A Religious Liberal Blog

This site hopefully can provide some vehicle by which I can comment, complain, and once in a while praise the state of religion in this country and around the world from a liberal protestant perspective.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Prager and the Problem of Sin

Dennis Prager goes after student protests in France over a measure which allows younger workers to be fired without cause within the first few years of employment. So he accuses students and by extension socialists, of a range of vices.

Prager takes it for granted that a company should not have certain obligations to their workers. This is the theme of the piece. To expect otherwise is petulance. He juxtaposes this with the US, where our workforce "fluidity" means lack of job security, health care, etc.

My question for Prager; is there any "oughts" when it comes to the economic sphere, where mutual obligations are entailed in this set of social relations? If the democrats are socialist, is there any sort of social expectations in the economic sphere?

If not, one is saying that the economic sphere is a place where there are no moral obligations. To take much of our nation's social relations outside of the moral sphere all together seems to be reflective of a sanguine view of how humans act to one another.

One last thing, the fight for freedom Prager lauds, misses two stories. A christian convert is set to be executed in Afghanistan. And gays are condemned to death in the region. Stating ideals doesn't change realities on the ground, again a failure in taking the human condition seriously. Corrected version 3/24


At 8:27 PM , Blogger Big Red Lance said...

Dwight -

Before I post a comment, I want you to know that you come off as being a very bright person. You seem to be very wise on many philosophical topics.

However, being a graduate student (as I was not too long ago), you have absolutely no clue how the real world works.

Yes, on the surface, America's system of not ensuring lifetime employment *seems* harsh, but trust me, it's the lesser of two evils.

France, for all it's well-meaning policies, has a much higher rate of unemployment than America. Why? Because employers have their hands tied down. When you hire someone, it's nearly impossible to fire them. You also have to commit hundreds of thousands of dollars to someone who is, by and large, an unproven candidate.

Not only that, but because you have lifetime employment, a worker is less likely to leave their job for a better or more challenging job. They have no incentive to.

Socialism breeds mediocrity.

To answer your question about whether or not a society has an obligation to offer lifetime employment to its citizens: the answer is an overwhelming "No."

The great irony here is that most American employers *do* treat their employees relatively well -- offering them fairly good salaries, health care and retirement benefits. Why do they do this? It's not out of the goodness of their heart (although many bosses do care about their employees). It's because, in a Free Market, they must compete for good employees.

In America, most employers are "at-will." The downside of this is that it's easier to fire you. The upside is that -- from my perspective -- the instant I feel that my employer is not giving me a fair shake...BOOM!! I'm out the door. And not only that, but I have a very good shot at being employed somewhere else, too...and probably for a better wage, to boot.

The meanest boss in America is going to give you a better shot at wealth and prosperity than the nicest boss in France.

Soon, you'll be a member of this crazy place called "the real world," too. When you get there, you'll understand what I'm talking about.

At 10:53 PM , Blogger Dwight said...

Being in my mid 30s, I'm not unaware of the real world, though I have my doubts you're painting an accurate picture.

When 45 million Americans are without health insurance, most of whom work, when 50 million Americans are making less than 10 dollars hours, the generosity you're describing is not evident.

Living in a poor rural area, what you're describing doesn't exist. The choice would be walmart or kroger, not the newest silicon valley job. The choice is getting a second job or more to make ends meet.

So yes, we do have less unemployment, but at the costs of creating a large class of working poor in this country and this ought to be something that is the basis of moral critique and action.

The change in the law in France is not one of guaranteed lifetime employment, it's a move from fire some one with cause to a fire at will policy, which US has and it's been devastating to communities and families across this country.

Your suggestion, which is employers are naturally good and there is no need for any corrective action seems to assume that people in generally are always out to do the right thing. I find that hard to square, not just with experience but also with the Christian tradition.

This is not to call out a few people and call them bad, or to malign people individually. It is to suggest rather that the complex set of social relationships which constitute our economy does not provide many avenues for virtue to thrive.

It means that even a good hearted person who loves their spouse and kids and does right for their family can still be engage in a system which does a tremendous amount of harm to people.

But when we remove morality from that area all together, suggesting that blind forces of economic laws trump any other values or moral consideration, that the real world (which the Gospels never define as such) is what should have normative force, we've left something vital behind from our faith tradition.

At 8:07 AM , Blogger prodigal sheep said...

Oh I remember when I was 24, thought I knew everything back then too... LOL

NOT being a graduate student, and being considerably older than Lance, and having built a life and a career now in two different Western countries (Australia and the US), my experience tells me that Dwight is *spot on*.

Prevailing economic and political orthodoxy does in fact assume that there are no moral, ethical or social obligations in the economic sphere. 'Mobility' and 'flexibility' are keywords, although when economists talk about a mobile and flexible workforce what they are really thinking about (in their naughty little minds) is mobility and flexibility of capital. Capital is king, and the workforce is not social capital but rather a cost of doing business.

Having grown up in an environment of universal, affordable health care, strong public education, rational welfare and vigorous democratic debate, I'm one of the millions and millions of non-American western folk who don't agree that America's relative lack of these public goods is the lesser of two evils. Australia, Canada, Britain, Germany, France and so on are vigorous democracies with levels of basic education, healthcare and retirement savings that most Americans only dream of.

If we want to talk about mediocrity, let's start with the United States' appalling level of childhood literacy and numeracy. In this one area alone, America's continuing failure to seriously invevst in sustainable social capital will have adverse affects on the nation's economic prospects for decades to come.

I have come to truly love my new home, America. But one of the most astounding things I've learned about this country is the remarkable faith so many Americans have that this is the best of all possible worlds, while millions of their fellow citizens live in hunger and squalor.

The meanest boss in America is going to give you a better shot at wealth and prosperity than the nicest boss in France? Ask a Wal-Mart cashier with no graduate degree, minimum wage, no health care and a family to support what they see their chances of wealth and prosperity to be. Tell them that their life only *seems* to be harsh compared to that of the Frenchman. Most people would trade pie in the skie for bread on the table.

The real question is, what does it do to the soul of a nation to abandon all sense of a social contract with its citizenry and abandon the weakest to fend for themselves? Especially when the weakest number in the tens of millions? The sad thing is that the political left seems to have given up the struggle and largely capitulated to the interests of commerce.

At 8:53 PM , Blogger Big Red Lance said...


That is a very thoughtful reply. However, far from “spot on” as one of our fellow posters stated. In fact, it has many errors and oversights (50 million unemployed ?!?! That’s not true at all.)

Look, I’d love to sit here and point out the many positive aspects of capitalism and free markets, but I doubt that would change your mind. We both seem very set in our value systems to convince each other to switch sides.

So, instead I’m going to take a cue from Rush Limbaugh and post two things: a short take on capitalism and a challenge to you.

A short snapshot of Capitalism –
Capitalism is what happens when people have freedom.

Nobody invented capitalism. Nobody concocted it. Nobody masterminded it. It’s just what *happens*. People like Adam Smith and Alexis De Tocqueville wrote about it. They observed it. But nobody invented it. It’s just what happens when people are free to make, spend and invest as they see fit…with little or no interference from the government.

Now, I realize that true and absolutely free markets do not exist in our country (nor any other country in the world). The government has its hands in a lot of cookie jars. However, we live in a relatively open society. It gives earners and employers a great deal of freedom. The United States is now, in my opinion, the greatest country in the world.

A challenge –
Given that America is a great nation, find me one example of a nation that has prospered more than the United States by using a system other than Capitalism.

Point me in the direction of at least one socialistic country that has produced more and accomplished more than the US of A.

Most people’s biggest argument about Capitalism and free markets is not that they are worse than any other system, but that it doesn’t produce the Garden of Eden. It doesn’t provide for everyone’s needs at all times, in all places. It produces inequalities.

My argument isn’t that capitalism is perfect. Instead, it’s that the “Garden of Eden” is the impossible dream. Capitalism gives us the next best thing.


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