Category: Effective Compassion

Susan Stabile, a law professor at St. John’s University and a contributor to Mirror of Justice, analyzes the current state of health coverage in the United States in light of Catholic social teaching in this article. I have quibbles here and there along the way, but on the whole the approach and the conclusions are sound. She is probably right that Health Savings Accounts (HSAs) have limited value, though my reasoning would be a little different. I would say that, in principle, they represent a helpful idea—increase the operation of the market within health care—but they are such a small foray into a vast and complicated world beset with market distortions on every side, that they end up exhibiting the deficiencies that Stabile identifies.

The verdict is obviously still out on the Massachusetts plan but I am willing, with Stabile, to give it the benefit of the doubt as a generally well-conceived step to try to solve a difficult problem.

One issue that Stabile and so many others writing on this subject fail to take into account is distinguishing between necessary and elective health care. This is a critical issue that simply must be a part of our ongoing debate about health coverage. She rightly insists that Catholic social teaching views health care as a right. But does that right imply a monthly medical check-up? An annual one? Plastic surgery to make wounds less noticeable? Botox treatments to take the lines out of one’s aging countenance?

Probably we could come to consensus that the last item in that list is not a right. But what about the others? It’s not an easy distinction and there will be a lot of different views about where to draw the line. As soon as we take health care out of the realm of the market (where every person gets just what he is willing to pay for personally), it seems to me that we have to answer not only the question, How is the community going to ensure that everyone receives health care?, but also the question, Which forms of health care will the community pay for? To think that everyone can have every bit of medical treatment he or she wishes is pie-in-the-sky utopianism. Health care is a scarce commodity like anything else, and its distribution at some level must somehow be tied to market pricing.

I think we need to stop thinking about health care as a special case and think about it more as just another basic good necessary for human wellbeing. Take nourishment as an example. No one (or nearly no one) advocates that any person be left to starve to death. And no (or nearly no one) argues that everyone must have access to five-star restaurants. Instead, people take up positions along a spectrum. Some argue that private charity can provide the needed safety net; some insist that government programs are necessary; some say that a mixture of the two is best. But with health care, it seems that many people believe that everyone must be able to afford the equivalent of the five-star restaurant; otherwise there is unconscionable inequity. It’s an impossible goal.

One thing that President Bush’s formation of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives did was lead the way for the formation of similar offices at various other levels of government.

For example, in Michigan, Gov. Granholm formed the Governor’s Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives by means of an executive order in March, 2005. And the city government in Lansing also has such an office, formed in August of this year, and has recently announced the agenda for the effort (HT: Religion Clause).

If David Kuo wants to portray the president’s faith-based initiative as nothing more than a political ploy with no substance, he’s going to have to account for all the work that is potentially being done at all these other levels of government. (I say potentially because there are of course questions about how these efforts have been implemented and what sort of work they are actually doing.)

Perhaps the formation of such community and faith-based offices at other levels were unintended by the Bush campaign, but even so they now mean that the work of governmental faith-based initiatives is no longer simply identical and coextensive with that of the White House office.

Blog author: jballor
Wednesday, November 8, 2006
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Strong claims coming from Sam at the Philanthropy in Culture, Education, Entrepreneurship blog:

The Charity model does not work – Fact. Time to move on. Responsible, accountable, dignified, respectable investment will liberate the developing world. Inventing a new model for the philanthropic space is not necessary. There is one already in existence – the business model. Change comes about through those who are bold and fearless, constantly innovating on a daily basis, questioning, re-inventing out dated methodologies. Trends suggest partnerships between business and NGO, sharing expertise to deliver lasting, viable solutions – a potent combination.

I guess it depends on what you mean by “the charity model,” but this strikes me as a false dichotomy. Why not both vibrant charity and vigorous commercial investment? Or is that what Sam is arguing for?

Blog author: jballor
Tuesday, October 31, 2006
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One thing that they do over at GetReligion is track “ghosts” in news stories. I think I found one this morning on the CBS Morning Show, and it’s fitting to talk about it given that today is Halloween.

The piece was on the charitable work of a Houston policeman, Bob Decker, who founded the charity Paper Houses Across the Border (video here).

As part of their “Heroes Among Us” series, based on profiles published in People magazine, CBS described Decker’s work in helping the poorest of the poor in Mexico. During a trip to Mexico, Decker accidentally traveled down some back roads and saw people living in flimsy and ramshackle homes.

Moved by what he saw, “Decker began working overtime on weekends, taking that extra income to an orphanage just across the border from Del Rio, Texas, in Acuna, Mexico. It’s a 350-mile commute.”

“The fact that one guy just working part-time jobs could feed and pay for the shelter and clothing of 24 children just stunned me,” Decker said. “And I thought about the money I had thrown away in a lifetime. And I thought, ‘Man, if can do this much with just that, think what I could do if I got a couple more families involved.'”

That started Paper Homes Across the Border, Decker’s charity that provides all manner of charitable services to the residents of the so-called “colonias”.

There’s nothing on the moral or religious foundations for Decker’s loving work in the CBS piece (Update: I just checked the issue of People, nothing in there either), but here’s the ghost in the story: “I was lost when I came to the colonias but boy, I got found here,” he said. (more…)

Blog author: jballor
Friday, October 27, 2006
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“From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked” (Luke 12:48 NIV).

When Bank of America Philanthropic Management noticed that “the wealthiest 3% of American households responsible for nearly two-thirds of charitable giving,” it decided to study philanthropic giving. (The top 5% paid 54.4% of taxes in 2003.)

Passed on by Don’t Tell the Donor, “Bank of America today released the initial results of the most comprehensive survey to-date of the philanthropic behavior of wealthy Americans. The Bank of America High Net-Worth Philanthropy Study was conducted by The Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University for Bank of America.”

Among the key findings:

  • “Giving back” is more important than “leaving a legacy”

  • There is a surprising correlation between donations of time and dollars
  • Wealthy donors report that even major tax policy changes would not impact their giving
  • Entrepreneurs are especially generous donors
  • Charitable giving increased over the last five years
  • Wealthy donors support a broader array of causes

    Yesterday the Detroit News ran an op-ed in which I argue that corporate America should apply the fundamental insight behind President Bush’s faith-based initiative and open up their charitable giving to faith groups, since they “often provide more comprehensive and therefore often more effective assistance than purely secular or governmental counterparts.” A number of large corporate foundations either explicitly rule out donations to faith groups or refuse to contribute matching funds to them.

    One of the advantages to liberalizing the corporate playing field is that such an effort would avoid potential church-state and constitutionality issues that have plagued the president’s plan. It could also potentially de-politicize charitable giving, which has become a hot topic especially in light of the recent charges levelled by David Kuo (who now blogs here, conveniently enough).

    A brief side note: I had to stifle a laugh when I read Jim Wallis’ reaction to Kuo’s book. Wallis concludes that we must “beware of those who would manipulate genuine faith for partisan political purposes.” Amy Sullivan, a guest blogger on Wallis’ Beliefnet blog, posting at Faithful Democrats, writes that “at some point, being a person of good faith shouldn’t get you off the hook, it should require something of you.” Hello, pot? This is the kettle calling…

    In any case, for those that are interested, after the jump I have posted a longer version of my commentary on faith groups and corporate giving, complete with links to relevant external sources. (more…)

    Blog author: jballor
    Wednesday, October 11, 2006
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    Via International Civic Engagement:

    Already available in English, Japanese, Italian and Polish, the game will now be accessible in French, Hungarian and Chinese by the end of next week, vastly increasing the forum for the UN World Food Programme’s (WFP) ‘Food Force’ www.food-force.com – designed to teach youngsters about the problems of global hunger and what humanitarian organizations do to fight it.

    The English, Japanese, Italian and Polish versions, which were launched over the past 18 months, have totalled over 4.5 million downloads to date, making Food Force a major success story in the educational gaming sector.

    My review of the game is here, along with other PowerBlog commentary on socially active video games.

    Blog author: jballor
    Friday, September 22, 2006
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    In a way, the Center for Social Innovation at Stanford recognizes a fact that Ron Sider has written on and I have thought about for a long time. In “A New Take on Tithing,” Claude Rosenberg & Tim Stone write:

    Too often, individuals make decisions about how much money to donate to charitable causes on an ad hoc basis. As a result, many people give less money than they can actually afford. If the affluent contributed as much to nonprofits as the authors believe they can, charitable giving in the United States would increase by $100 billion a year – enough to solve many of the world’s most pressing problems.

    Sider has previously written: “If American Christians simply gave a tithe rather than the current one-quarter of a tithe, there would be enough private Christian dollars to provide basic health care and education to all the poor of the earth. And we would still have an extra $60-70 billion left over for evangelism around the world.”

    The Stanford estimate is about one-third higher than Sider’s estimate with regard to how much extra charitable income there might be if the tithe were rigorously implemented. Part of the difference might be due to the fact that there are somewhat different sets of people under examination. The Stanford estimate is primarily based on “the affluent,” while Sider is talking about “American Christians” in general (clearly there is significant but not complete overlap).

    But another aspect of the difference might in fact be the nuance of the Stanford piece’s analysis, and one of its key points: charitable giving should not be based simply on take home pay. Under what they call the “old tithe,” the following seems to be the case, “When people tithe, they typically base the amount they give on their income alone, not on their income and investment assets.”

    Of course, assuming that at first the investment asset seed money was take home pay, the tithe would have already been applied to those funds. In essence, the “new tithe” is a double application of the tithe, the second time pertaining to profits earned with money to which the tithe had previously been applied.

    Whether or not you think this sort of double tithe is appropriate, the Stanford piece does raise the important question of the responsible stewardship of investment profits. And while at first Sider’s estimate may seem more conservative than the Stanford estimate, if you take into account Sider’s endorsement of a graduated tithe, Sider’s model would end up being much more stringent in terms of its expectations (the graduated tithe is the idea that as income increases, so should the percentage of giving increase, eventually to 100% above a certain threshold).

    Some may object that the new double tithe or the graduated tithe, or even the old tithe itself is too legalistic, too stringent, or both. To that I have two things to say.

    First, let’s put the level of giving in perspective. Whether or not you think the tithe is a biblical requirement, it is valid as a consistent baseline measure. According to Barna’s research, “The proportion of households that tithe their income to their church – that is, give at least ten percent of their income to that ministry – has dropped by 62% in the past year, from 8% in 2001 to just 3% of adults during 2002.” In addition, “9% of born again Christians tithed their income to churches in 2004,” and “When contributions are examined as a percentage of household income, giving to religious centers represents about 2.2% of gross income.”

    Second, even if you agree with Russell Earl Kelly, Ph.D., that the tithe is not a biblical requirement, it is a far more difficult case to make that the tithe is “unbiblical” or anti-Scriptural. The category of adiaphora would apply here, I think. So, for example, the assertion that the New Testament does not explicitly endorse or teach tithing does not necessarily mean that Christians cannot practice it or that it is “wrong” to tithe.

    In his Townhall.com column, which also appears over at Human Events Online, Acton senior fellow Marvin Olasky mentions the work of the Acton Institute’s Samaritan Award in defense of “compassionate conservatism”:

    Those who think compassionate conservatism is dead should come to Samaritan Award programs in Richmond or Fairfield, California; Memphis, Nashville or Knoxville, Tennessee; Camden, N.J., or Chester, Penn.; Columbus, Ohio, or Hastings, Neb. or Marquette, Mich.

    Why go there? Because those are the towns and cities that are home to this year’s Samaritan Award honorees:

    These programs provide challenging, personal and spiritual help to jobless men, homeless women, feckless teens and fatherless children. Space doesn’t permit me to show their merits here, but World magazine profiled the 10, plus five others on Sept. 2. And these programs are just the iceberg’s tip. Acton has more than 900 groups in its Samaritan Guide, and thousands more are little-known.

    What is conservative about all this? Olasky writes,

    Few of the groups receive government money. They don’t spend their time and scant funds applying for federal grants or attending workshops on how to apply for grants. They are hands-on, and they use the hands of many volunteers. Most are purely local, but some that began locally have now expanded to other cities. Diverse organizational forms are developing as well-run small groups pass on to others the secrets of their success, and perhaps replicate themselves elsewhere.

    For more information, check out the Samaritan Award website.

    Blog author: kschmiesing
    Friday, September 8, 2006
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    Jeff Mirus of CatholicCulture.org flogs an address by Capuchin friar and dean of theology at St. Mary’s Seminary and University in Baltimore, Father David Couturier. I share Mirus’s assessment that “one is at times unsure exactly what Fr. Couturier means,” but some of his points do seem at odds with the vision of charity articulated by, for example, Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est, as Mirus points out.

    Especially perplexing is Couturier’s statement concerning the role of Capuchin Franciscans in world affairs. He minimizes concern about the impact of diminishing vocations on conventional charity and emphasizes the promise of progress through non-governmental organizations:

    “It doesn’t matter how small we get,” argues Fr. Couturier. “It is our international character that gives us strength and influence in the world today.”

    So, the fact that there may be no friars left at the local level to feed the hungry and shelter the homeless is relatively unimportant, as long as there are Capuchins working for “justice and peace” at the highest levels of U.N.-affiliated NGOs?

    I have great respect for Franciscans all over the world who perform tremendous charitable and educational work, especially for those working in some very difficult settings. But I hope that the friars pay more attention to the writings of John Paul II and Benedict XVI than to the musings of Fr. Couturier when discerning their way forward.