I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Why doesn't the minimum wage fit on right wing Catholics' cafeteria trays?

By Nitpicker

By Nitpicker--I've said before that I neither approve of nor agree with abortion, but I simply don't think criminalizing abortion is the best way to solve the problem. It is, I fear, a way to get a bunch of scared 16-year-olds killed.

Because I don't pick up a picket sign and stand outside abortion clinics, however, I'm often called a "cafeteria Catholic"--someone who picks and chooses which church teachings he chooses to follow and which to ignore.

I admit I'm not the best Catholic. I have a sporadic mass attendance record and am terrible about making the Holy Days of Obligation. However, the more I hear from the Catholics on the right, the more I realize that my beliefs are more in line with the church's on almost every other subject than theirs. Like the church, I reject the death penalty. Like the Holy Father, I feel the "preventive war" in Iraq was a sin (and doubly so, since there was nothing, after all, to prevent).

This point was clearly illustrated today by a "discussion" of the Catholic take on the minimum wage at the Corner. An e-mailer asked, "(H)ow does a good Catholic oppose a minimum wage increase?" and, luckily for Jonah Goldberg, the Corner Cultists were happy to tell him:

I am a "good" Catholic ("bona fides" available upon request) and I disagree with a minimum wage increase. If forcing employers to pay their employees a minimum wage is always good - why stop at $7 or $8. Why not $10 or $15 or $25 an hour? Because the government should not be meddling in the labor market to that extent. A person should be paid the wages his employer is willing to part with to get the job done and the employee is willing to accept for his time/efforts. PERIOD...

How could a good catholic oppose a minimum wage increase? Easy-the Church has no teachings whatsoever on the minimum wage calling only for a "just" wage...

Any increase in the minimum wage actually results in layoffs of minimum wage workers (whose value added is minimal, and who therefore are carried "on margin"), and a reduction in the number of slots available to this class of worker. Thus, increasing the minimum wage hurts low-skilled and entry-level workers by denying them the opportunity to work (and hopefully advance beyond entry-level wages). From a social justice standpoint, the minimum wage does not pass muster. On the other hand, bishops are theologians, not economists, and they live in a cloud cuckoo land where there is some objective "just" level of compensation for each job.

Let's dispense with this basic economic argument first and point out that the Florida business community argued a few years back that a minimum wage increase would have "devastating" effects on the Florida economy. The state's business leaders prevented a wage hike passing through the legislature, so the people simply put a minimum wage increase (with an annual, built-in increase) into the state's constitution. The result? Continued record job growth.

The theological stance of the church is also far more cut-and-dried than these Corner writers would have you think. It's true that the church wants workers to have a "just" wage, but it also defines that term.Here's what the Catechism says:

2434 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.
Note that the church's teachings clearly toss out the first writer's argument that acceptance of the wage by the employee justifies a low wage. They also demand that not only should the contribution of the employee be taken into account, but also the employees needs. "Dignified livelihood" are the key words here. Wages which do not provide for such a life are unjust and are considered a violation of the seventh commandment by the church (see 2409).

The question should not simply be how a good Catholic could oppose a minimum wage increase, but how they could support any of the confiscatory, so-called "trickle down," economic policies of the Republican party.

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