Posts tagged with: subsidiarity

A little while ago, and in the context of the health care reform debate, Sam Gregg observed in this space that the American Catholic hierarchy had, to the detriment of church and country, neglected the importance of subsidiarity.

Now, Deal Hudson at insidecatholic.com argues that New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is practically going about what the bishops have theoretically ignored. Of course Christie doesn’t invoke the principle explicitly, but Hudson sees the idea of subsidiarity at work in the governor’s proposals to, among other things, privatize state parks and outsource worker’s comp and pension systems.

I’m inclined to agree with Hudson (besides, I already admired Christie for his courage in taking on teachers’ unions). But there’s an interesting discussion in the comments section at the bottom of Hudson’s article, where readers are debating the meaning of subsidiarity and making some accurate qualifications: for example, “privatization” is not necessarily a synonym for subsidiarity.

Acton Institute Research Director Samuel Gregg joins guest host Paul G. Kengor on Ave Maria Radio’s Kresta in the Afternoon. In this June 28 segment, Kengor asks, “When we talk as Catholics about elevation of the poor and service to those who are less fortunate, we often talk about subsidiarity and social justice. What do those terms mean in the context of Catholic social teaching?”

Listen to “Subsidiarity and Social Justice. What do those terms really mean?” by clicking on the audio player icon below.

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Samuel Gregg has authored several books including On Ordered Liberty, his prize-winning The Commercial Society, and Wilhelm Röpke’s Political Economy.

Read his Acton commentaries here. And his PowerBlog post: “What is the USCCB’s problem with subsidiarity?”

Paul Kengor, Ph.D., is professor of political science at Grove City College, a four-year, private Christian liberal arts college in Grove City, Pennsylvania. He is executive director of the Center for Vision & Values, a Grove City College think-tank/policy center, and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution on War, Revolution, and Peace at Stanford University.

On May 21, 2010, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops released a media statement which sought to identify the way forward for Catholic engagement in the healthcare debate in light of the passage of healthcare legislation. The USCCB stresses that at the core of the bishops’ advocacy throughout the debate was a concern for three principles: (1) the protection of innocent life from the use of lethal force from conception to natural death; (2) the maintenance of conscience protections; and (3) the realization of universal access to healthcare for all, especially the poor and migrants. These, the USCCB stresses, will remain at the forefront of its contributions to the healthcare discussion. The USCCB consequently asks America’s “Catholic community to come together in defense of human life, rights of conscience and fairness to immigrants so we will have a health care system that truly respects the life, dignity, health and consciences of all.”

All this is well and good. Unfortunately, there is no mention in this text of a concern voiced by a good number of Catholic bishops throughout the debate: an assessment of whether the recent healthcare legislation can truly be said to reflect adherence to the principle of subsidiarity. For anyone who needs a reminder of what this principle means, here’s what the Catechism of the Catholic Church says (CCC 1883):

Excessive intervention by the state can threaten personal freedom and initiative. The teaching of the Church has elaborated the principle of subsidiarity, according to which ‘a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good’.

It’s important to note that subsidiarity is not an “anti-government” or “anti-state” principle. Indeed it affirms that there is a role for government because (1) there are some things that only governments can and should do and (2) sometimes the state does need to intervene when other communities are unable to cope temporarily with their particular responsibilities. Nor, it should be added, does subsidiarity always translate into the very same policy-positions, precisely because some elements of the common good are in a constant state of flux.

That said, it’s puzzling to say the least that the USCCB, both during and after the healthcare debate, is not in the habit of referencing subsidiarity as a vital principle for Catholics to reflect upon as they consider the implications of what few now question amounts to the massive expansion of Federal government control over healthcare in the United States. Contrary to what some Catholics imagine (especially the professional social justice activists who dissent from fundamental church dogmas and doctrines while casting anathemas against anyone who disagrees with their own prudential judgments on any number of economic issues), striving to widen access to healthcare need not automatically translate into the state assuming a dominant role.

In their important joint pastoral letter of August 22, 2009, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City, Kansas, and Bishop Robert W. Finn of Kansas City-St. Joseph listed subsidiarity as a vital principle upon which Catholics should reflect when thinking about health care reform. They even described subsidiarity as “the preamble to the Work of Reform”. Elsewhere in the document the bishops spelt out what this means for healthcare reform:

The right of every individual to access health care does not necessarily suppose an obligation on the part of the government to provide it. Yet in our American culture, Catholic teaching about the ‘right’ to healthcare is sometimes confused with the structures of ‘entitlement.’ The teaching of the Universal Church has never been to suggest a government socialization of medical services. Rather, the Church has asserted the rights of every individual to have access to those things most necessary for sustaining and caring for human life, while at the same time insisting on the personal responsibility of each individual to care properly for his or her own health.

During the healthcare debate, a considerable number of Catholic bishops expressed similar views. Bishops Walker Nickless of Sioux City, for example, was very specific:

… the Catholic Church does not teach that ‘health care’ as such, without distinction, is a natural right. The ‘natural right’ of health care is the divine bounty of food, water, and air without which all of us quickly die. This bounty comes from God directly. None of us own it, and none of us can morally withhold it from others. The remainder of health care is a political, not a natural, right, because it comes from our human efforts, creativity, and compassion. As a political right, health care should be apportioned according to need, not ability to pay or to benefit from the care. We reject the rationing of care. Those who are sickest should get the most care, regardless of age, status, or wealth. But how to do this is not self-evident. The decisions that we must collectively make about how to administer health care therefore fall under ‘prudential judgment.’ [I]n that category of prudential judgment, the Catholic Church does not teach that government should directly provide health care. Unlike a prudential concern like national defense, for which government monopolization is objectively good – it both limits violence overall and prevents the obvious abuses to which private armies are susceptible – health care should not be subject to federal monopolization.

Preserving patient choice (through a flourishing private sector) is the only way to prevent a health care monopoly from denying care arbitrarily, as we learned from HMOs in the recent past. While a government monopoly would not be motivated by profit, it would be motivated by such bureaucratic standards as quotas and defined ‘best procedures,’ which are equally beyond the influence of most citizens. The proper role of the government is to regulate the private sector, in order to foster healthy competition and to curtail abuses. Therefore any legislation that undermines the viability of the private sector is suspect. Private, religious hospitals and nursing homes, in particular, should be protected, because these are the ones most vigorously offering actual health care to the poorest of the poor.

These and similar views expressed by many bishops were dismissed as “libertarian” by whatever’s left these days of the Catholic left – as if only libertarians could possibly believe that limiting government power and encouraging private sector and civil society solutions to genuine social and economic problems are good things.

The truth, however, is that the USCCB’s professional social justice bureaucrats have a long history of playing down or even ignoring the implications of the principle of subsidiarity. Subsidiarity isn’t, for example, even listed as one of the “Themes of Catholic Teaching” on the Justice, Peace and Development section of the USCCB’s website. It is long past the time for that to change.

Blog author: mmiller
posted by on Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Here is an question: Where do a lot of socially liberal, anti-capitalists,left-leaning, organic, environmentalist, vegan, social democrat types who enthusiastically support government regulation and nationalized health care go to find a sense of community?

Answer: Free Markets
To be more precise: Farmer’s Markets.

Spring is in the air and so I headed off to the first official day of the farmer’s market in Grand Rapids on Saturday. As you can imagine farmer’s markets not only have an abundant supply of fresh vegetables and meats–but lots of liberal bumper stickers and flocks of “counter cultural” folk who tend to look the same, and love to talk about sustainability, free range chickens, grass finished beef, and the evils of capitalism.

Yes they love to go to farmer’s markets to buy local, drink fair trade coffee, and meet up with their friends and comrades. (To be sure there are a lot regular folks and farmers who also go to the farmer’s markets, less to make a political statement, and more to buy and sell wholesome foods at good prices).

But the irony-or rather tragedy–is that if the left had their way, then agriculture would be even more controlled by the government than it is now, and local growers and farmer’s markets would be regulated out of existence.

Already small local farms face a myriad of rules and regulations that make it difficult to compete with large agricultural corporations. Many people who love to promote the “buy local” movement, too often lack a coherent understanding about how markets and regulation work and while their bumper stickers praise small, local businesses and entrepreneurs, their voting patterns support the exact opposite.

Luckily there are some coherent voices who understand the relationship between local markets, wholesome food, and political and economic liberty. One of them is Joel Salatin, Mr. Salatin runs Polyface Farms in Central Virginia. He has a lot of interesting insights into farming, family businesses and freedom.

Unlike many in the organic movement, Salatin realizes that government and bureaucracy are part of the problem. In an illuminating article, Everything I Want to Do is Illegal in Acres Magazine he documents the struggles small farmers must face to get their food to market. You can also find the book here: Everything I Want to Do Is Illegal

Salatin tells how the law requires farmers to have their cattle butchered at a USDA approved site and not on their own farms, however he writes:

When I return home to sell these delectable packages, the county zoning ordinance says that this is a manufactured product because it exited the farm and was re-imported as a value-added product, thereby throwing our farm into the Wal-Mart category, another prohibition in agricultural areas. Just so you understand this, remember that an on farm abattoir was illegal, so I took the animals to a legal abattoir, but now the selling of said products in an on-farm store is illegal.

People who praise “local-ism” need to realize that for local farmers and businesses to flourish–and for small organic farmers to be able to compete–we need free and competitive markets and not government intrusion that only benefits those companies big enough to send lobbyists to Washington or their state capitols.

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A new commentary from Dr. Donald Condit. Also see the Acton Health Care resource page.

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Health Care Rights, and Wrongs

By Dr. Donald P. Condit

As Speaker Nancy Pelosi promoted passage of Sunday’s health care reform bill, she invoked Catholic support. However, those who assert the right to health care and seek greater responsibility for government as the means to that end, are simply wrong. This legislation fails to comport with Catholic social principles.

Claiming an entity as a right requires clear thinking about who possesses a claim to something while defining who must fulfill this obligation. We can clearly agree on responsibility to care for our neighbor and yet not promote federal dominion over doctors and nurses.

Some mistakenly quote Pope John XXIII‘s 1963 Encyclical Letter Pacem In Terris (Peace on Earth) discussing “the right to live… the right to bodily integrity and to the means necessary for the proper development of life, particularly food, clothing, shelter, medical care, rest, and, finally, the necessary social services (11).” In this context, the Holy Father speaks of health care as a natural right, with corresponding responsibilities, not as a direct obligation of the state. Nowhere in Pacem In Terris is government assigned accountability for food, clothing, shelter or health care.

Archbishop Charles J. Chaput recently reiterated the Church’s understanding of health care as a right. “At a minimum, it certainly is the duty of a just society. If we see ourselves as a civilized people, then we have an obligation to serve the basic medical needs of all people, including the poor, the elderly and the disabled to the best of our ability.” Yet, there are options for society to meet this duty apart from the federal government. (more…)

If you listen to the radio, you’ve probably noticed the commercials promoting the U.S. Census. Where I live, stations are intermittently broadcasting commercials for the 2010 Census almost every time I’ve turned the dial. One of the commercial messages contains a story about crowded buses and the need for folks in communities to complete the census so they get more money from the federal government and can buy more buses. Huh?

The advertising budget just to promote this enterprise was initially publicized at $350 million. That included ad plays during the Super Bowl broadcast in February. Some members of Congress tried to find out from Census Director Robert Groves how the money was being spent following an audit, news of which revealed huge sums being wasted  including a $15 billion head count campaign that will involve over 140,000 temporary workers some of which were let go after being paid for doing nothing.

In an article relating some of this information the reporter gives us a clue as to something rotten in our country with her description of the Census as “a tradition that has occurred every ten years beginning with the first one in 1790 under Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson.” Tradition? Whoa!

Okay, I’m breathing slowly…. I’m better now.

The census is NOT a tradition; it’s a Constitutional mandate. It is required by law: Article I, Section 2. The purpose? To formally establish the number of all persons born or naturalized [citizens] in the states for the expressed purpose of determining that state’s representation in Congress’s House of Representatives. The specific language in The Constitution is “enumeration” from the Latin: ‘counted out’ – and no bus purchases are mentioned.

If you’ve received the official form and looked closely you likely have noticed that two questions asked of responders have to do with your origin and race. Specifically “Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish” origin, and “White; Black, African American or Negro; American Indian or Alaska Native; Asian Indian; Chinese; Filipino; Japanese; Korean; Vietnamese; Native Hawaiian; Guamanian or Chanmorro; Samoan; Other Pacific Islander; and my favorite “Some other race.”

Who are the bus riders in that group?

More relevant to all of us, why in an age of equal opportunity, race neutrality, race blindness, race equity and God knows what else, do we ask responders to a questionnaire that by law should only be aimed at counting heads, information that aims at differentiating by group?

“…and all went to be taxed, everyone unto his own city.”

The passage from Luke speaks of a tax but likely the collectors made a count to assure themselves that all were paying at the door. Caesars are like that. Taxes among the tribes of the Old Testament were commanded by God, then kings, and then lawful rulers. “Lawful” conjures up …. conforming to, permitted by or recognized by law. There’s contract law, property law, trust law, tort law, criminal law and that illusive one – Constitutional Law.

(Barak Obama in comments about his healthcare proposal seems to have the same nonchalant attitude for law as the reporter who used the word tradition. That’s not good.)

The census form is addressed to “those living at the house, apartment or mobile home” without any stipulation that they be citizens. Does it make sense to you that the House of Representatives whose numbers are based on a state’s population be required to be citizens of The United States for seven years while the population base of his district needn’t be legal citizens but only residents? Me neither.

More interesting is that a notice three weeks ago alerting me to the census form’s imminent arrival contained messages for those needing help completing the form printed in Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and what I’m guessing is Laotian.

The question begs asking. If court cases sustaining equal opportunity in schools contain phrases such as this: “An educated citizenry is the predicate of a thriving democracy, Mueller v. Allen, 463 U.S. 388, 395 (1983)”, how do people understand the subtleties of a country’s laws without understanding and speaking its language?

And there’s another point to make: if completing the census will, as Robert Groves writes in his letter, “help each community get its fair share of [federal] government funds for highways, schools, health facilities, and many other programs” why don’t we make it easy for everyone concerned and just keep the money within our states in the first place, using it for local projects the cost of which we can control locally without the worry about things like Mr. Groves’ 140,000 temporary workers. Think about it.

That’s all for now, I have a bus to catch.

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Thursday, September 17, 2009

Today is Constitution Day in the United States.

It seems appropriate to remember especially this day the 10th Amendment to the Constitution:

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

What a wonderful expression of federalism, a component feature of which is the concept of subsidiarity, or rather, coordinated and variegated sovereignty. Lord Acton said that federalism “is the best curb on democracy. [It] assigns limited powers to the central government. Thereby all power is limited. It excludes absolute power of the majority.” He also noted that federalism is “is coordination instead of subordination; association instead of hierarchical order; independent forces curbing each other; balance, therefore, liberty.”

I’m not greatly familiar with them, but it might be worth checking out the Tenth Amendment Center today. There’s more background on the Bill of Rights at the Stand to Reason blog today.

Kevin Schmiesing, research fellow at the Acton Institute, was interviewed by Ave Maria Radio recently on Caritas in Veritate.  Schmiesing explains how the idea of human development and progress figure as central themes of the encyclical.  It is important to remember that our ethical advancement must be ahead of material human development, and our ethics must be paired with our personal development.  Furthermore, Schmiesing explains that Caritas in Veritate warns against an all encompassing role for the state.

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Kishore Jayabalan, director of Istituto Acton, was also interviewed by Ave Maria Radio on Caritas in Veritate.  Jayabalan talks about the ways trade has brought many countries out of poverty in contrast to government-to-government aid.  The importance of subsidiarity is scattered throughout Caritas in Veritate, and Jayabalan articulates that subsidiarity should only be expanded to more remote areas of the world when the local authority is unable to respond to the needs of the people.  Furthermore, Jayabalan explains how globalization has made us all neighbors, but to Pope Benedict XVI it is important that we make these neighbors our brothers.

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Saturday is World Malaria Day, which each year draws attention to the scourge that malaria is to millions of people throughout the developing world. An estimated 1-3 million people die of malaria each year, and many of these are children. But even when people don’t die, malaria is debilitating. Malaria reduces the red blood cell count to low levels, which in addition to all of the other symptoms, drains energy and saps creativity. In response to this, the thing large multinational aid organizations have focused on are bed nets. Now bed nets can be helpful, but they are a short-term fix. Fortunately, after years of false ideology preventing the use of DDT, the world is starting to come back to its senses. Acton has been promoting this for several years.

Today, NRO’s The Corner quoted malaria expert Richard Tren, who argues that a bed net is a potentially useful but overemphasized tool in the war against malaria, with DDT and, surprisingly to some, economic freedom having greater promise for pushing back the scourge of malaria over the long run.

And if bed nets or any other foreign interventions are to do significant and lasting good, charitable enterprises will need to rediscover the importance of subsidiarity, of humans on the ground in relationship with other human beings, as opposed to government-to-government aid transfers that often do more harm than good.

One person who speaks forcefully to this issue is Rwandan Anglican Bishop John Rucyahana, a leading force in the reconciliation in Rwanda and a key partner in Bridge2Rwanda and the P.E.A.C.E Plan. In an interview we conducted with Bishop John near his orphanage in Rwanda last fall, he commented on why U.N. bed net programs often fail, and why the P.E.A.C.E. plan is succeeding:

We have a percentage of people, thank God, the number is getting less, but we have a great percentage of people who don’t read and write. And you give them a mosquito net; you scare them to death. You need to tell them that the mosquito net would prevent mosquitoes from biting them, and they need to trust you’re not telling them a lie. You’re not trapping them with that mosquito net. They’ve been deceived for too long. They need to have people who trust them, and they trust. And the people who love them; and the people they love. So Rick Warren has it deadly right to say that the church is needed to be employed into the economy, into the health and the social recovery of nations.

Churches have the life-giving hope of the Gospel, Bishop John explains, and they are embedded locally.

The church is out there with the people. You know I’m hugging and I’m shaking hands with every one of these children because I’m with them all the time. They know who I am, and they know I am there for them. During the aftermath of the genocide, many people ran away from here, and I stayed with them. All of these individuals giving the aid ran away from here. And I stayed. Churches are here. And we know how to approach them.

Blog author: jmorse
posted by on Sunday, November 26, 2006

Along the same lines as my earlier post, The Weekly Standard argues that putting the needs of parents first, can form a more stable foundation for an alliance between fiscal and social conservatives.

Both fiscal and social conservatives should put themselves in the shoes of the parenting class and focus on advancing competition and choice while also encouraging the growth and strength of the two-parent family. In health care, for instance, conservatives have consistently failed to approach things from that point of view….Conservatives should also look beyond the horizon and see that long-term care for the aged is about to become the next major concern of the parenting class…. In education, it is well past time to have another serious go at school choice, which can appeal to the parenting class both as a solution in their own children’s lives and as a call to conscience.

A Free and Virtuous Society needs to respect autonomy and importance of the social sphere, especially the family. Kudos to Yuval Levin of the Ethics and Public Policy Center for writing this article, and to the Weekly Standard for publishing it.