My Essay at Ethika Politika “The Forgotten Good of American Individualism”

I have an essay up on Ethika Politika ((The Forgotten Good of American Individualism”). Here’s the summary and opening paragraph:

Recently, two Christian social critics—one Roman Catholic, the other Eastern Orthodox—tackled some of the problems that emerge from individualism in American culture.

 

Thomas Storck (“The Catholic Failure to Change America”) does so in light of the tradition of Catholic Church; his Beatitude Metropolitan Jonah (“Secularism and Depersonalization”) looks at the same intellectual territory as an Orthodox Christian. While both men have done a good job in explicating the negative consequences of individualism for the life of the Church—both East and West—and the larger society, they left unexamined the opportunity for human flourishing and growth in Christian holiness, implicit in American individualism.

If you have a moment, please read the whole thing and maybe leave a comment.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Re-Distribution of Wealth of Wage Theft?

An interesting editorial by Corey Robin in the New York Time (The Republican War on Workers’ Rights) that highlights I think the underlying moral problem of using wealth redistribution to level out income inequality.

Stay with me a moment.

The Robin reports that in

…most states, tipped workers earn an hourly wage that is less than the federal minimum — the federal subminimum wage for tipped workers is $2.13 per hour — because they’re supposed to make up the rest in tips. (They often don’t; the poverty rate among waiters and waitresses is 250 percent higher than it is among the general work force.) But non-serving staff who don’t get tips must be paid the minimum wage.

But then the editorial takes an interesting turn.

Republican state legislators have devised a way around that. In 2011, lawmakers in Wyoming introduced a bill that would have allowed restaurants and other employers to force their serving staff to pool their tips; tips would be redistributed among the nonserving staff, who could then be paid the subminimum wage. That same year, Maine legislators passed a bill declaring that “service charges” were not tips at all. Because they aren’t tips, they don’t belong to the serving staff. Employers can pocket them — without informing customers — whether they redistribute them among the staff or keep them.

There are two different issues here. The second of these, Maine legislators “declaring ‘services charges’” are not tips and so “don’t belong to the serving staff” is problem one that will cost all the serving staff money. If so then the employer has (potentially at least) unjustly withheld wages from the wait staff.

The first issue–allowing “restaurants and other employers to force their serving staff to pool their tips; tips would be redistributed among the nonserving staff, who could then be paid the subminimum wage”–raises an interesting policy question. If, as Robin asserts, this is “wage theft” what do we call collecting taxes with the explicit aim of income redistribution?

Why, in other words is it “theft” when employers redistribute wages among employees but it is an expression of “social justice” when the government does? A key moral difference is that in the latter case the redistribution is coercive through the government’s authority to tax. In the former, however, the relationship between employer and employee is voluntary (at least in the formal sense, I understand that in particular cases, the employee may not have any other options but to work for a given employer).

It would seem to me that all things being equal the employer’s actions are at least morally defensible. But if they aren’t, if they are immoral (“theft”) then so too are any and all government programs that seek to less income inequality through a policy of mandated wealth redistribution.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

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Doing Justice for the Low Wage Worker

One of the many things I came to appreciate serving Greek Orthodox parishes is how much work is involved in operating a family run restaurant. Owners and their families often put in long hours doing hard manual labor for small profits and with little financial security. A similar state of affairs holds true for the other small business owners I’ve known both in my family and in the different parishes I’ve served.

It’s important to keep this all in mind when looking at not simply small businesses or “mom & pop” eateries but also at those larger corporations that typically pay low wages. Because Marxism has become a part of the cultural waters in which we swim, it easy to assume that low wages are inherently and objectively unjust. The argument here goes something like this: In paying low wages, the employer is exploiting his employees by not giving them the “true” value of their labor. It is the worker, not the owner, who is the source of the profits generated by the business.  Put another way, the worker gets nothing besides his wage and that wage falls far below the value he gives to the employer. But is this really true? Continue reading

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Corporate Culture, Corporate Conscience

The removal of “Brendan Eich, Mozilla co-founder and creator of the JavaScript programming language” should make us all very concerned. He was not pressured to leave for what he did but what he believes. Here’s the central point that Joseph Sunde makes in his post at the Mozilla’s Statement of Faith and the Altars of Conformity:

…amidst all the pooh-poohing of the baker, the florist, and the photographer — whose complaints actually are bound up in the activities at hand – those very same critics casually proceed to make people the central thing. As the statement of faith clearly concludes, it is Eich who is the aggressor, and Eich who must be removed. The peace and tranquility of the interwebs is at stake, and influential proponents of archaic institutions mustn’t be allowed to stand in its way.

This isn’t to reject out of hand the right–even the obligation–of corporation to shape their business around specific moral norms.

Business are culture-makers at the core, and thus, conscience ought to guide such activities, from the bottom to the top and back again.

At the same time, however

…one can’t help but suspect this is less about a distinct corporate conscience than it is about blind cultural conformity. But then one remembers that, in this case, conformity the conscience, and there’s not a whole lot more going on “up there” than a raw fear of that looming Idol of Egalitarianism.

The central “virtue” of conformity is loyalty, to follow orders and to think along with the group. Nothing, it seems to me, can be further from what is necessary for a dynamic and growing business. Much less is it compatible with a free people and the value of the person.

In Christ,

+Fr Gregory

 

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The Battle for Purity

Paul S. Loverde, the bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Arlington, Virginia, has an interesting essay on the First Things site (Let the Battle for Purity Begin). Based in part on the new edition of his pastoral letter on pornography, “Bought with a Price” (available at Amazon for Kindle and at www.arlingtondiocese.org/purity), Bishop Loverde writes that

The pornography epidemic is something to which all people of good will must devote more attention and talk about more openly, but first we need to understand something of the scope and character of the problem.

He goes on to say that

Those who deny that the act of viewing pornography has any negative consequences must understand just how toxic the situation has become. It may be that a man now in his forties, say, remembers being a curious adolescent, stealing glances at a magazine in a neighbor’s home or in the aisle of a convenience store. As morally problematic and harmful as that act surely is, such behavior was arguably slow to become habitual and the physiological and psychological consequences were infrequently severe. That experience is far removed from what young people face today.

He goes on the discuss briefly some of the scientific research about the effects of pornography as well as the moral and spiritual consequences that he’s seen in his own pastoral ministry. Continue reading

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Context Matters…

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For us, even now in the twenty-first century, we can still be appalled by the filthiness and suffocating pollution in the fast-growing cities of the modern economies arising in the 19th century.  But we forget to appreciate what it meant for people to escape from the wages of medieval times to incomes two or three times the medieval level, as most people in Britain, America, France, and the German lands came to enjoy in the 19th century.

Edmund Phelps (2013), Mass Flourishing: How Grassroots Innovation Created Jobs, Challenge, and Change, p., 52.

h/t: Cafe Hayek.

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Individualist Not Collectivism

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Yuriy Gorodnichenko and Gerard Roland (2010) …. presented a model showing that while an ethic of individualism produces dynamic effects on growth, an ethic of collectivism produces only static gains.  They also found evidence that individualism significantly contributes to long-run growth.  In a subsequent paper (Gorodnichenko and Roland, 2011) they explored the effect that other factors might have on long-run growth and found that individualism was the most important and robustly significant factor of all.

David Rose (2011),The Moral Foundation of Economic Behavior (links added), p. 15.
h/t: Cafe Hayek
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