TCS Daily

Law, Morality and a Just Wage

By Stephen Bainbridge - February 2, 2007 12:00 AM

In a recent column, I discussed the theological requirement that faithful Catholics assent to the Church's Magisterium, that Catholics are obliged to defer to authoritative Church teaching on issues of faith and morals. This week, we turn to a specific application of that duty; namely, the minimum wage. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops recently urged Congress to raise the minimum wage, explaining that:

"The United States bishops' Conference has supported the minimum wage since its inception as a just means to protect the human rights and dignity of workers."

A number of prominent conservative Catholics have spoken out against raising the minimum wage, in response to which they have been accused of being "cafeteria Catholics," an epithet more commonly hurled at liberal Catholics who actively support abortion rights.

There's no question that the magisterial teaching of the Catholic Church obliges its members, whether they are Senators from Massachusetts or not, to oppose abortion. In his encyclical Evangelium vitae, the late Pope John Paul II made clear that:

"In the case of an intrinsically unjust law, such as a law permitting abortion or euthanasia, it is therefore never licit to obey it, or to 'take part in a propaganda campaign in favour of such a law, or vote for it.'"

Catholic politicians who vote in favor of abortion or euthanasia rights thus demonstrably are violating their religious obligations.

Is the same true of Catholic politicians who vote against raising the minimum wage? No.

Recall that Catholics are only obliged to give religious assent to authoritative church teaching on faith and morals. When it comes to exercising prudential judgments or making empirical analyses of the state of the world, however, statements by Catholic bishops or even the Pope are entitled to respect but are not binding on the faithful.

Some elements of Catholic social teaching on work clearly rise to the level of authoritative church teaching on morals, to which Catholics are obliged to give religious assent. The Catechism teaches, for example, that:

"A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. 'Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.' Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages. (2434)"

A Catholic employer is morally obliged to give religious assent to this teaching and, accordingly, to pay his or her workers a just wage.

It is a long way, however, from the clear teaching on an employer's moral duty to pay just wages to support for an increase in the minimum wage imposed by the state. The former is clearly a matter of faith and morals. The latter, however, is merely one of many policy prescriptions available for pursuing the goal of a just society and for responding to the Church's special concern for the poor.

Law professor and blogger Eduardo Peñalver suggests that the Bishops' statement on the minimum wage is supported by "the many, many magisterial statements over the years on history's lessons about the apparent insufficiency of the unregulated market and the responsibility of the state to work for economic justice in light of that insufficiency." But none of the general statements he cites directly support the claim that the minimum wage is a part of Catholic social teaching to which faithful Catholics must give religious assent. They merely reconfirm that Catholic social teaching is hardly a fan of the libertarian ideal of a night watchman state.

With one exception, I have been unable to find any magisterial teaching on the subject of the minimum wage. The sole exception is that cited by Professor Peñalver; namely, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops pastoral letter Economic Justice for All, which opines that "justice, not charity, demands certain minimum wage guarantees."

There are several problems with relying on the Bishops' pastoral letter, however. First, as Father Richard John Neuhaus contends, Pope John Paul II's subsequent encyclical Centesimus Annus called into question "the controlling assumptions" of Economic Justice for All and even provides a basis for rejecting the pastoral letter "as unrepresentative of the Church's authoritative teaching." (See Richard J. Neuhaus, An Argument About Human Nature, in A New Worldly Order: John Paul II and Human Freedom 123, 124 (George Weigel ed., 1992).)

Second, as Charles Rice observes, specific policy statements, such as those found in the Bishops' pastoral letter, are properly viewed as prudential judgments about how Catholic social teaching applies to the question at hand. Faithful Catholics are free to question such judgments, because the "bishops, as bishops, have no greater insight into policy matters than anyone else." (Charles E. Rice, 50 Questions on the Natural Law 227 (1993).) Indeed, in their pastoral letter, the Bishops themselves acknowledged that their "prudential judgments" about specific policy recommendations were not made "with the same kind of authority that marks our declarations of principle."

In sum, the US Catholic Bishops' support for the minimum wage is not a matter magisterial teaching on faith or morals to which Catholics are obliged to assent. Instead, unlike abortion or euthanasia, raising the minimum wage is a prudential matter as to which faithful Catholics are free to exercise their own judgment.

Note, by the way, that the same would be true even if the existence of a minimum wage was part of the Magisterium. Deciding whether the minimum wage should raised is a matter of prudential judgment about an empirical matter, not a matter of faith or morals.

There probably are issues on which some conservatives are just as much cafeteria Catholics as are some liberals. Raising the minimum wage, however, isn't one of them.



Fugitive Priest
A fugitive priest was captured yesterday in Arizona. He was trying to flee attempted murder charges in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Forced Faith?
The issue is force.

Any moral or amoral body may advocate for a 'just' wage, (which is subject to interpretation).

How can any moral body, especially one that believes in the Ten Commandments, support the use of force to violate any of those commandments?

"16] And, behold, one came and said unto him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
[17] And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
[18] He saith unto him, Which? Jesus said, Thou shalt do no murder, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness,
[19] Honour thy father and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.
[20] The young man saith unto him, All these things have I kept from my youth up: what lack I yet?
[21] Jesus said unto him, If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow me.
[22] But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful: for he had great possessions.
[23] Then said Jesus unto his disciples, Verily I say unto you, That a rich man shall hardly enter into the kingdom of heaven.
[24] And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

Some may argue the State is helping the rich get into Heaven be forcing them to part with their possessions.

But Jesus told the rich young man, to be perfect he had to SELL his possessions and GIVE them to the poor.

Jesus was testing the man's faith.

And as we all know, faith cannot be forced.

Thanks for the news bulletin. What's the point?
Priests are not perfect just as any other man is not perfect?

Here's The Point
From the information we read in the article, we understand the Roman Catholic Church attempts to mandate how Roman Catholics should vote. The doctrines of the Church affect elections in the secular world. So the Church affects life for everyone in the society known as western civilization.

On global political issues such as population control and abortion, the Church's policies exert an influence upon the world population affecting the quality of life.

I'm still trying to figure out how getting someone fired, protects their dignity.

a friend of mine once said
The Catholic Bishops statement on the minimum wage makes as much sense as the Council of Economic Advisors statement on the Virgin Birth.

so does every other organization on the planet
why do you pick out the church for comment?

other's like to point out that many members of the early churched lived communally
But this was a voluntary choice, a point which St. Peter emphasized in Acts.

The wages of a just wage are unemployment
Look to our friends in France, Germany and Italy and behold the wonders of State interference in labor markets - rampant unemployment and failing economies.

I'll admit to being stupid. I just can't see how telling me what I have to pay untrained, unskilled and potentially completely useless employees will lead to greater employment. Couple that wage edict with prohibitions on terminating employees and I can pretty much guarantee that I won't hire anybody. I don't even speak French and I figured that out, maybe I'm not so stupid after all.

Want higher wages? Stay in school, try actually learning something school (blasphemy!), stay off drugs, dress neatly, show up for work on time, when at work do your job and above all follow Joe Biden's advice to be "clean and articulate". Can't do any of those? There's always politics.

Successful communist societies
The only communist societies I can think of that are or have been successful have been monasteries.

But the participants were ALL volunteers.

So what is your point about a bad priest?
Politicians do the same things you say the RCC does.

Politicians do all sorts of bad things.

Fugitive Senator, Fugitive Representative
A fugitive Senator has been spotted in Massachsetts. He has effectively fleed any possibility of Murder charges in Chappaquiddick.

A fugitive representative hasn't been seen or heard from a while. He has effectively dodged questions of the demise of an intern that he had sexual relations with.

You have more to fear from politicians than priests. The church is open about its wishes-politicians buy your vote and they try to ensure you "stay on the reservation".

Canon 2434 and Casual or Training Employment
"A just wage is the legitimate fruit of work. To refuse or withhold it can be a grave injustice. In determining fair pay both the needs and the contributions of each person must be taken into account. 'Remuneration for work should guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level, taking into account the role and the productivity of each, the state of the business, and the common good.' Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages. (2434)"

This Canon clearly provides a great many things about wages. One of those things is that its individualistic. and provides for a great many factors in the arrival at a "just wage". I would argue that a mandatory, across the board wage is in fact a VIOLATION of this canon.

Am I to pay the kid cutting my grass "guarantee man the opportunity to provide a dignified livelihood for himself and his family on the material, social, cultural, and spiritual level"? Clearly, no. How about the rich politicians that employ nannies that don't get cash, but obtain food and lodging as a part of the package. Thats why there's all these other factors there-and clearly the needs of casual or entry level workers(teenagers) isn't the same as a guy with three kids, one of whom is disabled and requires the full time attention of his mother, thereby preventing her from seeking outside employment. Moreover, it mentions the factor of productivity-and if people don't get those first jobs with low wages-they don't accumulate the skills and experience needed to obtain those wages that provide guarantees. Does an hourly rate provide that guarantee if the job is eliminated or the hours reduced?

Interesting that "withholding" wages is mentioned as violation of a just wage but the left never interpret the almightly Federal Government to be in violation of this ideal when it confiscates income as withholding.

Economic transactions are relations between individuals and those individuals are bound in their interactions by an objective morality. A common morality provides for an expectation of reciprocity that creates trust and it has been established through empirical research (can't remember where I saw it) that economies with high degrees of trust are more effecient and productive than ones where all there is as guidance is caveat emptor.

As much as I think that the minimum wage is counterproductive and that markets generally are effecient, there are always exceptions. I would think for example, Ebenezer Scrooge's treatment of Bob Cratchet was highly immoral in that he was an abusive monopsonist of a less than arms-length seller of employment saervices-not the same thing as trying requiring Mickey-D's to pay 7&chance to a kid with no experience, no record working to buy a WII or an XBox.

That having been said- I still think a minimum wage accomplishes nothing and is counterproductive.

The dignity of manual labor
The previous writer notes: "I'll admit to being stupid. I just can't see how telling me what I have to pay untrained, unskilled and potentially completely useless employees will lead to greater employment."

Why is a rational employer paying any wage to a "completely useless" employee in the first place? If employers are paying $5.15 an hour out of pure charity to the worker, it seems that many employers have a lot of charity to give out.

But what I suspect is really the case is a denigration of manual labor. The simple moral truth is that it is not unjust to compensate higher skilled labor at higher rates. However, even unskilled labor has dignity. If a man gives to his employer the sweat of his brow and the brawn of his back 8 hours a day, 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year, he should receive in return a living wage. The fact that he works by manual labor rather than skilled labor does not take away the dignity of labor.

Why would anyone WANT to work digging ditches with a shovel when he could use a backhoe?

One man with a backhoe can dig a lot of ditches much faster than a gang with shovels.

And who is to decide what to pay for the job? The laborer?

I'll dig ditches, with a pick and shovel, for $100/hr.

Ever hire somebody?
I'm guessing you haven't spent any amount of time with new employees. Most new employees are useless until they've been trained and develop the requisite skills for their job. Some never develop the skills and remain useless until they're terminated.

It's interesting that you conclude that only those engaged in manual labor and making $5.15 are potentially useless employees. Have you ever hired a college graduate? In my experience hiring 3 new college graduates results in the net loss of one experienced employee because somebody has to train the new employees and direct their work. Is that charity? No, it's an investment. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't.

But let's get back to the fair wage. Why would I hire unskilled labor? I guess in your mind it's so I can exploit the masses. In the real world, unskilled labor is generally not cost effective - again, somebody has to train them and they take lots of supervision. So I hire unskilled labor to train and turn into skilled labor. I'm adding value to the labor and, since more valuable labor is worth more to me, the more valuable labor gets paid more. It's a win for everybody - even for those that I fire.

What's the practical effect of cheaper unskilled labor? I can take more risks looking for those that I can transform into skilled labor. People have different talents and not everybody can do every job. I may hire 10 people looking for the 2 that can be successfully trained for what I need. The remaining 8 can then look for other employment having gained some training, some experience, and a better idea of what their talents are (or are not).

What's the practical effect of expensive unskilled labor (or your living wage)? I tell my existing employees to work overtime because I can't take the risk that I won't immediately hire the right 2 people. Worst of all though, if hired, the unskilled are now paid so well that they don't feel the need to learn and enhance their skill set. They don't become more skilled so they don't increase their value. They remain mired in entry level jobs. But I guess they'll still have their dignity.

It seems to me that only one of us wants the unskilled to succeed and I don't think it's you.

moot issue
I'm not making any point about one rotten apple. Although I say, organized religion is a type of institution that influences people's beliefs. When a Church or group of Churches instructs members to vote a certain way, it affects all of the members of society. In that event, a freethinker is no longer non-partisan about the religious group. One might then begin to orally disagree with the statements of religious people. Once I heard about the Pope talking against population control, and I strongly disagreed with his statement. Look at the crowded conditions in many underdeveloped countries. Overpopulation is the root cause of social problems in those lands.

"Overpopulation is the root cause of social problems"
No, it is socialism and corrupt governments.

And churches are the only institutions that tell their members how to vote?

Unions, or NRA or Greenpeace or .... don't tell their members how to vote?

And, legally, no church can endorse candidates, but they can certainly make their moral postions, against abortion for example, known.

Some Real Knowledge And Wisdom From A Freethinker
The segment of the population that opposes anti-abortion laws the most are unmarried men between 21 and 40. An individual freethinker, who is a member of this group, will disagree with any organization instructing people how to vote against his beliefs.

The other thing- everybody knows that overpopulation in underdeveloped countries is an undesirable situation with an adverse effect on the quality of life. Organizations who are against birth control, population control, and abortion place obstacles in the pathway to progress for poor people living in those underdeveloped lands.

Any group of adults, living communally and sharing everything, will soon fall appart. Unless, that is, the power that brings them and keeps them together is not their own, but God's. Full of the Holy Spirit, early Christians were able to do joyfully what every other group not likewise endowed has found tortuous.

Socialism teaches that the state, wielding the power of state violence and fear, can bring us together in a huge communal utopia. Instead, socialists built a prison camp around hundreds of millions of people to steal their lives. It seems a socialist heaven needs subjects even if they'd rather be in hell.

Today, Progressives assure us that they've given up on prison camps, instead purporting an ability to apply laws to fix the failures of society, democracy and capitalism. Yet calling any of these a failure illogically assumes that the overriding purpose of all three is to attain the progressive vision of success, an assumption just as dangerously unreasonable as it sounds. Accordingly, the power Progressives require to engineer their vision of social, political and economic success is not the power that produced the failures - the free exercise of individual choice - but the power of state violence and fear. This is why Progressivism is doomed to fail as badly as socialism.

What puzzles me about the Christian left is their willingness to embrace human power to fashion a heaven on earth. Doesn't the Bible makes it clear that there is only one way for man to become godlike, and that's through faithfully following the Way, the Truth, and the Life? Moreover, isn't it true that the only power with the capacity to propell a Christian down that path is God's, endowed to man through faith and the Holy Spirit?

This is another reason why I can't credit Catholic social doctrines: Church leaders simply can't translate the standard of Jesus Christ's life and teaching into laws and expect the latter to wield the same power and effect as the former. It is axiomatic that we are free to do as we please on earth because we are not fit to do as we please in heaven, such that only through the power of faith in God are we fit to do as we please on earth and in heaven.

'Everybody Knows' How arrogant!
Who are you to claim that over population in uderdeveloped countries is an undesireable situation?

It seems to me that it is a natural survival response. If infant mortality is high, families have more children so some will survive. In most cultures, the children are the future and have the responsibility to take care of the parents.

If you are really, really serious about over population and raising the standards of living for the poor you must support free markets, and oppose socialist governments.

" The segment of the population that opposes anti-abortion laws the most are unmarried men between 21 and 40. An individual freethinker, who is a member of this group, will disagree with any organization instructing people how to vote against his beliefs."


Early America
The Pilgrims tried communism and almost starved.

But as NE developed, local laws restricting certain behaviours were instituted based upon Biblical teachings.

I can understand why they were implemented and their ultimate effect was to create a hard working and wealthy society, the "Puritan work ethic".
What I believe to be effective are government laws which protect person and property and social pressure, not laws which modify undesireable behaviour.

There is much to be said about shunning that should make a comeback.

"What puzzles me about the Christian left is their willingness to embrace human power to fashion a heaven on earth. "

I am at loss to explain this as well.

I was raised in the American Lutheran Church, but I cannot attend services in the merged Evangelical Lutheran Church. I can't stomach their advocacy of socialist policies.

One reason many chuches have followed such policies may be to gain political favor. It is easier to go along with the government than to challenge it. Especially when the US government gives churches tax breaks and funds for charities.

Did they forget about making deals with the Devil?

God is a cheapskate. Bishops are not good at logic.
If the minimum wage of $5.15 an hour is unjust but $7.50 is just then it seems to me that God is cheap. If $7.50 were holy then $51.50 an hour would be big time holy. ;-! $10,000 per hour must be angelic. $1,000,000 would put you in there with St Peter himself.

On the less cynical and more logical front:
Has someone asked the Bishops these two questions?
1. Is it moral to raise the minimum wage to pay a person a Just Wage if it means the employer going out of business and paying the person ZERO wages?
2. Is it moral to raise the minimum wage and have some unholy bum take the job from some unable but devout Catholic who was willing to work at the lower wage?

I am sure the answer is no to both. Otherwise a lot of Bishops would not be for the job killing, poor hurting, UNJUST minimum wage.

One more question for the bishops:
Is it moral to force an employeer to pay a person money when that person values something else? A person may value going to church at 7AM daily and reporting to work at 9:00 over the $2.30 difference in pay and having to report to work at 8:00. That same person may want to pick up their kids at 3:30 PM every day over getting the $2.30 per hour. Is forcing the employee to forgo time flexibility moral?

Is it moral to force an employeer to pay a relative more when that relative is only helping the employeer to start a business?

I am sure the bishops never answered these questions either.

Overpopulation In India And/Or Mexico
One of the provinces in India is roughly the size of Colorado. It is the poorest province in India. The population of the province is about 275,000,000 people. I'm glad I'm a U.S. citizen, and not one of the people living there.

Mexico migration adversely affects the quality of life in the United States. Unamerican illegal immigrants cross the unsecured U.S./Mexican border everyday. The population of Mexico is six times larger than it was 50 years ago, now that's overpopulation!

Fire the Lobbyists
You think the merged Evangelical Lutheran Church is bad, you should check out the Swedish Church, whose last archbishop was an agnostic. He likened his job to that of a social worker and happiness guru, which is what Christians become when they forget what their faith is good for, instead focusing on attaining social outcomes in the name of God society hasn’t bothered to attain in its own name.

This strikes me as a dangerous perversion, for it should be obvious that God’s commands are designed to expose the difference between actual conduct and faithful conduct, so that faith is required to attain the latter given its inconvenience to all contrary conventions. So, what’s the obvious solution to unfaithful conduct: Faith or more stringent commands, keeping in mind that it’s the violation of the first set of commands that calls into doubt their efficacy as commands? And with this truth in hand, what’s required to bridge the gap between conduct and faith: Legislation or evangelism?

It seems the church has its work cut out for it, and the first job is to fire the lobbyists.

The Freethinker vs The Religionist
The freethinker holds an advantage over the religionist. While the religionist must live by doctrine, restricting personal pleasure according to the Church's dogma, the freethinker can adjust his beliefs in the changing world. The freethinker posses an awareness of the natural world. The freethinker can seek money, pleasure, or any desire restricted only by the rules of society. The religionist is restricted by the rules of his religion, and must live according to those rules.

Why are they overpopulated?

By Natural Laws
in the natural world

"must live according to those rules".
Says who?


What happens when the church is a democracy.
The Catholics may have a good idea with the Pope.

Too many mainstream protestant churches have elected bodies which seem to have 'softened' their positions on many issues.

Fortunately, in the US at least, there is no state church and one is free to join, or not join, any church.

"Everyone "knows" that the world has too many people"
"Let's go back to the beginning. How many people are too many? We know that five and a half billion people walk the earth today. But that number by itself says nothing. Maybe it is too few. How can we tell?"

"Countries are not poor because their populations are growing. The England, United States, Hong Kong, and others became rich during unprecedented growth in population. The most densely populated nations are among the richest. What the poor nations suffer from is not too much population but too much government. If the developing world evolves into a liberal market order, it will find that it can have both reproductive freedom and prosperity. People are not problems; they're problem solvers."

"Nothing written here implies that population growth does not bring problems. Quite the contrary; but as Julian Simon says, it also brings problem solvers who apply their intelligence, discover and invent solutions, and--here is the key--leave human society better off than it was before the problems arose. Doubters need only study the quality of life on the pre-Columbian North American continent, when several million Indians barely scratched out their subsistence amid the same "natural resources" that today enrich the lives of billions of people worldwide.

A caveat: human advancement is not automatic and cannot withstand complacency. It has a precondition without which all that is written here may be ignored. That precondition is liberty, specifically, the individual's right to think, to produce, to trade, and to profit from his achievements. In institutional terms, liberty consists in free markets, the rule of law protecting property and contracts, and strict limits on government power. Civilization's successes have another thing in common in addition to growing populations: capitalism. "

250 million middle class Indians
"As a result, India's middle class has more than tripled in size to 250 million people. While the number of rich has certainly grown, about 1% of the poor have crossed the poverty line each year. Pervasive upward mobility may help explain why India is reasonably free of social resentment."

"But India Inc. is no longer run by a handful of families. For decades, socialist policies suppressed economic growth and middle-class opportunities. Yet if the present rate of growth continues, India should reach Aristotle's ideal by 2025, when the middle class will be 50% of the population. Middle-class mobility and new meritocratic wealth have made inequality more acceptable. In India today, the rich no longer excite envy but hope and aspiration."

Petty church governance issues mystify me: Who cares whether the coffee after the service is Nescafé or filter, whether the music is accompanied, tradition or upbeat, or whether the books are kept cash or accrual? Not me. But if the church I attend softens its positions on self-governance issues, I'm outta there, for at that point its primary utility to me will be lost.


No Standards
When elected church bodies begin to act like the US Supreme Court and declare the Bible and Nicene Creed, Luther's Catechism and other 'standard' documents subject to interpretation, then why bother calling it a Lutheran church anymore?

I believe modern churches want to 'get along' and be popular. Therefore they find ways to incoporate public opinion into doctrine to keep up their declining numbers.

But people respect standards. I have heard the Marines have had no difficulty attracting recruits. (Maybe they have difficulty attracting qualified recruits.) Everyone wants to be one of the 'few and the proud'.

I think Clinton and Carter are discovering it was better to be respected than to be popular.

I think you're right. The secular world tells us there is no standard for right and wrong beyond convenience, whether it be personal, social or political convenience. But this leaves people empty, unconnected to something greater than their immediate desires and the lies they spin up to justify them.

Hewing to a standard of conduct that is greater than the individual and immutible to one's convenience provides one a connection to noble ideals, and through those noble ideals, to all others who hew to them as well. This is why being a Marine or a Christian means something more than today's typical narcissistic, nihilistic Progressive can understand, and abasing our ideals to attract suchlike seems inconcievably perverse to me.

It will be interesting to see how Hollywood portrays the 300 Spartans and how the public will interpret their actions.

Gibson has found success with Braveheart, The Patriot and with The Passion of the Christ.

So there seems to be a market for standards, but few leaders.

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