Getting Used to Thinking with the Church Takes Practice

So, for instance, if you hear the word “redistribution” and your very first instinct is to blurt “socialism!” or otherwise pour forth a stream of rhetoric denouncing anybody who mentions the idea in any context and then immediately dismiss it from your mind, my suggestion, like Caelum et Terra’s, is that you take several deep breaths, master your impulse to cavil, ignore, rebuke and resist and then read–slowly–what Benedict XVI has to say in Caritas in Veritate:

32. Lowering the level of protection accorded to the rights of workers, or abandoning mechanisms of wealth redistribution in order to increase the country’s international competitiveness, hinder the achievement of lasting development. Moreover, the human consequences of current tendencies towards a short-term economy — sometimes very short-term — need to be carefully evaluated. This requires further and deeper reflection on the meaning of the economy and its goals,as well as a profound and far-sighted revision of the current model of development, so as to correct its dysfunctions and deviations.

36. Economic activity cannot solve all social problems through the simple application of commercial logic. This needs to be directed towards the pursuit of the common good, for which the political community in particular must also take responsibility. Therefore, it must be borne in mind that grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution.

37. Economic life undoubtedly requires contracts, in order to regulate relations of exchange between goods of equivalent value. But it also needs just laws and forms of redistribution governed by politics, and what is more, it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift. The economy in the global era seems to privilege the former logic, that of contractual exchange, but directly or indirectly it also demonstrates its need for the other two: political logic, and the logic of the unconditional gift.

39. Paul VI in Populorum Progressio called for the creation of a model of market economy capable of including within its range all peoples and not just the better off. He called for efforts to build a more human world for all, a world in which “all will be able to give and receive, without one group making progress at the expense of the other.” In this way he was applying on a global scale the insights and aspirations contained in Rerum Novarum, written when, as a result of the Industrial Revolution, the idea was first proposed — somewhat ahead of its time — that the civil order, for its self-regulation, also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution.

42. The processes of globalization, suitably understood and directed, open up the unprecedented possibility of large-scale redistribution of wealth on a world-wide scale; if badly directed, however, they can lead to an increase in poverty and inequality, and could even trigger a global crisis. It is necessary to correct the malfunctions, some of them serious, that cause new divisions between peoples and within peoples, and also to ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty: a real danger if the present situation were to be badly managed. For a long time it was thought that poor peoples should remain at a fixed stage of development, and should be content to receive assistance from the philanthropy of developed peoples. Paul VI strongly opposed this mentality in Populorum Progressio. Today the material resources available for rescuing these peoples from poverty are potentially greater than before, but they have ended up largely in the hands of people from developed countries, who have benefited more from the liberalization that has occurred in the mobility of capital and labour. The world-wide diffusion of forms of prosperity should not therefore be held up by projects that are self-centred, protectionist or at the service of private interests. Indeed the involvement of emerging or developing countries allows us to manage the crisis better today. The transition inherent in the process of globalization presents great difficulties and dangers that can only be overcome if we are able to appropriate the underlying anthropological and ethical spirit that drives globalization towards the humanizing goal of solidarity. Unfortunately this spirit is often overwhelmed or suppressed by ethical and cultural considerations of an individualistic and utilitarian nature.

49. What is also needed, though, is a worldwide redistribution of energy resources, so that countries lacking those resources can have access to them. The fate of those countries cannot be left in the hands of whoever is first to claim the spoils, or whoever is able to prevail over the rest.

Caelum et Terra, by the way, provides the useful service of often pointing out those aspects of Catholic teaching which wind up on the cutting room floor after being snipped away as unuseful to the ginner-uppers of tribal enthusiasms on both sides of the aisle.  It is therefore, like Chesterton and others who are trying to just listen to the whole of what the Church says, often derided as both hopelessly neanderthal in its retrograde reactionary conservatism and as the work of a radical leftist commie.  So I like it.

In contrast, you can get the ridiculous take of George Weigel, who does a sort of source-criticism analysis in which he divides the encyclical up into various sources and then picks through it like the Jesus Seminar color-coding the gospels for “authentic” teaching we must accept (those which affirm George Weigel in his okayness) and interpolated passages we can all ignore.  (For a masterful takedown of this cafeteria approach, go here.)

I think we should try to take the Church’s teaching as a whole, not edit it to fit our Pavlovian responses to certain acoustic cues and tribal needs.

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  • Daniel Collins

    I had to go through a conservative detox recently, and I think I found a good method of doing it.
    Everyday I would listen to Rush Limbaugh, just as I always had. Only this time there were rules.
    The rules are simple. For however long it took me to shut the program off in disgust, I would spend twice as much time learning about Catholic Social Teaching and DIstributism.
    Now I only listen to him to find out what the Right is up to, but I still match it with twice the amount of Catholic Social Teaching, just to keep me safe.
    Maybe you could spread this method around. I call it the Mumford Method of Conservative Detox.

  • I have a lot of possible replies, but all I can think is, “Listening to catholics talk about economics is like listening to evangelicals talk about evolution.”

    It’s certainly funny to hear Mark first complain about losing freedom in one post, then support the forceful application of charity in another. Let’s face it, having freedom means letting other people be bastards. Or to quote TOF: the quote from Jesus ought to be:
    “Take all that other people have and give it to the poor, while keeping a percentage to pay for your offices and perks.”

    Of course, I always thought the Lord loved a cheerful giver, so should the IRS now make us cheerful at gun point?

    • Argh! Argh! Argh! Listening to conservatives talk about economics is like listening to atheists talk about evolution. “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

      The law of charity is not what we’re talking about, here. You owe your neighbor, in justice not charity, a certain level of support. The society as a whole owes this to him. Full stop. If the society can deliver that support in a free-markety way then good for it. If it can’t, then another way must be found or the society is a wicked society.

      And just to anticipate: no, this says nothing about what the neighbor owes society. Obviously, he owes society as well, and nobody here (or in Rome or the USCCB) contemplates a mass of couch-sitting, video game-playing, Democrat-voting, welfare jockies with complacency and satisfaction. Those guys need a kick in the a–, which society ought in justice to distribute to them.

      • If the society can deliver that support in a free-markety way then good for it. If it can’t, then another way must be found or the society is a wicked society.

        So a society can have a completely unfree, tyrannical government, but as long as the poor are taken care of, it’s ok? That reminds me of an article by Theodore Dalrymple (reprinted here by John C Wright) about Britain. The poor there seem quite well taken care of, do you consider that society wicked or just? Or let us suppose a society which provides quite well for the poor, but in order to budget correctly, institutes great reproductive control (the pill, abortions, etc) – in other words, the poor can’t have kids unless the charity services can pay for it – would you consider that a wicked or just society? (and I didn’t pull that out of thin air, it’s a pretty common leftist motif)

        Replies like that seem to only prove the beliefs people like this guy have about Catholics. And it does make me wonder: why do you care about religious freedom if the poor are going to be taken care of? If they’ll be provided for, is your religious freedom worth giving up then? If not, then you might be the one using “justice” incorrectly.

        • Irenist

          Nate, I think Jon W meant that, among the many requirements for a just society would be that widows, orphans, and the rest of God’s poor are cared for. I don’t think he was saying that’s the *only* requirement.

          • That’s fair enough, but the problem is that only God is infinite and provides for all. With everyone else, time and resources are limited and sometimes choices must be made between competing Goods (in the philosophical, not economic sense).

            • I agree. But there is a huge difference between acknowledging the difficulty any society has balancing the various forms of justice in that society and asserting that some of those forms aren’t actually justice and so we don’t need to bother balancing them in the first place.

              • Except no one is really arguing that except for the strawmen people construct.

                • It’s certainly funny to hear Mark first complain about losing freedom in one post, then support the forceful application of charity in another. Let’s face it, having freedom means letting other people be bastards. […]

                  [S]hould the IRS now make us cheerful at gun point?

                  I didn’t construct this strawman.

                  • Irenist

                    Losing the freedom not to be blown to bits by a drone or spied upon by the FBI is somewhat more important than losing the freedom to pay 35% top marginal income tax rates instead of 39.6% top marginal income tax rates. Why is that so hard to see?

                    • I don’t see how we can’t both get our wish on that. After all, how is the government going to pay for those drones or FBI agents without money? 😉

                  • I think you’re not quite getting it. Let me rephrase.

                    Premise one: How your spend your own money is one of the ways to practice freedom.
                    Premise two: quote from the source: “also needed intervention from the State for purposes of redistribution.”
                    Conclusion: A state that takes your money to redistribute is one that is reducing your freedom.

                    Look at it this way: Catholics say that it is infringing on their religious freedom for the government to force them to give out birth control. Well isn’t it infringing on others’ religious freedom to force them to give to charity if they don’t want to? (say, because they’re atheists)

                    The saying goes, “liberals design government assuming they are in charge, conservatives design government assuming their enemies are in charge.” If you allow the government to force people to behave this time, don’t be surprised when someone later turns that around and forces you to behave the way they think is moral. (and I’m not making that up, there are actually leftists that believe the whole birth control issue is moral and a part of redistribution)

                    • Irenist

                      So are you saying that the Sixteenth Amendment, Social Security, or Medicare, or Medicaid, or Obamacare, or what, exactly, is the slippery slope that leads to the HHS contraception mandate? Is it just the health insurance mandate that’s the problem, or is any use of the state to redistribute wealth going to lead us to this pass? How much of the welfare state do you propose to repeal?

                    • @Irenist: Well I certainly agree on getting rid of the 16th amendment.

                      As for the rest, well there’s practical vs theoretical. I’ll just address the latter for the moment.

                      It’s not necessarily the slippery slope, as much as once arguments for things like you listed are spread and accepted, then it becomes harder to reject things that make use of those arguments. One obvious example (which Mark has brought up several times) would be gay marriage. The reasons and justifications for it are easily applied to many other marriages etc. And that’s my problem with some of these arguments because (and I could be missing them) I don’t see many stop gaps or short-circuits to keep these reasonings from spiraling into, heck even communism.

                      I guess you could say that’s sometimes how these debates sound to a lot of conservatives/libertarians. Like you’re advocating that we can tame the tiger, and we’re warning that you’re going to get mauled. 😉

                    • Steve

                      Right, and that is why we are in the mess we are in.

                    • Richard Johnson

                      “Premise one: How your spend your own money is one of the ways to practice freedom.”

                      Faulty premise. Where, in either Scripture or the Teachings, does it say that the money you receive is yours to spend as you wish? Moreover, how does your view reconcile with this from the Catechism?

                      2239 It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. the love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.

                      2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

                      Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.45

                      2407 In economic matters, respect for human dignity requires the practice of the virtue of temperance, so as to moderate attachment to this world’s goods; the practice of the virtue of justice, to preserve our neighbor’s rights and render him what is his due; and the practice of solidarity, in accordance with the golden rule and in keeping with the generosity of the Lord, who “though he was rich, yet for your sake . . . became poor so that by his poverty, you might become rich.”

                    • @Richard, I’m not Catholic, that’s why I was asking for many clarifications. But then a lot of this is the tension of a secular society. As a Christian? Of course, I believe nothing is truly yours, but how then to treat the one who doesn’t believe as I do?

                      At the very least, the principles of private property grant that an atheist or hindu or muslim or whoever can do what they want with their property, even if I don’t think it’s really theirs. Otherwise it could come off to say… the atheist that I’m just inventing an excuse to take their stuff.

                    • Ted Seeber

                      Then I’d say the beginning of that road was bimetalism in 1873.

              • Most conservatives would agree that in case of emergency, a military invasion, a storm that flattens everything, normal rules go by the boards and government provisioning is fine. But we usually aren’t in an emergency, and a recovering free market rather quickly snaps back and exceeds government efficiency in providing support. When you have two methods to do something, pick the more efficient one. In limited supply situations, it leaves fewer bodies on the floor as a consequence.

          • He was not. Nor is he a fan of what he knows of the English system, which horrifies him every time he reads about it or sees it on television. He merely breaks out in angry hives every time someone tries to assert that welfare is charity and therefore optional to a just society.

            • Wait, now I’m even more confused. So you believe that charity must be compulsory to a just society? Or charity and welfare are not the same? Because when it comes to libertarians (and many conservatives) it’s not a “charity vs none” issue, but a “voluntary vs compulsory” charity issue.

              • Irenist

                Justice is compulsory to a just society. If the state is invaded, it is your duty, not your option, to defend it. Thus, the draft. If the state is full of poor people, it is your duty, not your option, to give alms. If you do so with a glad heart, then you’re a better Christian. But whether you feel like it or not, it is your duty, and it is the legitimate role of just princes to require that justice be done.

                • Exactly what Irenist said. I’m very open, moreover, to the point that if the society – because of the virtue of its citizens and strength of its local and religious institutions – is able to distribute this justice without the involvement of the government (especially a gigantic national government) that is a very good thing.

                  But what I fight against is the idea that because it’s better if the state doesn’t need to be involved, therefore the state should never be involved. It does not follow.

                  • Ok, just wanted to say that I at last now grasp both of your points, and agree in part and respectfully disagree in part.

                    Though at the very least, I would vote for either one of you instead of a lot of the crop we have this year.

                    • Irenist

                      “Though at the very least, I would vote for either one of you instead of a lot of the crop we have this year.”
                      Y’know, Nate, just when I was starting to think “Wow, this Nate Winchester guy sure is smart,” you go and say a crazy thing like that!

                    • Don’t go gettin’ too swelled a head. That’s just a sign of how bad the picks are this year. 😉

                • In a just society, is it your personal duty to set your level of alms giving or is that the duty of the state to set a minimum floor?

              • Ted Seeber

                Charity is a tax imposed on us by heaven and is not voluntary. He who refuses to pay it is not a good citizen of either Heaven or Earth.

        • Ted Seeber

          So a society can have a completely unfree, tyrannical government, but as long as the poor are taken care of, it’s ok?

          YES. In fact, that is preferable to a supposedly free society where 80% of the people have no access to food, clothing, and shelter.

      • Marion (Mael Muire)

        “You owe your neighbor, in justice not charity, a certain level of support. The society as a whole owes this to him. Full stop.”

        I owe full maintenance support – to a reasonably good level of comfort, dignity, and independence – to my neighbor who is precluded by age, disability, or infirmity from working to supply his own needs and those of his family.

        I owe supplemental support to my neighbor who holds a full-time low-wage job, and although living frugally, cannot make ends meet to a reasonably good level of comfort, dignity and independence.

        To my neighbor who is perfectly well able to hold regular a job of some kind, but who doesn’t because he wants to work only in his field; or doesn’t want to move out of the area where his friends live; or who feels that jobs at his skill level are beneath him; or who doesn’t want to be told to cut his hair, lose the rings, wear clean clothes, and shoes on his feet everyday, or who can’t get along with authority figures; or who can’t get up in the morning; or who doesn’t believe in capitalism; or who would rather study, volunteer, play music, watch TV, surf, pursue various hobbies, . . . here is what I owe such a one: I owe him a pleasant smile and a wave hello. Full Stop.

        • Richard Johnson

          Is it appropriate to made the first two suffer so the third does not benefit?

          • Marion (Mael Muire)

            Nobody would be deprived of the support due him in justice if we evaluate those in need as to their capacity for productive work.

            During the early 1980s, during one of our economic recessions with a high unemployment rate, I worked for an employer who also employed prisoners incarcerated in a county jail, who maintained residence in a pre-release center that allowed them time out for work on the outside and also many privileges not enjoyed by the general jail population.

            A condition for their participation was that the pre-release guys had to land a full-time job within 72 hours of their transfer to pre-release. Else, back to regular jail they went.

            The general unemployment rate at that time was around 10%.

            The rate of success for guys newly accepted into the pre-release program? One hundred percent. Within the seventy-two hours between the time the jail doors swung open and the mandated time they were scheduled to be sent back.

            One hundred percent. And these were guys with records, and currently serving time.

            And their retention rate for those jobs – how long did they hold them? Not quit, not get fired? (Because if they did, and didn’t get another, back to jail) Again, one hundred percent!

            It’s amazing what motivation can do for a person.

            • Dan C

              What do we do with unpleasant and “bad” poor? Jesus had a male figure in one of his parables- not a lame beggar or blind man- named Lazarus who was ignored by the rich man. What happened there?

              Everyone wants to help the good, honest, poor. I suspect they have always, especially in Roman occupied Israel, an endangered species.

              • Marion (Mael Muire)

                Our Lord doesn’t tell us what was going on with Lazarus, except that he was covered with sores which the dogs came and licked.

                Suppose Lazarus had been healthy enough to do some work. What if Dives (the name given by the Church fathers to the rich man in the a parable) had said, “Lazarus, call on my steward. He needs men willing to assist my artisans in making clay jugs and pots. You will be given a clean tunic to wear, a place to sleep, all your meals and a few copper coins each week. If you do well, my steward will see to it that you are trained as an artisan in clay” . . . ?

                I wonder if other commenters would agree that this offer by Dives would fulfill the requirements of justice better than an offer to support Lazarus for the rest of his life for doing absolutely nothing?

            • Irenist

              “It’s amazing what motivation can do for a person.”
              If fear of jail can make malingerers find jobs, perhaps it can make scofflaws pay their fair share of taxes. It’s amazing what motivation can do for a person. Sauce for the goose….

      • James Isabella

        I wish I could +1 this post. Well done Jon W.

      • Jon W – Unfortunately, delivering something in a non “free-markety” way supplies power, money, and influence to those who can perch themselves in such a way as to control the conduits through which the resources flow to accomplish just about any task. It is a form of parasitism that is attractive to a certain set and like most parasites will ultimately kill the host if too many of them attach. So there is a real tendency to have a sham attempt at a market, quickly declare a failure and go on to dividing up the spoils. The only cure found to this particular problem so far has been to be a bit dogmatic and to resist long and hard before accepting that, for now, something can’t be handled by the free market. And to some people’s considerable surprise when you do this you actually get better provision of service all around, both private and public.
        For example, when I was a child it was considered a bit loony to support the idea of private roads. Today, there are plenty of highways that are run privately and more to come. Not only does it turn out you tend towards fewer potholes with the approach, but innovations like time-of-day tolling can actually reduce traffic jams. And like imitative simians public toll roads are considering time-of-day tolling as well now which tends to shift commercial traffic to times of day when the tolls are cheaper and incents businesses to shift some of their start and end of shifts around to non-traditional times.
        This use of public money flows to set up parasites in power extends to the provision of support. This is something as old as the Roman Empire. You’ve heard of “bread and circuses” no doubt? What do you think that is? Why do people view the growth of bread and circuses as a cause in the fall of the Romans? Conservatives reject this sort of thing because conservatives remember the bad things that flow from it.

    • Jay

      You have a lot of possible replies and you chose the stupidest of them, I take it?

      If you’re such an expert on economics, why don’t you try to give a technical rebuttal and explain your position instead of just being snide and looking like a jerk who has nothing to say?

      • I think Marcel and Thomas Mirus below both expressed some of the problems with this better than I could. (I didn’t even claim to be an economics expert, I just have enough knowledge of it to know when some things are faulty.)

        Like Thomas Sowell has said, what’s needed isn’t wealth redistribution, but knowledge sharing. I sometimes wonder if the Church needs to preach less on generosity and more against sloth. And I don’t just mean at the poor, but towards the rich too who would rather write a check and consider their duty done, rather than go out and actually cook a meal or teach a class.

        • Irenist

          No matter how much knowledge we share, SOMEBODY has to mop floors and serve hamburgers. How do we ensure a dignified life for such folks?

          • How are you defining dignity? That the lower workers be able to possess the same luxury goods that the upper class do? Then we are reducing man to his possessions (which I do believe is something we all agree on in our disagreement).

            Are you talking about just giving him a sense of self-worth, purpose and esteem? That is a job only faith and culture can do and any attempt to legislate is going to fail horrifically.

            We must be ever mindful that our cures are not worse than the disease. After all, the Boss said to heal and feed the poor. He didn’t give us doctor training or cooking recipes.

            • Irenist

              I am defining dignity, with the earlier social encyclicals, as the ability to support a family with enough time for recreation and prayer. Since neither the unemployment rate nor employment at the minimum wage make that possible, some other intervention would seem to be required.
              (N.B. on the unemployment rate: if 8% of the country cannot find a job, then Sowell’s “education” formula doesn’t work. All it does it get *you* a job at the expense of some less educated schmuck. What is needed is a full employment economy. For this, demand-stimulative redistribution or inflation (which amounts to redistribution anyway, and has since the days of the Gracchi) is necessary, on a Keynesian view.)

              • I could be wrong, but didn’t many monasteries believe that work was one of the best ways to pray? (I know often I find myself better able to concentrate while doing simple labor) So I would say the more humble workers have, if anything, far more prayer than the higher ups (probably why we see so many more religious poor than rich). As for the rest well… I guess we’ll have to agree to disagree.

                (On Keynesianism)

                • SpasticHedgehog

                  If I recall monasteries set aside specific times of the day for work, prayer, and recreation. They did not require monks to solely work at the expense of the order of other parts of their lives.

                • Irenist

                  I think we will have to agree to disagree on Keynesianism, Nate.

                  However, I think we can get somewhere on whether the infringement of liberty inherent in redistributive taxation is compatible with ordered liberty. Gay people would like to get “married” to each other. Some people want to smoke marijuana. Still others want to dump toxic waste in rivers near their factories. Which of these actions, if any, may the state ban, and why? May the state only ban non-consensual actions involving force and fraud? Or are some actions so destructive of other values that curtailment of liberty in order to ban them is acceptable?
                  Is a draft ever acceptable? What about compulsory vaccination? May taxes pay for roads and local schools and fire departments and hospitals, or only for soldiers and policemen?

                  • Let me add a clarification that will probably answer a lot of your questions: I’m in favor of federalism, so when I say “government” I’m usually assuming federal. For much of what you list, I would say “Federal: no, State: yes”. The sole exception would be the waste/river issue because something like waterways would cross multiple state areas and so you would need the Federal government involved to settle the dispute. The smaller the government involved, the less problem I have with it. (especially since you can have people vote with their feet as they say) So if a town or a city or a state want to have welfare, well then let them have it. Especially since as you scale down government, you increase the value of each vote. (making it far more likely that people that provide welfare, are the ones that want to)

                    But then that gets into a lot more rambling and I’ve probably bored you enough as it is. 😉

                    • Irenist

                      “But then that gets into a lot more rambling and I’ve probably bored you enough as it is.”
                      Actually, you’re one of the few libertarian/conservative commentators on economics who makes me suspect I might be completely wrong. Considering how much I benefited when I realized, as a young atheist, that I was wrong and the author of “Mere Christianity” was right, I’m pretty open to being wrong. So please, do ramble if you like.

                    • @Irenist: I will say mostly this. My view can best be summed up as: “Be aware of the cost.” What do you want to accomplish? What is the max price you are willing to pay. Part of what angers me about politics is that everyone just seems to assume that there will never be unintended consequences.

                      Example: To return to something we discussed earlier about “ordered liberty” (which I quite agree with philosophically and am working on a blog post about it), on one level, you must agree that there is still being freedom lost there. However, I’m sure you would claim (and I would probably agree with you) that the freedoms that are lost in those instances are worth the order and stability that is gained. But laws of diminishing returns will eventually kick in. You have to figure out what is that point you are no longer willing to pay, and how exactly you’re going to avoid if. This is what many talk about with limited government. The road block that keeps it from “over charging” us you might say. 😉

                • Dan C

                  Monasteries applying the Rule of Benedict did this. The Rule of the Master was a stricter rule and had less time.

                  In all fairness, the Benedictine monastery later would have its monks have more time for recreation and study, and its employees tended to work like dogs.

                  Hence the Cistercian branch of Benedictines, then the Trappist branch.

  • The mechanism for wealth redistribution – employment – has been failing for some time. But if you give the US federal government the power to redistribute wealth, they’re going to use that power. Primarily they’re going to use it to get themselves more power; then they’re going to, say, make you pay for stuff for other people, that you can’t in good conscience pay for. They’re going to use what you gave them, and “through them, it will wield a power too great and terrible to imagine.”

    • Chris M

      Exactly. What the Church means by redistribution and what motivational speaker-elect Obama means by redistribution? yeah.

    • Irenist

      The federal government already has the power to redistribute wealth through progressive income taxes, and has since the Sixteenth Amendment was ratified in 1913. Right now, Obama and Romney are only arguing over whether the top marginal rate, currently at 35%, should return to the Clinton-era 39.6%, or fall to 25%, as in Paul Ryan’s proposals. If Obama wins, he will still be a civil-liberties shredding, innocent Pakistani civilian-bombing, contraceptive insurance-mandating bully. But it will be these things, not a mere 4.6% addition to the top marginal income tax rate, that will deserve our fear of “a power too great and terrible to imagine.” While opponents of redistribution in the G.O.P. are busy hyperventilating about a 4.6% hike in the taxes of those making over $250k/yr., the Bush-era G.O.P. and Obama-era Democrats have conspired in entirely bipartisan fashion to give the Executive power to ignore the Constitution and kill American citizens who displease it without trial. But sure, let’s worry about redistribution. *That’s* the threat to liberty. What a pathetically impoverished Manchesterian vision of freedom the party of the heirs of Burke has descended to.

      • Are you kidding me? This is a thread about redistribution. You’re attempting a thread hijack and complaining that since conservatives are sticking to the subject they lack vision. Grow up. Mark Shea regularly talks about civil liberties at which point it would be appropriate to discuss these issues. He does it fairly often. Wait for it.

  • I agree with Marcel, and as Benedict said: we must “ensure that the redistribution of wealth does not come about through the redistribution or increase of poverty: a real danger if the present situation were to be badly managed,” and “it needs works redolent of the spirit of gift.” Maybe I’m too cynical, but when the government forces wealth redistribution, I think it is inevitable that both of these principles will be violated, especially in our current corrupt, incompetent Washington. If you can show me a politician who would oversee a redistribution program and not allow either of these principles to be violated, I will show you a living and breathing saint.

    And on a lighter note, when someone says “redistribution,” the first thing I think is Dennis Moore:

  • Thomas Mirus

    The Church has authority to bind Catholics in teaching on faith and morals, not specific policy recommendations. In Populorum Progressio, Pope Paul VI advocated the sort of foreign aid programs that are now widely admitted to have been disastrous in their results. As Catholics, we must believe that the rich are are morally obligated to help the poor, but we are free to differ on how it should be done. Not all wealth redistribution is socialism, and there are plenty of compelling arguments to be made for it. But with all respect due to the Holy Father, his recommendation of the policy of wealth redistribution is not an infallible teaching of the Church, and I am not a cafeteria Catholic for saying so. (Nor am I a neo-con or a tribalist; like Mark Shea, I am not planning to vote for Romney or Obama.)

    • Bingo! Thank you, this is what was confounding me.

    • By “specific policy” that you can dissent on we mean any actual plan of distribution currently being contemplated by the government. Anything you can dissent on will have a name, like HB538 or Executive Order 23. You don’t get to dissent on principles that are basic to human society.

      Look, what “conservative” “economists” advocate is essentially the dissolution of society and a return to a state of nature: every man for himself. You interact with your neighbor and make contracts with him, but have no other responsibilities to him. If you’re a good Christian you will, of course, look with pity upon the poor blighter and offer him a handout, but that’s not required. He can’t actually count on your assistance. Anything else is “communism” and “inefficient”.

      The pope’s just pointing out that that’s a wicked principle by which to construct your “society”. You don’t get to dissent on that just because P.J. O’Rourke’s funnier than Benedict XVI.

      • Richard Johnson

        But dissenting is only half of the picture. In dissenting shouldn’t a counter-solution be offered and advocated for, one that upholds the teachings of the Church without enabling/empowering the government in an unhealthy manner?

        Much of the dissent offered in today’s Christian critique of our socialist regime simply mouths the term “free market solution” and walks away. The problems still exist. The need remains. Should a loving God allow the poor to starve and die of illness so good Christians can argue the merits of not embracing socialism while still honoring the teachings of the faith?

    • Mark Shea

      I agree on all of this. I’m talking about the flood of email I get which assume that anybody–including any Catholic–who lets the word “redistribution” pass his lips is automatically a socialist. A politics that runs on Pavlovian responses to acoustic cues instead of on intelligent consideration of the Church’s teaching is a radically impoverished politics–as American politics is.

      • You may wish to look up “flood the zone” on google. It’s a tactic of politically overwhelming your opponents by sheer volume. By the time one thoughtful refutation is managed, ten more lies have been launched and eventually your defense collapses. Ultimately, you learn to type fast and counter-flood or you are simply swept away.
        Feel free to suggest a better alternative that actually works. I’ve not come up with one that doesn’t involve tar and feathers and that’s a game that’s dangerous to play.

  • c matt

    In theory, the position laid out is correct. Of course, the problem is in practice, things get snafued (unfortunately, human beings have to be involved therefore corruption is all but inevitable). I don’t think redistribution in the context of the encyclical necessarily means tax the rich and give to the poor, but may be more directed at preventing great concentrations of wealth (e.g, monopoly busting), particularly at the expense of others. We do have some laws that try to limit such concentration, though I’m not sure how well they actually work. Concentrated wealth = concentrated power, which, as Lord Acton reminds us ….

    • Irenist

      Lord Acton was complaining about the promulgation of the doctrine of Papal Infallibility when he averred that “absolute power corrupts absolutely.” The original Manchesterian cafeteria Catholic.

  • Thomas Mirus

    On an unrelated note, I was somewhat taken aback to see, under Mark’s ad for a petition to stop the HHS mandate, a political ad paid for by Planned Parenthood, until I remembered that he isn’t in control of what ads appear there…

    • Mark Shea

      Thanks for the heads up. I will contact the powers that be and demand those ads go.

  • Dale Price

    Color me a little skeptical of handing more power to redistribute to the de-Christianized states of the West, or even smiling blandly at the redistribution mechanisms currently in place.

    After all, ObamaCare and Quantitative Easing are both exceptionally effective methods of redistribution.

    Caesar needs a choke chain, not a benediction.

    • ivan_the_mad

      Right. Because the Pope is talking about the ACA and QE. Maybe you should read a bit more about what the Church and the Pope mean by redistribution before you fit it into your political narrative.

      Do your politics inform your faith, or does your faith inform your politics?

      • Dale Price

        Ivan, since you don’t know me, I’d like to suggest that you blow it out your ass.

        • ivan_the_mad

          While I’m sure you find that activity most enjoyable, I must pass on your kind suggestion. I don’t know you, but I do know this:

          • Irenist

            Ivan, Ivan. Don’t you know that the teachings of the Church that conflict with Adam Smith’s encomia to greed are merely optional? It’s only the teachings that disparage lust that need be obeyed. Next thing, Ivan, you’ll be turning into some kind of crunchy con fancy pants who thinks we should pay attention to the Church’s teachings on gluttony, too! Why, if you keep this up, being Christian is going to conflict with a comfy bourgeois lifestyle! We simply mustn’t have that. It’s quite right that same-sex attracted people should live lives of chaste celibacy, but you can’t expect Mitt Romney to give up the elevator that leads to his garage! That’s simply asking too much of a man. This whole “Church” institution and this “Christ” fellow seem terribly disruptive. Not our kind at all, really. It’s a grimy business, probably best left to the Irish and the Italians.

            • Blog Goliard

              “Adam Smith’s encomia to greed”

              You don’t know the difference between Adam Smith and Ayn Rand, do you?

              • Irenist

                Oh, sure. But I don’t think most of those who use his work as a shibboleth have ever heard of “The Theory of Moral Sentiments.”

                • Blog Goliard

                  Well, yes…many people who use anyone’s work as a shibboleth (positive or negative) don’t really understand what they’re talking about.

                  Wanda: But you think you’re an intellectual, don’t you, ape?
                  Otto: Apes don’t read philosophy.
                  Wanda: Yes they do, Otto. They just don’t understand it.

            • ivan_the_mad

              Ha! That gave me a good laugh. “you’ll be turning into some kind of crunchy con” That’s too close to the truth. I blame Rod Dreher, and the fact that flash-pasteurized milk and hormone-free chicken really do taste whole orders of magnitude better.

          • Dale Price

            So you don’t know me, but you issue a flatulent fatwa on my faith, from the safety of your pseudonym?

            Yeah, I’m sure your canonization will be on a fast track.

            • Mark Shea

              Ivan: Dale is a good guy. Play well with others please.
              Dale: FWIW, I think you and Ivan would like each other if you met. Just my hunch.

              • ivan_the_mad

                Great minds think alike, or possibly somewhat contemporaneously 😛

            • ivan_the_mad

              “flatulent fatwa on my faith” LOL! All right, I’ve had my coffee, and I wrote too hastily above. I apologize.

              • Dale Price

                If Mark vouches for you, it’s good enough for me.

                Apologies for my nasty flying off the handle–it was wrong.

                I assure you it’s not my usual method of introducing myself to someone to say “bioya.”

            • ivan_the_mad

              “from the safety of your pseudonym” My handle was chosen years ago, before it became more common to use your real name on boards like this. I keep it for continuity and because occasionally somebody will recognize the handle, leading to an enjoyable bit of “remember when …”.

    • Mark Shea

      Dale: I get that and see your point. My point is that there is, quite simply, a typically a Pavlovian response to the mere acoustic cue “redistribution” in right wing political discourse. I seldom, in fact, never see any consideration whatsoever given the Pope’s words. Instead, what I constantly get are breathless emails from people linking articles with titles like “Redistibution=Socialism”. My point is, if we allow our minds to be dominated by this sort of kneejerkery, we simply close ourselves off to even the attempt to listen to what the Pope says. Weigel is, I think, a classic case of this.

      • orthros

        Redistribution isn’t socialism per se, but Dale is right: This is like running around with fire extinguishers in the midst of an avalanche.

        • Irenist

          Precisely wrong. You and Dale are refighting the battles of the Thatcher and Reagan era instead of today. Conservatism is the constant incremental adjustment of the state to keep the white fence post still white. For all Obama’s MANY flaws, his idolater Andrew Sullivan is correct that Obama’s incremental adjustment to the welfare state we have inherited through the organic evolution of American institutions in the past century is far more Burkean than the Platonically Pure Capitalist ideological alternative Romney/Ryan is offering. In Reagan’s time, regulation and socialism needed to be counterbalanced. Today, plutocracy and corporate welfare need to be counterbalanced. Trying to deal with our increasingly plutocratic society by cutting taxes because it worked for Reagan in a different time is precisely to run around with fire extinguishers in the midst of an avalanche.
          From 1848-1989, conservatives like Belloc and Kirk were rightly worried about socialism, since it was an ideology, abstracted from lived human experience, that was advancing globally, wreaking terrible havoc across continents. So fusionist conservatism was born: the alliance of Burkeans with libertarians to fight the common socialist menace. Now that socialism simply is not the prevailing ideology even among progressives (who tend more often to be Matthew Yglesias/Paul Krugman style proponents of welfare state capitalism, NOT communists), the Papacy has backed away from fusionism to confront the abstract ideology that threatens us today: laissez faire capitalist absolutism and idolatry of the market and its celebrity CEO’s. Continuing to worry about Belloc’s Servile State made since in 1933, but it’s just silly now. We won the Cold War. The promises of Fatima were fulfilled through John Paul the Great. Time to move on. The current menace isn’t socialist ideology that ignores eternal verities, it’s laissez faire ideology that ignores eternal verities.
          This, as I said above, is why the currently configured G.O.P. is about to lose to Barack Obama of all people in Ohio and thus nationally: because it continues fighting the Red Menace of Thatcher’s 1979 and Reagan’s 1980 instead of confronting the challenges of today: shredded civil liberties and broken families. Socialism is dead. The consecration of Russia to Mary slew it. Rejoice, and move on with your life. Orthodoxy is a wheel of fire ever rolling between opposed heresies. Don’t try to lean so far away from socialism that you end up falling into plutolatry. A conservative alternative to Obama is vital. Let’s not let the libertarians hijack the only conservative party this country has.

          • ivan_the_mad

            I’m not sure, Irenist, I think Belloc’s contention in The Servile State, that a pure capitalism as such is unsustainable and invariably gives rise to the servile state, is just as timely now.

            Disclaimer: I love Belloc and he’s been exceedingly formative to my thought.

            • Irenist

              Oh, to be sure, laissez faire capitalism gave rise to communism and fascism just as an abusive father often givers rise to an abusive son. But just as Burke praised the institutions that organically evolved in Britain to temper the problems of the mercantile age, so I praise the welfare capitalism that organically evolved throughout the free world as a mean between laissez faire ideology and socialist ideology. I would prefer a distributist outcome, but I would prefer to get there gradually, not by means of some Jacobin return to the ideological purity of the Gilded Age. FWIW, I love Belloc, too. Even his works on things like the Battle of Crecy are just marvelous. Wonderful writer, deep thinker.

              • ivan_the_mad

                Ah, I see what you mean regarding welfare capitalism. And it calls to mind Kirk’s admonition, the “[r]ecognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress.” I think that applies just as much to the process of reforming government and other areas of society back into their proper spheres.

                “not by means of some Jacobin return to the ideological purity of the Gilded Age” Since we’re talking about Belloc, don’t you mean … The Guilded Age??? Eh? EH???

                • Irenist

                  “Since we’re talking about Belloc, don’t you mean … The Guilded Age?”
                  Good one! And would that we were….

          • Dale Price

            Since you don’t know my thinking on the subject, you presume to your peril.

            • Irenist

              Well, pardon my presumption. If you happen not to think that way, good for you. Most worriers over redistribution nowadays seem to think exactly that way, and it is their way of thinking I mean to target. My apologies on the friendly fire.

      • Dale Price

        That’s perfectly fair, Mark, and a useful corrective for partisan thinking.

        And I recognize the Church is speaking from a long line of common-sense teaching on economics and inequity stemming from Rerum Novarum.

        My problem is–and a lack of framing context within the Church’s teaching contributes to this–s that the Rerum line is shanghaied into service of “Caesar Shall Do It.” Plus, there is the matter of the Vatican sometimes speaking in an unclear (or unauthorized) voice on such matters:

        Obviously, that’s not the same with Encyclicals, but is something hovering in the background.

        We’ve had a similar discussion before, in the context of capital punishment–one of the reasons the Church’s teaching on this point is especially timely is the fact that the state is shedding its last vestiges of Christian upbringing, and is gravitating toward an arm for an eye. The multitude of death penalty offenses in the U.S. Code is staggering.

        What I’d like to see is a similar recognition of the problems of redistribution in the same State, which can become a nice way to play cronyism in the guise of public virtue. The lack of discussion of misuse or limits to redistribution is a hole in the teaching that doesn’t warrant playing source games like Weigel’s, but it is a serious problem.

        I think there can be some rather useful approaches of redistribution which don’t involve, say, a bureaucracy or overuse of the taxing mechanism or transfer payments–job training, educational opportunities to name two. Approaching the subject of social inequity from the standpoint of an often-structural lack of opportunity might be a more productive way to frame the discussion.

        • Mark Shea

          Fair enough. I think, though, that part of the problem is that American discussions of economics are so far removed from any basis in Catholic social thought that the first task is to undertake a sort of Catholic Social Teaching basic crash course first. It may well be that the Church’s teaching needs to adjust to take into account the reality of the death of Christendom and a social order that no longer takes for granted views of the human person and the state that held sway. But I think the main thing Catholics should be doing is learning to think with the Church first and *then* looking for ways to transform the culture.

          • Irenist

            Excellent point, Mark. As a zombie-like member of the cultus of Shea, I look forward to your post praising the Pope’s calls to action on “climate change.” After all, we should think with the Church, right?
            (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

            • Mark Shea

              I have no problem with what the Pope has said on this. I also note that the Pope’s views here are, of course, prudential and subject to sciences on which neither he nor I are experts.

          • Blog Goliard

            There’s a lot of fresh thinking needed on all sides.

            On the liberal social-justice side, folks need to break with the lazy identification of not just specific Great-Society-era programs, but the ever-increasing funding of same, for ever and ever amen, with virtue. The ratchet effect of Federal spending is not part of the moral law; while human need is infinite, government is not (especially when it’s broke); and the destructive unintended consequences of social programs–for instance, cultivating and reinforcing the moral poverty documented by the likes of Theodore Dalrymple–are real.

            On the conservative side, people need to decisively reject the view of worldly prosperity as an outgrowth of, and evidence of, the practical and moral virtues; need to learn to call greed and usury what they are; and must truly understand and take to heart the truth that none of us are Masters of the Universe…not even the greatest among us are even slightly more loved by God or more important in His eyes than the least of these.

            • Irenist

              ^I’m some random guy on the internet, and I endorse this message.

            • Dale Price

              How did I miss this? Bravo!

        • Dan C

          I am not so quick to dismiss “Caesar shall do it.” I am fairly certain that “charity-only” models are not delineated in the encyclicals either, written as they are from a European hand.

          In fact, “Caesar shan’t do it” is not an advocated point, except by certain American conservative Catholics, centered at Acton, but also supported by those Catholics hired by conservative think tanks (Novak and Weigel, in particular).

          • Irenist

            I think it would be better for the Church and sodalities like the K of C to do these things. But I don’t think we can get there from here without either a period of radical immiseration, or slow tinkering with the existing welfare state. I prefer the latter.

          • Dale Price

            You seem to be confusing me with other commenters on this thread.

            I’m certain I didn’t advocate a charity-only model. Nope, I didn’t.

            What I said was that there are certain holes in the Church’s social teaching, and certain assumptions that could use teasing out or elaboration. I’m fine with that–that’s how the teaching develops.

            What stance doesn’t mean is that I’m carrying an Acton Institute card, or am a subscriber to “Reason,” or that I have a Gary Johnson 2012 bumpersticker on my car, or that I cuddle an Ayn Rand doll close to me as I go to sleep at night with “Atlas Shrugged” under my pillow.

            It means that I think Church teaching would be more persuasive if it addressed those holes or teased out certain assumptions, or defined its terms.

            • Irenist

              Dale, when you get around to figuring out your alternative to the various Obama/Romney crap sandwiches on offer, I for one will be very eager to hear about it.

              • Dale Price

                “If God wanted us to vote…”

            • or that I cuddle an Ayn Rand doll close to me as I go to sleep at night

              That makes you the second Mr. Price to give me nightmares. Thanks a lot.

            • Dan C

              1) I am actually glad that the discussion board was opened wide by these uber-conservative folks. Acton’s economic discussions (which are interesting and Fr. Sirico’s book, if he apologizes and cheerleads for wealth too much, spends at least one paragraph each chapter on discussions that are important and challenging) leads the door wide open for liberation theology. Acton is as close to the CST-for which the T should be theory-as liberation theology. Likely more distant.
              2) I do agree with the fact that policy recommendations are not dictated by the Gospel.
              3) I do think that when the Church contracts with the State to deliver welfare, that this is still a ‘statist” solution. Its just an agent of the State, if perhaps one capable of delivering services better. But then again, not all not-profit options are equal.
              4) The Church is extremely weak on its teaching and spirituality of the poor. This is the cornerstone of the problem you note with its “fleshing out” concerns. The Church notes clearly since the days of the Apostles that Christ is known to us in the poor. He clearly notes this as a feature of our Judgement in the Gospel written for the well-to-do: Matthew’s Gospel.
              5) It is reasonable to criticize the default assumed socio-economic system, which in Love in Truth is an entitlement-based option of statism written by the hand of a European man. It is also important to recognize this is the default assumption, because there is much confusion on the right that this isn’t the case and that Benedict ascribes to the same economic-political structure that Fr. Sirico does. He doesn’t. It doesn’t give Benedict infallibility in choosing which government system to vote for, but it should influence our mind about how he views his system. I suspect he finds European socialism (which is socialism-lite) as very humanizing and dignifying. Then, the preference of a system of “You’re on your own” which Mr. Bill Bannon notes was the theme of the conservative political party’s convention this August can be illuminated and put into contrast by what the Holy Father thinks are ideal for an economic system. I think such a you’re-on-your-own system mimics much of what happens all the time in the US, and our sexual ethics also are reflective of this system.
              6) Capitalism assures that some will live at the bottom. Catholicism demands as a matter of justice we struggle to make sure the folks at the bottom live with dignity-to live in a way respecting that these folks are made in the image of God. Spending a lot of energy defending capitalism with religious fervor without a recognition that this system does demand poverty, insists on a level of unemployment when jobs are in a “market” and as such requires, at bare minimum moderation, of its evil effects is not Catholic.

    • Dan C

      So…Italy’s health care system or Germany’s entitlement system (both of which are or have been enormous benefits to Joseph Ratzinger and now Benedict 16th) are evil? Because that is the tone of conservative Catholic critique of socialized medicine or entitlement systems involved in higher education.

      I don’t understand out hand immediate dismissal of Catholic conservatives when discussing forms of socialized medicine. There is a foundational philosophy underpinning this dismissal which does not appear to square with how we Catholics currently understand economics, as enunciated through the magisterium.

      One open critique is that Catholic conservatives have an enthusiastic idolatry of private property, claiming a level of inviolability that is not grounded in Tradition, but instead secular philosophies respecting individualism more than the communal demands of Catholicism. Additionally, Catholic conservativism lacks a consistency of philosophy, declaring that a secular government has a right and didactic duty to determine the definition of marriage and even, as many conservative Catholics note, a right to consider limiting access to birth control (as many conservatives have criticized the court decisions that ended control of those behaviors). However, Catholic conservatives find redistributionism repulsive and outright my evil, claiming with an appeal to charity, that one cannot force charity by the government, failing to note any didactic role the government may have in promoting justice.

      Conservatives have been overwhelmingly dismissive of Love in Truth as an important encyclical. This encyclical sets on edge many of the economic foundational arguments of modern Catholic conlservatism. The pope really isn’t too liberal- he’s “the man” for conservatives. Why hasn’t this encyclical been embraced at all?

      • Dan C

        Caritatas in Veritate is to conservatives what Humanae Vitae is to liberals.

        • ivan_the_mad

          We’re in complete agreement for once, Dan C.

        • Irenist

          “Caritatas in Veritate is to conservatives what Humanae Vitae is to liberals.”
          ^This is the credited response.

      • Dale Price

        Part of the problem is the assumption that universal health care needs to be socialized on any particular European model.

        Then there’s also the problem with the cost-cutter mentality, and where it inevitably leads:

        • Dan C

          And Obamacare, hardly the European model, is as distasteful for Catholics dissenting from Caritatas in Veritate as NFP is for Catholics dissenting from Humane Vitae.

          Explain what type of assurance of health care is acceptable. “Market-based solutions” as a tag line begs more questions than it answers though, a fair warning. Because in a market, one deals with scarce resources and some lose out. Most market based solutions insist on the poor still being the losers.

        • Dan C

          I fully agree wiht the absence of a cost-cutter mentality. But such things cost dollars. And this comes from somewhere.

          Currently, despite what appears to be a fantasy among Catholic conservatives, health care is rationed by the demonic Invisible Hand of the Market. Many go without and suffer life-ending and life-shortening consequences.

          • Irenist

            Yes, Dan C., but people dying for lack of health care doesn’t violate human dignity. Only taxation does that. Have you never heard of Paul Ryan? He’s a major Catholic social thinker, you know.

            • Dan C

              The language of pro-lifism has polluted these waters, too with the ranking of life by those who are “innocent” and the “others.” The “others” are subjected to the Catholic form of moral relativism termed “prudential judgement.”

              I think these distinctions need to be rejected.

              • Irenist

                I think the temptation to help the “deserving poor” while keeping the whip hand on the “idlers” has been with us forever: witness the English workhouses. I think it’s a temptation we need to guard against, and one to which the tendency of Catholic thinkers (de Maistre, Kirk) to venerate the aristocratic hierarchs of the world makes us perhaps especially prey to. On the other hand, as Mark said above about climate change, some matters really *are* a matter of prudential judgment.

            • Blog Goliard

              At least as many people die for lack of (timely) access to health care in Britain as in America.

              But of course, in theory the National Health Service provides everything that everyone needs for free. So it can’t violate human dignity, regardless of what actually happens in practice.

              • Irenist

                I think Canada has a better model than Britain: let the government pay for health insurance, let the private sector provide health care. Didn’t Hayek once endorse a similar model?

          • Dale Price

            Actually, from what I can tell, ObamaCare most closely resembles the Dutch model, turning insurers into regulated utilities. Mr. Rattner is kicking the chocks away to make sure we start modeling it even more closely with respect to the inconvenient.

            I’d like to add that the Church in Holland has been a splendid beacon of resistance to the evils of that system, too. But I can’t.

            Yes, we have a problem with our health care “market” system, but mandating one-size fits all policies with maximum (for the moment) coverage, as OC does (including free sterilizations and abortions), is an odd way to control costs. So, naturally, it isn’t. Which means that we have to…address the elderly, per Mr. Rattner. And in an age of austerity, there are always more possibilities for cost-cutting, with the driver of necessity cracking its barbed whip.

            It is difficult to imagine that as the Church moves toward an abolitionist stance on the death penalty in the criminal justice system, She would give her benediction to a de facto death penalty on medical patients via State regulatory fiat. But that’s the grim flip-side to State assumption of the health care burden.

            I also grant that it can’t be cured by magical intonation of the word “market,” and I’ve been underwhelmed by the GOP proposals to date. And by underwhelmed, I mean “moved to head-shaking disbelief.”

            But with respect to this discussion, I don’t know that I’m mandated (rimshot!) to offer a workable alternative to OC right off the bat, either.

            “Here you go.”

            “But it’s a crap sandwich.”

            “So what’s your alternative?”

            “I’ll stick with not eating the crap sandwich for the moment.”

            • Irenist

              Yours is certainly a well thought-out position, IMHO. Cost-cutting panels have some place, I think, in Medicare/Medicaid: completely ineffective treatments shouldn’t be paid for. However, I think the best way to remove the barbed whip of necessity from the backs of the elderly poor is to realize that our age of austerity is largely a product precisely of German elites’ fear of inflation/QE and American elites’ loathing of Truman-era tax rates. There is no cosmic law that requires a deflationary eurozone monetary policy, or low taxes for hedge fund managers. The money to buy healthcare for grandma exists. It’s just wasted on the whims of the megarich at the moment, instead of contributing to the fisc.

              • Blog Goliard

                “Cost-cutting panels have some place, I think, in Medicare/Medicaid…”

                Cutting costs! Why, you must be one of those heartless Ryanites! Caring for the poor means we must spend more on everything forever!

                • Irenist

                  Guilty. I’m an agent provocateur sent over from Janesville, WI. You got me.

            • Dan C

              Very good discussion.

              1) Providing everyone with care cannot be cheaper. I agree. I think in a nation in which the average person has too many gadgets, we can afford good health care for everyone.
              2) Rationing always occurs. Rural hospital don’t have cardiac cath or cardiothoracic surgery because it is often too expensive. The consequence is that folks with myocardial infarctions show up and there is an associated mortality rate with delayed advanced cardiac care. Rationoing occurs for neonatal intesive care. Again, rural hospital cannot afford what it takes to keep a NICU in their hospitals. The consequence is a well-documented associated mortality for transferred prematures. We could save 25% of all in-hospital cardiac arrests if every hospital had a specialized life-support bypass program called ECMO-but it is extremely expensive, so hospitals do not. We could prevent more infant deaths if we broadened the requirements for the adminstration of a very expensive preventative called Synagis, but it is cost-prohibitive for insurance companies. The list goes on. We currently ration care.
              3) The elephant in the room as to the cost of care in the US vs. all others: personnel. Health care workers in the US get about twice the salary (nurses, doctors, etc) as other countries. This is where the cost savings need be. Good luck with that, though.
              4) What should folks pay for? Currently, children with Pompe’s disease can receive intravenous administration of a protein that ameliorates the disease for costs of $150,000 per year. This drug saves the infant’s lives of this extremely rare disease. The infant is likely to experience some neurologic deterioration over the course of life still, but the fatal consequences of this rare genetic disease is at least delayed by some unknown number of years. The trouble is that as the children now get bigger the cost of their care increases due to the increased amount of this weight-based drug that is required to maintain their lives. How does this get paid for, and is it ok to moderate this? What about the expensive dendritic cell vaccine for melanoma? Tens of thousands per treatment, which needs to be frequent. (I myself am all for these therapies, but this is what things cost. Could an honestly reasonable person trying to negotiate a community’s health care on a budget reject these as something that should be paid for? If one pays for Pompe’s and for Melanoma care, are there things that don’t happen? Probably.)

              • Richard Johnson

                Is it possible, Dan C, that if we as a nation begin implementing policies that at least *try* to reflect the social teachings of the Church, that God will bless our nation with increased wealth? I know this is precariously close to prosperity gospel teachings, but I cannot shake the following passage from my mind.

                (Rough paraphrase from memory) Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be added unto you.

                Indeed, our health system costs more than it should. I currently spend $13K/year for basic health insurance ($2K deductable per person). If my federal income tax tripled and universal, single payer healthcare was implemented, I’d see quite a bit more money in my take-home pay each month.

                Many conservatives are quite good at admiring the problems in our healthcare system. Have any offered a solution that truly addresses the cost and availability of basic healthcare in such a way that even approaches the Church’s teachings regarding the poor?

                Also…you are correct in that many in the healthcare profession earn good money. But if you really want to do some savings, how about we talk for a bit about the profits big pharma and the for-profit insurance companies are making.

                • Dan C

                  I can always discuss pharma’s profits. There are no excuses for the cost of Zyvox as an antibiotic at 3000 for two weeks of therapy. None.

                  The policy wonks are all about saving money by improving health, it ain’t gonna happen. The increase in “care” to folks will of course cost money.

                  The reason American health care costs so much is that health care workers are paid the best on the planet. By multiples. Most of the pie graph determining health care cost is personnel. But, these personnel also form the enormous markets in urban areas. Reducing their salaries will reduce the money flowing through those markets.

                  Conservatives have attacked every attempt at socialized health care. When they controlled all three branches of government a few years ago, they didn’t find such matters a priority at all. Except in Baghdad and Iraq. Socialized medicine did become established there at the direction of the US after the invasion.

            • Andy, Bad Person

              “Here you go.”

              “But it’s a crap sandwich.”

              “So what’s your alternative?”

              “I’ll stick with not eating the crap sandwich for the moment.”

              Dale Price just described pretty much all of politics for me. Thank you, sir.

          • Ask ten of your friends if they’ve ever price shopped for an MRI or other medical commodity service. These have wide price variations and often can be done at significantly less cost but almost nobody price shops even when they have time to do it. This is a rough and ready sign that the market does not, in fact, operate as the dominant form in health care. You can get an MRI for $500 and also for $3000. There is no difference in quality as they are done on the same machine models and sometimes interpreted by the same people.

      • Sam Schmitt

        “does not appear to square with how we Catholics currently understand economics, as enunciated through the magisterium.”
        This gets at a fundamental misunderstanding. The Church doesn’t tell us how to “understand economics.” Of course economics has moral underpinnings, and the Church’s teaching gives us an understanding of this. But the Church doesn’t tell us what to think about economics – which theory to hold, which policies to pursue – any more than it does with psychology, music, medicine, child rearing, or any other secular discipline. Theses have moral implications just like economics, but the Church has no stand on economics as such.

        • Dan C

          Have you read Caritatas in Veritate?

          And yes, elements of the Church have always supported a “system.” Fr. Sirico is a cleric who supports vocally a very free market with few interventions or regulations. He maintains that the market has many cures of today’s ills. He is far more persuasive in his arguments than I am reiterating him. (I also have disagreements.)

          The Church does have advocacy for: universal health care, for government-supported welfare systems. I think it is ok to argue about these points, but I think the right wing needs to stop pretending that the Vatican is located in Red State Kansas. These are Europeans writing these letters and encyclicals.

  • Andy, Bad Person

    There was a wonderful episode of Downton Abbey (which my wife likes, and I join her to spend time with her. Yeah, we’re gonna go with that) that, in my opinion, hit exactly the right notes when speaking of redistribution.

    The new heir to a large estate, Matthew, was having trouble getting accustomed to being a lord. He completely ignored his valet, fired his cook, and wanted to do everything for himself. What the current lord explained to him, though, was that the valet and the cook and the rest of his staff depend on him to make a living. He may be able to dress himself, and keep all his own money, but the valet was good at doing that, and deserved to make a living, too. That’s a redistribution of wealth, too, and very different from Corporate America that would rather eliminate more human workers to save a penny.

    That’s not to say that the economic system of Edwardian England was perfect, but it gave a great lesson on the responsibilities of the wealthy.

    • Yes, a local, personal solution! This follows the Church’s teaching on both solidarity (which includes redistribution at times) and subsidiarity.

      It does need to be asked, though….what do we do now that most people have completely lost the human virtues that were present in Edwardian England and Western (Christian) Civilization in general?

      Do we force people to give under the threat of the state coming down on them (which is what we do now) with the negative side effect of increasing the power of the state? What is the alternative?

      • Richard Johnson

        But does it overlook the teaching of the Church that the Christian is called to obey the government?

        2238 Those subject to authority should regard those in authority as representatives of God, who has made them stewards of his gifts:43 “Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution…. Live as free men, yet without using your freedom as a pretext for evil; but live as servants of God.”44 Their loyal collaboration includes the right, and at times the duty, to voice their just criticisms of that which seems harmful to the dignity of persons and to the good of the community.

        2239 It is the duty of citizens to contribute along with the civil authorities to the good of society in a spirit of truth, justice, solidarity, and freedom. the love and service of one’s country follow from the duty of gratitude and belong to the order of charity. Submission to legitimate authorities and service of the common good require citizens to fulfill their roles in the life of the political community.

        2240 Submission to authority and co-responsibility for the common good make it morally obligatory to pay taxes, to exercise the right to vote, and to defend one’s country:

        Pay to all of them their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.45

  • Sam Schmitt

    The obvious questions is what do the popes mean by redistribution? I think everyone can agree that the resources of the world are intended by God to be justly distributed to everyone on earth. People should not be dying of starvation or because lack of adequate healthcare. And yes, governments should be involved in this. We can all agree on the principle and the goal.
    The rub is the particular means that are needed to fulfill this mandate. The problem is that many people conclude that when the popes speak in terms of modern economic policies (e.g. “redistribution”) they have in mind the current models of government welfare (i.e. handouts), foreign aid, taxation, etc. They even go so far as to argue that any change in these current models (e.g. lowering of the tax rate, reductions in welfare) are contrary to the teaching of the Church, or that Paul Ryan is a dissenter for proposing an alternative policy to the current entitlement programs. The recent statement from a USCCB committee condemning Ryan’s proposed budget speaks as if reducing current levels of welfare spending is immoral. It never explores the question of whether the current model is effective or not in doing what it proposed to do, whether it has undesirable side effects, or whether there might be a different way of acheiving the same or better results. The current model is sacrosanct.
    This is a confusion of means and ends. Church teaching on economic matters is not tied to a particular means or policy – this is the job of the “people on the ground.” Just because Paul Ryan favors a different means of ensuring a social safety net, this does not make him a dissenter. As I explained above, we all have the same goal. It may be that the means Ryan is proposing will not work. But shutting down the conversation on the grounds that Ryan’s plan is prima facie contrary to Catholic teaching is bogus. “Thinking with the Church” also means thinking about what she means.

    • Richard Johnson

      I think the call for the government to “stop funding the welfare state” might mirror Church teaching a bit more if it were accompanied by Christians funding their church and church agencies who are charged with caring for the poor.

      With that said, is Paul Ryan, an honest Catholic, making a call to his fellow Catholics to be ready to increase their giving dramatically in order to cover what the government will no longer provide? If so, I’m not hearing it. I’m not hearing it from conservative evangelicals either. What I am hearing is a constant drone about “lazy welfare recipients” and “single mothers having children to get more benefits from the government.”

    • Dan C

      We await the day when the Church will, without receiving government money, provided for a double digit percentage of the poor in any major city in the US, much less the most of the poor. Until the day Holy Mother Church does such a thing, Holy Mother City will continue to be the one the poor run to. Holy Mother City, wicked and indignifying as she is, at least puts dinner on the table.

      • Richard Johnson

        The Church does a mighty work in that area already. But the growing number of hungry, unemployed and underemployed people is more than it can currently handle. Can it do more? Certainly…the Church, and Christians, can always do more. But can it do enough under the current circumstances? Is it willing to do enough? Those are other questions to be wrestled with by those who don’t hunger and have safe homes.

        The poor will always be with you, Jesus said. Rather than using this as justification to minimize the plight of the poor, maybe we should look upon it as an indictment of Christians, of humanity, for failing to care for the least of these.

  • Thomas Mirus

    Amen to Sam’s comment.A transfer of wealth from rich to poor is laudable and sometimes even demanded by justice. But in disagreement with Jon, I must point out that to say this should be done by the State at all in any given circumstance is indeed a prudential recommendation, not something fundamental to a just society. Especially because so many corporations, for example, benefit unfairly precisely because they are subsidized or bailed out by the State, often under the pretext of the common good, we should first make sure the State is not contributing to the very inequities we call upon it to solve.

    It is disingenuous to accuse conservatives of wanting every man for himself. This is to assume that if somebody doesn’t want something dome by government, they don’t want it done at all. It is no more fair than to accuse me of thinking the arts are worthless because I don’t believe in government subsidies for them – when in fact I am a professional musician myself. Either accusation reveals not a Catholic sensibility but the conditioned belief that nothing exists save for what the State causes to exist.

    As for the sneer at economists, it hardly seems irrelevant to me what a legitimate science has to say about the effects of various policies – surely an important consideration for anyone who really wants to help the disenfranchised. For example, if economics tells us that minimum wage laws tend to cause unemployment, it does not good to rage against selfish economists or against economic laws themselves. We must simply find other ways to help the needy, rather than sinning against charity by accusing those who point out these laws of being heretics who are indifferent to the poor.We must not demand more than the Church does. Pope Pius XI and Leo XIII would both agree that there is a great deal of room for disagreement, while affirming that personal acts of charity, other laudable institutional efforts notwithstanding, are the highest ways of helping the poor.

  • Richard Johnson

    “But in disagreement with Jon, I must point out that to say this should be done by the State at all in any given circumstance is indeed a prudential recommendation, not something fundamental to a just society.”

    2402 In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.186 The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. the appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

    2403 The right to private property, acquired by work or received from others by inheritance or gift, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. the universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

    2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.”187 The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

    2405 Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.

    2406 Political authority has the right and duty to regulate the legitimate exercise of the right to ownership for the sake of the common good.188

  • Thomas Mirus

    Amen to that, Richard! I’m as much against the welfare state as anyone, but it’s precisely because of my belief in real charity. I can’t stand the standard Republican rhetoric. And as anyone who looks into it will see, they promote the welfare state as. much as Democrats do once elected, just as the Democratic anti-war movement vanished more or less completely when Obama was elected.

    Ron Paul, God bless him, bore witness in his medical practice that there is no incompatibility between fighting the welfare state and living self-sacrificing charity. Would that more libertarians and conservatives prove by example that there need be no shortage of help for the poor without a vast central beauracracy.

  • Thomas Mirus

    To clarify, my Amen was to Richard’s previous comment. To this last one I say: All well and good. The Church also teaches that wars and the death penal are sometimes demanded by justice. Yet JPII is quoted, in the same Catechism, n reference to his belief that the death penalty should virtually never be carried out. That’s why I said “in any given circumstance.” As with war and the death penalty, I believe that wealth redistribution in the sense we commonly use it generally does more harm than good, and is rarely necessary. And of course this teaching says nothing about atwhat level redistribution should be handled, on what scale, and with what degree of case-by-case judgment.

  • Thanks Mark,

    I’ve been a lurker here for some time and learnt a lot. Like Daniel Collins your thoughts have re-shaped my view of what it is to be conservative.

    As a professional economist I feel I can add something to this debate. My thoughts may already have been debated as I live in Australia but I want to share them anyway.

    I hate income re-distribution, I think it does nothing to change inequality in an economy or nation state. Wealth re-distribution has more going for it.

    Income re-distribution is never sufficient to challenge the order of wealth in an economy. Effectively, welfare payments amount to crumbs from the rich man’s table. In addition, I believe it provides no incentive for an environment of subsidiarity to exist. The urban rich can ignore, effectively, the poor because our paths never cross, but we feel good because we know this is where our taxes go.

    Wealth distribution is truly more effective. I don’t mean forcibly taking wealth or nationalisation. Governments can not run competitive businesses as efficiency as the private sector. Efficiency is very important in improving welfare because it means getting the most out of the resources God gives us. The more efficient we are, the more we can do other, more important or more enjoyable things.

    The most effective means of wealth distribution are twofold: competition and infrastructure.

    The more competitive markets are, the lower are prices for all consumers. The decision to ban Samsung Galaxy sales in the US was terrible for equality. Apple shareholders and workers win massively, but everyone else in the US spends more for their smartphone. That’s money that could be spent elsewhere in the economy, creating jobs. $10 or $20 may not be much but across tens of millions it’s a lot of jobs. Making markets more competitive lowers the cost of everyday goods for all people and so improves everyone’s welfare. It also means that it’s more difficult to be super-wealthy. Effectively the market helps compete away your wealth, particularly that wealth which may be attributable to some sort of monopolistic power. If you look at the emerging world, so many billionaires own monopolies of some sort.

    More infrastructure is crucial to improving wealth distribution. It enables competition – it makes it cheaper for new businesses to reach a scale that allows them to be competitive against entrenched competitors. It also improves the productivity of everyone which means we all earn more. Finally, it lowers transport costs which lower the cost of living. One of China’s challenges is that it spends 20% of national income on logistics compared to around 10% in the US. Logistics charges are taxes on economic activity, the lower they are, the more everyone has to spend.

    The Pope provides clear guidelines for economic behaviour, we need to more effectively fill in the gaps.

    • Richard Johnson

      “More infrastructure is crucial to improving wealth distribution. It enables competition – it makes it cheaper for new businesses to reach a scale that allows them to be competitive against entrenched competitors. It also improves the productivity of everyone which means we all earn more.”

      Except when it doesn’t, such as when businesses decide to automate, which from an economic standpoint increases efficiency (i.e., more output of product per dollar of labor cost), but has the net effect of decreasing rather than increasing the number of jobs paying a living wage.

      The problem with your position is that it puts increasing profits as more important than lifting people from poverty. Poverty ends, in your scenario, only when businesses earn more money. Businesses earn more money when their costs (direct and indirect) are cut since the consumer is not willing to pay an increased amount for the product (because they are not earning, in real terms, as much as they used to).

      Economics that puts profits above people seems to me to run counter to both Biblical principles and the Magesterium, especially if the Catechism is true.

      “2404 “In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.”187 The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

      2405 Goods of production – material or immaterial – such as land, factories, practical or artistic skills, oblige their possessors to employ them in ways that will benefit the greatest number. Those who hold goods for use and consumption should use them with moderation, reserving the better part for guests, for the sick and the poor.”

      • Poverty doesn’t end when business makes more money, indeed, as I argue above the point about infrastructure, competition and denying business profit is fundamental to a more equal society. Shared capital is the only way to improve equality. This allows the collective to accummulate capital that makes everyone more productive, not just businesses.

        I also don’t believe in this efficiency is bad argument which has become more and more common. I can observe that efficiency is bad and I do think we are going through a long cyclical period where efficiency is leading to the outcomes you show. But I don’t believe it should persistently be the case. Indeed, as I argue above, the efficient use of all resources is as God would want.

        The problem is as you state in CCC2405. There is hoarding of productive capacity. Capital is not being invested in more productive capacity. This is why there needs to be more social or collective productive capital created. This would increase everyone’s productivity allowing people to earn a higher wage.

        I have written a lot about this recently. My basic argument is that we are shifting to a services based economy. This is a better form of economy. The problem is entrenched interests demanding we maintain a manufacturing economy. The solution has been a weak dollar policy in the US that has led to lower living standards for ordinary people as the price of imported goods has risen substantially. These posts shed more light.

  • Clare Krishan

    CAUTION – any quotes must first be proof-texted (not a la Weigel for conceptual vifor) for contextual consistency in other tongues – there has been a PROFOUNDLY DEFICIENT publication process at the Vatican for some time centered on a lack of consistency in vocabulary and syntax (ie VERY POOR TRANSLATIONS across the board) for the “meaning” to be read authentically. The very politically loaded-term ‘redistribution’ emphasised in Mark’s excerpts is NOT used in the Holy Father’s original German
    32. Die großen Neuheiten, die das Gesamtbild der Entwicklung der Völker heute aufweist, machen in vielen Fällen neue Lösungen erforderlich.

    49. Die mit der Sorge und dem Schutz für die Umwelt zusammenhängenden Fragen müssen heute der Energieproblematik entsprechende Beachtung schenken.

    ‘Umverteilung des Reichtums’ is nowhere to be seen so why was it added to the English version?

    It does appear under 36. not as the subject of the concluding clause,
    “Es darf daher nicht vergessen werden, daß die Trennung zwischen der Wirtschaftstätigkeit, der die Aufgabe der Schaffung des Reichtums zukäme, und der Politik, die sich mittels Umverteilung um die Gerechtigkeit zu kümmern habe, schwere Störungen verursacht.
    but as one of two equal “means” (no where is the word ‘mere’ used in German) that if dissociated from one another cause ‘serious disruptions’ (ie the political redistribution — think Central Bank quantitiative easing/ bail outs/ corporate welfare/ sovereign default — could be equally serious in the mind of the Holy Father as the collectivist dole of former times…)
    Used in the second sentence only – but not the first as in English – of 42.
    Die angemessen geplanten und ausgeführten Globalisierungsprozesse machen auf weltweiter Ebene eine noch nie dagewesene große Neuverteilung des Reichtums möglich; wenn diese Prozesse jedoch schlecht geführt werden, können sie hingegen zu einer Zunahme der Armut und der Ungleichheit führen sowie mit einer Krise die ganze Welt anstecken. Es ist nötig, die auch schweren Mängel dieser Prozesse zu beheben, die neue Spaltungen zwischen den Völkern und innerhalb der Völker verursachen, und dafür zu sorgen, daß die Umverteilung des Reichtums nicht mittels einer Umverteilung der Armut erfolgt oder diese sogar noch zunimmt, wie es ein schlechter Umgang mit der gegenwärtigen Lage befürchten lassen könnte.
    as an alternative sense of ‘allocation’ or ‘access’ of the gifts to be shared. The “neu-new” implies a transcendent creative potency for improrements in relative position or share rather than a “re-” carve-up of extant scarce prior stake.

    The great weakness in my mind with all such discussion of the encyclical is that without a glossary of terms or analysis of the highly-leveraged global financial system (which medieval theologians have addressed, for example condemning a ruler’s illicit debasement of the coinage of his realm as a form of embezzlement or theft) the mud-slinging along political lines obscures the much more serious technical dysfunction at stake globally (the infamous local starvation under Chiness and Russian forms of Communism could return globally as US-dollar denominated QE unleashes crippling monetary inflation in agricultural capital, assets, livestock and foodstuffs.

    Redistribution from the poor to the rich in other words.

    • Dan C

      I think the base language of Vatican documents, including the encyclical is Latin. Which I can’t read either.

      • Andy, Bad Person

        The official language of the Vatican documents is Latin, but the original is almost always written in the mother tongue of the author. There is a separate translator that then moves it into Latin.

        That said, I have no idea if the German above is the text of the encyclical, or anything at all.

    • Richard Johnson

      Meanwhile, back at the ranch….

      Poverty rates for people ages 65 to 74 climbed from 7.9 percent in 2005 to 9.4 percent in 2009, according to the EBRI analysis of University of Michigan health and retirement study data. For older retirees ages 75 to 84, there was an even steeper increase, from 7.6 percent to 10.7 percent over the same time period. But it’s the oldest retirees who are the most likely to live in poverty: 14.6 percent did so in 2009.

      • Blog Goliard

        Be that as it may, the older cohorts still have all the wealth.

      • I hope you do realize that people sometimes shed their wealth and go on Medicaid/Medicare in nursing homes as an estate planning tool. For nursing home residents, the poverty statistics are distorted.

  • Dan C

    For those who do have a faith belief that the Church doesn’t promote a “statist” answer about welfare:

    This is Cardinal Dolan’s answer. The government has a role.

    Oh…by the way, we all need an exorcism to eradicate the Reagan-injected image of the “welfare momma” from our brains. Dolan alludes to as much too. We should be embarassed he needed to scold us for such discussions.

    • Dan C

      For clarity, I suspect Paprocki and Chaput would disagree. Except about elevating the level of conversation.

    • Blog Goliard

      The “welfare queen” was a real person. In fact, there were three of them (one in Chicago, two in L.A.). And they were pretty much just as described.

      • Richard Johnson

        One in Chicago, two in L.A. And from that all welfare recipients get branded, and the program slashed. Do we apply the same standard to fraud in military purchasing process?

        • In NY City, about half of the people on welfare that had to show up for work when the work requirements kicked in did not show up. It’s tough to show up when you’re collecting benefits under one name while working under a different name, or if you don’t actually exist. The number of people illegitimately receiving benefits was staggering and hardly limited to one person in Chicago and two in Los Angeles.
          There are two problems with welfare. One is legitimate hardship cases that have difficulty getting help and the other is the undeserving recipient who games the system. Both problems need to be addressed for a legitimate Catholic response.

  • ThomasL

    “[H]e divides the encyclical up into various sources and then picks through it…”

    The is not merely a good idea, but an absolutely necessary task. The Pope’s judgments are said to be infallible in areas of faith and morals*, not economics and politics.

    If you allow the charisma of infallibility to creep outward, emanations from the penumbra as it were, by suggesting that everything a Pope writes should be treated /as if/ it were infallible–even though the Church herself would say that you were wrong to think it so–you do not help the Church or her reputation to those either within or without.

    * And “faith and morals” fairly narrowly understood, not something like, “Humans are moral agents, therefore all human acts are moral acts, therefore all possible human activities fall under the Church’s infallible teaching authority on morals.” Such an interpretation has to be false by rendering the specification of “faith and morals” meaningless, as “faith and morals” comes to mean “everything whatsoever”, which has no delimiting quality though the phrase obviously intended to convey one. If there is no limit contained by the phrase the Church chooses to use, “faith and morals”, which has definite scope, so that in outwardly saying “faith and morals” she inwardly means “everything whatsoever”, she is attempting to /deceive/ the Faithful into swallowing a bait-and-switch trick. That has to be a the wrong interpretation, because to believe the Church guilty of trickery would utterly undermine any belief in her claim to possess infallible moral teaching authority. When she says, “faith and morals”, I take her at her word that what she means by that is “faith and morals”.

    • ThomasL

      To preempt any replies (assuming anyone even reads this :)), I am not saying that there is no moral dimension to economic affairs. There definitely is. All of the cardinal virtues are implicated in “economic man”.

      What I am saying is that in her duty to teach on faith and morals, the Church can infallibly instruct Christians “always to remember the poor”. But she leaves the charisma of infallibility when she speaks of choosing between means–whether to remember the poor by giving to a private charity, or helping a family you know is in need directly, or by setting up a State program. To claim infallibility there would be to erase even the possibility of distinction between faith and politics, the business of Heaven and the business of Earth. All would become one, so that to render to Caeser what is Caeser and to God what is God’s is no longer intelligible, because there is no difference. The indissoluble unity of faith with the political order is a fundamental teaching in Islam, but not of Catholicism.

      • ThomasL

        I should say, “choosing between specific means”. Of course Social Teaching gives a foundation on understanding and choosing among permissible means, but not so specifically as to foreclose all debate about the prudence, justice, and conformity to Scripture of available means a priori.

    • ThomasL

      On revision, I looked at the Weigel article. Trying to forecast which parts were written by which hand does seem overboard.

      While scratching my head a bit at his chosen method of textual criticism, I stand by the everything above. It is important that doctrine be taken separately from opinion or commentary, even when that opinion of commentary should be treated with respect.

    • Mark Shea

      On the contrary, if you play the silly game of Minimum Daily Adult Requirement Christianity, you try to tease out infallible lines or words you have to obey from all the rest. (The rest you label “prudential” which means “ignore it if it bothers you” to most Americans). The sane way to read the encyclical is to assume it is normative teaching to be engaged and obeyed unless you absolutely cannot in conscience do so.

      • ThomasL

        You seem to be requiring conformity to teachings that are not de fide. Why?

        Normative is a strong word. It is what you /ought/ to believe. Benedict XVI says that “there is urgent need of a true world political authority… vested with the effective power to ensure security for all… [I]t would have to have the authority to ensure compliance with its decisions from all parties…”

        While it is worth due consideration and respect given the source, are you _certain_ that all Catholics ought to believe that?

        To say so has at least the possibility of repulsing some that are outside the Church from coming to her, by tying her teachings on the faith, which one may accept wholeheartedly, to assent on a range of opinions on the economic and political order which one does not. And perhaps more importantly, not assent to a fixed set of opinions once and for all future time, but to whatever opinion may come in the future, even contradictory opinion. That is, assent not to believe some thing, but any thing.

        Speaking from some experience, that is not an idle concern.

        • Mark Shea

          No. I’m saying that the normative posture of a normal Catholic is docility to the Magisterium, not Minimum Daily Adult Requirement searches for loopholes.

          • ThomasL

            But your conclusion is assumed in your premises. You are suggesting that the people that disagree with you are acting from bad motives; even a licit act, if it is prompted by bad motives, is a bad act; therefore people that disagree with you are acting badly.

            But you don’t /know/ they have bad motives, and the normal understanding of “charity in all things” would not /assume/ they had bad motives if any more charitable explanation would also serve.

            Whether they do, in fact, have bad motives is between them and Christ.

            • Mark Shea

              I say nothing about people who disagree with me. I do say that the normative approach of the Catholic to the Church’s teaching should be docility, not a lawyer attempt at minimum daily adult requirement Christianity.

  • ThomasL

    I want to pose a question, ideally to the author, but I would like to hear from anyone that has thought about this issue.

    The State is, at its core, a unit of decision where the decisions are enforced /involuntarily/. Every law of the State involves a challenge. Either you comply with the law, or armed men come and drag you to prison. The fact that most of the time for most of the laws most of the people comply, and so no armed men are called out, does not change the fact that behind every law is both the threat and reality of its violent enforcement. In short, obey or face the consequences. Depending on how the HHS suits go, many Catholic institutions may face this in practice. They have faced it in another countries that merely happen to have different laws, while the nature of the State as coercive entity is the same.

    Now we have a premise, here come questions:

    1) Is coerced redistribution charity?
    2) Is the good of material equality (furnished by coerced redistribution) higher than the good of charity? (Imagine that 1000 “units” of equality would be provided to society by persons giving voluntary charity to those worse blessed, but 1001 “units” could be accomplish if redistribution were involuntarily supplied by threats of violence, which amount is morally better? What if it were 2001, or 3001, or 10001?)
    3) Is the use of violence a just means to encourage charity?
    4) Is the use of violence the best means to encourage charity?

    5) Is coerced redistribution justice?
    6) If the relevant aspect of justice is “rendering what is owed”, what in particular is owed to whom by whom, where no specific act of injustice has been committed? Such as, what is the demand of justice owed by the man that possesses one “unit” more, to the man that has one “unit” less, where no particular /act/ of injustice has been committed by either man? Two “units”? Three? Ten thousand “units”?
    7) Can the demands of justice be effected with the means of coerced redistribution without committing any additional injustices?
    8) Is it permissible to commit an injustice to an innocent party so that justice might be done for another in need of it?
    9) If the answer to 6 is yes, who decides which party will be treated unjustly and which justly?

    • ThomasL

      That should read, “If the answer to 8 is yes…”