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January 13, 2005

Comments

Steve Jackson

So, more higher taxes so we can pay for sex-ed, abortion, contraception, etc.?

How are Christian parents supposed to remove their children from the government schools with a high tax burden we have to pay?

Not much of a concern for an unmarried clergy, of course.

Suibhne

From Rerum Novarum:

"And yet many today...would substitute in lieu thereof [Christian charity] a system of benevolence established by the laws of the State. But no human devices can ever be found to supplant Christian charity, which gives itself entirely for the benefit of others. This virtue belongs to the Church alone, for, unless it is derived from the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, it is in no wise a virtue; and whosoever departs from the Church wanders far from Christ."

Our bishops: as clueless as ever.

S.F.

Our new bishop (Columbus) is being installed today at 2 PM. He's coming from Minnesota, an auxiliary in Minneapolis-St. Paul. I didn't see his name on that document.

S.F.

Here's a forgotten JPII quote that self-proclaimed "social justice" Catholics are unlikely to share with you.

Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #48 (1991):

Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: 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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.

S.F.

Here's a forgotten JPII quote that self-proclaimed "social justice" Catholics are unlikely to share with you.

Pope John Paul II, Centesimus Annus #48 (1991):

Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: 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 coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good.

By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care.

Whitcomb

Subsidiarity is great in theory, but on the other hand ask yourself: Are you bowled over by all those Christians going out and working with the poor, the addicted, the lost? Do you have to step out of their way? Do we have a surfeit of charity in this world?

Mike Petrik

Actually, Whitcomb, in this country we do, at least in some respects. We have thousands and thousands of non-profits in this country, many providing duplicative services. For example, in Atlanta alone we have two dozen mentoring organizations competing for mentors, resources and in some cases even kids. There are hundreds of organizations working daily and hourly with the poor, addicted and lost. Most of these organizations are volunteer driven and most of these volunteers do happen to be Christians. In almost 20% of the nation any person can dial 211 and access a social service hotline typically operated by the local United Way that will direct callers to the non-profit agency that can help them. It is projected that that percentage will approach 100% in 10 years.

This is not to say that more resources would not be helpful. If directed wisely they most certainly would be. And I do believe that there is proper role for government in addressing various social needs. But the notion that more government fueled by more taxes will necessarily help is dubius. Instead, government social agencies need to reform, streamline and work better with nonprofits. And at least in Atlanta they are starting to do that, with very good results. Having worked with homeless and other poor people as a volunteer for over 20 years I can tell you that most people in economic distress in this country are in that position because of a series (seldom one) of very imprudent decisions that they have made over an extended period of time. This phenomenon is inevitable in a free society where people are free to make mistakes. Thus, we will always have the poor, addicted and lost, and the fact that we continue to do so is not necessarily an indication that we are not doing enough to address their needs.
Finally, we should all recognize that the role of government and the related role of the tax system in addressing social needs will always be an arena where reasonable people can differ. Some conservatives seem to believe that each and every tax cut is a good idea and each and every tax increase a bad one. Our bishops seem to be vulnerable to the opposite disposition.
One tidbit worth considering: every time income taxes are reduced, charitable giving increases, and every time such taxes are increased such giving either plateaus or diminishes.

fr richard

"Not much of a concern for an unmarried clergy, of course."

Steve!

That's a pretty broad brush you paint with!

I can't speak for all the clergy, but pastors CAN understand the economic difficulties that families face today, especially when they try to provide their children with a good Catholic education.

I think it's very unfair to think that you have to graze in exactly the same way as all your sheep or else you can't understand them. While I can't claim his virtues, St. Paul, for one, didn't seem to be hampered by this .

Besides, I'm from a family of 5 children, and I lived intimately with married people for nearly half my life!

A blessed New Year to you!

caroline

Our bishops are wedded to politicians who are wedded to their one solution to social problems: throw more money at it. Looking for better and more effective approaches doesn't stand a chance with clergy writing change off as inimical to social justice and politicians writing it off as dangerous to vote getting. The irony is the way their politicians betray the clergy on the personal morality issues.

tcreek

How Catholic Charities Lost Its Soul

City Journal
Brian C. Anderson
Winter 2000

http://www.city-journal.org/html/10_1_how_catholic_charities.html

TSO

Even Archbishop Chaput, who we conservatives like, says that the government has a role in "economic justice both at home and abroad; support[ing] the sick, the elderly, and children seeking a decent education. It’s not enough to say, 'Well, these are matters for private charity.' Private charities in this country are already overwhelmed by the demand."

Whitcomb

Mike, you make good points. There are indeed plenty of nonprofits doing great work. But many if not most of these groups rely at least to some extent on the government dime. I don't begrudge them that money. But if the public funding were withdrawn, would private contributions fill in the gap? I have my doubts.

Mike Petrik

Whitcomb,
Actually the vast majority of non-profits receive little or no government funding, but it is true that some do; and in those cases many would not be able to replace those funds from private contributions. In any case I am not necessarily advocating a reduction in the government's role in addressing social needs, I just am inclined to think that an increased role would not be beneficial. But, of course, it is hard to say. Perhaps that is why I am somewhat troubled by the Bishops taking such a predictable position. I honestly doubt they have the experience and expertise necessary for prudential wisdom. I can see how some might suspect that an increased role for government is a good idea and others might actually favor a diminished role, but I would think that statements from Bishops on these matters would be cautious and measured in light of the uncertainties involved. We created a welfare system in the 1960s that produced many adverse unintended consequences. This does not mean that we should not act; but our actions should reflect the complexities of the human condition and the human nature with which we are dealing. And above all, we should act with some measure of caution, especially when the force of government is involved.

S.F.

Who here is advocating that the government have no role? No one. Then why argue against that position?

All I'm pointing out is that it is time for us American Catholics (bishops and laity) included to take the Pope seriously when he says the Social Assistance State is not the greatest idea.

Liam

Well, we should also consider that the vast bulk of government subsidies -- direct and indirect -- in this country go to support consumption and living habits of the middle and upper classes.

This was Richard Nixon's particular gift to the welfare state. He understood that if one extended the redistributive effects of FDR's and then LBJ's vision to the middling classes, he would build a reliably growing electoral base. This has been written about (including GOP commentators) for years, and was even understood at the time, though most Democrat activists tend to ignore this (cuz they like redistribution in principle) in favor of focusing on the latent racialist appeal of other parts of Nixon's strategy.

I can recall going to college in the late 1970s with very little loan assistance, let alone outright aid. My mother worked at home, and while my father had a good paying job, our 6-kid family had many uninsured health crises and he put the first 4 kids through school (Catholic and then college) in close order. My parents kept their debts low and paid off everything first, and earmarked money for health and education first. We did not go on vacation as such but once in 25 years, and had fairly spare gift practices compared to our peers.

But our peers who went on vacations once or twice a year, spent more lavishly on gifts, kept revolving debt, et cet. got *much* more assistance and aid for college. The System rewarded middle class consumption, and by omission punished frugality and thrift (yes, they should be their own rewards, but we're talking about twisted incentivizing here).

None of which is about helping the poor.

Mike Petrik

I agree, Liam, although indirect subsidies are tougher to analyze fairly since they are usually in the nature of tax benefits such as allowances for dependents and home mrtgage interest -- items that reduce one's tax burden but truly do involve the taxpayer's money, not the government's. Redistribution to the poor is one thing. But redistribution to farmers, students, artists, and old people is much harder to justify, except as a political strategy. But to be fair, when it comes to the subsidies mentioned above, the Dems have been at least as supportive as the GOPs. Nixon certainly embraced the welfare state, but he was hardly the major instigator.
And so-called corporate welfare is even harder to fairly evaluate, since it generally comes in the form of adjustments to the corporate income tax -- a tax that no economist can tell us with confidence who pays since corporations, as artificial entities, simply act as collectors of such taxes, the economic burden of which is borne by employees, investors, and consumers -- though no one really knows in what proportions. Consequently, corporate tax breaks certainly benefit some people, but we truly don't know who they are. What we do know is that the constituents of companies that secure breaks presumably benefit at the expense of competitors; and the poor benefit very little if at all.

Liam

Richard

Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I think the greater difficulty in analyzing indirect subsidies is both by design and makes it harder to eradicate them, but their scope outweighs considerably direct subsidies to the genuinely needy. The current system is designed to support consumption uber alles. Poor people do not consume on a scale that the middling and higher classes do, though the poor are mightily encouraged to get with the program and how. The Holy Father has rightly critiqued this dimension of our erstwhile free market economy, and I fear most Americans -- especially of the middling classes, including Catholics -- would fight tooth and nail any attempt to fundamentally alter this state of affairs. But Big Gummint in and of itself is not the main villain in this: our own concupiscence is. Pointing to Big Gummint is a way to distract ourselves from our own blindness in nurturing it.

c matt

What we do know is that the constituents of companies that secure breaks presumably benefit at the expense of competitors

To the extent tax breaks are specific, they are specific by industry (eg, alternative fuels credits, etc.). Thus, I don't see how a "competitor" could be harmed as, presumably, to be a competitor, you are in the same industry, thus the tax break is also available to you.

I suppose to the extent that two separate industries compete (eg, fossil fuel vs. alternative fuel industry) then some favoritism could occur. But nothing stops the aggrieved taxpayer from entering the other industry.

c matt

That is one reason a sales tax is so powerful. It is a tax on consumption allowing for more direct social engineering. I really fail to see why social engineer types (particularly of liberal bent) would oppose it. If you tax a dollar earned, whatever's left can be spent without much direction. But if you tax, for example, cigarettes and alcohol, but not milk and bread, arguably you create and incentive to purchase the latter over the former. Talk about an ability to micromanage society!!!

Ray in MN

It is interesting to me how useful the sales tax is seen to be by folks that don't want to pay income taxes.

What results is that the poor who don't earn enough to save and who don't own property, end up paying (for the sake of argument) 8% of their income in sales taxes.

The rich, who might earn 500 times as much as the poor, are able to save lots and invest in lots of property (the biggest source of income for millionaires is real estate)might pay a minuscule fraction of that 8%.

And that is thought to be just and a good tool for teaching the poor to be wiser in their purchasing practices.

Elizabeth

However, sales taxes almost always exempt the nessecities of life, such as healty food and here in PA, clothing. So if "the poor" are only spending their money on nessesities, as they should be if they are truly poor, then there is no reason that such a bulk of their money should be going to sales taxes. The only way sales taxes should punish the poor is if they are spending frivously, which might be a clue as to the reason that they are still poor. It is good to tax in a way which encourges people to save and invest in property rather than spend money on non-necessities. My entire young childhood my parents had garage sale furniture and second hand clothes and no cable TV, but they did invest what they had in a small house and a college education for their kids. Now, after working hard and not wasting money for 30 years, their very comfortable. Not to sound like scrooge, but I am just damn tired of people who work hard, save their pennies, and invest in property being desparaged as "the rich" while people who make stupid decsions get further enabled in their stupid decsion making and by handouts and sympathy as "the poor". There are many people who are truly poor because of unfortunate circumstances or disability, but in this country, many, many people are poor because of bad lifestyle choices.

Rich Leonardi

The decline of Catholic Charities reads like a chapter out of "Seducing the Samaritan", e.g., once private religious charities go on the dole, mission creep toward secularization sets in. Bush's "faith-based initiatives" crowd should take note.

S.F.

Elizabeth,

I think you are very insightful. The poor need our help regardless of how they got there, but you are right. It does them no good to play pretend.

I have said it before, and I will say again. You will not here it from the bishops or a politician. The #1 cause of poverty is fornication. Repeat: The #1 cause of poverty is fornication.

When's the latest bishops' statement regarding the alarming relationship between single parenthood and poverty. And the largest cause of single parenthood? That's right: fornication.

I've been Catholic since 1998. I think I've missed one Sunday Mass. Since 1993, I attended Mass off and on as a non-Catholic. I can't remember ever hearing a homily on sexuality, let alone its sexual sin's relationship to disorder in our lives.

I went to Catholic college as a non-Catholic. It would have been news to me that the Church really cared about fornication anymore.

Daniel H. Conway

While SF is correct that fornication impacts poverty, a better frame of reference is single-motherhood. College students frequently participate in fornication, contraception, and abortion. These actions have very little long term economic impact on these individuals. Children out of wedlock are a huge burden and the epidemic in inner cities and low-income rural areas. So the major difference between the sin of fornication having an economic consequence and not is having the baby. Additionally, divorce frequently disrupts an individual's personal finances and many women, in particular, immediately after a divorce become impoverished and require welfare support for a brief time. So the common features of poverty for these individuals seems to be the various ways in which one comes to single motherhood. This may be a more fair explanation than fornication alone, since those that fornicate and then abort seem to have little economic impact on their lives.

Addiction and severe mental illness are also prominent features of the face of poverty.

That the American impoverished (and increasingly the international faces of poverty) are ugly, misbehaved, and alienating does not remove our Gospel imperatives toward them. I do not think anyone is suggesting that this is the case, however lines such as the following need lots of explanation and its author needs not be praised:

"I am just damn tired of people who work hard, save their pennies, and invest in property being desparaged as 'the rich' while people who make stupid decisions get further enabled in their stupid decsion making and by handouts and sympathy as 'the poor'."

The Gospel speaks to the dangers of wealth:
"For it is easier for a camel to go through a needle's eye, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."
And the responsibilities of wealth:
"He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise." Luke 3:11

And then the goats/sheep thing in Matthew 25 is not easy listening, positioned as it is as some the last teaching before the Last Supper and the Passion in this particular Gospel.

General themes of the posts are: the poor so often "deserve it," "I hate paying for their stupidity," no one really wants to take away supports like AFDC and medical assistance to children-but these programs really are awful and wasteful and encourage people to continue to lead horrible lifestyles. And, oh yes, its because they fornicate. (Not single motherhood, just fornication.)

A corrective would be reading the Gospel. Seems like some Gospel thinking is needed, not Form 1040 thinking. I would like to refer back to pretty much every other sentence in the sections of Matthew and Luke before the Passion.

We are a nation of High definition TiVO, cable TV, expensive farmettes, and a Playstation in every house. To be faithful to the Gospel, we should be careful about the tone and degree of disparagement we use to discuss the pennies we toss to the poor, no matter which entity, governement or non-profit, is giving the pennies.

Rich Leonardi

We are a nation of High definition TiVO, cable TV, expensive farmettes, and a Playstation in every house. To be faithful to the Gospel, we should be careful about the tone and degree of disparagement we use to discuss the pennies we toss to the poor, no matter which entity, governement or non-profit, is giving the pennies.

Amen. For what it's worth, the Acton Institute (www.acton.org) has a "Guide to Effective Compassion" that profiles charities that are effective and independent of state funds. Because Acton is run by the libertarian-leaning Fr. Sirico, some may find it "icky" though.

Elizabeth

The scriptures also say "If anyone will not work, let him not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such a person we command and exhort in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ to do their own work in quietness and to earn their own living." 2 Thess 3;11-12

yes, the hoarding of riches and excessive love of them can make it more difficult to get into heaven; it is the LOVE of riches, the attachment to them so prevelant in many people, poor and wealthy, which is what Jesus was speaking of (especially when you consider that their have been saints who have been both wealthy and royal and poor and common), and which can also be seen from the context of that quote in the story of the rich young man.

However, my point was that the habits that usually lead people to becoming wealthy, or at least supportive of themselves and their families, are virtuous habits; frugality, prudence, a "spirit" of poverty expressed as being not so attatched to things that they know how to not spend what they don;t have, chastity, fidelity, the foritude it takes to go to work, even work that might be unenjoyable; where often time the habits that keep people poor are the opposite. Having known both poor people that stayed poor and poor people that became wealthy, I can say pretty comfortably that the poor people who stayed poor displayed far less of the virtue of poverty than the people who are wealthy. people usually become wealthy because they are not attatched enough to material things to crave that which they cannot afford, where a lot of people are poor because they overspend themselves and give in to the consumer culture.

I am not saying that wealthy people do not also have a responsibiltiy to help those who are in "NEED" (which is what jesus was talking about), because wealthy people do have such a responsibiliy, and most do excesize it through private charity in many ways. When charity is excersized privately and volunarily, then it helps the people involved grow in the virtues of love and generosity, and the money goes to people in the community who truly need it. It also increases the human contact and the one on one respect and concern for the person, giving the poor more individualized attention that reaffirms their humanity than a government check. When the government just takes money and redistributes it, then it stifles the aspect of growth in charity in the soul giving (because it is not free-will), dehumanizes those recieving it, and it can go often to people who don;t deserve and need it. In a way, those who are poor not out of true need, mental illness, or bad situations out of their control but are poor because they refuse to grow up and take responsibility for themselves are, by taking assistance, stealing from those who truly need it and draining the community. It is not anti-gospel to want to help people rise above their weaknesses and live virtuously, not only for their own benift, but so charity and resources can be better spent on those who are truly in need, like the elderly with no family, orphans, widowed and abandoned women and families, and people who have fallen on hard times or are mentally ill.

By just giving to those who are poor because of poor habits, we are just enabling them. I remember all through my undergrad career, I became an expert at making crybaby excuses to profs to have them let me turn in homework late, miss class, etc; until I had a hardnosed Franciscan Nun who didn't but up with any of my BS, and ultimately helped me grow up into an academically sucessful person. It was the most compassionate thing a professor could have done for me. A lot of people need the same tough love economically to rise above their excuses.

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