Thursday, November 15, 2007

St. Thomas More on the Distribution of Wealth

You can read the quote in full over at Anita Moore's V for Victory!

[T]here have to be people with wealth, because otherwise you'll have, by God, more beggars than there already are, and no one left able to relieve anyone else. For in my mind I feel quite certain of this: that if tomorrow all the money in this country were brought together out of everyone's hands and laid all in one heap, and then divided out equally to everyone, things would be worse on the day after that than they were on the day before...

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20 Comments:

At 11/15/2007 4:45 PM, Anonymous M.Z. Forrest said...

I don't think people fully appreciate how elitist Toqueville and Moore were. A landed aristocracy isn't grossly offensive to me though I think it would be to those who tend to quote them. Both understood that the aristocrasy had obligations to provide for the indigent and needy. The alternative involved pitchforks and fire.

I'm afraid many of Moore's and Toqueville's modern advocates are operating from the Protestant Work Ethic or similar.

 
At 11/15/2007 5:05 PM, Blogger Darwin said...

Not to be comative, but I have a feeling, MZ, that your fellow blog-authors would find Moore's elitism far more offensive than most conservatives. The general Vox Nova dogma seems to be in favor of the piling and dividing rather than for allowing people to be responsible for voluntarily fulfilling their duties towards others.

 
At 11/15/2007 5:16 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

The truth of "the lack of rich people would hurt the poor" isn't terribly dependent on the issue of "what qualifies one for riches," and it's the latter matter that distinguishes capitalism from feudalism.

 
At 11/15/2007 5:38 PM, Anonymous Donald R. McClarey said...

"For in my mind I feel quite certain of this: that if tomorrow all the money in this country were brought together out of everyone's hands and laid all in one heap, and then divided out equally to everyone, things would be worse on the day after that than they were on the day before..."

Quite true and, without government intervention, within a decade there would be just as many haves and have nots as before. For an idea that has never worked and could never work the tenanity of the communist dream is amazing.

 
At 11/15/2007 5:57 PM, Blogger Henry Karlson said...

Two things:

1) I highly doubt Darwin has any credible understanding of what we on VN believe or do not believe (can he, for example, discuss what my political viewpoint is?)


2) St Thomas More would also believe that those who have the wealth are required to be good stewards of the wealth, using it for the benefit of those who do not have it; this is part of his argument. It's not a favorable quote for capitalistic greed.

 
At 11/15/2007 8:45 PM, Blogger Paul Zummo said...

St Thomas More would also believe that those who have the wealth are required to be good stewards of the wealth, using it for the benefit of those who do not have it; this is part of his argument. It's not a favorable quote for capitalistic greed.

Yes, and I would venture that most Catholics of a conservative poli8tcal bent would agree that the rich ought to be good stewards of their wealth. Where we part company, and where Moore clearly parts company, is with the notion that the state ought to forcibly remove wealth and reallocate it, or try to create some sort of false equality.

As for the charge of elitism - let's just say I'm probably the conservative least concerned with that charge, but that's for another discussion.

 
At 11/15/2007 11:24 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

It's not a favorable quote for capitalistic greed.

I'd take more seriously criticisms of capitalism from a certain sort of Catholic if said critics were capable of using the word "capitalism" without yoking it to the word "greed."

Henry, greed is not the product of capitalism, either historically or ontologically; greed is not especially well facilitated by capitalism; and other economic systems breed other vices such as envy.

 
At 11/15/2007 11:39 PM, Anonymous Victor said...

One more thing to add:

No matter Henry and his ilk repeat to the contrary, those of us who support capitalism do not do so because we think it facilitates greed (which Henry's last sentence accuses Jay of).

 
At 11/16/2007 4:15 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said...

Victor

I didn't accuse Jay of anything with the last sentence.

 
At 11/16/2007 8:41 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

Henry,

I'll freely admit that I'm not terribly clear on your ideological leanings, my impressions of VN are primarily formed by Mornings Minion, Policratus and Katrina, probably on the squeaky wheel theory.

I'm not clear how you think capitalism would contradict the truth that those with wealth have the duty of those who have to help the have-nots. For all the baggage often laden upon it, capitalism is essentially a matter of process not purpose. Capitalism no more means that one should hoard wealth and not help others than evolution means that one should allow ones less fortunate brothers and sisters to die off.

 
At 11/16/2007 10:27 AM, Blogger Henry Karlson said...

Darwin,

My impression is you are quick to judge, use faulty lines of reasoning, and do not comprehend the issues and so you boil it down into issues you do understand but get it all wrong when you do so.

One could say More's response is more in favor of the "welfare state" mentality which many so-called conservatives (I use so-called because it is clear most follow classical liberalism) dislike. It's why I pointed out it is not capitalism nor is it distributism; it is not socialism though it follows more clearly with what happened in Russia with the elites "knowing what is good for the people" and yet it is not that - it is feudalism in its more positive aspects (and something I can and do appreciate, but classical liberalism would find as its antithesis).

 
At 11/16/2007 10:39 AM, Blogger Darwin said...

My impression is you are quick to judge, use faulty lines of reasoning, and do not comprehend the issues and so you boil it down into issues you do understand but get it all wrong when you do so.

Well then, sir, you have me at a disadvantage, because I do not have any very clear impressions of you.

I'm confused as to how you see More's understanding of the duty of elites to care for the poor as being a "welfare state" mentality that conservatives would dislike. I think what would generally be described as a welfare state (or if taken farther, a socialist) mentality would be one that suggested that money should be confiscated from the middle and upper classes and then used by a central agency to take care of the poor.

A fuedal approach would be to hold that anyone with resources (down to the smallest freeman working his land) had the duty to take care of:
a) his family (direct and extended)
b) all those dependant on his (workers, vassals, apprentices, whatever fit his station)
c) the church

and finally

c) those farther afield

This would, I think, be a very congenial model to just about all conservatives I know -- indeed, it is my own view.

The folks you are thinking of who might not like this would be libertarians.

 
At 11/16/2007 12:15 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

First, for what it's worth, I didn't take Henry's original comment as directed towards me.

Second, I'm going to split the baby between Henry and Darwin and say this:

(a) I don't think Vox Nova is as "left wing" as it's often accused of being (although MM and Iafrate probably do fit into that mold; the other contributors, however, I find to be a mix of ideologies ranging from left of center to right, although with a clear emphasis on social justice and Catholic social thought; at any rate, regardless of political differences, they all seem to be very intelligent and sincere Catholics), and

(b) Darwin, is one of the more intelligent, well-read, and better-informed people I know.

Finally, I think that most conservatives would be in agreement with the sentiment that the better off have a responsiblilty to care for those who have less. We tend to believe that the institutions most capable of aiding those in need, and thus the institutions to whom we should direct our resources, are those that are local, that are private (i.e. non-governmental), and that emphasize meeting the spiritual as well as material needs of those they help.

Darwin is correct that conservative does not equal libertarian.

 
At 11/16/2007 3:37 PM, Blogger Morning's Minion said...

You guys are still mis-applying the term "conservative" to a person who supports free market liberalization and state-centered nationalism.

And for antbody who needs a little primer on real world economics as opposed to laissez-faire ideology, try this one: the New Deal bought about an enormous compression in incomes, very quickly. It worked. And it laid the groundwork for 3 decades of sustained high growth where everyone shared in the benefits. Since 1980, inequality has risen back to where it was before the New Deal. And if you are in any doubt about where the Church stood on the last Gilded Age, I recommend Quadragemiso Anno (hint: Pius uses the phrase "twin rocks of shipwreck" to describe socialism and capitalism).

 
At 11/16/2007 4:36 PM, Blogger Jay Anderson said...

"You guys are still mis-applying the term "conservative" to a person who supports free market liberalization and state-centered nationalism."

Who is? I don't believe anyone posting or commenting here has even brought up "free market liberalization and state-centered nationalism".

 
At 11/16/2007 6:18 PM, Anonymous Donald R. McClarey said...

"the New Deal bought about an enormous compression in incomes, very quickly. It worked."

Rubbish. A little thing called World War II ended the Great Depression. FDR and his coterie of socialists had about as much to do with it as a rooster crowing at the dawn has with causing the sun to appear.
http://www.econlib.org/Library/Enc/GreatDepression.html

 
At 11/16/2007 6:28 PM, Blogger Anita Moore said...

St Thomas More would also believe that those who have the wealth are required to be good stewards of the wealth, using it for the benefit of those who do not have it; this is part of his argument. It's not a favorable quote for capitalistic greed.

Henry, that's exactly correct, as the rest of the work from which my extended quote comes bears witness.

 
At 11/17/2007 2:24 AM, Anonymous Victor said...

It's not a favorable quote for capitalistic greed.
---------------------------
Henry, that's exactly correct, as the rest of the work from which my extended quote comes bears witness.


Exactly. Except that Mr. Karlson is the only one who seems to be assuming that anyone is citing the quote to defend "capitalist greed."

 
At 11/17/2007 2:58 PM, Blogger Histor the Wise said...

"And if you are in any doubt about where the Church stood on the last Gilded Age, I recommend Quadragemiso Anno (hint: Pius uses the phrase "twin rocks of shipwreck" to describe socialism and capitalism)."

The quote in question, from Quad. Anno (http://www.papalencyclicals.net/
Pius11/P11QUADR.HTM) paragraph 46:

"Accordingly, twin rocks of shipwreck must be carefully avoided. For, as one is wrecked upon, or comes close to, what is known as "individualism" by denying or minimizing the social and public character of the right of property, so by rejecting or minimizing the private and individual character of this same right, one inevitably runs into "collectivism" or at least closely approaches its tenets."

Considering that one can support capitalism (as in the economic system where private entities control most of the economy) without also supporting individualism (the position that one has economic responsibility only for himself and those he chooses to be responsible for), I would say Pius XI isn't referring to "capitalism and socialism" explicitly here.

Histor

P.S. Since I have run into trouble for this before, I'll point out that "the wise" in my name is not necessarily a reflection of reality.

 
At 11/18/2007 8:17 PM, Anonymous Policraticus said...

The general Vox Nova dogma seems to be in favor of the piling and dividing rather than for allowing people to be responsible for voluntarily fulfilling their duties towards others.

Uh, no, it's not. As I recall, only one person at Vox Nova has argued in favor of a welfare state in a very qualified way. I, for one, would never usurp the assuming of personal and social responsibility with state imposition.

 

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