John Ryan, "A Living Wage," 1906


"Obligation of the State" from A Living Wage, 1906

Father John A. Ryan left The Catholic University of America in 1902, after completing the coursework for a Doctorate of Sacred Theology, to return to Saint Paul's Seminary in Minnesota. For the next four years, he taught theology while writing his doctoral dissertation, which he published as A Living Wage.

In this excerpt from the book, Fr. Ryan explains how the fear of a loss of rights, due to an over-expansion of state powers, can also result in a loss of rights, due to uncontrolled greed. For example, unless the state stepped in to set a minimum wage, unscrupulous employers would pay employees less than a subsistence wage in order to increase profits. Thus, while their employees lived in crowded, heatless tenements, employers lived in spacious mansions with central heating. In light of these injustices, Fr. Ryan believed that social reform legislation played a vital role in the balancing of conflicting rights.



As you read the document, reflect on the following questions:

  • Examining Fr. Ryan's list, which expenses still apply today, and which expenses would you add as an "objective necessity" and an "acquired necessity"?
  • Did any "necessary" expense surprise you? Why?
  • Was Fr. Ryan talking about subsistence or about living? What is the difference?
  • What is Fr. Ryan's conception of the family and what it needs to be comfortable?