Catholic Social Teaching and the Welfare State

It might surprise some to learn that the basic idea behind the “welfare state” did not originate with either Marxist revolutionaries or bleeding-heart liberals, but rather with a head of state usually identified with conservatism: Otto von Bismarck. Faced with a growing threat from the German socialist movement, in the 1880s Bismarck established four programs that were essentially the minimum of the socialist program: health insurance, accident insurance (or workmen’s compensation), disability insurance, and a retirement fund for the elderly. By implementing these programs, the German leader hoped to steal some of the thunder from the socialists and prevent a revolutionary uprising.
In the United States, a similar motivation guided the architects of the New Deal, Social Security, and other programs now grouped under the broad heading “welfare state.” One might never know, based on today’s heated political rhetoric, that the idea behind the welfare state was to prevent, not bring about, socialism. Yet since the 2008 campaign, welfare, along with regulation and redistribution, have become synonymous with “socialism” in America.

Catholics have been as divided over these issues as the nation at large, with nearly everyone interested in the political debate combing the social doctrines of the Church to support one theory at the expense of another. So where precisely does the Church stand on the issue of welfare?
Beginning with Pope Leo XIII’s Rerum Novarum, the Church, to use the phrase of Pope John Paul II, declared her “citizenship status” and began to take a more active interest in social and economic questions. While that encyclical was primarily concerned with the socialist revolutionary threat against the right of private property, Leo also had something to say about the role of the state with respect to the poor and laboring masses. He wrote:
[W]hen there is question of defending the rights of individuals, the poor and badly off have a claim to especial consideration. The richer class have many ways of shielding themselves, and stand less in need of help from the State; whereas the mass of the poor have no resources of their own to fall back upon, and must chiefly depend upon the assistance of the State. And it is for this reason that wage-earners, since they mostly belong in the mass of the needy, should be specially cared for and protected by the government.
This concern for the poor in general and the poor worker in particular has been a consistent theme of Catholic social doctrine since the time of Leo’s writing (1891, not long after the Bismarckian reforms). The Church has recognized a de facto bill of rights for the working class in all countries, rights that are “based on the nature of the human person and on his transcendent dignity.” These rights are drawn from the many social encyclicals that have been written in the last 120 years, and are summarized and listed in paragraph 301 of the Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church.
They are:
  • The right to a just wage.
  • The right to rest.
  • The right to a working environment and to manufacturing processes that are not harmful to the workers’ physical health or moral integrity.
  • The right that one’s personality in the workplace should be safeguarded without suffering any affront to one’s conscience or personal dignity.
  • The right to appropriate subsidies necessary for the subsistence of unemployed workers and their families.
  • The right to a pension and to insurance for old age, sickness, and in case of work-related accidents.
  • The right to social security connected with maternity.
  • The right to assemble and form associations.
Naturally we’re faced with a problem, which begins with a widely divergent use and meaning of words as they are employed by the Church on the one hand and partisans of secular politics on the other. For instance, it is clear that some of the rights on this list are the responsibility of government on some level, thus perhaps relegating them to the realm of the modern conception of welfare, while others bring with them corresponding duties for those responsible for employing workers, meaning restrictions on the rights of property owners. For some, any attempt to treat these rights as legally binding — that is to say, as actual rights, instead of polite suggestions — would therefore amount to some sort of “socialism.” Those who hold this view tend to argue that either the popes didn’t know what they were talking about when they originally defined and condemned socialism, or that the people associating legitimate policies from a Catholic perspective with “socialism” are the ones without a clue.
Regardless, Catholics have no grounds to categorically reject government involvement in the economy, or the redistribution of wealth. Pope Pius XI, in the social encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, makes two points worth remembering:
  1. That given the clear failures of individualism as a philosophy applied dogmatically to economic matters, “it is most necessary that economic life be again subjected to and governed by a true and effective directing principle.” This is as true in the wake of our own economic crisis as it was during the Great Depression, when Pius XI originally wrote these words.
  2. This principle does not exclude the action of the state, for “when the State brings private ownership into harmony with the needs of the common good, it does not commit a hostile act against private owners but rather does them a friendly service; for it thereby effectively prevents the private possession of goods . . . from causing intolerable evils and thus rushing to its own destruction.”
On these two points there is some convergence between the basic idea of the welfare state and Catholic social doctrine; in order to preserve a system of private property and free enterprise, some wealth must be appropriated and some regulations established by a legitimate government in the service of the common good.
The Church has been skeptical of the growth of the welfare state over time. In Centesimus Annus, John Paul II criticized the welfare state on the grounds that it usurped what is properly reserved to individuals, families, and local communities. This criticism is often invoked not only as a sort of final word for Catholics on welfare, but also as an endorsement of a laissez-faire approach to social and economic issues.
But John Paul II goes on to make two things quite clear: first, that the modern welfare state that he’s criticizing does not constitute a blanket condemnation of all welfare policies, especially of the sort initially promoted by Bismarck or even the American liberals of the 1930s. Second, in keeping with Pius XI, he argues that individualism is not the antidote to excessive statism but is in fact another force as hostile to the notion of solidarity and charity as the welfare state is to the principle of subsidiarity.
As he writes:
The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace. At times it seems as though he exists only as a producer and consumer of goods, or as an object of State administration. People lose sight of the fact that life in society has neither the market nor the State as its final purpose, since life itself has a unique value which the State and the market must serve.
Given all of this, I sometimes wonder about the blanket conservative rejection of the welfare state. If charity is superior to welfare, why is it not more widely practiced to the point where welfare would be entirely superfluous? Is it because people assume that there is a welfare state to take care of problems they would love to take care of themselves through their own charitable donations, but see no need to? Or is it because the atomization of society through the operations of an amoral marketplace has created a society that, to use John Paul II’s term, has become “personalized”? If charity is not forthcoming from a society of individualistic consumers, how else are the poor and desperate to find the relief they need?
I am not an ardent supporter of the welfare state, insofar as it treads upon those areas of social life that would violate the principle of subsidiary. At the same time, however, there are certain needs and rights that would not be met even in the minimum if all state assistance were to dry up tomorrow. It often appears to those of us who support at least some welfare provisions that those who oppose them in an angry, categorical sense are simply concerned about their own bank accounts, forgetting entirely the Christian teaching (in both Scripture and Tradition) about the nature and purpose of wealth. It was summarized by Pius XI:
[A] person’s superfluous income, that is, income which he does not need to sustain life fittingly and with dignity, is not left wholly to his own free determination. Rather the Sacred Scriptures and the Fathers of the Church constantly declare in the most explicit language that the rich are bound by a very grave precept to practice almsgiving, beneficence, and munificence.
One may legitimately ask whether the government should play any role in seeing that a person uses his extra income as it ought to be used. The idea of “forced charity” is a contradiction in terms. However, how can we ever ensure that charity is actually performed without admonishing the sinner? Far from admonishing, there are many who lavish endless praise on the excessively wealthy and appear more concerned with safeguarding their money than with the condition of the poor or the integrity of society. What the wealthy do with their money is often of far less concern to them than whether or not a poor person harbors an envious thought towards them. These priorities are skewed.
In addressing the problem of persistent poverty, we might take a page from the playbook of Aristotle, the original distributist. In book XI of the Politics he notes that extra state revenues should not simply be given away to the poor, because such a remedy is like “pouring water into a leaky cask”: It does not solve the problem and may end up making it worse. What he does suggest, however, is what distributists suggest today:
[M]easures therefore should be taken which will give [the poor] lasting prosperity; and as this is equally the interest of all classes, the proceeds of the public revenues should be accumulated and distributed among its poor, if possible, in such quantities as may enable them to purchase a little farm, or, at any rate, make a beginning in trade or husbandry.
Sadly, this idea — updated for the realities of the modern economy as we see in encyclicals such as Laborem Exercens — is wholly overlooked in modern political discourse. Distributism in the Aristotelian and Catholic tradition is the answer to the twin evils of consumerist selfishness and isolation, as well as over-dependence on a powerful government. It is the key to regenerating the community and its economy, strengthening the position of the family, creating a local infrastructure to support a Culture of Life, and better managing the wild swings of the global marketplace.
When it leads to dependence, laziness, and the usurpation of the legitimate role of local institutions, welfare is indeed both harmful and sinful. But if through wise policies it can be made to strengthen those institutions and make them more competent in their tasks, then complaints about redistribution of excessive wealth — clearly understood as wealth beyond what one needs to maintain a dignified life — ring hollow. Such policies in truth ask so little and promise so much that it would be irrational not to try them.
In the end there is no difference between the conservative who wants total freedom with respect to wealth and the liberal who wants the same with respect to sexuality. Both argue that society shouldn’t use coercion to ensure a moral result in the area of life where they would like freedom to sin. Both are sure that while God would insist that one be regulated by the secular authorities, the other is left to personal conscience. While abortion is a more grave matter than clinging to personal wealth, the same flawed argument is used to defend it: It’s my body, it’s my wealth, it’s my property. But all things belong to God, be they children or wealth, and are merely entrusted to us to be used for the common good.

Joe Hargrave

By

Joe Hargrave is an adjunct professor of political science at Rio Salado Community College in Tempe, Arizona.

  • James D

    “Give a man a fish he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish he eats for a lifetime”

    When it leads to dependence, laziness, and the usurpation of the legitimate role of local institutions, welfare is indeed both harmful and sinful.

    I think the problem with modern welfare is the overemphasis on “giving of fish” leading to problem quoted above.

    I think this, more than the greed you cite, leads to the catagoric rejection of the “welfare state” by many not just the “wealthy”.

    The distributist idea sounds great, but what is needed is actual, practical means to acheive it. That was not mentioned in this article.

    Just my 2 cents. Thank you.

  • Pete

    Thank you for this thoughtful article, Joe. I’ve always struggled with the question of how to handle the social justice question as a Catholic.

    Still, I wonder: even if Socialism as a philosophy is stripped of its atheisitic underpinnings, can a Catholic support it in good faith? It seems to me that charity towards others, while commanded by Christ, ought to be up to the individual in question and not part of a state-sponsored systematic charitable program such as in a Socialistic society/economy.

    I also wonder this: is Barack Obama a Socialist?

  • Ender

    I tend to group articles like this one in the category of “Misappropriating Church teachings for political ends.” Whatever one may say about (e.g.) “The right to a just wage” surely there is legitimate room to disagree over the definition of “just” in this context. Though, given the author’s crack about those who generally oppose the welfare state as being concerned solely with their own bank accounts, a legitimate debate is apparently not something he contemplates.

    There are few statements that I would make categorically but I’ll make this exception: anyone who believes he can determine when someone else’s income becomes superfluous is not to be trusted with the authority to act on that conceit.

  • Deacon Ed

    the confusion between good intent and results. Who says that because government proposes to help the poor that they, in fact, have not made their plight actually worse. Since the 60′s “Great Society” untold billions have been plowed into various programs. They could have awarded a million dollars to each person below the poverty line, set up an endowment for them and they could have lived comfortably their entire lives.

    Sorry, but the people who benfit most from government programs of all ilk are those who administer them – the huge bureaucracies that never seem to grow smaller. I’d like government to tell me at what point poverty will end. You know what, those in government don’t want it to end because it’s their industry. If anyone thinks that those who work for government come from a smarter, more altruistic segment of society, I think you ought to do some more serious thinking.

    Sorry, but government forces us to engage in charity; under such conditions, it can never be considered charity. The re-allocaiton of resources, yes; but charity? No.

  • Pete

    It’s interesting to compare the stance taken in this article:

    http://www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/?p=762

  • Brendan

    As someone who has read all of the social teachings of the Church, I am amazed at how often people openly dissent from these teachings, which are in fact magisterial and authoritative; Hence they are binding on Catholics. Thus, these individuals are as guilty of sin as those who dissent from Church teaching contained in other encyclicals such as Humana Vitae.

    As a case manager at two shelter systems and an individual that currently works with individuals with disabilities and had worked with individuals receiving transitional assistance benefits (aka welfare) to assist them in returning to work, I see the wisdom of the Church’s teaching and also the way that we take on the political mindset of an ideology that neglects dignity.

    First, individuals that now receive TAFDC (welfare) are obligated to fulfill a work requirement based on the age of the youngest child on the grant. However, the many programs that would have allowed them to move towards self-sufficiency have been cut in the state of Massachusetts. In addition, the lack of public transportation in areas that has hours that run to meet the needs of employers is currently lacking in many communities. Moreover, many of the individuals that I have provided services to were victims of domestic violence, had significant disabilities, had lived in areas of crime and poor public educational settings. Thus, the deck was stacked against them.

    Also, a wage has to allow a person to pay bills, rent, have nutritious food, and to be able to support children. Yes, in some instances, these are single-parent households, but even if there are two wage earners with minimal skills and education, and they earn 10 an hour, they will make $41,600 gross. Rents for two bedroom apartments in areas can be up to 1600-1800 a month. This means that many individuals would end up paying more than 1/3 of their income towards housing, which is seen as unaffordable. Yet, they are not building any affordable housing in the community, vouchers have been frozen, and waiting list for affordable complexes:both private and public are huge.

    The question gets back to what is a human and if I were in that situation, how would I want to be treated.

  • erica

    Time to quit working and start collecting. Don’t feel guilty at all about the poor schlub they take the money from — he’s stupid enough to work. only one question — when everyone stops working, what am I going to spend my free money on?

  • Tony Esolen

    In general I agree with the article — but I’d like to insist that we return to the premises upon which Leo XIII based his thinking. These were economic in the deepest sense: that is, they had to do with the good of the household; they were not, principally, concerned with gross domestic product, nor with any abstract formula by which we could determine whether a society was equitable. Leo saw that you could not sever economic questions from questions about both the good life for the individual person and common goods — and that phrase “common good” does not mean the health of a collective, but those sorts of goods that by their very nature can’t be parceled out: healthy friendships, marriages, families, communities. These are good in themselves, and indeed indispensable for human thriving. It isn’t simply that families and communities do a much better job at providing welfare than do welfare agencies. They do, but that’s not the point. It’s that it is a good thing in itself to belong to a family, or a guild, or a community.

    Unfortunately we are left with the pseudo-conservative adulation of the individual, which produces chaos and alienation, and the pseudo-liberal adulation of the State, which preserves that alienation world without end, Amen. We can hardly even conceive that there ought to be all kinds of levels of social decision beneath that vast “Government” — including what used to be the customs of a common life that people lived together on their journey to the grave. THAT consideration is truly conservative. But then, to consider custom as in part binding, you’d have to cease despising all the habits of our forebears in matters economic and sexual. Nobody’s willing to do that except Catholics who understand the Church’s teachings. Everybody else is comfortable with the nasty coalition of laissez-faire sexonomics and the vast and soulless welfare state.

  • Joe H

    I just want to say it’s much nicer posting an article here in defense of redistribution of wealth, than it is posting a defense of theism on a left-leaning website. I’m taking quite a beating over at: http://tiny.cc/NJrYL

    James D,

    You’re right. We need more practical suggestions. I plan on writing about them more in the future.

    Pete,

    About socialism: I go with what Pius XI said. There are many things that socialists demand that are aligned with what Christians have always justly demanded. In demanding those things, and I think they are among the things I mentioned in the article, there is no need to become a socialist. I don’t think Obama is a socialist – unless neo-Keyensianism is now socialism.

    Ok, no more from me. Anyone really interested in asking me a question about this can email me through my website, and I am always happy to engage in correspondence, even if we disagree.

  • Kamilla

    Brendan,

    It seems to me you are assuming that it is the government’s job to provide assistance to the poor, etc. But in which encyclical, which church document, does it say this?

    I am not Catholic nor am I as familiar with Catholic social teaching as your are – but what I do know is healthcare. In my study of the changing attitudes and government involvement in the delivery of healthcare — the more government does, the less the private sector will do or feel responsible to do. For instance, in Britain, there were rather extensive networks based in communities and workplaces that delivered care to people, and did so quite effectively. However, when the NHS came on the scene, these all disappeared. The same holds for government housing estates, etc.

    In fact, such experiences prove what Tony is arguing for.

    Kamilla

  • John

    What is often neglected in articles like this is that “the City” cannot support all the people that live there. That is why the great Dominican and friend of both Chesterton and Belloc called for a return to the land. He lived in one of the worst slums of London and understood first-hand the plight of the poor. But he also realized and taught that the City is the proximate occasion of sin which would by necessity seek to control the size of the population by means such as divorce, birth control, etc. (Everyone remember what Nancy Pelosi recently advocated?) A just wage is undoubtedly a Catholic teaching but you will never be able to pay everyone a “just wage.” Further our governments never talk about a just wage but a minimum wage as though the two were synonymous, which they are not.

  • Proud American

    As someone who has read all of the social teachings of the Church, I am amazed at how often people openly dissent from these teachings, which are in fact magisterial and authoritative; Hence they are binding on Catholics. Thus, these individuals are as guilty of sin as those who dissent from Church teaching contained in other encyclicals such as Humana Vitae.

    Brendan,

    Your firsthand experience and knowledge are invaluable to this discussion. So is your compassion and understanding of the plights of so many of the genuinely needy.

    But, the Republicans who frequent IC really don’t want to hear about the genuinely needy people you descibe above. The disabled, victims of domestic violence, struggling single mothers and the struggling full-time employed — Republicans really don’t want to hear truths about these peoples’ lives. Instead, they want to continue to believe that all those who receive public assistance do so by choice. Allow the needy dignity? Republicans want to be able to continue joking about welfare recipients so they don’t have to feel responsible for the genuinely needy who don’t fit the Republican “you’re on your own” ideology.

    Brendan, I wish there were a thousand of you for every Catholic who rationalizes away our responsibility to the poor and helpless.

    I read somewhere that “socialism” is Republican code for “people who aren’t White get things for free.”

  • Dan

    At the heart of giving to the materially poor is a complex issue. How does one give material aid to the poor without without making the poor dependent on such aid? At the heart of all charitable activity is an even greater paradox. How does one remove the consequences of people

  • Proud American

    I guess the truly poor are the AIG employees who received $165,000,000 in bonuses. Wealth-fare, like redistribution of wealth upwards via unnecessary tax cuts, is okay.

    Better to reward the corrupt and greedy (“spiritual poverty”) than give that money to people on welfare.

    We are morally bankrupt in the name of moral clarity.

    When did Catholics learn to despise those in need?

    Is it a sin to be poor?

  • nobody
      First, a two thousand word essay and not one reference to our founding documents. This should be quite enough but the convoluted and self-defeating arguments abound here.
      Quite frankly, our U.S. Constitution is the greatest form of Catholic subsidiary the world has every seen! And it was established one hundred years before Pope Leo.
      Well, if Mr. Bismarck was trying to
  • Shan Gill

    Socialism pretends to be charitable. But it is merely, in fact, redistribution of wealth at gun-point. This is not exactly in keeping with the message of Our Lord, is it? Socialism is a thing of tyranny, not of the Kingdom of God.

    Our duty, as followers of Christ, is to help those we can, and to evangelize and pray for those we cannot afford to help, and pray for those who are ‘of the world’. Christ tells us ‘the poor you will have with you always.’ OK. I believe Him.

    Then Christ tells us to help those we can – feed them, clothe them, visit the sick and imprisoned. OK. This is the social gospel. The mission of the Church is the salvation of souls, not empowerment. Let us live it.

  • John

    I guess the truly poor are the AIG employees who received $165,000,000 in bonuses. Wealth-fare, like redistribution of wealth upwards via unnecessary tax cuts, is okay.

    Better to reward the corrupt and greedy (“spiritual poverty”) than give that money to people on welfare.

    We are morally bankrupt in the name of moral clarity.

    When did Catholics learn to despise those in need?

    Is it a sin to be poor?

    People who are greedy are so regardless of their party affilitiation. There are plenty of greedy people in both political parties. The party bosses of Communist Russia didn’t sit in the bread lines with the rest of the people. St. Thomas Aquinas wrote wonderfully about the inordinate desire for wealth long before there were Republicans.

    Furthermore when did the idea that being a good Catholic meant subscribing to the Democratic platform?

    And while the AIG bonuses may seem excessive under the circumstances throwing out numbers like $165 million without a point of reference is intellectually dishonest. How many people received those bonuses? Are you aware of the pay structure at many financial firms? Regardless of the $ amount it is often the pay structure itself that is the biggest problem. Oh and by the way where did Pres. Obama’s Sect. of Treasury (another Democrat who didn’t pay his taxes) come from? In case you didn’t know it was Lehman Bros., one of the first big financial firms to fail last Fall.

  • David Finley

    First, a two thousand word essay and not one reference to our founding documents. This should be quite enough but the convoluted and self-defeating arguments abound here.

    First, a three hundred word comment on an article about Catholic Social Teaching and not one reference to any papal or church document? You seem to have your ultimate authorities confused here. First Jesus, then Jefferson.

    So ‘nobody,’ here is a question for you: Is the Vatican wrong when it says:

    The economic well-being of a country is not measured exclusively by the quantity of goods it produces but also by taking into account the manner in which they are produced and the level of equity in the distribution of income, which should allow everyone access to what is necessary for their personal development and perfection. An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

    And if you are claiming that the Vatican is wrong about that, then you might want to take another look at this comment of yours, from the same post:

  • David Finley

    Socialism pretends to be charitable. But it is merely, in fact, redistribution of wealth at gun-point. This is not exactly in keeping with the message of Our Lord, is it?

    It isn’t? Well Shan, you might want to let Rome know that compelling a redistribution of wealth is out of step with Christianity. They seem to be under a different impression:

    An equitable distribution of income is to be sought on the basis of criteria not merely of commutative justice but also of social justice that is, considering, beyond the objective value of the work rendered, the human dignity of the subjects who perform it. Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

    There go those ungodly socialists again, right? [smiley=wink]

  • Pete

    I think we’re missing a key distinction here. This quote is being tossed around:

    “Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.”

    So no, obviously, for a Catholic to deny this oblgiation would be wrong. But I don’t think this, in itself, implies Socialism. If it does, then how do we square it with the dehumanizing forms of Socialism and Communism that the Church also railed against?

    Further, Socialism does not take into consideration the “merit” of each citizen. And are we really to believe that the government–alone–can decide the need of each citizen?

    It seems to me that there is a great deal of difference between “suitable social policies” and the governmental Sociailism that is supposedly said to stem from these social policies.

    It strikes me that the local Diocese House of Charity campaign is something that is an authentic representation of the ideal stressed in the quote above. Income is being redistributed–freely!–by those who give to this social program.

    It seems to me very simplisitic to assume, due to the presence of the word “redistribution”, de facto Socialism.

  • Deacon Ed

    on charitable giving, take a look at something Fr. Schall has written at http://www.TheCatholicWorldReport.com
    entitled: A World Without Charity/ Aiming for perfect justice, our laws gussy up old sins as new rights.

  • David Finley

    It seems to me very simplisitic to assume, due to the presence of the word “redistribution”, de facto Socialism.

    Hi PEte,

    Yes, I know that redistribution is not the same as socialism, but both ‘nobody’ and Shane Gill disagree:

    Charity is clearly superior to welfare (socialist state), why is it not more widely practiced then to immigrate to these great beacons of prosperity (Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Brazil, USSR, China, Cambodia, Vietnam, etc.) Your argument is superfluous.

    Socialism pretends to be charitable. But it is merely, in fact, redistribution of wealth at gun-point.

    To them, redistribution of wealth = socialism. Since the Church has endorsed “suitable social policies for the redistribution of income,” they have a problem.

  • Mary

    Government never was and never will be the answer to eliminating poverty – the answer is Christ. The Church is at her most glorious when she serves the poor in Christ. To take this mission away from her and to put it in the hands of a godless, secular state robs the poor of what they need most – Christ. Shan, nobody and the other here are arguing against Government NOT the Church. And Socialism is just that – more government.

    Talking about Socialism The Anchoress said it best:
    *Btw, socialism does not work, except in monasteries and the reason it works in monasteries is because it is voluntary.*

    *But the thing is

  • anon

    Joe Sobran wrote an interesting article about the State, not specifically dealing with the matter being discussed, but it something to take into account as well, I think. http://www.sobran.com/reluctant.shtml

  • Ender

    Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

    It is depressing that whenever someone opposes the latest end-of-poverty scheme or suggests that, just perhaps, the methods selected may not accomplish the desired goal, charges of selfishness and being at odds with the Church are the all too typical response.

    One cannot justly argue for the “redistribution of income” (surely one of the most misleading and unfortunate phrases contained in a Church document) without admitting that the requirement includes the word “suitable”, which the Church makes no attempt to define and about which disagreement may be legitimately expressed.

    Opposition to specific policies (e.g. raising the minimum wage) is either valid or invalid based on the real economic impact, not the intended result, and that impact has nothing whatever to do with Church teaching.

    If no effective case can be made that a proposed policy will have an overall beneficial effect there is no justification for calling those who oppose it selfish and greedy. The debate on specifics is one of economics and sociology, not theology. Resorting to personal insult is nothing more than an admission that a compelling argument on the merits is not available.

  • Keith Toepfer

    The categorization of welfare state programs as socialist is not necessarily correct. What is, I think, indisputable is that such programs almost invariably violate the principle of subsidiarity. I also tend to think that our Lord’s injunction to see to the needs of the poor, the suffering and those in prison is not intended primarily to be delegated to another agent. It is to each of us that He gave that command, and the welfare state simply encourages an attitude that “I have alread paid for that” even when the succeeding though may or may not be “why can’t government actually solve the problem?”

    This is not to say that we ought not also donate to, or volunteer in, properly established and run charitable organizations. The problem of career welfare providers, particularly in government is well addressed in comment (4) by Deacon Ed. But, after first admitting that I have not had time to read all of the comments, the inherent perversities of the existing welfare system, illustrated by the prohibition on the unskilled unemployed doing some structured volunteer work to improve their employability while looking for employment, beggars any argument that government even understands how to deal with such social needs of the poor.

    Blessings and regards,

  • John
    Authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen.

    It is depressing that whenever someone opposes the latest end-of-poverty scheme or suggests that, just perhaps, the methods selected may not accomplish the desired goal, charges of selfishness and being at odds with the Church are the all too typical response.

    One cannot justly argue for the “redistribution of income” (surely one of the most misleading and unfortunate phrases contained in a Church document) without admitting that the requirement includes the word “suitable”, which the Church makes no attempt to define and about which disagreement may be legitimately expressed.

    Opposition to specific policies (e.g. raising the minimum wage) is either valid or invalid based on the real economic impact, not the intended result, and that impact has nothing whatever to do with Church teaching.

    If no effective case can be made that a proposed policy will have an overall beneficial effect there is no justification for calling those who oppose it selfish and greedy. The debate on specifics is one of economics and sociology, not theology. Resorting to personal insult is nothing more than an admission that a compelling argument on the merits is not available.

    Well said.

  • David Finley

    Shan, nobody and the others here are arguing against Government NOT the Church. And Socialism is just that – more government.

    No, Shan and nobody were arguing against the redistribution of income — contrary to Catholic teaching which endorses it, at least in some cases. They were also arguing that the redistribution of income = socialism. In other words, they were arguing against Catholic teaching.

    By the way, I oppose socialism, but like the Church, I don’t think all income redistribution is socialism.

    It is depressing that whenever someone opposes the latest end-of-poverty scheme or suggests that, just perhaps, the methods selected may not accomplish the desired goal, charges of selfishness and being at odds with the Church are the all too typical response.

    I can only assume this is directed at me, even though it doesn’t represent what I wrote. I never endorsed any “end-of-poverty scheme.” I made the obvious point that since the Church endorses “suitable social policies for the redistribution of income,” Catholics might want to think carefully before they dismiss redistribution as non-Christian or socialistic.

    One cannot justly argue for the “redistribution of income” (surely one of the most misleading and unfortunate phrases contained in a Church document) without admitting that the requirement includes the word “suitable.”

    Ender, no one endorses the unsuitable redistribution of income. You call that line “misleading” and “unfortunate”. Just to be clear, do you disagree that authentic economic well-being is pursued also by means of suitable social policies for the redistribution of income which, taking general conditions into account, look at merit as well as at the need of each citizen?

  • mike

    The comparison of liberals and conservatives at the
    conclusion started it. First, not all conservatives hold
    on their money or goods simply because they can or it’s
    their right. Some are quite generous. Not all liberals
    are libertine about sexual matters or reproductive rights.
    But if I was accept the conclusion, I would point out
    that money and goods are commodoties and property without
    a soul. The children and sexual acts that many libertines
    exercise control over are not goods property, but the
    libertine philosophy allows them to treat them as such.
    A second problem is that the liberal use of sex and abortion
    has led to more health care costs for STD’s, single parenting
    problems; and a lack of taxpayers to support the country
    since we have aborted or contracepted these taxpayers out
    of our economy. From this viewpoint, it is not archaic
    Bismarck conservatives who make life hard on the poor in this
    day and age, it is selfish liberalism.
    Third, I look at political figures or the famous, all rich
    and liberal. Ted Kennedy stashes his money overseas, so it
    cannot be taxed. Tom Daschle is a rich tax cheat. Nancy
    Pelosi, Warren Buffett, and on: all rich liberal tax cheats.
    High tax liberal states have a lower percentage of charitable
    giving than conservative states. So why the comparison?

  • Deacon Ed

    ..(perhaps sooner than I think) I will stand before the judgment seat. The Lord will ask me, as he did Peter,
    “Do you love me, Ed?” But before I have answered, I imagine Christ will add, “Did you take care of my poor?”
    If I had the effrontery, I still would not answer, “Lord, I paid my taxes and the Federal government took care of this for me.”

    The Lord will remind me that he gifted me with many blessings, He gifted me with free will and that he created me with the freedom to love – to be perfected through the grace of baptism.”

    I refuse to believe that any forced redistribution of wealth confiscated by the consumptive appetites of the government could ever be construed as charity.

  • John

    Since Proud American wanted to bring AIG in an attempt to portray Republicans as uncaring people who despise the poor here is some interesting news out.

    While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. That amendment provides an

  • Ender

    I can only assume this is directed at me, even though it doesn’t represent what I wrote.

    My comment was directed at everyone who said or implied that opponents of various government programs were selfish or at odds with Church teaching. Since you implied the latter, the comment, though not directed at you, would apply to you as well.

    I made the obvious point that since the Church endorses “suitable social policies for the redistribution of income,” Catholics might want to think carefully before they dismiss redistribution as non-Christian or socialistic.

    This is a rather fine point as most of us are unfamiliar with many proposals to “redistribute income” that we would consider suitable.

    You call {redistribution of income} “misleading” and “unfortunate”. Just to be clear …

    Just to be clear indeed: the phrase is disingenuous as it is not income that is being redistributed but wealth that is being seized. Nor is it being “re”distributed since it was never distributed in the first place; wealth is created. I am not a fan of euphemisms and would appreciate the admission that wealth is being taken from those who create it to be given to those who do not; at least then there could be an honest debate about when such action is justifiable.

    I recognize the necessity of taxes to pay for those things a state needs to function and for the assistance of those unable to properly care for themselves. My disagreement over what constitutes “suitable social policies” may put me at odds with some but it does not do so with regard to the Church’s social teaching. The argument revolves around suitable, not social.

  • Tim Shipe

    Sorry I didn’t have time to weigh in earlier in the day- classes and finishing up a summary of chapter 11 of the compendium on peace promotion for Pax Romana.

    The key thing I like about your work is your abundant use of actual authoritative social teachings- this is the only way to find common Catholic ground. One can pull a quote here or there- but it is very apparent that you have taken in the social teachings in the right spirit of the obedience of faith. I am very excited for Pope Benedict’s next encyclical- I hope that, unlike the Compendium, this encyclical will be read and studied by all self-proclaimed faithful or orthodox Catholics- especially those who spend time commenting publicly on matters of state and politics. It has been sorely disappointing to me that organizations that are so good on moral theology and other matters related to apologetics- like Catholic Answers- have been so inadequate in presenting the social doctrine of the Church- I listen to quite a bit of the radio programming, and I can say I have never once heard them speak in promotion of the authoritative Compendium of the Social Doctrine of the Church. When I asked Archbishop Chaput in a letter if this Compendium was authoritative and if so why isn’t it promoted by all the Catholic media and organizations that deal with public policy issues- he responded that yes it was authoritative, and he has no idea why it isn’t promoted by these entities.

    I don’t know what to advise you Joe- keep plugging away- if fellow Catholics aren’t keen on the views expressed by our popes, our Holy See representatives, our American Bishops, and not much for all the teachings on statecraft and economics found in Holy Scripture- well they aren’t going to listen to the likes of you or me are they?? There are plenty of moral principles, not just prudential advice in these sources to make the case you are making about the need for vigorous state involvement/responsibility in ensuring the universal common good- to include economic well-being- but if someone believes that Reaganomics or the Austrian School is all they need- well I only hope they will read Pope Benedict’s upcoming encyclical and I plan on getting out of the way so they will have to deal with the pope and not me or some straw man- and if the pope comes out with an encyclical espousing the Austrian School thesis- I will jump on board and say let’s try it out for real- I am really not married to any economic school- I am just trying to be faithful to the authoritative guidance we have up to this point in time-

  • Joe H

    Thanks for the kind words, my friend.

    I too am waiting anxiously for Benedict’s next encyclical. I think this might be a good preview of the subject matter, since it quotes Benedict on Christmas 2008 at the end:

    http://tinyurl.com/cv8tjn

    Otherwise I’m glad to see a lively debate taking place. You can be sure I will endeavor to bring you all many more opportunities smilies/smiley.gif

  • Joe Lammers

    While I largely agree with Joe Hargrave’s article, I’m not sure I’d call it a home run, as Tim did. We need to keep some perspective in this, Reagan never came close to ending the welfare state, he didn’t really try. All he did was slow down the rate of government growth for a short time. I would also suggest that the principle of subsidiarity implies that welfare programs and public assistance could be better done by state and local governments. I realize some form of public assistance for those unable to care for themselves is probably invevitable and necessary, but reducing the size and power of the federal government, as it is presently constituted, would be a very good thing.

  • Tim Shipe

    Joe Lammers- ok I will amend my assessment to say that Joe H. hit a triple and scored on a throwing error!

    I think a big and worthy debate to have is whether the economy should have direction or not, and if so how much direction and from whom? I think it is clear that the Church calls for a sound juridical framework for an economy of any scale- protecting and codifying private property and lands, and guaranteeing some basic human rights to include working conditions/safety, and environmental protections to safeguard the ecological systems that nurture human health in the long run. Markets are good, but not that good- they need some help- speculation in financial markets is good, but not that good- they need some help elsewise they can degenerate into inside trades and gambling casino mafiaso short term profit at any moral cost scenarios. Let’s face it- human beings require some authority in major areas of collective life because we are fallen creatures who prey upon one another’s weaknesses way more often than we should. So, for me, the question is not to tax and regulate or not- that’s a no brainer from a Scripture/Church social doctrine vantage point- the only real debate is how much to tax and who/what/where/when, and the same for regulatory laws.

    We need to consistently review our taxation policies, and our regulatory codes- just throwing out an example of a regulation that is not commonsensical proves nothing other than that particular regulation needs to be changed or removed. A business economy is what the Church seems to be prescribing, but the anti-government, anti-tax, anti-juridical/regulatory agency attitudes and ideologies being professed by too many Catholics is very disturbing- the every man is an island philosophy of economics is an illusion and runs contrary to Catholic theological notions of all being responsible for all- we are our brother’s keeper. To what degree this is true depends on many variables in a given situation, but the principle rings true. Some would load the Church down with all the burdens of picking up all the pieces broken by unjust economic outcomes- well we aren’t living in a Barbarian era are we? The Church stepped into many areas of life because the system of governance broke down- we shouldn’t dismantle the essential structures of our For the People governance- we do need to reform things- no doubt. Starting with a right to life for the unborn I’d say- at the national and international levels of governance, not merely the individual American state level. And as for subsidiarity I would say that the transnational corporation and banking interests are swamping local communities more than the federal government- why not empower local communities by giving some of the federal tax monies over to faith based charities who are proven successes to save money and be more effective- and remember the pope has called for public subsidies for Catholic schools and the Compendium calls for public subsidies for the domestic work that mothers in particular do at home in raising children to help meet the demands of just/family wages.

    Finally- local communities are often forced to give large or multinational corporations special tax breaks in order to keep that employer in town- this can become something of a blackmail situation and it puts more locally owned businesses at a disadvantage- how can we encourage more locals who have more interest in the quality of their home towns? Reforming taxation abatements would seem to be part of the answer.

  • nobody

    Talk about conclusions finding arguments.

  • nobody

    as ultilized in our U.S.Constitution is confirmed by the Pope!

    419. (1.)The political community… according to the principle of subsidiarity.[855]…(3.)life begins within the fabric of society. The activities of civil society

  • Steve Berg

    As a former public administrator, who is now teaching public administration, I have been following this thread with considerable interest. In my past endeavors, I have worked hard to keep taxes low to help struggling families, yet provide needed public goods. I have found that there are a fair number of people who fall through the cracks of the current welfare system, who desperately need help, and I have sought to see that they get the support that they truly need. But, there are those who also game the system, and usurp the benefits that the truly needy are frequently denied. These frauds, need to be suitably prosecuted. But, what I find most appalling about much of what has been written on this thread is the confusion that seems to think that the government is society. This is not the case. Society is based on families and association. It is Burke’s “little platoons”, and not government, which is based on coercion. The Church is the culmination of society. The government is the culmination of coercion. How can true charity be coerced? In this time of Lent, we are supposed to be charitable. Indeed, we are not supposed to let one hand know what the other is doing. Society can be, and really should be charitable. As I recall, Chesterton considered socialism and capitalism to be near twins. Both are destructive of society in somewhat different ways. But, they both chafe at the power of the Church, and consider families to be a threat to control in the case of socialism, and profit in the case of capitalism. Nowhere in this thread has anyone mentioned the statement of St. Paul where those who do not work, should not eat. It would seem that adherence to his statement would take care of the welfare freeloaders, and, hence, provide much greater assistance to those truly in need.

  • Proud American

    Since Proud American wanted to bring AIG in an attempt to portray Republicans as uncaring people who despise the poor here is some interesting news out.

    While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. That amendment provides an

  • John
    Since Proud American wanted to bring AIG in an attempt to portray Republicans as uncaring people who despise the poor here is some interesting news out.

    While the Senate was constructing the $787 billion stimulus last month, Dodd added an executive-compensation restriction to the bill. That amendment provides an

  • Bruce Roeder

    At a friend’s suggestion, I looked up the other half of the Iron Chancellor’s program to ameliorate the masses: “Kultur Kampf”.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kulturkampf
    http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/08703b.htm

    The “culture war” was a method to distract the conservatives and liberals by blaming disruptions on…wait for it…the Roman Catholic Church.

  • Proud American

    CONGRESS — REPUBLICANS WHO BLOCKED SALARY CAPS NOW OUTRAGED OVER AIG BONUSES: As outrage mounts over the $165 million in executive bonuses paid to AIG staffers, many Republicans are trying to tap into the wellspring of public anger.

    Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned the “outrageous situation” and boasted that he had been “complaining about the way AIG had been doing its business” since October. Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) agreed: “A lot of these people should be fired, not awarded bonuses. This is horrible. It

  • Proud American

    How’s this for a “point of reference?”

    According to the office of the New York Attorney General, AIG awarded bonuses to 418 employees last week “and included $33.6 million for 52 people who have left the failed insurance conglomerate.” AIG paid the bonuses, “including more than $1 million each to 73 people, to almost all of the employees…responsible for creating the exotic derivatives that caused AIG

  • John

    How’s this for a “point of reference?”

    According to the office of the New York Attorney General, AIG awarded bonuses to 418 employees last week “and included $33.6 million for 52 people who have left the failed insurance conglomerate.” AIG paid the bonuses, “including more than $1 million each to 73 people, to almost all of the employees…responsible for creating the exotic derivatives that caused AIG

  • Geoffrey Miller

    In many of his books, the great C. S. Lewis stated his opinion that Christian socialism is the best form of government ever conceived by man.

    Read more about it before drawing your own opinions on the matter:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christian_socialism
    http://www.spartacus.schoolnet.co.uk/REsocialism.htm
    http://www.seark.net/~jlove/screwtape.htm

  • R.C.

    I think the critical observation in this thread was made by Steve Berg: “Society is not Government.”

    Every goal intended by Catholic Social Doctrine is ennobled when enacted by the voluntary behaviors of individuals, of families, of employers, of employees, of neighbors. These are “society”; these will exist (yes, even employers) in an eternal kingdom whereas an organization granted a unique warrant to use force to achieve its ends (which is the definition of government) will not.

    To the degree that they are compelled, attempts to achieve the goals of Catholic Social Doctrine become progressively (no pun intended) more ignoble, and the actual outcome becomes objectively less morally good. A useful analogy is to conversion: We hope all the persons of the world to come to Christ, but that to the extent we compel them, not only do our efforts become evil, but the “conversions” that actually occur are false and the outward show of good results only an illusion.

    But subsidiarity attenuates the evil of compulsory “alms.” There is no caused by a canned-food drive being written in to a neighborhood homeowners’ covenant; little by a program at the township level; not too much at the county level; only a moderate amount at the level of a metropolitan area; and at the state level it’s not so truly awful as at the federal level. (I don’t consider the international level; I want to be able to sleep at night.)

    And the type of compulsion matters: There are degrees. Locking a man up for refusal to “give” is worse than having him endure an incremental economic disadvantage; small incentives, if worked wisely, can be nearly harmless, especially at low levels of subsidiarity.

    But all this is in the realm of making compromises. Over all that, should stretch the banner: Society Is Not Government. We are justly and wisely cautious to keep most human activities in the realm of “society” and limit the scope of “government,” because it is quite rare that a thing is so important, and its alternatives so frightening, that we should compel it with the muzzle of a gun, and turn that gun over to other people whom we don’t know, to compel it on our behalf.

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