The world has changed, hasn’t it? All of a sudden we have become aware of the ‘aspiring middle classes’. Many influential Labour supporters seem to have woken up to the fact that they exist. I wonder why they were invisible before or, if not invisible, no one pointed out that ignoring them led inevitably back to a Conservative majority. Yes, I voted Conservative – not because I like them but because I had read Belloc’s lines: “And always keep ahold of nurse for fear of finding something worse.” I had in fact avoided any of the political campaigns (and the commentaries) once I realised that they were an exercise in rhetorical bribery, and bore no relation to the common good.
So what will serve the common good over the next five years? I am not going to write the recipe, but I am going to ask some questions. I hope that our discussion will lead us to identifying some of the essential points.
We don’t have to read far into the Pope Francis view before we come across the importance of the poor. You might say that serving the poor is his premier vocation for the Church. But who are they? We can immediately identify the difference between the third world poor and the poor within our own society. The third world poor suffer from grossly inadequate resources for both food and health. There are pockets of huge overpopulation. There are increasing numbers of refugees and growing populations who suffer under evil political regimes. The poor in our society are by comparison well off. Indeed the standard of living of many of them is better than many of the middle classes back in the 1950s. Nevertheless there remain pockets of gross financial poverty within our society.
But who constitute the poor? It’s not just income. Long term depression is a form of poverty. The breakdown of long term relationships is a form of poverty, for adults and children. The mentally subnormal who cannot cope with the demands of our electronic bureaucratic society are the poor. Many of the old are poor whether they suffer the problems of coping on tiny incomes, or are living in inadequately staffed care homes. You can continue the list.
Are there deserving poor and undeserving poor? How we make that distinction may tell us about our own values. Should the work shy be regarded as the poor? Are those who have blithely spent their earnings on this and that, instead of saving for old age and illness, deserving or undeserving? And how do we make distinction on the ground. Is the bedroom tax a good way of avoiding housing subsidy being met out of our fat wallets? Are the food banks a shame for our society, or a practical way of caring for those pockets of the population who would otherwise slip through the cracks? Is it a good principle for the provident to subsidise the improvident?
The other side of the story leads us to the question of how we best promote a prosperous society. We all know that, without prosperity, the public funds needed for society will not be available. Welfare, the NHS, the defence of the realm and our foreign aid require the fruits of prosperity. Even zero hours contracts (we never complained when it was called ‘casual labour’) are necessary for several types of business to operate profitably.
Can we have prosperity without a capitalistic system? Which modern society has prospered without one? Can a capitalistic society work without giving competitive rewards by way of earnings and growth of wealth? And that means inequality, even though the level of inequality has reduced in our society over the last five years. We are told that the top 1% in this country contribute 30% of taxation. Can we take more without endangering the system? Is Karl Marx’s ideal, “From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs.” a useful guide, or dead in the water?
But there are plenty of other questions and you may think that some of them are more important than those I have suggested. So bring them on. And if you have advice for our new Government, what would it be?
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A note on a potential resource.
Radio Replies (http://www.radioreplies.info/ ) contains nearly 7000 expert replies to questions (many of them hostile) about the Catholic Church. The first three volumes were written in the 1930s, and the last two in the 1940 to the 1960s. The last volume is post Vatican II.
I have had the first three volumes (in book form) at hand for 60 years. They sit in the loo, being well fitted to a few minutes of peace. A great deal of my knowledge about the Church has come from this. Indeed, I started my study when I was speaking to the public at Speaker’s Corner in London. I commend them to you this week because, indirectly, we are looking at Catholic social teaching. You may find http://www.radioreplies.info/radio-replies-vol-4.php?t=63 useful to you here.