Wednesday, October 28, 2009

The Priority of Labor

Boethius has written a lot of worth responding to. At the risk of repetition, let's pick up on this business of the priority of labor over capital one more time.

Boethius, speaking with the Church, is certainly correct in one sense: we can have labor without capital but we cannot have capital without labor therefore labor is literally first. But as I argued in a prior comment, most contemporary thought on about this topic is about the ethics of compensation: how much labor gets vs. how much capital gets.

But even if we accept this to be an error, the train of thought is still interesting for me at least. The idea is that the material goods of the world are ordered to human welfare. Labor, having priority, is more fundamental to human welfare than capital therefore it must be compensated at the expense of capital if necessary. What's interesting about this is that if even if some of the Left's premises are faulty, not all of them are. In particular, I have no problem conceding to the Left that the goods of the world are properly ordered toward human welfare.

But there's something of a paradox that says that if property that is held privately serves public ends better than property that is held publicly. But paradox or not, that's what the history of the last 150 years or so tell us very strongly. There are substantial costs in trying anything else.

1 comment:

Boethius said...

It seems to me, at first glance, that the problem here is the idea that labor and capital, especially as monikers for classes of persons, must be in competition is already a concession to a socialist state. Let em explain: what are they competing for? Compensation. From whom? I suspect for most people who talk about this problem, the compensating body is the state, which confiscates huge amounts of wealth from both parties. The problem perhaps is the problem of the redistribution of wealth. In a freer market, capital would make labor easier and more profitable, with a return on investment, meaning everyone works together, everyone wins. The difficulty, and we will take this up as it appears in the social encyclicals, is that human inclination to greed, dishonesty and sin generally is generally to the disadvantage of the 'labor' class, since they tend to be less powerful. In a just society, how do we give incentives for capital to invest fairly, and how do we sanction unjust behavior? And of course this applies, usually at a much lower level, to the good and bad inclinations of workers as well.