Sunday, May 1, 2011

Blessed John Paul II on the Dignity of Work

*This entry is not intended to give a political interpretation of the late Pope but rather to show what he definitely did NOT mean by contrasting what he said with the leftist perspective. Too many times Christianity is exploited by the Left in the Philippines.

When the late Pope John Paul II, who is to be beatified today, visited Legazpi City, Philippines in 1981, he expressed interesting thoughts on manual labor. I quote from this article,

“Do not be ashamed of your work. Be proud of manual labor” – Pope John Paul II

“The eloquence of the life of Christ is unequivocal: He belongs to the ‘working world,’ He has appreciation and respect for human work. It can indeed be said that He looks with love upon human work and the different forms that it takes, seeing in each one of these forms a particular facet of man’s likeness with God, the Creator and Father,” – Pope John Paul II (Encyclical Laborem Exercens, n. 26)

A paraphrase of the late Pope bluntly makes an important point here,

He said the Son of God did not disdain being called a “carpenter” and did not want to be spared the normal condition of every human being.

All form of work, even that of garbage collector or street sweeper is dignified work. And it is dignified because it serves the needs of men. Man must work for him to survive and improve his economic condition.

I point this out because political opportunists in the Philippines use the moniker ‘Christian Social Democracy’ or ‘Christian Socialism’ to deceive the gullible and get new recruits. Theirs is a political philosophy which brings dissatisfaction, shame and misery to the laborers by making the latter think the worker as a victim of some social injustice rather than an acting agent in an economy who has the ability to shape his own destiny. The pride and virtue of work is taken away by the belief that wages are not tied to the productivity of labor but is arbitrarily set by greedy employers and can hence be changed by using the political process and passing legislation.

Nothing could be further from reality. Wages reflect the marginal productivity of workers. The only way to increase wages is through higher marginal productivity which depends on the amount of capital investment per head of labor, among other factors like skill level and education. At the macro level, wages are determined by supply and demand, with the demanders of labor being the employers and the suppliers the employees. The extent to which this analysis does not apply to the real world is the extent to which the government has intervened in the market through various taxes, regulations and licensing. The average private school teacher earns less than the professional boxer because there are much more people who can teach relative to the number of people who can enter the field of professional boxing.

Before complaints can be made against working conditions and wages in a market economy, five things must be considered.

1. Real wages were much lower and working conditions harder during the time of our fathers and grandfathers than they are now.

2. That the number of occupations and employment opportunities available during the past were very limited compared to what it is now.

3. That social mobility in the past was less than what it is now. If your father was a carpenter, then you would most likely end up a carpenter despite your personal dislike of such occupation. Today, there are more opportunities to pursue one’s passion and women are not so much pressured by their parents to marry a man of high status.

4. That the accumulated savings of our forefathers which were invested in entrepreneurial ventures is the sole cause of our higher standard of living.

5. That government intervention (no matter how well-intentioned) can only serve to impede the process of economic, cultural and social development. The amenities of modern civilization such as clean toilets, hot showers, books, mobile phones, and air-conditioned homes are enjoyed by the majority of people despite of governmental activity and never because of it. The inventor of can opener has done much more for humanity than all the welfare programs of politicians combined.

Whether or not the worker feels joy or misery about his work largely depends on his mental state. The ‘grand old man of economics’ Ludwig von Mises lists two joys of work which the socialist ideology destroys.

1. Joy of being productive member of society

2. Joy coming from the aesthetic appreciation of the worker’s skill in producing something valuable

von Mises stated that,

“… anticapitalist propaganda is a systematic scheme for the substitution of tedium for the joy of labor…The worker rejoices in his place in society and his active cooperation in its productive effort. If one disparages this ideology and replaces it by another which represents the wage earner as the distressed victim of ruthless exploiters, one turn the joy of labor into a feeling of disgust and tedium.”

He further discusses,

“The worker begins to hate his work if he becomes convinced that what makes him submit to the disutility of labor is not his own higher valuation of the stipulated compensation, but merely an unfair social system. Deluded by the slogans of the socialist propagandists, he fails to realize that the disutility of labor is an inexorable fact of human conditions, something ultimately given that cannot be removed by devices or methods of social organization. He falls prey to the Marxian fallacy that in a socialist commonwealth work will arouse not pain but pleasure.”

The leftists want workers to feel like they are victims of injustice so that they can be used to push for government intervention which is not based on any economic literacy. This only makes the worker feel unhappy about his work. If one is concerned about the lot of workers, then the first step to forming a solution is to understand the situation. This requires an understanding of economics. Economics grounds our thinking in reality. By informing us of the limits of our efforts to change society, we are more effective in pursuing that change. As economist and social theorist F.A. Hayek said,

"[t]he curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design."

For more info on Blessed John Paul II and his views on social issues, please read the following:

The Pope and the Cause of Freedom


Centesimus annus

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