Garbage Justice

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Martin Luther King (1929-1968), one of our country’s foremost leaders in race relations, is less remembered for his advocacy of the dignity of work.

The City of Memphis is sending a tax-free grant of $50,000 each to 13 retired sanitation workers, plus one more still on the job. This gesture, N.Y. Times (7/26/17) reports, is “an improvised fix to one of the most bitter legacies of Memphis’s labor history.”
In February 1968 two Memphis garbage workers died, crushed in a compactor. Their fellow workers caucused; lamented their low pay; detailed their unsafe work conditions; discussed joining AFSCME, a union; and called for a strike.
As the days passed, threats and confusion dominated the Memphis scene. King went there on March 18th to support the workers. He returned on March 28th for the same purpose. This time violent young adults roamed the streets. A curfew was imposed. King retreated to Atlanta and then to Washington.
King’s advisors discouraged further involvement in the Memphis situation, but he returned there. It is the lesson of the Good Samaritan parable, he said. “If I do not stop to help the sanitation workers,” I am like those who passed by. Aware of threats against him, he preached: “But it doesn’t matter to me now… I may not get there with you… [But] we as a people will get to the promised land.” On April 4, 1968 King was murdered in Memphis.
The city reached a settlement with the workers on April 16th. Some details were hastily left incomplete, specifically about retirement. Thus all these years later, the 14 living workers who participated in the 1968 strike get $50,000 toward retirement.

Back during the 2001 New York City mayoral campaign, candidate Michael Bloomberg made what the press treated as a major gaffe: “Being a sanitation worker in this day and age is more dangerous than being a policeman or fireman.” His point could have been better made, but Bloomberg was correct—more injuries, more deaths. Garbage collectors fall from trucks, get hit by traffic, get cut by objects in bags, get injured or killed as they repair or clean equipment.
Robin Nagle was a driver for a 35-ton New York City garbage truck that she nicknamed Mona. Pedestrians obliviously walk in front of and behind Mona, she writes in Picking Up (Farrar, Straus, 2013). Residents think nothing of throwing out all manner of hazardous material. Plus the complaints.
In December 2010 New York City was paralyzed by snow. Sanitation workers were on the front line of storm clearance. Frustrated residents said that workers intentionally went slow during the recovery, as a passive-aggressive protest about work conditions. Nonsense, Nagle details. “Sanitation pride wraps around many things, but snow fighting is one of the biggest.” To punctuate her retort, Nagle tells about Mona in a five-truck caravan clearing an expressway. After an arduous push down a lane, the foreman led the trucks off a ramp. He gathered the drivers for a very profane pep talk—maybe unaware that one was a woman. The determined convoy quickly went up the opposite ramp and, says Nagle, “we did indeed bust the [vulgar noun that the foreman used for highway], just as we had on the northbound.”

These days health care delivery is a major topic. What two occupations most contribute to the delivery of our health? Plumber and garbage collector.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Wages Part II

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Back in 1992 New Jersey raised its minimum wage. Social scientists David Card and Alan Krueger studied its effects. Specifically, they compared fast food restaurants in New Jersey with others in adjoining Pennsylvania, where wages were not raised—a total of 410 restaurants. Their findings, published in the September 1994 issue of American Economic Review (www.aeaweb.org), showed no decrease for fast food employment and no loss of profit in New Jersey. This study is frequently used to bolster an argument for a higher minimum wage.
Now there is a study from Seattle. The municipal minimum wage there was raised from $9.47 to $11 in 2014. Earnings increased only slightly, the study shows. There was a small drop in employment. Subsequently, as called for in the original legislation, the municipal minimum went from $11 to $13. In consequence, the independent study says, employers cut back the weekly hours of minimum wage workers. The $2 hourly increase for affected workers was wiped out by their lost hours.
What to conclude? Well, first a little more data. There is another independent study of the Seattle wage increase. It, however, only looks at fast food. It predictably finds increase in food service wages. Yet employment in food service remains the same. This is about the same conclusion as the early 1990s study in New Jersey.
Possible conclusions:
 Fast food tolerates wage increases better than other minimum wage sectors?
 A gradual wage increase is better than a sudden jump?
 A state-wide increase is better than a municipal increase?
 The global economy is so fluid that wages and employment vary year-to-year?
Both research teams looking at Seattle note that the matter is not settled. In fact, per the original legislation, Seattle’s minimum will go from $13 to $15. Studies are sure to follow.
There is meanwhile an intriguing experiment occurring in and around Ithaca, New York; located at the bottom of Cayuga Lake and home to an Ivy League school. The Tompkins County Worker’s Center (www.tcworkerscenter.org) has a Living Wage Employer project. It calculates that at the moment a living wage in their area is $14.34. (There are plenty of expert economists and mathematicians around town to keep the figures up to date.)
Any employer in the county can sign the Center’s pledge of $14.34. The employer gets a decal for its window and positive local publicity. So far, 102 employers are in the program. Some are churches, non-profits and public agencies that are sensitive to popular opinion. Others are private employers who are sensitive to their customers and their owners.
The program—here is its unique feature–is voluntary. Of course, just as the Center gives favorable publicity to the participants, it can lobby those employers that do not participate. A related feature of this program is not so much the $14.34, but the process of getting the decals in the windows. The process, The Working Catholic believes, is the real goal. Or say it this way: The process is what creates the favorable outcome.
Ideally the process of the living wage campaign is about nurturing community. Center leaders meet with, let’s say, the trustees of a congregation or the board of an agency or the managers of a private business. The Center explains its program and once the decal is in place, it encourages those trustees, board members and managers to meet and patronize others in the program. Plus, the beneficiaries (the $14.34 workers) are encouraged to shop at stores that are living wage certified. The program is effective to the extent that people feel they are part of a commonweal.
Just as a community is important among those who live, shop and work in the area, so too an internal community is crucial to a worker center. The leaders of a worker center must grow in perseverance and competence, sustained by reflection on their success and failure.
A worker center is somewhat new. It borrows from the old settlement house model, but it is not a place for comprehensive social services. It borrows from the labor movement, but a worker center does not and cannot engage in collective bargaining. It is not a legal clinic, though it knows labor law, immigration policy and more. It is not a multi-issue community organization with institutional members, though it networks with many community groups. Though it helps individual families, a worker center is an aggressive advocacy group around issues related to family life and work. Interfaith Worker Justice (www.iwj.org) here in Chicago serves as a hub for many worker centers.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

Rehabbing Foreclosed Houses

The Working Catholic:
by Bill Droel

I moved into Chicago’s Marquette Park neighborhood in the late 1970s and within seven years bought the home there in which my family still resides. Neighborhood stability and the quality of housing were of concern in the 1970s and with ebbs-and-flows remain so today.
Prior to the real estate collapse of 2008, we were plagued by sub-prime lenders who deceived immigrant homebuyers. Thus, from the late 1990s and into the early years of this century our community organization, Southwest Organizing Project (www.swopchicago.org), made regular visits to those culpable lenders. I recall one Saturday when we went to a storefront loan office on Cicero Ave. bearing a nationally-known name. The manager who greeted us, I was surprised to see, was a young woman I had known since her grammar school days. She had no prior experience in real estate or in banking and thus, unsurprisingly, had no acceptable answers to our questions. On another day, in the company of our local bishop and many neighbors, SWOP took a walk and put a symbol on each property owned by a specific predatory lender. (No, we did not graffiti the property; it was a warning symbol.)
The international real estate collapse of 2008 hit our neighborhood hard. Late that year SWOP, which has 33 institutional members (several churches, a synagogue, a Muslim network, schools and agencies), produced a neighborhood map with a dot on each foreclosed property. Except for the 320-acre park area and some industrial property, the dots nearly blotted out the entire map. (For those who know Chicago: The map covers east of Midway Airport to Western Ave.; from 55th St. on the north to Marquette Park itself on the south. This map, by the way, proved useful to those attorneys representing our neighbors in eviction court. Despite their disgrace from the 2008 collapse, a handful of nationally-known banks continue to haunt our neighborhood with their zombie-like properties.)

SWOP leaders started to think about getting ahead of the problem. They decided to get into the housing rehab and rental business. As a pilot area, those leaders picked what until recent years was called the Lithuanian Corridor, a few blocks within the southeast corner of our neighborhood.
Back when I came to Chicago (the late 1970s) the Lithuanian Plaza was a fun spot—at least for me. Dinner in one of the small restaurants was hearty and inexpensive. A big wave of Lithuanian-Americans arrived in Chicago early in the 1900s. Many worked in the stockyards and related industries. In fact, the well-known novel about those stockyards, The Jungle by Upton Sinclar (1906), featured a Lithuanian-American protagonist. (For an update, get Slaughterhouse: Chicago’s Union Stockyard by our former neighbor Dominic Pacyga, University of Chicago Press, 2015.) In recent years several absentee landlords owned the houses in the former Lithuanian-American area. Then came the predatory lender invasion; a favorite tasty restaurant gave way to a shuttered storefront, other businesses closed and eventually the foreclosed houses appeared. The only remnants of a once vibrant Lithuanian-American community are a motherhouse for Sisters of St. Casmir, Draugas newspaper office several blocks away, a museum over on Pulaski Rd. and a monument in the park.

To meet its initial goal of reclaiming 100 housing units, SWOP sought help from Brinshore Development (www.brinshore.com), Local Initiatives Support Corp. (www.lisc-chicago.org), Neighborhood Housing Service (www.nhschicago.org) and the local affiliate of Industrial Areas Foundation, United Power (www.united-power.org).
In late May of this year my family, along with about 120 of our neighbors and some visitors from other areas around Chicago, gathered in the well-kept St. Adrian Catholic church in SWOP’s initial target area. The purpose was to launch an expansion of the rehab project to eventually total 70 blocks. SWOP estimates a need for $10million to complete this second phase. There was excitement at the meeting when LISC Chicago immediately pledged $1million.

Eviction has spillover effects, as Matthew Desmond compellingly details in Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Random House, 2016). The foreclosure crisis in SWOP’s target section of our neighborhood, for example, was accompanied by private school closings, an uptick in crime statistics and general transience. Thus, SWOP’s challenge of finding $9million is in a sense not the top priority. Hardware alone does not get us ahead; in itself it does not make for neighborly conviviality, for safety, or for educational attainment. SWOP wisely makes a priority of one-by-one relationships and consequently reports some reduction in crime in its original target area and somewhat improved standard test results in nearby public schools. Can the software side of neighborhood rehab continue along with the hardware side? And, is there some way SWOP’s success can be replicated elsewhere in our city? To be continued…

Droel edits a printed newsletter about faith and work, INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629). To offset misinterpretation about our neighborhood, allow me to quickly share that over the first 20 years after our purchase, the value of our home increased three-fold. This period included the run up to the recession; then we took a hit. Now, the property value is back again to more than two and one/half times our original purchase.

Eviction

The Working Catholic
by William Droel

An imprecise distinction can be made between the working poor and the poor; between episodic poverty and persistent poverty; between functional poverty and totally debilitating poverty. Matthew Desmond compelling portrays the downward slide from “stable poverty” to “grinding poverty” in his study of housing in Milwaukee, titled Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City (Penguin Random House, 2016). Although several interdependent factors weave in and around his report, Desmond shows that eviction causes poverty (not the other way around). Further, eviction is contagious—each one dragging relatives and neighbors into deeper poverty. And, each eviction degrading nearby housing and putting stress on nearby institutions.

From one perspective those working poor who slide into deep poverty can be faulted. Some of them abuse drugs; some choose irresponsible sexual partners; some physically attack a partner or friend and some are into petty crime. Desmond is upfront about self-defeating behavior, including buying premium food items rather than staples, investing too much in pets (or in one case, keeping a cat with an asthmatic child), and seeking advice (legal, parenting or spiritual advice) from people who obviously have failed. However, Desmond is patient as he explores the psychology of those on the margin, that tenuous area between working poverty and desperate poverty, between unpleasant housing and eviction.
He finds “a hazy depression” on the downside of that divide. Eviction saps confidence and convinces people that they are destined to be poor forever. Those sliding down are overtaken by small tangible problems and lose any appetite for political agency. A righteous observer, including an elected official or a minister in Desmond’s story, can say that a person is poor because she frivolously spends her money on steak or lobster. The other way around is probably more accurate: The person spends frivolously because she is poor.

Desmond goes inside the daily experience of landlords—vividly in one case. This woman is intelligent and clocks many hours. She is enterprising, acquiring her first 36 rental units within four years. She uses each property as collateral for a loan on the next. She is compassionate in some situations, or so it can seem.
Yet, the landlord welcomes each new tenant to one or another apartment that has a door off its hinges and/or a cracked window and/or serious plumbing issues and/or mold and/or furnace problems. Why? First, as Desmond explains, because landlords (at least in Milwaukee) are “allowed to rent units with property code violations…as long as they were upfront about the problems.” Second, because landlords know it is “cheaper to deal with the expense of eviction than to maintain their properties.” The eviction court processing fee is $89.50. Third, these landlords can sometimes make more money from an eviction (by way of penalties and a lien, for example) than from collecting delinquent rent. This is why some landlords, including one of Desmond’s main subjects, do not screen out apartment seekers who have prior evictions or misdemeanors. Though it is counter-intuitive, there is “a business model at the bottom of every market.” Providing housing for the poor is only a sideline in the model that Desmond details.
The essential character of Desmond’s principal landlord, along with the nature of this business, is gradually revealed. Early in the book she is whining about a tenant who is $30 short on monthly rent. She is more disturbed, however, because of an earlier “bad job for the painting.” The tenant, the reader learns, is disabled. At one point the landlord agrees to forgive $260 in back rent in exchange for painting the apartment. Upon inspection, the landlord reneges on the agreement with a passive-aggressive sentence containing two profane adjectives. Eventually, the tenant is evicted.
What this landlord says about her purchases of foreclosed houses applies to her attitude toward tenants: “You know, if you have money right now, you can profit from other people’s failures.” Yet for all her aggravation and irregular hours, this landlord gains unappealing rewards: a modest home and occasional gambling excursions to the Caribbean.

These predatory landlords, famously including Jared Kushner (see N.Y. Times Magazine, 5/28/17), are impervious to moralizing. They are part of a larger business and a culture that, as Desmond explains, goes back to the late 1400s. In the modern economy “piles of money [can] be made by creating slums” and thereby compounding poverty. Through the detailed stories of a handful of Milwaukee individuals, Desmond opens readers’ minds to the bigger dynamics of real estate and poverty.

Are there alternatives to exploitative rent situations? A subsequent blog will present some positive examples.

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a newsletter about faith and work.

The Working Catholic: Consistent Solidarity

by Bill Droel

Cardinal Joseph Bernardin (1928-1996) of Chicago urged his fellow Catholics to adopt a consistent ethic of life; to honor the inherent dignity of each person from conception to natural death. Some Catholic leaders harshly criticized him, arguing that some issues warranted more attention than others. “Bernardin deserves a fresh hearing,” writes Cardinal Blasé Cupich of Chicago in Commonweal (6/2/17). Bernardin’s articulation of Catholic morality transcends “the partisan political framework” in which so much of today’s thinking is trapped, Cupich continues. In particular, the Catholic principle of solidarity draws together what are often treated “as discrete topics… Solidarity, consistently applied across a full range of issues that impact our human interactions, is required” at this moment.
Not everyone welcomes the implications of solidarity, Cupich admits. It “is a word that frightens the developed world. People try to avoid saying it. Solidarity to them is almost a bad word.” Thus if the word is the only hang up, Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) offers synonyms for solidarity, including social charity, civilization of love and friendship. Plus, as suggests Cupich and Bernardin, the phrase consistent ethic of life captures the same meaning. Whatever the preferred term, solidarity is a Catholic contribution to our fractured world; one which, according to Cupich, can evoke a sense of pride.

But, can it work? Is it possible for a Catholic to transcend our “partisan political framework” and be consistent on public policy?
Heath Mello, a Catholic and a Democrat from Cupich’s hometown of Omaha, recently ran for mayor. Mello happens to be consistently pro-life. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, an independent, supported him. So did a couple of prominent Democrats. However, many Democrats stayed away from Mello, reports Peggy Steinfels in Chicago Catholic (5/14/17), as does Robert David Sullivan in America (5/15/17). Mello lost; his opponent received about 53% of the mayoral vote.
In late April Thomas Perez, chair of the Democratic National Committee, proclaimed that the party would not support any pro-life candidate. Perez made this comment fully aware that Catholics have for several years defected from his party in part because of its seemingly monolithic stance on abortion. Thankfully, Rep. Nancy Pelosi corrected Perez, saying that Democrats are allowed to have differing opinions. Pelosi, of course, is pro-abortion though she is Catholic.

There are Republicans who happen to be Catholic. They too are pressured to choose one over the other on the issues. For example, Catholic business leaders who support a family wage and who want to be Republicans must overcome the prevailing stance within their party. Some have joined Business for a Fair Minimum Wage to express their position. They and others point to surveys of executives and small business owners that back a wage increase, including those conducted by Luntz Global, Small Business Majority and American Sustainable Business Council.
A more accurate Republican counterpart to Mello of Omaha would be a consistent Catholic who, like Mello, is against current abortion policies and also supports the Catholic doctrine on labor relations. Such a person (if one could be found) would have great difficulty getting Republican support for any candidacy.

These examples are not meant to discourage anyone from the challenge of solidarity. Bishops and other Church employees must continue to advocate simultaneously for issues that are usually treated as one-or-the-other, or as one for now maybe the other at another time. It is, however, lay people who must prudently apply Catholic principles in complex settings. Mello gets along fine within the Democratic party with his stance on budget matters, social service delivery and more. Members of his party don’t care all that much if he now and then expresses his general opinion about abortion. His unique opportunity (and his perilous decision) occurred when inside his workplace as a state senator Mello voted for fetal ultrasounds—a small piece of a large debate. Such calculated opportunities can occur for ordinary lay people within their normal setting of family life, the neighborhood, professional association, local precinct, labor local, and—let’s be honest—parish clubs and committees.

Obtain Droel’s booklet on solidarity, Public Friendship, from National Center for the Laity (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $5)

The Working Catholic: Wages

The Working Catholic: Wages
by Bill Droel

The living wage movement improves family life for targeted workers but has little spillover effect on wages, employment rates or poverty in the wider region, concludes researcher Benjamin Sosnaud in Social Service Review (1427 E. 60th St., Chicago, IL 60637).
In June 1993 BUILD (2439 Maryland Ave., Baltimore, MD 21218; www.buildiaf.org) launched what is considered the first living wage campaign. It came out of frustration over the federal minimum wage; fixed at $7.25 since 2009. Many leaders in BUILD, active in their churches, observed growing use of church-based soup kitchens and pantries by the working poor. These church members concluded that minimum wage jobs at $7.25 were not sufficient to escape poverty. Since the 1993 campaign, several cities, towns or counties have enacted an ordinance that requires a living wage for its own employees and those of its contractors. However, a living wage ordinance leaves the federal minimum in place for other workers and, as Sosnaud details, it does not encourage other employers to improve wages.
Thanks to Fight for $15 (www.fightfor15.org) and to several other groups the positives of the living wage campaign are now extended. A national restaurant chain, for example, can agree to raise the minimum for all its workers. And notably, there are campaigns to raise the minimum across the board in specific locales. In fact, at least 37 cities or counties, plus California and New York have a local minimum wage that supersedes the federal. Similar legislation is pending in four more states.
Contrary to the Republican philosophy of local control, several Republican-dominated state legislatures are blocking state or municipal wage ordinances with what is called preemption bills. The pushback includes attempts to reverse existing wage ordinances.

Add a longstanding Catholic term to this discussion: a family wage. This concept somewhat differs from federal minimum wage, living wage and local wage. Saint John Paul II (1920-2005), among several Catholic commentators, defines a family wage as “a single salary given to the head of the family…sufficient for the needs of the family without the spouse having to take up gainful employment outside the home.” Interestingly, even though the family wage principle is found in official Church documents, it is mostly a contribution from the United States. It was promoted by Msgr. John A. Ryan (1869-1945) of Minnesota. See for example his book, A Living Wage, MacMillan, 1906.
Nowadays, Catholic moralists have backed away from the family wage in favor of calls for job training, tax reform, affordable day care and wage increases. That’s because proposals for a family wage sound sexist. In itself the principle does not say only men should work outside the home and women must be full-time homemakers. It does not say that a family wage cannot be supplemented with the earnings of the second parent. Further, it applies equally to single-parent families. In some applications of the family wage certain allotments count toward the total. For example, several countries have a family allowance program in recognition of children as a social resource. These allotments are not related to the family’s regular income; they are not like welfare.

Those who desire justice might focus on one or more issues: real estate practices, civil liberties for gays, social service delivery, criminal court reform, treatment of mentally ill and many more topics. In Catholicism justice begins and ends with wages. “In every case a just wage is the concrete means of verifying the justice of the whole socioeconomic system,” writes John Paul II.

Take a hospital as one example. Its managers and board members are good people who contribute to the wider community whenever possible. Its workers sign-on with eyes wide open. Communication throughout the hospital flows as openly as possible. Employee birthdays are routinely celebrated. The hospital matches employee contributions to a pension plan to a degree. Grievances are treated seriously. There is, all things considered, a minimum of gossip. The wages for some workers, however, do not meet the criteria of a living wage or a family wage. Keep in mind: everyone has good intentions—administrators, supervisors, janitors, technicians, security guards, everyone. That hospital, Catholicism says, is operating unjustly and contributing to an unjust economy… Wait a minute.
Moralizing is counter-productive. The hospital in this example is part of insurance reimbursement systems with rates that don’t always cover the hospital expenses. In fact, our hypothetical hospital serves many poor patients whose insurance is minimal. The excellent doctors and nurses at our hospital are free to take their services to a “competitor.” Our hospital does not control costs for new equipment. In other words, to achieve just wages many sectors of the economy must improve. One executive here and another there can lead by example, but each is powerless without efforts across the industry and maybe around the globe.
Moralizing is worthless. Justice starts this afternoon with a small group. The ripples of justice gradually find one another to eventually form a tidal wave. Meanwhile, tomorrow afternoon another small group devises a plan for improvement and likewise seeks other groups interested in their plan.

Droel is editor of John Paul II’s Gospel of Work (National Center for the Laity, PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629; $8)

Common Good

The Working Catholic by Bill Droel

“Your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care,” says a former Congressman from Illinois. He has apparently forgotten the definition of insurance (a hedge or cushion against risk), which is normally achieved by spreading the cost of a problem (a car accident, a fire, a surgery) among a more-or-less random pool of people. More importantly, this former legislator (now a radio commentator) and many others like him have forgotten an crucial part of moral philosophy.

Our United States culture prizes liberty. It is marvel the way our country’s founders and its citizens to this day have woven liberty into our laws, our civic affairs, our business practices, our expressions of faith and more. This is something new in the long history of civilization. We correctly invoke the virtue of liberty or freedom at sports events, in schools, in discussions of military deployment, in TV commercials, in policy debates and more. Frequently, however, we forget that liberty is a social virtue and that it is part of a constellation of other virtues. Instead, we too often equate liberty with ragged individualism.
Individualism is now the default position of our culture. It says that goodness is achieved when at the end of the day (or the end of the financial quarter or fiscal year) the greatest number of people gets the best results possible. The mechanism is individual choice. The maximum number of choices, says individualism, will somehow yield maximum benefits—though not for all people, but for the most people. This is a philosophy for lazy thinkers. It reduces liberty or freedom to choices or options. Should we install a dish or connect with cable? Should we marry or simply live together? Should we help one another with health insurance or allocate for our own family exclusively?
Individual liberty is an achievement, but individualism, particularly as currently presented by some ideologues in our society, is destructive. Yes to communitarian individuals; no to extreme individualism.

The principle of the common good recognizes that many important things cannot be obtained by individuals. Many good things can only be obtained in common: public safety, effective fire-fighting in urban areas, roads and airports, libraries (including all cyber-research), clean water and access to health care. No matter how wealthy the former Congressman might be, he cannot have all these good things unless he cooperates. In fact, many people never use an airport but their taxes subsidize the airport that the Congressman uses. Many never go to college, but taxpayers underwrote his education. His tuition did not fully cover the costs of running those schools.
The common good, which was always part of the United States experiment in democracy, complements the so-called free market and in fact it makes the market better. The common good is not reducible to the sum total of individual choices. It imposes considerations on those who are expressing an opinion and acting on a calculated choice. If we forget about the common good, we sooner or later lose society.
Of course, the common good does not give wholesale endorsement to the Affordable Care Act. It does not endorse Trump/Ryan Care. Reasonable citizens can reasonably differ about the delivery of health care. In fact, the common good does not even necessitate a health insurance system. Theoretically, normal health care (the requirement of the common good principle) could be inexpensively available to all if pharmaceutical executives, doctors, hospital administrators and others were paid the same wage as their patients.

The former Illinois Congressman, who lists himself as a Catholic, puts the matter of health care delivery under the virtue of compassion. “It is compassion for me to voluntarily help someone else,” he says. It is not a virtue for the government “to forcibly take the money I make.”
Here again, he and many others don’t realize that compassion or love is a commandment or a requirement. It is not merely optional. Likewise, he forgets to put compassion into the constellation of social virtues. For example, distributive justice is the virtue that obligates an authority, like the government, to allocate resources so that all have the common goods.

Extreme individualism is bad for our culture, bad for business, bad for United States image abroad and bad for legitimate debate about government meddling in health care, about tax incentives for domestic job creation, about improvements in education outcomes, about women’s reproductive health, about enforcing the civil rights of gays and lesbians, about reform inside civil service unions, about extraction and use of domestic natural resources. Extreme libertarians on the right and on the left are hurting our society.
From its earliest days, visitors to our country have been impressed with our teamwork, our sense of community, our voluntary associations, our inclusiveness and our collective dedication to the common good. We prosper and pursue our happiness to the extent that we pull together and that we refute mindless comments about “my own health care.”

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a print newsletter about faith and work.

Resentment

The Working Catholic
by William Droel

Following each presidential election, a cottage industry of analysis appears—maps, tables, articles and books. This time around the industry is mansion-sized; it is huge, I tell you. Resentment is mentioned as a factor in some election commentaries. (Though written before the election, The Politics of Resentment by Jeremy Engels is particularly insightful.)
Resentment is unrefined reaction to loss. Let’s face it, things are dying—slowly or maybe quickly. Perhaps it is a fading dream parents have for their children; that their young adults will get a college degree and enjoy a professional career. Perhaps it is a lowered opinion one has for the neighborhood; the past was great, but not now. Perhaps it is the seemingly random illness afflicting one’s spouse. Perhaps it is even awareness of one’s own mortality.
When the grief that comes from such inevitable losses is left unprocessed, the door to resentment opens. Resentment, by the way, is new to the modern age. People have always bemoaned their situation and have long suspected that the rich or the good looking did something bad to have it better off. That is called jealously and envy. But resentment admires up and blames down.
Resentful thinking usually concludes that wealthy families worked hard, just as did those who mined natural resources, toiled in a factory, labored on a farm or tended to a town’s needs in an honest small business. Hard work is a common phrase in resentful thinking. And, according to the original dream, hard work yields success. And when it doesn’t, resentful thinking looks around (but generally does not look up) for a flaw. Resentment blames down. There is, this thinking continues, a group just below people like us that gets ahead undeservedly and even gets ahead at our expense. Left alone, resentment settles into low burn anger, a murky fear, a dragging suspicion. Every now and then it finds expression in the corner bar or at a family gathering. But left alone, resentment is incapable of building an organizational alternative to what feels wrong.
Resentment is like an addiction, explains Fr. Henri Nouwen (1932-1996). It is not an effective posture; it only pulls down. “Resentment is the paralyzed complaint,” he writes. It is parasitical because its anger is directed scattershot at institutions (the government, the media, the environmental movement, the church) “on which you have made yourself totally dependent without being able to do anything about it.”
Of course, local and national figures can play on a group’s resentment by promising a vague alternative to the status quo. However, no lasting reform policy or improved organization comes from the promise, only more alienation. When resentment gels around a public figure, it becomes more strident, righteous and pessimistic. It accomplishes the opposite of what it intends.

Resentment is not the only possible reaction to loss. The alternative is processed grief, creative forbearance and strategic anger or cold anger. It is a deliberate process of naming the loss and doing something good in order to give meaning to the seemingly senseless. It is, as young adults now say, paying it forward. This alternative, perhaps surprisingly, presupposes resentment’s opposite: gratitude. Dealing positively with loss is based on the belief that the world is an undeserved blessing. Gratitude comes from a confident belief that our common life makes sense, no matter how things turn out.
Gratitude, in this context, is not merely the child’s good habit of thanking people for kindnesses. It is not simply politeness. This is a public gratitude. It is a lifestyle, or better yet a culture, patterned on gift exchange or reciprocity. And although cynics do not see it, there is already a gratitude economy and gratitude politics weaving in and out and around our global capital economy. To be continued…

Droel edits a printed newsletter about faith and work: INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Benign Neglect

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

Nearly every business leader agrees with the idea of corporate responsibility, said Stefano Zamagni at a Catholic Social Tradition conference held at University of Notre Dame late this March. To the extent that they know about Catholic doctrine, every Catholic business leader accepts our social doctrine. It would be the rare executive or board trustee who says, “I oppose corporate responsibility.” Or the rare Catholic in business who says, “I dissent from Catholic doctrine.”
However, behavior is different from language, continued Zamagni, who teaches at University of Bologna and who advises the Vatican. Many companies and executives (with exceptions) practice “moral disengagement.” They know how to neglect or turn off true moral standards. In other words, “they know how to make excuses,” said Zamagni.

The default position for business is utilitarianism or simple efficiency. A decision is proper if at the end of each day (or at the end of the fiscal year), that decision has produced more good than bad. Good decisions are those that create the greatest good for the greatest number of people.
“Utilitarianism is not an economic theory,” said Zamagni. It is not an objective morality. A business leader who uses this default method presumes that she can mathematically calculate good and bad outcomes. She brings her subjective opinions to a moral matter.

Here is an example. According to our 1994 Catechism of the Catholic Church, a just wage cannot merely be an “agreement between the parties,” between the employer and employee. Such an agreement, even when signed by the employee, “is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.”
Oh come on, many Catholic businesspeople will moan. The employee exercised freedom of choice. The agreement is binding. Not so fast, said Zamagni. In many situations, including in the restaurant industry or at a bank, the employee cannot freely consent to the consequences of the pay rate because the wage structure rules were made by someone else. Maybe it wasn’t the manager of this or that restaurant; maybe not the local bank manager. But someone else (a multitude of others) brought their subjective opinion about outcomes to the wage structure.
The justice of a wage must be objectively determined, the Catechism says. Even within “the provisions of civil law,” employers can be morally guilty of exploitation in paying less than a family wage.

Here is a second example of moral disengagement. A religious order sponsors a Catholic institution, administered by a board and some executives. None of these people would ever say, “We don’t believe in Catholic doctrine.” Now, let’s say, some employees within the institution express interest in a union. Many of the leaders of that institution suddenly express a negative opinion about unions: “The Catholic doctrine is fine, but the union you are considering is not a proper fit.” Or: “When Pope/Saint John Paul II (1920-2005) devoted an entire encyclical to labor relations, he meant Poland not the United States.” Or: “Our religious order supports workers in Latin America but we know best when it comes to our students or our patients in the United States.” Those leaders (who are exemplary people in their private life) know how to, in Zamagni’s phrase, “turn off deterrents” and assert their calculated yet subjective opinion.

Catholic moral living is not easy because it is not based on what one feels or one assumes or one calculates. It is based on God’s objective revelation—which admittedly has to be applied with prudence in difficult situations.

For more on the Notre Dame conference, check out its Center for Social Concerns (www.socialconcerns.nd.edu).

Droel edits a free newsletter on faith and work for NCL (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629)

Lent Reading

The Working Catholic
by Bill Droel

St. Patrick’s Day fell on a Friday this year. Thus, several Illinois bishops (though not all) and other bishops elsewhere “granted a dispensation” so that the faithful could thereby have corned beef on the feast. (Is there any evidence that workaday Catholics are incapable of making such decisions on their own? I met no such person during my evening out.)
By way of two bishops, here is an alternative to fretting about shamrocks and dispensations. Pope Francis suggests we read On Naboth by St. Ambrose (340-397), bishop of Milan. It is a 32-page commentary on a parable recounted in First Kings 21. St. Ambrose invites us to consider fasting in a more substantial manner than foregoing meat on seven days each spring—only six days if St. Patrick or St. Joseph intercedes.

St. Ambrose does not have to search far in Scripture to conclude that God is not interested in superficial fasting. “The fast that I have chosen,” as St. Ambrose paraphrases God, is to “undo every tie of injustice, loose the bonds of contracts made under duress, set free the broken and break every unjust obligation. Break your bread for the hungry and bring the needy and homeless into your house.”
St. Ambrose continues with a saying that is often reprinted: “Nature, then, knows no distinction when we are born, and it knows none when we die. It creates all alike, and all alike it encloses in the bowels of the tomb.” Go to any cemetery. “Open up the earth and [see] if you are able [to] discern who is rich. Then clear away the rubbish and [see] if you [can] recognize the poor person.”
As for the Old Testament story in First Kings, St. Ambrose cuts no slack for King Ahab, who perhaps had an advance copy of The Art of the Deal. Ahab seems to offer Naboth a deal for his vineyard. I’ll give you either a different vineyard or cash, says Ahab.
St. Ambrose is not fooled. It is arrogance, writes St. Ambrose. Give me, Ahab says. For what purpose? “All this madness, all this uproar, then, was in order to find space for paltry herbs. It is not, therefore, that you [Ahab] desire to possess something useful for yourself so much as it is that you want to exclude others… The rich man cries out that he does not have.”
The First Kings story, St. Ambrose concludes, “is repeated everyday” as we in our dissatisfaction covet other people’s goods.

It is not too late to adopt a Lent discipline. We can try to fast from envy and greed. We can try to be rich in contentment; not only between now and April 16, 2017. But we can practice contentment every day until that day when our last mortal possession is taken to a cemetery to join all the other look-alikes.
It wouldn’t hurt these Lent days and in the coming months to also give something away. Here St. Ambrose has a final piece of advice. “You are commonly in the habit of saying: We ought not to give to someone whom God has cursed by desiring him to be poor.” Or as this is expressed in the United States: We should refrain from helping the undeserving poor. There are no cursed poor, St. Ambrose concludes. There is no divine distinction between the deserving and undeserving. Read the Scripture: “Blessed are the poor, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Droel edits INITIATIVES (PO Box 291102, Chicago, IL 60629), a printed newsletter.