Moses Coady was a Roman Catholic priest who was born in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and lived there for most of his life. Coady taught at St. Francis Xavier University in Antigonish and chaired its department of extension. He was fervent believer in using adult education to encourage people to improve their lot by organizing unions and co-operatives. He gave this speech in Cape Breton on April 9, 1950.
The basic problem of the world is the creation and distribution of wealth. This simple and apparently materialistic statement has many ramifications, but this is the storm centre, so to speak, and it is very necessary that this problem be solved. It is a bone of contention. It has caused a lot of trouble for all past time and will continue to cause trouble. It was the cause or at least the pretext of all past revolutions. We owe it to ourselves to solve this problem. We have solved other problems and our complacency, lack of interest, and general attitude towards this one looks like stupid inconsistency.
A fair share
Let us first get clear in our minds the norms or criteria which should guide us in this question of the creation and distribution of wealth. We are talking about the democratic solution, of course. Our democratic creed says that all men are equal, but this does not mean that they are all going to develop in the same way or have the same amount of wealth. Democracy means equality of opportunity; it means that each individual will have his fair share. How to get a formula by which democratic society will enable all men to get their fair share was and is the great question. We can lay down certain principles that will form, so to speak, a body of democratic doctrine, which we can all hold to be true.
Owning your labour
The first principle is that any man is owner of the wealth created by the application of his physical and mental energies to natural resources to which he has undisputed title. This is exemplified in the case of the farmer who develops his piece of earth by his own energies.
If, on the other hand, a man has to use other human beings in the development of wealth or has to use natural resources that belong to other human beings, it matters not by what working arrangement he exploits them, he is not absolute owner of the wealth generated by such activities. This was always true, but it is particularly true of the modern industrial world. There is hardly any industrial operation or any modern business that can be conducted without the help of other human beings.
History of grab
It is quite evident, too, that industries of all kinds use natural resources that were not in the first instance the property of the users. Gold, iron ore, coal, wood, land, and all the other varieties of natural resources were originally owned by all the people. If we go back far enough, it was true that the earth was for man. The story of how individuals or groups of individuals got the opportunity of exploiting these resources runs all the way from seizure by armed force, down through the devious ways of trickery, to accepted and legal methods of operation. It could be fairly said — especially in the case of nations — that human history is a story of “grab.”
Sense of proportion
The second principle which constitutes a part of this body of democratic doctrine is that the financial remuneration for services in society should bear some relation to the economic level of the people served. This principle has direct bearing on the salaries of professional people — lawyers, engineers, doctors. It should determine also the amount of remuneration that businessmen should get for their services to the public, and lastly it is the norm which governs remuneration for all kinds of social services. It is absurd and against the law of nature that individuals who rise out of the ranks of a poor people should get for their services financial returns out of all proportion to the general level of the wealth of the people. This has been the sin of all the ages — great wealth in the presence of dire poverty.
When sin comes in
The third principle that should govern the distribution of wealth is the nature of the function which anybody performs in the system. If an individual carries on a very difficult function calling for great ability, great learning, which in turn demands long and costly training, then it is evident that that individual should be handsomely rewarded for his services. There are men in the world who are worth high salaries. It is good business for the people to hold out great rewards to their social servants. But sin comes in when people are able to fashion a system that will give them returns out of all proportion to their contribution. The great sin of the modern world is that stupid people, useless people, and bad people, by design and by luck and heredity, put themselves in a position to dominate the whole earth.
The fourth principle is that the remuneration of one vocational group in society should not be out of harmony with other groups. For example, it is possible for certain labour groups, on account of their strategic position, to get a share of the wealth out of all proportion to that which less fortunate groups of workers receive. Furthermore, the standard of living of one sector of a country which may not be as wealthy as another should not be too much out of harmony with the wealthier centres of the nation.
This, I believe, constitutes a body of doctrine which can build a new world.
The Man from Margaree: Writings and Speeches of M.M. Coady, Alexander F. Laidlaw (Toronto: McCelland and Stewart, 1971, pp. 47-49.