Not Whether to Help the Poor, But How

The debate over the application of the core teachings of the Christian faith began when Jesus was presented with a Roman coin containing Caesar’s image. In that moment, the Lord drew both a limitation to the legitimate power of the state and a distinction between it and the supreme authority of Almighty God. What would unfold over the years following was a highly balanced and well thought-out hierarchy of values rooted in a core understanding of the dignity of the human person. Yet it was not so abstract a set of principles as to be incapable of providing guidance for concrete policy recommendations that nonetheless do not collapse dogmatic and unchangeable doctrine into the dynamic stuff of politics and policies.

Along this circuitous route to a more balanced set of principles, there have been dead ends and extremes from which the Church has pulled her faithful: the medieval Spiritualist Franciscan (i fraticelli) who wanted to ban private property as intrinsically evil, or, more recently, the Liberation Theologians who attempted to “collapse the eschaton” of the Kingdom of God into socialist revolution.

Yet the incarnation of Christ does not let the Christian off the hook when it comes to our beliefs about human dignity and the practical protection of the vulnerable. Understanding how to translate the social implications of the gospel into workable and concrete solutions is at times as frustrating and ambiguous as understanding the homoousian clause of the Creed.


Let us take the recent occasions of public discourse by Catholics on these matters occasioned by an open letter issued by a group of Catholic professors, which argues that the budget proposed by House Republicans violates Catholic social teaching, and in which they come close to calling the Speaker of the House a heretic.

There is evidence in this letter, and in some of the commentary surrounding it, of a failure to grasp the necessary distinctions in Catholic moral theology (of which, as the popes have noted, the social teaching is a branch). I pointed out in my original critique of the open letter that the Catholic professors’ statement neglected the important distinction between “non-negotiable dogmas and doctrines” and the “prudential and debatable give and take when it comes to applying the principles of Catholic social teaching.” Then I cited the Compendium of the Social Doctrine: “The Church’s Magisterium does not wish to exercise political power or eliminate the freedom of opinion of Catholics regarding contingent questions” (571).  The use of the phrase “contingent questions” in the Compendium is quite deliberate. It means that it is simply inaccurate to say that Catholics who debate how to address poverty dissent from the Church’s teaching in the same way as someone who does not support the Church’s insistence on legal protection for the unborn.

Some Catholic commentators reject this point, offering in defense a quotation from Caritas in Veritate: “Clarity is not served by certain abstract subdivisions of the Church’s social doctrine, which apply categories to Papal social teaching that are extraneous to it…. There is a single teaching, consistent and at the same time ever new.”

Benedict’s point here is that the Church’s teaching in the moral realm is one consistent body of thought. It is not a hodgepodge of policy concerns, among which Catholics may pick and choose along the lines of the fashionable Cafeteria Catholicism. The Church’s solicitude for the poor, the marginalized, the unborn, and the elderly is all of a piece. In that sense, the critique is correct: A Catholic cannot subordinate “justice issues” to “life issues”; he must embrace the Church’s teaching as a whole, because life issues are justice issues.

Yet the distinction holds. This is not because “justice issues” are less important than “life issues,” but because they are fundamentally different — a difference rooted in two millennia of Catholic moral reflection. Abortion involves the direct and intentional destruction of an innocent human life. It is never permissible intentionally to choose evil. Laws that permit abortion are inherently unjust, and Catholics are obligated to work toward legal prohibition of abortion.

When it comes to doing good, however, which is what addressing poverty entails, the Church does not stipulate exactly how such good is to be done. Helping the poor requires a different sort of moral analysis — not because I (or the Church’s teaching) am “dualist,” as some critics suggest, nor because assisting the poor is “less important” than protecting the unborn, but because the two issues possess different characteristics and therefore require different sorts of moral analysis.

This distinction holds, for example, outside the realm of the Church’s social teaching and can be seen in her teaching on the moral manner in which life is conceived. A superficial criticism of the Church’s stance against artificial contraception says, “Why is it wrong to avoid conception by the use of chemicals or condoms, but not immoral when using natural family planning methods?” The error in this argument is the same one made by the critics to whom I am responding: In the former case, an evil means is being chosen (the action to chemically prevent conception, for example), rather than refraining from doing good at a given time (actions leading to conception). It is not a sin to refrain from choosing from all the many goods available; it is always a sin to intentionally choose to do evil.


It is possible to argue that cutting welfare programs is consistent with Catholic social teaching, because we may choose from the various options available to us to do good by evaluating them in the hierarchy of goods. It will not do to fling citations of social encyclicals at each other on this point. Certainly there are passages that could be found to support increased government activity in the economy and provision of social services — when necessary to serve the common good. But there are also passages that suggest decreased government activity and withdrawal from social services (i.e., critiques of bureaucracy and calls for more vigorous private charity). Whether a particular situation — in this case, the budget battle in the United States in the year 2011 — calls for one or the other is manifestly a prudential question about which Catholics may disagree.

At the root of the incredulity and exasperation of some Catholics who mix fair arguments with vitriol is an incapacity to recognize that we really believe that many government programs aggravate rather than ameliorate poverty and other social ills. Rather than debating the prudence of the policies at hand, detractors resort to ad hominem attacks and pronounce anathemas selectively. Yet there is by this time a vast literature on the damage wrought by the war on poverty and its failure to achieve its goals. Such critics can continue to believe that shoveling government money into welfare programs discharges Catholic social teaching’s obligation to assist the poor if they wish, but their inability to see other views as reasonable, at least, is distressingly myopic.

A Catholic may not disregard the Church’s teaching to assist the poor and vulnerable; to do so would be to neglect the words and example of Christ Himself. It would be, in effect, to deny the Faith. But on the question of how best to fulfill that obligation, Catholics will indeed disagree, and the Church does not teach that it must be otherwise. The same kind of latitude is not permitted when it comes to legal protection of the unborn. I do not believe that this is “my view” of the matter; it is the mind of the Church, to which I hope my own mind is conformed.

Rev. Robert A. Sirico


Rev. Robert A. Sirico is president and co-founder of the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

  • David

    Thank you, Fr. Sirico. This should be required reading for every Catholic Web SIte and newspaper. Also, for journalists who cover the Catholic Church.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Well said.

    Those of us who oppose the welfare state as a wrongheaded and ultimately damaging thing continue to wrestle with the libel that we are heartless Scrooges.

    You would think that Arthur Brooks’ data on the way that right-leaning persons in the U.S. give nearly twice as much to church and charity as left-leaning persons, and volunteer far more often, would be sufficient objective data to put this tired myth to bed. (I’m certainly tireless in citing it, for this reason.) But somehow the message never sinks in.

  • Mandy P.

    Thank you so much Fr. Sirico, for a very clarifying and timely piece.

    Prior to leaving the workplace to stay home and raise my children, I was in management at a local firm that was located in the poor section of town. The vast majority of the people working at this particular business and living in the surrounding area were very dependent upon social services for their survival. What I observed while there was that, while the people themselves were lovely, warm and wonderful, most that I encountered had all but given up trying to get themselves off of assistance and into a better life. And it really wasn’t a lack of intelligence or formal education that was the problem. The biggest obstacle I encountered when working alongside the poor is a lack of what we would probably call common business knowledge and work ethic. That’s not to suggest that they were lazy; just that most of the people I encountered were not in possession of the ideals and skills that are valued in the business world.

    The hardest part for me was trying and failing to convince my coworkers to adapt to the business environment. No matter how many conversations- gentle, I assure you- I had with people, it was extensor rare to get through. Most of the response I received was that it was just easier to keeping doing hints the way they were doing them and if they lost their job as a result, well oh well. They could always get unemployment and welfare. It absolutely broke my heart to see so many wonderful, smart and perfectly capable people not care enough about themselves and their futures (as well as those of their children) to be willing to change their behavior so that they might succeed.

    I realize that my experiences are purely anecdotal, but after working alongside many very poor people for several years I am absolutely convinced that throwing more money into welfare and such will not solve the problem. Of course there should be a safety net in place as no one should ever go hungry. But at the same time we should not be encouraging a perpetual state of welfare amongst families and their successive generations. Our current assitance policies provide no incentive for people to change their behaviors and attitudes into successful ones. Real change will only occur once we educate the perpetually poor; however that education needs to be focused on teaching actual job skills and instilling the values necessary to thrive in the workplace.

  • Bob

    Fr. Sirico—excellent as always. It strikes me how theological props are used to bolster the welfare state. True authentic charity is a means to salvation for it is an act of Love, and exercise in our free will; like Nicodemus who funded early evangilization, we serve Church through charity. Compulsion to “give”, and give mostly for what is intolerable, is simply an expression of government power. Unlike salvific charity, it is an expression of envy.

  • L.J. Baumer

    Your observations, though anecdotal, are “right on”.
    Having spent more than a quarter of a century working for a Catholic social services agency, I am aware of two many instances where a mother came to us with pregnant daughter to seek and our case history finds that the mother and the grandmother were similarly served by our programs. Three generations of welfare recipients tell a very tragic story. It is a story we, sadly, continue to fund and encourage.

  • Kathryn

    Unless I am mistaken, legislation that seeks to limit the amount of welare increases a woman may get based on the number of children she has is not considered prolife and is not supported by various prolife groups, and it is decried by the bishops as an attack on life.

    For example, a single mother of one child on welfare might get $1000 a month plus food stamps. If she has another child she might gets an automatic increase to $1250 per month plus additional WIC coupons. As part of welfare reform, legislation that would prevent the automatic $250 increase would be rejected by the bishops and pro-life community as encouraging abortion.

  • Flamen

    It is about time that the policies of Speaker Boehner are shown for what they are – anti-Catholic – by the professors at major Catholic Universities. He is supporting the proposals of Paul Ryan who is profoundly influenced by the ideas of Ayn Rand. This is nothing new for Republicans.
    The political figures who cite Rand as an influence are most often conservative or libertarian members of the United States Republican Party. Martin Anderson, chief domestic policy adviser for President Ronald Reagan, identifies himself as a disciple of Rand, and Reagan described himself as an “admirer” of Rand in private correspondence in the 1960s. “In 1987, The New York Times called Rand the ‘novelist laureate’ of the Reagan administration. Reagan’s nominee for commerce secretary, C. William Verity Jr., kept a passage from Atlas Shrugged on his desk, including the line “How well you do your work . . . [is] the only measure of human value.”
    Conservative and libertarian talk show hosts such as Glenn Beck, John Stossel, Neal Boortz and Rush Limbaugh have recommended Atlas Shrugged to their audiences. U.S. Congressmen Bob Barr, Ron Paul, and Paul Ryan have acknowledged her influence on their lives, as has Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Clarence Thomas.
    The financial crisis of 2007–2010 spurred renewed interest in her works, especially Atlas Shrugged, which some saw as foreshadowing the crisis, and opinion articles compared real-world events with the plot of the novel. Republican South Carolina Governor Mark Sanford wrote a 2009 review for Newsweek where he spoke of how he was “blown away” after first reading The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged, while tying her significance to understanding the 2008 financial crisis. Signs mentioning Rand and her fictional hero John Galt appeared at Tea Party protests, while the Cato Institute’s Will Wilkinson quipped that “going Galt” had become the “libertarian-conservative’s version of progressives threatening to move to Canada.”
    During this period there was also increased criticism of her ideas, especially from the political left, with critics blaming the economic crisis on her support of selfishness and free markets, particularly through her influence on Alan Greenspan. For example, the left-leaning Mother Jones remarked that “Rand’s particular genius has always been her ability to turn upside down traditional hierarchies and recast the wealthy, the talented, and the powerful as the oppressed”, while The Nation alleged similarities between the “moral syntax
    As an atheist who rejected faith as antithetical to reason, Rand embraced philosophical realism and opposed all forms of what she regarded as mysticism and supernaturalism including every organized religion. Rand wrote in her journals that Christianity was the best kindergarten of communism possible.” Rand argued for rational egoism (rational self-interest) as the only proper guiding moral principle. “The individual should exist for his own sake”, she wrote in 1962, “neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself.” Rand held that laissez-faire, free market capitalism is the only moral social system. Philosopher Chandran Kukathas said her “unremitting hostility towards the state and taxation sits inconsistently with a rejection of anarchism and her attempt to resolve the difference are ill-thought and unsystematic.” The first edition of We the Living contained language which has been interpreted as advocating ruthless elitism: “What are your masses but mud to be ground underfoot, fuel to be burned for those who deserve it?”
    The response of the university that “there are diverse viewpoints on these questions” is so hypocritical. What about the diverse viewpoints on contraception, early stage abortion before ensoulment, the ordination of married men or women, women deacons, the riights of unions, etc.? Do they get a free pass and an honorary degree?

  • richard

    Well stated, Father.

  • Tony Esolen

    Sure, Ayn Rand is poisonous, pompous, and simpleminded. See David Hart’s recent satire against her in First Things. Now then, how bankrupt is the left in this country, that they make such a moral imbecile as Ayn Rand look good? What a cursed shame it is that ill-educated conservatives like Beck and Limbaugh have to turn to Ayn Rand for a defense of the dynamism of the businessman, the risks he takes, and the good that he does for his fellows? Yes, Ayn Rand is as dumb as a bag of rocks. But show me a single Catholic bishop in America, or a single theologian, in the last forty years, who evinces the slightest awareness of what sorts of things a man has to do to go into business, what paperwork he’s got to put up with, how many political palms he has to (legally) grease, how much by way of losses he has to suck up to abide by often pointless or incomprehensible regulations, how difficult it is for him to fire a worker who is costing him customers every day, what margin for error he has to work with, how he has to capitalize upon good years just in order to weather the occasional but inevitable bad year, and on and on.

    The bishops have been making the same damned mistake that the socialists and the laissez-faire capitalist ideologues were making in the nineteenth century. They reduce economic questions to matters of matter, material goods, quantifiable things. How the heck many times does it have to be said? The Catholic Church does not measure the wealth of a people in quantitative terms alone, but in qualitative terms. It is never, in the Church’s view, how much a person has, so long as the basic needs of the human body are met. It is what a person is. If you could pass a law that would transfer money from the rich to the poor en masse, without regard to the common good, to justice for both rich and poor, and to the effect that it would have on the poor, the Church would oppose it. The Church, for instance, never can approve economic measures that undermine the family, or that empower the State at the expense of the independence of the family. And the Church does not recognize as normative a single woman with children, or other aberrations common in our day. We have the duty to help people who are in a bad situation; and we have a duty likewise to enact prudent laws to ensure that few people will end up in that bad situation to begin with. The real tragedies, in the view of the Church, are not monetary but personal and moral.

    So we need to rethink every single stupid thing we have done, as a culture, to undermine the family. Then many of our economic duties would become clearer.

  • Cord Hamrick


    He is supporting the proposals of Paul Ryan who is profoundly influenced by the ideas of Ayn Rand. This is nothing new for Republicans.

    If a person acquires the notion that the sky is blue and the sun hot, and finds that he shares that notion with an atheist, should he reject it as fruit of a bad tree?

    Naturally Boehner supports certain of Rand’s ideas, as I do: Not because they are Rand’s, but because they are factual.

    And of course being factual they are not unique to Rand…but she seems to have had a certain verve about expressing them during a period when they were deemed politically incorrect. Thus she is credited with popularizing them.

    At the same time, certain other of Rand’s ideas or habits are execrable. I oppose them; so too, I expect, does Boehner.

    For example, she seemed to be strongly opposed to charitable giving to the poor. Boehner, on the other hand, is a Republican and a Catholic. So while I don’t know anything about his personal charitable giving, the chances are quite high that he gives to charity quite a lot. (I can guess this purely on the basis that he is Republican, and especially because he is a Catholic Republican. I assume you already know that right-wingers in the U.S., and especially religious right-wingers, are roughly twice as generous to the needy as their left-leaning neighbors.)

    • ELM

      Yes, exactly.

  • Charles W. Gill II S.F.O.

    In essence, the conservative “solution” to our Social Justice problem, has resulted in 45,000 people dying from a lack of health care, 5,000 workers dying every year from a lack of safe work places resulting from a lack of regulation, 8,000 babies dying in the first year of life from a lack of adequate health care, and millions of people going hungry.

    It is a grave matter. Intentional ignorance about the history of these so called solutions is the excuse. Intentional ignorance is never an excuse. These solutions are willfully and knowingly agreed to. There is no fourth category to mortal sin. The catechism clearly states there are only three categories. Therefore, to support these solutions at this date is mortal sin.

    On this point, as a practicing Catholic, I cannot compromise. I support Jesus when he quotes the Shema in Mark 12. We are called to love God with all of our hearts. In the Shema hearts is plural, while “your” is singular, with all of our anima, and with everything we use to measure ourselves with.

    How do we love God? What do we give someone who already has everything?” We also need to keep in mind that it is not Shema Charlie, Tom, Dick, or Harry. It is Shema Israel. It is addressed to the community. As a community, we are called to love God with all of our hearts, all of our anima, and with everything we use to measure ourselves.

    So again, How do we love God? What do we give to someone who already has everything? We love what is his. That includes his planet, which means doing something about global warming. It means a real concern for everything with anima, that is animate, in particular that which is made in his image, Tsalam, Shalom, and in his likeness, Damoth, feminine plural of all which has blood.

    That means love of neighbor as someone made in the image and likeness of God. As we treat neighbor, we treat God who is in that neighbor. Making excuses for not helping neighbor as a nation and as individuals is a violation of that Mitzvah. That is exactly what the conservatives are doing.

    • Tom atk

      Charles, you may be more convincing with your rightious indignation had you mentioned the 1.2 million babies aborted in the name of adult “reproductive rights”.

  • Charles W. Gill II S.F.O.

    Regrettably I find that I must disagree with the statement, “It is possible to argue that cutting welfare programs is consistent with Catholic social teaching because we may choose from the various options available to us to do good by evaluating them in the hierarchy of goods. ”

    I address this issue in my chapter which I am putting in a novel I am writing, and which can be found at my face book page.

    That leaves the position that those who are against Social Welfare programs can honestly believe that doing so can somehow produce Justice. As an Irishman I studied how the lack of Social Welfare programs produced Social Justice in the Past.

    It was not a month ago that we celebrated the anniversaries of some of those dates. On March 25, 2011 We celebrated the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. 15 April 2011 is the 99th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic, a tragedy also caused by the lack meaningful regulation of industry.

    Things have changed and could not happen now? What about the relatively recent Hamlet Fire, September 3, 1991, under the exact same conditions of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire? What about the tragedy in the Gulf of Mexico last year, under conditions very similar to the Titanic sinking?

    Some argue that if we cut taxes for the rich they will create jobs. “After all, we do have 6,000 years of history to look at. That process has not worked yet, so success is due.” is a chart I put together from figures provided by the US Census Department.

    Until we started attacking labor unions, 3.8% unemployment was the considered to be in recession. In 1968, 29.5% of the population were in labor unions. The bottom 50% of the population earned 27% of all income. The richest 50% of the population brought home 40% of all income. The figures are now, 12.5% of the population are in labor unions, the poorest 50% of the population brings home 20% of the income, while the poorest 80% of the population controls 15% of all wealth. The richest 20% control 84% of all wealth and bring home 21% of all income.

    Since the conservatives started controlling the economy the economy has not come close to a 3.8% unemployment rate. When the Kemp/Roth tax cuts came into the economy in ’81, the economy took a nose dive and did not recover until President Reagan signed the largest tax increases into law later in his term.

    Even then, the lowest unemployment rate under Reagan/Bush was 5.3% and it did not last for very long. Bush is famous for his “No New Taxes” pledge. As long as he lived by the pledge, unemployment rose. All of this time, it must be kept in mind, that wages for the poorest 50% of the population were dropping, as the chart shows and when Bush violated his NO New Taxes Pledge, unemployment dropped.

    Section 1859 of the Catechism talks about willful ignorance. Through 6,000 years of world history, the agenda the conservatives are putting forward to promote Social Justice have failed Social Justice. To keep pushing the same agenda is willful ignorance.

    Section 1857 of the Catechism talks about the difference between mortal and venial sin. For a sin to be mortal three conditions must be met. It must be a grave matter, the 5,000 workers who die every year from a lack of meaningful regulation of the work place is a grave matter. The 45,000 people who die every year because of a lack of adequate health care is a grave matter. The 8,000 babies who die in the first year of life, half of them pre-born because of a lack of adequate health care is a grave matter.

    36.2 million people in the U.S. (12.2%) lived in food-insecure households, 11.9 million with hunger. 12.4 million were children under 18 years of age. This is a grave matter.

    When St. Thomas Aquinas talked about the Queen of all Sins, I do believe he was talking about idolatry. He felt this way because it is the foundation of all other sins. The foundational premise for the tax and budget cuts is that there is a market trinity of military, money and the market which is more capable of deciding what is in our interest than the People in Congress Assembled.

    Psalm 82 discusses the People in Congress Assembled as a god. It states, “אֱלֹהִים, נִצָּב בַּעֲדַת-אֵל; בְּקֶרֶב אֱלֹהִים יִשְׁפֹּט. God stands in the congregation of of the gods.” What does he mean by this?

    אֲנִי-אָמַרְתִּי, אֱלֹהִים אַתֶּם; וּבְנֵי עֶלְיוֹן כֻּלְּכֶם. אָכֵן, כְּאָדָם תְּמוּתוּן; וּכְאַחַד הַשָּׂרִים תִּפֹּלוּ. I said: Ye are godlike beings, and all of you sons of the Most High. Nevertheless ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.’

    God is not talking to other divinities, but to human beings, the princes of the people. When I was in the Navy, I learned the meaning of this phrase. If the pilot of an F-16 flies his plane onto and aircraft carrier, and takes three wave offs from an Seaman recruit, fresh out of Basic Training, (All F-16 pilots are commissioned officers,) when he lands he can and will be brought before the captain of the ship for willfully violating an order from, not the Seaman Recruit, but the commanding officer.

    When our leaders stand as representatives of God, they stand in persona Divini. That is what Psalm 82 is talking about.

    Now, as to what the proper role of a leader is, “How long will ye judge unjustly, and respect the persons of those who think themselves first? Judge the poor and fatherless; do Tzaddic/Justice/Charity to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the poor and needy; deliver them out of the hand of those who think themselves first/Russia.

    From Psalm 72, this Psalm begins To Solomon, and ends with the comment that it is a Psalm of David. It also talks about rulers having a direct role in protecting the poor from the rich.

    Sorry Father, but These Psalms were written well before Jesus and his confrontation with the Rabbis about the Roman coins. Jesus, throughout the Gospels is talking well within the norm of Jewish tradition.

    As to the example of the Roman coins. The Jewish people of the time were looking for their recuse from Rome, but they were co-dependent upon Rome. The chief example of this where their use of Roman coinage.

    Jesus tells all the Jewish people of the time, that if they want to get rid of Rome, they must cut off their co-dependency upon Rome. That means giving Caesar what is Caesar’s, all of his Roman coinage, not just taxes, and get back to a Jewish coinage.

    Another example is “Legion” in Mark 5. Legion is not an Aramaic, Hebrew, or Greek word. it is a Roman word and not a name that any Jew would give their child. The example is there to show that if we want to get rid of our pigs, our dependance upon government, if we want to get rid of Rome, we must first follow Torah.

    That means being charitable to each other, as individuals and and as a nation. Remember also Matthew 25:31-Matthew 26:1. This is not an address to individuals, but to the nations. Jesus tells us, not just “as you do to the least of these…” but because Matthew 26:1 starts the Passion, as we do to the least of these, we participate in the Passion. For Jesus this is very, extremely personal.

    Arguing that there are legitimate disagreements as to solutions and then positing a solution with absolutely no chance of success, at best, and idolatrous at worse, is not a solution to our problems.

    There can be legitimate disagreement as to solutions. But at present, the liberals are the only people with a viable solution on the table.

  • The key passages in the quotes are:

    Father Lenny agreed, “You are right. There are not five Mitzvah; there are ten. Our count of those ten comes from St. Augustine, a great Catholic writer and theologian. He listed them in, “Questions in the Exodus.” Father Lenny added, “I suspect this is not about the listed five, but about the rest.” Beth chirped, “We are not discussing when life begins or ends, but about what it is in between. The Ten Mitzvoth as you call them are older than some St. Augustine. You are saying that he changed them. I don’t think they can be changed.”

    Father Lenny looked at her with love as he handed her a Bible and asked her to turn to Deuteronomy 4:13. When she found the quote, he asked her to read, “He related to you His Social Contract, which came out of his mouth for you to do, even the ten words; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone.”

    He asked her to read Deuteronomy 4:1-2. She read, “You who quarrel with the Mighty Judge, Listen to the customs and judicial precedents, which I teach you. Do them; so you may live, go in, possess the land, which the Personal Name, the Mighty Judge of your fathers, gives. You will not add to the word, which I Mitzvah to you, neither will you reduce from them, to you to keep the Mitzvah of the Personal Name your Mighty Judge, which I Mitzvah to you.”

    Beth looked on in amazement as she listened to this learned priest. Father Lenny added, “He lists, ‘you will not kill; you will not commit adultery; you will not steal; you will not give vain witness; you will not defraud; hold as important your father and your mother.’ Jesus lists the last five Mitzvah in the Jewish count, and then goes back to grab number 4. As Catholics, we divide the last Mitzvah into two Mitzvoth, and make the first Mitzvah in the Jewish list, the preamble.” Beth commented, “So, the difference between the two is more one of semantics than real difference?”

    Father Lenny quipped, “Pretty much. There is one important difference. The Jewish Seder takes from the first Mitzvah, their count, the concept of the Physical Presence. In our Preamble it states, ‘It is not to your fathers that I gave this Social Contract, but to us, each of us, who stands here, this day.”

    Beth looked in awe as Father Lenny continued, “From this comes the Mitzvah to relive, first the oppression of Egypt, and following this, the rescue, for the first time each time, every time, they celebrate their Jewish Seder. This is the basis of how we understand Jesus’ Physical Presence, when we celebrate, first the Passion of Jesus, and after that Easter Sunday, through the Eucharist. Jesus suffers and dies in the liturgy, in present time, in each Mass. The Preamble to the Ten Mitzvah is an integral part of our liturgy.”

    Beth complained, “I heard his Five Mitzvoth from other orthodox people.” Father Lenny explained, “Some insist on following five non-negotiable rules. They are convinced that they are somehow more important, for whatever reason than the others.” Beth insisted, “For most people there are three important things, food, clothing, and shelter.” Father Lenny agreed, “Of course.”

    Beth argued, “OK, it is the dead of winter and I am walking down a road, shivering and cold. I am also hungry and my clothes are soaked.” Father Lenny quipped, “OK.” Beth chirped, “Now I come upon three buildings, one a tobacco barn, full of holes, but also full of food, some canned, some in refrigerators, some dried. Another building is a very sturdy garage, no heat, but full of clothing that is just my size. The third is the farmhouse. It is well heated, and has a nice fireplace. On the other hand, there is no food or clothing. Which should I enter? Which is the non-negotiable necessity?”

    Father Lenny quipped, “You make a find case. If I were not starving to the point of death, I would enter the farmhouse. I do so knowing that at some point, I must go to the tobacco barn for food and the garage for fresh clothing. In its own turn, each is non-negotiable if I am to live.”

    He quoted, “In what we call the Second Giving of the Law,’ really the first to be written down, it says, ‘I call heaven and earth today to witness against you: I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life, that you and your descendants may live.” That is a Mitzvah, to choose life.” He made his point, “Your examples, at the point of choosing life, are non-negotiable. The dividing line is ‘choose life.’ Ezekiel says it well, ‘The Personal Name, the Mighty Judge says, ‘as I live, I have no pleasure in the death of those who think themselves first. It is my desire that those thinking themselves first turn from that road and live.”

    Beth sat spellbound as Father Lenny continued with the quote, “I ask you, turn, from your rotten ways. Why will you die, you who quarrel with The Mighty Judge?’ If this applies to those who think themselves first, how much more, must it apply to our example? We must choose life. We choose the farmhouse, but when that choice looks like it might cause the death of even one of our company, we must choose either the tobacco barn or the garage.”

    Beth finished the thought, “God has no desire, for the loss of those thinking themselves first. He desires the loss of no man. We must neither sacrifice the caviar of the pre-born, nor the fish of the post born. We must willingly sacrifice no man. We must remember, all are made in his image and in his likeness, and that, as we treat any man, we treat the Mighty Judge himself.”

    Father Lenny continued, “The problem behind those the five non-negotiable is in college logic called the fallacy of false dilemma. It presumes we must make a choice between one part of the Ten Mitzvah and another.” Beth giggled as she listened to the argument, and quipped, “No, I think it is choosing between one part of the Ten Commandments and the same part.”

    Father Lenny congratulated her, “You are right. The problem is that there is only one law in question, ‘You will not kill.’ We as Catholics believe that life begins at conception, and there are Torah quotes to back that up. Those pushing non-negotiable rules on us present us with a terrible choice, we must choose between the pre-born, and the post born. We are not caviar that one kills before birth, the pre-born, and we are not fish. The conservatives want to throw back the poor until they are a certain size and then leave to starve.”

    Beth smiled as she listened to this argument. She asked, “What do these people want to tell relatives of the five thousand workers who die every year because they support politicians who oppose reasonable regulation of the workplace? What do we tell the relatives of the 45,000 who die every year because they oppose universal health care, or the 8,000 who lose babies because of inadequate health care?”

    Father Lenny lamented, “You make a good point, and I guess you will have to ask them. When we engage in Cafeteria Christianity, denying life to anybody, we lose our credibility with their relatives. As I said, it is a terrible choice they put before us. There should be no reason to choose between the baby and its mother, or its father in the factory. It is a false dilemma. We have 225 Catholic Colleges and Universities with 70,000 students, and 26 law schools. We have sufficient graduates; we should not have to face that terrible choice.”

    Beth nodded her head as Father Lenny continued, “We should have sufficient graduates to prevent having to choose between the pre-born and our teaching of social justice. It is just wrong. You make a good point. Until we stop people like this Father Paul East and the dinner plate Catholicism of both the liberals and the conservatives, we will continue to have problems.”

    Beth noted, “I see that it says, ‘You will not add to the word, which I Mitzvah to you, neither will you diminish from it, that you may keep the Mitzvah of the Personal Name your Mighty Judge, which I Mitzvah to you.’ ‘He related to you His Social Contract, which came from his mouth for you to do, even the ten words; and He wrote them upon two tables of stone.’ Father Lenny quipped, “That is correct. It is really all one word, divided into ten words.”

    He paused for a moment and added, “St. James tells us, ‘Whoever keeps the whole law, but falls short in one particular, has become guilty in respect to all of it.’ In our Catechism, it quotes both this passage and Galatians, which all point to the idea that the Torah is one organic whole. In logic, it is impossible for anything to be more important than itself.”

  • Tony Esolen

    Nobody wants to address what I’ve said about moral degradation and squalor, or about social problems and the breakdown of the family — and if you don’t think that leftists have SET OUT to undermine the family, in particular the working class family with male breadwinner, then you ought to read Utopia Against the Family by Bryce Christensen …

    Question: We want more jobs. How to make those jobs? That we want them, is a moral imperative. How to come up with them, that is an economic question. What good will it be to raise taxes on rich people, if it means that they scale back their hiring? I have no affection for the upper class, but questions regarding taxes HAVE to take into account what raising taxes will actually do.

    Lawmakers, as opposed to individuals, HAVE to take into account, as best they can, the overall consequences of the laws they pass; they HAVE to be provident. The welfare laws — I’m assuming here that the politicians who embarked on The Great Society were genuinely trying to help the poor rather than to reduce them to vassalage — have done their best to DESTROY THE FAMILY, and the FAMILY is the great fund of MORAL capital that the working class once enjoyed.

    We cannot keep assuming that economic questions regarding the poor have nothing to do with moral questions and , yes, with the demotion of the father. Many people in our country are nearly unemployable. Why? Why do so many young men grow up without a single skill to help them find good work? Who the heck has been looking out for those guys? NOBODY.

    I’ll let Cord argue the economic history, which he knows far better than I do. I’ll just repeat my challenge: you show me where the Catholic Church commands that we enact political policies that undermine the family — which is exactly what the Welfare State has done.

  • Thank you Tony for your last comment.

    Our Catechism states, section 2309 These are the traditional elements enumerated in what is called the “just war” doctrine.

    The damage inflicted by the aggressor on the nation or community of nations must be lasting, grave, and certain.

    all other means of putting an end to it must have been shown to be impractical or ineffective;

    there must be serious prospects of success.

    It is agreed that in the war on poverty, the damage inflicted must be lasting, grave, and certain. I quoted the figures above. All other means to putting an end to poverty must be shown to be impractical, or ineffective. The last time the democratic proposal was tried was under the War on Poverty, the results were 3.8% unemployment, a balanced budget and the poorest 50% of the people with 27% of the income.

    That program was tried from 1964-1968. It was succeeding. If it had continued, who knows what success we may have had. Regrettably, since 1981 in particular we have been trying a new program. Under this new program we now have more people unemployed than at the height of the Great Depression. To solve the problem, the conservatives who implemented it, have radicalized it. It does not have a reasonable chance of success, which is the third test of the just fight.

    The reason for the failure is simple. It is imbedded in their own theory of economic development called supply and demand. With the bottom 50% of the population only bringing home 20% of the income, they are not generating any demand.

    Another little known fact is that only a quarter of the money supply is backed up by real money. Where does the rest come from? It is not credit. They teach that in economics 101. If you borrow money, you borrow it from somebody, and they are in essence buying it for you.

    No, the money comes from the fact that the same dollar is counted 4 times. Poor people spend money on tangible things, and that creates demand. The more money they have, the more they spend. The more they spend, the more times the same dollar is counted. That creates jobs.

    On the other hand, the rich tend to buy intangible things. Also, thanks to the internet, when they do buy tangible things, they buy them on the internet, which does not charge sales tax. Most states still depend on sales tax, so when the rich buy things, the states do not collect tax. Most people would not even know how to report taxable purchases to their states.

    Intangible things do not create demand. When rich people buy stocks, bonds, life insurance and the like, what they really get is a piece of paper, not something that creates demand for products.

    Even if corporations were directly benefited by the sale of their stocks and bonds, which they are not, they would still not create jobs. With 80% of the population only controlling 15% of wealth and 50% of the population only bringing home 20% of income, there is still no demand.

    The solution is therefore not giving more tax breaks to the rich. They will still just sit on their wealth, waiting for demand for their products. That is not being bad people. That is being prudent people.

    The solution must involve bringing more income to the poor people who will spend that money on tangible things. That means raising the minimum wage. We must be careful. Under thirty years of republican prosperity, if we raise it to fast, we will causes businesses to go out of business. That is also against Catholic teaching. I could go search for the quote, but I think even the conservatives will agree with the last point.

    That means more regulation to make sure the imbalance causing the present crisis does not appear again. That involves repeal of the evil Taft/Hartley and encouraging union as a check and balance to the corporate barons now running the country.

    In short, that means undoing everything the conservatives and the republicans have done for the past 30 and 40 years.

  • Cord Hamrick


    I’m afraid I must flatly deny your premises.

    You seem to feel that a “conservative solution to the social justice problem” has been tried and found wanting.

    My observation is that it has been found politically difficult and not tried, except in those rare laboratories of local variation which our greatly attenuated federalism still permits to exist; and there, it has generally been a rousing success, but could not be implemented at any larger scale because (a.) the political interests of left-progressives prohibited their acknowledging that they’d been wrong about what actually helps the poor and the country, and (b.) those who favored extending such successes were generally believers in federalism and non-centralization and thus were the type of people who actually thought centralized solutions morally wrong, because of the way they arrogate power to the federal government far beyond wisdom or constitutional warrant.

    In any event, you seem to feel that the Republicans and conservatives have achieved something over the last 30 and 40 years. What, exactly? And when? The only time during that period when Republicans controlled all three branches of government (6 years under G.W.Bush), conservatives controlled none.

    As a result, the Republicans governed in a very un-conservative way, and the Tea Parties were born as a protest movement against the un-conservative governance of the second G.W.Bush term. (That they are even more opposed to Obama’s policies does not change this; the same group of people who are ideologically opposed to Deng are not suddenly Deng-supporters merely because they are even more opposed to Mao.)

    So again: Tried and found wanting, or found difficult and not tried? I argue the latter.


  • Cord Hamrick


    But let us say, for the sake of argument, that it is the former: That sometime during the last 30 years there has been a stretch of governance in the U.S. equal to what we would have had if Reagan’s presidency had coincided with the Contract With America years in Congress.

    What then? You argue there have been X deaths because of this and Y deaths because of that. But policies come at an opportunity cost: When the choice is between Policy A and Policy B, and Policy A produces X deaths because of M and Y deaths because of N, the relevant question is not “How does Policy A compare to a perfect world in which there would be no deaths because of M and no deaths because of N and all other things would remain equal?” but rather, “How does Policy A compare to Policy B, in which there would be half as many deaths because of M and because of N, but twice as many deaths because of P and Q?”

    At any rate, I am relatively certain that the Welfare State constitutes a (usually) well-intended and (mostly) poorly-informed attempt to solve an important problem by immoral (and in the U.S., unconstitutional and unwise) means. And we are not permitted to use immoral means even with good intentions: “Thou shalt not do evil that good come of it.”

    I grant that fundamental moral opposition to the Welfare State is a minority opinion in the sensus fidelium presently; I hope that over the next few centuries it will become the majority opinion, leading eventually to strong condemnations of the Welfare State, just as the moral code of the Church gradually became aware of the incompatibility of the Christian view of the dignity of man with the institution of slavery, and condemned the latter.

    But that is a matter for the future and my opinion is entirely subject to the review of Holy Mother Church. For the present, the question is whether conservative policies have ever been tried and, if so, have they produced disaster or benefit? I answer, only locally and occasionally; and, always.

    So you and I seem to disagree firmly about two questions of fact. (A third is that the very years and policies which you list as being, in your opinion, the beginning of a solution for the poor are the very years and policies which, in my opinion, produced the greatest poverty-inducing calamities since the Great Depression…unless the Obama/Pelosi policies endure long enough to be worse. The poorest in society would by now be far better off had the “Great Society” policy missteps never occurred at all.)

  • Cord Hamrick


    One other thing:

    Are you of the opinion that a just society would have no (or very very few) poor people in it?

    Is it not more correct to say that a just society which was also a free society would be one in which the poverty of any individual was correlated strongly with his own decisions over the course of his working life, so that even a person who was quite wealthy in his 20’s could, by making foreseeably impoverishing decisions, work his way to the bottom 10% by the time he was 50; and correspondingly that a person who was quite poor in his 20’s could, by making foreseeably wealth-accumulating decisions, work his way to the top 10% by the time he was 50?

    If that power of choice is important to justice (and I think it is) then do you realize that, in a fallen world populated by fallen men who often choose the path least beneficial to themselves, there will never fail to be some number of poor folk? “The poor ye shall always have with you.” Not a desirable thing, of course! …but a statement of fact, prior to the Second Advent.

    Please note that I am speaking of foreseeably (financially) impoverishing decisions, and ultimately of justice. A man who chose to work very few hours per week, so that he could spend all his time with his children, would have made a choice of a (financially) poorer lifestyle. But his lifestyle would be richer in other ways. That is freedom, and it is justice: One makes one’s choices, knowing the likely consequences, and the likely consequences generally result.

    When we speak of justice towards the poor, then, I think most of what we are considering is a kind of impartiality: That their legal representation in court be no better or worse than that of the wealthy, for example. (This is an area in which we could see much improvement!) One should be no more able to defraud a poor man and get away with it, than a rich man. But justice also means that the consequences of one’s actions rebound organically from those actions within the predictable (just) rules of society, without being modified by external factors for the sake of rigging the game.

    In short: We want utter Equal Treatment Under Law, plus a certain amount of Equality of Opportunity, but with the knowledge that there will definitely not be Equality of Outcome if the system succeeds in being just.

  • Mary

    Kathryn — it’s also arguable that limiting welfare when new children are born is pro-life. Actions that make abortion less pleasant for women (such as parental notification or stopping subsidies) have decreased births; actions that make childbirth less pleasant (such as capping welfare payments) have decreased abortions.

    By making her future choices less palatable, they work by having women stop thinking — oh well, I can just do that instead — and start thinking about how to avoid the situation in the first place.

  • Cord Hamrick


    That’s always the rub, isn’t it?

    The more you try to help an individual overcome the consequences of his/her unwise or immoral choices, the more you create a “moral hazard”: You take away the natural incentive of cause and effect which normally has the benefit of teaching the unwise to become wise.

    What to do? Does one help, or not?

    Well, we have that answer: We help. But how?

    I think that the more one creates a system which guarantees insulation from the consequences of a person’s foolishness, the greater the moral hazards of encouraging immaturity, resentment of moral lessons, and attitudes of entitlement.

    But I think that when rescue from the consequences of one’s own foolishness is not a foregone conclusion (not a guarantee) arising from a system, but is instead a hoped-for possibility arising from the generosity of people you actually know, who don’t have to do it and whose graciousness places a sense of moral obligation upon you not to waste the second chance they have made possible…well! I think there is far less moral hazard in that. Indeed, I think the character-building effects could be quite salutary.

    So I can envision justice and mercy being maximized in a system which, governmentally-speaking, allows the unmarried mother very little leeway should she make bad choices more than once…but in which the optional and voluntary charitable assistance of her neighbors is so profoundly encouraged that if they judge her to be a fit recipient of assistance, they can and will assist her in such a way that while she doesn’t know the exact amounts and names; still, she knows she is the beneficiary of the entirely voluntary generosity of neighbors who know her.

    A society run along such lines would change over a generation or two for the better. But a society run along opposite lines (like ours began to be in the mid-60’s, with tragic results) will tend to evolve evil habits, because those are precisely the habits enabled when one is isolated from consequences. Strong families with “middle class values” will be (and in fact were) disintegrated, as the family bonds cemented by self-controlled marital love are (were) replaced by the mistrust and grief of hearts broken through promiscuity. The security of the word “family” dissolves (dissolved) into the cesspool of cultural sludge.

  • Carl

    Paradoxes: poverty and violence

    How can someone who is so enamored with the war on economic poverty typically be the same person to ignore the moral, cultural, and religious poverty that exists? In fact, the latter should precede the former because it’s the foundation of economic growth—2008 housing and banking crisis anyone?

    And again why do we have so many aghast about physical violence between men, examples being a just war and torture, while there is so much silence on the moral, cultural and religious violence in society. Again the latter is the former’s foundation.

  • Cord Hamrick: For 6,000 years the conservative approach has been tried and found to promote a culture of death. I personally lived through the horror of the Reagan years. I am currently writing a book about that subject.

    In the ’50s and ’60s the US spent 13% of its GDP on infrastructure. The figure is now 3%. Two thousand people died in New Orleans because the dams that should have been built over the course of the prior 20 years were not built, because of Reagan/Bush budget and tax cuts.

    There can be no doubt but that these people died directly because of those cuts, as were those who died when that bridge collapsed in St. Paul a couple of years back.

    It is not a system of alleged foolishness that keeps the poor in their place. It is a system of racial oppression that kep minorities in their place, followed by a system of educational and vocational inequality.

    The republicans have had virtual complete and total control of the economic debate over the past 30 years. The result is that in ’68 the unemployment rate was 3.8% and we thought that was high unemployment. The poorest 50% of the population brought home 27% of all income. The federal budget was in balance. Now they bring home 20% of all income, 5.3% unemployment is full employment to be dreamed about, but never expected. Trillion dollar budget deficits are not the norm.

    Yes, This, and the fact that there are now more unemployed people in the US than at the height of the Great Depression, the millions of people who go to bed hungry, the 45,000 people who die every year from a lack of health care, the 8,000 babies who die every year who die for the same reason, the 5,000 workers who die every year who die from a lack of regulation of the work place, including the 11 dead on the Deepwater Horizon, can all be directly attributed to the culture of death coming from the republican party.

    You say, “So you and I seem to disagree firmly about two questions of fact. (A third is that the very years and policies which you list as being, in your opinion, the beginning of a solution for the poor are the very years and policies which, in my opinion, produced the greatest poverty-inducing calamities since the Great Depression.”

    Opinions are nice, but they must be supported by facts. The facts are that at that time unemployment was at 3.8% Experts now say that number is impossible to reach.

    You cannot attribute that to the growth in the economy since that time. First because in the ’60s, the economies of Europe already had 20 years to recover. More importantly, because, if wages are high, as they are in Europe, when the competition, Europe expands as it has, it not only creates competition, it also creates customers.

    That is exactly where the republican plan fails. It fails to promote high wages for workers, in the US and among the competition. Because wages are low, competition increases, with no compensating increase in demand. The result, inevitably, is high unemployment. That is what one would expect from the past 30 years of Reagan/Bush economics and that is exactly what we get.

    “Thou shalt not do evil that good come of it.” That is exactly what the republican plan is. it is believe in a market trinity, money, military and market, in the hopes that good may come from it.

    Further, it is letting people starve to death, and die from a lack of health care, and in the factories, in the hopes that good may come from it.

    You argue from the Constitution. OK, Article One Section seven, “All bills for raising Revenue shall originate in the House of Representatives.”

    In 1788, Virginia delegate (writer of the Constitution) and future U.S. president James Monroe (1758–1831) wrote Observations upon the Proposed Plan of Federal Government. There (as reprinted in The Founders’ Constitution), Monroe expressed his opinion that the preamble would be an important part of the Constitution: “The introduction, like the preamble to a law, is the Key of the Constitution. Whenever federal power is exercised, contrary to the spirit breathed by this introduction, it will be unconstitutionally exercised, and ought to be resisted by the people.”

    Forty-five years later, U.S. Supreme Court justice Joseph Story (1779–1845) wrote in Commentaries on the Constitution (as reprinted in The Founders’ Constitution) that the preamble’s “true office is to expound the nature, and extent, and application of the powers actually conferred [presented] by the constitution.”

    The reason for giving the House of Representative that power, and the powers of Article One Section 8 are, “to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.”

    The current republican budget does not make any attempt to do that. Therefore, it is unconstitutional. The policies of Roosevelt, Kennedy, and Johnson, except of course for Vietnam, do try to do that.

    There was room for improvement, of course. The writers of the New and Fair Deals were men. To abandon the attempt after only four years was immoral and repugnant. The policies of the past 30 years are a mortal sin, immoral and repugnant to all men of good will.

    The inevitable result of the conservative policies have promoted a culture of death, including the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, The Hamlet fire, Deepwater Horizon, The Titanic, New Orleans, the disasters in coalmines, some within the last few years, are all examples of the culture of death inflicted upon us by the republican party and the conservatives who support it. The 45,000 people who die every year because they cannot afford health care, the result of a lack of regulation of wages, the 8,000 babies who die every year because their parents cannot afford health care, culture of death brought by the republicans. The 5,000 who die every year because of a lack of government regulation, again republican refusal to regulate the marketplace.

    Hungry children incur developmental impairments that limit their physical, intellectual and emotional development.

    6-11 year old children in food insufficient families had lower arithmetic scores, were more likely to have repeated a grade, to have seen a psychologist and to have had more difficulty
    getting along with other children, than similar children whose families were food sufficient.

    This explains your poor choices later in life.

    More than 49 million individuals living in the United States experienced food insecurity in 2008.

    This is the result of republican economic philosophy. All of these children are children of God. They are made in the image and likeness of God. This attack upon them and the excuses that go with it, are not an attack upon these children, but upon God.

  • TeaPot562

    Sen. Moynihan (D., NY) was among the first to notice that one effect of the War on Poverty enacted by Pres. Johnson in the 1960s was a great increase in the number of single-parent black families. In effect, the requirements for a family to draw payments from the Federalized welfare encouraged the father to split.
    Like other wars in the last half century, the War on Poverty had some unintended results; one of which was an increase in the number of children growing up w/o a father present, and an increase in the number who would head for poverty, lacking skills or the enthusiasm to seek further education that would improve chances of future employment.
    Sad but true.

  • Cord Hamrick’s arguments also fail in one other regard, the regard talked about by Father Lenny in the chapter from my page.

    The Catholic Church has 225 Institutions of Higher Education, including 26 law schools, and graduating 70,000 students each year.

    There is nothing the liberals can do that make the grossly immoral republican agenda somehow moral. There is the logical fallacy of False Dilemma. Cord’ Hamrick’s argument is essence is that the republican plan is OK because the republicans are merely less immoral than the liberals. There are only the liberals and the conservatives.

    “Beneath it all, he has tried to engender a social conscience. There were wrongs which needed attention. There were people who were poor and needed help. And we have a responsibility to them and to this country. Through no virtues and accomplishments of our own, we have been fortunate enough to be born in the United States under the most comfortable conditions. We, therefore, have a responsibility to others who are less well off.”

    “There is discrimination in this world and slavery and slaughter and starvation. Governments repress their people; millions are trapped in poverty while the nation grows rich and wealth is lavished on armaments everywhere. These are differing evils, but they are the common works of man.

    Surely, this bond of common faith, this bond of common goal, can begin to teach us something. Surely, we can learn, at least, to look at those around us as fellow men. And surely we can begin to work a little harder to bind up the wounds among us and to become in our own hearts brothers and countrymen once again.

    many of the world’s great movements, of thought and action, have flowed from the work of a single man. A young monk began the Protestant reformation; a young general extended an empire from Macedonia to the borders of the earth; a young woman reclaimed the territory of France; and it was a young Italian explorer who discovered the New World, and the 32 year-old Thomas Jefferson who [pro]claimed that “all men are created equal.”

    These men moved the world, and so can we all.

    My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it. “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”

    Teddy Kennedy, 8 June 1968

    That is what Teddy said of his brother and that is what I want the world to say about me. Too bad the republicans and the conservatives disagree

  • Cord Hamrick


    On Definitions….

    It seems to me that you identify as “the Republican plan” simply anything which happens to have occurred while a Republican occupied the White House, without regard to the makeup of Congress, the Supreme Court, and the cultural high-ground (the oft-overlooked fourth branch of government, itself divided into the three sub-branches of academia, mainstream news media, and entertainment industry) during the same period.

    And, I gather you equate Republican with conservative; something conservatives never do (hence the term “RINO”).

    Putting those things together, I get the impression you think that having a Republican president renders the other two branches (plus the cultural “fourth branch”) impotent and results in government fashioned after the dreams of conservative ideologues. You write like an educated man, so I can’t believe you really think that.

    But then I encounter the assertion that conservatives have run the government for 6,000 years. Huh? Even 600 years would be indefensible. But 6,000?

    American “conservatives,” who are very nearly exactly the opposite of “conservatives” in every other part of the globe, are attempting to conserve certain high-water-marks in the philosophy of governance which happened to have been especially well-articulated and -understood in the late 18th and early 19th centuries in the United States during its founding years.

    These include the idea that all men are created equal, that they have certain unalienable rights granted not by government but by God, that man’s laws are only just if rooted in God’s Natural Law, the idea that the fallen-ness of man makes autocracy and centralized concentration of powers foolhardy, the idea of Subsidiarity (implemented as Federalism), the formula of structuring society as a Constitutional Democratic Republic (not a Democracy) with Enumerated and Separated Powers (not with unlimited power concentrated in an elected aristocracy), the notion that all just authority to govern emanates from the consent of the governed, that all powers not delegated to the government are reserved to the governed, and so on.

    This is what conservatives are trying to conserve, that “government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” (Admittedly, it is far gone, which is why conservatives are, in one sense, often trying to “put the clock back.” But of course if your clock is currently showing the wrong time, “putting the clock back” is often the best thing you can do.)

    While hints of these elements pre-date the founding of the United States, especially in the Common Law of Catholic England emerging from such instruments as Magna Carta, the notion that governance along the lines of American conservatism has existed at all prior to the last 250 years — let alone for 6,000 years — is absurd. (Were the Atlanteans, perhaps, conservatives in the American sense? If so, it was very progressive of them!)

    To put all this more briefly: When it comes to the word “conservative”: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

    Anyway, to return to the topic of what you mean by “the republican plan”: Even supposing that “Republican” and “conservative” were coterminous, I am not sure what you mean when you use this phrase. At first I thought you might have Paul Ryan’s budget recommendations in mind, but then your phrasing suggested you were thinking of some “plan” in existence since the Reagan years. And then you brought up the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which happened, I think, in 1911, although it was at least in the United States, and the sinking of the RMS Titanic, a British cruise liner registered at Liverpool, in 1912. Expecting me to guess what common factor both unites these things to John Boehner, and is also 6,000 years old, seems less like a political history pop-quiz and more like a riddle Gollum would ask Bilbo Baggins in hopes of an easy meal.

    Anyway, until I know what policy or policies you mean by “the republican plan,” I fear I cannot communicate with you on the topic.

  • Cord Hamrick


    On Understanding My Arguments…

    If we’re to have any kind of fruitful discussion, you and I will need to use the same definition when using the same word. Hence my focus on your usage of “conservatism” and “the republican plan” in the preceding post.

    But we’ll also need to pay attention, each of us, to what the other actually says. If I have been guilty of misconstruing any argument of yours, please tell me and I’ll try to correct my error.

    I bring this up because at one point, you have attributed to me an argument I never made. Indeed I cannot locate any verbiage in my previous posts which could provide any justification for you thinking that I made it:

    There is nothing the liberals can do that make the grossly immoral republican agenda somehow moral. There is the logical fallacy of False Dilemma. Cord’ Hamrick’s argument i[n] essence is that the republican plan is OK because the republicans are merely less immoral than the liberals. There are only the liberals and the conservatives.

    I never said or thought that.

    What phrases in my prior posts did you believe to include such a notion?

  • Actually, I didn’t know this was essentially about Republicans and Democrats (not being a member of a political party). I was writing about the various levels of Christian obligation.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Father Sirico:

    Actually, I didn’t know this was essentially about Republicans and Democrats (not being a member of a political party). I was writing about the various levels of Christian obligation.

    I don’t think that it is essentially about Republicans and Democrats. They’re political parties with very imperfect correspondence to particular philosophies of government. And of course that which is compelled by government is only the smallest part of that to which we are morally obligated as Christians. (We are Christians, not Mohammedians.)

    The observation that we are Christian and not Mohammedian does, I think, make relevant the differences between the American conservative approach to such things and the European socialist approach. (I believe the former to be fundamentally compatible with Christian moral obligations, and the latter fundamentally incompatible.)

    But even then, it is not essential because government is a derivative thing, not an essential thing. Persons are far more essential: They are eternal whereas every government except Christ’s is mortal. Every man born (and quite a few who didn’t live long enough to be born) will outlive every government of man, not to mention every nebula, every quasar, and every galactic supercluster. Persons, not governments, are the essential moral actors capable of making moral (or immoral) decisions. So whatever we have to say about the role of government in helping the poor must always derive from our moral obligation to be our brother’s keeper (but not his slaver, his tempter, or his infantilizer), and to fully utilize both our hearts and our heads in doing so.

    Of course I know you know all that!

    But if you were looking for an explanation of how the conversation about our overall moral obligation managed to steer its way into that narrow little cul-de-sac called American politics, then…well, the Christian versus Mohammedian distinction explains why some (myself included) regard the Welfare State to be a morally illicit approach to helping the poor (setting aside the fact that it doesn’t even work).

    But this claim rules out the Democrats’ whole approach to social engineering as soundly as the pro-life and anti-contraception positions rule out their approach to family planning! For left-progressives, their attachment to this approach is often not so much a matter of useful tactics as of dearly-held dogma. Questioning either the desirability or the morality of the Welfare State is almost as verboten as questioning the desirability or morality of abortion: It makes one not only a debate opponent, but a heretic. Hence the contentious nature of the discussion.

  • Cathy

    I have a question, is social justice simply a one way street. I guess there seems to be a lack of reciprocity when programs designed to help people in need get back on their feet have no expectation that people actually get back on their feet. After a while, it seems, you end up with people who actually believe their feet are unnecessary.

  • אֶפֶס, כִּי לֹא יִהְיֶה-בְּךָ אֶבְיוֹן: כִּי-בָרֵךְ יְבָרֶכְךָ, יְהוָה, בָּאָרֶץ, אֲשֶׁר יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן-לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ. רַק אִם-שָׁמוֹעַ תִּשְׁמַע, בְּקוֹל יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ, לִשְׁמֹר לַעֲשׂוֹת אֶת-כָּל-הַמִּצְוָה הַזֹּאת, אֲשֶׁר אָנֹכִי מְצַוְּךָ הַיּוֹם.

    Deuteronomy 15:4-5 There will be no needy among you, for the Personal Name will surely bless thee in the land which the Personal Name your Mighty Judge gives you for an inheritance to possess it if only you listen, really listen unto the voice of the Personal Name Your Mighty Judge to make to do all this Mitzvah which I Mitzvah to you this day.

    But I know that you will not do that. Instead, you will chase after the market, the military, and money, so,

    Deuteronomy 15:7-8 כִּי-יִהְיֶה בְךָ אֶבְיוֹן מֵאַחַד אַחֶיךָ, בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ, בְּאַרְצְךָ, אֲשֶׁר-יְהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ–לֹא תְאַמֵּץ אֶת-לְבָבְךָ, וְלֹא תִקְפֹּץ אֶת-יָדְךָ, מֵאָחִיךָ, הָאֶבְיוֹן. כִּי-פָתֹחַ תִּפְתַּח אֶת-יָדְךָ, לוֹ; וְהַעֲבֵט, תַּעֲבִיטֶנּוּ, דֵּי מַחְסֹרוֹ, אֲשֶׁר יֶחְסַר לוֹ.

    If there be among you a needy man, one of your brothers within any of thy gates, in your land which the Personal Name your Mighty Judge gives you, you will not harden your heart, nor shut your hand from your needy brother; You will surely open your hand to him, and will surely lend him sufficient for his need in that which he wants.

    No hardening of hearts. NO excuses. When we see a neighbor wanting, we have a Mitzvah to act, as individuals and as a nation. For God, this is extremely personal. As we do to our neighbor, we participate in the Passion. If we follow the rules, there would be no need, but we follow the market instead, so there is need. Now there is the obligation to act to address that need, again, as individuals and as a nation.

    The conservative budget is immoral and we as Catholics have the moral obligation to call it out as such.

  • one point, you have attributed to me an argument I never made. Indeed I cannot locate any verbiage in my previous posts which could provide any justification for you thinking that I made it:

    There is nothing the liberals can do that make the grossly immoral republican agenda somehow moral. There is the logical fallacy of False Dilemma. Cord’ Hamrick’s argument i[n] essence is that the republican plan is OK because the republicans are merely less immoral than the liberals. There are only the liberals and the conservatives.

    That address was given to: Sen. Moynihan (D., NY) was among the first to notice that one effect of the War on Poverty enacted by Pres. Johnson in the 1960s was a great increase in the number of single-parent black families. In effect, the requirements for a family to draw payments from the Federalized welfare encouraged the father to split. Like other wars in the last half century, the War on Poverty had some unintended results; one of which was an increase in the number of children growing up w/o a father present, and an increase in the number who would head for poverty, lacking skills or the enthusiasm to seek further education that would improve chances of future employment.

    Any attempts to justify conservative doctrine based upon the perceived failures of the ’60s will bring that charge. There is always the third option, the Catholic/Social Justice option. That third option is the option we should be pursuing as Catholics.

  • The name of the article is “Not Whether to Help the Poor, But How” and it was written in defense of the immoral republican budget. As a Catholic I can and I must confront this. The republican budget is immoral and any defense of it must be confronted.

  • mrd

    Sometimes these discussions get bogged down in areas that are far afield from the main issue.

    Father Sirico made the essential point that the Catholic “social justice issues” are fundamentally different then issues which involve matters that are intrinsically immoral.

    Lets look at a specific example. By and large if you are Democrat Chances are you are in favor of abortion “rights” and tax payer funding of abortion. Since abortion is ” an unspeakable crime” to quote Vatican II, and “murder” to quote Blessed John Paul II in evangelium Vitate, it stands to reason that such a postion is never licit, it is direct promotion of an evil. The Republicans are more likely to be in favor of at least some limits to abortion. ( sorry Father in the real universe in which we actually live the parties bascially support certain positions pretty reliably lets not kid ourselves. )

    Lets compare this to economic issues, while we have a objective duty to help the poor, what policy measures help the poor is not a moral question at all, it is an empirical question that the Church has no particular insight into. ( It is exactly analagous to the idea that a physician has an objective moral duty to take good care of the sick, whether drug A or drug B is the best approach is not answered by the Church, but by medical science. ) So If we consider something like the minimum wage, many economists think the minimum wage increases uneployment, The USCCB usually argues for it on the basis that it improves the income of the poor, dismissing the arguement that some of the poor will get their income reduced to zero by raising the minimum wage. This is a dispute over the effect of minimum wage hikes. Since the USCCB has no particular charism to analyze economic issues, it should be obvious that increasing the minimum wage may very well be wrong and in fact might be opposed specifically because of the principles of Social justice teachings. ( that is because you do not wish to increase
    unemployement) . It is obvious that at some point increasing the minumum wage is harmful (otherwise why not make it $1000.00/hr) So it should be clear that the Church has no ability to pronounce on what the dollar amount should be. This kind of reasoning applies to almost all of the policy choices in re “social justice issues.

    It reallty does not matter which view of the minimum wage is correct for Fr. Sirico’s point to be valid. The basic idea is that the Church can not know so the moral obligation is to use your best judgement to assess the evidence, there is no Catholic position on any specific economic policy choice, nor can there be, anymore than the Church can pick the best antibiotic to treat pneumonia.

    So all of the going on about Ayn Rand is irrrelevant. Frankly I think most of us who are conservative on economic matters are more influenced by Fredrick Hayek than Ayn Rand who is kind of a fringe figure.
    Even more of us are not given to philosphical arguments at all, we are more interested in data.

    Space does not permit, but the data on most economic issues is pretty clear that free markets help the poor and government control hurts. Try this one clue on for size. In America where corporate barons rule, the bottom 5% of population has a standard of living better than 68% of the people in the rest of the world. They have a standard of living about equal to that of the top 5% in India. So lets bring on the corporate barons! ( see Branko Milanovic book the “Haves and the Have nots”)

  • Cathy

    Charles, I have a budget. I have to work responsibly with the income I earn. I have an obligation to help my neighbor. Is it okay if I max out every credit card I have, give the money to the poor, then claim bankruptcy? Do my creditors have a right to object to this? Should I demand that they raise the interest rates on the wealthiest of their card holders and issue me another card. Chances are, the wealthy cardholders will find another bank and the bank itself will become insolvent.

    In and of itself, our national budget, has become immoral because we are spending what we do not have and placing the responsibility for the debt load somewhere down the line. By the way, where is the democratic budget for a comparative critique?

  • Cord Hamrick


    Please, sir. Attend to the thing in contention.

    No one is debating that we must care for the poor; least of all conservatives, who shoulder most of that burden in the United States anyway.

    I’m impressed by your ability to add Hebrew to your posts, but there’s nothing in the two Hebrew passages that conservatives doubt or disobey…except insofar as they fail to bring the full tithe into the storehouse. I grant that it’s a bit of a scandal that they average only 6-7% of their pretax income in that area. (Better that, of course, than the 3% average among left-liberals, but both averages ought to be higher. And they both probably would be, were it not for the onerous tax burden imposed by the Welfare State, which sadly tends to displace rather than add onto a society’s private giving. Still….)

    Anyway, you say: “No hardening of hearts. NO excuses.” Well, sure. We have no hardening of hearts, and as the more caring of the two political wings in U.S. politics we feel we have nothing to excuse.

    So it is a complete non-sequitur when, after a bold announcement of principles which aren’t in dispute, you jump to the statement that “The conservative budget is immoral and we as Catholics have the moral obligation to call it out as such.”

    What are you calling by the name “the conservative budget?” Or, for that matter, “the republican budget?”

    And, why do you hold it to be immoral? Does it include funding for something morally prohibited, or exclude funding for something morally obligatory? If the latter, what? And why is funding for that item morally obligatory?

    In your second response post (11:48 am), you quoted my earlier observation that you’d ascribed an argument to me which I never actually made. It looks like you were getting ready to respond…perhaps to explain why you thought I’d made that argument? But you never said anything more about it; you just went on to another topic, about a speech to (by?) Sen. Moynihan, which someone else mentioned. Was there something you wanted to say about the argument you say I made, but which I said I didn’t?

    About the Sen. Moynihan point by the other commenter (with which I agree, but which I didn’t bring up save indirectly) you say:

    Any attempts to justify conservative doctrine based upon the perceived failures of the ’60s will bring that charge.

    Well, the charge is entirely factual. Now that doesn’t mean that conservative “doctrine” is necessarily correct; it only means that the “doctrines” supporting the Great Society programs, apart from being in moral and constitutional error, were also in sociological error: Not merely an instance of immoral means, but an instance of ineffective means.

    For of course even today it is intact families, rather than race or starting income or even education, which provides the best correlation to rising out of poverty and towards comfortable middle-class life. How much better off would black families in America be today, had their families not been dismantled in the 60’s and 70’s?

    You conclude,

    The name of the article is “Not Whether to Help the Poor, But How” and it was written in defense of the immoral republican budget. As a Catholic I can and I must confront this. The republican budget is immoral and any defense of it must be confronted.

    To this I can only respond that you haven’t yet identified what you mean by “the republican budget,” haven’t distinguished between it and anything “conservative,” and thus haven’t provided an instance of anything “immoral” to which I could reply.

    To borrow from a rather different canon, “An argument is a connected series of statements intended to establish a proposition; it isn’t just the automatic gainsaying of any statement the other person makes.” Please identify what you mean by “the republican budget” (or the conservative, or both). Identify to which part you object, and what you’d do differently, and why you believe that your approach is more moral than the Republican (or the conservative) approach.

    Then we’ll have something to talk about. Until then, it sounds like a thunderous denunciation of I’m-not-quite-sure-what.

  • Cord: You are a patient man.

  • Cord Hamrick

    Fr. Sirico:

    I thank you for the compliment…but I happen to know me a bit better!

    I’ll be making several multi-hour minivan trips this summer, along with my three young children. After I am subjected to successive hours of chatter, thrice-asked questions, quarreling, sobbing, and highly-repetitive polyphonic kazoo music, we’ll see what kind of man I am! But I appreciate the thought.

    • Carl

      Cord, do you speak as well as you write?
      Did you ever test your camera presence?
      I’ve read that you’re a musician, can you work a stage; capture the attention of an audience?
      Ever thought of writing books?
      I mean these questions rhetorically, and as much as I enjoy your commbox writings; I sense that you may be missing your true calling.

    • Ahh: proof that the family is the school of virtues. Blessings on you all.

  • ELM

    Reading the back-and-forth between Cord and Charles is like watching a tennis match between a touring pro and beginner. One gets the impression that Cord is munching a sandwich, racquet in other hand, easily swatting back the desperate attempts by his easily outmatched opponent.

    The left/progressive faction in this country will never-ever-ever admit to the failures of their philosophy, even under a mountain of evidence. Like the Japanese soldiers stranded after WW2 that could-not/would-not be convinced of their country’s defeat.

    The unfortunate situation our country finds itself in now, though, is there is no way to peacefully put the toothpaste back in the tube. Any attempts at reversing the debacle of The Good Society policies will be met with violence — first political/rhetorical and then, most assuredly, physical.

  • Tim Shipe

    One of the key discoveries that helped usher me into the Catholic faith was the social doctrine as taught authoritatively by the Popes in their wonderful Encyclicals (God’s love letters- I think is how peter kreeft described them). What impressed me was how obvious it was that the Catholic Church was not a partisan of any of the world’s dominant ideologies. As a one-time secular liberal I found myself opened to some political notions that were decidedly not secular liberal. Living and reading in the Holy Spirit, I found conversion to the mind of Christ and His Church.

    What troubles me is that many fellow Catholics can easily see that the sure social doctrines of the Church cannot be reduced down the some kind of pan-liberal ideology- but in the next breath they are being loud and proud of their own man-made political ideology- pretty much doing their own reduction of the complex, interconnected themes/teachings of social doctrine- to essentially claim that being a true “Conservative” is just short-hand for saying “orthodox” in Catholic political terms.

    One thing I’m sure of is that no Church social teaching has made this connection- and reading the Encyclicals and the Compendium of Social Doctrine has created me to become a both-and Catholic politico. Pope B has urged us to become set free from ideologies- so we don’t fall into easy rhetorical traps- like government programs or spending is always the answer- or something like it’s opposite- government programs or regulations are always bad ideas. I think the Compendium of Social Doctrine on Political Authority is really helpful to get to the higher ground.

    We can look at issues like infrastructure investments, multinational corporate power and effects on traditional families, alongside the issues of bad governmental social engineering and counterproductive regulatory practices. If you take things apart and examine local, national and international factors/implications using the subsidiarity/solidarity principles, you could probably find a healthy discussion with possible fruitful collaboration- rather than yet another liberal-conservative shouting match. When I became Catholic I found truths that gave me a true freedom in every facet of my life- ideologies are artificial human divides- I think too many Catholics brand themselves in a way that harms the Church’s evangelization- if we are just another conservative group why do the Popes keep hammering away with encyclicals and speeches- why bother if it is such a no-brainer- political authority and economy don’t mix- why is the Vatican still talking??

  • Andy

    This conversation is disturbing on many levels – first the right gives more than the left – the statistics indicate that people of faith give more than people who profess no clear faith. Ths is hardly a left-right or conservative-liberal or democratic party vs. republican party. It is a matter of faith. The name calling or nah-nah my side is better than yours, for lack of a better phrase belongs elsewhere. I believe that the argument to cut social programs is possible to support with Catholic teachings is suspect. As I read the various writing of the Popes et al. i do not see a call to cut programs – rather I see a call that the government is responsible when at the local level support is not forthcoming. In the conservative area (District 26 in NY) where I used to live the food pantries and other local agencies were always seeking help and contributions. In the area where I now live, again highly republican and conservative the same phenomenon is happening. In a previous home a liberal area that was not the problem. A small sample I know, but it goes to the core of the issue being argued. National statistics are equally as suspect as local stats; to label a group as being more generous is specious – perhaps as we see now the majority of the money is controlled by the few who though they give great amounts do so from their abundance and not from their soul (or perhaps as a tax write-off).
    I think we would all be better served if instead of beginning from the idea that government is bad, because as I recall St. Paul told us that government is from God; that we spend more time seeing how we can supplement and then reduce in a humane and Christian fashion the need to rely on the government. That may mean giving up the large home, giving up the fancy car giving up many things that have replaced or humanity with possessions.

    • Cord Hamrick

      But, Andy, the argument is not specious if it’s statistically demonstrable.

      Please examine the studies by Arthur Brooks (published in his book Who Really Cares?).

      In America, religious folk give more than irreligious; the right give more than the left; the religious right a bit more than the religious left; the secular right more than the secular left; the religious right (which is the center-of-gravity of the right) far more than the secular left (which is the center-of-gravity of the left).

      This is counter-intuitive to some, but it happens to simply be factual.

      And of course there are exceptions. It doesn’t surprise me at all that your personal experience doesn’t line up: As you correctly note, your personal experience is too small to constitute a statistically valid sample-set. So is mine: I happen to know a bunch of conservative-voting folk who’ve never in their lives given less than 10% of their pre-tax income to church and charity, and usually allocate 10% to church alone, and give above-and-beyond that to charities (domestic and overseas) in proportion to their income that year. But that’s just my experience: Also a small sample-set.

      It turns out my experience is a little closer to the statistical norm.

      Now does that mean that the right is correct in its political philosophy? Not at all! And I nowhere argue that conservatives are correct for that reason. (I use other reasons entirely.)

      But we must remember that, for the most part, when “arguing” against the conservatives’ ideas about economic policy, left-liberals do not, in fact, argue directly at the ideas.

      Instead, their “arguments” are usually confined to: “You simply don’t want a Welfare State because you hate poor people and want your taxes to be lower so you can buy a yacht or something.”

      It is that libel which I intend to disprove by the statistics about charitable giving in the United States.

      And since the statistics are well-supported and they demonstrate conclusively that that libel is, well, libelous, I suppose I have now done so.

      After that, you can forget about the comparative giving statistics. Indeed, despite the fact that I have mentioned them so often, I hope you will.

      For of course I’m more-or-less conservative, myself. The more I tout this statistic, the more it sounds like I’m tooting my own horn. And I’m forbidden to do that: I’m supposed to not let my left hand know what my right is doing; indeed, every time I bring this topic up I feel guilty and worry about getting less “reward in heaven.” Plus I could be a total cheapskate and a heartless jerk, and it still wouldn’t mean my argument was unsound. It’s not about me.

      So, as long as you’re willing to accept that conservatives are not a bunch of Scrooges but quite the opposite, and argue about the morality of their economic and social policies on that basis, we can forget all about the giving disparity between left and right.

      But, fair warning: If somebody comes back and calls conservatives “heartless misers” again, I’m going to have to whip out those statistics once more.

      • Andy

        I read his book and took from it the concept of secular vs. religious and not left vs. right and so on. The concern I have and perhaps did not express it well enough is not that any one side is heartless or out to get someone – I feel that both groups are simply not being “moral” or perhaps more appropriately realistic. the Great Society did harm, that is for sure; however, all of the alleged corrections have done harm. Maybe a new way is needed?

        • Cord Hamrick

          Ah, I’m so sorry, Andy, I misunderstood what you were saying.

          No, I don’t think the left-progressives are heartless or out to get anyone, any more than the right-conservatives. (I think even an arch-conservative firebrand like Ann Coulter would grant that leftists don’t intend to hurt poor people with their Welfare State support; they’d just hold them culpable for not noticing that that’s what actually happens.)

          Clearly the Great Society programs and the New Deal (see Amity Shlaes’ The Forgotten Man, and also Milton Friedman et alia on the lengthening of the Great Depression) did harm. But what then?

          You ask “Maybe a new way is needed?” and I answer, “Well, yes. And although the new way should grow organically out of God’s Moral Law and in obedience to the Catholic notions of human dignity, of stewardship, and of subsidiarity, the kind of policy the new way will generate will be more similar to the governing philosophy of American small-gov conservatism than to anything else I know.”

          But it is just to ask: “Should a conservative/libertarian reform ever be implemented, would it solve everything, or just cause different problems?”

          I answer, “The only thing that will ever solve everything is the Second Coming of Christ. Anything less than that will always cause different problems.”

          About that, there’s more to be said.

          First, there’s a difference between how it could have been had we never made those errors and trying to belatedly change course now that we have. We may justly expect the latter to be rougher than the former would have been.

          Folk are addicted to various kinds of wealth-transfer programs. Now the answer to this is not, of course, to continue these evil addictions forever. No alcoholic was ever cured by a little “hair of the dog that bit him.”

          On the other hand, “cold turkey” can be deadly, especially when we take it out of the realm of analogy and contemplate the evils which would result from ending all entitlements, all specialized tax-breaks for businesses, all the incumbent-protecting regulatory burdens which stifle entrepreneurial entry-to-market, all of it, instantly. That would never do! A gradual phase-out is called for.

          Plus, there’s always the suspicion that we shall have to give up the entitlements that help us but the other guy won’t have to give up his. One could do the thing perfectly fairly, and still have everyone clamoring about how unfairly they were being treated.

          So, right there, we find a couple of ways that “the solution” (that is to say, the detoxification of American life from its addiction to anti-subsidiarist, unconstitutional, morally illicit, and oxymoronic “compulsory almsgiving”) would assuredly not look like paradise coming on earth.

          And it wouldn’t be paradise, because even were we somehow able to create an unfallen government, we should still be governing a fallen race of humans.

          Let’s understand what that would mean with respect to “poverty”: Let us say that a perfectly just government was formed, with perfectly just policies regarding the poor. The poor get no less competent legal representation in court; the poor have ample opportunity for improving their lot. What would happen?

          I’ll tell you: There’d still be poor folk. In a perfect society, a person could start out at age 20 in the top 10% of income-earners, and by poor choices, work his way to the bottom 10% by the age of 50. And in a society which had perfect government but was still peopled by fallen humans, we must insist that not only could this be done, some folk would actually do that.

          So when we look for “a solution to poverty,” it’s important to remember not to look for a solution to poverty; that is, a system where somehow folk will never be poor. There’s no way to achieve that, either by moral means or immoral; and the only way to get close is by taking away so much of people’s freedom (including their freedom to fail) that you violate their human dignity and treat them as cogs in a machine…and anyway the societies which attempt this inevitably become aristocratic in all but name, because whoever has the power to distribute wealth invariably allocates the most wealth to themselves and their friends.

          What’s better is to say:

          1. When I see that people are poor, it should prompt me to open up my wallet; to donate my time;

          2. To the extent that government (that is to say, force) is levied, it should be to prevent injustices, to prohibit one man from directly, measurably, and with causation exploiting another.

          3. I do not expect poverty to vanish as a result of this. Jesus would never have said, “The poor ye shall always have with you” had such a thing been possible. But I give of my own (without picking the pocket of my neighbor under the banner of my own “generosity”) to assist my brother, and know that my brother’s life is better for what I have done. Not perfect, because I am not Jesus that I can perfect anything on my own steam. But better.

          In the end, I think that the Welfare State is a humbler form of what Communism is: An attempt to “immanentize the eschaton.” The temptation is always to adopt some hare-brained scheme like a get-rich-quick scheme, except that here we are trying to get-society-perfected-quick.

          And what makes it a temptation is that we are told, “The only thing you have to give up is a few moral scruples about passing unconstitutional laws, or about wielding force without adequate justification.”

          And we are told, “Just look how much better life will be if you can just get past those scruples and build our grandiose Welfare State! No more poverty, no more inequality! No more having to give assistance to your neighbor personally; you can always just say, ‘I gave at the tax-office.’ It’ll be great! Is holding to your moral principles more important than that?”

          Actually, yes. Holding to our moral principles is more important than that, even if it did work. “Thou shalt not do evil that good come from it.”

          (And it wouldn’t work, anyway, as the 20th century proved to us time and again.)

          So, Andy, I do think that correcting the harms of what we’ve done wrong thus far will, in the transition, cause problems and consternation. And, I do think that even doing everything right will not cause poverty to vanish.

          Yet I still believe that the “new way,” as you put it, is needed.

  • Cord Hamrick


    You ask,

    …if we are just another conservative group why do the Popes keep hammering away with encyclicals and speeches- why bother if it is such a no-brainer- political authority and economy don’t mix- why is the Vatican still talking??

    I think there are several ways to answer that question which don’t contradict my premises regarding the limitation of compulsion in economic matters. What I mean is: I grant your observation that encyclicals still regularly emerge, which tells us “we’re not home yet.” But that isn’t at all incompatible with the notion that proper just governance in the U.S. would be somewhere between conservative and libertarian.

    First, I want to make an observation about the scope of encyclicals, versus the scope of a conversation about U.S. politics:

    The encyclicals, of course, are for the worldwide Church, and thus are addressed to every person in the globe. And when they bring up problems or articulate moral principles needing greater emphasis, they often are “putting out fires” in parts of the globe outside the United States.

    I don’t at all mean to suggest we should ignore them as if they “weren’t addressed to us.” But when the Vatican reflects on the oppression of the poor by narcotics kingpins in Latin America, or the silencing of dissent by the kleptocratic Russian government, or the oppression of religious minorities in Saudi Arabia, the strong language produced can edify us without implying that we need to change ourselves in precisely the same way the Russians or the Saudis do.

    So first keep in mind that if the United States were a social justice paradise, but some other country in some corner of the world wasn’t, we would still see social justice encyclicals.


  • Carl

    “if we are just another conservative group why do the Popes keep hammering away”

    When you get down to the brass tacks of the matter political affiliations and movements are anathema. They are of this world, Caesar, will be set apart, and left behind. Politics is an institution of men managing his temporary temporal world with his neighbor.

    But as followers of Christ we are called to influence politics with Catholic faith and moral teachings.

  • Cord Hamrick


    Second, let us suppose for the sake of argument that:

    (a.) what I and other conservative-leaning Catholics advocate is identical to mainstream American conservatism; and,
    (b.) the encyclicals were all directed at us.

    Would that imply that conservatives aren’t advocating the morally-correct approach to economic matters?

    Well, it would, if the U.S. had been governed according to 100% pure conservative principles for the last 50 years or more, not only at the Federal level, but in every State. For in that case, whatever the Vatican sees that needs reform would clearly have been something conservatives had wrought.

    But the U.S. clearly hasn’t been governed that way at all. If anything, conservatives would regard Reagan’s presidency as “a good start” in executive matters …but of course he was contending with a solidly Democratic congress. They’d regard the “Contract With America” as “a good start” legislatively …but of course the executive branch was then under Bill Clinton. And apart from pro-life issues, few if any conservatives are at all happy about how domestic policy evolved under either Bush presidency. The Tea Parties largely formed as a protest movement against the non-conservative governance taking place during the second G.W.Bush term!

    So even if what I was advocating was merely mainstream American conservatism, the recurring issuance of encyclicals, even were they addressed to the United States alone, would not thereby demonstrate that there’s something wrong with American conservatism. We have not only not yet recovered from the hangover of FDR and Lyndon Johnson; we keep having whole cases of the “hair of the dog that bit us” under Obama/Pelosi. An encyclical which outright condemned American governance today would be a criticism of the left, not the right.


  • Cord Hamrick


    Third, economically-conservative, philosophically-libertarian Catholics are not “just another conservative group”; that is to say: Their thinking is not coterminous with either popular American libertarianism or popular American conservatism.

    American conservatives (one has to say “American” because conservatives elsewhere are usually conserving something entirely different) and libertarians are, I think, touching lightly on either side of a teaching about human dignity, the source of authority of human government, and the limitations on the just use of force which ultimately comes from Catholic sources. Magna Carta is an artifact of Catholic England; but, it is also the earliest root of British Common Law which, together with Natural Law, so informed the American founders.

    By God’s providence, these founders were in a position to start a country anchored in principles (Catholic principles, no less) rather than the bloodline of a king descended from a war leader who’d narrowly won a battle.

    I don’t at all mean to assign demigod status to the American Founders or to portray either of their Constitutions as a sacred text. They were men, sometimes of shaky character; many of them were anti-Catholic, and of course there was the whole issue of slavery which even those opposed to slavery were willing to set aside for the political expediency of uniting the new country against England. So: As usual, God draws (relatively) straight lines with (rather) crooked pens.

    Anyway, my point is that by this process, certain principles of just governance and the indissolubility of human dignity (even at the will of the state) were on display for very nearly the first time. It was a genuine moral advancement, comparable to the abolition of slavery.

    But human beings are fallen and sinful and one of our worst habits is to deny one another our human dignity and treat one another as objects to be pushed around by force or propaganda rather than persons to be befriended and convinced through honest persuasion. In short, we exert power instead of exerting love.

    And we tend to idolize concentrations of power, as well: It’s much easier to glue eyeballs to a screen to watch gun-camera footage of an Iraqi tank being destroyed during Desert Storm, than of Blessed Teresa of Calcutta attending to a sick Dalit.

    So we keep falling back on a tendency to shove persons around with guns. When there is a problem, we say to ourselves, “Let’s round up a bunch of people with guns to fix it. If there’s dispute about the best fix, let’s make sure we get the guns so that our fix is the one implemented. And if the folk with guns are impeded in any way, let’s strip the impediments so that their power is increased — which we find exciting, so long as we think they’re on our side — and so that none of our neighbors are able to mount sufficient opposition to resist whatever grandiose solution we devise.”

    Now what libertarians are touting as the only moral government is government which reduces the use of force by men against men to only that kind of force required to defend men against wrongful uses of force.

    And what conservatives are trying to conserve is the governmental structure and philosophy which best implements that moral principle. They are trying to conserve it against the constant human inclination to treat men as objects, to accumulate power for shoving them around, and to worship the power once it is accumulated. Conservatives are trying to prevent us from giving to Caesar what is God’s.

    Now, nobody gets it quite right. The libertarians in the U.S. often divorce the moral principles they defend from God’s Moral Law. Once they do this, their principles become drift without anchor into inconsistency, as in the matter of abortion. (A sizable minority of Libertarian party members are pro-life, but it never quite becomes a majority.)

    On the other side, the conservatives keep their principles better anchored in God’s law, but are more closely-identified with a major political party, and so, are more accustomed to compromise as a part of the task of governance. But this tends to obscure the principles to a degree; some conservatives can’t quite decide if they’d be willing to exert authoritarian means to prevent/punish entirely consensual sexually immoral acts. (It doesn’t help that instead of opposing this on the conservatives’ own first principles, the argument most often raised by leftist libertines is usually the silly and entirely false “You can’t legislate morality!” …one really never legislates anything else!)

    So, Tim, if you look at the center-of-gravity of all the conservatives, you’ll find it’s not quite right. And if you look at the center-of-gravity of the libertarians, it’s not quite right, either. Both groups need to be drawn towards the right position (which is somewhere between them), not by mere a divide-the-baby compromise, but by constant repetition of the underlying moral principles and of the types of policies which happen to be implied by those principles.

    Does that answer your concern, Tim?

  • Carl

    Wow, this appears to be a rapid fire lunch postings by several of us—I had a hot dog for lunch how about you?

    Andy, the gist of the matter I believe Cord was dispelling the notion that conservatives want to push granny off the cliff (District 26 in NY) and are generally selfish people.

    Let’s go to the beginning, Popes don’t create or bless social programs why would they support to cut or not to cut programs?

    “government is from God,” but when entitlements and other social spending, U.S. is taxed currently at about 65% of total revenue, we are at some point no longer in possession of a government but a master/slave relationship.

    Large home and fancy car. It’s one thing to cajole the rich and others for support its quit another to take from the rich. This smells of violation of the do not covet commandment.

    • Andy

      I am not suggesting that we take something from someone – regardless of status – my question is when is enough enough and when does it trip into the worship of mammon? I was not suggesting that Popes create or bless social programs – what I am suggesting is that the Popes have been to my reading clear that when the local level cannot or does not support the poor it is the responsibility of the government. Maybe I am not being clear – the semester just ended and three Master’s paper presentations and finals papers have taken a toll. By the way I am having left-over Chinese with my daughter who just got home from college.

  • Carl

    Full disclosure: I usually abstain from meat on Fridays and having mentioned that I mistakenly had a hot dog for lunch today let me then announce that I will choose another penance today.

    “when does it trip into the worship of mammon?”
    Andy, we’re already there! Whether it is selfish or thoughtless, and whether it is people who want government to confiscate wealth and then redistribute it.

    I think all of us are at some are level CINOs. Catholic In Name Only. That’s why Popes keep repeating themselves on the social doctrine.

    • Andy

      I agree with you about all of us to one degree or another are CINOs and was told that this is true only if a person is pro-abortion or pro-gay marriage – everything else I was told is negotiable. I am glad to see another person has some of the same feelings. By the way this does not say a person should support abortion or gay marriage – it is just that the teaching of the church goes far beyond those two activities.

    • Cord Hamrick

      Aw, doggone it.

      I meant to abstain from meat today, too. But then I got distracted by helping my (Evangelical Protestant) wife make turkey quesadillas for my kids, and had some for myself, too.

      Now to come up with another penance. Phooey.

  • Michael PS

    Cord Hamrick wrote

    “American conservatives (one has to say “American” because conservatives elsewhere are usually conserving something entirely different)…”

    That is very true. European conservatives, especially European conservative Catholics, tend to rather dirigiste in economic matters. They believe in protecting agriculture, for example, by tariffs and subsidies, not for economic, but for strategic reasons. That this policy tends to favour a social class and lifestyle they approve is a fortunate coincidence.

    Again, they tend to support natalist policies through the tax and employment codes, not for economic, but for social and demographic reasons.

  • mike DePietro

    I am baffled by something. It seems to me the very simple points of the “social justice” teaching are:

    1) Larger institutions should not assume the functions of smaller ones unless they must.
    2) We should seek to implement public policies that serve the common good, with an eye especially on the effect a policy has on the poor.

    Point 1) would seem in general to favor conservative policies, in the sense of wanting limited federal government and local solutions when possible.

    Point 2) would seem to suggest the actual effect of a policy matters. A policy that sounds good but adversely affects the poor is bad, much like a medicine that was supposed to work but was toxic would be bad. The actual effect of the policy should matter.

    With this in mind why is there so little attention given to
    the actual measured effects of the policy proposals? In reality this is a lot more relevant than who gives more to charity! I would think ones ideology should be more driven by the evidence rather than vice versa. It seems to me the obvious moral duty is to approach economic policy in this fashion, with some “bias” to conservative solutions when possible, because of point (1) above. ( ie the principle of subsidiarity. )

    It also appears obvious that given our current society, where Democrats are pro-abortion ( aka.. unspeakable crime by Vatican II) Virtually all Catholics should be more at home in the Republican party , which is more pro-life, and arguably better on the social justice issues as well. ( that is if you bother to look at measured results of the implemented policies)

    What part of this is wrong?

  • Cord Hamrick


    I don’t know that any of what you said is wrong, so far as it goes.

    But I think that other factors prevent a wholesale Catholic realignment of the type that your logic would seem to suggest.

    The main one is cultural inertia within families. Cradle Catholics who come from heavily-Democratic families have to examine their familial party affiliation very objectively, do a lot of reading by authors they normally wouldn’t read, and then adopt the very counter-intuitive notion that, government-wise, one can often best help a disadvantaged group by leaving them alone.

    The kind of people who will take the time to do all of that are…how to put it? Analytical to a fault, inclined more to debate and logic-chopping than to productive work, prone to self-doubt and constant re-evaluation, and irritatingly pedantic company on any conversational topic more substantive than the weather.

    In other words, if all the Democrats were, well, me, they’d be Tea Party Republicans and Hayek devotees by now. But Our God is more inventive and not so repetitive as that (for which, it is right to give Him thanks and praise).

    And thus the Democrats contain a large body of folk who pretty much go with their gut and conclude that, if conservative positions aren’t immediately intuitive to them, those positions must be inexplicable except in terms of bigotry, greed, et cetera, et alia, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. This crowd is naturally slower to overcome cultural inertia.

    And there are other reasons: The impatience to “make things better” tempts us to forcible central-government-directed solutions even when voluntary and decentralized ones are more likely to work and to last.

    And the fact that Catholic numbers in America are surging in part because of undocumented immigrants puts bishops in an awkward position. One wants the surge; one doesn’t want the lawbreaking. But how to discourage the latter without reversing the former?

    The mainstream media has already convinced Hispanic immigrants, both legal and illegal, that Republicans in general, and conservative activists and Tea Party types in particular, are all anti-Hispanic racial bigots. Ridiculous, of course, but there it is. (I once debated a perfectly well-educated fellow on this website who literally, without intending any exaggeration, described Republicans as openly persecuting all Hispanics.)

    Oh, and the more charismatic separated groups are showing great effectiveness at drawing Hispanics out of the Church.

    So if you’re a bishop, what do you do? Whatever it is, it isn’t going to sound like unalloyed cheerleading for Republicans, even if you privately think you should. It would be badly misunderstood, because lies can make it half-way around the world before the truth can put its boots on.

    And let’s remember that Republicans are far from perfect. Some of them are Mark Foley types, so it isn’t as if there’s a distinct holiness advantage. Some of them are rather unconservative. Those already in elective office seem prone to sacrificing long-term principle in favor of avoiding unpopular votes which might lose them their job. And to the disgust of conservatives, they do the pork thing about as well as the Democrats.

    So those are some reasons why the party alignment thing isn’t quite what one might naturally expect.

  • Tim Shipe

    Cord- I appreciate your responses- I do think that there has been a lot of American-related content to the universal encyclicals due to the reality of superpower politics and economic clout- from Pope JPII’s On Social Concern criticizing global bloc politics and neo-colonialism- as well the arms race and neo-colonialism.

    In more modern encyclicals there is much discussion of global wealth and resource disparities between nations- with government action often described as necessary. Also labor organizations are usually depicted as being important means of protecting workers’s interests- and not only in local circumstances. Now I am not trying to say that governments and trade unions are without sin- not hardly- but I am also very cognizant of the weight that global corporations have on the scales of social justice- and I wonder how competition in the wild will bring about fair competition and basic human rights- if governments are all small and weak while corporations continue to grow larger and more powerful, and labor organizations are disappearing or corrupt- where is this state of affairs going to take us? The debate on corporatism seems just as interesting as the one on state interventions- but I don’t see it much in Republican party organs or conservative press offerings- is this a deep concern in conservative-libertarian circles?

    i’m thinking that alongside government subsidies and lack of religious moral virtue promoted from the bully pulpit and schools- we have to take in the affects of global corporate activity moving away from longterm community commitments and helping create a highly mobile populace- all of this has put strains on traditional family networks and safety nets apart from government- parish connections also suffer due to transient membership. So what is the “conservative’ critique of the corporate effect on material and spiritual impoverishment- besides being against bail-outs- or is that the key to keeping corporations in check? How could a corporate system be grounded in the subsidiarity principle- or even solidarity- if maximum profit margin for principal investors is the number 1 operating principle?

  • Tim Shipe

    I meant to say arms race and arms trade- both of which our blessed pope disparaged

  • Cord Hamrick


    Ah. Well quite I agree with you about the need of some kind of reform in the corporate scene; and in fact that is a debate held in Republican circles (National Review a while back had a discussion, as I recall).

    Corporations are legal fictions set up to allow through free market and contractual means what Karl Marx dreamed of doing through force: Permit every little guy to own a share in the ownership of the means of production. There are additional advantages in the form of economies of scale and limitation of liability to the amount invested.

    Now we have pretty wide latitude in arranging the rules for corporations and the trading of securities; these fictional persons have no unalienable rights in the way real persons do. They are merely their owners’ property; the only unalienable rights involved are those of their owners.

    So the question is: How to set the rules for corporations in such a way as to solve whatever problems we have with them now, without creating worse ones?

    Let me say up front: I don’t know.

    In fact, I’m not sure exactly what all the problems we have now are.

    I can identify one problem (or two related problems) with corporations. I’m talking about “corporate welfare” and political lobbying by corporations.

    On the one hand, we’re justly angry at bought congressmen and corporations with their fingers in our lawmaking processes.

    On the other hand, I acknowledge this to be a problem partly started by excessive government intervention in the marketplace: Companies quickly learn, once they get big enough, that it is not enough to run the business better than the competition; they must also play the political game better than the competition or risk being regulated or taxed out of the market by a change in law which happens to exempt their competition, coincidentally headquartered in the home district of the author of the bill. So lobbying and campaign contributions are often an innocent defensive move rather than an offensive one.

    But after a while there often gets to be a sort of oligopoly-style truce and détente between the major players in a given market. They stop pitting one bought congresscritter against another; instead, they meet with all the relevant congresscritters and regulatory heads to help craft the next round of regulatory legislation. Since they all have a seat at the table, the big players are not harmed by the new regulation. Instead, it is written in such a way that regulator compliance is not too expensive to be borne by large corporations…but is far outside the means of any new start-ups that might compete with the big guys and eat into their market share.

    Thus the regulations turn out to be rather like campaign finance laws. Written by “incumbents” (that is, politicians already in office or corporations who already managed to get large market share), these laws usually take the form of “incumbent protection”: Making it impossible for a new guy to knock the current champion off his high horse.

    This is not what we want. What to do about it?


  • Cord Hamrick


    In discussions with Joe Hargrave I batted around various notions to deal with this. One idea I offered was to make corporate income taxes more “progressive” than they are now. I think I suggested something like a percentage which was your company’s market cap percentile, divided by 15, squared, rounded to the nearest integer. (So companies up to 11th percentile pay 0%; 12th-18th percentile, only 1%; 19th-23rd percentile, 2%; but it picks up pretty quickly from there so that 50th percentile pays 11%, 75th percentile pays 25%, and the highest percentile pays 45%!)

    I think you’ll find surprisingly little resistance to such ideas in Republican circles. I don’t mean my idea particularly; it’s fraught with gotchas I haven’t adequately worked out, and some I probably haven’t even thought about…but I mean ideas about keeping corporations a little humbler and, especially, more subject to competition from start-ups. There’s a lot of conservative openness to anything which encourages entrepreneurialism and reduces barriers-to-entry.

    Republicans are pro-business, yes. But not always pro-large business. The cultural heroes of the conservative base are small entrepreneurs who grow their businesses sufficiently to be able to hire a few, or a few hundred, or even a few thousand employees.

    But those with a few hundreds of thousands of employees? Well, they’re thanked for all the job creation, of course…but one wonders if they might not get too big for their britches and throw their weight around in undesirable ways.


  • Cord Hamrick


    Now one problem we wrestle with is that of competition with corporations based outside the U.S., or even the worry of making corporate rules so strict here that they take their business (and some jobs) elsewhere. My aforementioned progressive corporate income tax would have the desired effect in a one-country world; in the real world, it’d just drive large businesses overseas.

    Not sure how to fix that.

    And, you mention unions. Now, I believe every state ought to be a right-to-work state. SEIU ought to be prosecuted under RICO. And there are problems of basic principle with the idea of government employee unions.

    On the other hand, persons have every right to associate politically and economically: That is part of what the libertarian principles defend.

    I think that when unions engage in sick-outs, intimidation, and the like, they become criminal enterprises and ought to be prosecuted. Collective bargaining, however, is different: Nothing is wrong with that, in principle. But what is collective bargaining?

    It’s an artificial monopoly on labor: The potential employer, instead of dealing with multiple sources of labor, must obtain all labor from a single source. Is a monopoly ever good?

    I think it is good…when it’s up against another monopoly.

    Take the classic example: The old company-run “mill town” of the 19th century. The company is the only employer in the town (there is a monopoly on employment). This, I think, is the proper place for a union: Individuals cannot separately bargain for a good deal against a monopoly employer who can say “Take pennies or starve.” But a monopoly on labor puts them on equal footing with the monopoly on jobs. Very proper.

    What of today’s workplace, though? For example, should Wal Mart workers be permitted to form a union? Surely, if they wish: It’s their right to do so, or not, as they choose. Should all workers be compelled to join? No: That’s a violation of their rights of association (including non-association). Thus all states should be “right to work” states.

    Should workers in an industry ever be compelled to “pay dues” whether they’re in the union or not? No: That’s a violation of property/contract rights; a compulsory contract is a kind of slavery.

    Should there be collective bargaining? Sure; that’s the right of the members of the union…but only against a monopoly employer will it produce a fair negotiation between equals. In the Wal-Mart example, that would pit a labor monopoly (the union) against a non-monopoly employer (Wal-Mart, who competes for roughly the same employees with Target and BJ’s and Costco and myriad other businesses). I could even see some justice in Wal-Mart petitioning the government for a monopoly-busting in such an event…though it’d make more sense for Wal-Mart to join together with all other employers in that sector (Target, BJ’s Costco) so that it was collective bargaining of all the employees against all the employers.

    But this is getting far afield, and I want to return to your most critical question:


  • Cord Hamrick


    Tim, you say,

    …global corporate activity moving away from longterm community commitments and helping create a highly mobile populace- all of this has put strains on traditional family networks and safety nets apart from government- parish connections also suffer due to transient membership. So what is the “conservative’ critique of the corporate effect on material and spiritual impoverishment- besides being against bail-outs- or is that the key to keeping corporations in check?

    Well, of course conservatives decry bail-outs. And part of the reason bail-outs exist was because of the idea that something was “too big to fail.” Distribute the economy among more, smaller businesses, and that’s less of a concern. So that takes us back to the progressive corporate income tax notion…but as I pointed out, it has problems of its own.

    As for “material impoverishment”: Are you sure you want to press that as a valid statement? It would be a very complex calculation to determine whether folk are better off, or worse off, for having corporations exist at all…but I suspect the final calculation would come out very greatly in favor of corporations.

    But “spiritual impoverishment”? Well, we are certainly spiritually impoverished as a society. Is that the corporations’ fault? How did they promote or cause it, in a way that a world without corporations would not have done?

    You mention mobile workforce and strained familial relations: I agree that problem exists.

    But, can we trace the problem to corporations specifically, or just the quest for income generally? Jacob and his sons went to Egypt looking for better economic circumstances long before corporations existed. Perhaps the mobile workforce is more a matter of personal priorities and the cheapness and safety of travel and relocation compared to earlier centuries, than of how businesses are structured from a legal sense?

    We can also hope the problem is partly solving itself through electronic media: Telecommuting and Skype are keeping me with my family, and my kids in touch with their grandparents, in ways I never saw as a child. But I admit I wish their grandparents were close enough to baby-sit.

    I will say this: The more we encourage entrepreneurial “garage” start-ups and local/regional businesses, the easier it’ll be to have households together.

    So I think the biggest corporations look a bit too bulked up, like they were on steroids. I can see benefit to reducing these musclebound oafs, a bit: They might wind up more flexible and responsive to customer desires in the process, especially if they were small enough to feel threatened by competition. This is is all in accord with the conservative mindset.

    But how to achieve that, without causing unexpected and undesired side effects, especially in a global marketplace where we compete for the attention of companies to do business within our borders?

    That’s complex. I don’t know the answer to that.

  • Tim Shipe

    thanks again Cord- by material impoverishment I meant to say that with extended family networks disrupted by a globalized corporate system- where efficiency is valued more than longterm community stability due to overriding profit considerations- this puts more individuals out there exposed to the vagaries of corporate bottom-lines. This would seem to put more pressure on government to provide more in the way of safety nets- unemployment- and now especially with loads of folks like myself caught with a home mortgage in a depressed market- too much to lose – and the churches are not overflowing with material wealth to fill the void. I do think that the churches could do more in times like these to help organize business and insurance models based on fair trade/pro-life/mercy for the least among us- especially when the normative business/government powers-that-be have put aside the common good as their primary ethical principle.

    • ELM

      Not to sound callous to your situation, nor to any of the other countless in our country in similar circumstances, but I would argue that the government is in NO WAY responsible for failing home-mortgages, nor is the church. A safety-net is sustenance housing, not keeping people afloat in under-water $200k+ homes.

      I think part of the problem in this country is what we define as poor. My father WAS poor — no indoor plumbing (in 1964!), no heat/air-conditioning, hand-me-down shoes, cabbage soup 4 times weekly, no tv, radio for 1 hour a day, no family car…

      Poor in this country today means 2-3 bedroom section-8 townhouse with vehicle parked in carport, cable tv AND internet for their laptop, tattoos, tobacco, cell-phones, fake nails, hair-extensions/dye jobs, designer jeans, etc… I work in an urban ER — believe me I see it.

      Cord hit the nail on the head when he stated: “The more you try to help an individual overcome the consequences of his/her unwise or immoral choices, the more you create a ‘moral hazard’: You take away the natural incentive of cause and effect which normally has the benefit of teaching the unwise to become wise.”

      People with mortgages, or any debt for that matter, are taking a risk, making a bet along with the lender. Most will win the bet, some will lose…

  • A retired Pastoral Associate

    I have a Master’s Degree in Pastoral Studies on top of a law degree.

    Fr. Sirico has elucidated Catholic teaching that we are obligated to respond to the needs of the widows, the orphans, the outcasts, the strangers, the sick, and the poor; but that the means of assistance remain open to discussion. That’s assuredly correct.

    However, it remains to be established that any particular proposal purporting to be “means of assistance” in fact is accurately so described, or should more accurately be called a sham. And a particular program that has a familiar name implying its existing benefits should not be stolen and applied to something quite different, in hopes that folks won’t notice the difference until it’s too late.

    The Ryan budget proposals in many ways end assistance and do not propose alternative means to the same end. For one example, financially poor students will get less help meeting the costs of college, and many colleges will be forced to reduce or eliminate programs that presently have enrolled students in them.

    The more well notorious Medicare imbroglio is also in point. Existing Medicare is a public insurance program, single payer, which has an administrative cost that as a percentage of the overall expenditure is far lower than any insurance company extant in the United States. Medicare also does not seek a profit. Medicare does not need to advertise. Medicare enrolls every citizen at age 65, and makes no effort to reduce exposure by avoiding insuring sick people, and in having everyone has by definition the percentage of expensive insureds and inexpensive insureds that matches the whole relevant population.

    Insurance companies are far more expensive to operate not only because operating costs are higher, but also because they seek a profit. They have traditionally sought to avoid insuring people who they have any reason to suspect will run up high medical bills. They recognize that older people tend to be more expensive to serve. They have in the past terminated the insurance of those proving to be expensive to insure. This is the market into which Rep. Ryan and the rest of the Republicans wish to thrust future seniors, arming them with an as yet unknown contribution toward the cost of insurance premiums, with no guarantee the net cost will not dwarf current Medicare Part B or D premiums. Not only do the Ryan/Republican proposals seek to put seniors in this market, but they also seek to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which contains any protections seniors might have against predatory insurers.

    Today’s Medicare has the advantage of insuring everyone, thus having no exposure to a disproportionate number of expensive clients, and no opportunity to seek to high-grade prospective clientele. Medicare thus operates in the opposite climate to that of private insurers.

    To call these programs equivalent is to violate Lincoln’s maxim that if you call its tail a leg, a horse still has only four legs. To call Ryan’s seniors’ private medical insurance notion “Medicare” doesn’t make it “Medicare” in any way today’s seniors or their children would recognize.

  • Kathryn

    I do not agree with the rosy picture that is painted for Medicare. Why do so many people then purchase so called Medigape Insurance?

    Then too, according to the standard paperwork I receive from my dr.’s office, Medicare does NOT pay routine annual exams. What is up with that?! Surely the elderly, in general, would benefit more from a routine check-up that those of us who are younger? (I would not go but Scouting requires it.)

    Our insurance (also a non-profit) does pay for annual exams. And since they are the insurer of “last resort” for our state, I do not believe they are allowed to exclude anyone. I do grant that they may charge higher “risk” people a higher premium and that fact may put it out of the market for some.

    But is this any different than an elderly person who must pay Medicare premiums? And that is after they have paid in through taxes their entire working life? Assuming, of course, they have worked enough to qualify for Medicare to begin with. According to my annual Soc. Sec. statement, I have not worked enough in my working life (I’m in my mid-40s—housewifery and raising kids don’t count I guess) to qualify for either Soc. Sec OR Medicare.

    It is my understanding that the Ryan Plan is very similar to the program our elected officials in Congress have for themselves. Since our elected so called leaders never deny themselves the good things in life, his plan is worth considering.

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