Michael J. Gerson’s encomium to Jim Wallis’ book on the common good includes this curious paragraph:
Nearly every Christian tradition of social ethics encompasses two sorts of justice. The first is procedural justice: giving people what they deserve under contracts and the law. The second is distributive justice: meeting some needs just because human beings are human beings. This is not the same thing as egalitarianism; confiscation is not compassion. But distributive justice requires a decent provision for the vulnerable and destitute. And this is not just a matter of personal charity. Social justice is more than crumbs from the table; it depends on the existence of social and economic conditions that allow people to live, work and thrive.
Gerson should be applauded for grappling with such substantive doctrines as the common good and social justice. It is certainly brave to do so within the confines of a short opinion piece.
But his treatment of these in the context of this short op-ed illustrate the difficulty of doing so in a responsible fashion. For one thing, the common good is perhaps one of the most difficult concepts to get a handle on in the history of Christian moral reflection. In the end, Gerson summarizes it as “the set of social circumstances that allows everyone to flourish.” We might quibble with this description as not quite getting at the common good as a telos rather than a process, but given that he quotes John Paul II in the previous line, this isn’t that large of a quibble.
We might also note that even though it is commonly associated with modern Roman Catholic social thought, as Gerson notes, the idea of the common good is much more of a catholic legacy of Christianity shared by a variety of Christian traditions. See, for instance, Gerson’s claim that Wallis’ invocation of the common good is “further evidence of the intellectual advance of Catholic social teaching across Christian confessions.” I think this is probably true in the case of Wallis and many evangelicals, and in this Roman Catholic social thought has done a great service in preserving this inheritance and serving as a reminder and inspiration for those who have forgotten the place of the common good in their own tradition’s moral reflection.
There has been ample evidence presented in the past several years to suggest shareholder activism exhibited via proxy resolutions not only wastes time but, as well, corporate funds. And yet, unions and “social justice” advocates such as the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility and As You Sow perpetuate the practice to the detriment of targeted companies.
And, according to a recently released study, this activism also works to the shareholders’ detriment as well. In effect, these proxy resolutions shoot the shareholder perpetrators in their own collective foot by reducing the profitability of the companies in which they hold stock – while simultaneously wounding other shareholders who don’t necessarily share the whole leftist/liberal magilla against hydraulic fracturing, free political speech and genetically modified organisms while advocating for network neutrality.
“Analysis of the Wealth Effects of Shareholder Proposals – Volume III” was released by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Workforce Freedom Initiative on May 2. The study was conducted by Navigant Consulting’s Allan T. Ingraham, Ph.D., and Anna Koyfman, whose analysis of proxy resolutions by shareholder activists concludes:
[T]here is no conclusive evidence of measurable improvements in (short-term or long-term) stock market or (long-term) operating performance in target companies as a result of shareholder proposals. Therefore, we find no evidence that shareholder activism has a positive impact either on firms or on the entities offering shareholder resolutions. (more…)
Update: Acton now has a PDF of this article available. You can download a color or black and white copy of it here:
There seems to be a great deal of confusion about “social justice” and what that term actually means. In order to provide some clarity, and precision, to better understand the concept, Acton Director of Research Samuel Gregg, wrote an essay for Library of Law and Liberty , published today.
He begins by looking at justice generally:
Natural law ethics has identified justice as one of the cardinal virtues ever since Aristotle commenced his treatment of justice with the general notion of “legal justice” (the terms “legal” and “general” being more-or-less interchangeable). By this, he meant comprehensive virtue with regard to relationships with other persons. Justice-as-a-virtue was henceforth understood in this tradition as having a uniquely social dimension in the sense that one of its key elements is other-directedness.
As a virtue, general justice properly understood involves one’s general willingness to promote the common good of the communities to which one belongs. Here the common good should be understood as the conditions that promote the all-round integral flourishing of individuals and communities. Another element of justice which presents itself very early in the tradition is that of duty in the sense of what we owe to others. This is closely associated with a third element: equality. This should not be understood in the sense of everyone somehow being entitled to precisely the same, regardless of factors such as need or merit. Instead it means fairness as expressed in the Golden Rule. Injustice can after all involve doing things to people that entail no violation of any prior undertaking. Robbing someone, for instance, involves no breaking of any freely-entered-into agreement with the person from whom I steal. But does anyone doubt that an injustice has been done?
These three elements—other-directedness, duty (or what might be called rights today), and the Golden Rule—are closely linked and substantially overlap with each other. But attention to all three elements underscores that the same common good which is the end of general justice requires more than simply a broad inclination on the part of individuals and groups to promote the flourishing of others and themselves. On one level, as Aquinas specifies, it is a special concern of the rulers since they have a certain responsibility to promote the common good. But Aquinas also notes that it is a concern of every citizen: that is, those who participate in some way with the ruling of the community.
As keystroke was committed to screen in the writing of this post, J.C. Penney honcho Ron Johnson received his walking papers. This after it was announced last week that the ousted CEO had his pay cut 90 percent– tanking his 2012 salary to a mere $1.9 million from a sum north of $50 million in 2011.
With numbers like that, Johnson more than likely won’t apply for unemployment benefits anytime soon. But his compensation unfortunately will add more fuel to the fire of those proxy shareholders advocating for “say on pay” rules for upper management.
For example, The Nathan Cummings Foundation submitted a proxy shareholder resolution to Caterpillar Inc. that reads: “The shareholders … ask the board of directors to adopt a policy that incentive compensation for senior executives should include a range of non-financial measures based on sustainability principles and reducing any negative environmental impacts related to Company operations.”
According to its website, NCF “is rooted in the Jewish tradition and committed to democratic values and social justice, including fairness, diversity, and community. We seek to build a socially and economically just society that values nature and protects the ecological balance for future generations; promotes humane health care; and fosters arts and culture that enriches communities.” (more…)
In this week’s Acton Commentary, “A Passion for Government Leads to Neglect of Our Neighbor,” I examine how the disconnect between desires and deeds with reference to helping the needy among us perpetuates unbalanced budgets and spending on debt to the detriment of future generations. I highlight how St. John the Baptist came to “turn the hearts of fathers to their children” (Luke 1:17) by exhorting people to look to their neighbors and the small but practical ways they can serve them in love:
During his ministry, John’s message to everyday people, according to Luke, was remarkably simple: “He who has two tunics, let him give to him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” To the tax collector, he warns not to take more than is due, and to the soldier his counsel is “be content with your wages” (cf. Luke 3:10-14). This was “the way of the Lord”?
I conclude by recommending the same for us today. The problem is not that people do not care, it is that we have forgotten with whom responsibility for the work of caring for the needy among us lies first of all. (more…)
Political activism by religious took a relatively new twist during the last presidential election cycle when the Nuns on the Bus initiative hit the road. The Roman Catholic sisters insisted they backed neither candidate, but were vehemently opposed to Sen. Paul Ryan’s (R-WI) proposed budget.
The election has long since been decided, but the progressive crusade of Nuns on the Bus and its parent organization Network continues apace not only on the nation’s highways and byways, but as well in corporate boardrooms. This last is precipitated by proxy resolutions by “social justice” activists who are elbowing their way into annual shareholder meetings, courtesy of retirement funds invested in stocks or tax-deductible stock donations made to such organizations as Network.
On its website, Network asserts: “Gifts of stock are a great way putting the stock market to work for justice!” However, Network’s concepts of justice don’t necessarily align with the faith that all nuns have taken vows to uphold. (more…)
On January 31, the Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility issued a press release, announcing the organization’s “2013 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide.” A quick read of the release and ancillary materials, however, reveals that these resolutions have very little to do with issues of religious faith and everything to do with the progressive political agenda.
The ICCR guide “features 180 resolutions filed at 127 companies” that call on shareholders to “promote corporate responsibility by voting their proxies in support of investor proposals that advance social, economic and environmental justice.”
The ICCR boasts that “nearly one third” of this year’s resolutions (52) focus on lobbying and political spending, with the remainder aimed at “health care, financial and environmental reform.” The release ominously asserts: “Shareholders have a right to know whether company resources are being used to impact elections and public policy, including regulatory legislation.”
Whatsoever the ICCR resolutions have to do with the respective tenets of their member denominations is left to the readers’ imagination. (more…)
MLive asked Rev. Robert Sirico and Peter Vander Meulen, a coordinator of the Christian Reformed Church in North America’s Office of Social Justice, to comment on Michigan’s new Right to Work law.
Meulen says that the change won’t have much impact on the state’s economy but will adversely affect relations between Republicans and Democrats on “just budget priorities” such as Medicaid and energy:
In one fell swoop, with a policy that doesn’t have much effect, we have just trashed an entire future set of possibilities to move forward and have really serious discussions to make life better for the large majority of people. It will be a divided, riven state. The real losers are the moderate progressives like myself and many other people in the CRC (Christian Reformed Church).
In contrast Rev. Sirico believes that authentic social justice is not as a left-wing prerogative, but has to do with liberty that Michigan’s new law promotes:
“The problem is when people hear the term ‘social justice’ they think of it as a set of policy prescriptions, and it’s odd. I think morally sensible, Christian people are going to appeal to principles of social justice. This particular legislation conforms with that because it’s going to advance the freedom of workers to have more opportunities and that, in turn, brings a certain amount of intelligence with it. People are going to make choices based on what their subjective situation is. That promotes a society in which people are going to be better off.
The Michigan legislature passed right-to-work legislation today, a landmark event that promises to accelerate the state’s rebound from the near-collapse it suffered in the deep recession of 2008. The bills are now headed to Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk. The right-to-work passage was a stunning reversal for unions in a very blue state — the home of the United Auto Workers. Following setbacks for organized labor in Wisconsin last year, the unions next turned to Michigan in an attempt to enshrine prerogatives for their organizing efforts in the state constitution. A union-backed ballot proposal was handily defeated by voters in the Nov. 6 election.
But according to some on the Christian left, the right-to-work law is the worst thing that could happen to “workers.” Bishop Thomas Gumbleton, a retired auxiliary bishop of the Catholic Archdiocese of Detroit, argued in an opinion piece that right-to-work “devastates economic justice.” He claims to speak not just for Catholics or for Christians but quite simply for faith communities all over the world:
At the core of Christianity, Judaism, Islam and all great religions are the values of dignity and respect, values from which economic justice and the right to organize can never be separated.
Gov. Rick Snyder’s Presbyterian tradition “affirms the rights of labor organization and collective bargaining as minimum demands of justice.” Similar statements have been made by the United Methodist Church, the United Church of Christ, the Union for Reform Judaism and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, to name but a few. (more…)