An American View Of Social Reconstruction
Christian Social Reconstruction, by Dom Virgil Michel, 0.S.B. (The Bruee Publishing Company, Milwaukee, agent Coldwell, 5s. 6d.)
Reviewed by J. L. BENVENISTI
This is an admirably arranged exposition of the principles of Quadragesimo Anno, certainly the best thing of its kind that the present reviewer has seen. The arrangement is under the following heads: Social Justice, Private Ownership, Wages and Labour. The Dictatorship of Finance, Socialism, The State and Economics, The Corporative Order, Social Regeneration, The COMFT1On Good.
Perhaps the most valuable and thoughtprovoking chapter is the tirst in which the writer sets out to define the concept of Social Justice, There is, however, one question that Dorn Virgil Michel leaves unanswered and it is one which badly needs answering.
He writes: "By reason of the benefits each individual receives as a member of society, there imposes upon him the moral obligation in turn to give back to society in proportion to his abilities and opportunities, or in other words the obligation of rendering social justice."
Now if it is of the essence of social justice to render back to the best of one's ability an equivalent of what one has received, is it permissible for any person to deliberately to seek a gain for which he is not in a position to render an equivalent? In other words is pure profit moral in the strict sense of the term, i.e., a payment in excess of the cost of the othing traded (including the cost of the wage or stipend for any service rendered in connection with such trading)?
Is it permissible by advertising or in any other manner deliberately to entice another person to give you more for a thing than it has cost you to make and transport it to him n (including the cost of your own time)?
More important still, is it permissible to hold back needed wealth simply because the would-be acquirer of that wealth cannot or will not give you more than your cost?
To answer that in the negative is to condemn the whole profit economy of Capitalism. Yet I am quite unable to see how any other conclusion is to be deduced from Dom Virgil Michel's words with which I hasten to say, I cordially agree.
In the otherwise excellent chapter on the Dictatorship of Finance, Dom Virgil Michel falls in my submission into a very common error—that of confusing money with the far more important reality behind it, which is the irresponsible ownership of wealth. What causes poverty is not our faulty monetary system, but the monstrous claim of money owners (together with the owners of other capital instruments) to immobilize their wealth simply because they see no chance of exacting purely tributary payments from the community. Admit this right on the part of money owners and admit their complimentary right to have the immobilised money more or less at call and no monetary system in the world call make us any better off.
A very pleasing (and typically American) feature of this book is that Dom Virgil Michel illustrates his points with examples from contemporary industrial and financial life. Moreover, he names names and states facts with a frankness that has been quite absent in the corresponding works of English Catholic writers—or at any in those which bear, as this book does, the episcopal " Imprimatur." It is to be hoped that the practice will spread to this country. There
are certain chain and department stores whose methods could well he pointed to as illustrating certain passages in Quadragesinto /law.
1 was very glad to sec that in enumerating the various groups and organisations which constitute some of the typical Men of Goodwill within the meaning of the Encyclical, the English Distributist movement and its organ, G. K.'s Weekly, is given priority of place and so presumably of honour in this American publication.
The book has an excellent index.