is a decent definition of economic justice, actually. I am not sure about minimum wage, but certainly programs such as free or low-cost college, unparalleled technical schooling, government-subsidized daycare, and affordable/public option health insurance should be part of an array of benefits that dedicated workers should receive. Give people a fair shot, expect excellence, and reward it.
- Taxation should be progressive. This helps to bring about economic justice writ large. I am always surprised when I learn of the average, top tax bracket in the 1946-1980 era being approximately 90%. I suppose it must have functioned well, despite its surprising magnitude, because the country flourished economically. The post-war era was one in which unionization was strong (at least, possible), education was helpful, and the country was growing. Despite the utter distraction that was the government’s obsession with the Soviet Union, times were good and the middle class was flourishing. A family could be supported on one, good manufacturing job. In general, I believe that those who are on the losing end of the income equality scale should pay little or no tax, and those who have given more than $1,000 to a politician’s campaign should pay back society for the largesse that they have enjoyed – thanks to the crony-capitalistic system and, probably, inheritance, they benefitted from.
Here is an interesting angle – one I rarely take. When it comes to economic justice, progressives have common cause with Catholics to some degree. Sojourners might be the most vivid example of where progressive economics meets religion. Below you will find some of the tenets of economic justice called “A Catholic Framework for Economic Life.”
- The economy exists for the person, not the person for the economy.
- All economic life should be shaped by moral principles. Economic choices and institutions must be judged by how they protect or undermine the life and dignity of the human person, support the family and serve the common good.
- A fundamental moral measure of any economy is how the poor and vulnerable are faring.
- All people have a right to life and to secure the basic necessities of life (e.g., food, clothing, shelter, education, healthcare, safe environment, economic security.)
- All people have the right to economic initiative, to productive work, to just wages and benefits, to decent working conditions as well as to organize and join unions or other associations.
- All people, to the extent they are able, have a corresponding duty to work, a responsibility to provide the needs of their families and an obligation to contribute to the broader society.
- In economic life, free markets have both clear advantages and limits; government has essential responsibilities and limitations; voluntary groups have irreplaceable roles, but cannot substitute for the proper working of the market and the just policies of the state.
- Society has a moral obligation, including governmental action where necessary, to assure opportunity, meet basic human needs, and pursue justice in economic life.
- Workers, owners, managers, stockholders and consumers are moral agents in economic life. By our choices, initiative, creativity and investment, we enhance or diminish economic opportunity, community life and social justice.
- The global economy has moral dimensions and human consequences. Decisions on investment, trade, aid and development should protect human life and promote human rights, especially for those most in need wherever they might live on this globe.
I welcome you to view the podcast on income and wealth inequality.
Here is another podcast entitled “What’s the Matter with America?” in which I speak with a conservative and a progressive about what our social problems are and how we might fix them.