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Missing the Point on Poverty

There has been a lot of discussion this week about the morality of the Ryan Budget.  Since Paul Ryan’s statement on subsidiarity, the media and blogs have been full of posts either supporting or correcting Paul Ryan’s use of Catholic social teaching. (Lest anyone be unsure, I completely disagree with Ryan’s use of Catholic social teaching and examined the question of subsidiarity here last month). This week’s discussion heated up as the USCCB Committee on Domestic Justice and Human Development released 4 key statements/press releases pleading with Congress to “to draw a circle of protection around the programs that serve “the least among us.” when dealing with housing programs, SNAP/food stamps, agriculture and the Child Tax Credit.

The housing letter is available at: http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/housing-homelessness/upload/Letter-to-House-Appropriations-on-FY-2013-2012-04-04.pdf

The SNAP/food stamps bill letter is available at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/hunger-food-nutrition/upload/Letter-to-House-Committee-on-Agriculture-2012-04-16.pdf

The agriculture spending letter is available at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/hunger-food-nutrition/upload/Joint-Letter-to-Senate-2012-04-16.pdf

The Child Tax Credit letter is available at: www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/poverty/domestic/upload/Letter-to-House-Ways-and-Means-on-CTC-2012-04-17.pdf

There is a beautiful coherence and symmetry to the four statements – they all have one clear message – protect the poor and vulnerable. While they acknowledge (as do we all) that we live in difficult and complex economic times, we cannot in good conscience balance the budget or protect the economy through sacrificing the poor and vulnerable within our communities. In the Letter on Snap, Bishop Blaire reiterates the three key moral guidelines for evaluating the morality of a budget:

1. Every budget decision should be assessed by whether it protects or threatens human life and dignity.
2. A central moral measure of any budget proposal is how it affects “the least of these” (Matthew 25). The needs of those who are hungry and homeless, without work or in poverty should come first.
3. Government and other institutions have a shared responsibility to promote the common good of all, especially ordinary workers and families who struggle to live in dignity in difficult economic times.

Now the Bishop’s letters have gotten quite the response.  Speaker John Boehner acknowledged the Bishop’s moral authority but claimed they were being short sighted and did not get the “bigger picture.” Congressman Paul Ryan claimed“These are not all the Catholic bishops, and we just respectfully disagree.” (In response to Ryan’s assertion that these letters do not represent all the bishops, “USCCB spokesman Don Clemmer told The Hill that the letters do represent all Catholic bishops, as they were penned by members of the church that were elected to represent the bishops on policy matters at the national level. “Bishops who chair USCCB committees are elected by their fellow bishops to represent all of the U.S. bishops on key issues at the national level,” Clemmer said. “The letters on the budget were written by bishops serving in this capacity.” – something which Catholics all along the political spectrum must remember).

In response to Speaker Boehner and Congressman Ryan, I would respectfully state, I do not think you get the bigger picture. Boehner, Ryan and their colleagues seem to grossly and dangerously miss the point regarding poverty and vulnerability. Yes, 1 in 6 Americans are living below the poverty line and millions of Americans are struggling, jobless, homeless, hungry and suffering.  This is the bigger picture. Catholic social teaching promotes a people-centered economy not the reverse. As Catholics, we simply cannot sacrifice and scapegoat the poor.  Hiding behind the debt/deficit and welfare reform attempts to do just that – to take our eye off the bigger picture (47 million people in poverty, a continuing homelessness/foreclosure problem, and high unemployment).

How is this hiding?

1.  Debt/Deficit: Their assumptions about the budget, deficit and national debt simply are highly contested by both well-respected economists and theologians. The evaluation of where we are, how we got here, how we move forward and what our economic plan should be is highly contested by economists.  On the economic question – I once again recommend taking a look at Economist Charles M.A. Clark’s Commonweal piece “Truth Deficit: Four Myths about Government Spending” (disclosure: he is my father) or look at the many online writings by: L. Randall Wray, Paul Krugman, Joseph Stiglitz and others challenging the faulty economic ideology behind the Ryan budget and calls for austerity. (At some point, the economic ideology which lead to the 2008 financial crisis has to be rejected if we have any hope of rebuilding a sustainable community).

2. Welfare Reform: The big call for saving SNAP and other social protections through “reform like the welfare reform” presumes that welfare reform was a big success – this is highly contested. Was welfare reform a big success? Well that depends on what you’re definition of success is – is it enough that it “got people off of welfare?” From a the perspective of this moral theologian, getting people off of welfare is not sufficient. Are they out of poverty? Are they flourishing? These questions cannot be adequately answered because the periodic evaluation of welfare reform (called for in the law) has not taken place – as of 2010, it had not even begun. (The politics of this from 1996 up until the 2008 election is detailed by Thomas Massaro, SJ in “Unfinished Business”).

Are we willing to attempt to “save ourselves” by sacrificing the poor? This type of misdirection and scapegoating is not new and human societies are very good at this kind of self- delusion. But as Catholics, we are called to something very different. We are called to the bigger picture which is found in true solidarity with the poor and vulnerable. Last year, as we were having what seems like the same debates about government spending, I wrote “Would You Deny Jesus Food Stamps?” a post that like this one was far too long….but my main point bears repeating:

In her reflection on Matthew 16:15 “Who do you say that I am?” Mother Teresa offers a powerful answer, beginning with the standard theological statements from the creed (You are the Second person of the Blessed Trinity, etc) and concludes:

Jesus is the Hungry – to be fed.
Jesus is the Thirsty – to be satiated.
Jesus is the Homeless – to be taken in
Jesus is the Sick – to be healed.
Jesus is the lonely – to be loved.
Jesus is the Unwanted – to be wanted.

Jesus is not like the poor. Jesus is the poor. Jesus is not like the unemployed father who cannot find work and for whom food stamps are the only thing preventing his children from going to bed hungry. Christ is not like single mother working two low-paying part time jobs surviving only through access to housing and child care subsidies. Jesus Christ is that father. Jesus Christ is that mother.

That is the bigger picture. The plight of the poor, vulnerable, invisible in our society is the bigger picture. It is estimated that 3 months of homelessness sets a child back in school 1 full year – that is the bigger picture.

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18 Comments

  1. Nicely put, Meghan! My favorite part: “From a the perspective of this moral theologian, getting people off of welfare is not sufficient. Are they out of poverty? Are they flourishing?” THIS is what we (Christians, Catholics, faithful, justice-activists, voters) should be looking for. Yes.

  2. Just to present a contrary point of view, I think that the bishop’s idea of a “circle of protection” around programs that benefit the poor is not very helpful; I do not think that every cut to these programs is a grave danger to the well-being of the poor.

    For example, let’s look at SNAP, which seems to be a program that is getting a lot of focus. Between 2000 and 2010, the number of people receiving SNAP benefits increased from 17 million to 40 million, an increase of 235%. During that same 10 year period, the amount spent on the SNAP program increased from $18 billion to $70 billion, an increase of 389%. That means that spending increased at a much higher rate than the number of people being assisted.

    Looked at another way, that means that spending per person increased from $1,059 per person in 2000 to $1,750 in 2010, an increase of about 65%. These numbers are not inflation adjusted, but 65% is far above the inflation rate. (All above statistics are from the Congressional Budget Office: http://www.cbo.gov/sites/default/files/cbofiles/attachments/04-19-SNAP.pdf)

    That means that significant cuts could be made in the program while still remaining at per person levels reached within only the last decade. These are hardly the apocalyptic levels the rhetoric suggests.

    However, I think the House Agriculture Committee has gone too by far by assigning all $33 billion worth of cuts recommended by the Ryan plan to SNAP, and none to agricultural subsidies (http://news.yahoo.com/house-panel-okays-33-billion-food-stamp-cuts-183942684.html). As the article points out, this was not required by Ryan’s plan, and as the US bishops point, is unjust to the poor. That would be nearly a 50% cut from 2010 spending.

    However, if the recommendations of the Ryan plan are implemented, these cuts would come from creating work requirements for the able-bodied recipients of SNAP, cutting the number of those enrolled rather than cutting the amount received per person. I think in principle this is a good idea because it is consistent with Catholic social teaching that it is better for someone to be self-supporting than dependent on government. However, I agree with Meghan and Nancy that it could only be judged on results, and that dropping someone from the program is not the same thing as lifting them out of poverty.

  3. Matt, SNAP is getting a lot of attention for a number of reasons.One is because of the House decision. However, another is that the attack on SNAP as wasteful is instructive for the problematic and unjust approach to poverty and poor persons in this country.

    To your points. 1. As the CBO indicates 2/3 of SNAP cost increase IS due to increased participation and 1/3 is due to increased benefits. Now that increase again accords toCBO is from $463 to $526 a month for a family of 3 if they are in the highest aid category. Now are you really saying that $526 is simply too “generous”? A major problem in your response, for me, is the assumption that 2000 benefit levels are sufficient. I have not seen evidence that would allow me to assume that. Those benefit adjustments were not just based on inflation in food costs ( that has is own trigger) but on the thrifty food plan, The lowest cost Nutritionally adequate diet determined by dept of agriculture. And I will insist time after time that yes benefits should cover that. SNAP on average allots $1.50 per person per meal. So yes, baring some yet to be produced expose on corruption (and it’s known for being one of he pgms with the least fraud problems) I will continue to insist any cut to benefits is immoral and turning it into block grants imprudent. This is an effective way to feed hungry people in our society.

    2. SNAP is also receiving a lot of attention because contrary to inaccurate rhetoric poverty programs are presented as a drain on the economy…..when in act direct aid like snap is a net gain for the economy. For every $1 spent in snap benefits generates $1.82 into the economy
    See http://catholicmoraltheology.com/measuring-poverty-why-it-is-crucial-to-face-the-numbers-and-tell-the-truth/ for more data.

    And 3. It is receiving such attention because it is PROVEN to be effective. It works. sNAP raises families out of poverty and hunger. It works. The new supplemental poverty measure data
    demonstrated that Snap reduced the number of those “in poverty ” by federal calculation by 2% (bc many of those participating are the working poor for whom this makes the difference ). As I have stated before the new measure is so important because it gives us concrete data showing that snap, wic, eitc and school lunches work.

    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3749
    http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3750

    I agree with you about the politics of the agriculture policy committee ( a similar battle is likely to come on foreign poverty aid which has been grouped with defense ) but I simply disagree completely about the circle of protection and your evaluation of SNAP. I do want to emphasize that part of why I disagree s strongly is that from the outset I think our social protection programs are too weak not too genrous, I firmly believe they should be strengthened not reduced.

  4. Thank you, Ms. Clark, for clarifying Matt’s statistical foray. My perspective is somewhat different, as I am retired from being a Pastoral Associate at a R. C. Church on an Indian Reservation, next to a town where the lumber mill business has been suffering. Food stamps have been the salvation of any number of persons who’ve I’ve been called upon to assist, and relatively modest eating habits have left many a family scraping the bottom of the barrel at the end of the month as it draws near.

    I marvel at the stamina of some women working 16 hours a day given they have two jobs, whose kids are barely housed and clothed as a result, because the compensation of ordinary workers has not kept pace with the compensation of the management of their employers. Some are fortunate enough to have grandparents available for the kids meals and care while mom is working, which on the Reservation is a traditional pattern, but not so in the lumber town. And many such families have latchkey kids with a hero elder child seeing to meals and bedtime. What violence that does to the image of the American family. Those kids grow up thinking that such mandatory parental neglect is ‘normal’ at some level.

    One thing is perfectly clear to me. To borrow the label because of its useful brevity, the overwhelming majority of the members of the 1% are either blind to the plight of the rest of the nation, or, even worse, don’t care. Either they must ensure a radical increase in the effective wages of the rest of the country, or they must rally behind programs for the rest of the nation to soften the injustice of the wage and salary atrocity, even if doing so means a radical increase in their taxes.

    To me, that is basic Christianity in the United States of the 21st Century, a society radically different from that of the Middle East of Jesus’ days, a society in which then adequate charitable approaches worked, the well to do more often than not living in proximity to the poor. Today the well to do have absolutely no idea who the needy are in proximity to their gated communities, let alone who the most needy are in those whole towns, cities, counties, states,regions in comparative need, no longer just the little farmer down the path.

  5. Sorry I am just now responding to your reply, but I had an extremely busy weekend!

    In my earlier reply, I should have gone on to say that my ultimate point is more of a theological one than a point about policy. What bothered me originally was the statement by several Catholic scholars, partially posted on this blog, criticizing the Ryan budget plan, describing it as “morally indefensible,” saying it “turns its back on” the poor, “profoundly distorts” Catholic social teaching, and I think what takes the cake, labels it as “anathema.” But the statement describes how Ryan’s plan affects the programs in question only in the most general terms, in some cases wildly exaggerating them.

    I believe that the problem is one that Jana mentioned in her most recent post here, that the Catholic Church in the United States is becoming so politicized that we put our partisan loyalties ahead of our shared Catholic identity. Of course, our shared Catholic identity does impel us to call one another to account when the situation merits it, but what I see here is judging one another first based on our political leanings, before we have discussed the issue in a rational way as brothers and sisters in Christ. I will return to my theological point, but first I want to respond to your points about SNAP.

    What we are discussing is how much spending on this program is sufficient, but you really can’t know that until you have defined what the purpose of the program is. I think that question is left unanswered throughout your whole discussion of SNAP. The purpose of food stamps as the program was created and developed over time is to provide a supplement to the income the poor already spend on food. The purpose is not to be a family’s entire source of food, although the lower the income of the family, then the closer the assistance would be to reaching that level. So when you ask if $526/month for a family of three is too generous, it just depends on what you are talking about. There is an amount x that is not enough, and an amount y that is too much, and the ideal is somewhere in between, but I don’t think there is a Catholic social teaching specifying what that is, meaning there is room for disagreement.

    So back to my theological point, if we are really just talking about cuts to a program that bring it back to the level where it was a mere handful of years ago, we are very far from the apocalyptic scenario conjured up the anti-Ryan statement and echoed by the bishops. You ask if 2000 levels were sufficient, but where were the Catholic scholars rising up to anathematize the Catholic politicians who voted for the budgets back then? What about a statement calling out the political cowardice of Democrats for failing to propose a budget that seriously deals with our debt crisis? The Democrat-controlled Senate has not produced a budget in three years, and President Obama’s proposed budget for next year would increase the national debt by $3.5 trillion over the next ten years.

    Yesterday I read, maybe in one of the links you posted, that the increases in SNAP payments mandated by the 2009 stimulus bill (which neither of us have mentioned is the primary cause of the increase in payments, aside from the increased number of those enrolled) are automatically set to expire, and that the cuts proposed recently by the House agriculture committee would be on top of those cuts. That, combined with the failure to make any cuts to agricultural subsidies, leads me to conclude that the plan coming out of that committee is unwise and unfair, so we probably agree more than not on this particular issue. But I also think that is my own decision to make, with an informed conscience, and that no bishop or theologian has the right to anathematize me for it, one way or the other.

    I think in the past few years something has gone terribly wrong in the U.S. Catholic Church. Much of the politicizing began with conservative Catholics, with the issue of denying communion to politicians and the protests of Obama’s honorary degree at Notre Dame. And now we have the bishop of Peoria mentioning our current administration in the same breath as Hitler and Stalin because of the contraceptive mandate. But why are left-leaning Catholics imitating the worst habits of their conservative sisters and brothers?

  6. Saying Ryan’s view of the current fiscal situation is “highly contested by both well-respected economists and theologians” means that his view is debatable, but not false, illusory or misleading (which is what I think you’re trying to say). If you say proposition X is contested, it implies that there are a multiple of legitimate positions one can rational hold and attempt to justify – you can lay out the “well-respect economists and theologians” that agree with you, just as Ryan (or someone who agrees with him) can do the same: I recommend Martin Feldman and Greg Mankiw of Harvard (among others). When you say “At some point, the economic ideology which lead to the 2008 financial crisis has to be rejected if we have any hope of rebuilding a sustainable community” implies that there is ONE consensus on what “ideology” led to the financial crisis; there isn’t.

    What I find frustrating about this “dialogue” is that Ryan’s position is being described in typical strawman fashion. For example, here’s a discussion of the actual numbers of Ryan’s drastic “cuts” in the budget: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/a-bishops-unjust-attack-on-paul-ryan/2012/04/23/gIQAPZGCcT_story.html. I’m uncomfortable with some of Ryan’s proposals, but I think his “cuts” are premised on the (rational) assumption that as the economy begins to recover and grow, there will be less need for spending levels drastically increased during the height of an economic downturn.

    Your characterization of Ryan’s entitlement reform proposals as “hiding” ignores the bipartisan consensus that the three big entitlements are fiscally unsustainable on their current trajectory. Don’t take Ryan’s word for it: read the SImpson-Bowles Commission report, and, as of yesterday, the report from the trustees of Medicare and Social Security (http://www.latimes.com/health/la-na-medicare-report-20120424,0,7399775.story).

    What Ryan is proposing are reforms that reflect long-held bipartisan consensus. That’s why, for example, Dem. Sen. Ron Wyden has signed on in support of Ryan’s Medicare reform proposal. What Ryan has said is, contrary to the assertion that he wants to “gut” and “destroy” the programs, he wants to ensure (1) that they are here for the long-term, and (2) that more of their dollars go to those who need them. I have seen no acknowledgment from his Catholic critics of his statements.

    That, it seems to me, is the big picture that Catholic progressives, and the Bishops, are missing and that unless they engage with on a realistic, substantive level will find them on the sidelines as irrelevant in this crucial debate.

  7. Josh, you made some of the points I was trying to make better than I did. Thanks!

  8. Thanks Meghan for this important reflection and the stimulating comments that have followed.

    It seems to me that there are several issues at play here. Behind the complex details of this plan are deeper questions: what is the role of government in our society? what-if any-are our responsibilities towards the poor, weak and sick in our society?

    This debate and the clash that we see here is not new. The Catholic vision of the common good and obligations towards the poor have long clashed with certain strains American individualistic culture.

    In the early 1980s, the US Bishops addressed very similar efforts to cut government assistance programs to the poor with their landmark document Economic Justice for All. Reiterating key themes from scripture, the Catholic tradition and natural law, the bishops highlighted the positive role and responsibility of government, the responsibility of paying taxes, and obligation that we all have to use public and private institutions to help those who are poor.

    This same clash happened again recently with Pope Benedict’s encyclical Caritas in Veritate and the recent statement by the Vatican on Economic Reform. The pope’s call for a positive role of government, economic reform, and strengthening of social assistance programs were again met with hostility by Anglo-Saxon proponents of liberal individualism (including some leading American Catholics)

    Sadly, the tone recently exhibited by Ryan is again the anti-poor and anti-government language from the 1980s that is so contrary to the Catholic tradition.
    Concern for and assistance to the poor, as the pope and US Bishops have argued, is not a matter of entitlement; it is a matter of justice.

    Keep up the good work Dr. Clark! My analysis of the Vatican Note on economic reform might be helpful. http://dailytheology.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/global-problems-require-global-governance-the-vatican%E2%80%99s-note-on-financial-reform/

  9. I am glad that this post has prompted a vibrant discussion.

    Matt, I am dismayed that you treat the document linked in Tobias’ post on the the approaches of two Ryan’s (Paul and the late John A.) by pulling out select phrases to misrepresent what the letter actually says and does. It does not anathematize any PERSON. It claims that Antigovernment fervor, libertarianism, and radical individualism are all anathema to the Catholic tradition. Now you can argue with myself and the other signers of the letter that Ryan’s budget is not an example of those 3 ideas — and we will just have to agree to disagree, but let’s be clear about what was said. The letter in question condemns a budget as morally indefensible, not a Congressman.

    Second, Paul Ryan himself claimed that this budget was influenced by Catholic social teaching and proceeded in the interview to give a definition of subsidiarty that is simply false. Whether you like his budget or not is a separate question, his definition of subsidiarty is not the longstanding definition and understanding of the principle of subsidiairty in catholic social teaching. We can disagree about prudential judgments – and we can have different readings about the budget – but subsidiairty IS NOT reducible to federalism, it is not anti- government, it is not smaller is by default or definition better – which was part of KEvin Ahern’s point. ( I would also contend that the understanding of the preferential option for the poor communicated in that interview is misleading and highly problemmatic when taken as the primary lens for the option for the poor).

    Now when a politician/ leader, catholic or not, claims publicly that catholic social teaching was a significant influence on any position or policy and either misrepresents or misuses CST it is more than appropriate for a group of Catholic moral theologians to speak out.

    The prompt for this poverty post is the fact that Paul Ryan and John Boehner both made specific charges about the us bishops statements on the budget and poverty…once again, no one is condemned to hell – I am arguing against specific public statements they made and charges about what the proper concern of the bishops should be and what the big picture is.

    Josh – yes we can go round and round on economists and policy analysis. You can quote the washington post and Ill go to the Center for Budget Policy and Prioirites. But when Alan Greenspan goes before Congress and admits that he spent 30+years operating within a worldview that assumed that The global financial crisis which occurred could not happen….that’s evidence that some basic economic ideology which had been operative (on both sides of the aisle) needs to be rejected if we are to move forwarded to building a sustainable community. I am well aware that this is a problem that has existed for decades in the prevailing economic mainstream (and in administrations of republicans and democrats). As an aside, there’s not significant dispute and debate among the economists who saw the crisis coming and warned of it…..and persistent cries in Washington that regulation is the problem is evidence of lessons not learned – but that is a different conversation and a different debate.

    Ultimately, Kevin is right this is a problem of different views of society, the common good and the role of government — I suspect Paul Ryan and the Bishops do have radically different understandings of these, but the problem isn’t that the bishops don’t get the bigger picture…the priority of the poor and vulnerable was central in 1986 in economic justice for all, throughout the boom of the 90s in the labor day statements when they urged concern for the poor being left behind. So the recent statements and Circle of protection alliance arenot new (and progressives who work on poverty have been speaking out along the way as well). The response to the proposed budget is not shocking or out of the blue for the USCCB and is far less radical than the 1919 Programme for Social Reconstruction (largely influenced by Msgr John A Ryan).

  10. FYI: The text of Paul Ryan’s speech this morning at Georgetown…

    http://www.nationalreview.com/corner/297054/paul-ryans-whittington-lecture-daniel-foster

  11. Thanks to all for good discussion on this important issue. What I like about the Ryan budget is that it’s forcing us to have better conversations about CST. It’s pushing all of us to better articulate how our policy stands are true to our social ethic.

    Clearly, anyone who denies our duty to the poor or the role of government in providing for the poor is outside the scope of CST, but I think Matt’s questions are crucial: How much is enough? What are we trying to do? Are we sufficiently conscious of the debt crisis? Are these programs working? Those are not right or left questions; they’re questions we all should be asking. Does SNAP work because it lifts people above the poverty line, as Megan suggests? Or should we measure a poverty program by its ability to actually reduce poverty by helping people move toward self-sufficiency?

    Though CST certainly calls for government support of the vulnerable, it also holds an ideal of a community in which most everyone participates in the economy and contributes to the common good. I think we could move beyond some of the left-right divide if we focused more on the question of what works.

  12. Meghan, you are right to correct me about the statement condemning the budget rather than the person; that is an important difference. I still think there is a great deal of irony in some of the names on the signature list lecturing someone on proper obedience to magisterial teaching, and the unfortunate use of the word “anathema” shows they are completely oblivious to it.

    Anyway, my point still stands that the problem with the statement is that it presents an exaggerated caricature of Ryan’s plan that does not deal with any of its specifics. The judgment was pre-determined. Unfortunately, I think the same is true of Kevin’s claim that Ryan is “anti-poor” and “anti-government”. What evidence is there of that? Both are false.

    In his Georgetown speech today, Ryan said:

    “To me, this approach should be based on the twin virtues of solidarity and subsidiarity – virtues that, when taken together, revitalize civil society instead of displacing it.
    “Government is one word for things we do together. But it is not the only word.
    “We are a nation that prides itself on looking out for one another – and government has an important role to play in that. But relying on distant government bureaucracies to lead this effort just hasn’t worked.”

    I think that is entirely consistent with the teaching of Centesimus Annus and Caritas in Veritate.

    Also, on the question of subsidiarity, maybe we could cut Ryan some slack since he is not a social ethicist, but it seems like he doesn’t have an entirely clear notion of subsidiarity. I agree with Meghan that it is incorrect to believe that subsidiarity necessarily means that “government closest to the people governs best”, since the principle pulls in both directions. But Ryan also compares subsidiarity to federalism, which is in fact a good example of subsidiarity because in some cases the higher level government, the federal, does have certain functions to perform.

    I will end by putting the relevant paragraph of Ryan’s interview, where he talks about subsidiarity, side by side with a well-known passage from John Paul II’s Centesimus Annus.

    “To me, the principle of subsidiarity, which is really federalism, meaning government closest to the people governs best, having a civil society of the principal of solidarity where we, through our civic organizations, through our churches, through our charities, through all of our different groups where we interact with people as a community, that’s how we advance the common good. By not having big government crowd out civic society, but by having enough space in our communities so that we can interact with each other, and take care of people who are down and out in our communities.” – Paul Ryan

    “By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need.” – John Paul II, Centesimus Annus 48

  13. I am posting this separately because it is a different topic: “As an aside, there’s not significant dispute and debate among the economists who saw the crisis coming and warned of it.”

    Well, except for all the Austrian school economists who predicted it. Not that I agree with them, its just life is complicated!

  14. To Matthew: As a Food Stamp recipient I can simply point out that I am employed but make sufficiently little so that I still qualify for food stamps. The maximum per individual is $200 a month. I would also point out the inflation rate generally excludes food and utilities, which are the only things other than rent that I can afford to buy. If you checked how much the cost of food has gone up, you might find that the increase in per person costs just covers the increase in food expense.

  15. Josh: Given that the European economies are probably about to tank again and could cause another recession if not depression, at least according to the BBC, I think that you are far too optimistic about the economy recovering.

    And given that the unemployment figures don’t count the people who have given up hope of finding a job or people who have lost their only part time job rather than a full time job, I suspect there are a whole lot more people who need jobs than what the figures show. And how many of the new jobs pay enough to live on?

  16. On the financial crisis and it’s causes, I highly recommend the work of the United Nations Commision which does represent a consensus of sorts
    http://www.un.org/ga/president/63/commission/background.shtml

    Yes, Paul Ryan is not a social ethicist; however, he opened up this conversation and as we saw in his speech at Georgetown is contuining it – therefore, no I don’t see a reason to cut him the slack you think I should.

    There is a dynamic quality to subsidiarty that makes it both difficult and crucial. Government is not always better or appropriate to a given situation and I never said it was. The principle of subsidiarity was developed because of a fear that we will end up with individuals and the government with nothing in between. But are you really suggesting that what we have now is said social assistance state? Really? I simply will contend that is false.

    Subsidiarity is concerned with promoting and protecting all the multifaceted levels in society each with a proper role in the common good. The common good is the goal. Attention to subsidiarty in catholic social teaching starting with Pius xi is within the context of recognizing a large role of the government in contemporary society. Thus, The popes do not decry national healthcare or socialized medicine as the evil social assistance state. John 23 rd called for global governance and Benedict xvi calls for global financial regulation.

    And again on Ryan, 1. Back to my original point- snap does work as the new poverty data shows it lowers the poverty rate. This is measurable, observable fact. It succeeds in feeding hungry people and pulling them over the poverty line.
    2. His statements on the war on poverty are patently false, it did not fail we stopped it (this was kings point concerning vietnam) the original program was working and cut poverty significantly.
    3. Blaming go ernment programs for a 16% poverty rate in the wake off a massive foreclosure crisis, financial crisis, and extremely high unemployment is misleading, inaccurate and ets back to Kevin’s points.
    4. The battle cry for his approach is the welfare reform of the 90s and I completely dispute his and others claims that this was a huge success. It was not a huge success. But that is a longer debate and I will simply recommend Tom Massaros 2 books on welfare reform.

  17. To the broader question of the role of government and the subsidiarity / solidarity dynamic, This American Life had a good show a few weeks ago on “What Kind of Country” where many of these issues were addressed in relation to some of the “socialized” services of our communities (police, schools, etc)
    http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/459/what-kind-of-country

    I am glad to see that such debate is happening. I would want to point out that I am sure we all agree on far more than on what we disagree about.

  18. Okay, this is my last post on this thread, but I am sure we will be talking about this for a long time.

    As Kevin said, we do agree on far more than we disagree, and I pretty much agree with your (Meghan’s) characterization of subsidiarity. But what John XXIII and Benedict XVI said about international economic regulation is distinct from what we are talking about, and that is precisely the point of subsidiarity, that you have to judge on a case by case basis what the proper balance between global/local or big/small is. Interestingly, the passage of Caritas in Veritate on social welfare that could be read as analogous to the one I quoted earlier from Centesimus Annus– we should be “applying the principle of subsidiarity and creating better integrated welfare systems, with the active participation of private individuals and civil society… A more devolved and organic system of social solidarity, less bureaucratic but no less coordinated, would make it possible to harness much dormant energy…” (#60)– is making the point that these reforms could help save money that could be used for international aid. So subsidiarity in one direction is connected to subsidiarity in the other! (I’ll admit that Paul Ryan does not share this motivation for “devolving” the welfare system…)

    You also write that the popes do not decry socialized medicine as the evil social assistance state. I would agree, but they also don’t say anything about the American-style health care system either. That is not their job. They provide the criteria for judgment that we apply to our own societies. Personally I think they are intentionally vague and general because they think that conversations like the one we are having are a good thing.

    Last point, on your doubts about the Social Assistance State. If he is not referring to our own reality, then to what is he referring? But more importantly, you point out that the fear is we will be left with individuals and states with nothing in between. Are America’s poor neighborhoods known for their vibrant family and civic life? The families, neighborhoods, and communal life in general of America’s poor have been decimated. I am not naive enough to believe this is entirely attributable to the government; the poor are crushed between market and state (“The individual today is often suffocated between two poles represented by the State and the marketplace.” – Centesimus Annus 49). But you cannot deny that to a significant degree the lives of the poor in the U.S. have been atomized in precisely the way you described. Also, you write that SNAP works because it raises people out of poverty, but that is a bit of a tautology– we define “poverty” as a certain income level, so if we give people enough money or its equivalent until they pass that level, then yes, it “works”. But is that real human flourishing? Does it do anything to resolve the situations that contributed to their poverty? Does it promote self-sufficiency among those who are able? Of course money and other material resources are necessary, but so is rebuilding the social relationships necessary for real success. And that is the point, that can only be done by those who are closest to those in need. That is what Paul Ryan is trying to get at; maybe he doesn’t sufficiently recognize the amount of assistance that is still necessary from a larger level, and I am open to that possibility. But like Julie suggested a couple of days ago, we are better off talking about these things than dismissing each other.

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