The concept of a Living Wage has entered our dialogue again in the Church, perhaps partly due to those post-hippie Sojourners folks and also to the lobbyists at Advocacy Days. I personally have had a slight apprehension in taking sides on the living wage debate. From my limited understanding, the arguments for a living wage (as well as those against) seem to be based on a great many assumptions, perhaps even speculations, about how economies work.
In my ethics course, we were assigned Economic Justice, by Catholic Theologian John Augustine Ryan (1865-1945). Interestingly, Ryan was one of the early precursors and supporter of Roosevelt’s New Deal out of which developed our current minimum wage laws. I was especially surprised, and impressed, by how much Ryan’s book read like an economics text demonstrating to me the seriousness which Ryan had towards properly understanding economic models of justice. Even more impressive for me was his theological argument on which he based his methods for economic justice.
Ryan’s theology is founded on the idea that each person has value, and moreover, that each person’s value is equal. He argues for an alternative to the idea of doing what benefits ‘the greater good’ as that inevitably robs certain individuals of their uniqueness. Responding to the many who have argued for the good of the whole (often at the expense of a few individuals), Ryan counters with a concern centered on those individuals most likely neglected for the sake of the masses. He then unfolds the root of his argument by claiming that the value of the individual, and the necessity of a living wage, can only be understood "if the teachings of Christianity [are] accepted."
Whether or not I will end up agreeing with Ryan’s economic policy is undecided, but as a fellow Christian wrestling with these issues, his concern for the least of these seems to me to be the appropriate place to start.
God, I confess my preoccupation with myself and my ignorance of those around me you taught me to care for.
I pray that you will teach me how to have a greater concern for others.
I pray for a patient ear, a focused attention span, a generous wallet, and a humble heart.
I pray for those around the world burdened by the realities of limited income.
I pray for those in our world who are ignored.
Thank you for blessing me with a sufficient income which makes possible the things I daily take for granted.
I pray that I will use the materials and gifts I’ve been given to protect the value of those threatened or disregarded.