Legends of Libertarianism

Legends of Libertarianism April 22, 2014

One of the perpetual dogmas I run across in Libertarian Catholic circles was nicely boiled down by a reader the other day: “When the government gets into the business of wealth redistribution, the government gets into the business of injustice.”  The words “wealth redistribution” always evoke this kind of dogmatic, assured, and completely unexamined response–just as if it were self-evident that the state function of taxation for the common good (that is, “wealth redistribution”) has not been one of the core functions of the state since the dawn of time and just as if, should taxation could simply be done away with, unfallen man would emerge from his cocoon of state oppression and rugged individuals would automatically see to the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable. Strangely, it is the person asserting this who imagines that Catholic teaching, not his fantasy, is “utopian”.

Meanwhile, in the world of reality, here is what the Church has to say:

b. The right to fair remuneration and income distribution

302. Remuneration is the most important means for achieving justice in work relationships.[659] The “just wage is the legitimate fruit of work”.[660]

They commit grave injustice who refuse to pay a just wage or who do not give it in due time and in proportion to the work done (cf. Lv 19:13; Dt 24:14-15; Jas 5:4). A salary is the instrument that permits the labourer to gain access to the goods of the earth. “Remuneration for labour is to be such that man may be furnished the means to cultivate worthily his own material, social, cultural, and spiritual life and that of his dependents, in view of the function and productiveness of each one, the conditions of the factory or workshop, and the common good”.[661] The simple agreement between employee and employer with regard to the amount of pay to be received is not sufficient for the agreed-upon salary to qualify as a “just wage”, because a just wage “must not be below the level of subsistence”[662] of the worker: natural justice precedes and is above the freedom of the contract.

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

Pope Benedict, just like his Catholic Utopian Socialist successor,  taught that although “mere redistribution of existing wealth” is insufficient to the alleviation of poverty, “seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth” is nevertheless essential to the task of peacemaking.

The trick that Catholics influenced by libertarian ideology (aka heresy) need to master is this: instead of ransacking Catholic teaching for the subsidiarity bits that happen to comport with libertarian heresy, instead embrace the fullness of Catholic teaching, including the Church’s teaching on solidarity, the common good, and the legitimate role of the state.

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  • Pete the Greek

    While not a Libertarian myself, I can understand the general principle of the statement “When the government gets into the business of wealth redistribution, the government gets into the business of injustice.”

    When the government, at least within living memory in this country, simply takes chunks of wealth from one group and gives it to another, it’s usually extorting it from the middle and lower middle class and giving it…. to cronies. The bank bailouts, all sorts of sweetheart deals to corporate donors at taxpayer expense, etc.

    In principle, the government should use its power to assist those in dire need and the unfortunate, within Constitutional limits. While this is sometimes done, politicians realize that funds are better used in buying favors for themselves.

    • Matthew

      I think you’re on the right track of thinking here. It’s almost like a bourgeoisie socialism, with the upper echelon reaping all the rewards.

      I agree that the government has a place in society, and I do think part of its responsibility is ensuring that everyone has access to a just and living wage. It’s absurd that there are men, women, and children in our country who are homeless or going hungry, while certain others have more money than they could possibly spend in a lifetime. If the Libertarians got their way, we’d just dive deeper into this oligarchy.

      The system may be faulty (perhaps now more than ever), but doesn’t mean it’s obsolete. When my refrigerator breaks, I just fix it. I don’t move into another house.

      • Pete the Greek

        There is also a bias in the other direction. So many seem to look at anything the government wants to do and, as long as the program in question claims that it intends to address ‘injustice’ or ‘help the poor’, just say Yes! That’s wonderful! To ask if that’s what the program ACTUALLY does, or try to analyze it using cost/benefit is seen as akin to hating poor people.

        The Affordable Care Act is the poster child for this. Wanting to actually analyze its claims to see if they are true or even realistic is seen by many that I talk to as me just being mean spirited and not wanting poor people to have insurance.

        The bad logic and stupidity goes both ways.

        • chezami

          Rather than measure everything by how the Other Tribe gets things wrong, what if we measured according to the Church’s teaching?

          • BHG

            ACA fails on both counts, Mark

          • Pete the Greek

            Rereading my post and yours, I don’t get what you’re responding to.

            I know what you are NOT saying, I think: that we should judge actions based on if they claim to follow Church teaching without seeing if they actually DO follow Church teaching. What am I missing in your point?

        • Marthe Lépine

          Your Affordable Care Act was just trying to deal with insurance matters instead of really providing medical care for everyone. Our system is not perfect – nothing ever will be on this earth – but it does provide enough medical services that less affluent people like myself at least do not have to worry about going bankrupt if they get sick. But your individualistic society unfortunately tenaciously refuses to admit that a single-payer system is one of the best ways to go, as proven by a number of other developed countries that you despise as being “socialists”. Oh… and the need is not for poor people to have insurance, it is to have poor people having medical services, and this is where your government has gone wrong…

          • Dan F.

            Marthe, I think if I remember correctly that you are Canadian? My understanding is that your single payer as well as much of Europe is essentially subsidiaze by our system in terms of medical innovation. I happen to think our system wasn’t doing a great job of actually taking care of people but I also think the ACA is going to make things worse for more people then are helped and will likely end up costing the government more than can be safely afforded.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Actually I do agree that your ACA is going to make things worse for more people…

            • Heather

              That’s an interesting notion. The intellectual centre of medical research is certainly the USA, and while Canada for example when you account for the difference in population size doesn’t do that badly in terms of research and innovation, it certainly benefits from the intellectual juggernaut south of the border.

              But all of that innovation is one thing. Delivery of basic medical service is another. For instance, something as common as childbirth. Even paying out of pocket in Canada as opposed to being covered by provincial health care, it’s about a third the cost of the average uninsured hospital delivery in the US. And the infant mortality rate is actually lower in Canada.

              • Dan F.

                Like I said, our system hasn’t done a great job of taking care of people.

  • Ken Crawford

    Mark, I agree with you that there is nothing inherently wrong with wealth re-distribution through taxation, but I think it’s a false statement to equate all taxation with re-distribution.

    Are bridge tolls wealth re-distribution? Are national park fees? Or gas taxes that pay for our new roads? Or what about building permit fees or related property taxes specifically targeting building the necessary infrastructure for that construction (such as fire stations, roads, sewer, etc.)?

    I have a hard time calling any of those wealth re-distribution, at least in the sense that the people using them to rail against the state mean the term.

    • chezami

      That’s why I didn’t make that statement. All taxation is, in the end, wealth redistribution. My point is that not all of it is *unjust* wealth redistribution.

      • Ken Crawford

        I feel like we’re talking past each other… “All taxation is, in the end, wealth redistribution.”… this is what I disagree with.

        Any tax that is designed to be fee for services rendered (like all of the examples I listed), is not wealth redistribution. To argue that, would be to argue that every financial exchange in the economy is wealth redistribution.

        I think one might be able to argue that all INCOME and SALES taxes are wealth redistribution, but not taxes in general.

        (and to be clear, I agree with you that there is such a thing as just wealth redistribution and the government can rightly participate in it through taxation.)

        • I suppose any monetary or even barter exchange of goods can be considered “wealth redistribution,” in that wealth is distributed differently after the transaction than it was before. But I agree, this is making the term so broad it becomes useless.

          But I don’t think this is what Mark is saying. If I understand Mark correctly, the wealth redistribution he means is distribution of private goods (my money) to the common good (whether public works, common defense, support for legislators and other government officials, etc.). So yes, even “fee-for-service” taxes would be considered wealth redistribution in that sense.

          This is, of course, a semantic difference. It sounds like both of you agree that there are both just and unjust ways the government can claim my resources and use them for the common good – whatever that process be called.

          • Ken Crawford

            I think in many ways this is a theoretical conversation that has been straining at gnats, but for some reason I think it’s an important differentiation.

            For me, public works that we all use and we all pay for based on a reasonable assessment of our use, can not be considered re-distribution. If I use 1/1000th of the city’s sewer system and when I built my house I paid fees/taxes who’s job was to make sure that when the expanded the sewer system, my usage would be covered, how is that distributing wealth to others (or others wealth to me)? I’m paying for my usage and everyone else is paying for their usage and no re-distribution is happening. That we’re pooling our resources into one system instead of into 1000 systems does not make it redistribution any more than insurance is.

            Now, if those sorts of public works are paid for not based on a per-usage basis, but instead on the basis of income or ability to pay, or sales taxes, or what have you, then I think it is fair to call that a form of wealth redistribution because those who paid less may be using it just as much if not more than someone who paid a lot more and they are in fact subsidizing the use of others. (which again, is fine by me, but fairly can be considered redistribution.)

            And this is my point, that not all taxes are a form of redistribution. Some are, some aren’t.

    • Marthe Lépine

      One little point: Wealth redistribution can also be done through: – Legislation that provides for a fair wage, – The avoidance of legislation that destroys the ability of unions to negotiate fair wage contracts; – Higher taxation of corporations that expect their employees to complement their scandalously insufficient revenues by claiming social security and food stamp (for example companies such as Walmart should at least face taxes that cover the part of their employees’ incomes that comes from the taxpayer!); and various other measures that bring with them the risk of reducing political support to politicians…

  • Josephine Kelly

    When the government gets into the business of taxing for charity to the poor they also have a tendency to take an 85% cut and still leave the intended recipients starving, without medical care, and without shelter. Does that explain it better.

    • Marthe Lépine

      It is not “taxing for charity to the poor”, but rather taxing to give justice to the poor.

  • kirthigdon

    It’s already been commented that government wealth redistribution is generally from the less wealthy to the ultra-rich; e.g. the bankster bailouts. But a far more institutionalized example of this reverse Robin Hoodism is social security, which is extracted from the (on average) relatively poor young and given to the (on average) relatively affluent elderly (aka “greedy geezers”). It’s basically a multi-generational ponzi scheme and depends on each generation having plenty of kids, which we all know is no longer happening. The onset of Obamacare is the same kind of redistibution. This has been of indirect benefit to me (a geezer) by dropping my monthly health insurance premium by $80 as the risk pool has been widened by forcing the uninsured young into it. So I get a bonus which is nice, but which I really don’t need while the young are forced to use scarce resources to buy insurance they really don’t need. The malicious side of me says “serves them right, they voted for him”, but both Catholic social doctrine and libertarian ethics prompt me to point out the social injustice.

    Kirt Higdon

    • Marthe Lépine

      How lucky you are to be a “relatively affluent elderly”! I have worked very hard for nearly 40 years, actually, as a self-employed (not by choice) person, I have been working twice as hard for half the pay in comparison with people I went to college with, and once my rent is paid I am left with $300 a month for 30 days of expenses, including electricity, phone (luckily Internet-based at $40 a year), food and clothing. Please stop talking about social security taking away from relatively poor young. There are people who earn millions a year and object to taxation as strongly as many Libertarians; the difference is that they can afford the high-priced tax advisors to help them hide their income in tax havens. And please read again, slowly, the quotes Mark gives in the above post, and pray that the Holy Spirit removes the scales of prejudice from your eyes as you read what the church you claim to love is actually teaching.

      • kirthigdon

        I’m prejudiced? Because I object to taxing those with less wealth to benefit those with more? I’m not claiming that all the young are relatively poor and all the old relatively affluent. (And in my case, relative means about 10% above the median.) But we are talking about averages. That the elderly are on average wealthier than the young is practically intuitive. The elderly have had all their lives to accumulate wealth; the young are just starting out.

        Kirt Higdon

        • Marthe Lépine

          Actually, maybe I am guilty of reading between the lines, but what I got from your comment that you seem to think only the relatively young and poor are being taxed… While a proportionate income tax on everybody would do a lot to correct inequalities.

    • I’m not so sure there are large numbers of relatively affluent elderly. My mother, for example, is carefully living on half of my father’s social security check (he had the nerve to die before she turned 65, so she only gets half) and the dwindling proceeds from the sale of their house. And yet she is still better off than many other elderly, particularly elderly women.

      • kirthigdon

        Beadgirl, see my response to Marthe above. By relative, I mean the numbers who are above the median as compared to the young. Sure some people start out relatively affluent and die in poverty. But that is not the normal trajectory.
        Kirt Higdon

    • I’ve been wondering about this. I’m now paying $110 more per month than I was paying before for health insurance. But I was paying nothing before. I was just chancing it that I wouldn’t come down with anything major and dealing with my occasional doctor bills and emergency room visits by paying cash and/or paying them off over time.

      But was I – as a relatively young, healthy (albeit poor) individual – being irresponsible? After all, if I did get cancer, the society would be on the hook for my treatment, given that I have absolutely no property to take.

      Now, even though it sucks to be paying $110 per month (and that’s the crappiest plan after the tax rebate thingy) when before this I used, on average, only a couple hundred dollars of medical care per year, am I now a more responsible citizen, paying into the risk pool that I can justly look to to help provide my care in case of a catastrophe?

      • kirthigdon

        Jon, you state that you are young and healthy but poor. So if the marginal cost of the insurance is coming out of necessities of life, like food, then it is not a responsible choice for you, although you may be legally required to make it. Indeed, cutting back on necessities may be bad for your health. If you are too poor to pay for health care in the event of catastrophe, you should justly be able to get it at the taxpayers’ expense. You should not be forced to subsidize people like me who can pay for our own.
        Kirt Higdon

        • That’s the thing. It’s not coming out of the absolute necessities of life: food, clothing, housing, etc. But it absolutely does put a crimp in my ability to save for, say, a house or a bit of property, assuming I want to get married someday.

          It’s coming out of the margins of what would be nice to have for my full flourishing, not what is absolutely necessary for my survival. I can survive as I am pretty easily.

          • kirthigdon

            OK, so Obamacare allows you to survive, but prevents you from flourishing, which you define as being able to own your own home and get married some day. A lot of young people are in the same boat as you, surviving but prevented from flourishing. Obviously the government programs that are contributing to this are oppressing the poor rather than helping them.
            Kirt Higdon

  • Cypressclimber

    The Church’s teaching doesn’t preclude the small-government critique of wealth distribution. As is often the case, the Church lays out principles and outer boundaries. So in principle, the government may well be justified in redistributing wealth. That statement doesn’t preclude or contradict the libertarian insight, that when government goes down that road, it’s usually a road of corruption and tears.

    Of course, I’m sure it’s much more fun for you to make those you disagree with look ridiculous (i.e., the suggestion that anyone who would dare to disagree with Cantalamessa is equivalent to incoherent ranting about communism).

  • Randall M. England

    It is true, says the Catechism, that “Agreement between the parties is not sufficient to justify morally the amount to be received in wages.” CCC 2434.

    The Church does not, however, identify exactly who is in the best position to determine and enforce that “just wage.” Neither does the Church’s social teaching require an employer to pay a wage that is more than the worker can produce, (probably because this would be an impossibility). Libertarian insistence that such moral decisions are best made by those closest to the situation. It seems unlikely that the government would be in that position, and–as often as not–the one-size-fits-all gov’t solution will make things worse for the disadvantaged person.

    The libertarian says “Don’t tread on your neighbor,” and wonders why any Christian would look first to violent government solutions over voluntary methods that leave room for virtue and the exercise of free will. And let’s not be throwing around the word “heresy” with the relish (and uncharity) of an anti-pope on a drunk. Is it heresy to *prefer* a non-violent solution to a problem?

    • Marthe Lépine

      About: “Neither does the Church’s social teaching require an employer to pay a wage that is more than the worker can produce”. This is interesting… Maybe the problem is about what value is given to what the worker can produce… How is the value of the work of a Walmart worker lower than the value of the work of a Cosco worker, for example? Who says that the work of the factory sweeper is of a lower value when the result of the sweeper’s job could very well be to prevent costly workplace injuries, or even explosions and fires caused by too much sawdust in the workplace, as has happened several month ago at a sawmill in British Columbia? Seems to me that the value of a worker’s work is too often based on the lowest pay that the employer can get away with…

      • Auntie_Social

        Perhaps that can be determined by the employer and the employee. A job is worth what whatever is freely negotiated between the two parties. If you don’t like the wage offered, find a different job. If you can’t find anybody to work for the wage you are offering, you’ll need to raise your offer.

        • See Ivan the Mad’s comment above. Pope Leo the Awesome already addressed this idea.

        • Unfortunately, the bargaining power is often unequal. People may accept wages that they don’t like, indeed can’t fully live on, because there is simply no other job available. Unethical and immoral employers know this, and will offer lower wages knowing that someone, somewhere, is desperate enough to accept.

          • Auntie_Social

            So? Are you saying life is unfair? Is it supposed to BE fair? Will government MAKE it fair? I don’t think so. In my experience, the more control government has over businesses and wages, the more unfair it becomes. I’ve grown much less financially secure under the current regime, with all its meddling and control.

            • I think we are all to try to make life more fair for each other, as we can. And that means the government, too, which does have a role — in the laws that are enacted, the way they are enforced, and agencies that step in to do what a community cannot or will not do. The fact that the government sometimes screws up is not a reason to abandon its role entirely.

              I have first-hand knowledge that a big part of the financial crisis a few years ago was caused by the administration telling agencies as a whole to *not* meddle or seek to enforce banking and securities regulations, to leave the big banks alone because it would be best for the economy that way. The notion that the government will always do harm or make things worse is no more accurate than the notion that the government can always fix everything.

      • mezimm

        Do you believe value is intrinsic or subjective?

    • Mark S. (not for Shea)

      ((The Church does not, however, identify exactly who is in the best position to determine and enforce that “just wage.” ))
      That’s because there is no hard and fast rule. What might be a just wage in Uganda certainly would be an unjust wage in Utah.
      But it really isn’t hard to figure out. If you’re driving a brand new car, own a nice home, and take at least one vacation a year, but several of your employees are on public assistance and have no health insurance, then chances are you aren’t paying them a just wage.
      Just obey the big laws, and we won’t have to suffer the small laws.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “The Church does not, however, identify exactly who is in the best position to determine and enforce that ‘just wage.'”

      Actually, it does. It’s the usual application of subsidiarity, i.e. start at levels more immediately involved and elevate if that level is unable or unwilling to deal with the issue fittingly, to include the State. For the Church, the question is not whether the State ought to have a role, but to determine prudentially when its interference is needed, i.e. when entities closer to the problem are unable or unwilling to deal rightly with a problem. The difficulty with squaring the social doctrine with libertarianism is that the latter would deny entirely in many matters the right of the State to intervene.

      45. Let the working man and the employer make free agreements, and in particular let them agree freely as to the wages; nevertheless, there underlies a dictate of natural justice more imperious and ancient than any bargain between man and man, namely, that wages ought not to be insufficient to support a frugal and well-behaved wage-earner. If through necessity or fear of a worse evil the workman accept harder conditions because an employer or contractor will afford him no better, he is made the victim of force and injustice. In these and similar questions, however – such as, for example, the hours of labor in different trades, the sanitary precautions to be observed in factories and workshops, etc. – in order to supersede undue interference on the part of the State, especially as circumstances, times, and localities differ so widely, it is advisable that recourse be had to societies or boards such as We shall mention presently, or to some other mode of safeguarding the interests of the wage-earners; the State being appealed to, should circumstances require, for its sanction and protection. —Rerum Novarum

      • Marthe Lépine

        And what would those “societies or boards… (to safeguard) the interests of the wage-earners” be? Unions, of course. But it seems a matter of policy in many circles to do everything to get rid of unions. In French we say “l’union fait la force”, meaning in the present context the power to discuss fair wages that a single individual who might be desperate to get a job would be unable to have in front of a potential employer. In Quebec at the beginning of the 20th century, it was bishops, under the influence of Rerum Novarum, who encouraged union organization.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Marthe, I certainly think unions are a valid (if imperfect) realization of these societies. I am very interested in studying the Mondragon Corporation’s success because I think it surpasses unions by integrating the entire company into the society, more perfectly realizing the classless trade associations of Leo.

          • Marthe Lépine

            I agree with you, the coop system is a very good alternative. While you are researching the Mondragon Corporation, I would also suggest you look up the Antigonish Movement, that took place here in Canada, and I think some Jesuits had a lot to do with that. In a coop system, what happens is that the people who work in the coop are also owners of the coop, as well as the clients of coops can also be owners. In that context, the absolute power of shareholders takes another dimension.

        • John Doman

          The animus against Unions on the American right is a reaction against the bad behavior of American Unions.

    • It seems unlikely that the government would be in [the position to make moral judgments about just wage], and–as often as not–the one-size-fits-all gov’t solution will make things worse for the disadvantaged person.

      I have no problem if you want to make this argument. But let this argument be the one you are making. Do not change the argument into “it is difficult to see how a massive national bureaucracy could be the best entity for ensuring economic justice to the individual, therefore there is no role for any government per se in ensuring economic justice to the individual.” The establishment of the first proposition does nothing to establish the second.

      Neither does the Church’s social teaching require an employer to pay a wage that is more than the worker can produce, (probably because this would be an impossibility).

      That’s a math error. It would be an impossibility to pay every worker a wage that is more than the average worker can produce. But there are plenty of people who can (and ought) be paid more than they can produce: children, old people, etc.

      • Marthe Lépine

        Ad even in corporations, there are plenty of people who get a wage that is more than they can produce. For example, maybe it is my own perception problem, but I have never been able to understand how one single day of one particular person’s work (a CEO in particular) can possibly be worth more than the average yearly wages of most workers in the country.

        • D

          The CEOs Job is to create value for share holders. A good CEO can add value (or destroy) to a company and THAT is why he gets paid more than the janitor or head of R&D (as important as BOTH those jobs are). In the case of the janitor, anyone can walk into the door and w/ minimal training do a hood job.

          D H

          • Marthe Lépine

            However, the purpose of an employer should be to provide workers with the opportunity to support themselves and their families through their work being paid a fair wage. I do not think that the Gospel says a lot about the right of shareholders…

          • Absolutely the CEO is doing an important, difficult, and skilled job, and ought to be compensated at a higher rate. The question is what justifies the current extreme discrepancy between salary of the CEO and the average worker, and the point of the church’s social teaching is that mere agreement between the parties concerned is not enough to establish the morality of the contracts.

      • Mark

        Children are exactly the people who should be paid low wages.

        • Not wages in the limited sense. Wages in the sense of distributions from the general fund of stuff. Children and old people absolutely get more out than they put in, and that’s to the good.

      • D H

        Doesn’t that where the doctrine of Distributism come into play (and isn’t that a benefit of keeping families together)??? That even if one is not CAPABLE of meeting what the market demands in terms of labor, that he/ she will still be taken care of? (I wrote a long response which adresses some of the iniquities that can be addressed and the LIMITS of what the distribution of other’s material wealth should achieve)


      • Randall M. England

        I wrote: “Neither does the Church’s social teaching require an employer to pay a wage that is more than the worker can produce, (probably because this would be an impossibility).”

        Jon: “That’s a math error. It would be an impossibility to pay every worker a wage that is more than the average worker can produce. But there are plenty of people who can (and ought) be paid more than they can produce: children, old people, etc.”

        I do not understand your point. I was not referring to my personal relationship to my children or my elderly parents (or to any needy person as a matter of charity). Even with them, I only do what I am able to do.

        AS AN EMPLOYER, however, I cannot see any way to pay employees except as a function of their production. I am not an economist, but have been an employer, and I do not otherwise know where the money is going to come from, except from what they contribute to the business. Maybe you can show me what I am missing.

        • AS AN EMPLOYER, however, I cannot see any way to pay employees except as a function of their production.

          All I’m saying is that while this is true in the aggregate, there are particular limited situations in which some people will be paid more in wealth than they have created and some will be paid less, and this is not impossible as long as Average Wage * Number of Workers ≤ Total Production.

          Of course, to ignore the relationship between production and compensation is to risk removing the natural connection between work and reward and the incentive to work in the first place, so the general law should not be lightly fooled with. Nevertheless, there are particular, limited situations (for instance: infancy, injury, old age, illness, victimization, etc) in which we pay people more than they’ve produced just because they need it to live dignified lives, and living dignified lives is what we are here to enable our neighbors to do. That duty in justice comes before our right to accumulate capital for ourselves.

  • Nathan Thelen

    Really shallow analysis.

    First, it’s not possible to be a “heretic” in disagreements in economics. Heresy only applies to dogmas of faith. Whether forced wealth redistribution is beneficial or not is not a dogma of faith.

    Second, forced wealth redistribution is a form of violence, not charity. Taking someone’s money away upon the threat of violence is what government enforced wealth redistribution is all about. Never in Catholic social teaching is it stated such enforcement is morally acceptable.

    Third, the statements above could easily apply to the massive amounts of cronyism, corruption, and nepotism that infest every overreaching government that says it works in the ‘public good’. Take of look at the income of Washington D.C. where all these civic minded people work and then give me a lecture on inequality.

    Fourth, if you think private charity is not capable of doing the services, it shows a weak understanding of U.S. history. In the 1800s,, when the US was much, much poorer, private charities flourished. All the government welfare state has done is create a generation of dependents. Johnson waged a war on poverty, and poverty came out the winner.

    Do yourself a favor and read “The Church and the Market” by Thomas Woods. It will make you realize that Church teaching goes way beyond a few recent encyclicals.

    • ivan_the_mad

      “Never in Catholic social teaching is it stated such enforcement is morally acceptable.”

      “It is unjust not to pay the social security contributions required by legitimate authority.” Catechism of the Catholic Church, §2436

      • Nathan Thelen

        Fair enough.

        However, *legitimate authority* is the sticking point. Most libertarians would argue the Federal Government is not a legitimate authority for the redistribution of wealth because of the principle of Subsidiarity. It’s something better done at the local level.


        • chezami

          Given that libertarians recognize *only* subsidiarity and studiously ignore solidarity, it could be that when you only have a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Had libertarians been in charge, the interstate system would never have been built.

          • Mark

            You’re just repeating the typical mindless criticisms of libertarians that Catholics who don’t know the first thing about libertarianism parrot whenever the subject comes up. Nobody is ignoring solidarity. You can’t have subsidiarity without solidarity.

            And why should the interstate highway system have been built? It was a military project that involved the destruction of numerous small communities so Eisenhower could roll tanks around if he got the urge. Today, Wal-Mart and crew steal from the poor to pay for their highways to kill small communities by externalizing their transportation costs.

            Yes, you better believe the interstate highway system would never have been built, because convenient travel for the military and big business is not worth ripping civil society to pieces.

            • Nobody is ignoring solidarity.

              When people argue that the government has no authority per se to redistribute wealth, that is exactly what they’re doing, and tons of people are arguing this.

              (There’s a total difference between saying that this particular redistribution scheme is unjust and saying that redistribution schemes per se are unjust. Just about everyone arguing against Shea, here, is claiming the latter, not the former. If it was just the former, I wouldn’t even bother to comment on this thread, since I suspect they would be right..)

            • chezami

              One would think that 50 years after he left office, the paranoid right would be over the notion that Eisenhower’s nefarious plan to impose martial law by tank is a threat that seems not to have materialized.

        • wineinthewater

          But that’s not what subsidiarity means. Subsidiarity holds that things should be done as locally *as possible*, not that all things should be done locally. Certain things cannot be done effectively or prudently at the local level, and when that is the case, subsidiarity actually holds that the issue *should not* be left to the local level. I think that is a point often missed. Subsidiarity is not about local governance, it is about the proper scale of governance, which necessarily entails governance that is handled as locally as possible.

    • chezami

      It’s possible to be a heretic by systematically ignoring massive areas of Catholic teaching in favor of a cramped ideology that loots the faith for the bits you like. Libertarianism ransacks the faith for a few bits about subsidiarity and then studies to almost completely ignore the Church on solidarity.

      • Nathan Thelen

        Subsidiarity is a core tenet Catholic Social teaching, not “a few bits”.

        The 20th century popes railed against socialism and the rights of property and the family in unambiguous terms because of their adherence to the principle of subsidiarity.

        Regardless of your side on the issues they aren’t Church dogma. You can be a Catholic in good standing while being in disagreement about specific theories on solidarity, subsidiarity, the role of the state, etc. These are general social issues in which there is a lot of room for contention in the best way to structure a society.

        However, a Catholic can not be in good standing while in opposition to individual moral issues like abortion, contraception, stem-cell research, etc. These are individual moral decisions, not social policies.

        If you preach against the Virgin Birth, Jesus’ divinity, etc, you most certainly are a heretic.

        Can you show me a Catholic libertarian who doesn’t believe they are called to love their neighbor? The disagreement lies in the best way to do so.

        Being against forcible redistribution of wealth is not a moral evil. Being personally greedy IS a moral evil.

        • Marthe Lépine

          I am sorry to have to tell you, but every economic action or decision does have a MORAL significance. Even if you find it inconvenient to accept it, morality does not just apply to what Mark often call the “pelvic issues”, e.g. abortion, contraception, stem-cell research and good or bad sexuality.

          • Mark

            “I am sorry to have to tell you, but every economic action or decision does have a MORAL significance. ”

            He never said they don’t.

            • Nathan Thelen

              Thank you.

        • chezami

          Subsidiarity *and* solidarity are the two legs of Catholic social teaching. Libertarians habitually amputate solidarity and, as heretics do, exaggerate the part of Catholic teaching they like to attack and deny the parts they don’t.

          • BHG

            And leftists regularly amputate subsidiarity.

        • wineinthewater

          The problem is that subsidiarity without solidarity becomes heresy. And it is easy to lose track of Catholic teaching about the obligations of the state in solidarity.

          Catholic teaching holds that we have the duty to individual charity. It also holds that the state has the duty to ensure the common good and has the right to “compel” citizens toward that end. And Catholics then have a duty to cooperate with this.

          I think the problem here is that people are talking past each other and only talking about straw men.

          Our government has the obligation to ensure the common good, and has the right to use wealth redistribution to do so. This is especially true in a society with an unjust distribution of wealth in the populace. However, that does not mean that what our particular government is doing with particular policies is just. A social safety net may represent a state fulfilling its duty to ensure the common good, or it can be rendered in such a way as to create a dependent welfare caste. Taxation can represent a just system of wealth redistribution, or it can be used for unjust social engineering or to deprive the worker of his just wages. Regulation can be used to protect the common good, or it can be used to legislate thought.

          I think this is the thing missing from most of these conversations. Most of the tools of the state are amoral, in themselves neither good nor bad. I think we make a mistake when we classify taxation by the state as “taking by the threat of force” because while it can take on that character, that character is not inherent. And just because taxation can take on that character does not mean that all taxation is bad. Social welfare programs can work to the detriment of the poor and the general society, but that does mean that all social welfare programs are bad.

          And I think this is where many people of a libertarian bent go wrong. Seeing a tool of the state unjustly used, they conclude that the tool is unjust. But it is a mistake to look at Catholic social teaching about subsidiarity to back that point up when Catholic teaching about solidarity holds that the tools are valid ways for the state to fulfill its obligations. Instead, we must look at particular uses of those tools and use Catholic teaching to discern, not whether the tools are just, but whether the state is using them justly.

      • Marthe Lépine

        Since I do not know how to register an “up” vote, I am giving here my full endorsement to what Mark is saying here about the Church teaching.

        • Newp Ort

          It’s those little chevron shaped things pointing up or down to the left of the Reply button.

        • orual’s kindred

          And since they’re quite small and may not always contrast well with the background, they can also be difficult to spot. Hovering the cursor to the left of the Reply button, as Newp Ort has said, usually brings up the list of previous up-voters, or (again a rather small) note that says ‘Vote Up’, if no one has up-voted yet. Once either are on screen, a click should register a vote.

  • Marcellino Giovanni D’Ambrosio

    Yes, Catholic social teaching comes down very strongly in favor of the image of the state as the great moderator, the loving parent who makes sure that all the siblings share. It speaks of proper civil authority to which we owe allegiance. As a well studied son of the Church, I would very much like to submit myself to her in this matter. However, I cannot figure out where state authority comes from. How does one know what is legitimate authority? The state’s authority comes from force. It carries the threat of violence everywhere it goes. I would not willingly give my money to the courts for rolling a stop sign if it did not. It’s not for the good of my fellow men that I do this, it is not out of a social contract that I agreed to. It is only through the threat of force. Nowhere in the catechism does the Church address this issue. If I point a gun at my neighbor and tell him that I am now the lawful authority in the neighborhood, and that he must give me 20 percent of his earnings to ensure the common good, does that make me the lawful authority? No, it makes me a thief. How is the state any different?

    • ivan_the_mad

      “However, I cannot figure out where state authority comes from … The state’s authority comes from force.”

      Nope. Catholic Encyclopedia: “The State is a natural institution, whose powers, therefore, come from the natural law and are determined by the character of the natural purpose of the State plus whatever limitation God has, because of qualifications in the last end of man, ordained in the Divine Positive Law.”

      • chezami

        Romans 13

        • ivan_the_mad

          Well, the primary source certainly is more concise than the derived. But come on, Mark, I’m Catholic, I can’t read the Bible 😉

      • Marcellino Giovanni D’Ambrosio

        Ivan. I am a philosopher too. I love philosophy. But philosophy devoid of historical, economic, and scientific fact is uninformed. Historically, the state is born when one man has a bigger army than the other. Economically, states as institutions of theft do nothing but hinder the market from raising the standard of living of the poor. The state is a natural institution? In what way? Only in as much as it is natural for me to hold my brother at gunpoint and demand the fruits of his labor. Only in as much as it is natural for me to invade my brother’s town to take his natural resources for my own.

      • Mark

        Nowhere in the Catechism will you find any statement that declares society must be governed by a territorial monopoly of violence funded through forcible payments. Neither will you find in the Catechism any statement that declares society cannot be governed by a polycentric legal order funded through voluntary contributions.

        You keep talking about “The State” as if the institution that murdered hundreds of millions of people in the twentieth century were somehow venerable or a gift from God. There is a difference between social bodies that promote the common good, which can take the form of polycentric law and private law societies, and the modern state as defined by Max Weber and universally accepted by sociologists, a unit that claims a territorial monopoly on the use of violence. There is no reasonable argument to explain why this is a legitimate authority with any divine rights.

        Quite frankly, the social doctrine of the Church as regards the state is trapped in antiquated notions of politics and a failure to recognize what the modern state birthed at the anathematized Peace of Westphalia really is.

        • chezami

          There’s that Libertarian utopianism I’m talking about. Actively engaged in pretending Romans 13 doesn’t exist.

          • Mark

            How in the world is it utopian to want to dismantle the thing that killed 100 million people for giggles in the span of a century?

            And you’re taking Romans 13 completely out of context. Would you say something that ridiculous to someone living under Hitler, Stalin, Mao, or Kim Jong-un? (“But that’s different!!!”)

            • Marthe Lépine

              WEll, as Mark said earlier, the Letter to the Romans was written as Nero was the ruler…

              • Mark

                Good to know. You think that Romans 13 means blind obedience to whatever thug calls himself the state. Come back when you do some more research besides reading the first seven verses out of context in the most fundamentalist fashion possible.

                And read the Scholastics. Government may have authority from God but it can only legitimately be empowered by the governed. This is the real teaching of the Church in history. Divine right magical thinking is Protestantism.

            • It’s one thing to argue that the current form in which we find governmental power and authority instantiated is imperfect and needs significant reform and quite another to argue that its imperfections imply a complete lack of authority to act in that role. Every form of government is significantly imperfect. Tribes related primarily by kinship and governed by councils and chiefs are imperfect. That doesn’t mean they have no authority.

              For better or worse, the modern bureaucratic state’s the only going concern at the moment. That may change, but its significant imperfections do not make its every decision inherently unjust. It’s still the government.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Did you really listen to the readings of the Passion during the past Holy Week? If so, you would have heard a reply by Jesus himself, telling Pilate that his authority has actually been given to him (Pilate) by God… Sure, such authority can be abused, but this is a different story.

      • Marcellino Giovanni D’Ambrosio

        Marthe. This does not answer the question. If I pick up arms and say to you, I am now the ruler of your community, you must obey me, what do you do? Simply acknowledge me as your new rightful authority? Forgive me if that is not my natural impulse.
        I am a student of history as well. The Romans conquered by invasion the nation of Israel, as for the enrichment of the Roman people. Nowhere were the Romans seen as liberators dedicated to the common good of all people. Did God give them authority or did they take it by force? Did God give Stalin authority over Russia or did he take it by force? Unless you are prepared to take Christ’s words to Pilate and unilaterally apply them to every tyrant that ever lived, you must accept that there must be more nuance in his statement than you previously gave credit for. Force is the only way one man loots his brother. That goes AGAINST the natural law, my friends.

  • Alex

    How many straw men can you fit into one paragraph?

  • SolaVirtus

    This would be hilarious if it weren’t so ridiculous.
    Can I gather my friends, call myself a government, steal your stuff and give it to others? Is that moral? Why is government morally magic? How do they transcend the usual deontological rules?

    • Seriously? Are you a serious person? Do you not know what Aquinas hath said, that government is merely the whole community acting together for the common good?

      • SolaVirtus

        Seriously? Are you a serious person? Do you not understand that the difference between the words “government” and “the whole community acting together for the common good” doesn’t clarify the answer of how a group gets a moral right individuals don’t possess alone?

        • chezami

          If I am bad, the state has the authority to lock me in a cell. You don’t. Libertarians live in a fantasy world.

          • Nathan Thelen

            You didn’t answer his question. There’s no doubt the state CAN lock you up. His question is what gives the state the moral authority to do so?

            • chezami

              Who said the state’s authority is founded in personal sanctity? The state’s authority comes from God according to Romans 13. The Caesar whom Paul called “God’s servant” was Nero. His authority did not come from his personal sanctity, but from the fact that ordains the state (flaws and all) for the common good. If you can’t see the common sense of this, your libertarian heresy is blinding you to elementary common sense.

              • Cypressclimber

                So the people in Venezuela who are rising up against the kleptocratic government are rebelling against God?

                Do you celebrate July 4? Why?

                Or perhaps you recognize that government can lose it’s moral authority — which is the serious point Nathan and Sola are making, but which you’d rather ignore.

                • Marthe Lépine

                  What part of the people of Venezuela are rising up against the government? From other sources I was led to understand that most of those people were the richer descendants of Spanish invaders who are fighting to keep their privileges… On the other hand, the general population of poor descendants of the original peoples of Venezuela, e.g. the Indians, have been greatly helped.

                  • John Doman

                    By lack of toilet paper?

                • There is no question it is sometimes a difficult problem to figure out who does, in fact, represent the whole of the community and therefore hold a mandate under natural law to make decisions for the common good, but it seemed to me that that was not the import of SolaVirtus’s original comment. By asking rhetorically why government transcended the usual deontological rules, he was implying that people who act as a government are acting for the same ends and with the same authority as any private person. But that’s just not the case. The government speaks for the whole community and represents the common good. It is not therefore subject to the same rules as a private actor, since the universal destination of goods means that the community as a whole has the right to my property in a way in which this or that particular neighbor of mine does not, and therefore can justly decide that I need help distributing it according to said universal destination.

                  I don’t deny that a government can lose its moral authority, but that wasn’t in fact the point Sola was making. He was calling into question the existence of that authority per se, and that’s what I dispute.

                  • Cypressclimber

                    OK, fair enough. And I agree with you that government is a legitimate entity.

                    My point was that, even if Sola didn’t intend to raise the question, his comment does bring the question forward.

              • Nathan Thelen

                “His authority did not come from his personal sanctity, but from the fact that ordains the state (flaws and all) for the common good.”

                You’re begging the question.

                What if the state stops working for the common good? Can it be overthrown?

                Did our founding fathers act against God’s will? Did the dissenters of Soviet Russia act against God’s will?

                • chezami

                  Yes, an unjust state can be overthrown. The problem is that the bedwetters and fantasist in the culture of libertarianism are hysterical and we are nowhere near the need of that in the US. A revolution in the US at the present hour would not meet a single criterion of just war teaching, much all of them.

                  • Nathan Thelen

                    “Yes, an unjust state can be overthrown.”

                    Thank you, that’s just common sense.

                    “A revolution in the US at the present hour would not meet a single criterion of just war teaching, much all of them.”

                    Another strawman. The subset of libertarians who want bloody revolution is so small as to be nonexistent, so just war is not even applicable.

                    As to your insults of bedwetters, fantasist, heretics, etc. , I’d recommend you read ivan_the_mad’s tact is his comments. Though I disagree with him, he doesn’t have to resort to such insults to make his points.

            • Dan C

              Leo speaks to this as well as Aquinas.

            • There’s no doubt the state CAN lock you up. His question is what gives the state the moral authority to do so?

              The question of who gets to speak for the entire community is a vexed one. Nevertheless, there are a few general principles:

              1. The most powerful person is often – often, not always – the one with the right to speak for the entire community, since he is the one who has the ability to compel the kind of universal obedience that the common good requires.

              2. The most charismatic person is often – not always – the one with the right to speak for the entire community, since he is the one who can evoke said universal obedience.

              3. Usually, the person (or group) generally perceived by the community as truly representing the common good will then have the right and responsibility to act for that common good. (Notice I said “generally” and “community”. Merely pulling a few of your friends aside and making private decisions of legitimacy doesn’t fulfill this requirement, since you and your friends live with quite a few other people in your community whom you did not involve in your judgment.) All that includes locking you up if you do evil and redistributing your wealth if you unjustly hoard it.

              But let me reiterate: just because it’s sometimes hard to figure out who has this authority, that doesn’t mean that authority doesn’t exist nor that it can never be justly exercised.

          • Cypressclimber

            However inartfully the gentleman made his point, he has a legitimate one: governments, and “states,” can lose their moral authority, as can particular laws. Aquinas, for example, made the point that an unjust law is no law at all.

            And as someone else pointed out: if you have enough guns, you can plausibly claim to be government. Shooting all the people who used to hold government power doesn’t impart moral authority, does it?

  • Mark R

    Whatever the system of government or economic system Christians do have a moral imperative to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, etc. Whether this constitutes, for me, some kind of social teaching is anothet question. Sometimes the Catholic social teaching — which has a lot to admire — almost seems like an attempt to establish something short of heaven on earth. Christians under persecution have no luxury of a social doctrine, such as the early Church or the Turkocracy or communism. Maybe we are better at adjusting ourselves to a persecuted status…which seems to be the course things are taking.

  • D H

    The Catholic Church teaches us that EVERY person has a sacred DUTY to alleviate wretchedness and to feed the hungry and care for the sick.
    It also states that mere DISCOMFORT/irritance by the fact that one’s neighbor has more material wealth than himself DOES NOT constitute wretchedness and hunger. Getting 2k cals/day (from FRESH FOOD; less if you don’t do much physical labor) a roof over your head (Decent housing not rat-infested leaky tenaments), security from physical harm, and enough time for a parent to raise their children does not constitute wretchedness nor hunger. Also, not having a flat screen TV or not having a cooler car or faster internet DOES NOT equal wretchedness and hunger (more on our broken welfare system and Distributist solutions later).
    Whether you buy into “Libertarianism” or “Distributionism” (a name which GK Chesterton himself found awkward and bordering on non-discriptive) if you are Catholic there is only Truth or Error and I think both the “Anarcho/Lasseiz-Faire Capitalism” and “Absolute-Equality Distributionists” are in error.
    As stated, our Welfare/Warfare State is broken. That’s not even counting the SUBSIDIES (to grow grain etc. fwiw, I tend to eat lower carb higher fat lots of greens and it’s EXTREMELY affordable/within reach to the “less rich”). You guys realize how much food you can buy with foodstamps? It’s quite a bit and not a rat-like subsistance, I mean you can pretty much eat steak everyday (esp in NY etc which is amazing considering the cost of living cooking good food is FAR cheaper than fastfood for the taxpayer and people’s health: only in America is there such a huge proportion of poor people that are clinically obese).) Is the system broken? Absolutely, especially the housing situation which has more to do with security accountability (tenants can’t choose WHICH housing project they can live in) than “equality.”
    Frankly I think single drug addicted adults should have separate homes of equal quality (though not of size) than those with families… but we should stop punishing individual offenders. While a lot of the drug/gang problems on the supply side (local gangs not the cartels in Lat.Am) has to do with 1) greed but also 2) terrible State-created environs (housing projects) physical security has always been and should always be top priority. I for one I do not get America’s obsession with wooden houses and buildings. “Easy for you to say you live in a decent house” yes now, but before that I lived in a concrete block house in the Philippines (a more “suburban” but not definitely not a “wealthy” area) it was quite nice. Why do we keep stuffing our poorer citizens into subpar housing that will eventually rot etc? Why not use more low maintenance materials/methods so that residents focus can be put towards general up keep/caring/educating for children as opposed to fretting about the rotting wooden roof leaking brown water into their child’s room. For example people in the “tiny house” movement aren’t “desperate” they find living in a more modest home liberating:

    BTW poor people in the USA SHOULD already have adequate housing that doesn’t rot all around them, especially in “inner cities” where the buildings are made of concrete. But what DOES make such places horrible to live in (even if the “creature comforts” were taken care of?) SECURITY.
    The “Ink Blot” method of securing one section/neighborhood at a time, concentrating security forces there and when the citizens TRUST the Police enough in that area to call in criminals because they know they will not be abandoned/abused etc, move on to other areas (but not completely leave the area though in a less concentrated form). I hesitate to use COINOPS (Malay Insurgency etc) as a template because of Statist implications but it has serious merit. Why do we not have more cost efficient Security Services with persistent presence in the neighborhoods? THAT whether the hippies like it or not, is one of the main solution to the ills of urban living since good quality food (with proper security) should not be hard to procure.

    So with these in mind let us then ask ourselves: if as Catholics are to believe that being poor is not shameful in the eyes of the Lord and that we should show preferential treatment toward them, why should we try to make everyone “equal” once:
    1) hunger 2) shelter 3) physical safety has been adequately adressed (HEALTH: is in large part a product of the 5 free emergency/trauma care and out of pocket payments for life threatening illnesses/disabilities for the able and vouchers etc for the less able is PERFECTLY doable if we just cut through the nonsense)??? Quite frankly we SHOULDN’T try to make unequal things/material possesions equal. The Church is very clear about this too. Preferential treatment means we should treat the poor with dignity (always) and give them the benefit of the doubt (within reason) however, the goal of alleviating wretchedness and hunger (NOT eliminating mere discomfort or jealousy b/c of inequality) is attainable and is almost in reach.
    I think Distributionism will be far more practical not to mention more moral when we keep this in mind.

    • Mark

      If this incoherent raving was broken up into multiple comments it might get taken seriously, but I lost track after you condemned things you don’t know to spell and that nobody believes in.

      • D H

        The author wrote a snarky hit piece so I responded with a lenghty rant (I actually wrote that in pieces but decided editing it was not worth the trouble because the author of this post was not worth responding to in a coherent manner.. Absolutely appropriate.

      • D

        And I oh so humbly apologize for misspelling “Distributism” on my phone (as I said this snarky hit piece deserves the same response: a snarky rambling barely-thought of comment). This was not even worth powering up a notebook computer for. I enjoyed letting off some steam in the comfort of my livingroom though. Speaking of… hey look I have more computing power in my hands now than a whole room of computers 15years ago. Darn those greedy people.

        I think I’ll go buy some wine that would take a person on min wage 8 hours of work to pay for. Yeah sounds good.

        • Mark

          I was more concerned with “anarcho/laisseiz-faire capitalism”, a concept that you probably don’t understand at all. Anyway, I’ve never heard of anyone pushing “absolute equality distributionism.”

  • IRVCath

    Personally, I’ve always admired some aspects of the German model. Until recently, Germany had no minimum wage, yet most of its people had high standards of living. Why? Because the government served the role of moderator, getting labor and capital to agree on a just wage in exchange for concessions. How different that model is from the Anglo-American model, which is used to pit labor against capital and vice versa. I think that partly explains the appeal of libertarianism in the United States – if the government is not perceived as a neutral economic arbiter, there is greater distaste for it.

  • J

    This has got to be one of the most dishonest smear/hit pieces I’ve ever read from a so called “Catholic.”

    • Marthe Lépine

      Do you mean that the Magisterium is dishonest?

  • dL

    the legitimate role of the State…executing messiahs?

  • Matt Talbot

    There is more than a whiff if oversimplification (sometimes to the point of caricature) when I read some of these comments regarding governments and the use of force.

    I obey laws, pay my taxes, put money in parking meters, stop at stop signs, and so on, not because The Government, That Big Scary Other, will kill me if I don’t, but because it is my obligation to do so as a citizen.

    In a constitutional democratic republic, our government is, in theory at least, our employee. Its authority is not due to the immense piles of rockets and napalm we citizens have purchased for it, but because we the people have granted it that authority.

    • falstaff77

      “I obey laws, pay my taxes, put money in parking meters, stop at stop signs, and so on, …. but because it is my obligation to do so as a citizen.”

      If this was accurate to a rough order of magnitude description of what government required via law, I’d join you in citing obligation to comply with the law, even with those with which we might disagree. But for those engaged in business or, say, the political process, the reality is closer to this: that it is impossible for many to comply with the complexity of the law in its totality, that competitive advantage is *very* often obtained by government connection, by espousing a particular political view, and by specialized set asides in the law.

      That charge of “oversimplification” needs to pointed elsewhere.

  • Tim Kehoe

    I think it is a legitimate question to ask whether the state is an excuse to avoid the needy and most marginalized. “Not my problem… the government can deal with it.” A few years ago I was looking at the charitable contributions of public candidates for the presidency, on one side was a candidate who donated like $20M to non-profits and on the other someone managed to shake $1800 out of his pocket alongside a fist full of lint. Take a wild guess which was for lower taxes. Taxation is not charity, and those who hold a monopoly on force are hardly in a position to be encouraging it. I think it’s safe to say that if you have a cellphone that has more computing power than the Apollo rockets… then you are not impoverished. Real poverty is that homeless dude in Albuquerque who was a known head case who got such a heavy dosage of government that he’s dead – and all because he was camping in the foothills outside the city. But who cares, government will deliver economic justice, so it’s not our problem.

  • Where is the detailed process on how a state legitimately comes to power?

    • There is none. It just happens. Sometimes violently. Sometimes peacefully. But at some point, everyone looks around and realizes that someone’s in charge. And as long as that person doesn’t egregiously sin against justice, there’s an end to’t: we pay taxes and obey his regulations for the common good.

      • Steve P

        I think there’s a phrase somewhere about “the consent of the governed”. I wonder if they teach that anymore?

        • Right. And there’s a certain amount of truth to that. You’ll find that where there’s no consent, then there’s no general acknowledgment that someone in particular is in charge and hence no legitimacy to any particular claim. But I’m not sure I would lay down “consent of the governed” as an absolute principle. (If for no other reason than that “consent of the governed” is as nebulous in the final analysis as “general acknowledgment of authority”. How do you know the consent? With a vote? Are votes good measures of “consent”?)

          • Steve P

            As you say elsewhere, Jon, it’s not perfect. But I simply don’t get this notion of saying that paying my taxes in a democratic republic (where we at least have some chance of holding our elected leaders to account) is morally equivalent to holding a gun to someone’s head and demanding his money.

            • Yeah, exactly. It’s not, unless you don’t believe in the common good.

      • Taxes paid for the Japanese internment, right? Perhaps giving money to an entity that claims the right to initiate violence is a bad idea if one wishes to promote the “common good” (which usually means “the good politicians like”).

        • The statement “many politicians are corrupt” does not in any way support the assertion “politicians do not have [this particular] God-given responsibility”.

          • Who said “many politicians are corrupt”? I didn’t. Nor did I say that would mean politicians didn’t have a god-given responsibility.

            I pointed out that taxes fund atrocities. I see no moral obligation to pay taxes. I do it because if I don’t, men in costumes will commit acts of violence against me. Of course, even if there were a moral obligation to pay taxes, it would not immediately follow that the obligation could be enforced by violence.

  • Nicholas Miller

    There a quite a few errors here to correct, so let’s start
    with the first one. “Wealth Redistribution” in the form of the State taking
    from one class (by force, i.e. at the point of the gun) and giving to another
    class is nothing more than theft. Where did the State get its “Political
    Authority” from? Not only is this morally abhorrent, it is counterproductive.
    This type of State transfer payment, whether in the form of a subsidy or direct
    give-away, creates a moral hazard that does more harm than good. For example,
    if a family falls under the lines poverty, but with state redistribution they
    are better off than they would be if they were barely over the level of
    poverty, what incentive do they have to get out of poverty. Also, this IS NOT charity. Paying taxes so the
    state can take care of the poor does no good for the soul. However, if I donate
    my own money and time voluntarily, then I am building my own treasure in

    The just wage is the Market wage. When the Church speaks out
    in these areas, it is speaking to the individual, not the state. So the
    Catholic businessmen must to adhere to “Natural Justice.” However these are “Economic”
    matters, not faith based decisions. Economics is a science with Laws, and when
    these laws are violated there can be grave consequences. To high of labor
    pricing brought on by the means of State law, WILL bring higher unemployment.

    The Church has authority in the realm of Faith and morality.
    When Holy Mother Church steps outside these areas, She is in the realm natural
    law where Catholics are allowed to disagree.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Wrong! Or ore exactly, any economic decision has a moral element. Morality is not limited to what Mark calls the “pelvic issues”, it has to do with all areas of the life of a Catholic.To pick and choose what areas you think the Church has authority is to enter the cafeteria.

      • Nathan Thelen

        Read more carefully. He never says a personal economic decision doesn’t have a moral element. He says the science of economics can’t be based on individual moral outlook. It’s the same as there are moral medical decisions, but the science of medicine is not based on someone’s moral outlook.

        • Adolfo

          Economics isn’t a science–at least not in the same way physics or chemistry are sciences.

          • Nathan Thelen

            I agree. A better phrasing would be “the cause and effect relationships of economics”.

        • Andy

          ANd perhaps that is a problem – the science of medicine does not have a moral outlook or compass, thus we are stuck with many medical “inventions” that crete havoc morally, but must be made available due to the economics of their creation.

    • Matt Talbot

      The just wage is the Market wage.

      It is?

      What if the Market (Peace Be Upon It) decides that workers should live lives of deprivation because Our Exalted Corporate Overlords would rather use the money that would raise their wages to instead add helipads to their yachts? Nothing to be done? You’re all citizened out?

      A just wage is a wage that will provide a dignified life to the recipient. If the market won’t provide that out of the goodness of its heart, then it needs to be encouraged to do the right thing.

      Retraining the greed of capitalists is actually good for capitalism – not just in the moral dimension, but even as a pragmatic matter.

      A commonplace of political economics is that an increase in
      productivity (roughly speaking, the number of widgets produced by each
      worker) is good for the economy, because it makes it possible to
      increase workers’ pay without having to raise prices, which leads to
      more demand in the economy, which leads to more widgets being sold and thus more revenue for Consolidated Widgets Inc. In short, everyone wins.

      What has happened in the last 30 years, however, is that when workers
      make more widgets per hour, Consolidated Widgets pays almost all of
      those gains to its shareholders, and ordinary workers see almost none of

      So, if wages are not increasing, where can increased demand come

      In the last 30 years, the answer has been more women entering the workforce (more earners per household) and, when that topped out, growth was financed by consumers taking on more debt. Needless to say, neither of those ways of supplying demand are sustainable: households run out of potential workers to add to the earnings pool, and eventually the credit cards are maxed.

      Eventually, everything more or less grinds to a halt. When this happens, it gets ugly – see 1929 and 2008 for some sense of what that experience is like.

      My own preferred approach would be some revival of the New Deal’s
      Works Progress Administration. Given the parlous state of the nation’s
      infrastructure — bridges, dams, canals, water mains and so on — and the large number of idle workers, it seems obvious that hiring those idle
      workers to fix all those broken and decaying things would be great for
      everyone. Workers would get jobs, their paychecks would be spent and add demand to the economy, and the rest of us wouldn’t have to be so
      nervous while crossing some rusty old bridge that seems to be held
      together with nothing more than glue, string and hope.

      • Jonk

        Except wages did increase; it just so happened that the increase was all in the form of benefits rather than cash.

        • Matt Talbot

          Nope – even counting fringe benefits, total compensation became decoupled from gains in productivity in the early 1980s.

          • Jonk
            • Matt Talbot

              What am I looking for in your link?

              1. Please point me to a graph comparing gains in total compensation versus gains in productivity, and showing that they track closely.

              2. Even granting (for the sake of argument) that benefits should be included in income, my point still stands: absent rising (non-benefit) wages, consumption is going to be flat, other things being equal. You can’t spend dental insurance on groceries or consumer goods.

              • Jonk

                1. It can’t be done, because the statistics don’t allow it: Tax data and census data don’t match up, and the income information doesn’t include transfer payments, post-tax net, and benefits. The table is the sum total, showing if you take away all of that confounding information, you get wages increasing 36.7%

                2. But you can spend dental insurance on dental care, that, too, is consumption, and the health care sector has been growing.

                The point is that wages haven’t been rising because of evil fat cats, but because the money spent toward compensation has been going to places people can’t see. That’s not a problem with the market (which is people, you know), it’s a problem with the cost of things people can’t see. Two different problems have two different solutions.

                Further, I wouldn’t be so quick to say that even current wages are unfair pittances: people have access to quantities and qualities of food, communication, housing, clothing, and transportation at a level unheard of in human history. That adds up to a pretty fine quality of life.

  • Jonk

    You would render unto Pilate care for the poor and sick on behalf of Caesar, so we don’t have to care for them on behalf of God, and it’s libertarians who are heretics?

    • Marthe Lépine

      Exactly. However Pilate’s job is to see that the workers are treated with justice, not charity work. And for the worker to be treated with justice, s/he has to be paid a living wage. The common misunderstanding here is to think that the worker exists to serve the employer; in reality it is employers who exist to provide workers with the opportunity to earn their living by getting a living wage.

      • Nathan Thelen

        “The common misunderstanding here is to think that the worker exists to serve the employer; in reality it is employers who exist to provide workers with the opportunity to earn their living by getting a living wage.”

        It’s actually both. The employer pays the worker what is agreed upon for his or her work. The worker works for the employer and the employer provides. Both are working different goals and find it mutually beneficial into entering a contract in achieving their goals. It’s freedom of association at work.

        • Dan C

          Actually, there is more. Work and labor must be dignified and treated with intrinsic respect by the employer and not merely a contractual obligation in which the exchange of money ends the duties of the employer

          • Jonk

            Why must Caesar be the arbiter of those duties?

            • Dan C

              John 23 would say that it is determine as a natural state of man to organize his society with such authority.

              • Jonk

                Note I said “must.” The Church offers examples within some modern contexts. My question is why *must* that be the only way?

            • Dan C

              You are ignorant to the Church ‘a opposition to your position, aren’t you?

  • Janus

    How is libertarianism equivalent to heresy? It is not an all-encompassing moral ideology. It is a very narrow theory concerning the appropriate role of violence in civil society. And the answer, according to libertarianism, is that violence should never be used, except in direct defense of a person or his property. How can a Catholic look at a thoroughly anti-violent political ethic and conclude, “Heresy!”?

    • Marthe Lépine

      However, the name “violence” is being applied by libertarians to things that are the responsibility of the state, to ensure the common good. The claim of “violence” by libertarians is very misleading.

      • Janus

        Define the “state”.

        • Marthe Lépine

          Go and read the Encyclical letters of the 20th century and you might find that answer.

          • Janus

            I guess a better question is — how would I know whether or not an institution is a state? The answer here is clear. It claims a monopoly on the legitimate use of violence in a given territory. So first, I want to just make clear that the state uses violence.

            The problem is their moral claim to using it, and I’ve yet to hear anyone make a convincing case in support of it.

            Everyone understands that it is immoral for me to put a gun to Peter’s head and tell him to give Paul money. Everyone understands it’s similarly immoral for me and 10 people (or 100, or 1,000, or …) to hold up Peter in the same way. Yet, somehow, the state has the moral authority to do so? How can the state have moral authority that extends beyond that of the collective authority of its citizens?

            St. Augustine noted this well:
            “Indeed, that was an apt and true reply which was given to Alexander the Great by a pirate who had been seized. For when that king had asked the man what he meant by keeping hostile possession of the sea, he answered with bold pride, ‘What you mean by seizing the whole earth; but because I do it with a petty ship, I am called a robber, while you who does it with a great fleet are styled emperor.'”

            In short, take me through the process from humanity’s original decentralized existence to the first instance of a state/government and tell me at what magical point does violence become moral when committed by costumed goons?

            Then, take me through the process of a violent regime change. When Robespierre et al. overthrew the king then yesterday’s patriots became today’s traitors and vice-versa. Please inform, for the former case, how what was perfectly moral and defensible (by statist logic) yesterday, became ex post facto immoral. Then, explain what moral principle can absolve yesterday’s aggression in the case of the latter.

            • Nothing absolves yesterday’s aggression. But absolution is not needed to establish legitimacy. What is needed to establish legitimacy is the general acknowledgement by the community that this guy (or group, if you like) is in charge, right here, right now.

            • Dan C

              Recognition by the UN is one way to identify a proper State. Yes, the UN is considered highly in CST encyclicals.

              • Jonk

                Were there no states before 1945?

                • Dan C

                  Did I not write “one way?” Or did I write “the way?”

                  • Jonk

                    There’s really no difference, since the question of what a state is exists completely outside of your example.

              • virago

                CST regards the UN “highly”? You must mean historically and as an ideal, a misdirected ideal.

                • Dan C

                  You mean historically like in C in V in which these supra-national systems are praised and recommended. Or in Paul 6th PP. Not too historical.

      • falstaff77

        “…to ensure the common good.”

        …to exert the will/pose of the majority even if malevolent at heart, and/or enrich special interests.

    • chezami

      Precisely. It is narrow because it takes a portion of Catholic teaching and substitutes it for all of Catholic teaching. Virtually the definition of heresy.

  • GeorgeDance

    The authorities you quote all say that people should be paid a ‘just’ or fair wage for the work they do, by the people they do it for. On the other hand, what we have in the U.S. is the government subsidizing corporations for not paying fair wages, in order to be ‘internationally competitive’, by subsidizing those workers with money taken from third parties. What Popes champion that economic theory?.

    • Dan C

      This corporate welfare- this is not in CST, no.

  • Michaelus

    Of course the most suitable means for the “redistribution of wealth” is via the Church’s works of charity.

    • In a country where Catholics’ tithing rate is even lower than their rate of mass attendance and where parishes (at least in my state) are having to make excruciating decisions about which of their beloved church buildings they’re going to have to sell just to stay afloat and pay off their debt, comments like this are unrealistic.

      • Michaelus

        Right – unrealistic because the Church’s proper role (feeding the poor, caring for the sick etc.) has been stolen by demagogues – all of whom were elected by us!

        • Marthe Lépine

          Wrong! The Church’s proper role is to evangelize. The rest will come from this. Properly converted Catholics (and Christians in general) will then know that “love thy neighbour” includes helping them get a just return for their work, along with, of course, the works of mercy.

          • Michaelus

            Well – yes – that is why we invented hospitals and schools and soup kitchens and it is also why we do not need a secular government telling us how to run these institutions. Also – paying a just wage is not “wealth redistribution” – is is a basic part of our morality.

            • Marthe Lépine

              Exactly, there would be no need for “wealth redistribution” if just wages were paid. But unfortunately, too many people seem to be considering that morality has no place in the market.

            • Dan C

              Again, this is not even close to the papal encyclicals on CST. Fail.

              • Michaelus

                Um…did I miss the paragraph in Rerum Novarum in which Leo tells us that it is important for a secular government to take our property and enrich itself while telling people it is caring for the poor? Is what Leo wrote about unions and Catholic relief organizations really a bad translation? Or should we suppose that the unions and Catholic relief orgs are all to be rolled up into the Department of Health and Human Services?

                • Dan C

                  Paragraphs 31-35 lay it out pretty clearly.

                  • Michaelus

                    Ok – the ref. paras outline some things about the role of the State. Para. 36 give more specific examples. Nothing Leo wrote indicates that it is a good idea to have the State take over hospitals, schools, soup kitchens etc.

                    Mark’s orignal point is very important – the State has a valid role. The State should flog usurers and pornographers. The State should prevent rich men from destroying unions. The State should assure that cads cannot abandon their wives and children etc. The State should certainly assure that a rich man who steals $millions gets punished at least as much as a beggar who steals $5 (NB no current “modern” State does any of these things). But there are many things that the State should not do.

                    • Dan C

                      I think I answered your comment correctly. And was right.

          • Jonk

            I though we were supposed to feed the Lord’s sheep. Silly Gospels; He was talking to the Centurion, not Peter.

          • A just return on their work will never happen when we all rush to fill the same few jobs. Creating enough work so that all get a living wage is the proper role of capital.

        • Dan C

          Not according to Leo, Benedict 16th. Pius, Paul 6th, or John 23rd.

          You can pretend you think with the Church, but you are wrong.

      • Jonk

        That’s what happens when you cede a vital function to someone else and act righteous about it: you become salt without flavor.

      • falstaff77


        If there were not the excuse that one is relieved of the responsibility of charity by state transfer payments, it might be quite realistic, as it once was.

    • Marthe Lépine

      Wrong! The matter of excessive differences in earnings is a matter of justice, and the Popes (at least Benedict and Francis) were clear that charity is not enough, workers have a right to living wages. Charity should not have to be used to complement unjust wages.

      • Jonk

        What about those whose wage is zero? Are they too good for our charity, too?

      • The rewards of capital investment vs labor is a market like any other. It’s been crying out for ages saying that we need to shift more over to capital earnings and less to labor and, to a great extent for social reasons, we haven’t done so. We have 2.5 billion people in dire poverty who are suffering a shortage of capital. Capital destruction (which is what wealth redistribution accomplishes) is an abomination that guarantees that they will escape poverty more slowly or not at all.

  • Dan C

    What is the State? Seriously? This is conservativism? These were the hyped up flag wavers 6-7 years ago.

    • ivan_the_mad

      These aren’t conservatives, these are libertarians. They are in fact a species of revolutionary.

      Conservatives recognize the transcendent, that there is a moral order, both to our souls and to our society. The state has divine sanction and proceeds from the natural law, although the particular administration is also a matter of local custom and convention. In America, we have one organic political tradition, that of our constitutional republic. When the particular government errs or commits injustice, as conservatives we seek to repair to established principles and to effect the reform necessary to the body politic understood as an organic thing.

      These libertarians are no heirs to Burke, to the English political tradition to which our constitution owes its philosophy, nor to the medieval patrimony to which the English tradition itself owes its philosophy. These are the mad heirs of Robespierre.

      • Dan C

        Burke and Kirk would be called “establishment Republicans” and “crony capitalists” today. Much like Buckley was considered quaint and a fuddy-duddy when the National Review was promoting its splendid Iraqi adventures and he was opposed.

        This is the New Conservative.

      • Jonk

        The state is worldly, not divine, and should be regarded with caution as a result. Gone are the days of the Divine Right of Kings, amd more’s the better: that ended in the discrediting of both kings and the Divine.

        • ivan_the_mad

          Nope, you don’t understand what I’m talking about. Study Burke, Aquinas, and Plato to come up to speed on the issue.

          • falstaff77

            You are not misunderstood but wrong to say the state has devine sanction. Burke made clear we are indeed bound by tradition to government which can be changed slowly over time, as traditions are. The American revolution worked because republican rule was largely left intact as the British sailed where Robespierre chopped off the head all organic authority and law. Burke never entertained Devine sanction for any particular form of the state.

            • ivan_the_mad

              “He who gave our nature to be perfected by our virtue willed also the necessary means of its perfection. He willed therefore the state — He willed its connection with the source and original archetype of all perfection.” — Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France

              For your further edification, here is Russell Kirk’s commentary on that same passage: “An Hellenic piety, almost Platonic in its tone, suffuses Burke’s declaration that the state is divinely ordained …” — The Conservative Mind

              • falstaff77

                Are these passages of Burke not a metaphysical statement that, like all structures of human life, government comes from the Creator of all things? Like marriage? Per our relationship with the Creator, we are not free to discard these institutions. In this sense, I agree chapter and verse. We part company at the extension, if you make it, that the US federal government, or, say, the USSR’s Politburo, because of its particular form, is divine.

                It is the anarchist, or perhaps the libertine, that seeks not just to change but to destroy these institutions. If there are self labeled libertarians that seek, as libertarians, to destroy these institutions I have not heard of them.

                An illustration. Burke condemned the British Governor-General in India for stomping on Hindu tradition there. Per Kirk: … all mundane order is dependent upon reverence for the religious creed which a people have inherited from the their fathers. This conviction redoubled Burke’s detestation of Hastings: the Governor-General had ridden rough-shod over native religious tradition and ceremonial in India”

                Does Hastings, per Burke, more resemble a laissez-faire libertarian, or a Robespierrean authoritarian?

                • ivan_the_mad

                  “if you make it” I didn’t, which is why I bothered to make the distinction between the divine and the particular in the first place.

                  “I have not heard of them” Murray Rothbard.

                  “An illustration” You’ve twisted this out of context so much to bring this to libertarianism that it’s silly. The sentence and a half immediately preceding your quote run thus: “Every state is the creation of providence, whether or not its religion is Christianity. Christianity is the highest of religions; but since every sincere creed is a recognition of divine purpose in the universe, …”.

                  “Does Hastings, per Burke, more resemble a laissez-faire libertarian, or a Robespierrean authoritarian?” False dichotomy. As I answered you elsewhere, I relate them as revolutionaries, I do not relate them as holding a similar political philosophy. If you’re not going to trouble to read my replies, I shan’t make you any more.

      • falstaff77

        “These are heirs of Robespierre.”

        No, no, the Left is his direct descendent. Robespierre was all about using the power of the state to ruthlessly change society into what he wrought, even to creating a new religion and deity. If libertarians value anything, it is to eschew state action.

        • ivan_the_mad

          I’m looking at it in the more general sense that a revolutionary is one who seeks a new status quo, rather than the particular sense of seeking the very same change as Robespierre.

  • Mark S. (not for Shea)

    As of this writing, there are 145 Comments in this thread. A similar one Mr. Shea posted a few days ago is now pushing 190. I find that very, very sad.
    Any time Mr. Shea posts anything to do with money or wealth or the care of the poor, the Comboxes go aflame. Any time the discussion is holiness or mercy or the Blessed Mother or prayer … crickets, or maybe a lone voice or two crying in the wilderness.
    For where your combox passion is, there will your heart be also.
    Who says Mammon is not the current god of the Western World, adored and defended with righteous zeal, even by we Catholics? That’s very, very sad.

    • Dave G.

      In fairness, it could be because there isn’t much disagreement over holiness the Blessed Mother or prayer or good people doing good things. Plus, to be brutally honest (perhaps more brutal than honest), sometimes Mark’s tone with certain issues, more than the issues themselves, might be what brings out the numbers.

      • Dan C

        He is as harsh on matters many liberals would find challenging too.

        • Dave G.

          I didn’t mention conservatives or liberals.

      • Exactly! Who wants to argue about the Blessed Mother in a forum like this? You wanna argue about Mary? Go hang out on James White’s site.

      • Mark S. (not for Shea)

        Hyperbole to prove a truth is a long-standing Biblical tradition. If you’re offended at the tone, perhaps that’s because the salve is hitting a wound that needs tending. Don’t blame the salve.

        • The analogy would work, if Mark’s solutions were proper. They are not.

        • Dave G.

          Mark S (and that’s not for Shea), you wouldn’t believe how many times I heard that response in my ministry days, when it was pointed out that a minister or evangelist might have overstepped the limit. The best lesson we used to counter with: then be damn sure you’re 100% right, because it’s one thing for the Gospel to offend, it’s quite another when it wasn’t the Gospel that offended (see stumbling blocks and millstones for possible consequences).

    • Jonk

      Maybe those of us who are skeptical of thoughtlessly putting Caesar in charge of caring for the poor, and calling that some form of solidarity, tend to disagree with being called heretics for our skepticism and refusal to worship the state.

    • falstaff77

      John 12 4-6

    • virago

      May be that’s why he posts these pie 3rd. I ran we all most likely agree with him on such things as Our Mother Mary, holiness, prayer, etc,….. but the more controversial issues encourage dialogue, isn’t that a positive?

      • virago

        I meant post these pieces here, I’m turning auto correct off now.

    • John Doman

      Chill out.
      The reason there’s more comments is because more people DISAGREE. There’s less comments for the less controversial positions. There’s nothing wrong with that.

  • Benjamin2.0

    Pope Benedict, just like his Catholic Utopian Socialist successor, taught that although “mere redistribution of existing wealth” is insufficient to the alleviation of poverty, “seeking adequate mechanisms for the redistribution of wealth” is nevertheless essential to the task of peacemaking.

    This controversy may be a great big ends/means conflation. The Libertarians I know oppose the redistribution of wealth (by direct taxation, etc.) because it’s an unjust function of government and is economically preposterous – it won’t achieve the desired end. They seem to oppose the usual means, per se. It seems that our Pope Emeritus agrees to this extent, or at least such an interpretation is facilitated by the conditional “adequate mechanisms” and the suggestion that they must be sought. Pursuing the end of alleviating poverty by means which aren’t arguably unjust or ineffective isn’t something anyone other than the likes of Lex Luthor or Gorilla Grod would oppose.

    • Dan C

      This is not close to reading anything about CST fairly. From RN forward, the State was promoted as the instrument for justice-defined economically-in that the disempowered poor or worker would have alleviation from material need.

      ” an unjust function of government” …and it is here that libertarians deviate from CST. It is a just function of government.

      • Jonk

        You can call dereliction of solidarity a “just function” that’s supported by CST, but it’s still a dereliction of solidarity. And, if CST is really about letting the machinations of the atheist state do your work for you, then Catholic Social Teaching is none of the above.

        • Dan C

          There is no dereliction of solidarity when the community is determining the needs for its vulnerable members.

          • Jonk

            Only if we ignore the fact that by “community,” you mean some faceless bureaucrat 1000 miles away.

            • Dan C

              Are you insulting people? Because “bureaucrats” and federal agents actually at the moment in this discussion have the Church’s support and your revolution does not.

              • Jonk

                Perhaps people who suggest that someone who has neither met me, nor my neighbor, are somehow performing a community function of solidarity ought to be insulted. The bureaucracy makes a mockery of subsidiarity, and only serves to isolate us further, while making us feel justified in our isolation.

                • Dan C

                  That isolation is not born out universally and tracks by political party.

                  • Jonk

                    Yeah. Republicans give more to private charities. Democrats gave at the office.

                    If you’re really saying that the state of solidarity in society is hunky dory, and there’s no isolation, I can dig up more than a few encyclicals and exhortations that vehemently disagree.

                    • Dan C

                      I can go to C in V by Benedict and show explicitly his interest in large government and super-governmental structures to modify the current lack of solidarity by those who own the wealth.

                    • Jonk

                      You mean the same governmental structures that currently guarantee and insure the continued inequality of wealth possession? I’m sure that’ll work *real* well.

                • Dan C

                  But if you are suggesting they are sinning in their duties, please man up and do so. The passive aggressive talk is quite annoying.

                  • Jonk

                    We’re sinning in our duties by feeling personally justified by letting them do theirs.

                    • Dan C

                      I have read no where that anyone is satisfied or completely abnegating responsibilities in this string of comments- individuals are only indicating that they support also the functions of the State to provide charity.

                      This is what folks are saying. I challenge you to find someone who says that is enough. This is your mythology and your deliberate bias you presume your opponents have. Especially in this string of comments.

                    • Jonk

                      The state can’t provide charity. Period. I’ll let you refer back to your Latin to figure out why.

                    • Marthe Lépine

                      Of course, the function of the state is not to provide charity; but it is its function to ensure justice, as for, just wages, among other things…

              • Jonk

                But if the Church supports letting Caesar feed her flock for her, perhaps there’s a reason she has so few willing to support her work.

            • Dan C

              Also, many “bureaucrats” are local and considering many of the types of programs- provided to states as block grants.

              Not really 1000 miles away.

      • You can’t get a little bit pregnant in unleashing government redistribution, something that, in all charity, might not have been that evident in the time of RN.

        The important work on institution capture that has gone on in recent decades is something that demonstrates the peril of relying on the state to achieve social justice. Give the state a knife and a program to stick it in any group, but especially the rich, and you guarantee an active conspiracy by the targets to take over that state apparatus and point the knife elsewhere. People still get stabbed but not the original target. Injustice is inevitable.

        Regulatory and bureaucratic capture is such a common phenomenon that it is irresponsible for the Church to ignore it or pretend it does not exist. The Church usually isn’t that naive, but certainly some of her sons and daughters fall into that category.

  • Dan C

    Libertarian mythology deviates from Catholic Tradition on matters that may be non-negotiables- fundamental matters of the limits of private property, the proper role of the State, the demands of community and the role of justice in the re-distribution of the goods of Creation. These are not policy matters in which one is debating a 36 vs. a 39% tax rate. These are foundational aspects of Catholic moral theology that permit realistic functioning in the world, since forever.

    • Jonk

      The deviation comes when the limits and roles are defined only through violence. I’m sure most libertarians would be fine with all of the above if the Church encouraged that behavior through persuasion and example to the rest of us.

      Throughout her history, the Church has tried to accomplish her goals through getting involved in the worldly state; it has rarely turned out well for anyone, least of all the Church.

      • Dan C

        Such is a Utopianism that not even Marx was so hopeful with regard to the nature of man. This is a sad state of Catholicism and Sirico and his enablers are all part of this.

        Anarchists promote more structure and authority than libertarians, presenting a far more realistic social model than this Wild West approach.

        You put your wisdom against the wisdom of the Church and two millenia of sainted thinkers. Good luck with that.

        • Jonk

          What’s so wrong with the Wild West? Property rights for all who would work for it, very little violence (how many murders were there in the deadliest town in the deadliest year of the era? Three.), and people in communities working together to accomplish common tasks.

          A horrible, unjust time, obviously.

          • Dan C

            That would be the history of Anglos in NM? And the bullying and control of land and resources. Not exactly . That is one skewed and biased history that would ignore all the other people other than white ranchers and cowboys who lived there.

            • Jonk

              I’m sure the state was *much* kinder to the native populations, right? They weren’t sent on death marches and tossed in corners where they still live out their days in grinding poverty or anything.

          • Matt Talbot

            Right – and in a society that is mostly rural and where most life happens in small villages and hamlets (and thus most problems occur at that scale), then sure, Big Government is an intrusive absurdity. In our complex, mostly urban and highly technologically advanced civilization, different solutions are called for.

            • Jonk

              Not really.

            • You are assuming that big government has no upper limits, no scalability problems. There is a large body of academic work and a lot of practical experience that says you are mistaken.

              • Matt Talbot

                Actually, I’d say the same to you: There is a large body of academic work (e.g. JM Keynes and others) and a lot of practical experience (e.g., the New Deal and similar programs) that says you are mistaken.

                Having a minimal central government makes sense if the scale of problems in society are overwhelmingly local. Not so much in an industrialized society like ours, where society’s actors – and here I’m thinking of multinational corporations – act on a national and international scale. You need some entity with the authority to restrain their power.

                • On the bright side, we seem to both believe in an external reality that can be observed and which provides evidence that should be listened to. This should allow us to agree on some sort of objective test to resolve our difference of opinion.

                  I actually agree that multinational corporations need to be restrained and that government can provide such restraints. But the government doesn’t actually have to be that big to do it.

                  About half of federal expenditures, give or take, are transfer payments. They provide zero restraint on bad actors. They don’t even improve economic growth. They may provide a stopgap for a lack of charity but they might also lead people to believe that charity is unnecessary. I’m in agreement with Pope Francis that this welfare mentality is not the answer but it can serve until we achieve the answer. Eventually, those payments go away because we’ve found a better solution.

                  Public Choice theory really got started after Keynes wrote his famous book and after FDR. The first papers didn’t come out until 1948 and major development seems to have continued into the 1960s with further refinement since. Keynes and FDR really didn’t have the tools to study regulatory capture back then but we do now. Harking back to Keynes and FDR without taking into account the important developments in the 80 years since the New Deal doesn’t make sense to me.

                  A government that has the size most people call big is too big to avoid regulatory capture. We just can’t keep an eye on it all.

                • falstaff77

                  The term “minimal” government in this context baffles me. Prior to WWl, the size of the federal govt never exceeded 5 or 6 percent of GDP, now 25 percent for the fed and 40 percent all govt. Some one in six people are now govt employees. Govt debt approaching 100 percent of income. Govt owns a third of all the land in this collossal nation.


                  • Matt Talbot

                    Prior to WWl, the size of the federal govt never exceeded 5 or 6 percent of GDP

                    That’s my definition of minimal – fine in a nation that is mostly agricultural and urban life is organized and scaled mostly at the village or small town level, but comically inadequate in an era of mass industrialization and increasing corporate power.

                    • falstaff77

                      Era of corporate power? Compared to the Guilded Age? Also, others here have pointed how reg capture prevents endless scale up of effective govt. To limit corruption only one sollution in a fallen world: make the government where the money is not.

                    • Matt Talbot

                      In the gilded age, they had not yet figured out that the power of the then-new plutocracy needed to be checked – thus all the nine year olds getting their arms torn off in mills, and company-hired strike-breaking thugs to deal with anyone who might object.

                    • falstaff77
                    • Matt Talbot

                      Right – what put an end to that era was government action:TR and the Trust-busters, the income tax, New Deal programs, the Wagner Act, etc. . It took 50 years of effort, but by the 1940s the power of the oligarchs had been restrained. What followed that were decades of (and here’s the thing) widely shared prosperity.

                      You’re actually making my arguments for me.

                    • falstaff77

                      Arguments or assertions? Various historical facts do not make an argument. For instance: The Vickers Machine Gun was adopted in 1912, *therefore*, the advent of the machine gun restrained the oligarchs?

                      Other problems: The income tax was tiny for decades, was later avoided by the indolent rich when large; large unemployment and relative sluggish growth during the decade of the New Deal; then somehow all these programs reached synergy 50 years after halting starts and terminations?

                      A more likely *theory* for changes: innovation making technology available to the least able (e.g. Ford’s Model T then, mobile computers/telephones now), the collapse of monopoly through inevitable decay, international competition; these are that which restrains the oligarchs.

                      Those monopolistic rent seekers that survive do so, I believe, largely through government largess and protection. Examples include the new GM, a restricted number of hospitals and doctors, protected insurance companies, investment banks via regulations that eliminate small/local banks, and, most prominently, large agribusiness that, via connections&lobbyists, can avoid the attention of the BLM unlike a small rancher in Nevada)

            • virago

              But even in our complex urban society all entities can become too big, but not too big to fail, per the Black Swan theory. If I’m off base here, let me know.

              • Matt Talbot

                Sure, Virago – but before scaling down the federal government, you need to scale down the problems it needs to address.

                A key piece of the principle of subsidiarity is that solutions need to occur as close to the source of the problem as possible – you don’t call your Senator when there’s a pothole in front of your house. On the other hand, in the event of a planet-wide invasion by Martian hordes, you’d not insist that the problem be addressed by local police departments.

                • virago

                  I understand what you ‘re saying and I am acquainted with the subsidiary concept via Chesterton but my fear is we have exacerbated our problems so that scaling down is impossible thank you for your reply!

        • Are you saying something about Fr. Sirico’s fidelity to the Church? If you’re going to stick a knife in, have the basic decency not to beat around the bush. I find Fr. Sirico to be a faithful son of the Church but if you have evidence otherwise, please share.

  • Jonk

    Mr. Shea sets up the wealth redistribution straw man without addressing its skeleton: The state *does* find itself supporting and creating injustice when it performs many of those functions. Rather than attack the rhetoric, why not discuss the point: If the state has a strong incentive toward injustice, how do we solve that problem? Can the state be protected from becoming a protector of wealth and distributor of injustice? Are there other institutions we can support that can perform the functions that the state currently performs, only without the injustice?

    • Cypressclimber

      That’s no fun! Kicking the s*** out of straw men is way funner!

  • Gunnar Thalweg

    I took a quick look at the source material. Lots of words like “suitable” and “adequate.” Use your judgment and don’t get greedy.

    You have to remember that the Church’s teaching is about everybody everywhere and pretty at all times. So some of it may not be quite as applicable to a libertarian/liberal argument as it may seem.

    What we have in this thread is a little bit of someone’s old habit of prooftexting.

  • No one claimed that rugged individuals would look after the most vulnerable without the state. That’s what families and churches are for.

  • Mark, do you understand libertarianism at all? Government wealth redistribution is the state, using threats of force and actual force to take stuff from some people to give it to others. This is not what I believe the Church is proposing in the quote you provide.

    By conflating the two, you are unjust to the Church and you are excusing the state.

  • Libertarians:

    1) Are you saying that it is always intrinsically unjust per se for government, any government, to redistribute wealth for the correction of what society perceives as injustices?

    2) Do you have an argument that establishes this claim from an account of the just ends of government?

    3) If so, what is that argument? (And please don’t use words like “efficiency” and “bureaucracy”. No one is arguing for the efficiency of government, so those statements miss the point.)

  • virago

    Our tax structure is unfair; my husband and I make enough to put us in the upper middle classs but it sure doesn’t feel that way. And Google keeps billions in off shore money havens. Our taxation is unfair and the IRS has become corrupt entity. But an entity which has great (and soon to be greater) sway over our society.

    And please someone, explain why libertarians are so maligned around here. My God, my family then myself. But unless my husband and I don’t take of ourselves when can’t take of each other , if we can t take of each other we can’t take of our children. If we can’t take of our children, there will be hell to pay in a whole lotta ways. And that hinders redemption, mine and all that I could influence.

    And, one last thing, sometimes it’s easier to task the government with such things as “welfare.” But looking into the face of someone needing our help humbles us. We’ve poored billions into the War on Poverty and haven’t made much progress. There has to be a better way. I don’t see any justice there at all.

    When I first read this piece I thought Mark was talking about Liberation Theology, now I think that is a real and dangerous heresy.

    • HornOrSilk

      There are many forms of Liberation Theology. The Vatican, itself, has made it clear that not all forms are heretical, indeed, has confirmed many points of Liberation Theology in general (such as the preferential option for the poor). The means of some who engage Liberation Theology is what is wrong, and funny enough, those means are often the same ones used by opponents of Liberation Theology (creating their own form of it).

      As for why libertarians are maligned, it’s because they reject basic moral teachings. They have no proper understanding of government, that its role is for justice, that we should not excuse injustice because “it allows us to be charitable” and the like. St Augustine made it clear, if we want to create the poor to feel good about ourselves, it’s not charity.

      • virago

        Thank information on Liberation Theology, I will educate myself further on the subject. I can see liberation theology in the same way Muslims use jihadist in its proper form. I thought the 7 corporeal acts of mercy always encourage us for care for those less respected or fortunate by on earth.

        As for libertarianism rejecting basic meal teachings, I have not seen that thought in the main. I have read similar thought from extreme libertarians but I filed those people away with extremist from other persuasions, liberal, conservative and the like. Government should be as neutral as possible while giving basic protection to its citizens ensuring dignity and respect. I’m a nurse by profession, compassion and competence are the foundation for my career.

        But I readily admit I’m not as educated about some things discussed here and I am grateful for any edification given.

        • virago

          And I do mean that sincerely. I read my response after I posted it (poor form) and I am afraid it sounded rude. That was not the intention.

    • “Our” tax structure? It’s not “ours”. We are not the state. We were never the state. The state has always been a minority of people who claimed special exemptions from the moral order. It’s nothing but a criminal syndicate.

      • virago

        True that, as my son says.

  • Dre

    You just called a political ideology a heresy for Catholics. Heresy in this context implies theological issues. You have committed a category mistake.

  • Colleen Snow

    Come on. How can you possibly call libertarianism “heresy” when it is in no way theological? Libertarianism and its diametrical opposite, statism, are political ideologies. It is possible to use a political ideology to help motivate a religious heresy, but it cannot be in itself heretical unless it purports to give religious guidance. Libertarianism categorically does not.

  • Glen Herbert

    Taking from someone who earns to give to another that doesn’t, (without that persons consent) is still stealing. I always thought that giving was a response of love from the heart. Not coercion from the government.

  • Dave Kozak

    Taxation involves using violence against peaceful people, which is a sin, and as such is not an appropriate means that can be used to achieve social justice.

    • HornOrSilk

      Taxation is not, of itself, violent. The people who are not giving their proper share of social expenses are, on the other hand, using their money as a violent means of preventing others from livelihood. So they shouldn’t have money from your argument

      • Dave Kozak

        I see, so not giving up my family’s money to people who will use it to hurt others in society is violence, but taking my house away and imprisoning me if I choose to keep my own money is not violence?

        I think you have it backwards, friend.

        Furthermore, the state is a fundamentally anti-Christian institution because it represents the systematization of man judging man. It kicks God off the throne, and creates a new kind of morality called “law,” which routinely supercedes the morality set out in documents like the 10 Commandments. What government has ever followed the dictum, “Thou shall not kill?”

        • HornOrSilk

          No, you have it backwards, because wealth is meant to be shared around, not locked up and kept to individuals. Not allowing it to be spread around destroys lives. There is a reason why the church has always accepted taxation (which is not the same as saying all taxation is just, but the idea that taxation is a sin, rejects what Christ himself said– who still said give to Caesar, despite being, well, Caesar). The idea that the “state is a fundamentally anti-Christian” institution is itself heretical, but I am guessing you aren’t Catholic from your comments so far. But if you are, read Aquinas. Your argument is invalid also in regards to the 10 commandments, because it ignores much of the context, and the law of Moses which also accepted violence.

          And so, yes, if you are hoarding, making sure others suffer and perish, you are killing people. What you fail to do is a sin as well.

        • HornOrSilk

          BTw, love your comment elsewhere, which shows you promote violence and your comments are hypocritical ”

          Gun grabbers like Bonokoski want to turn the 2nd amendment into a duck
          hunting license. The intention behind the clause is to allow for
          s in the future, and AR-15s are not “unnecessary” from that

  • GI Joe

    Income (or wealth) “redistribution” is a core socialist doctrine. Socialism is the necessary first step toward communism. These are from Marx.

    It is long-accepted Christian (and, I believe, Catholic) doctrine that charity to aid the poor is a requirement placed upon those who are “well off”. In the US during the 1930s, while many people were “dirt poor”, charities were doing rather well at taking in funds and supplies for redistribution to those in need. We do NOT need a central government apparatus to tell us how much to give to be redistributed to the “poor” (poverty to be determined by some unaccountable bureaucrat) by a government bureau. That is not a legitimate function of government. Robin Hood is a myth, not a government goal.

    And, did not Jesus tell us that the poor will always be with us? We have a role in helping those needing help, but not at the cost of “income equality”. THAT is communism and has been a failure each and every time it has been tried.

  • John S.

    The flaw in Mr. Shea’s argument is that taxation is not wealth redistribution.

    Taxation is the morally acceptable act of taking part of an individual’s profits to pay for a good that can only be held in common (where the benefit is not achievable if the good is individually owned). The best example of this is a road: if you built as much road as you could afford, it would not be much of a good, if at all. On the other hand, a public road, held in common, can be.

    This is morally acceptable due to the giver being given fair value back, in return for their taxes (the right to use a public road, from end to end).

    Wealth redistribution, by its very nature, does fit into this category, as it takes from one individual, to give to another. Anything that can be individually owned should not be the subject of government coercion or supply. This category is, however, the very heart of charity: that one person sees the irreducible and very real need of another, and assists them during that period of time when they cannot supply their own needs.