Christian Goals in Post-War Reconstruction


By MOST REV. FRANCIS J. HAAS, D.D., Bishop of Grand Rapids

Delivered before the Chicago Meeting of the Catholic Conference on Industrial ProblemsChicago, Ill., February 21, 1944

Vital Speeches of the Day, Vol. X, pp. 392-395.

TO the Christian the goals of post-war planning can be stated simply. They are two. They are Christ and bread. But I do not wish to hide behind such an oversimplified statement of objectives. I propose to break it down, see what is in it, and hold it up before you.

Moreover, it will be necessary to remember that an essential part of the machinery to achieve these objectives is itself included in the objectives. Please do not think that I am getting tangled up in my logic. What I am actually saying is that an important part of the means is actually the end. I shall explain as we go along.

To the Christian the first objective in post-war planning is the acceptance of Christ as the King of the world. Around this notion the Christian arranges his thoughts and on it and on it alone rests his hopes for world order. What is this notion? It is that men accept and be guided by the concept of society that God is the Father of all men, and that all men are brothers through His Son, Jesus Christ. Standing on this solid position, the Christian finds real substance to the expression, Dignity of Man. To him it means something, and that something is nothing less than this, that human beings in every part of the world, have the same stature in the sight of God that he has, are as dear to Christ and are as capable of eternal life as he is, because they are with him brothers and sisters of the Elder Brother Jesus Christ.

From this doctrine the Christian expects each to treat every other not merely as someone to be reckoned with because he is stronger or perhaps to be plundered because he is weaker, but as his own brother through the Sonship of Jesus Christ. To establish this goal is the first task in the Christian's thinking. Surely he is not waiting for it to be established in full outline before he will do anything else, but reasonably he puts it in his thinking as the first goal to be striven toward with all zeal and energy. 1 may add perhaps that there will not be much debate about the need of this first goal, particularly with those who insist that it alone should be pursued and nothing else done. 1 do not belong to that school of thought and therefore will move into the second objective, and advocate certain means to be employed to attain both the first and the second.

The second objective I call bread. Of course I am using the term as a symbol. By bread I mean all the things that are necessary for man's physical life and comfort. My thesis is that they should be produced in sufficient quantity and be so distributed that no one need go without. In other words, the grand total should be enough to go around, and it should be justly parcelled out.

But someone will say: That is Socialism. Now, frankly, I am not much concerned about names. It is what is beneath them that matters. Besides, it may come, as a distinct surprise to many to know that Pope Pius XI in 1931 declared that an economy fulfills its true purpose only when it supplies all the people with all the goods which natural resources and technical skills can furnish. There is no other limit to be set on production of goods and services. The whole passage from the Encyclical Forty Years After is:

"For then only will the social economy be rightly established and attain its purposes when all and each are supplied with all the goods that the wealth and resources of nature, technical achievement, and the social organization of economic life can furnish." (Forty Years After, paragraph 75.)

In a word, the Holy Father says: use all the material and human resources you have, and stop using them only when the people say they do not need any more goods or services. Now we in the United States came closer to that goal in 1943 than we ever did before in history. The volume of goods turned out was nearly three-fourths more than in the previous peak year of 1929. It is common knowledge that unemployment is now almost entirely wiped out, and that we have attained a virtually full employment economy.

This of course was done and is being done under the stimulus of patriotism and common defense. Many are asking, however, if it can be done during war why can it not be done in peace? It will take planning, and the giving up of some of our former procedures and even pet theories, but the very necessity of things will compel us to do it.

Let no one say that the need of full production and the need of full employment have nothing to do with the problem of post-war reconstruction. I venture to say that they have almost everything to do with it.

What are these problems? I pass over some of the mechanical ones, such as taxation, war debts, plant conversion, and liquidation of war contracts, not because they are unimportant or in any sense to be minimized. Nevertheless, they are secondary to those problems directly affecting the great mass of the people, who, unless they are dealt with as people,—and I say it with the greatest hesitation and almost terror—will see to it that it will not make much difference whether or not the others are solved. Conversely, if people are dealt with humanly, justly, and Christly, there is every reasonable hope that they themselves will help to work out the instruments to help themselves. After all, this is the creed of democracy. No less important, it is basic in the Creed of Christianity that every human being has rational soul, endowed by his Creator to make intelligent free choice, and placed under divine command to do for others as he would have them do unto him.

With this said, I turn to a consideration of the enormous task ahead, now and at the end of hostilities, involving the lives of scores of millions of human beings. I shall use the word right in the Christian sense and refer only to that class of rights which a person has to certain things because he is a child of God. Before all else, the returning soldier as well as every able-bodied civilian has the right, that must be guaranteed, to have a job in a useful occupation throughout his productive life. He has the right in city or on farm, to compensation sufficient to secure him and his family adequate food, clothing, shelter, and medical care, and in addition to an increasing share of the goods and comforts of progress directly in proportion as they increase in volume. Moreover, he has the right to security against the vicissitudes of sickness, accidents, unemployment and old age. Still more, he has the right to work and live as a free man under a system that will permit him a voice in determining the conditions under which he works from day to day. Less than these things a man's stature as a Christian will not let him accept. If through force he does accept less, to the extent that he does so, the very image of Christ in his soul is disfigured and outraged. On the other hand, if no man and his dependents are to be denied the full minimum, can there be any question that there must be full and abundant production of goods?

Now let us consider the means that are proposed to get this result. Roughly, they fall into two categories, that of private initiative and that of a democratically organized society. By "private initiative" I do not mean the legitimate stirrings in every man's bosom to get ahead, but rather the modern system of capitalism called "free enterprise." Let me say here that private initiative in the first meaning, when the individual properly directs it, is something wholly good, and that private initiative in the second meaning of modem capitalism, while it has much to commend it, is in need of drastic overhauling. I dwell on private initiative at this point because we shall hear much of it from now until the Presidential elections in November. Realistically, however, "free enterprise" without a considerable amount of help from government and workers' organizations cannot provide for full production of goods and services after the war, or for that matter at any time in the future. For the immediate present it is enough to say that in 1943 the United States Government had $13 billion invested in modern industrial plant.

But the question of individual enterprise is something bigger even than post-war planning, and I should like to spend some more time on it. Back in 1888 E. P. Dutton Co. published a book called Christian Economics, by Rev. Wilfrid Richmond, Warden of Trinity College, Glenalmond, Scotland, consisting for the most part of sermons. The first sermon, which was preached in St. Mary's Cathedral, Edinburgh, is called "Conscience and Political Economy." Here the preacher pulls himself up to the problem, looks squarely at it, and with a touch of regret backs away from it. Let me give you a brief summary. He pictures himself going out to buy some furniture. He says: "With a pardonable desire to make the most of my resources, I make for the cheapest shops. But if I do so what has conscience to say? Suppose I am buying furniture. I do not know what happens in Edinburgh but I know a part of London where men live who are employed by one of the great dealers in furniture, where under pressure, men are employed to work twenty-four hours on end; and I suppose everyone knows that overwork and underpay are regular incidents in the production of cheap wares." (p. 12)

He then goes on to say: "We know the evils of cheap production. How are we to avoid contributing to them? Buying dear is an easy, but in many ways an unsatisfactory way out of the difficulty and it is not much, if at all, a more moral proceeding than buying cheap. How are we to know what is the right price at which to buy, so as not to support oppression and feed on misery? We don't know, and we don't know because to do so is not a generally recognized end. The moral view of so ordinary a transaction does not exist. If I want to buy a particular article or commodity, it is not difficult for me to ascertain where to buy it cheapest, or best, or dearest; but it is more than difficult for me to find out where I can buy it and pay the right price for it." (p. 28)

The "right price" for it! That is the question. Here the preacher falls into a dialog with an imaginary man from the Middle Ages. The preacher had introduced the man by saying that the man had lived under the guild system. "Local guilds," said the preacher, "aimed at securing good work and skilled labor, and enforced laws of apprenticeship. Wages were fixed by authoritative custom. . . . Prices, again were matter of definite regulation, and an assize of bread would fix the price of the loaf, and the proportion in which its size might vary with a good or bad harvest." (p. 2)

Well, this is the man with whom the preacher discusses the "right price." The medieval man says: "We had an authority to fix that. He may not always have fixed it rightly; but there he was." The preacher replied: "Well, we have an authority—conscience; as we believe a better authority in these things than external authority; but our authority does not speak." (p. 29)

There, I submit, is the meat of the whole debate, private initiative versus an organized society. Under the system commonly called "private initiative," decisions are to be left to the individual alone. The expectation is that he will act rightly, but the fact is the authority of the individual conscience "does not speak." Actually, this authority cannot establish justice. Nothing is truer than Robert Burns' line,

"If Self the wavering balance shake
It's rarely right adjusted."

This is merely the poet's version of the old scholastic adage, "No one is a fit judge in his own case,"

Accordingly, I repudiate "private initiative" alone and unassisted, as the formula for reconstructing the post-war world. By doing so, however, I am not compelled to accept the guild system of western Europe in its entirety, especially in its development after the fourteenth century. I do acceptcertain features of the guild system and should like to lay them before you.

The system that I advocate both for each nation and for all the nations working together for world reconstruction) is the system of Industries and Professions set forth in the Encyclical of Pope Pius XI Forty Years After in 1931. Under this system all employers, workers, professional persons—all—would be organized. They would elect representatives from their respective Industry or Profession to deal for them, and these representatives with government representatives assisting and guiding them but not dictating to them, would in actual practice operate the Industry or Profession. Thus the direction of the system would be tripartite. The representatives would be from the three groups —management, workers, and government.

Each industry, for example, all the personnel, employers and employees alike, in the textile industry would through their freely elected representatives and with the guidance but not dictation of government, determine wages, hours, and prices in the textile industry and work together for its common good. The same would be done in steel, transportation, agriculture, and all the rest. Finally, all the Industries and Professions would be linked together on a tripartite basis in a national body. This national body would be made up of representatives of management and workers from the Industries and Professions, with the government sitting with them as guide and friend but not as dictator. The purpose of this national parliament would be to maintain, so far as it can be done, the proper balance in prices and wages among the various Industries and Professions.

This tripartite system is more than theory in the United States. Actually it is being employed with more than average success in several industries, for example in the industries coming before the wage committees under the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, in the railroad industry under the Railway Labor Act of 1936, in agriculture under the Agriculture Adjustment Act of 1938, and perhaps more dramatically under the national War Labor Board. In an address in New York on January 20, 1944, Chairman William H. Davis of the War Labor Board asserted: "Whatever measure of success we have had with these controls [over wages and disputes] has been due, in my opinion, to two things: one the very great pressure of common purpose to win the war, and two, the tripartite character of the War Labor Board. I doubt whether we could have attained anything like so much success if either of these factors had been missing."

I set up the system of Industries and Professions of Pope Pius XI as a means to a goal, but in a very real sense it is a goal itself. Let me explain. Recall that the system is tripartite. It functions through representatives of three parties, management, workers, and government. Now with respect to the representatives of management and government, there is not much difficulty, either to get them or to get them recognized. But with workers' representatives the matter is quite different. Generally, throughout the nations of the world-and I stress the word generally—a combination of employers and government have prevented workers from organizing into Unions, with the result that Unions became so weak that either they have no representatives to send or if they do send them they are not recognized. Obviously, a tripartite system cannot operate as such, if one of the three parties is not present. In connection with the necessity of strong Unions for proper functioning of the tripartite system, it may be pointed out that in the United States even with the vigorous enforcement of the National Labor Relations Act which has taken place since 1935, the total number of workers in bona fide Unions is still considerably less than 25 per cent of the entire labor force of the country. Accordingly, the place to begin to make the tripartite system work with success in the home country and in international relations is to strengthen one of the three members of the tripartite system—labor organization.

To Catholics, both workers and employers, there should be no difficulty about the right of workers to organize in Unions of their own choosing. In 1891 Pope Leo XIII called this right a natural right, that is, something that a man may enjoy simply because he is a man. (Par. 72) In 1931 Pope Pius XI repeated this teaching (Pars. 30 and 37) and used it as the cornerstone of his system of Industries and Professions. Thus it must be clear that Catholic employers cannot without flying in the face of Catholic teaching, deny workers the right to form Unions of their own choosing. Indeed, it is the duty of Catholic employers not only to refrain from interfering with workers who wish to organize, but also to deal with the representatives they choose, and deal with them freely, fully and in good faith as brothers in Christ and as possessing the same right as themselves to eternal life. In this way they will help to bring the goals of Christian justice nearer to their own country and to the entire world.

Needless to add, a corresponding obligation rests with workers. Having the right to organize and bargain collectively through Unions of their own choosing, they have the duty to carry out the contracts made for them by the representatives they elect, and in every way to respect the legitimate rights of management and the general public. Workers no less than employers have obligations as Christians to make the reign of Christ a reality.

In post-war planning it is one thing to know what to do, and quite another thing to do it. The list of emergency postwar things to do is almost staggering—feeding, transportation, policing, sanitation, currency exchange, and a score of others. In a lengthy article on the International food movement in the American Economic Review of December, 1943, Professor John D. Black of Harvard reviews one of the more urgent jobs in world reconstruction, getting food to the hungering millions of the world. He cites the estimates made in 1937 that "three-fourths of the people of Asia and the tropics and a fourth of those of the United States have diets below the standard of health," (p. 793), and analyses with a bit of taunting the claims of the Hot Springs, Virginia, Food Conference of May, 1943, that the conference was dominated by a strong scientific outlook. He says to the point that scientists are not operators, "and getting food into hungry mouths in the next ten years is an operating job." (p. 807)

An operating job forsooth! Who are to be the operators, and what polices will they bring to their tasks? In my judgment the pattern for their selection not only for food distribution but for all post-war activities should be none other than that of the International Labor Office. The ILO functioned as a tripartite body made up of representatives of the three great interests—employer, worker, and government—and although it had only limited powers it has made a remarkable record of progress. In like manner the free nations should meet through the representatives of the three major interests—employer, worker, and government—and delegate to them the task of post-war economic planning. These representatives freely chosen by and from their principals alone can be expected to bring a measure of order out of chaos. If they address themselves to their tasks With the teachings of Christ in their minds and in their hearts they can be counted on to help bring Christ's peace and order nearer to our war-torn world.