About Elizabeth Scalia
  • TXRed

    I was raised with the idea that the best charity starts at the local level: the congregation, the local chapter of a fraternal organization, the community food bank and job center. That is because local people see the problem most clearly and are in a better position to know who needs a brief hand up and who needs more serious efforts (institutionalization in one local case). Then city and county aid, then the state should come in when things are too large for local organizations (hurricane, multi-county wildfire or tornado outbreak, for example). Federal largess and social programs should be the final safety net, not the first one. Yes, it demands more from individuals than some are willing to give – it is easier to pay taxes and to let “professionals” deal with those in need. But we are supposed to be our brothers and sisters keeper, are we not?

  • Sean O

    Miss Scalia,

    Government is not the only or primary answer by any means to an individual’s needs whether they are poor, struggling or otherwise. Many of the the social programs are not well organized or conceived and need reforming [as is true of all govt agencies]. But the gov’t plays a role in organizing an assisting in the functioning of a viable and hopefully flourishing society.

    Mr Ryan’s budget does not start from this perspective. He simply wants to reduce gov’t spending where it goes mostly to people of limited means. His goal should be to reform and improve programs to help people get themselves and their families on the road to sustainability. It must also take into account a US economy which ships decent paying jobs overseas with no concern for the devastated communities left behind. These problems are complex and require intense focus, intellectual honesty and some human compassion. Mr Ryan’s budget has of these things. Where are the cuts in the bloated defense budget [the US spends more than the rest of the world COMBINED], rife with waste, fraud and abuse and crony capitalism? What about means testing middle class entitlements like Social Security and Medicare? All areas of govt spending and taxation must be on the table for a fair and sensible review. A balanced budget must be balanced in its outlook and priorities.

    Mr Ryan claims to be many things including being a Catholic. I don’t see the Catholic influence, only the cold and selfish ethos of his hero, Ayn Rand and her anti-Gospel. This glaring substitution of the priorities of Mammon over those of Christ are what Mr. Colbert and his guest are calling attention to. Mr Ryan may be a smart man capable of complicated thought but his current budget is a simple document which sacrifices the common and struggling folks for the avarice of the A-list and the supremely comfortable. Mr. Ryan needs to do some thinking and start over.

    [all fair enough. But my point was neither to endorse Ryan's budget nor defend it. it was to ask, a) where is the alternative and b)are we not harming ourselves and cheapening human dignity by simply expecting every solution to be a govt solution? - admin]

  • Pingback: Instapundit » Blog Archive » THE ANCHORESS IS BORED BY THE SMUGNESS OF STEPHEN COLBERT: When a friend of mine sent this clip fro…

  • http://lyflines.blogspot.com Lyford

    I dislike Colbert. I think that C.S. Lewis was exactly right about this, as about so many thinks.
    “Only a clever human can make a real joke about virtue, or indeed about anything else; any of them can be trained to talk as if virtue were funny. Among flippant people the joke is always assumed to have been made. No one actually makes it; but every serious subject is discussed in a manner which implies that they have already found a ridiculous side to it.” (Screwtape)

  • Mark Shortreed

    Whenever you travel to any truly natural areas you’ll invariably see signs telling you not to feed the wildlife. It’s well known that if you constantly feed the animals they will forget how to feed themselves. It is the most basic of common sense.
    The so called “poor” in western democracies have lifestyles that most in the third world could only dream about.
    We taken the ‘social safety net’ and turned it into a hammock. (Paul Ryan)

  • Romulus

    As Christians we’re bound under pain of sin, to perform corporal and spiritual works of mercy: feed the hungry, visit the imprisoned, and all the rest. I am not at all certain this mandate extends to social transformation that would eliminate poverty, prisons, etc. Not to say that this would be a bad thing (I think of it as very good indeed), but I keep coming back to the idea that Christ’s will for us in this world is not a quantifiable, results-oriented social improvement project.

  • huxley

    Elizabeth: That was about the best summation of the budget crisis I’ve seen. Thank you.

  • Roz Smith

    Letting the federal government do it is also horribly inefficient. Every dollar gets washed through many level of bureaucracy. Even if the system was free of graft, corruption and cheating there would be significant amounts expended for overhead. With the corruption often only cents on the original dollar get to those who are in genuine need. Then there is the universal problem of bureaucrats who don’t want to work themselves out of a job so they find ever less worthy people who to help.

  • Rhinestone Suderman

    Roz, you’ve nailed it!

  • juandos

    Conversely, there is no dignity in need that goes unaddressed, either“…


    There’s plenty of dignity when it comes to using common sense…

    Let those that feel the yearning need to pander to parasites go ahead and use their own money to buy their way into heaven or at least shorten their stay in purgatory…

    It should NEVER have been part of the federal government’s job in the first place…

    [And this comment is a good example of why why Catholicism does not fit neatly into "pure" conservatism nor "pure" modern liberalism -admin]

  • Raymond Suda

    Madame Blogger doth sound a bit akin to a radical feminist today in some of her usage of our language. Hope you don’t feel I protest too much!!! We are all entitled to a bad day occasionally or might it be our true ideation has slipped out…

    [Wow. You have to really work hard to take my Catholicism and turn it into radical feminism. Fail -admin]

  • Raymond Suda

    I apologize if I have offended you, Ms. Scalia. This one paragraph just set me off,
    ” Well, there is a kind of smugness to it that’s too easy; “we two smart men will, by our shallow analysis, tell you why this budget by another smart man is not only imperfect but possibly evil — let’s all jeer at it and be above it — but have nothing to offer as an alternative.”
    I’ve been reading you daily for 3 or4 months and usually like your topics and style. If you want a colony of sycophants reading your material that will exclude me. Catholic education has taught me to be open and willing to discuss things, once again sorry if I offended you.

  • SusanM.

    I am very much at a loss at how anyone can think that what Jesus told us to do, RE: the poor and disadvantaged: involved a federal bureaucracy in any way, shape or form. Did He have His Good Samaritan run out and sign up the beating and robbery victim for federal victim’s assistance benefits? Did He tell the Rich Young Man to “Go out and invent with Health and Human Services so you can make a difference?” Nope. Did He say “If a man asks for your shirt send him to the appropriate government office and help him fill out the request in triplicate?” No. Did He say “Render unto Ceasar plenty of money so he can take it and give most of it to well connected cronies and dole out the rest to whoever can qualify based on minority status or place on the Poverty Index?” No. He did not. He expects us all to go out and individually, with our own time and money, help the poor and the disadvantaged. It’s called Corporal Works of Mercy. I don’t expect jokers like Stephen Colbert to stand up for Church teachings, even though he presents himself as a catechist. But good gravy what is an actual man of the cloth doing promoting government assistance and the wasteland that is federal aid to the poor? Not to mention the moral hazards that are created when people assume that they can take money from government programs since its Free.
    Seriously, is paying your taxes now equivalent to almsgiving, visiting the sick and providing succor to widows and orphans?

  • Scot B

    Sean O,
    Mr. Ryan’s political hero is not Ayn Rand, but Jack Kemp.

    The legislative precedents to his current budget which he wrote in 2008 did detail Social Security reform, including means testing. With respect to the defense cuts (which I agree with you on) I think his current offering is best understood as a serious opening bid in what he views is (or should be) a budget that could get bipartisan support. (This is why he dropped the SS reforms…too subject to rank demonization, and not as big a driver of our insolvency as Medicare).

    I think one point the Anchoress is trying to make is that a serious counteroffer (or whole new alternative) has not been made by the Democrats, and that this silence is an abdication of responsibility.

    As to Mr. Ryan’s worldview being cold…I suppose I might think that too if I believed strongly in the efficacy of government to successfully solve problems like poverty. But since I think governments attempt to do so contribute mightily to things like the breakdown of the family and other moral sicknesses I have a more sympathetic take on Mr. Ryan’s approach. And I think it more closely mirrors the Anchoress’s main point of this post regarding subsidiarity and personalizing our service to the poor (see his recent Georgetown speech).

  • http://moneyrunner.blogspot.com/ Moneyrunner

    Sean O,

    You begin by saying that “government is not the only or primary answer by any means to an individual’s needs” and tell us that many of the programs are badly conceived and executed. You then do a u-turn and launch right into a defense of government programs as a way of meeting individual needs. You response contains within it its own contradictions.

    I am not going to defend the details of Ryan’s plan because I only know the broad outlines, but unlike his opponents he faces a mathematical fact: there is not enough money to maintain the two primary programs that – as currently constituted – are bankrupting us: social security and Medicare. This is a fact with our without all other government programs. You refuse address these facts and use ad hominem attacks against Ryan. To return the favor let me state that blindly continuing to drive the nation to national bankruptcy represents the height of political immorality.

    Too many in the mainline churches have substituted political activism for personal charity. Lobbying for government programs to help the poor and the suffering is preferred by many in the hierarchies of these churches because when you deal with the ruling class you meet people who are well dressed, well fed and well mannered. It allows you feel good about yourself without ever meeting the people who you claim to want to help – many of whom are none of these things.

    You bring up the idea of means testing. What in the world do you think that vouchers do? And if vouchers are not enough, there is always the Church to make up the difference, or is the Church’s role only one lobbying the government?

    Taxes are not charity as you note when you decry crony capitalism. If you think that the poor and the dispossessed are the primary beneficiaries of the ruling class you may have been born last night. It was ever thus; it simply has been brought to new heights under the Obama administration. The problem with routing “good works” though government is the problem with socialism, communism and all the other utopian isms. Apologists for their failure are always claiming that the right people are not in charge or that “they haven’t been tried yet.” The reason they never work has nothing to do with the right people being in charge. The problem is that people rather than angels are in charge; and this side of the second coming, that will always be true.

  • http://chicagoboyz.net TMLutas

    In any budget discussion, a full and fair description of doing nothing should be the first order of business. Then those without alternatives can be fairly tagged with the quite horrific trajectory that we’re currently on. This includes people starving in the street because the entire economy has seized up and crashed. Any alternative has a pretty low bar to overcome to get better than that but the US Senate Democrats can’t even beat that because they refuse to pass *any* budget and have chosen this course for 3 years now. We know where this course ends and that the more we delay changing it, the more the poor will be harmed by the increasingly drastic measures necessary to save the republic. Adjustment time is the friend to the poor because it allows us to maximize the number of people who can shift to alternatives without overwhelming those alternatives.

    True christian charity is a superior alternative to government charity. It achieves better results and it avoids the poverty trap of punitive progressive taxation which, under the present system, achieves ridiculous rates of up to 80% in combined taxation and benefit reduction at certain fairly low income levels.

  • Sean O


    Are you serious in your attitudes? Governments are human institutions. Humans are flawed, some more than others. Unsurprisingly human institutions are flawed as well. Do you wish to close down all gov’t institutions like public schools, police, fire, public roads, public utilities, the armed forces etc..etc.. or just ones that help the less fortunate? Or just the ones you don’t need or use? ALL these institutions or agencies of gov’t are flawed, waste money and abuse the public trust to varying degrees. Private firms are capable of the same or worse, especially the too big to fail firms like those on Wall St which broke the world economy thru rarefied arrogance, colossal greed and rampant criminality. Get real. Human institutions need constant reform and intelligent and honest leadership. Getting better results and better people is what we should be working for.

    Also, enough of this BS that Christians can’t help the needy because the gov’t taken away neediness or the opportunities to be charitable with their welfare programs. Neediness and brokenness is everywhere and don’t worry we won’t run out any time soon even with the gov’t helping or trying to. Let’s see if active Christians can drum up so much charity and assistance for the suffering and less fortunate that we can put gov’t welfare out of business. But until then enough of this talk of gov’t largesse holding back a great bounty of private charity.

  • Oregon Catholic

    US business has broken faith and solidarity with the citizens of this country. The federal govt has assisted the phenomenal increase in the wealth/greed of the financial sector and the movement of jobs overseas. We cannot recover as an economy with out jobs nor can the gov solve it’s debt problem without tax paying citizens. But no one in gov or business is doing anything but proposing more of the status quo of the last 30 years. Where are the policies in gov and business to create middle class US jobs? I have come to believe that no one in power cares about a strong middle class – we’ve become irrelevant in a global economy. Walmart is doing just fine importing cheap throw away goods and selling to the poor. And as citizens we shoot ourselves in the foot when we buy the cheap foreign-made crap and gobble up ipads and iphones like addicts, making behemoths out of anti-patriot companies like Walmart and Apple.

  • LanceThruster

    As an atheist, I find that believers can always find an excuse to be stingy with those in need. This is particularly ironic in that they feel they’ll have an eternal life of bliss, but are so worried about the notion that they might be too generous with those somehow underserving, so better safe than sorry.

    See Luke 6:30


    and here –


    In the teaching of Jesus, poverty of spirit is enforced to the fullest conceivable extent: “Him that taketh away thy cloak, forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee, and of him that taketh away thy goods, ask them not again.” ["Luke vi. 29, 30.] Poverty of person is the only possible sequence to this extraordinary manifestation of poverty of spirit. Poverty of person is attended with many unpleasantnesses; and Jesus, who knew that poverty would result from his teaching, says, as if he wished to keep the poor content through their lives with Poverty. “Blessed be ye poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.” [Luke vi. 20.] But woe unto you that are rich, for ye have received your consolation.” [Luke vi. 24.]

  • cathyf

    I noticed something recently about St. Paul’s description of the first Christian disaster of holding all property in common — the people who did no work didn’t just stop working, but also became busybodies sticking their noses into everybody else’s work.

    Isn’t that precisely Colbert’s “job”?

  • Lilyw

    Geesh, Anchoress. You really have a gripe with Paul Ryan? I defy you to find more wisdom, charity, and statesmanship anywhere in Congress. Or a rep who understands Aquinas as well.

    [He's a politician, and when he pandered to the Ayn Randians, it showed. I don't have a problem with "Ryan" per se. I don't like any of 'em; it's a general disgust I'm feeling off on all politicians right now. Might not be fair, but it's where I am at right now. Admittedly, I am badly in need of a retreat. -admin]

  • SusanM.

    Sean O

    Yes I absolutely am serious. Government help does very little besides encourage a culture of dependency and envy. I work at a public school which has 65% of the student population qualifying for free and reduced lunches, I see what expecting goverment handouts does to people. I also grew up in the same town, know the families, and very few people move out the that cycle of dependence once they are there. I did, and so did my brothers and sister but it was because of our Catholic faith and personal witness by people who could point to a better way that I am not a welfare mom or alcoholic like my mom. Government programs may have put subsistence food on the table but at great cost. You can never do even a little bit better, because if you do you lose your aid. So you stay the same and hope the government decides to give you more, because the only way you will get more is if the government takes more from someone else and gives it to you. You learn to envy those who have more because they reason they have more is because they must be stealing it from someone else or cheating their workers.
    Of course private firms are also capable of corruption and greed, but you don’t have to support the ones who are. Of course people can look down on those who make money with evil corportations and be all santimonious about how government programs are helpful. But if someone, even though rich, gives you a job, you can actually get ahead and maybe learn some skills and work your way up. But if you are on welfare, the only way you get out of that is to break off completely and they do everything they can to discourage that sort of behavior.

    Of course institutions need constant reform. But everytime reform is suggested, those who suggest it are fingered as evil and wanting people to starve. I am not saying Paul Ryan’s plan is any better than another plan, but his right now is the only plan. All the shrieking going on about how people will be on the street because of his “cuts” when there are no cuts only reductions in the rate of growth leads me to believe that those people are actually against reform in any meaningful sense.

  • Bender

    The primacy of Catholic social is love in TRUTH.

    Any social action which is contrary to TRUTH is not justice and it is not a moral action.

    And what is the truth? The truth is WE DON’T HAVE THE MONEY. Spending money you do not have is not consistent with truth, it is a lie, it is INJUSTICE.

  • SouthofReality

    How ironic it is that one of the first commentators is Sean, who essentially echoes the attacks on Paul Ryan even down to the aspirations on Ryan’s Catholicism. I think for an opinion to be respected, it should be expressed in a respectful tone. Sean provides none of that and actually lowers the quality of this discussion with his mean-spirited diatribe.

    The math is simple, but daunting. Medicare cannot mathematically survive in its present form. Social security cannot mathematically survive in its present form. Entitlements cannot mathematically survive in their present form. The current value of present and promised entitlements is greater than the current value of the US economy by several factors. So you can’t tax your way out: they’re simply isn’t enough money in the entire economy.

    That which can’t continue – won’t. So there has to be a change. Paul Ryan has proposed one. No one else has because they’re afraid of the math. Attacking Ryan without offering a plan may be effective politics but it is the strategy of moral cowards.

  • Sean O


    We don’t have the money now and haven’t had the money for many things for many years.
    That is the Truth, Catholic or otherwise. Reagan doubled the national debt in his term as did GW Bush and Obama is on his way as well. This being short of money thing isn’t a new problem.

    Why is it that the first thing that comes to mind to slash in the budget is aid to the poor? It is a very small portion of the budget. 75 to 80% or more of the Federal Budget is made up of defense, social security & medicare– which are both mostly Middle Class entitlements.

    Let’s improve the safety net for the poor, making it more viable while also creating incentives that move people to greater or total self sufficiency. Cut all corporate welfare and make meaningful cuts where the bulk of our tax dollars are spent. And prepare for many angry middle class voters.

  • Jeannie

    Balancing between federal and personal aid is smoke and mirrors with zero potential.There is no scale whereon too little or too much is balanced. You are thinking, apparently, that someone has the means to Utopia, a location not ever to be accessed while navigating this mortal coil.

    Catty comments to Juan consign you to the level of a Daily Kos or Huffington or Page Six fodder, depriving you of the sort of gravitas you appear to assume you have.

    The snobbish, anti-Christian, gaia loving, narcissist elites, who can afford it, are calling for legislated redistribution that will ironically call for very little out of their pockets. They appear to think, however, that calling for this robbery of the honest profits hard labor of free citizens will afford them some sort of immortality.

    Juan, for all you know, scraped and worked his tail off to make a place in this country. And even better for him if he is somebody who has made it and is grateful enough to recognize the disaster of apology guilt, whereby those who have wealth think reparation is to be acquired through specious charity rather than personal witness through humble service and unpopular calls for aid through other than the pocketbook.

    Seeing the homeless refusing jobs beneath them or government jobs exploding with insane pay AND benefits, while expecting the taxes of those who are part of neither of these parasitic enterprises to give them lifetime support, makes most of us irate. Whomever supports federal aid IS pandering and either remarkably self-delusional or hypocritical. Government is populated with the acquisitive, the immoral, the hypocritical and the business illiterate. Expecting government to oversee programs with little serious accountability to hard working taxpayers is ludicrous.

    Expecting government to be better at charity than individuals is abdicating faith in God’s gift of humanity, saying that government trumps God and soul in the charitable department.

    Colbert has always been smug. That is what endeared him to all the liberal elite who proudly possess the same attitude.


  • Fr Patrick of Monterey

    This is yet another instance of the Saul Alinsky approach to power: relently mock the person with whom you disagree. The Obama administration has made this the hallmark of their policies and it has helped poison discourse in the United States. I fear this kind of mockery will continue long after Obama fades into obscurity and the media finally attend to revealing what he has been up to.

  • http://myunquietheart.blogspot.com/ Greg Hillis

    I don’t normally find myself in total agreement with you on political matters, but I found this post to be well-argued and a good demonstration of why Catholic social teaching is so difficult to translate into political policy, whether that policy be right or left (a point you reiterated to one of your commenters). The teachings of Jesus are notoriously difficult to follow (i.e., love and do it concretely). See also http://myunquietheart.blogspot.com/2012/04/jesus-and-wealth.html to read a bit about G.K. Chesterton’s take on Christianity and the political.

  • Bender

    How much do you give to the poor yourself Sean O?

    A $1000 per year? $10,000 per year?

    How about instead of being such a cold-hearted greedy bastard yourself, you spend $10 million per year out of your own pocket for the poor? Wouldn’t that help a lot of people?

    Don’t tell me that you don’t have the money. Don’t tell me that you only make $50,000 per year. So what? What’s your point? You should be spending $10 million per year on the poor regardless. Borrow it if you don’t have it now. Go into your kids room and raid their piggy bank, and then take their college savings. And if that is not enough, just open up that Monopoly game and use that money, or go Xerox a bunch of $100 bills. Just spend it. Spend, spend, spend. Think of all the people that could be helped.

  • http://elizabethk-fthnfort.blogspot.com/ Elizabeth K.

    Actually LT, conservatives in particular and religious people give money to charity in far far far (far) greater numbers and amounts than liberals or atheists.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    There are so many arguments against the social “justice” argument. Here are two rebuttals.

    From the argument of dignity. Government provides shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity?

    And guess what? If Ryan’s budget is passed, the government will still provide shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor. Where’s the lack of dignity? The budget is basically reducing the rate of growth of these programs.

    From the argument of compassion. It’s compassionate to keep poor in life long poverty? It’s dignified to be dependent on the money of others? No, to both. Compassion is giving from the heart. Taking someone else’s money to hand over shows no charity, and receiving money in this fashion is not dignified. True compassion is the giving from the heart, from charity, not sterility. Government taking of people’s money and handing it over to someone else is sterility. There is no love to it. Christ gave bread from love, from hand to hand, from His physical person to a physical person. Such contact in charity is love and promotes Christianity. Is it any wonder that with the growth of government services to the poor and the reduction of charitable organizations taking care of the poor that we have become more atheistic? We have lost the human contact that is Christ’s love.

    From the argument of justice. Is it just to take from one person who has legally and morally earned his income and give it away to someone whose basic needs (shelter, food stamps, free education, free medical, free job training, free libraries, free parks, free entertainment for the poor) have been taken care of? No it is not justice to take someone else’s money when a basic level of care exists.

  • http://jscafenette.com/ Manny

    Oops, I gave three rebuttals. I forgot where I started out…lol. And I failed to mention the dignity of self sufficiency in that first rebuttal.

  • SouthofReality

    Sean wrote:
    “Let’s improve the safety net for the poor, making it more viable while also creating incentives that move people to greater or total self sufficiency. Cut all corporate welfare and make meaningful cuts where the bulk of our tax dollars are spent. And prepare for many angry middle class voters.”

    Angry middle class voters?

    Sean if you actually proposed that program you’d be surprised what you would be called. You wouldn’t be considered compassionate. You wouldn’t be considered Christian. You would be attacked by the same people attacking Ryan because what you’re suggesting here is not all that different from Ryan’s plan in the fundamentals.

  • doc

    These arguments are conducted as if the concept of American welfare spending was nothing but theory. It’s already been tried and it’s failed to improve the lot of those it was supposed to help. Murray’s Losing Ground, Olasky’s Tragedy of American Compassion and the writings of Tom Sowell, Walter Williams, Larry Elder, and many others have proven that federal aid hurts communities in the long run, minority communities in particular. The question is, was this the intent of some of these so-called “do gooders” all along? Margaret Sanger made her intentions clear. Modern progressives are less forthright than the Planned Parenthood founder.

  • PD Quig

    Criticizing without offering an alternative is fourth class thinking. In most companies with competent managers, doing so repeatedly gets you on the short list for the next reduction in force.

    The next RIF is coming in November. These people are classless and clueless. Colbert is a boor and a twit, going for the easy appeal to other fourth class thinkers. Unfortunately, our government schools are producing scads of them.

  • R.C.

    I certainly agree that we should cut all corporate welfare down to nothing.

    But some of you folks who’re criticizing the Paul Ryan plan for cuts into entitlements are pretty darned uninformed about the magnitude of our entitlement problem.

    And, YES, I’m aware the problem ballooned under both Republican and Democrat administrations…although I have to say that when it ballooned under Republican presidents it was Republican presidents having to placate a Democratic congress or an evenly-divided Congress in which non-conservative Republicans held all the power.

    But folks need to grasp some basic economic principles and the relevant numbers and projections, to be able to speak informedly about “what we OUGHT to do.”

    Where to begin? Okay, basic principles, first:

    Basic Principle #1: The American economy is a certain size, generating a certain amount of productive work and income in a given year which we call Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Excluding tariffs (or tribute paid by conquered lands, if we were that kind of country!), the government’s money comes from converting some portion of GDP into Federal Revenue through taxes.

    Basic Principle #2: When the activities of the Federal Government cost more than the Federal Revenues bring in, the result is a budget deficit. This shortfall is covered by borrowing money from other countries or from private U.S. citizens and companies. But borrowing money today means you have to pay it back with interest later.

    Basic Principle #3: Once upon a time, the demographics of the U.S. “baby boom” caused there to be an unusually large number of workers paying into Social Security at a time when the number of retirees was relatively small. This caused a surplus of funds to build up in Social Security. During this period, the government borrowed from Social Security, too (in addition to borrowing from citizens and companies and other countries). In essence the government got money and gave future Social Security recipients IOUs. The resulting glut of borrowed money allowed the government access to a huge amount of funds it wouldn’t otherwise have had. But now the baby boomers are retiring and their life expectancies are quite long, and they’ve had an unusually small number of children, so the situation is reversing, and the Social Security taxes will soon be insufficient to cover the costs of baby boomers’ retirement. Social Security will therefore need to “cash in” all those IOUs just to remain solvent. So, far from being a source of extra money for the government, the government will need to be repaying all its IOUs to Social Security, starting now.

    Basic Principle #4: If you don’t have money to pay for something, and you can’t raise more, and you can’t borrow more, the only thing you can do (if you’re a government) is PRINT more. But that causes inflation, which tends to shaft anyone on a fixed income because their fixed income doesn’t rise with inflation. A $500 a month fixed income is fine if your groceries are $75 and your rent is $325 and all your other expenses are $100. But if prices rise significantly, and your groceries are $100 and your rent is $450 and your other expenses are $150, then your $500 fixed income is $200 short and suddenly you’re down to choosing between food and heating every winter.

    Basic Principle #5: When economies collapse, the people who fare best are those with lots of resources and skills stockpiled providing they don’t fall prey to criminals, and those who thrive on anarchy (criminals) provided they don’t get caught. The people who fare worst are those who’re least criminal among middle class, the lower middle class, and the working poor. If it gets bad enough that basic services shut down, then the poor tend to starve.

    Got all that?

    Now you need to know two numbers: 19% (-ish) and 30% (-ish).

    (a.) 19%: That’s the percentage of Gross Domestic Product the United States converts into federal tax revenue over any long-term period. You can have short-term spikes by radically changing the tax structure or in wartime, but then people start to change their behaviors and the short-term revenue spike never lasts; it reverts to the normal 19%. Likewise recessions (like the one we’re in now) tend to cause it to dip (it’s at about 15-16% currently) but that only lasts until the recovery returns it to 19%. That’s why 19% has been the consistent ten-year moving average for federal revenues as a percentage of GDP for THE LAST HUNDRED YEARS, despite all the different ways the tax code has been tweaked. There is thus no realistic argument that we can exceed 19% of GDP over any protracted period.

    (b.) 30%+: That’s the estimated percentage of Gross Domestic Product that the entitlements portion of the federal budget is expected to grow to by 2035 or thereabouts. Read that last bit carefully. The ENTITLEMENT SPENDING ALONE (coupled with its portion of the federal debt and the relevant interest), if uncut, is expected to grow to 30-plus percent. That’s not including military spending. It’s not including highways. It’s not including federal law enforcement. It’s not including the judiciary. Entitlements, alone. 30-plus percent of GDP.

    And we don’t have any realistic expectation of being able to raise revenues, in a long-term way, above 19% of GDP.

    Does everyone appreciate the world-shaking shortfall represented by those numbers? Those are Weimar Republic numbers. The only folk who’re calling a serious economic meltdown implausible are those who (a.) don’t have a clue, or (b.) are assuming that eventually someone will wise up and the entitlements will be reformed. Which of course is what I hope for, too. And I suspect someone will do something.

    But what, exactly, are they to do?

    We have well-meaning Catholics saying not to stick it to the poor by cutting entitlements. But, folks, we’re talking about money we don’t have, and if you understood what I just said about the 19% number, you also understand that we’re talking about money we can’t get through tax revenue. And if you’ve been following what I said about Social Security, you understand we can’t get it through borrowing from there. And if you’ve read anything about our borrowing from China, you understand that well’s running dry, too.

    Big shortfall. No plausible additional revenue. No plausible way to borrow more. (Indeed, because of the Social Security demographic issue, we’re in a forced-to-deleverage situation: We have to start paying back a lot of existing debt.)

    There are two options: Print money to cover the shortfall, and cut spending to eliminate the shortfall. Both are going to be bad.

    Before I explain how bad, some folk may be questioning my premise on revenue. How can I know we can’t just raise taxes to get more money to cover the shortfall? Can’t we go 50%/50% on tax increases and spending cuts, to be fair?

    Two points:

    1. You can’t raise enough revenue through additional taxes to make any serious dent in that kind of shortfall, because the projected spending without cuts is 30%+ of GDP and we never, ever, have managed to convert more than about 19% of GDP into Federal Revenue over any protracted period of time. No matter how we’ve change the tax code, that’s the norm; you might argue that a clever system could draw in 22% for a five year period or so, if the recession ended abruptly for some reason in the middle of a tax increase. But that’s not enough, and what’re the odds of that happening when it’s never happened before apart from short-term spikes?

    Plus, raising taxes in a recession just makes the recession that much longer, which keeps the GDP depressed and keeps the % of GDP you can capture into federal revenues down below 19%!

    So a lot of people, when they say, “The Democrats ought to agree to entitlement cuts, and the Republicans ought to agree to tax increases,” are (admirably) trying to be fair, but they’re just showing they don’t understand the situation. Tax increases could give us a brief revenue spike, as they always do, but only until behavior adjusts and we return to the usual 19%, as we always do. So tax increases are a useless exercise unless government spending gets back down to 19% or thereabouts. (We could live with, say, 22% by taking on modest debt.)

    I have no doubt that tax increases will “play a role” in the eventual solution. But the role they will play will not be related to solving the problem. Their sole role will be to give political cover to Democrats, by allowing them to argue to their constituents that they didn’t cave, but succeeded in “sticking it to the rich.”

    2. When you talk about cutting a 30%-of-GDP entitlement system down to 20%-of-GDP or less, a lot of people think, “Oh, okay, that’s a 10% reduction. That’s not so bad.” Not so fast: Going from 30%-of-GDP to 20%-of-GDP or less is only 10% of GDP, but it’s a ONE-THIRD cut in the entitlements. One. Third.

    So, yeah, one can see why it hasn’t happened yet.

    You may say, “Okay, I see why revenue increases aren’t likely to happen from tax increases, since no matter how we restructured the tax code over the last 100 years we never stayed above 23% or so for more than a couple of years at a time. Fair enough. But there MUST be some other way, than just DRACONIAN spending cuts.”

    Well, sure there is! It’s called PRINTING MONEY. All the government has to do is “print” enough money to cover the shortfall; that is to say, grant themselves enough money through electronic ledger entries to pay off every Social Security recipient’s check without using any of the dollars that exist today (but which they don’t have, and can’t get).

    Sounds great…except remember, the purpose of Social Security is to allow older folk to be able to afford to buy necessities and pay rent. And, remember, as you increase the number of dollars in circulation, the actual buying power of each dollar drops. (That’s called “inflation,” for those of you who didn’t live through the 1970’s.)

    Right now, it only takes four dollars to buy a gallon of milk. If the government prints enough money to cover its projected shortfall, it may take eight. How well will Social Security recipients fare when they’re still getting their government check, but it’s measured in dollars that’ve been so devalued that it only pays for half as much rent and food as it used to?

    And remember: The “printing money” solution only works for government entitlements of a “defined amount” type: Ones where they promise a check for so-and-so-many dollars.

    The “printing money” solution DOESN’T HELP MUCH when the entitlement you’re providing is a product or service of some kind (e.g. medicine or medical care or housing). Why? Because every time you print money to pay for these things, the resulting inflation causes the cost of the items to go up, so you keep having to print more and more money to try to keep up.

    ANYWAY, Paul Ryan’s plan frankly doesn’t cut entitlements enough to save our bacon. It’s a stop-gap solution. But it makes a dent in the problem that’ll last us until people begin to grasp how bad the problem is. Hopefully when THAT day comes they’ll be mature enough to allow deeper cuts.

    So I’m glad to see the man “gets it,” both with respect to the relationship between (and non-contradictory nature of) Solidarity and Subsidiarity, and also the need to stop sticking our heads in the sand and start solving the problem.

    One last thing: We’ll need to cut the military of course, also. And we’ll need to cut Federal law enforcement and highway funds and everything else. But I’ve harmed on entitlements because they are far and away the biggest and fastest growing part of the budget problem. If we do cuts to all segments of the budget that are proportionate to the share that each program has in the budget, we’re still talking about a far larger chunk of the cuts coming from entitlements than any other part, military included.

    And by the way, when the economy is going to heck…it’s sometimes wise to keep a functioning military and federal law enforcement system around. Just sayin’.

    So there it is. Face the facts.

    Catholic Social Teaching does not mean you can invent your own fantasy world. In social/economic disintegration, the poor are worst off. It is an exercise of your preferential option for the poor, to PREVENT THAT HAPPENING.

  • Tom Bishko

    Remember, helping the poor through government programs is like feeding the birds by feeding the horses, the birds get what the horse leaves behind. Don’t believe me? Compare the Administrative costs of private charities to the administrative costs of any government entity. I remember when I was in college, if you distributed the budget of the Department of Health and Human Services directly to the officially defined “poor” people, each person would receive about 8 thousand dollars. A family of four would have received approximately $32,000. This was back in the 60′s.

  • R.C.

    Uh, that was meant to be “harped” on entitlements, not “harmed” on entitlements. Sorry; at this point my pessimism about getting the problem solved without serious harm to the country is leaking through.

    Must remember: Do not store up treasure in this world.

  • Marty

    I have always found Colbert to be unwatchable because of his smugness and the nastiness that is just below the surface. I don’t agree with Colbert’s politics, but I find Jon Stewart eminently watchable, so his politics isn’t the thing that turns me off. Stewart at least tries to be funny and succeeeds pretty often; and he presents his perspective in a way that can make one think about what one really believes, and recognize and laugh at the foibles of those one one’s own “side”. Colbert just assumes his audience agrees with him and won’t have any problem with him being rude and nasty, so he is rude and nasty. I suppose teh audience finds it validating or something, I just think he’s a smarmy self-important jerk–not in hs faux conservative persona, but in reality.

  • Will

    The Democrats spend the money on social programs and the Republicans spend the money on defense.

    Eliminating Medicare and replacing it with vouchers to buy health insurance will insure that those over 65 years old will have to pay higher and higher health insurance premiums. What happens when some of those people have to choose between health insurance, food, or shelter?

  • http://jscafenette.com Manny

    That’s excellent. I appreciate you taking the time to write all that.

  • SouthofReality

    R.C. that was an excellent summary of the problem. And people who are serious (like Paul Ryan) are trying to explain that situation to a chattering class that likes to deal with platitudes and not the with the intractable mathematics of the situation.

    Will: Please look up the difference between “vouchers” and “premium support”. Many people use those ideas interchangeably with respect to Paul Ryan’s plan, but they are very different proposals.

    To keep this in a Christian/Catholic perspective, I’ll just add: “You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” Any moral discussion of this issue has to start with the stark cold unrelenting facts and numbers and too many people are unwilling to do that and instead post nonsense about how “if we repeal the Bush tax cuts everything will be fine” or “just cut defense spending”. If you’re posting that kind of nonsense, you are doing your children and grandchildren a great disservice.

  • Raymond Suda

    Thanks, R. C. You’ve explained a most difficult problem in a sane and cogent manner. I’d say we are in “Dire Straits”. The options open to us are not very palatable to say the least. However, sticking our head in the sand is not the answer. Sacrifice is not a foreign word to Catholics, or at least it

  • Raymond Suda

    I was somehow cut off. Here is the end to my prior post.—– or at least it wasn’t at one time.

  • Purple

    I don’t like Colbert. I think he’s creepy, mean and his spirit is ugly. And he’s not funny.

    Where exactly was it that Jesus said that we should force OTHER PEOPLE to … or take THEIR money to take care of the poor?

    (I thought he was talking about each one of us doing this on our own?)

    Where did Jesus say that we should force OTHER PEOPLE to Love Their Neighbor?

    (Gee, I thought he was talking about each one of us doing this on our own.)

    Did Jesus say that money belonging to other people should be taken via taxes and used for whatever purposes the government decides? People may have decided that, but I don’t recall Jesus saying that.

    Did Jesus say that we should borrow money and become indebted to China … perhaps to the point that we will have to appease them in whatever they do that has often been malign … and will have to be paid back by future generations … in order to take care of the poor (who are not actually poor — but just want … MORE … more than they already have … and who want everything to be “equal” regardless of merit, or what they have created themselves?)

    Please show me those quotes, because I think I must have missed them in the Bible.

  • Scot B


    To put a few more words around SouthOfRealities reply to you…the latest version of Ryan’s plan regarding Medicare is as follows:

    Any insurance company can submit a health care plan to Medicare, but it has to meet certain requirements regarding things like coverage, pre-existing conditions, etc set by Medicare itself. Each year, each Medicare region (to handle regional cost differences) will take bids of such approved plans and set the re-reimbursement the Medicare recipient will receive at the cost of the 2nd cheapest plan. Therefore every Medicare recipient will have at least 2 plans that will be completely paid for that they can choose from no matter how high the prices rise. If they choose the cheapest plan they pocket the difference in cost between that and the 2nd cheapest. The hope is that by putting control of spending decisions at least somewhat in the patients hands some market forces will enter into the system and drive down costs while increasing quality (which is what the market does everywhere, including in the parts of the health care industry not covered by insurance today). Today our 3rd party payer structure drives costs higher.

    It’s this moving away from 3rd party payer to a system where people have skin in the game that Ryan (and many other of course) hope will address the inordinately rising health care costs. In systems as diverse as Switzerlands and Singapores, such non-3rd party payer structures have helped immensely to lower costs. And let’s be clear, we’re never going to be able to cut our way to the numbers that R.C. so helpfully illustrated, we’re going to have to restructure the payment architecture so that we reduce the costs.

    This is the real importance of Ryan’s plan. He’s not cutting per se, he’s changing the structure of the system to lower costs. I believe it will work.

  • Will

    Ryan’s plan for Medicare will lower the government’s cost by putting the burden of health insurance increases onto the recipients.

  • John

    The point of Atlas Shugged was to paint a picture of those among us who are looters and moochers – who don’t add to the pie (when they could) but are content to just skim off the top, taking advantage (via the state) others who work and do create wealth in the first place.

    In her book rather than foment armed revolution to overthrow the moochers and looters, she argued that it would be better to be PASSIVE and let the robber-state and robber-barons’ own greed and cupidity bring the system crashing down on its own.

    As for Ryan and his budget: 1) Obama and the boyz didn’t pass their own budgets from 2009 through 2011 when they had a super-majorities to do so. The whole US government has been operating on ‘continuing resolutions’ for over 1,000 days. How this is Rep. Ryan’s fault or the GOP’s fault when they weren’t in charge (and still aren’t) is beyond me. If your side is SO brilliant and love the poor so much, where’s YOUR budget?

    2) Very few people in comboxes actually compare and contrast Ryan’s budget proposal with the status quo (the cuts are in rate of growth and small, less than 1% cuts in overall spending). Ryan’s budget doesn’t close the deficit gap (over $1 trillion/yr) for 10 more years whereas the status quo budget doesn’t close the deficit….ever.

    3) Mathematics will win, not politics. If your side (Dem or GOP) have budgets and world views on how to best help the poor and defend the country which are all premised on borrowing over $1 trillion per year forever…adding to the huge federal debt (roughtly $15 trillion and growing) and doing nothing for the looming local, municipal, state and federal unfunded pension liability issues… we face certain economic collapse of at least 40% somewhere before 2027. Ryan’s plan doesn’t quite save us but it’s a good start. The status quo absolutely damns us to collapse before 2019.

    By collapse I mean: collapse down to what we can sustain in current tax revenues, which are roughly $2.2 trillion per year (vs. the current federal spending of $3.7 trillion per year).

    Who loves the poor? The man who tells them lies and insists they plan on dependency for life – while knowing full well that one day their very basics will be pulled from them….or the man who warns the poor to NOT expect the government to always be there for them and encourages them to ween themselves off Gubmit cheese over a few decades?

    Who is the would-be tyrant? The party that gins up racial and class warfare, scapegoating “the rich” and business while telegraphing that somehow all will be OK if we just seize their assets for redistribution? Or the party that insists that we all be held accountable to the same set of rules, regulations and laws (no affirmative action, no loop holes, no special waivers, no different tax rates…. if we’re all equal and we’re all Americans and no one is extra-special…. then why do we treat ourselves so differently and treat anyone in government ‘extra-special’ with rights and roles and excuses and ‘get out of jail free cards’ that are unavailable for the rest of us?

  • SouthofReality

    Will says: “Ryan’s plan for Medicare will lower the government’s cost by putting the burden of health insurance increases onto the recipients.”

    Can you form an argument beyond that which could fit onto a bumper sticker? With all due respect, you seem to understand very little about premium support plans and how Ryan’s proposal actually works.

    The only opposing suggestion to Ryan’s plan is that made by Obama which consists of a unelected board that will “control costs”. Good luck with that.

    It’s very easy, especially on the Internet, to paint peopel you oppose as evil tyrants. So now you have painted a picture of Ryan as some heartless b*st*rd only too eager to see the old and the poor die outside the doors of the hospital. The reality is that Ryan is a caring and serious thinker who actually is trying to solve a problem whose solution that doesn’t fit on your bumper sticker.

  • LanceThruster

    Elizabeth K. – As Bill Maher observed about Mitt Romney’s “charitable” donations, it’s to his cult.

    Do you know why churches originally were designated to pay no taxes? It was because *they* were the social safety net. How much charity could the RCC afford wth its treasures?

    But then as Jesus said when someone scolded the use of expensive oils…the poor will always be with us.