Ending Charitable Deductions to Feed the Leviathan State

Indiana University professor Fran Quigley urges, in the progressive Catholic magazine Commonwealan end to deductibility of charitable contributions against federal income taxes. His argument rests primarily upon the twin beliefs that the U.S. social safety net is too thin and that lost revenues from charitable contribution deductibility would be better spent on governmental social welfare programs. His arguments, while couched in Catholic social justice language, pay virtually no attention to a key principle of Catholic social teaching: the principle of subsidiarity. Furthermore, he has a proclivity to regard as matters of “justice” programs that can also arguably be deemed discretionary entitlements.

To his credit, Quigley recognizes that, in modern societies, problems can become so large that they defy ready solutions by smaller actors like individual charities. But when applying the principle of subsidiarity, the onus probandi should rest on those who would entrust a problem to a higher level of responsibility. In the American system, it would seem that the highest burden of proof rests on those who would federalize an issue.

While the framers of the Constitution were not Catholics and worked out of philosophical systems (mostly social contract theory) alien to the classical and Catholic views of man and society, in one sense the Constitution itself embodies the principle of subsidiarity: Article I, section 8 specifically enumerates and limits Congressional (and, by extension, federal) power. The framers, wary of the corruptive influence of power, put limits on the spheres in which the federal government was competent.

American history has been rife, however, with examples of politicians seeking creative ways to circumvent those limits (everything from trying to treat “promoting the general welfare” as a vehicle to end run other limits to fanciful notions of “interstate commerce” in which—unfortunately—the Supreme Court has from time to time acquiesced). But, by and large, there have always been those committed to Constitutional fidelity calling us back to a limited vision of federal power. Under Article I, section 8, there are whole swaths of life—education or health policy, for example—from which the federal government should withdraw for lack of any Constitutional competence to be interfering there in the first place.

By insisting on driving down responsibility and decision-making to the lowest possible levels, the principle of subsidiarity is in fact necessary to social justice. By preserving room for other responsible actors, subsidiarity protects the cardinal fact of freedom by allowing the buffering function of a dynamic civil society to run interference between the person and the Leviathan State. As philosopher Jacques Maritain once pointed out, the absence of intermediary structures exposes the person to stand alone before the Minotaur State. If self-styled progressive thought is constantly fearful of pitting the person against the “corporation” or “business,” convinced that the deck is stacked against him, how much more should it realize that the deck is stacked when the person faces the ever-more-omnicompetent Nanny State? It’s a lot easier to change employers than change countries.

This imbalance is particularly threatening in an American context, where legal trends have progressively eroded and sidelined any “society” having a moral vision different from that of a highly atomized individual. Consider, for example, the effort to force employers to violate their consciences by having to pay for abortifacients under Obamacare. The vision promoted by the latter’s votaries sees only two actors: the individual and the policy-making state. Society—which includes other employers—is deprived of any right to articulate and act upon other values, having been co-opted by the State. Consider, likewise, the efforts of some governments to make their redefinitions of “marriage”—which ignore sexual differentiation—normative: the result has been to drive various private civil society actors off the social stage, e.g., Catholic adoption agencies.

When, in an American context, what Mary Ann Glendon called “rights talk” is married to government policy making, overall freedom is diminished by the creation of a naked public square—one denuded not just of religion but of any other actor than the policy-making State and those favored groups that serve the axiological plat du jour. Michael Hanby, in the February 2015 issue of First Things, correctly describes the ensuing situation: “But insofar as liberal freedom is atomistic and precludes the claims of others on the property that is my person, the state tasked with securing this liberty will exist to protect me from God’s commandments, the demands of other persons, so-called intermediary institutions and, ultimately, even nature itself.”   But that is the society we get when we devalue the principle of subsidiarity. And that is the ultimate question of social justice.

Federal policy making also tends to limit the range of priorities: a given administration has its priorities and its darlings, and those tend to take over the stage. By putting more actors on stage, the principle of subsidiarity necessarily broadens and diversifies the range of social justice and charitable programs: individual actors, using their money, provide the fertilizer to make “a thousand flowers bloom.” Quigley, however, seems rather to want to apply pesticide, complaining that private charity diverts money to charities that—well, he doesn’t think important. “… [H]igh-income donors have demonstrated a preference for donating to higher education, health research, and the arts” in contrast to “proven government-assistance programs like food stamps, unemployment compensation, and housing assistance.”

While there are all sorts of short-funded projects in the world, Quigley never really explains why his ideas of priority funding should become standard for us all. Government established priorities do not necessarily represent Solon-like, rationally-established priorities; rather, they are often the result of politically driven give-and-take horse trading which, in the American system, is what politics is supposed to do—deal with competing and conflicting interests. Given that reality, and the fact that tax dollars are first of all the taxpayer’s money, I would defer to the taxpayer on his choice of where charitably to put his money in support of social benefit, and challenge Quigley to tell us why, in the name of the principle of subsidiarity, that choice should be trumped by the long arm of the IRS.

Perhaps, in the end, there is a reason to change the current federal charitable deduction, especially since it is now unavailable to taxpayers who do not itemize. I am unwilling, however, to go that route until the problems posed by Quigley’s underlying devaluation of subsidiarity are examined.

Quigley, in defending the repeal of charitable deductibility, admits “it would be naïve to pretend that eliminating the deduction would have no impact on the nonprofit sector, including some charities associated with the Catholic faith.” But he’s willing to crack those eggs to make his omelet: “… as long as it meant more money for public programs that help the poor, it would be worth the tradeoff” in the name of “justice.” Considering both a broader notion of justice than just “more money for the poor” and the fact that the government’s track record in being economically charitable is, to put it charitably, paltry, I suggest the tradeoff is hardly worth the bargain.

(Photo Credit: AFP photo / Jim Watson)

John M. Grondelski


John M. Grondelski (Ph.D., Fordham) is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, NJ. All views expressed herein are exclusively his own.

  • publiusnj

    Politicians want all power even in a democracy because that gives them the ability to make grand packages of benefits and taxes that enable them to craft constituent coalitions that keep them in office. Politicians therefore look at the charitable deduction as money denied them for their constituents (such as the public school teachers who contribute so much to political campaigns). That is why the First Amendment has been interpreted so much against Catholic schools which used to educate one-tenth of American school kids (no tax deduction for Catholic school contributions even though they took a great burden off the public books of account). Now that the effort to destroy Catholic schools is so close to ultimate victory, the politicians can move on to new efforts to control all money aimed at what used to be considered “charitable” endeavors. The shame is that “Catholics” go along with the statists’ aggression.

  • skeptical

    The problem with reducing individual charitable activity is that it leads to the attitude, that having hired the government to deal with these issues, the individual is freed of this duty. Such is the root of narcissism in Europe. Such is the root of the breakdown of the concept of community. To be in community means to be involved. Such a proposal marginally reduces the individual’s perception of his relationship to the community of the whole.

  • Jdonnell

    Another head-in-the-sand approach to dealing with poverty and homelessness. Let the author take in a half-dozen homeless people if he thinks that individual efforts ought to rule policy. Government must step in, since not enough private or local means solve the problems, which any look around your locale should make clear–unless you are one of those people who hide behind a gated community.
    My local paper has an article this morning about new city plans to try to fix the homeless crisis. A couple examples of homeless people in the city are provided: both examples–one man and one woman, not connected to one another–concern people who have lived homeless for more than twenty years in the area. For years, local fix-it measures have failed, and the homeless numbers grow.
    The principle of subsidiarity is not written in stone, any more than the principle formerly expressed by the Vatican in no uncertain terms in upholding the divine right of kings and condemning democratic government.
    We need that principle to work in conjunction with government programs. Right wing politics that hide behind things like “subsidiarity” are out of touch with reality.

    • The principle of subsidiarity states that the least competent authority is who should do the work. When it comes to the homeless, private charity is a stop gap measure. The most successful anti homeless program in the United States is in Salt Lake City, Utah- where they noticed they were spending $12,000/year in services for a homeless person, could put him in jail for $35,000/year- or could build him a 180 sq foot microhome for $9000 on city land.

      Guess which one they choose to do.

      • Jdonnell

        Yes, that makes sense. Even the right-wingers in Utah will take some govt. action if it saves a buck. Wouldn’t it be even better though if action were based on Christian charity? The fact is that poverty and homelessness in America have become intractable. Some families that became destitute in the Depression have never recovered. Others, impoverished during other busts in the boom and bust of US economic life are also stuck. The latest Lesser Depression that the Bush administration heralded created even more poor and its legacy continues to see more and more American families sinking financially. Only big changes can deal with the problem, not “the least competent authority.”

        • Big changes will always be done by the rich for the rich, because it is they who pay for government to exist in the first place.

          I think you need to look up the Church teaching of the least competent authority. It only means the smallest unit of society capable of solving the problem. Most charity should come from the family. Then friends. Then the Church. Then the neighborhood. Then the village. Then the city. Then the county. Then the state. And only when all else has failed, should the federal government step in.

          • Jdonnell

            You miss the point. I am fully aware that subsidiarity refers to the smallest units of society, which would be the family. The point is that whatever ought to prevail in the way of taking care of poverty, it isn’t happening. The problem is tool big. Most families are struggling to maintain themselves and together have nothing like the massive amounts required. Only a big unit of government can deal with such a large problem. Families can still do what they can do, but they can only complement government action. All else has failed; government must step in, and the only way it can find the money is by taking it back from those who have taken it from the poor and the rest of us.

            • It isn’t working, because we’ve abandoned generosity as a virtue in America. It isn’t working because most secularists and left wingers have abandoned personal action at all, just let the government handle it.

              The government will fail to do anything more than the very basic minimums to maintain poverty, because the poor are valuable- as poor. They are the threat that keeps wages from rising, the shell game that keeps middle class people from noticing that the economy has been hijacked by the rich.

              • St JD George

                Very sterile isn’t it … write a check, off it goes to DC, trust elected officials to do the right and moral thing, don’t think twice about where it goes or accountability of good stewardship. Just trot out every election cycle the old platitude that those at the top aren’t paying their fair share and then go away until the election cycle. In fairness, one party has mastered this but both are mostly culpable of failing to hold their oath of office.
                As tithing to church has trended down it would be interesting to do a study to see if there is an inverse correlation with increasing taxes. As people put their faith in the state to give them stuff and less in God it would be natural to expect.

                • Exactly- which is why I suggested the experiment above as a response to this proposal.

                  If you are for the theory, when you do your 2014 taxes, take no deductions. Take instead the instant reward of more time with your family (by filing a 1040 EZ instead of a 1040, leaving more than half the form blank) and then, over the next year, check to see if it makes welfare spending go up.

                • Jdonnell

                  It’s less sterile than going on like this and meanwhile allowing near starvation poverty and homelessness to continue.

                  • St JD George

                    I won’t argue that we have a broke system that needs fixing, I only argue to keep doing more of the same thing and expecting different results is the definition of insanity. I realize that trying to get a point across on something as complicated as this in a few sentences is futile, and language tends to drift towards the extreme. However, the federal government based out of DC will never in a million years ever devise a program to end hunger and poverty. That doesn’t mean that don’t have some very LIMITED role to play. I don’t worship money, but I do respect good stewardship. I really don’t believe they (most) care other than their own reelection and nest feathering.

                    • Jdonnell

                      Your simplistic view is a dead end. Repeating clichés avout the “federal government” is the equivalent of talking in your sleep. A different sort of govt. role has the potential to effect a much greater degree than is now the case. You carefully ignore the issue of the great inequity in our country between the rich and poor. No social justice can be achieved without addressing that criminal inequity.

                    • St JD George

                      Forget the cliches, bumper stickers and crafty campaign slogans and just only look at the hard cold facts. We’ve spent trillions in dollars over decades and amazingly the problem has only gotten worse so clearly the central clearing house system isn’t working very well. Since the last occupant took over he’s put his foot on the accelerator and the inequality has gotten far worse still. Maybe that should cause one to take pause and reflect on what we’re doing instead of doing more of the same … you know, the definition of insanity expecting a different result.

                    • Jdonnell

                      You forget the clichés by continuing unawares to repeat them. like the false one about money spent on poverty not working. It has helped many climb out of poverty. It’s true that poverty is still a huge and in many ways intractable problem, but the “war on poverty” had measurable positive results–much better than any “subsidiary” ones. See the proof in: http://www.newyorker.com/news/john-cassidy/how-the-war-on-poverty-succeeded-in-four-charts
                      We need to do more in the way of govt. involvement and to improve the ways of dealing with poverty. One problem that is getting worse is the silent move by more and more businesses to refuse full-time employment and to hire only part time workers, thus not paying a full-time wage, not providing any insurance, and no 401K. It’s unethical, which is what corporate America has increasingly become. A system with fewer jobs–and fewer full-time ones will become soon a Third World social system. We’re nearly there.

                    • St JD George

                      Agreed, we are on the way there. I’ve watched (and have friends who have fled) Venezuela over the last two decades going from a relative paradise to a living hell hole with people in charge who love redistributing, you know, rather than build people up they love to tear society down to the lowest denominator to achieve equality. Well, equality that is for all but the ruling class and their loyal favorites who humor them. Then there’s that pesky little life-or-death issue of daring to hold a contrarian view from those in power. Extreme, perhaps, but there’s hundreds more just like it and it is the reality of where this thinking usually leads. You know I’m not arguing against a true safety net for the most vulnerable and incapable in society that fall through the cracks. What we have now is a far cry from that, and our system is crushing small business pushing more and more people into lower wage jobs and underemployment. Maybe instead of attacking job creators as evil we could help people help themselves by reversing this death spiral trend.

                    • BPS
                  • M

                    True. The ACA, for example, means millions more people now have health insurance then previously. Also insurance companies can no longer cancel insurance if a patient’s life becomes “too expensive” to save, lifetime and annual dollar limits are no more, and insurance companies can no longer reject people due to a pre-existing condition. One of my kids would probably be dead by now without the ACA.

                    • Jdonnell

                      Thank God, ACA was available. What we now need is a way to restrain costs. The medical-industrial complex is out of control in its charges. The system cannot sustain the current trend in costs.

                    • M

                      I agree with your point about runaway costs. And thank you for your first comment! We have private insurance, but one of our children would, prior to the application of the ACA, have been kicked off it for exceeding lifetime limits. We would not thereafter have been able to move on to alternative insurance company because of our child’s pre-existing condition.

                    • Death panels.

                    • Jdonnell

                      We already have death panels. They’re called “insurance companies.”

                • Remember MCGuyver? Well now we have McGruber.

                  • St JD George

                    Sadly, now a fading footnote as the agents of the machine work to erase his memory from the public record.

              • Jdonnell

                I agree, which is why I said that we (through our govt.) need to force the rich to give back money they have appropriated from the middle class and the poor. This can be done by changing tax rates and instituting a wealth tax.

                • What I’m for is leaving it open to the individual rich person.

                  I’d like to see the top tax rate increased to be equal to percentage of GDP Owned for percentage of government funding. That is, the 1%, who own 65% of the productive wealth of the country, should be funding through their taxes 65% of government spending, because the existence of the government primarily benefits the rich.

                  I’d also like to see the Nun’s Loophole come back- that if you give away more than 80% of this year’s income to local charities, you owe NO taxes.

                  This encourages the virtue of generosity while making sure the rich do pay their fair share.

                  • Jdonnell

                    Making the rich pay more hardly seems like leaving it open to the individual rich person. Making them pay 65% of govt. funding might be a good way to reduce our half-trillion dollar plus Defense budget in a hurry.

                    • That’s why the nun’s loophole (named after St. Katherine Drexel, a worthy rich person for entering into Heaven if there ever was one- if you aren’t familiar with her life, go and research, you’ll be glad you did- one of the few bright spots in 19th century American Capitalism) is necessary; leave it up to the individual to decide whether they act through almsgiving or through the federal government.

                    • Let’s start with you paying more.

                    • Jdonnell

                      Must you continually expose yourself as incorrigibly oafish? Such inane remarks don’t go anywhere.

                  • Geez, you really don’t understand how the fiscal black hole works, do you?

                    • It’s called carrot and stick social engineering for a reason.

                    • I’m not talking about taxes. I’m talking about that as the government gets larger it exerts distortive forces on everything around it.

                    • The government is paid for by the market. Want a smaller government, lobby for a smaller market.

                    • Wrong. Companies (there is no thing as the market) bids on things that will give it advantage. Want a smaller government, work for that.

                    • The aggregate of all corporate taxes and political donations is the political power of the market, and it dwarfs *all* other political power in the United States. For you to be blind to that is amazing. The entire reason we have a federal government to begin with is because bankers wanted to stop people from moving across state lines to skip out on loans- which is also why the vote was limited to landowning white males over the age of 21 to begin with. Otherwise we’d still be a democracy under the Articles of Confederation, and New York and New Jersey would likely still be in a Tariff War with a black market and 20,000% tariff to move goods across the border by now.

                      Yes, the companies in the market bid (give political donations for) things that will give them advantage. Why, do you think they should spend money on things that will NOT give them an advantage?

                      Money is power. Money centralizes power. Large amounts of money attract more money. This is basic.

                      Want smaller government? Start limiting the ability of small groups of people to control large amounts of funding of said government.

                  • NO matter what you do, no matter what rates or schedules have been in place, the federal government gets about 18% of GDP from 1945-present.


                    How is it statists are always willing to make others pay more, always couched in the nebulous term “their fair share”.
                    It would be good if you worried about your fair share and nobody else’s. Your fair share is a prudentiaal decision. Of course if you statists ever worried about the magnitude of government that would go a long way to ensuring willing generosity.

                    • Yes, and I am saying that 65% of that 18% should come out of the pockets of those owning 65% of the productive wealth. Currently they pay around 38% of that 18%. I am not arguing for the government to get a larger share of the GDP, you misunderstood, and are battling a straw man.

                • Have I ever told you how beneath contempt your tired and tattered envy really is? Consider that omission fixed.

              • M

                I’m not sure that what you say about “secularists and left wingers” is entirely fair. According to this article, “more religious states” give more to their churches than “less religious churches,” but the latter give more than the former to charities other than churches. Not all of the money given to the “gospel of wealth” churches ends up going to charities. Some of it goes toward providing the pastors with private jets (Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland) and multi-million dollar homes.

                ‘Just sayin’ …

                • When was the last time you saw an Atheist Hospital? An Atheist Soup Kitchen?
                  I see that sector always crying out for more government welfare, but never stepping up and working themselves.

                  • M

                    I don’t want to get bogged down defending atheists, but they are a small percentage of our population, and they are not organized into institutions, as are religious groups. That said, Warren Buffet, Bill and Melinda Gates, and George Soros (I may be wrong, but I think they’re atheists) have made very large charitable donations in recent years. The Gates Foundation, for example, has invested millions of dollars in health care techniques and several clinics, health care centers, and hospitals. Andrew Carnegie is another example of an atheist philanthropist. One of my concerns is that certain “prosperity gospel” preachers use charitable donations to pay for all sorts of tax exempt benefits, including their multimillion dollar homes. A scam?

                    • Population control in an effort to grab a larger share of the world for the .0001% isn’t exactly what I’d call Health Care, but I’d agree with you on the prosperity gospel preachers.

                    • M

                      I find that a rather uncharitable characterization of people who support birth or “population” control. While there may be disagreement as to the benefits of lack thereof, I don’t think we can judge their motives. I don’t see Bill or Melinda Gates wanting to “grab a larger share of the world.” They seem to be doing their utmost to reduce the share they have by giving so much away. ‘Glad we agree about the prosperity gospel preachers, though:-)

                    • I have become convinced that there is NO other explanation for the targeting of population control measures on the poor. Maybe if they like bit control so much, they should start with their own children.

                • You aren’t sure about anything except your personal obsessions.

            • BPS

              Rich conservatives give more to charity than rich liberals. So you should try to convince the guys who give to Obama and lobby for stupid stuff like Common Core (like Gates and Buffet) to give to charities that actually help poor people.

              • St JD George

                Or my personal favorite, they create their own personal charities called foundations which they use as a cover for much of their costs associated to continue their political campaigning, and by that I mean promoting awareness of the issues that concern them and lecturing us on how we ought to live our lives. Like for example the Clinton Foundation recently where many finally wised up and are calling for an audit to investigate where the missing funds are. Where did they go indeed.

              • Jdonnell

                The rich give less to charity than in the past, while the middle class gives more–this according to news published a week or so ago. The fact is that voluntary giving isn’t doing anything substantial to solving poverty and homelessness. It will take tax law revision to force money out of rich pockets and return it to the people from whom the rich got it. In Fla., the top 20% of income people pay 1.9% in local taxes, while the bottom 20% pay 12.9% in local taxes. Even if the rich pay a higher total, this inequity still glares. Too many supposed Christians won’t face up to the need for govt. action and hide behind supposed Church injunctions about “subsidiarity” and use it as a right-wing tactic to maintain the status quo. They blab on about

                • BPS

                  NO–rich LIBERALS give less to charity. Rich CONSERVATIVES give more.

              • Common core sounds a lot like common whore, and with good reason.

            • Get off your duff, get of fhe internet and do something about it. Do something useful instead.

    • You claim people who question god state have their head in the sand?
      I claim that people that continue to support the welfare state support a head in a dark place approach.
      Just keep doing the same old thing.

  • When one of the libertarian authors of this article was railing against taxes a few years back, I suggested excessive personal charity to eliminate his tax bill. I’d like to suggest the reverse to Prof Quigley and his followers: as an experiment, take no deductions for your 2014 income taxes. Get everybody who agrees with you to do this. In 2016, report back on if you observed any increase in welfare spending at all.

    • You assume that this is about how to spend money. It’s not. It’s about control.
      Destroy the family, destroy the Church, destroy voluntary associations. Ensure the individual person is left alone and isolated against the world, and they start singing this verse from “Save me” by Remy Zero.

      “Somebody save me
      Let your warm hands break right through it
      Somebody save me
      I don’t care how you do it, just stay, stay
      C’mon, I’ve been waiting for you”

      It is an attempt to create a new feudalism and no more sophisticated than a mobster’s protection racket.

      • It’s more that I’m assuming Prof Quigley has a basic flaw in assuming that government is there to help anybody who earns under $2 million a year. It isn’t. The only reason we have welfare at all is because of the Bonus Army laying siege to the White House and scaring the heck out of FDR. The only real reason for welfare is to prevent rebellion, not to save lives.

        I have no idea who Remy Zero is, nor do I care. I try to stay away from secular music these days.

        I no longer buy the lie that the government is more powerful than the market- the banker’s coup of 2007 proved to me once and for all that the government is owned- bought and paid for long ago.

        • You don’t need to know who Remy Zero is, you need to consider that the lyrics provided succintlly describe the thought process of a person who isolated and desperate.

          Destroy the family, destroy the Church, destroy voluntary associations. Ensure the individual person is left alone and isolated against the world.

          Show me one initiative of the left that has strengthened the family, the Church or voluntary associations. I will show you a hundred ways they’ve attacked all three, because the state is a jealous god.

          There’s no distinction between government and financial markets. There’s a revolving door between Wall Street and Washington. They aren’t seperate-they are symbiotes, in much the same way tech is a symbiote of the state.

          • St JD George

            Voluntary associations? I know you meant other than the Planned Parenthood and Occupy ___ kind.

            • Fraternal orders, the Red Cross… since my income is conscripted to benefit “PP”, its not a voluntary organization. It is a parasite.

        • Minnesota Mary

          ‘The only real reason for welfare is to prevent rebellion, not to save lives.’

          Exactly! But there is another reason for welfare, and that is for the politicians to buy votes.

        • Michael Paterson-Seymour

          After all, as Talleyrand observed “Governing has never been anything other than postponing by a thousand subterfuges the moment when the mob will hang you from the nearest lamp-post, and every act of government is nothing but a way of not losing control of the people.”

          Will the force of law, backed by bayonets, be enough to keep the underclass in check? If we want to curtail welfare spending, are we ready for a repetition of les journées de juin 1848, following the closure of les Ateliers Nationaux? Then, the Liberals secured a victory over the Radical Republicans, but at the cost of 1,500 dead in the streets and thousands of summary executions of prisoners. The Assembly, one recalls, welcomed the surrender of the last barricade with cries of “Long Live the Republic!” What they got, inevitably, was Napoléon III; as Marx observed of this, history repeats itself, the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce.

          Nowadays, when governments depend for their legitimacy on media coverage and the cult of personality, it is pretty generally recognised that welfare cheques, drug-dealing and cheap alcohol are indispensible guarantees of the political order.

      • St JD George

        I’d argue that it is more sophisticated. Tax time perfect example. Most people will spend hours going through the gymnastics to fill there’s out only at the end left with that sick feeling of why did I have to do that. Or starting a business wondering how in the world am I ever going to figure out how to be compliant with these books of regulations and so give up trying. At least with the mob you pretty much know the one guy and what exactly he’s going to do to you if you don’t do what he wants you to do. A little more immediate cause and effect lessons learned.

        • “Tax time perfect example. Most people will spend hours going through the gymnastics to fill there’s out only at the end left with that sick feeling of why did I have to do that. ”

          They spend hours thinking that they are getting away with something, or that they posess some great tax acumen, when all they are doing is calling an interest free loan. It is part of the theater of the state.

          • St JD George

            There is a theater of the absurd quality to it all, brought to you by your “friends”

  • JERD2

    I agree with Mr. Grondelski’s view

    However, there is at least one good reason for ending the charitable deduction – to untie the financial link between the State and the charity – most notably the knotting of the State and Church. For fear of loosing their status as a charitable entity and hence the incentive given to donors to make contributions, churches have muzzled themselves.

    It would be refreshing to hear from the pulpit, “It is wrong to vote for candidate “X” because he consistently votes to spend your tax dollars on subsidizing abortions at Planned Parenthood.”

  • FrankW

    Quigley has it exactly backwards. It is the Catholic Church that needs to divorce itself from our government, and our bishops need to stop jumping on the band-wagon of every well-intentioned government program which is designed to alleviate poverty in our society. That’s how we ended up with an Affordable Care Act which was supposed to care for those without access to health insurance, but in the end seems destined to rid our nation of faith-based healthcare, starting with Catholic institutions targeted by that HHS mandate.

    It was the Catholic Church, not the federal government, which built all those inner city hospitals and schools that cared for, educated, and in some cases employed many of our grandparents and relatives during the last century. At that point, the Catholic Church was accomplishing the mission of caring for the poor and the needy. However, too many
    Catholics (including some clerics) have bought into the notion that supporting government programs which are designed to meet the needs of the poor is justification for the Catholic Church to step back from its caretaker role and let the government take the lead.

    The role of subsidiarity is well defined in this article. The reality is that no government program will ever be able to take on the role of the Church in healthcare or education. If a Catholic institution is run according to Church teaching, it will offer better healthcare and/or better education. This is long been proven over time.

    What Quigley is advocating is government taking on the role of caretaker for all the poor, and essentially the elimination of all faith-based charities. The shame of it is that he only needs to look at the current government’s track record for battling poverty to know how inept and incompetent our government is in these matters.

    Sadly, Quigley seems like one of those people who believe that the average American citizen is an incompetent who is incapable of making the best decisions for himself and his family. How many times does this “government knows best” approach have to fail before the so-called intellectual elites figure it out?

    • les@iglou.com

      The bishops have gotten in bed with the government and are now wondering why it is hogging all the blankets.

  • samnigromd

    the government is just a huge featherbedding megabureaucracy and “pseudo-employment agency for people who vote the right way…SUBSIDIARITY IS THE ANSWER WITHOUT GOVERNEMNT ANYTHING. Quigley is a fool.

    prevent the establishment of “Royalty” and the “hand of Herod” (our
    government at work)

    “LEGICARE” By Samuel A. Nigro, MD June

    Charles Dickens said, “The law is an ass.” I have discovered that government law is a
    capitalist system scheme to control and extort citizens under the guise of
    “promoting the common good.”
    It makes money for politicians and all in the law system, selected
    favored groups and individuals, all employees of the metastatic law megabureaucracy,
    and for their dictating friends in the press and media. Seeking a veiled totalitarianism, government
    law manages occasionally to be virtuous, but overall, it seeks neither truth or
    justice, but inflated preening self-righteousness. Totally unconstitutional, it is an “established
    religion” with pompous courtroom rituals and dogmatisms second to none in
    authoritarianism. It is an opiate for
    those in power. It deserves neither
    respect or admiration but fear and contempt pretending safety, respect and
    admiration. The best way to understand
    government law and those in it is by the New Testament metaphors of
    “scribes and Pharisees.” The
    following corrective measures are needed.
    Until then, the law will be as Dickens said.

    True Justice requires
    all political systems to address CORRUPTION by these rules for all political leaders
    of any nature (elected, appointed, appropriated):

    All citizens will be covered for all
    legal matters by a third party system as is health care.

    All in government and law (and family
    members) are not exempt from any laws.

    All in government and law (and family
    members if employed) are to be paid only by a base salary determined by
    procedure and service codes which will be the only source of paying for
    personal benefits received when in office. All procedure and service codes will be
    equally required for plaintiff and defendant in all litigation in search
    for “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” as sworn by
    all parties (including judges and lawyers); and in all government
    administrative procedures (including Internal Revenue Service) such that
    “equality before the law” requires government provided services “on
    behalf” of citizens to equal those actions “against” citizens.

    All in government and law (and family
    members) will be prohibited from any investment in prison or prison
    support industries. All
    incarcerations will be overturned whenever this has happened in the past.

    All in government and law (and family
    members) will study, review and sign-off annually on Stanley Milgrim Suggestibility, Stanford
    Penitentiary Experiment, and Nifong Prevention Programs.

    All laws, whenever mentioned in any
    legal proceeding, will be completely read into the record each time with
    all parties in attendance so that the defendant is assured that all
    parties know the law.

    “Plea bargains” will be
    prohibited, and prosecutors must prove ALL initial charges and counts for
    “guilt” to be found.

    All in government and law and their
    family members’ retirement, health care, travel without specific
    government mission, job security & protection, and any other benefits
    are determined by the same laws and rules which govern the common citizen
    and will be paid for as common citizens pay from personal finances.

    All in government and law and their
    family members will be taxed at a 90% rate for any and all increases
    beyond salary based assets accrued while in office and for five years
    after leaving government employment.

    All in government and law must have
    served 4 years in the military and have their children and grandchildren
    serve in the military for 3 years without special consideration.

    All in government and law and family
    members’ estates will be taxed at 90% at death for all assets over 3
    million dollars accumulated during government employment and for 5 years

    All laws will be repealed which give
    any government employee or person in law any benefit not given to the
    common citizen.

    No remuneration of any kind is to be
    received for enhancing reputation, business generation, client and
    associate management, civic activities, bar association activities, pro
    bono activities, appointments to corporation boards or equivalents. There will be no origination fees,
    referral fees, fiat retainers, or name value payments unless appropriate
    to the legal work actually performed.

    Immediate members of politicians’
    families are prohibited from practicing law.

    Appearances of impropriety and
    conflicts of interest are to be avoided, disclosed immediately, undone,
    and prevented.

    All legal and financial records of all
    in government and the law (and employed family members) are open to the

    The right to privacy and prohibition
    of unreasonable searches require that all medical records for all citizens
    are absolutely confined to the doctor patient relationship.

    All in government and law (and family
    members) are prohibited from any financial remuneration from or investment
    interest in any press and/or media business.

    All in government at all levels must
    wear cameras and recorders for all government related activities.

    To SERVE THE PEOPLE is a privilege to be paid for…SERVING
    THE PEOPLE is not a method of becoming ROYALTY.

    Similar rules are needed to prevent the corruption in the
    legal system because attorneys especially have innate conflict of interest in that the more they complicate and
    aggravate the problem, the more fees they can
    charge. Federally defined and
    fee-fixed procedure and service codes are needed for every attorney, judge, and
    bureaucracy member. Essentially, now THE
    SYSTEM only works well for those IN it i.e., politicians, judges, attorneys,
    and those in the bureaucracy. For the
    rest of us, THE SYSTEM is basically anti-freedom and anti-independence because
    it exerts fascist-like control almost
    automatically oppressive. The people are entitled to EQUALITY before
    the law. This basically means that the
    Legal System for attorneys must be equivalent to Obamacare for physicians. The government and law has become a business
    rather than a profession for the Common Good.
    The tendered rules will correct this and prevent the corrupting
    influence of “power.”

  • St JD George

    Anthony Esolen – where are you – please send a copy of your book Reclaiming Catholic Social Teaching to this poor bloke and educator in Indiana. Maybe you can educate him.

    So many good points John, and so many good comments in reply, what can I possibly add. When I read articles like this I can’t help but reflect on what Cleon told us in 1958 in the goals he discovered and documented of those who seek to destroy America and the west, particularly relevant here being no. 27. For those who haven’t bothered to go read yet despite my numerous mentions over the past several months – you really should. Hard to purge the thoughts of LBJ’s comments to the fellow governors on Air Force One about keeping a certain group voting for his party for 200 years with his expansion of the welfare state and programs specifically designed to “help” them learn which lever is labeled D to pull in the voting booth every 2-4 years. The best of course, even though it has mostly been ignored despite a lot of noise about it from time to time, is the state intrusion into the church to police which political philosophy they can endorse or risk the threat of lawsuit. Funny thing is, the atheist group Freedom From Religion Foundation never seems to get their knickers twisted up when the politics are D flavored, or favored. Are they really just another front organization for the DNC?

  • Guest

    Is the author’s name Quigly or Quisling?

    • M

      It’s Andrew Greenwell:-P

      • Could you offer something intelligent?

  • Andrew Greenwell

    Is the author’s name Quigley or Quisling?

  • al d

    Frank w – I agree with a good portion of your response, again most of this is over my head, with the level of writing – As a Catholic Worker – Dorthy and Peter did not look for aid from the government only to do the works of mercy without any “pay-back or exemption. The Catholic Worker of nearly 90 years is not tax exempt – our Lord was not take exempt and either of them sought to work with Ceaser. So, all you who have nothing to do but play with your computer join the Worker, the Amish, Bruderhoff and good Catholic monesteries to establish the Kingdom on earlth..

  • hombre111

    Dr. Grondelski has authored a good article on the principle of subsidiarity, similar to others I have seen on Crisis. Big government is, indeed, a dangerous thing. What puzzles me is the fact that I have never seen this principle applied to the huge corporations that actually control our fate as individuals and as a nation. Take my town, for instance, which flourished until WalMart and the other big box stores set up camp outside the city limits, where they could operate free of taxes. The local merchants were serving the public well until they came along. Now our downtown is a desert. Gutted small and medium towns has become the norm all over America. Did WalMart violate the principle of subsidiarity? And then, of course, there is the financial “industry” and those banks too big to fail, which managed to reduce middle class incomes by an average of 5,000 dollars, thanks the recent recession from which Main Street has yet to fully recover. Most of the wealth since then has gone to the 1%. How does that mesh with the principle of subsidiarity? I would be curious ti see how Dr. Grondelksi etc. would apply the principle y to the corporations that have driven down wages, erased benefits, and changed the whole culture of the United States. What force, except for government, has the power to take their foot off the windpipe?

    • Joe

      Excellent. Don’t forget the negative externalities of vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The rights of industrial land owners to leave derilect brownfields for decades with little recourse from the citizenry to remediate such eyesores. The privelige of big businesses in the US has been abused beyond what is necessary for economic prosperity. And no, I’m not a socialist. I just grew up in an area littered with economic rot.

      • M

        I’m not a socialist either, but the push for unfettered capitalism to become a civil religion does concern me. The “profits before people” crowd have caused enormous suffering.

        • Fargo106

          What’s have the other “crowds” done that’s so great for people?

          • St JD George

            Led others to a misplaced belief in state before God. Led others to believe it’s ok to kill your children. Led others to believe that it’s ok for a man to stick his willy into another man’s arse. Led others to believe it’s ok for two (or more) of the same sex can wed. Led others to believe you can put a price tag on life. Led others to believe that only certain lives matter. Led others to believe in intolerance in the name of tolerance. Led others to believe in false promises that can never be delivered.

        • You have to be a blind to speak of “unfettered capitalism” in a world where government is almost omnipresent and involved almost everything.

          • M

            Hmmm, I guess the Catholic church must be blind then.

            • MMM.. unlike the Pope, I am speaking as a technician.

          • The government is owned by the market, and does their bidding.

        • JTLiuzza

          Please tell me where “unfettered capitalism” is even close to being practiced.

          • M

            In China, strangely enough. Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay tried it in recent decades.

            • asmondius

              Yup – absolutely no ‘fetters’ in China.

      • Don’t forget the negative externalities of vacant lots and abandoned buildings. The rights of industrial land owners to leave derilect brownfields for decades with little recourse from the citizenry to remediate such eyesores.
        Vacant lots are not “negative externalities”. If you don’t understand a term, don’t use it.
        And don’t forget the predation of the government (specifically, New London, CT) against homeowners to serve the interests of people who promiised to rehabilitate “blighted” land. The Kelos home was razed and the land sits vacant.

        • Joe

          DE, I’ll give you a lesson in both economics and charity. Nearby, a health system recently consolidated its hospital facilities, resulting in a site closure. The building was sold with a deed restriction that the buyers could not use the property for anything that would compete with the health care services the owner offered. So what else can a hospital building be used for? Well needless to say it has sat vacant for a decade while the owner tries to negotiate with numerous parties to have the building re-deployed. As the building sits vacant it attracts vandals and vermin, and falls into further disrepair. Eventually, it will have to be demolished. At that point, the owner will default on property taxes, give the building to the county in a tax foreclosure, and pass the eventual cost of remediation onto tax payers. All the while, home values in the neighborhood go down and economic activity in the adjacent business district suffers. All of these ill effects result from the firm’s decisions, which is not paying the true cost of owning the building. The costs are passed on to others and causes economic harm. That is a textbook definition of negative externality.

          If you want to spread the light of Christ, I suggest you speak to people with decency, especially people you might find dumb, misinformed, or otherwise not agree with.

    • When exactly are you going to keep your promise to take leave of us?

  • Vinny

    I found an error – “ever-more-omnicompetent Nanny State?” Should’ve been omni-incompetent.

  • If Quigley’s concerns were about strengthening the safety net, he’d be advocating the end of those run by a wasteful state. Of each dollar that the government confiscates, less than $0.40 makes to its intended destination. Private charities, on the other hand, deliver over twice as much.

    • St JD George

      Excellently stated. That is the central point that I was thinking too but didn’t articulate so well as you. It’s not that some of these functions don’t need to be served in society, it’s just that they don’t need to be done by the central politburo on the Potomac. Our founding fathers saw this train wreck coming a long time ago like political prophets – hopeful for a different result, but grounded in the realism of the folly of man.

  • One of the worst things one can do with the left is to unquestioningly accept their premises. Commonweal, or Commonsqueal as I like to refer to it, has only the thinnest veneer of Catholicism and the term Progressive is a term of deceit that really means the fusion of the statist, collectivist and atheist impulses among the chattering class.

    Perhaps it isn’t all that surprising that it would serve as a Launchpad for a nuclear assault on private and religious initiative, since statists are always seeking to destroy any mediating institution between the individual and the cold cruel world. It should also come as no surprise that removing the charitable deduction from the tax code was trial ballooned by the Obama administration. Fortunately, that rag serves mostly as a echo chamber for the tattered ideas of the hard left and a bird cage liner.

    Quigley is a lawyer and an academic. He’s also an archetype of the modern parasitic Pharisee, whose sinecurial privilege allows him to peddle subjective personal preferences and prejudices as public policy expertise. Despite the fig leaf provided by the widespread public affliction of credentialism, this essay reveals him to be a craven political activist, a man truly having a strange god before the Almighty.

    Anybody who thinks that we should accept his ideas without question needs to be referred Jonathan Gruber’s confessions of a massive campaign of fraud in the inducement. Would be architects of a new world order seem to be afflicted with a peculiar form of dishonesty.

    What Quigley refers to as “the safety net” should actually be called what it is –federal payments to individuals- there’s no need for the euphemism. It is a return to feudalism and serfdom. His contention that they are inadequate is a subjective judgment without objective support.

    Decades of empirical data shows that these programs are ineffective and counterproductive, inefficient and filled with unanticipated and perverse incentives. They perpetuate poverty, and do not relieve it.
    Let’s consider the so called “supplemental nutrition assistance program”, more popularly known as “food stamps”. Over the past three years, the number of recipients is essentially stagnant at 46-47 million individuals. That means something like 1 in 7 people are recipients, even as we are told of an epidemic of obesity.


    The sole result of decades of federal activities putatively designed to mitigate poverty, has been the creation of a vast army of unaccountable bureaucrats, and an even larger army of dependents, whose civic engagement is limited to selling their vote to the candidate that most aggressively seeks to preserve, expand or entitle whatever conspicuous payment or subsidy they receive.

    Of course, the political class benefits from a pliable and reliable electorate that resembles chick in a nest waiting to receive a regurgitated meal. Both create massive inertia against containing the fiscal meltdown we face. Yet the left’s answer to critics is always the same-we just haven’t done enough, so to paraphrase fellow traveler Bernie Sanders “how much is enough”? No informed and objective person can promote that idea that the counterfeit of the welfare state is better than private efforts in good conscience, given the evidence.

    We know that poverty, true poverty is not just a lack of money. Some people are victimized by the vicissitudes of fortune, but many more are victimized by their own vices. Only the very infirm, the very old and the very young are without recourse to their own efforts and we’ve introduced the additional perils of family instability, and ignorance of the habits of industry or thrift, and made vice into virtue.

    The “safety net” simply says “here’s some money, now go away” without ever seeking to understand what frustrates or impedes an individual’s personal circumstances, all while adding to the moral debasement we see society-wide. If a woman is leading a life of serial fornication, we offer her subsidies and the pill, so she can continue to be an object for transient desires.

    The idea that impersonal federal welfare will more effectively mitigate poverty than the private charities that tend to treat the person as a unique person rather than fungible chattel, is for the ignorant a classic case of the “cult of the colossal”. Mr. Grondelski evidences a bit of that infection that when he writes “To his credit, Quigley recognizes that, in modern societies, problems can become so large that they defy ready solutions by smaller actors like individual charities.” There’s plenty of evidence that proposition is mistaken, and it ignores the potential for iatrogenic pathologies associated with massive, one-size-fits-all interventions peddled as solutions (If you like your plan…). It ruins an otherwise thoughtful essay and reinforces my notion that theologians, unguided by temporal disciplines are too easily deceived in worldly affairs.

    The brilliance of the Principle of Subsidiarity is that long before (some, certainly not the Krugmans or Grubers) economists, were able to articulate the idea that economic knowledge is more about the direct personal proximity to a particular circumstances of time and place, rather than authority, expertise or credentials, the Church knew that. It’s too bad that the likes of Quigley seem content to want to even further institutionalize a destructive force, whether it’s because of his vanity or politics.

    Quigley isn’t ignorant, he’s simply another self-interesting votary of the superstate, that’s all. His idea isn’t true or novel and should be dismissed for what it is-idolatry.

  • JTLiuzza

    The subsidiarity argument is sound but doesn’t address the real issue.

    Marxism/socialism, confiscatory taxation and redistribution of wealth, is not charity.

    Not only do these systems inevitably not help the “poor,” but they have the dastardly effect of conning us into believing that our individual Catholic duty to assist our brethren personally has somehow been abrogated since we’re paying taxes.

    • “Marxism/socialism, confiscatory taxation and redistribution of wealth, is not charity.”

      Of course advocating these counterfeits allows the Hombre111s, JDonnells and M’s of the world to assure themselves of their moral superiority while masquerading their seething envy as righteous indignation. Everybody knows Jesus told the rich man he was supposed to help the poor by decrying “the rich” and blindly supporting higher taxes and increased government spending.

  • Jacqueleen

    The Democrats will see to it that poverty increases as it has for almost a century since the Democrats have been in the majority. The Bishops are obviously not paying attention because they made a deal Universal Healthcare vs. Amnesty and look what they got?
    Not only did they get a slap in the face from the Atheist in the Oval Office, who took advantage of the situation to take away Religious Freedoms, but they caused every American to either pay the extremely high premiums and exhaust ridiculous deductibles or go without insurance. By the time a family pays the high rates of insurance and pay as they go while reducing the deductible, the year is up. The bottom line is that they have no insurance except for a catastrophic illness in hopes that they are not denied for being too old and non productive by the death panels. How did this happen, you say? It happened because the blinded Bishops trusted Satan’s militia! Then, those liberal bishops had the nerve to ask Parishioners to pay for their healthcare! One cannot make this up! Give me back the Catholic church that I remember when the clergy were holy, kept their vows and lived by the Word of God! Furthermore, they did not bite the hand that fed them….The American Catholic.