The Ryan Budget and Catholic Social Teaching

The American Catholic has an excellent round of commentary on the Ryan budget and the ensuing debate carried out on the question, “is the Ryan budget in accordance with Catholic social teaching, or not?”.  While this might seem an arcane debate for only Catholics to engage, the fact is that the debate is ultimately about what sort of America we will have.

There are two words everyone has to familiarize themselves with:

1.  Subsidiarity.

2.  Solidarity.

In a nutshell, “subsidiarity” is the Catholic teaching that all decisions should be made as far as possible at the lowest level.  This covers all sorts of decisions – political, economic and religious.  While the higher authorities play a vital role, their role is rather one of support and instruction rather than mixing in the day to day activities of life.  It is for you and me, dear reader, to take care of the poor in our midst – just as it is our duty to work and earn our own living; it is for the federal government to assist us in this – mostly by ensuring law and order, the execution of justice and our common defense against outside enemies; but, also, at times by directly aiding us when our own good, solid efforts are insufficient to secure what is necessary for the liberty, safety and dignity of ourselves and our fellows.

And that leads us in to “solidarity” – none of us is an island; we are not a law unto our selves.  We are part of a group and while we have absolute rights vis a vis the group, we also have absolute responsibilities to the group.  We do, indeed, have a right to our property and the fruits of our labor – but we also have a duty to ensure that our neighbor does not lack the necessities.

Liberals tend to concentrate on the “solidarity” aspect and use it as a justification for the welfare State.  Libertarians tend to concentrate on “subsidiarity” and use it as a justification for government so small as to be incapable of doing the genuine tasks of government (especially in terms of ensuring justice and the defense of the nation).  Paul Ryan’s plan is a judicious mix of subsidiarity and solidarity – as it should be, because while the laws of God are absolute, the actions of human beings within the parameters of those laws are subject to many varying pressures and needs and thus prudential judgement is needed in each particular instance in figuring out what is best.  Neither libertarianism nor statism is the answer – in some cases the State must take a strong stand, in others the State must butt out…in most cases it has to be a little of both.

Ryan is being furiously attacked, especially by liberal Catholics who see in the Ryan budget the moral justification for dismantling the welfare State.  They are attacking Ryan’s plan because they say it will harm the poor – but the fact is the plan wouldn’t do anything of the sort; it would, though, harm the vested interests of the welfare State who do little for the poor, but seem to make quite a lot of money ostensibly caring about the poor.  But do have a care – if Ryan’s budget is ever passed (say in January, 2013 and then signed in to law by President Romney) then the attacks will start to come from the other side – libertarians who will be upset that the State refuses to become morally neutral and still seeks to have a role in American affairs.

While Ryan’s plan has a great deal of Catholicism in it (no surprise given Ryan’s Catholicism), it really brings up and clarifies the real debate – super welfare State, libertarian anarchy, or a well reasoned approach which understands that things don’t resolve themselves in perfect, little boxes?  The whole of the American experiment – our whole Constitutional order (currently hibernating) –  is based upon the Founders’ realization that (a) no one has all the answers and (b) a wise system will leave great latitude for individual and local action while still retaining a government strong enough to act forcefully when necessary.

We’ll see how it comes out – but Ryan has earned the gratitude of all Americans who wish to see the Founders’ vision restored to America.



Capitalism or Socialism?

Donald Byrne over at Catholic Journal has an excellent look at both our horrid fiscal situation (yes, we really are going bankrupt) and points out that that in our most-desired goals (prosperity and equity), free market capitalism does much better than State socialism.  Essentially, the imposition of socialistic policies in the United States have exacerbated wealth disparities – if Obama’s goal was really to “spread the wealth around”, he’d be reading Hayek and changing course.  Byrne concludes:

…The goals that competitive free market capitalism brings society toward are efficiency and equity on the microeconomic level and high employment and a reasonable degree of price level stability as well as a consensus driven rate of economic growth.  The decisions of the many, NOT the few, dictate what an economy will produce in the way of goods and services, in what manner those goods will be produced and in distribution of income (the reward of the goods and services produced) with maximum freedom to the people as consumers and productive resources.  It is an economic system that is based on the principle of subsidiarity, again, where the decision-making is driven down to the lowest level possible…after all, who knows/understands better than the individual (in most cases) what is best for them?

And there’s that word I keep using – “subsidiarity”.  Remember, in the end all our fights are to secure for us “subsidiarity” – the right of individuals and localities to decide for themselves the best means of living their lives.  It is at the core of American political morality – it is why our Declaration asserts that government’s must rule by consent, and why the 9th and 10th amendments were added to the Constitution.  It is doubtful that many of the Founders had read deeply in to Catholic social teaching, but in this case they didn’t have to….anyone with a bit of wisdom will swiftly understand his inability to dictate to others, and others far away from his own community.

Obama’s crime against Americanism (because that is what is amounts to) is to suppose that he and those in power with him can determine what is best for everyone.  That they can justly “spread the wealth around” and come to a superior outcome than the individuals, themselves, could achieve.  Not only is this wrong philosophically, it is also wrong in strictly practical terms.  The erosion of the middle class, the destruction of America’s ability to make, mine and grow things, the bankrupting of our nation and the moral decline of the populace are directly traceable to socialistic attempts to decree an outcome, rather than allow things two work themselves out through the interplay of free people.

The only quibble I have with Byrne is over the use of the word “capitalism”.  We should more emphasize the term “free market” than the word “capitalism” because capitalism has come to mean in the public mind a collection of Ivy League educated board room trolls, and the government-subsidized crony-capitalist.  Our fight is not to make the world safe for GE; not to make smooth the path of Government Motors…but to free up the market so that average men and women can enter it, using their own means of production, to create wealth for themselves, their families and their communities.

In practical, political terms I think we’d do much better this way.  What we have growing in the United States is a populist revolt against the Ruling Class.  Sickened by the corruption of politics and the economy, the people are demanding that those who have ruined things be tossed out, while those who are willing to work obtain the greatest reward.  We’ll go further – obtain more power to reform, that is – if we hitch ourselves to this popular revolt, and we can best do that by clearly identifying ourselves in complete opposition to what is currently wrong.

As we enter the Great Debate of 2012, we’ll have Obama telling everyone that a victory for free markets means granny being thrown over the cliff.  Allied with Obama will be those crony capitalists who will warn that failure to support “too big to fail” corporations will be a disaster.  We must expose these lies – we must present a vision of America free and prosperous, and explain that all socialist plans (regardless of what label they are given) will lead to poverty, dependence and a divided, dysfunctional America sliding towards tyranny.  Our question must be – who do you trust:  Obama or yourself?  Make that the issue of 2012 and we’ll win so big a victory that liberalism will not trouble us again for 20 years.