The Welfare System

A thorough reform of the nation's welfare and income-support programs should be undertaken. For millions of poor Americans, the only economic safety net is the public welfare system. The programs that make up this system should serve the needs of the poor in a manner that respects their dignity and provides adequate support. In our judgment, the present welfare system does not adequately meet those criteria.(Economic Justice 210).

Political Exploitation Index

Although the position of this paper is that until something is done in regard to the structures of sin identified herein, the commitment to the welfare system must be maintained, this need should not blind our vision so that we do not see this system for the structure of sin which it is. Problematic aspects include: (a) benefit levels are set so low that recipients can barely survive, (b) an adversarial attitude towards recipients, as though they were the enemies of society, (c) it does not protect human dignity, (d) many people fall through the cracks and are not covered by the system. Welfare policy has focused solely on structure, and thus in its own way has been as imbalanced as the system now being imposed on the poor, which focuses only on personal issues and poverty. The system is thus going from bad to cruel. May God save the poor from the liberal, conservative, and moderate social engineers.

Hear the word of the Lord, O house of David! Thus says the Lord: each morning dispense justice, rescue the oppressed from the hand of the oppressor, lest my fury break out like fire which burns without being quenched because of the evil of your deeds. Jeremiah 21:11-12



12. The Corporation

The regulations legally enacted for corporations, with their divided respon-sibility and limited liability, have given occasion to abominable abuses. The greatly weakened accountability makes little impression, as is evident, upon the conscience The worst injustices and frauds take place beneath the obscurity of the common name of a corporative form. Boards of directors proceed in their unconscionable methods even to the violation of their trust in regard to those whose savings they administer. In the last place must still be mentioned the unscrupulous but well-calculated speculation of men who, without seeking to answer real needs, appeal to the lowest human passions. These are aroused in order to turn their satisfaction into gain (Quadragesimo 132).

Archbishop Weakland of Milwaukee has said that a critical issue for the modern world is how to "wrest control" over economic and political decision-making from corporations ("Urban" 361). Pope Paul VI in Octogesima Adveniens expressed concern about the growing power of transnational corporations. Clearly, this form of economic organization (which has only been dominant since the end of the 19th century, Dorr 93) posits a challenge to Catholic social teaching.

Proponents of liberal capitalism are quick to extol the virtues of the free market, but they are not so quick to condemn government subsidies of market structures. Perhaps the most important feature of this government program of Aid to Dependent Corporations is the corporate legal structure itself, in particular, the "corporate shield of liability," by which the owners of a corporation are legally limited in the amount of liability they incur as owners of the business enterprise. The effect has been to separate ownership, management, and workers, so that it isn't always exactly clear who is responsible and accountable in the enterprise. This facilitates and enables the creation of huge transnational corporations, who have most of the rights of human beings (and then some), without corresponding responsibilities and duties to go with these advantages. This problem was noted as long ago as Quadragesimo Anno. In the modern era, we can ask ourselves what kind of morality is being espoused by U.S. corporations that export jobs to foreign markets, seeking places where they can pay the absolutely lowest wages possible, places where employees can be physically abused in order to increase productivity? What kind of a person is it who wants somebody to work for him or her at less than a dollar a day, and who hires overseers to beat the employees to encourage them to work harder? These are the American economic elites, at play in the world at large, unwilling to assume any social responsibilities for their actions. Every American who purchases products made by slave labor in the factories owned by American corporations overseas partakes in the guilt of this system (Herbert "Nike's Boot Camps").

The question that must be asked is whether it is proper to allow human beings to join business gangs and then limit their liability for their mistakes. The historical judgment, this paper asserts, must be that this is a bad idea. Economic data show that throughout this century, there has been a decline in single proprietorship and entrepreneur income, and a corresponding increase in corporate income and labor income (Bayer 45). In the early 1900s, entrepreneur income was over 25% of national income, now it is 6.8%. This implies that over time, many small operators have been converted into employees of corporations. The judgment of Catholic social teaching, however, is that these small operators are important factors for the economy and civil society. Their absorption into corporate structures is a step back in time, towards feudalism, and seems to violate classical liberal economic principles as well as subsidiarity.

The welfare reform crusaders are quick to shout personal responsibility at welfare recipients. Charles Murray in Libertarian says that the "First Law of Libertarian Reform" is that "Every increase in freedom of action must be matched with a corresponding increase in responsibility for consequences" (Libertarian 139). In Losing Ground, he says that "denying personal responsibility" for behavior has had a bad effect on the poor. But he is not very quick to give the same advice to the stockholders of corporations. There the idea seems to be that they should be allowed to make as much money as they want, without corresponding increases in their personal liability and risk in exchange for their reward (even though this sounds suspiciously like the kind of behavior he is condemning among welfare recipients).

Murray is quick to demand that everybody should play by the same rules, at least, when it suits his purposes (Losing Ground 221-223). But what is sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. The corporate shield of liability means that corporations and their stockholders get a privileged place to play. Although the government has enabled the economic freedom of corporations, it has not mandated a corresponding increase in responsibility to go with the freedom (this would seem to violate Murray's Laws). This situation is a creation of powerful men who wish to escape the liability and minimize the risk of their economic actions. Its primary effect over time seems to be the creation of transnational corporate mega-empires that suppress human dignity and swallow up small-scale enterprise and increasingly, their economic power is dwarfing that of some countries. This unnatural and socially dangerous "shield of liability" is a structure of sin that enables oppression of the poor.

God humbles those in high places, and the lofty city Adonai brings down; God tumbles it to the ground, levels it with the dust. It is trampled underfoot by the needy, by the footsteps of the poor. Isaiah 26:5-6