GHDI logo

Catholic View of the Economy: Excerpts from Wilhelm Emmanuel von Ketteler's "The Labor Question and Christianity" (1864)

page 3 of 18    print version    return to list previous document      next document

It is therefore also extremely important to become precisely acquainted with the reasons for these conditions, with the modern economic principles from which they arise. We can describe them with utter certainty and undeniable accuracy. To this end, we need only to remember what has just been said and to ask ourselves the question: what has turned labor into a commodity and what has pushed its value down to the lowest level of life's barest necessities?

The price of commodities is determined by supply and demand; supply and demand are oriented toward competition. But competition is raised to the highest level by removing all natural and artificial impediments, especially all barriers that hamper trade. General freedom of trade therefore opens up the greatest [level of] competition, and the greatest competition pushes down the price of commodities to the lowest limit of the most essential production costs. If commodities from all parts of the world can converge on one market, the cheapest commodities of comparable quality will carry the day and either push aside all other producers or compel them to adopt the same price. The more widespread freedom of trade is, the more widespread the applicability of this proposition, which becomes all the more inexorable with improvements in transportation and the communication of prices from one part of the world to another. The only modifying factor is the cost of transporting commodities, which forms a certain natural limit against this free trade system. But this barrier is practically abolished in turn by immeasurable improvements in the transportation of commodities.

If we apply all this to commodified labor, then we have, with utter certainty, the true reason for the stated workers' conditions. The working wage is determined by supply and demand. Supply and demand are oriented – as with any commodity, so too with labor – toward competition. The highest level of competition in supply necessarily pushes the working wage down to its lowest limits. But this is caused when all protective measures for labor have been removed. The equivalent of removing all trade barriers for the commodity is the removal of all occupational barriers for the working class. In a mathematical sense, general occupational freedom creates general competition among the workers, just as two times two equals four; and the highest level of general competition must also, as a matter of mathematics, push the working wage down to the lowest level.

There we have one reason for the condition of the working class in modern states: universal occupational freedom. It is impossible to deny this fact. Labor has become a commodity; under the most general kind of competition, both are purchased for the lowest price by whoever makes the minimum demand. Who with a healthy mind could deny this? It is important to express this often and repeatedly, since this is the very thing concealed by the parties that are pushing themselves onto the people: both the great liberal party, which is composed mainly of Freemasonry,

first page < previous   |   next > last page