Is Welfare in Keeping with the Norms of Social Justice?
In order to answer this question we must first begin with the starting point of all Catholic Social Teaching; the dignity of the human person. All social action, and activities, between individuals, lesser organizations, and the governing body must seek the common good of all society and of the individual person. The common good is that objective moral standard which takes into account the whole of man and woman in their material and spiritual nature. Thus by its very definition the common good upholds the dignity of the human person. The norms of social justice require that the common good be served on all social levels.
What does this have to do with welfare? Well, the question ultimately comes back to whether or not welfare serves the common good of all society and by doing so, safeguards the dignity of the human person. What follows is an attempt to prove that welfare (at least my understanding of it) is not in keeping with the norms of social justice.
Welfare in this country today does not require the recipient to labor for the goods he receives. Instead based on the amount of labor an individual does not put into the economy, the government provides housing and other basic necessities for that same individual. To labor is to make use of nature by responsible cultivation of it in order to meet our immediate needs. Labor therefore serves the common good by helping the person to grow and develop thereby upholding human dignity. Having ones basic needs met without labor then does not seem to be in keeping with norms of social justice, because it denies the personal dimension of labor which is the opportunity to grow and develop in their personhood and their role of sovereignty over creation. This personal dimension, which is denied in welfare, is an expression of the person being made in the “image and likeness of God”.
Also within the welfare system, the government still retains ownership of the goods it supplies. It provides housing and other basic needs but provides no way for these impoverished to come into ownership of their own property. This too denies the dignity of the human person to whom it is given the fundamental right to the use of earthly goods. This right is the natural foundation of a livelihood, and to that right corresponds the right to private possession of property. Private ownership of property provides stability, security to the individual and again causes the individual to grow in his God-given role of sovereignty over creation. To allow a man or woman use of earthly goods without a real possibility of ownership denies them the dignity that is theirs through the right that is theirs of coming into possession of a small piece of the created world. This does not serve the common good because it gives the appearance of helping individuals come into a share of the economy, and of having their needs met while stripping them of the dignity that comes with doing it for themselves. The welfare system then, cannot be in line with the norms of social justice because it does not seek the common good and can therefore not safeguard the human dignity of the person.
A real welfare system in the true sense of the word would seek the common good of all society and every individual by offering means of employment at a just and living wage so that individuals and families can provide for themselves by labor and thereby come into a share of private property.
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