Minimum?


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This is a troubling Tea Party meme, one that claims you’re lucky to get the “minimum” you already have because you ARE “minimum” – in terms of skills, education, motivation and contribution to the workplace.  So (in effect) – once you are defined as “minimum” – shut up and don’t complain, and be happy with what little you’re already getting!

But in whose estimation is someone being labelled here as “minimum”?  Answer: those who are making the rules – i.e., not those who are being paid a minimum wage!  Is that valid?

This meme is also disingenuous: it confuses an outsider’s valuation of the worth of an individual (which is not a valid valuation – would you want me or anyone else to judge your worth as a person?) with the value of the labor they contribute.

Suppose – just suppose – that someone actually is “minimum” as claimed here.  Does that mean they aren’t allowed to earn a decent living?  Who judges?

This type of controversy goes back at least 1600 years, to the “Donatist Controversy” among early Christian churches in Northern Africa: if a member of the clergy baptizes you, and is then later proved to be “unworthy” in someone’s estimation – does that mean your baptism is invalid, and that your hope of salvation has been lost?  Of course not.  Besides, suppose you’d died before it was discovered your baptizer was unworthy – that gets messy.  So, the sacrament of baptism – or any other sacrament for that matter – has value regardless of the value of the person performing the sacrament, as long as the person receiving the sacrament does so in good faith.  This principle can be found in the marriage laws of every state (that I know of) in the US today – your marriage’s validity is never at risk just because the clergyperson who officiated is later judged to be unworthy or fraudulent in some way.

So, the issue is not “who is worth more” as this meme misleadingly claims, but whether a fair day’s work is worth a fair day’s pay.

If you are willing to pay for a product or service, then that service or product has value to you, independent of the worth of the producer – no matter who is judging.  Therefore, the person who is producing that service or product deserves to be fairly paid for the work they put into providing that product or service to you.  You can argue what (and how much) “fairly paid” means, but the validity of the producer as a person is not part of the conversation, unlike what this meme claims.

In the end, everyone needs to be able to make a decent living – no matter who they are, or else they wind up costing us lots of money and grief in many other ways.

So, why the hell should you “pay more”?   (Assuming there actually is a discernible cost to you.)   Because you are a human being, just like every one else…

Copyright (c) 2014, Allen Vander Meulen III, all rights reserved.  I’m happy to share my writings with you, as long as you are not seeking (or gaining) financial benefit for doing so, and as long as proper credit for my authorship is given. (e.g., via a credit that gives my full name and/or provides a link back to this site – or just email me and ask!)

Author: Allen

A would be historian turned IT Professional who responded to the call to the Ministry, and is now focused on social justice and community service. He is a father of two (ages 28 & 7). He and his wife enjoy life near Boston. You can follow Pastor Allen on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/PastorAllenV/ or on Twitter @allenvm3.

3 thoughts on “Minimum?”

  1. >>So, the sacrament of baptism – or any other sacrament for that matter – has value regardless of the value of the person performing the sacrament, as long as the person receiving the sacrament does so in good faith.

    No, that is not true (at least if you are purporting to speak to the Catholic understanding of the sacraments, or you reduce “value” to a virtually meaningless term in respect of the objective grace of the sacrament). But I understand you are not Catholic, and so I understand that you are not looking at this from the matter of Catholic Social Thought or Catholic sacramental theology.

    >>This principle can be found in the marriage laws of every state (that I know of) in the US today – your marriage’s validity is never at risk just because the clergyperson who officiated is later judged to be unworthy or fraudulent in some way.

    The analogy does not hold — marriage laws are sanctioned by the State — if a person (say a fraudulent clergy, someone claiming to be a judge, etc) does not have the State authority to witness a marriage then the marriage is indeed null on a civic level, and the marriage would probably not enjoy the presumption of sacramental validity.

    I think your whole attempt to find an analogy to the problem of the value of the person through Donatism and the Church’s sacramental theology is deeply problematic, and does not at all serve your intention.

    >>You can argue what (and how much) “fairly paid” means, but the validity of the producer as a person is not part of the conversation, unlike what this meme claims.

    That is not what the meme is claiming — it is speaking only and specifically to the economic value of the labor, not the existential value of the person doing the labor.

    I wonder how you can argue the converse: you have two candidates for a job with fixed resources: one has strong work skills and work ethic, the other does not; one has experience and training in the job, the other does not; one works diligently to get the job done in a timely and competent manner, the other does not. Both have equal dignity as persons. Do you pay them both the same?

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  2. BTW, Allen, just to clarify the above comment about baptism with the other sacraments: baptism may be administrated by anyone with the proper intention to do what the Church intends with the proper Trinitarian baptismal formula and the use of real water– even a non Christian may validly baptize in extraordinary and dire cases, but it is proper to be received into the Church by a minister ordained to do so (bishop, priest, or deacon).

    Can. 861 §1 The ordinary minister of baptism is a Bishop, a priest or a deacon, without prejudice to the provision of can. 530, n. 1.

    §2 If the ordinary minister is absent or impeded, a catechist or some other person deputed to this office by the local Ordinary, may lawfully confer baptism; ****indeed, in a case of necessity, any person who has the requisite intention may do so.**** Pastors of souls, especially parish priests, are to be diligent in ensuring that Christ’s faithful are taught the correct way to baptize.

    Can. 862 Except in a case of necessity, it is unlawful for anyone without due permission to confer baptism outside his own territory, not even upon his own subjects.

    This does not have anything to do, either directly or indirectly, with the “value” of the person. I understand that we hold differences in sacramental theology, and presumably even the number of sacraments, so I don’t want to speak to cross purposes; only to clarify a Catholic understanding of what you said.

    Peace,

    Steve

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  3. Steve:

    I think we’ll continue to disagree on many of the finer points, despite general agreement on the overall issue. I’m cross-posting our thread discussing this post (on Facebook) below, as it has a number of good points from you and (I hope) myself as well…

    Peace!

    – Allen

    Allen Vander Meulen: Thanks for taking the time to read my screed, Steve. However, my primary point is that you can argue what (and how much) “fairly paid” means, but the validity of the producer as a person is not part of the conversation, contrary to what this meme presents. So, it seems that you and I read this meme very differently. (And yes, I’ve often heard these exact sentiments from many who self-identify as “Tea Party” folks. Also, as far as I know, the Tea Party has no public decision-making body for determining doctrine or platform statements. After all, it is a “movement,” despite the “Tea Party” moniker.)

    Steven Schloeder: OK, Allen– though I do think my last question is very pertinent to this thread and the topic for this group. At some point the rubber meets the road where people make specific decisions about what constitutes a just wage given market forces and business models in this vale of tears.

    We necessarily value the labor contributions of people according to perceived value of how they add value, and in business this is translated primarily into wages and benefits, without in any way making judgments on a person’s existential value as a human being (which is theologically infinite, but no one is going to pay that much for my services).

    Allen Vander Meulen: Agreed, Steve. Communism has proven that trying to create a system where merit and capability are not [adequately] recognized in economic terms simply does not work. I’d also say – and I think you’d agree – that a “minimum wage” is not a very good standard. There are simply too many “soft” considerations and value judgments that go into setting it – there’s no formula that will give you a clear “correct” value for it. Also – “just” and “minimum” are not the same thing. in my mind, if someone were simply too lazy to hold a job, should they earn a wage at all – regardless of whether they’re a CEO or a janitor? And, does society have a duty to support them in spite of their refusal to work? I think not, and that’s “just” – no willingness to work, no pay. I think another point – and, now that I think about it, the major point – that galls me with regards to this meme is that it implies that those who earn minimum wage are “minimum” in every sense of the word – it uses a very broad and incredibly judgmental brush to paint a picture for us of who “minimum wage earners” are, then turns around and uses that label to justify not considering and responding to what it really takes to survive in this economy for anyone who is a minimum wage earner.

    Steven Schloeder: >> I’d also say – and I think you’d agree – that a “minimum wage” is not a very good standard.

    I agree. The Church does not speak of minimum wage, but rather terms such as just wage, living wage, sufficient wage, family wage, etc.

    >> that it implies that those who earn minimum wage are “minimum” in every sense of the word

    I don’t read it as that. If we don’t want to have a minimal human existence we are morally and existentially called to seek to improve ourselves. We do so by training, by developing lives of virtue, by taking opportunities as they are made available, by work and initiative and extending ourselves to the broader human community, by engaging in mutually healthy relationships, etc.

    The human person has massive potential, and has a moral and theological obligation to God and the rest of society to work toward one’s own integral development along with promoting the integral development of the whole of society. There is a basic anthropology underlying that sentiment in the meme which is not the least bit condemnatory but rather a challenge built upon a heroic vision for the human person.

    Allen Vander Meulen: Two thoughts regarding your most recent comment on this thread, Steve: First, your final paragraph assumes a perfect world, which this isn’t. The obligation to work towards one’s own (and society’s) integral development works only when both society and the individual recognize and do their best to fulfill their obligations towards each other. Many of those classified as “unmotivated” “uneducated” and “unskilled” are categorized as such because they have given up on a society that persistently presents them with a message of “you are worth nothing to us” and refuses to give them opportunities to grow. Therefore, it seems to me that a minimum wage is a useful mechanism, though a far from perfect one, for restoring some of that balance. The same could be said for many of the programs put in place in the 1960’s to try and reverse the effects of racism. As for the sentiment in the meme that you portray as “a heroic vision for the human person” – OK, I can go with that, but there needs to be balance there, too. My biggest beef with Libertarianism is that it tends to emphasize individual liberty to the exclusion of the best interests of society and the institutions society creates to promote both the interests of society as a whole and of the individual. Balance is needed, which is what Christianity is all about, after all: recognizing that both the individual and the society need each other, and that both have responsibilities to each other and to God. Agreed?

    Steven Schloeder: >> First, your final paragraph assumes a perfect world, which this isn’t.

    No it does not. It understands the way forward in a fallen world. If there were a perfect world there would be no need for politics or economics. CST works in the real world of society and the observable human condition.

    >> The obligation to work towards one’s own (and society’s) integral development works only when both society and the individual recognize and do their best to fulfill their obligations towards each other.

    No, it works best there, but the primary control in any person’s development is that person him or herself and those in immediate relationship with the person. Society, let alone “government” does care a whit for you, me, or anyone — it is a numbers game of public policy and we are only economic units and social atoms before the State. Society’s interest is properly the general, public, and common good — not your personal good.

    That said, per CST, both the person and the State (along with all intervening social structures such as unions, guilds, companies, etc) have a moral obligation to work in respect of the common good while seeking their individual and private goods in justice.

    >>Many of those classified as “unmotivated” “uneducated” and “unskilled” are categorized as such because they have given up on a society that persistently presents them with a message of “you are worth nothing to us” and refuses to give them opportunities to grow.

    There is a complete difference between unmotivated from uneducated/ unskilled. You cannot just sweep these three together. There are also folks who have better advantages from stable families where the biological parents are both present and involved (there was some recent study that indicated this was the single greatest factor in reduced poverty and incarceration — seems way too obvious to require a study), yet our society systematically fails to support the natural family and the role of the parents are the primary educators.

    Society (and to rephrase) does not ever value the person per se, only the mass of people. It simply cannot and ought not because then justice become particular and stops being justice. This however shows why healthy societies require strong local webs of relationship to support the person and the family — people are only truly valued in relationship, not on some abstract level of “public policy”.

    > My biggest beef with Libertarianism

    Yeah, I’m not a libertarian at all, and most libertarians (in my experience, anyway) really do want a true common good, they just see that massive governmental intrusion into every area of human transaction is the wrong way to go about it.

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