October 2007


[Finally catching up on the long-promised posts.   Enjoy.And the link to Heather’s Bread is below this one — scroll down and take a look.  I bet she pays living wages.]

    A question that seems to come up frequently in living wage discussions is “What is the living wage?” This is sometimes used as a (poor) rhetorical device, tossed out desperately, as if to say the fabled concept is unknowable, and therefore not worthy of debate.

    Or the question is sometimes used to suggest that the “living wage” being advocated has a meaning so rediculous (McMansions, SUV’s, a television in every pot) that those who propose it are some kind of bizzare breed that answers the question of, "What do you get when you cross a socialist busybody with a greedy materialist?".

    But it is also a question that can be asked sincerely, and deserves as sincere an answer.

***

    First some thoughts about poverty. I have seen the “what is poverty?” philosophy from the pen of people who elsewhere have proven they really do know poverty when they see it. And there, I saw two types of confusion. First, confusing relative poverty with absolute poverty. Secondly, confusing happiness, contentment, or even resignation, with adequacy.

    I think the church teaching on the living wage deals primarily with absolute poverty, not relative poverty. It isn’t about whether a worker can only afford one coat in a society where the norm is to own half a dozen. It is primarily about making sure the worker can purchase the coat he needs.

    As we have seen in previous posts, the living wage does not rest with paying “the market rate”. It follows that however much a worker may be willing offer his suffering joyfully, and find happiness in life even when deprived of basic needs, the church does not allow employers to therefore pay suffering-inducing wages.

    Likewise, we cannot say the worker earns an adequate living merely because he earns as much as anyone in his position always has earned. If generations before him also shivered in the cold for lack of a coat, that does not mean we of this generation are excused from paying coat-wages.

***

    Because the living wage deals with specific, objective human needs, it is not all that difficult to make a good approximation of what constitutes a living wage. Let us look, for example, at what kind of housing a living wage ought to be able to purchase:

    Adequate housing is the kind that keeps out dangerous animals and holds up to reasonably-expected weather conditions. It needn’t be flood-proof if it is built in an area that last flooded at the time of Noah; it needn’t have its own heat supply if located in a climate where the sun provides all the heat a family could want. But yes, in an earthquake zone, it ought to be built so as to not kill its inhabitants when the earthquakes come, nor to leave them homeless afterwards. There ought to be easy access to safe drinking water, and a means of safely disposing of human waste. And so forth.

    The exact construction details are going to vary from place to place. But if you live or travel in that place (as you would, if you had employees there), you could figure this out fairly readily. If you needed to, you could rely on the ever-useful “what if it were me?” questions. “What kind of housing would I need, if I were one of my workers, and lived in this place?”

    And once you know what it is your workers’ wages must pay for, the calculation may be tedious, but it is doable. It is not so difficult to find out what local rents are, and see what sort of housing those rents buy. The amount of rent (or mortgage payment) it takes to inhabit safe, decent housing, that is the amount a living wage needs to cover.

    The calculation is the same for the other human needs. How much does it cost to purchase clothing? To buy nutritious foods? For safe transportation?

    The living wage is, in this respect, terribly simple. Financial advisors are forever telling people to make a budget for personal expenses; the living wage is the bottom line of an adequate but frugal budget.

    This is the kind of the thing the local Better Business Bureau could publish. An accounting firm – the same one that audits your financial statements, for example – easily has the skills to put together such an analysis.  Chances are the workers in question have a fairly good idea themselves, too.

***

    I don’t say that living wage calculations are an exact science; people can reasonably disagree over the precise bottom line. Witness the wide variety of housing that Habitat for Humanity builds around the world. Some of that variation must represent a margin of error, or a range of disagreement, in calculating a living wage. (Or in habitat’s case, what a living wage would buy, if it were paid – Habitat’s clients are the working poor).

    But Christianity isn’t a math test. I can’t imagine that on Judgment Day Jesus is going to turn to one business owner and say, “You paid your workers too much! Who needs sneakers when sandals will do?!” and to another, “You paid too little! Anyone born after 1970 was supposed to have air-conditioning!”

    On the other hand, it isn’t unreasonable to fear hearing our Savior ask, “What part of ‘the children shouldn’t have to play in untreated sewage’ didn’t you understand?”

    The essential thing is that we make the effort required, and make it in good faith.  And then that we carry it out.  Better to be off by 5%, but to pay the wage, than to not bother in the first place for fear of an honest error.

   

***

    This moral burden falls first of all to business owners and managers. In a lesser it way, consumers, too, need to do what they can to support the living wage. The government’s part is to put into place those “structures of justice” that support, rather than undermine, this moral imperative.

    Asking “What exactly is a living wage?” is a legitimate question, for those who mean to find, and live out, the answer. A good catholic can have doubts about what role minimum-wage laws should play in it all, or agree to disagree about what sort of meals a worker ought to be able to afford. But the question ought not be used as an excuse for rejecting the moral teaching the church. Rather, because the question can be answered, it behooves us to see it answered and implemented.

As promised, here is the link:  heathersartisanbakery.com   Be patient with Ray, the webmaster, he is webmaster by marriage, not by vocation.  But know that the website has actual, current, useful information on it, and that is what matters.  Like when and where you can buy bread this week.

There is bread that is as good Heather’s, but not bread that is better.  And it’s in Cayce, SC of all places.  Not in the chic up-and-coming part, either.   People who require a hipper locale can visit one of the markets she serves, but I personally like to go directly to the bakery, and am glad to see there are now open-to-the-public store hours.

It is worthwhile to reserve loaves, especially if you are not going to be coming right when the bakery opens or the market begins.  Also worthwhile to try breads you don’t think you would really like; I have been surprised at what turned out to be our favorites.

***

Our personal favorites:

Adults: Seed Bread (excellent with a bit of butter or brie cheese; or plain, absolutely plain just eat it down, when still warm.)
Kids: Ciabatta and Challa

But you might like one of the other ones better.

. . . which some readers may have begun to doubt ;-).    Things remain a bit thick here, so continue with the patience.  One of these years life might quiet down and I’ll catch up on past-due posts, and add new ones.  Meanwhile, a few excerpts from life here at the castle:

Kids went trick-or-trunking.  You know your prayers for the SuperMother-in-Law really worked, because she took three of our children and the SuperNephew to her parish’s Trick-or-Trunk last night.  She’s been doing great, by the way, seems to be fully recovered.  Very good, since I am not; the mysterious back-pelvis-hip problem I’ve been having lately remains mysterious, and persistent.  Hopefully she and I are not on a relay here, and will one day enjoy being healthy at the same time.  Meanwhile, the kids had a great time.

–> And I did not have to go, which was lovely, because, well, this is not my cup of tea.  (Recall "vacation bible school" for more comments on what gifts I have not been given.  Summary: for someone who loves children, I sure don’t seem to love children’s activities.)

SB does not know that she knows how to walk.  15 months old, and may be going for a record on latest-walker (our earliest didn’t walk until 13 months).  Except that she got hold of a doll-stroller and pushed it down the hall, walking, with no problem.   Which suggests that she can walk, or nearly so, but is in denial. 

We got rain.  As already reported on Bethune Catholic, your source for reliable blogging while you wait for this one to get its act together.  I didn’t realize how long it had been since we had rain, until I looked out my window and saw how beautiful it was.  Magical the way snow is magical.

Took the kids for a walk in it Wednesday (not smart – see mysterious ailment mentioned above — but we enjoyed it nonetheless).  Just lovely. 

Otherwise fall seems to be coming on in fits and starts.  Every now and again we get some cool weather, and then back to warm weather, then coolish again.  The season has definitely changed, however, because it isn’t oppressively hot outside.  And the maples are starting to turn. 

Got the green light to go to Florida.  Haven’t the faintest idea how I’ll get there, but the grandparents called and said they were ready for visitors.   (Had planned a for trip earlier this fall, but they asked us not to come due to acute health problems. Providential, as their canceling kept me from a dreadful side-trip to Disney World during a SuperHusband business trip, *and* I was just coming down the mystery ailment at that time anyway.  So, all’s well that continues well.)  I am keen to see them, as it has been several years and we’ve got two "new" great-grandchildren  that they have yet to meet.   No idea exactly when we’ll go, but I mean to if I can.

The watermelon wasn’t ripe.  That’s how it is, sometimes.  Do have some pansies and mums in the ground, and that will be the extent of our garden this fall. 

School.  Ahem.  Let’s not talk about school. 

    Busy couple weeks coming up this month, so if I don’t get any substantial posts out in the next week, just keep on doing whatever it was you did in September.  One of these months I’ll be back.  (Living wage article #3 is sitting in my computer, just waiting for a little editing.  Snake photos are either in the computer or  nearby.  We have content, yes we do.  Somewhere around here.)

    Am enjoying some minor, but nonetheless annoying, health issues of my own.  Looks like the fabled running career has reached it’s logical end.  My sister tells me my dad gave up running about this age, and for similar reasons.  We’ll see.  For someone who runs as little as I do (an estimated 98% of my runs in the past year have been reported on this blog), I sure do love it.  Oh well.

    In the Garden: We have watermelons.  Two of them.  After languishing all summer long, our vines have finally decided to give us these cute little cucumber-sized watermelons.  Watching and waiting, hoping against hope that the unseasonably warm weather might help us get something edible out of the garden this year.  (We did get three — count ’em, three — tomatoes this summer.  And a good bit of basil.)
 
     Haven’t planted anything for the fall, though there is a bit of self-sown arugula  being shaded by the suddenly-busy watermelon vine.  Longtime readers will recall that I have real problem with not pulling up past-their-seasons plants. 

    School seems to be running about as well as everything else around here.  Apparently I was a bit delusional when I wrote up my plans in August.  In good news:  Mr. Boy spontaneously started taking notes when I put him in front of a math video the other day.  Drove his sister crazy because he kept pausing the DVD player, but his parents are thrilled.

    LP, meanwhile, produced a "Jesus and Me" book today, also unprompted.  On most pages, she used the spelling her older brother dictated to her (cough, cough), except the last page, which is covered in the beautiful but very foreign script of "my [LP’s] language".   Uses an alphabet something like Arabic, only not phonetic.  Stunningly efficient, though.  You can get so many stories out of that same one page.