Markets are good for society and often achieve optimal and even just outcomes. However, sometimes the Chamber of Commerce or Institute of Directors-style economic liberalism doesn’t necessarily ‘conserve’ institutions such as the Church and the family. Within the United States in recent months, there has been an example of the United States Chamber running behind the backs of its usual allies, and endorsing a notoriously problematic House Bill: The Equality Act.
Many critics argued that this piece of legislation would have a minimally positive impact on business. Many even argued it would be a net negative. Yet, certain groups affiliated with the Conservative Movement pressed on and continued to support it.
These sort of betrayals may cut deep, but conservatives must realize that their alliance with big business is imperfect, and that in 2019 we can no longer expect groups like the U.S Chamber to stay in ‘their lane’ and be pure allies, working with us on the economic issues. In fact, sometimes the extreme deregulatory positions we’ve promoted in the past might have stopped conservatives from actually conserving. No doubt it has raised some questions.
Recently, the Conservative Movement has been engaging with these queries more and more in a frank and open evaluation of the extent to which our policy positions promote the dignity of work. Increasingly, we realize that adopting classically liberal positions, across the board, in many areas of the economy, from trade to labor, may often aid our sometimes friends in large corporations and the US Chamber. But it doesn’t always lead to outcomes that prioritize the common good. A recent article by Senator Marco Rubio in the esteemed conservative journal, First Things built on this.
Sen. Rubio again mentioned the great encyclical Rerum Novarum at length in his article. In it, he pointed to many concerns. He acknowledgeds that in the past private business had provided for highly dignified work, meeting temporal needs in a manner which doesn’t obstruct spiritual aims. But today, circumstances are different. Speaking of large companies, Rubio pointeds out that stock buybacks and speculations rule the day, rather than meaningful innovation and expansion, he also observed that:
“Rather than engaging in real production and innovation with workers here at home—the production that delivers widely shared prosperity—they have sought to reduce their domestic labor costs”
Ultimately, this doesn’t do much to conserve, as Rubio’s articles suggested. During the Reagan era, the Bush era, and before, there was much more potential for Americans to have an honest, fruitful job in manufacturing or retail. Now, success stories from such backgrounds are not common. While many people my age have a parent, an uncle, or aunt who rose up the ranks of the workforce that way, such a paradigm among low-skilled and non-college educated millennials is nearly unheard of. Indeed, companies look to lower costs wherever possible.
It should be suspect, somewhat, that the ‘corporate social responsibility’ fad, which has brought certain business groups to endorse onerously titled bills claiming non-discrimination supports such bills. After all, the beneficiaries clearly aren’t going to be the people liable to have children and demand compensation appropriate to raising a family comfortably. In fact, the beneficiaries are likely to remain single, or in a two-income household for life; far longer than in a traditional family context..
Even more troubling, is something I wrote about a few months ago: a letter signed by hundreds of companies endorsing one specific practice. It opened: “When everyone is empowered to succeed, our companies, our communities and our economy are better for it.” Yet, it didn’t endorse parental leave. Rather, it was a troubling endorsement of abortion. I do not believe that the fast-fashion companies and boutique cosmetic companies signing this letter had any measurable interest in actually promoting dignity of work. In fact, the letter says quite the opposite: “don’t have children who will be another mouth to feed for us.” By removing extra children from the equation, a factor is removed that would drive costs up, and reduce employee availability. The thesis here is morally dubious at best, but is actually fully pernicious.
In conclusion, Conservatives and Catholics shouldn’t cast aside the great goods and blessings of the market. But there is enough evidence that we need to bring our society in line with principles of subsidiarity and solidarity. The Rerum Novarum philosophy of Grover Cleveland and Leo XIII’s time hasn’t been made archaic by the rise of individualism. Rather, it is more relevant than ever. We must realize that in a hierarchy of social and economic relations, all those doing true work should be given dignity and respect befitting their office, from the least experienced fast-food worker, to the most eminent executive. Christians should look at supporting pragmatic and sensible labor politics, like Solidarinost did in Poland, or the original Anti-Socialist Unionists did in America. This should be done to find alternatives to increasingly radical organizations like the National Nurses United (which has been largely silent about conscience protections for pro-life nurses) and the SEIU
But even more so, we need to fight for life. Contrary to what leaders in liberal Catholic/Christian political circles have held as true, ‘seamless garment’ is a cop-out at best, and fraud at worst. When we are willing to compromise on the most serious of life issues, like those anti-confrontationalists and libertarians on the right are, we lose more and more social ground and stability. Life must always come first, if we want human dignity to follow.
Policy proposals on the political Right from Hungary to the United States bear great promise to reorient conservatism in a traditional and dignity-centered direction on work. Bolstered by a strong-life movement, this helps conservatism draw closer to just and righteous governance over society and the economy, placing a priority on faith, family, and stability.