Social Justice and Unfairly Burdening the Little Guy

Catholics are supposed to consider the common good which includes in its definition the essential that the individual good must not be harmed.

This gets a bit complicated in the real world out here.  We make all sorts of laws to regulate industry so that things like children’s clothing are as safe as possible and property so that a homeowner doesn’t end up next to something that harms her property values.

But what happens when those laws, intended for the big corporations, prevent a housewife from selling her own work and thus helping her family or adds so much burden to the person of lesser means that they find it impossible to begin a home business?

Here is a blog for the fashion sewing industry, Fashion Incubator, with an article on making things for children. How many homemakers sewing a bit on the side and selling online are aware of the hoops they should be jumping through in order to comply with laws about sewing and selling items which will be used by children? What of the seamstress who doesn’t have the means to pay a lawyer or take a course in order to understand and comply with these laws?

We are told that we should be concerned about the poor, but we have many many laws that prevent the person whose situation is limited enough cash-wise that they cannot begin a business–ever– because they will never have the cash to begin thanks to the laws.

I think of other examples such as zoning.  A family man (or woman) with skills and some cash to start a business might be able to either pay for a place to live or a place to do business.  If the zoning permitted them to live in the back room of their business they could grow that business and eventually buy a home.  But the laws prevent this very old practice and in the end either the family must break the law and keep it quiet, or not begin the business.

Another zoning issue is the one that prevents a family member from starting a business in their garage.  If the young mechanic can fix friends’ cars in the garage over the weekends then he might eventually have enough money and clients to be able to move to a business location. Sadly, the family often lacks the cash up front to begin in a rented commercial space and try to build a business while paying rent and often zoning makes it a violation of the law to begin in the family garage.

How can we say we are concerned about the poor if we keep laws that hold them down?  How can we say we favor the family when the stay at home mom cannot sew doll clothing or kids clothing and sell it in an Etsy Shop without being in violation of laws written to regulate the big businesses?

Someone with money has the capital to survive the long start up process in a rented space, but the skilled worker usually is not so flush with cash.  When laws burden the person who lacks capital and prevents them from beginning in such a way as to build the capital slowly over time, then how can we say that those laws are just or for the common good?  They harm the ordinary person– harm the individual and prevent that individual from accessing the means of production because we have made the thresh-hold for moving from wage earner to business owner artificially high in the name of the common good.

This false version of the common good is not true common good because it is far more in the interest of the common good for that person to be free and able to move into business ownership because this increases human dignity, gives them a greater means for supporting their family, and creates new jobs that further help others to support themselves and their families.

These examples came to mind today because I do care very much for the ordinary little person.  Limited income isn’t always the reason for someone failing to begin a business. Sometimes the person who would begin a family business and eventually create jobs for others too is prevented by their desire to avoid breaking the law and the unfortunate and unfair burden those laws create.

These are the sorts of things I think about when I think about social justice.  How do we help the ordinary worker have the freedom to build a business if he or she is so inclined?  Our Catholic social teaching talks about the means of production, the means of creating your own living, as something that is a positive influence on human dignity.  Rather than take more from people who are working and creating jobs, I would like to see more freedom for persons of modest income to take up the challenge of building their own businesses and thus adding to their dignity and creating jobs that add to the dignity of others whose talents perhaps prevent them from taking up the challenge of starting a business.

I dream of greater access to building their own businesses for everyone.  It is the right thing and just thing to do.




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