Posts tagged with: welfare

The Pilot, a South Pines, N.C. newspaper, recently featured a review of Samuel Gregg’s Becoming Europe by Don Delauter. He says:

This is a scholarly work in which the author presents a review of the historical path which led relentlessly to the social and economic cultures of modern day Western Europe. He discusses how America diverged from the European course in important ways which until recently fostered the free enterprise Americans have enjoyed.

However, the future of this phenomenal record of achievement is at risk. Gregg believes that “Europe is the canary in the coal mine” for America.

Gregg notes that America joined the welfare state community somewhat late. The New Deal of the 1930s and the Great Society from the Johnson administration were the giant leaps forward. With few interruptions America has maintained a course toward becoming a deficit-spending welfare state, in short, “becoming Europe.”

Gregg concludes that “it would be a grave error for America to go down the European economic path, and not simply because it would result in less economic prosperity. The moral and political cost, in terms of reduced freedom, is simply not worth it.”

The review ends with this sobering thought: “A very worthwhile read, but it may be too late.”

You can read his entire review here and you can find more information about Becoming Europe here.

Over at the National Catholic Reporter, Michael Sean Winters makes some comments about my book Becoming Europe based on a review he had read by Fr. C.J. McCloskey. Here are the most pertinent of his observations:

I know that American exceptionalism lives on both the left and the right, but when did the right become so Europhobic? And why? National Catholic Register has a review of a new book by the Acton Institute’s Samuel Gregg entitled Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture, & How America Can Avoid a European Future. I confess, come August, when Europeans sensibly take the month off and head to the beach or the mountains for time with their families, I am envious of them, not scornful. When I look at Europe’s lower rates of income inequality, I am envious, not scornful. When I look at the creative ways Germany minimized unemployment during the recent economic downturn, I was deeply envious.

Of course, given the fact that Gregg works for the libertarian Acton Institute, where the false god of the market is worshipped day in and day out, it should not surprise that he misses the Catholic and Christian roots of the modern social welfare state as it exists in Europe.  And the fact that Rev. C. John McCloskey misunderstands the Christian roots of the modern social welfare state shows the degree to which some members of the Catholic clergy have bought into what can best be described as the Glenn Beck narrative of the relationship of faith and culture.

Alas, Mr. Winters apparently hasn’t actually read the book. Because if he had, he would know that Becoming Europe (1) notes several good economic things happening in Europe (such as in Germany and Sweden) and (2) addresses at considerable length the various Catholic and Christian contributions to the development of European welfare states and the European social model more generally. In the case of the latter, I’d direct his attention to Chapters 2 and 3 of Becoming Europe where these matters are discussed extensively. The point is that it is always prudent to perhaps read a book before venturing criticisms of its arguments.

Then there is the label of “libertarian.” Again, if Mr. Winters took a moment to read a few of my writings, he’d know that, in books such as On Ordered Liberty, I‘ve articulated critiques of libertarian thought, especially with regard to the way that libertarian thinkers approach, for instance, moral questions. Figures such as Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises, and Milton Friedman have many interesting economic insights. But I have always viewed their philosophical positions (which include, among others, commitments to nominalism, epicurism, utilitarianism, social-evolutionism, and social contractarianism) to be less-than-adequate. In many ways, their conceptions of the human person are virtually indistinguishable from modern liberals such as John Rawls. (more…)

Over at the IFWE blog, Elise Amyx takes a look at Brian Fikkert’s argument about the origins of the modern American welfare state:

According to Fikkert, the evangelical church’s retreat from poverty alleviation between 1900 and 1930 encouraged the welfare state to grow to its size today. Church historians refer to this era as the “Great Reversal” because the evangelical church’s shift away from the poor was so dramatic.

In Faithful in All God’s House: Stewardship and the Christian Life, Gerard Berghoef and Lester DeKoster make a similar case. They argue that “the church is largely responsible for the coming of the modern welfare community.” They also cast the hopeful vision that another reversal might occur: “The church could be largely responsible for purging welfare of its faults and problems if enough believers caught the vision.”

While Fikkert is largely drawing on the early twentieth century in America for his argument, Berghoef and DeKoster examine more broadly the Christian perspective on the relationship between faith and works of charity. This dynamic is, after all, is a perennial challenge for Christian social engagement, and the interaction between the Social Gospel and evangelicalism in America is just one example. Another is the reversal over the last century or so in the Netherlands, where there has been a move from Abraham Kuyper’s claim that “all state relief for the poor is a blot on the honor of your Savior” to the church’s plea “for social security that is not charity but a right that is fully guaranteed by government.”
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photo courtesy of Atlantic Wire

photo courtesy of Atlantic Wire

In 1968, Margaret Thatcher, then a member of the Shadow Cabinet as a junior minister of Great Britain, gave a speech entitled, What’s Wrong With Politics? Despite that fact that the speech is now 45 years old, it is as relevant today as then – in some unfortunate ways. Here are some excerpts.

[T]he extensive and all-pervading development of the welfare state is also comparatively new, not only here but in other countries as well. You will recollect that one of the four great freedoms in President Roosevelt’s wartime declaration was ‘freedom from want.’ Since then in the Western world there has been a series of measures designed to give greater security. I think it would be true to say that there is no longer a struggle to achieve a basic security. Further, we have a complete new generation whose whole life has been lived against the background of the welfare state. These developments must have had a great effect on the outlook and approach of our people even if we cannot yet assess it properly.

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Should Catholics be concerned about the looming budget cuts? The National Catholic Register asked several Catholic leaders and thinkers, including Acton’s Samuel Gregg, for their response to the sequester:

NCRlogo_tagRe-establishing fiscal discipline and welfare reform are necessary components to securing the common good, a key principle in Catholic social teaching, said Samuel Gregg, author of the new book Becoming Europe: Economic Decline, Culture and How America Can Avoid a European Future.

Gregg, director of research for the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty, told the Register that there is room for prudential judgment among Catholics when it comes to budget cuts and that cutting welfare programs is not necessarily unthinkable from a Catholic perspective.

“There is no reason to maintain welfare programs that are, for example, inefficient or ineffective,” said Gregg, who added that government-assistance programs should not be permanent features of the economic landscape. Wealth generation, he said, is more effective at lifting people out of poverty and making them self-sufficient.

“Another thing to consider is that, when it comes to thinking about something like a budget, a government budget, the criteria we are looking at are not simply the interests of the poor,” Gregg said. “Those are, of course, accorded a certain priority, but the overall good is the promotion of the common good, and that includes and goes beyond the well-being of the poor.”

Gregg added that, while government has a role to assist those in need, it should not be supplanting the role of organizations in civil society in carrying out those responsibilities.

“Solidarity doesn’t necessarily equate to excessive government spending,” Gregg said.

Read more . . .

Theodore Dalrymple, contributing editor of the City Journal and Dietrich Weissman Fellow of the Manhattan Institute, has recently reviewed Samuel Gregg’s new book, Becoming Europe at the Library of Law and Liberty.

Dalrymple observes:

In this well-written book, Samuel Gregg explains what can only be called the dialectical relationship between the interests of the European political class and the economic beliefs and wishes of the population as a whole. The population is essentially fearful; it wants to be protected from the future rather than adapt to its inevitable changes, while at the same time maintaining prosperity. It wants security more than freedom; it wants to preserve what the French call les acquis such as long holidays, unlimited unemployment benefits, disability pensions for non-existent illnesses, early retirement, short hours, and so forth, even if they render their economies uncompetitive in the long term and require unsustainable levels of borrowing to fund them, borrowing that will eventually impoverish everyone. Many companies, including the largest, lobby the political class to be shielded from the cold winds of international competition and become, in effect, licensed traders. Having succumbed to the temptation to grant all these wishes, the politicians now dare not admit that they have repeatedly as a consequence to promise three impossible things before breakfast. We all know what to do, said the Prime Minister of Luxembourg, but not how to get re-elected afterwards; and so Pompadourism has become the ruling political philosophy of the day. Madame de Pompadour’s cynical but prophetic witticism, après nous le déluge has become the economic mission statement of almost the entire European political class.

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In a prime example of how irony is lost on politicians, lawmakers in North Carolina are proposing to prohibit people receiving welfare from playing in the lottery.

lotteryPerhaps the legislators aren’t aware of what state lotteries are, in effect if not intent, designed to do: redistribute the income of mostly poor Americans to a handful of other citizens—and to the state’s coffers.

Nevertheless, the lawmaker’s moral intuitions seem to be leading them to good intentions. As Rep. Paul Stam says, “We’re giving them welfare to help them live, and yet by selling them a ticket, we’re taking away their money that is there to provide them the barest of necessities.”

Okay, so maybe the irony isn’t lost on every politician.

You might be wondering how they could actually implement such a ban since it’s not obvious who is on welfare. According the Christian Post, at present the proposals seek to ban lottery ticket merchants if they “knowingly” sell a lottery ticket to someone on welfare. So the lawmakers are hoping that cashiers and sellers would be able to recognize locals who use food stamps, and therefore should refuse to sell lottery tickets to those people.

In other words the government wants to punish business owners for helping facilitate government sponsored gambling to people on the government dole.

I have a better idea—not a good idea, mind you, just a better idea that the punish-the-innocent approach that the government wants to take.
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Rev. Robert Sirico, author of “Defending the Free Market: The Moral Case for a Free Economy,” appears at a Rome press conference for his book.

The Catholic News Agency recently interviewed Acton’s president Rev. Robert Sirico during a press conference held last week in Rome for Vatican journalists. The local media were introduced to his new book, “Defending the Free Market: the Moral Case for a Free Economy.”

In the CNA article “Fixing economic crisis requires financial and moral truth, priest says,” Rev. Sirico states:

 

I wrote the book because I was concerned that there’s such a false set of assumptions of what a market economy is and that it’s completely disconnected from the moral life…We need to stop presuming that the government is the provider and find creative and innovative ways which can serve people and which will build a virtuous cycle instead of a vicious cycle.

Regarding the imminent challenges for economic growth and human flourishing in welfare-dependent European countries, like Italy, Rev. Sirico said: “It’s going to be difficult for young Italians to reach adulthood with their dignity intact for quite a while, because they presume that the State will provide for them, cradle to grave.”

To read the rest of the CNA article, go here.

In 1977 a pro-life Jesse Jackson compared the pro-choice position to the case for slavery in the antebellum South:

There are those who argue that the right to privacy is of higher order than the right to life. I do not share that view. I believe that life is not private, but rather it is public and universal. If one accepts the position that life is private, and therefore you have the right to do with it as you please, one must also accept the conclusion of that logic. That was the premise of slavery. You could not protest the existence or treatment of slaves on the plantation because that was private …

When Jackson prepared to run for president as a Democrat, he dispensed with his pro-life position. I’m convinced this was a grave error, but I sympathize with Jackson’s dilemma. When I was in college, I was frustrated at having to choose between politicians who defended the rights of the unborn (usually but not always Republican) and, on the other hand, politicians who supported abortion rights but who seemed ready to do so much more to help the poor.

I eventually came to see a couple of things that resolved the dilemma for me. First, I realized that a prudential judgment to leave more charitable work in the hands of private initiative was not morally equivalent to choosing not to protect the life of the unborn—was not morally equivalent, in other words, to viewing the matter as “above my pay grade,” as President Obama put it. That is, I came to realize that the decision to neglect the government’s core role of protecting the life of some of its citizens (the unborn) was vastly worse than the decision to push for less government involvement in helping the poor.

The other thing that helped me resolve my love-the-poor/love-the-unborn dilemma—and this came into focus only as I began to connect my good intentions with a study of economic history—was this: The well-intended government poverty programs from the 1960s and ‘70s have had many unintended consequences, consequences that have done much to hurt poor communities over the long-term—whether in inner cities or in places like rural Appalachia. If you believe in the sanctity of all human life, including the life of the unborn, but you hold your nose and support pro-choice candidates who support current or even increased government levels of federal spending on welfare programs, I urge you to watch this six-minute video featuring experienced Christian poverty fighters. It’s entitled “How Not to Help the Poor.”

Watch it. Pray about what you see and hear. Then allow whatever you find insightful there to inform and guide you as you discharge your duty as a citizen of a nation dedicated to the proposition that all humans are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights.

On National Review Online, Acton Research Director Samuel Gregg offers an analysis of last night’s debate between President Barack Obama and Gov. Mitt Romney. Gregg begins with the assertion by Melinda Henneberger of the Washington Post that the candidates are ignoring poor and working-class Americans. Gregg responds:

… what’s generally missing from the discussion of poverty in the context of this presidential election — though Romney did obliquely reference it in the second debate — is acknowledgment that: (1) the economic causes of impoverishment are more subtle and less amenable to wealth redistribution than the Left is willing to concede; and (2), with a few exceptions, liberals are generally reluctant to acknowledge some of poverty’s non-economic causes, not least because it throws into relief some of the more destructive effects of their cultural agenda.

If poverty was simply a question of wealth redistribution, the sheer amount of dollars spent since the not-so-Great Society programs of the 1960s should have resolved the problem. In 2011, Peter Ferrara calculated that “total welfare spending [in 2008] . . . amounted to $16,800 per person in poverty, 4 times as much as the Census Bureau estimated was necessary to bring all of the poor up to the poverty level, eliminating all poverty in America. That would be $50,400 per poor family of three.”

The effects in terms of reducing poverty have, however, been underwhelming. As Ferrara observes: “Poverty fell sharply after the Depression, before the War on Poverty, declining from 32% in 1950 to 22.4% in 1959 to 12.1% in 1969, soon after the War on Poverty programs became effective. Progress against poverty as measured by the poverty rate then abruptly stopped.” In short, America’s welfare state, which now easily accounts for the biggest outlays in the federal government’s annual budget, has proved inadequate at realizing one of its central goals.

Read “Who’s Really Forgotten the Poor” by Samuel Gregg on NRO.