Humane Economy


Does this sound like your workplace?

Germans are a lot more sensitive about their working conditions unlike most other countries including the United States. However, German work laws are quite restrictive, allowing employees many perks that people could only dream of in other nations.

For example, every German worker is entitled to 30 days of paid vacation a year. The German workweek is a maximum of 40 hours, and most of the time it is between 35 and 37.5 hours. Every hour of overtime could be taken as extra vacation or compensation later.

German employees cannot get fired from a job, unless they commit mistakes or the company goes bankrupt. Even when a company decides to fire someone, they usually get a three-month notice so that they could have time to look for a new job.

In Germany, it is illegal to work two full-time jobs at the same time, and if a full-time employee wants to have a part-time job, he needs to get permission from his workers’ council and manager. It is common that managers in German companies are often confronted and sued by workers’ council if they make their employees work overtime.

In Germany, when a female employee gets pregnant, she is not allowed to work the eight weeks before the expected birth and during this time she will get her full salary. Up until one year after the birth, a woman will receive 66 percent of her salary, if she decides to stay at home. If a woman has a permanent job contract and decides to stay home for three years after the birth of her child, the company is required to keep her job place secure. However, after the first year, she will no longer receive 66 percent of her salary, but will only get 184 euros in Kindergeld (child allowance) per month until the child is 18 years old.

To make matters more equal in Germany and to encourage fathers to take care of children, the same rules apply to fathers. Many couples interchange their roles, as women take the first six months off, and then as a baby gets older, the father will take the remaining six months off and stay at home.

If, after pregnancy a woman decides to work part time, a company cannot deny her request and by law will provide her convenient working time ranging anywhere from 5 hours to 40 hours per week.

Are these economy killing regulations?

Although it seems that Germans wouldn’t produce much with such restrictive working laws, the opposite seems to be true. Germans take pride in delivering high-quality goods.

Even though Germans work fewer hours and have more vacations than most other countries worldwide, the German economy is the most stable in the European Union, and it is considered a powerhouse capable of carrying the whole EU with its massive productiveness.

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How often do you hear sermons about the just treatment of employees from today’s pulpits period? Not often and forget expositing any moral obligations like this:

What are the sins of Masters?

1.  Unadvised entertainment of sinful Servants.  2.  Negligence in not instructing them, (in the Fear of God, and in some lawful Calling) and not using Religious Exercises with them. [This refers to servants living in the master’s home – DR] 3.  Not admonishing nor correcting them, or doing it in an ill manner: grieving more when they fail in their Business, than when they are slack in God’s Service; 4.  Giving them an ill example, and using light behaviour before them.  5. Detaining their Wages from them; and not recompensing their Labors, by giving them a due reward, when they are with them, and when they part from them.  6.  Neglect of them in Sickness: unjust stopping of their Wages for that time.  7. Not relieving them (if they be able) in their Age, who have spent their youth in their Service.

James Ussher, A body of divinity: or, the sum and substance of Christian religion, ed. Michael Nevarr (1648; Herndon VA, 2007), p. 238.

Three Free Trade Agreements passed the house yesterday with overwhelming support of the Tea Party Caucus and great opposition from the Democratic House members.  The South Korea deal is  the most consequential trade pact since the North American Free Trade Agreement was ratified in 1994. Great, how did that work our for us?

Alabama GOP Congressperson mostly supported each FTA. Our GOP Ag Commish has been cheerleading this for months.

When will we learn? Clyde Prestowitz summarizes our insanity (i.e. doing the same thing and expecting a different result.)

In trying to build public support for congressional ratification of Free Trade Agreements with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea, President Obama is telling audiences that “these agreements will support tens of thousands of jobs across the country for workers making products stamped with three proud words: Made in America”.

Why do presidents keep saying things like that? Do you remember when we were negotiating to bring China into the World Trade Organization (WTO) and the Clinton White House was asking Congress to grant Beijing permanent Most Favored Nation (MFN) treatment (meaning that for trade purposes we would treat China the same as our other trading partners)? At that time the United States had a modest trade deficit with China of about $10 billion. President Clinton and his top officials- U.S. Trade Representative Charlene Barshefsky, Treasury Secretary Larry Summers, National Economic Council Chief Gene Sperling, and others – assured the Congress that the proposed deal with China would dramatically reduce this deficit and create thousands of new jobs for workers who made things in America. The argument at the time was that the United States would be the big winner because it would be China that would be making most of the big tariff cuts and market opening concessions. Of course, with the United States now running a $250 billion trade deficit with China, it’s obvious that things haven’t worked out as predicted.

Phillip Blond:

I believe in markets, I believe in free markets. . .But now unfortunately the language of free markets goes along with oligopoly and cartel formation. … We have now the rhetoric of free markets but the reality of closed markets. We’re recreating serfdom, both in Britain and the USA. … Hayek’s vision [is] being replaced by the cartel state.”

 

Because President Obama’s jobs-bill will tax those making more than $1 million per year at higher rates, the GOP and Tea Party are yelling that he is waging “class warfare.”

What would the Founder’s do?

  • Another means of silently lessening the inequality of property is to exempt all from taxation below a certain point, and to tax the higher portions of property in geometrical progression as they rise.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1785. ME 19:18, Papers 8:682
  • “Taxes should be proportioned to what may be annually spared by the individual.” –Thomas Jefferson to James Madison, 1784. FE 4:15, Papers 7:557
  • “The rich alone use imported articles, and on these alone the whole taxes of the General Government are levied. … Our revenues liberated by the discharge of the public debt, and its surplus applied to canals, roads, schools, etc., the farmer will see his government supported, his children educated, and the face of his country made a paradise by the contributions of the rich alone, without his being called on to spend a cent from his earnings.” –Thomas Jefferson to Thaddeus Kosciusko, 1811. ME 13:41
  • “The great mass of the articles on which impost is paid is foreign luxuries, purchased by those only who are rich enough to afford themselves the use of them. Their patriotism would certainly prefer its continuance and application to the great purposes of the public education, roads, rivers, canals, and such other objects of public improvement as it may be thought proper to add to the constitutional enumeration of federal powers.” –Thomas Jefferson: 6th Annual Message, 1806. ME 3:423
  • “In fact, the poor man in this country who uses nothing but what is made within his own farm or family, or within the United States, pays not a farthing of tax to the General Government, but on his salt; and should we go into that manufacture as we ought to do, he will pay not one cent.” –Thomas Jefferson to Pierre Samuel Dupont de Nemours, 1811. ME 13:39

I have recently been trying to express how our lawmakers and, especially, we, as citizens, must view the interaction between the government and business enterprises, especially the role of the government in regulating the economy. Bob Goudzwaard nails it:

In classical antiquity two distinct words were used to describe human economic activity: oikonomia and chrematistike. Oikonomia (the origin of our word economics) designated the behavior of the steward whose task it was to manage the estate entrusted to him in such a way that it would continue to bear fruit and thus provide a living for everyone who lived and worked on it.  Central to this concept, therefore, was the maintenance of productive possessions on behalf of everyone involved. Chrematistike, however, meant something quite different. The word expressed the pursuit of self-enrichment, for ever greater monetary possessions, if need be at the expense of others. It is remarkable to observe that in western civilization the meaning of the word economics has  increasingly become synonimous with chrematistike, while progressively it lost the meaning of oikonomia, the careful maintenance as steward on behalf of others of all that is entrusted to man.

A business is not run economically if it is efficient merely in a monetary sense. It is economically responsible only if it possesses the ability to render a net economic fruit.In terms of a normative-economic-cost-benefit analysis, many financially viable businesses may be called economic fiascos, whereas the opposite might be true of a number of businesses which are losing money. As an example of the first we might cite producers of goods which can actually be only marketed by means of intensive advertising campaigns, but which pollute the environment (either during production or consumption), are energy intensive, and use up the world’s supply of non-renewable resources.  Another example would be would those firms which damage the health of their laborers during the process of production  (health, too, is an economic good!), fail to use their workers’ mental capacities, or even brutalize them by over-doses of mechanization and deadening drudgery.  Corporations can also fail economically — despite great apparent success from a financial point of view — in their operations in developing countries. . .

Business enterprises, in other words, should be genuinely economic organizations, that is, institutions of stewardship. That is the key norm by which they should be judged, without neglect of market forces . . .

In listening to each GOP presidential debate so far,  I have been increasingly disappointed to hear all of the candidates, many of whom I believe to be Christians, fail to advocate a vision anywhere near what is stated above.  I do not think I have heard the words justice, morality, fairness, or common good mentioned at all, much less in relation to the economy or any business practices. All too often, these candidates have adopted and baptized a partisan view of political economy, a mongrel offspring of libertarianism and corporatism. There is certainly a misconception today that the goal of good politics should be to try to get away with as little as possible on the wrongful belief that the best government is the least government. We must recover the full-orbed view of government that it has the important duty to be the champion of public justice and equity.

As I have stated before:

As part of their obligation to pursue stewardship, businesses and corporations must treat their workers with basic human dignity within the workplace. Workers cannot be treated as just simply another “cost of production,” rather they are persons made in the image of God worthy of decent and honest treatment.

Many argue we no longer need worker protections in the workplace; just let the market handle it.

We need our lawmakers to not have tunnel vision and bend exclusively to the demands of business and the economy.

In a behind-the-scenes look at modern conditions at one Amazon warehouse, evidence remains that corporations continue to abuse their workers and show the need for the government to pursue justice within the workplace:

Workers said they were forced to endure brutal heat inside the sprawling warehouse and were pushed to work at a pace many could not sustain. Employees were frequently reprimanded regarding their productivity and threatened with termination, workers said. The consequences of not meeting work expectations were regularly on display, as employees lost their jobs and got escorted out of the warehouse. Such sights encouraged some workers to conceal pain and push through injury lest they get fired as well, workers said.

During summer heat waves, Amazon arranged to have paramedics parked in ambulances outside, ready to treat any workers who dehydrated or suffered other forms of heat stress. Those who couldn’t quickly cool off and return to work were sent home or taken out in stretchers and wheelchairs and transported to area hospitals. And new applicants were ready to begin work at any time.

The unequal bargaining position is compounded in today’s depression.

In a better economy, not as many people would line up for jobs that pay $11 or $12 an hour moving inventory through a hot warehouse. But with job openings scarce, Amazon and Integrity Staffing Solutions, the temporary employment firm that is hiring workers for Amazon, have found eager applicants in the swollen ranks of the unemployed. . .

The situation highlights how companies like Amazon can wield their significant leverage over workers in the bleak job market, labor experts say. Large companies such as Amazon can minimize costs for benefits and raises by relying on temporary workers rather than having a larger permanent workforce, those experts say.

“They can get away with it because most workers will take whatever they can get with jobs few and far between,” said Catherine Ruckelshaus, legal co-director of the National Employment Law Project, an advocacy group for low-wage workers. “The temp worker is less likely to complain about it and less likely to push for their labor rights because they feel like they don’t have much pull or sway with the worksite employer.”

Again, corporations merely see their workers as an expense.

The supply of temporary workers keeps Amazon’s warehouse fully staffed without the expense of a permanent workforce that expects raises and good benefits. Using temporary employees in general also helps reduce the prospect that employees will organize a union that pushes for better treatment because the employees are in constant flux, labor experts say. And Amazon limits its liability for workers’ compensation and unemployment insurance because most of the workers don’t work for Amazon, they work for the temp agency.

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