Thursday, February 6, 2014


    Pope Francis was Time Magazine’s 'Person of the Year.' The Time lead article stated:

You could argue that he (Pope Francis) is Teddy Roosevelt protecting capitalism from its own excesses or he is simply saying what Popes before him have said, that Jesus calls us to care for the least among 

The question is interesting.  Yes, T. Roosevelt’s neoliberalism (regulated capitalism) saved free market capitalism (liberalism) from self destruction, and Pope Francis, in focusing on real problems rather than Church rules, may be saving the Roman Catholic Church from irrelevance.  However, it should be noted that the tradition of Roosevelt’s neoliberalism is now under attack by his own Republican Party.  Also, Pope Francis is advocating for justice for the poor.   Free market capitalists might throw loose change to the poor, but justice beyond fulfilling contracts is not a concept understood by the free market liberals.

 Where are the Wisconsin Politicians on the issues of  justice?  The debate on the minimum -living wage ordinance will tell the tale.  Wisconsin legislators have Wisconsin progressive tradition to refer to that dates back to the Roosevelt era.

   McClure’s Magazine

   Doris Kerns Goodwin in Bully Pulpit recounts that McClure’s Magazine investigated abuses of the robber barons, published stories about political reformers, and was a part of T. Roosevelt’s attempt to go over the heads of politicians and communicate with the people.
   Let’s look as some McClure's articles not referenced by Kerns Goodwin as a historical guide for Wisconsin legislators in deciding about a living wage for workers.  McClure’s writer Lincoln Steffens wrote about Wisconsin Governor Robert La Follete in October, 1904:

His [La Follete's] long, hard fight has developed citizenship in Wisconsin - honest reasonable intelligent citizenship.  And that is better than business; that is what business and government is for men (people) (McClure’s, Oct. 1904, No. 6, vol. XXIII)
   McClure’s Magazine published an article in 1904 by former Democrat President Grover Cleveland where he tries to justify sending Federal Troops to Chicago to end the Pullman strike.  Pullman workers went on strike because of a cut in their meager wages.  The strikers were supported by the American Railway Union headed by Eugene Debs.  In the McClure article, former President Cleveland argued in terms of existing law written to protect business.  From Washington, D.C., Cleveland decided that Interstate commerce was interrupted, that the mail was stopped, that there was violence and neither the State of Illinois nor the City of Chicago would act, therefore Cleveland had to send in the troops.  Labor leader Eugene Debs defied an injunction to call off the strike and he was sent to prison.

     Debs wrote a reply contradicting Cleveland point by point, but the ‘progressive’ McClure’s would not publish the article.  Victor Berger of Milwaukee, later to be the first Socialist to be elected to Congress, visited Debs at his Woodstock, IL prison cell.  Later, Debs wrote explaining how he became a Socialist because of the events of the 1894 Pullman Strike:

Victor Berger – and I have loved him ever since – came to Woodstock,   as if a providential instrument, and delivered the first impassioned message of Socialism I had ever heard.  (Eugene Debs Speaks, ed. Jean Y. Tinssey, Pathfinders Press, N.Y. 1970, p. 49)

But do Wisconsin legislators need the principles and compassion of a socialist to understand the need for a living wage?  Consider the words of Adam Smith the founder of liberal economics or laissez faire Capitalism.

    Servants, labourers and workers of different kinds, make up a large part of every great political society.  But what improves the circumstances of the greater part can never be regarded as an inconvenience to the whole society.  No society can surely be flourishing and happy of which the far greater part of the members are poor and miserable.  It is but equity, besides, that they who feed,   clothe, and lodge the whole body of the people should have a share of their own labor as to be themselves tolerably well fed, clothed and lodged. (Adam Smith, An Inquiry Into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, I. VIII, 36, 1776)

A minimum - living wage makes practical sense, but does the politics of money make it a tough call for Wisconsin politicians?

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