On Oct. 4, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute, spoke about social justice at the 2012 Hillsdale College Free Market Forum in Houston. The theme of the Forum, which encourages the study of free enterprise by bringing scholars together for dynamic exchanges of ideas on topics related to free market economics, was “Markets, Government, and the Common Good.” Rev. Sirico spoke about the evolved meaning of the phrase “social justice,” explaining the current usage of the phrase as well as its literal meaning. He also warned that if words and phrases lose their meaning then “chaos can result.” (more…)
Subsidiarity, the idea that those closest to a problem should be the ones to solve it, plays a particular role in development. However, it can be an idea that is a bit “slippery”: who does what and when? What is the role of faith-based organizations? What is the role of government? Susan Stabile, Professor of Law at St. John’s University School of Law, has written “Subsidiarity and the Use of Faith-Based Organizations in the Fight Against Poverty” at Mirror of Justice blog and has a succinct view of subsidiarity:
Faith-based organizations have tremendous advantages over the provision of direct benefits by the federal or state governments, being capable of steering a course between welfare as an entitlement for all and state based determinations as to what general criteria make one worthy of receiving governmental assistance. The fact that they are closer to the problem allows them to better tailor aid and solutions to the situations of those they serve. The fact that they are community-based allows them to better facilitate the full development of the human personality of those who they touch. The fact that they are faith-based allows them to capture benefits of attempting to address some of the behavioral contributors to the difficulty of improving the lives of those they serve.
However, subsidiarity emphasizes action at the level most suited to address a problem, not merely action at the lowest level. It is thus important that subsidiarity not be used as an excuse to merely devolve responsibility downward without assurance of effectiveness, that it not be used as an excuse for the federal government to abdicate responsibility to provide for the social welfare of its citizens, viewing social welfare as the responsibility of states and localities, aided by private actors. Doing so would be inconsistent both with the concerns underlying the principle of subsidiarity and with subsidiarity’s context within the broader body of Catholic social teaching, and would be little more than merely a ruse for simply reducing federal expenditures. It is thus important to recognize that the effective provision of social services requires multiple actors. While it is desirable that faith-based organizations play a significant role, the federal government must also retain a significant role both in enabling faith-based organizations to do their job and in doing those things that can not be done effectively by such organizations. Ultimately, the government must remain the ultimate backup to ensure that no one is left behind.
Ms. Stabile goes on to say that, “…addressing people’s spiritual needs, helping change their lives rather then just providing for their material needs, empowers them.” By focusing on the empowerment of people on the local level, both those in poverty and those trying to alleviate poverty, we remain centered on the human person, created in God’s image and likeness, with creative power to serve and solve.
This article is cross-posted at PovertyCure.org.
Ismael Hernandez, founder and executive director of the Freedom & Virtue Institute and Acton University lecturer, has written a piece in Crisis Magazine detailing why the Church should cut purse strings with the federal government. Noting that we cannot be both religious ministers to the poor and government-paid social workers, Hernandez bolsters his view by looking to the very foundation of America:
James Madison, known as the father of our Constitution, supported religious liberty. He is most surely quoted because he inspired much of what is authentic liberty in our Founding. Heeding his words is a great idea. When in 1794 Congress used Federal funds for relief of French refugees escaping from war in Santo Domingo, Madison opposed the appropriation stating, “I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents” (James Madison, 4 Annals of Congress 179 ).
Madison understood that right order precedes right doing and that, in the American experiment of freedom, the Constitution offers the Federal government no space for relief interventions or nationalized solutions to social problems. Unfortunately, and contrary to both Madison and subsidiarity, religious and political leaders apparently assume that if one says the Federal government should not do X, then X should not, or cannot, be done. A renewal of our minds (Romans 12:2) is needed to dispel these pernicious assumptions. As the Federal government emboldens and grows, all under the cover of helping the needy, our memory has forgotten the need for an order that facilitates right doing.
You can download Mr. Hernandez’s Acton University lecture, “Subsidiarity and Serving the Poor” here, under “Day 3″.
Review of The Tyranny of Cliches: How Liberals Cheat in the War of Ideas, by Jonah Goldberg, (New York, NY: Sentinel, 2012)
With proper training, and maybe a bit of experience on the debate team, it’s easy to recognize logical fallacies in an opponent’s argument. When it comes to popular give and take, the sort of thing we have so much of now on opinion websites and news channels, there hasn’t been decent preparation for arguments outside the columns and blog posts of Jonah Goldberg.
In The Tyranny of Cliches, the National Review contributor, syndicated columnist, author of the bestseller Liberal Fascism, and American Enterprise Institute fellow, convincingly demolishes the Left’s oft-repeated, bumper-sticker slogans that seemingly defy repudiation by many who fear being depicted as a heartless jackanape.
For example, if an impassioned public figure pleads that yet another government expansion and encroachment is “for the children” it is therefore ipso facto in the best interests of everyone. This is a “case-closed” logical fallacy that circumvents rational discussion by declaring that if millions of cute kids benefit, only meanies, bullies, or some contemporary amalgamation of Attila the Hun, Adolph Hitler, Pol Pot, Joseph Stalin, and Darth Vader could oppose it.
Not so fast. Goldberg’s new book wonderfully dissects such liberal shibboleths as “social justice,” “diversity,” attacks on organized religion in general and Roman Catholicism in particular, and “separation of church and state” to reveal the hollowness within. In this regard, Goldberg resembles most William F. Buckley, with the difference that the latter stood athwart history yelling stop, and the former stands astride postmodernism to scream “enough!”
Is ‘fair trade’ more fair or more just than free trade? While free trade has been increasingly maligned, The Fair Trade movement has become increasingly popular over the last several years. Many see this movement as a way to help people in the developing world and as a more just alternative to free trade. On the other hand, others argue that fair trade creates an unfair advantage that tends to harm the poor.
Writing in today’s Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute:
Jobs & deficits — the moral equation
By Rev. Robert A. Sirico
Thursday, September 15, 2011
The Genesis account of creation tells us that from the beginning, humanity was created to work. God puts Adam in the garden to “work and watch over it.” The Scripture provides an insight into our nature: We are all, man and woman, called into this life to find our vocation, the work that is uniquely ours and contributes to the flourishing of the wider community.
This explains why we are naturally so troubled about what appear to be merely economic problems: intractable unemployment and the various schemes put forth by policy makers to spur job creation. But behind the question is the reality that we naturally prefer people to be productive contributors to our economic life.
How we accomplish that is the subject of the debate over our unsustainable budget and debt trajectory. Do we choose those policies that make room for more freedom in the market, unleashing the creative potential of the American worker, business owner and entrepreneur? Or do we default, once more, to political and bureaucratic measures that require heavier burdens of taxation and regulation?
A government that actively sustains poverty by removing natural incentives to work is gravely in the wrong. Such government is without its essential anchor, which is that understanding of humanity as creative and productive.
The super committee created by Congress’ debt-ceiling compromise has begun its work to find $1.5 trillion in federal spending cuts ($2 trillion if the committee accepts the cuts corresponding to President Obama’s proposed stimulus). Even after this reduction, though, the nation’s debt will be unacceptably burdensome.
In 2011, for the first time since World War II, the amount of our total federal debt will surpass annual GDP. This is perilous, because economic capacity begins to be seriously affected when a country’s debt reaches 80 percent of GDP.
The super committee should begin by cutting social programs that perpetuate cycles of poverty. The only way to rise from poverty is to contribute to economic activity — a job is the best poverty program ever devised.
The federal government has spent hundreds of billions of dollars in the “War on Poverty” since Lyndon B. Johnson declared it, but we have next to nothing to show for the expense. And the agenda put forward by the religious left devalues the human person, treating the poor as objects of charity rather than as economic contributors.
The federal government does have real obligations to current generations that must be met. But without substantive reform of our largest entitlement programs, the country’s long-term fiscal health cannot be secured.
We cannot leave future generations with the full burden of our debt, which becomes a heavier weight the longer it is left unaddressed.
Congress must remember that economic growth is driven by innovations — by improvements in how the population produces goods and delivers them. The incentives caused by an expanding government run counter to economic growth because they run counter to human nature.
As reform of federal spending is undertaken, all cuts must be made with an eye to freeing citizens of every class to pursue their economic potential — to engage in the kind of dignified work that is essential to our nature, properly understood.
“In the Gospel of Matthew we find Jesus warning us about how our lives will be judged. His words are pointed. We are to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, and visit the prisoner. For what we do to the poor and the destitute—“the least of these my brethren,” says Jesus—we do to the Lord himself.
It’s a sobering warning, and I fear that I’m typical. For the most part I think about myself: my needs, my interests, my desires. And when I break out of my cocoon of self-interest, it’s usually because I’m thinking about my family or my friends, which is still a kind of self-interest. The poor? Sure, I feel a sense of responsibility, but they’re remote and more hypothetical than real: objects of a thin, distant moral concern that tends to be overwhelmed by the immediate demands of my life. As I said, I’m afraid I’m typical.”
Reno points out something very interesting about the language used to describe our relationship to the poor:
“In Octogesima Adveniens (1971), an encyclical marking the eightieth anniversary of Leo XIII’s seminal treatment of modern social issues, Rerum Novarum, Paul VI evoked the fundamental importance of a transformative spirit of self-sacrificial love. “In teaching us charity,” he wrote, “the Gospel instructs us in the preferential respect due to the poor and the special situation they have in society: the most fortunate should renounce some of their rights so as to place their goods generously at the service of others.”
“Preferential respect” became the handier slogan “preferential option,” a formulation that first emerged from liberation theologies in South America but has percolated into a great deal of Catholic pronouncement on social ethics in recent decades. It captures a fundamental Christian imperative. When we think about politics and culture, our first question should be: “What are the needs of the poor?””
The late Fr. Pedro Arrupe, S.J. coined the phrase, ‘preferential option for the poor’ a few years prior to Pope Paul VI’s use of ‘preferential respect’ in his encyclical and both phrases bring out a different dimension of what the Christian’s relationship with the poor should be.
The language of Arrupe follows the Ignatian tradition in its emphasis on choice. It is a preferential option, a decision to be made, and a commitment to be lived. The language of Pope Paul VI is more ontological, a respect to be given to the poor as poor, possessing a dignity that also demands ones own renunciation of rights and claims before them.
When meditating on the preferential option, a relationship of action and choice, Reno is right to recall the words of Jesus when he speaks of the judgment, “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”
When I think of Pope Paul VI’s language of respect my thoughts go to these words of Christ, “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good: but me ye have not always.”
The poor must never be reduced to a project or duty and they must never be ignored while simultaneously held in our esteem. They are our neighbors and all that that entails.
Today a group of Calvin Seminary students enjoyed a lunchtime talk by Dr. John H. Armstrong, founder of ACT 3 and adjunct professor of evangelism at Wheaton College, “Missional-Ecumenism: The Protestant Challenge and Opportunity.” Dr. Armstrong spoke about his book, Your Church is Too Small: Why Unity in Christ’s Mission Is Vital to the Future of the Church, where he lays out his vision for missional-ecumenism. Rather than emphasizing the institutional and international focus of the older mainline ecumenical movement, Dr. Armstrong’s vision is focused on local and practical work that Christians of all stripes can do together. It is what happens when ecumenism meets subsidiarity.
The Acton Institute co-sponsored the luncheon along with ACT 3, and it was a pleasure to hear Dr. Armstrong’s story and about his engagement with Christians from a variety of different denominational and confessional traditions. One of the important points he made was the formative influence that Roman Catholic Social Teaching has had on his ethical thinking as a Protestant. He pointed especially to Rerum Novarum and the subsequent social encyclicals as important sources for Protestant dialogue and engagement.
Dr. Armstrong will be teaching the course on Introduction to Protestant Social Thought at Acton University 2011, and he will also be speaking at another local event here in Grand Rapids later this week. On Wednesday evening, Dr. Armstrong will discuss “Ecumenism and the Threat of Ideology.” Join us if you are able for a night of fun, fellowship, and discussion.
Dr. Armstrong blogs here and you can follow him on Twitter here.
According to a report from the Zenit News Service, Cardinal Renato Martino, president of the Pontifical Council of Justice and Peace, recently insisted that the “logic” of the market be changed. He said that the logic “was till (sic) now that of maximum gain, and therefore the most investments possible directed toward obtaining maximum benefit. And this, according to the social doctrine of the Church, is immoral.” This is because, according to the Cardinal, the market “should be able to benefit not just those who invest capital, but those who participate in the step of making it grow, that is, those who work.”
Aside from the fact that some of the terms he used are too vague to make any judgment about, like “maximum benefit,” the economics in his statement would be more appropriate of a kid, rather than a Cardinal. So, let’s learn some economics.
Firstly, money has alternative uses. If I have some excess wealth, I am going to invest it in the things which give me the highest return. Why would I do this? Because, those projects which promise the highest return, taking risk into account, will produce the things that people want most, and hence will give me more “bang for the buck.” For example, would you invest your money in a carpentry business run by me? I wouldn’t—because I can’t hammer a nail. No wants a carpenter who does not know what he is doing. But would you invest in McDonald’s? Sure. Most everyone eats at McDonald’s, and kids especially love the place. And what do the people who patronize McDonald’s get out of it? They get a food for which they willingly and freely exchange money, and feel the better off for doing so, or they would not do it. And who supplies the food? The workers, in exchange for their discounted marginal revenue product. In other words, they exchange their time for the money equivalent of what they produce. Why are people paid different wages? They get different wages because their output is different. The work of the person who sweeps up, while necessary or he would not have been hired, is worth less than the work of the person who puts the burgers together. The burger guy’s work is not worth as much as the trained manager who is responsible for coordinating the whole operation. None of this would be possible without the people who ponied up the money in the first place expecting a high return for the money the usage of which they were willing to forgo. If this is immoral and against the social doctrine of the Church, then I am Santa Claus. If fact, to have an economy worthy of the name at all without this investment process would be worthy only of a figure like Santa Claus.
I have long argued in my writings that churchmen who have no real economic training or understanding prescind from making remarks like this which mislead the faithful, and portray the sui generis (self-generating) free market economy as an operation run from the top by a few greedy people constantly plotting to withhold wealth from the ordinary folks.
Lastly, the Cardinal remarks, “All of us should collaborate in the good of all.” This is exactly what the market does, except for those who are not able or refuse to participate in it, much of which is caused by political interference with the process, such as governments who punish provinces in Africa which are in rebellion and refuse to allow food supplies to reach the people in those provinces, or Western politicians who, in exchange for votes, have created generations of people addicted to government checks, rather than productive work and advancement.
I wonder what His Eminence thinks of government-imposed protective tariffs the purpose of which is to keep the goods of foreign workers from competing with domestic goods, in return for support from corporations and unions in the domestic industry. This prevents globalization—it prevents the wealth of the United States and other well-off countries from going to them for the products they work to produce.
Gee, Cardinal Martino, get a clue.
Read more from Dr. Luckey at “Catholic Truths on Economics.”
Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Vatican’s Secretary of State and effectively the second most important official in the Catholic Church, has written a new book titled, “L’etica del Bene Comune nella Dottrina Sociale della Chiesa” (The Ethics of the Common Good in the Social Doctrine of the Church), with a preface from the Russian Orthodox Metropolitan Kirill of Smolensk and Kaliningrad. The edition contains the Italian and Russian texts side-by-side, but it has not yet appeared in English though the Zenit News Agency has reported on the book’s presentation in Moscow.
The book is notable for its ecumenical character; it’s not often that the Catholic and the Russian Orthodox Churches have collaborated at such a high level. Such an effort could lead to closer relations and more dialogue in the future.
Overall, there is a large degree of agreement between Kirill and Bertone, but there are also some strikingly different perspectives on economic globalization and the role of the nation-state.
Kirill writes that money is only a means for an entrepreneurial activity: “Genuine, totally exciting work, is the businessman’s real wealth. The absence of the worship of money emancipates man, makes him free interiorly and similar to his Creator.” But he also asserts that globalization has increased the gap between rich and poor in the last twenty years and calls an international economic system always on the verge of crisis anything but ethical.
On the other hand, Bertone does not despair about the new challenges brought on by rapid growth and stresses the potential common good of economic globalization. His positive appraisal is rooted in the history of economic development in the Christian West. He extensively illustrates the various institutions founded thanks to a Christian spirit and an entrepreneurial vocation: schools, hospitals, banks and charitable organizations.
Not surprisingly, both Kirill and Bertone agree that a morally-orientated economy is a fundamental aspect for the development of a harmonious society, and both affirm that such a society should tend naturally to the common good when human activity is inspired by the principle of “fraternity.”
For Kirill, however, the notion of fraternity is primarily based on national identity and national growth, whereas Bertone stresses a more “universal,” trans-national aspect of this principle.
Furthermore, Bertone also speaks eloquently of philanthropy, solidarity, reciprocity, and above all gratitude. Man must recognize “the logic of the gift he has received and its gratuitousness,” and in doing so it will be easier for him to “express solidarity”.
In general, Kirill’s assessement of globalization is largely negative; Bertone’s is more hopeful. But neither of them, unfortunately, seem to take economics as a science very seriously. Many of their arguments, both positive and negative, on globalization would have benefited from an analysis of how markets work, or should work, in conjunction with the moral and ethical beliefs of individuals and society.
This volume proves that Christian social doctrine, whether it be Orthodox or Catholic, cannot exist simply as a pious wish or a moral theory; at some point, it has to deal with reality and the everyday world of human activities and relations. Without a grasp of this reality, social doctrine will most probably remain the Church’s “best-kept secret.”