Acton president and co-founder, Rev. Robert Sirico was recently interviewed for Beliefnet by John W Kennedy, who writes about “the crossroads of faith, media, and culture.” They discussed a variety of issues, including the Church’s views on economics, the media portrayal as business as inherently evil, the Pope’s comments about economics, PovertyCure and more. See a portion of their discussion below:
John W Kennedy: In your view, how can government — and religion — help create an atmosphere in which free enterprise and business and do the most good?
Robert Sirico: Well, I think that there are several things. If we address it from the point of view of government, government should do what government should do — that is to guaranty freedom to people so that we defend the weakest in our society and the weakest members in our economy. We do this by the rule of law — to prevent violence, to demand restitution where violence has been already enacted, to ensure the rights of contracts and the right of property, the right of trade. In regard to contracts (Government should ensure) that when people say that they’ll work for a certain amount of money that they’re indeed paid what’s been agreed upon for their work rather than being exploited. (Government should) make sure that when people sell things to people that (customers) get what they have paid for. All of this is the function of law.In addition to that — and on the margins — the government may be used as a resource for those who are in a very desperate and extremely vulnerable situation. But, that action — what some call a safety net — has to be temporary. It can’t be replace all of the other sectors of society that also play a role in that such as business and mediating institutions like charities.I think also, by not competing with the charities, the government can, in a direct way, assist those that are in need. In other words, right now there are various kinds of governmental charities that don’t treat the real needs of people…Maybe the best way to say this is to say that the most reliable indicator that a person will be poor is that (of being) a young girl who does not finish high school and who has a child outside of marriage. If you have those things going on in your life, it’s the most reliable predictor of poverty. It’s the largest sector of poverty.And how might the government help (in) this (situation)? By not inhibiting the ability of people who are addressing the question of marriage and the question of teenage pregnancies, the question of sex before marriage, the question of learning life skills and of education. Very often, the government does just the opposite (by) presenting a girl like this an incentive to leave their home, to not get married and have various kinds of subsidies and would even increase the amount of subsidies based on the number of children that they’re having. In other words would, in effect, (the government subsidizes) this kind of thing by incentivizing lifestyle choices that exacerbate the problem……I remember when I was growing up we had St. Ann’s Homes…Very often there were girls who had gotten pregnant outside of marriage (and) came from a (problem) home. They would learn to stabilize their lives and would be helped to understand what virtuous living looks like. They’d get their high school education, get their training that they would need in order to raise children or put children up for adoption. Those kinds of approaches were more holistic than the kinds of bureaucratic approaches the government provides.
JWK: Do you think that — with the help of the government — a sort of poverty industry has developed that actually benefits by perpetuating the behaviors that increase poverty?RS: Well, of course, the real people who make the money off of poverty aren’t the poor. It’s the politicians and the bureaucrats, the people who are providing the very services that are operating in these large bureaucratic institutions. I think, for the most part, we treat the poor themselves as animals. You know, when an animal is hungry you give it something to eat and when it’s thirsty you lead it to the trough to get something to drink. When it’s cold you put it in the barn. That’s what these industries are doing. They’re just providing the material things that people need rather than investing their lives in the vulnerability of human beings. The last people I’m going to criticize are the most vulnerable.
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