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  1. modestinus permalink
    March 8, 2012 1:06 pm

    The drift of this post is right, but there’s a lot of problems in the particulars. One of the biggest problems people seem to have when they invoke “Catholic Social Teaching” (CST) is that they take general principles and generalize further, thus missing the important fact that very little in CST justifies the current U.S. regime of taxation and spending — spending which must account not simply for public welfare benefits such as unemployment insurance or the military, but also for the array of administrative programs and regulatory apparatuses which, more often not, serve as a drag on overall economic growth in order to support the interests of small, typically well-off and organized, individuals and groups. These types of drags hurt everybody, including the least well-off in our society because they retard economic growth overall. Moreover, regulatory schemes often function the same as a tax in the sense that they extract wealth from society. In order for one to meaningfully analyze the present system of taxation as opposed to the system which may have been in place at some earlier point in American history, one has to account for the astronomical growth of the administrative state and the costs associated with that growth. Finally, when factoring in costs to society as a whole, you would also have to look at the transition from cash to credit when it comes to government funding. The debt which the U.S. currently carries also serves as a drain on wealth (albeit in a less noticeable manner than an overt tax). Our current debt has no historic precedent and its deleterious effects will be felt for decades to come (if not longer).

    Now, none of these hard facts necessarily justifies the “Jeffersonian State,” though a fair argument can be made that the “Jeffersonian State,” insofar as it does not contemplate a government which has the power to actively shrink the social pie, redistribute wealth along what are typically special interest rather than distributive justice lines, and which does not impose a fiscal burden on future generations by running up a massive debt, comes far closer to CST holistic conception of society than our current situation does. Sufficient room can be made within the boundaries of the “Jeffersonian State” to provide social safety nets to those who are least well off without compromising the general welfare or the prosperity of future generations. In fact, a state which does not expend its resources on programs, policies, and other special-interest agendas has far more available to assist the welfare of disadvantaged citizens than one which doesn’t. One of the serious analytical errors in these discussions is to assume that the State — or, more specifically, the U.S. — is using its tax dollars to help the poor, the sick, the underprivileged, etc. and that public calls for lower rates of taxation are tantamount to public calls for ending such programs wholesale. Meaningful distinctions can be (and, in my view, must be) made between the types of expenditures the government is regularly making. We know from past history (say, the 1980s onward) that the “starve the beast” approach doesn’t work; it only creates incentives for the government to borrow what it does not have. Lower tax rates are not the answer, though they may form part of the benefit of getting the government out of the business of redistributing wealth along political lines which, in a democracy such as ours, is almost invariably what it is going to do. The least-well off in society will continue to remain as they are and the benefits which trickle down to them will continue to be too few to do much more than keep these individuals trapped in poverty.

    Finally, I should probably mention that CST, in its “high-octane” form, really presupposes something closer to a confessional State than what we find almost anywhere today. CST, for instance, has no objections to public funding/support of the Church, nor an increased role for the Church in social welfare programs. One of the difficulties in a liberal democracy which professes “neutrality” (if not hostility) toward religion is that the Church must survive off of private funding while those same private individuals are called to divert their resources — directly or indirectly — to the government (and its wasteful and problematic programs) as well. I think a lot of us would feel far more at ease on April 15 (or 17) if we knew that our taxes were also helping to keep-up our parishes, fund direct (rather than bureaucratic) aid to the poor and sick, and be redistributed in accordance with principles of justice and charity rather than the machinations of organized interests.

    • March 8, 2012 3:15 pm

      “…CST, in its “high-octane” form, really presupposes something closer to a confessional State than what we find almost anywhere today.”

      “I think a lot of us would feel far more at ease on April 15 (or 17) if we knew that our taxes were also helping to keep-up our parishes, fund direct (rather than bureaucratic) aid to the poor and sick, and be redistributed in accordance with principles of justice and charity rather than the machinations of organized interests.”


    • March 9, 2012 5:12 am

      I think it is a bit hypocritical to say that you will not fund government (which services the poor) because of the administrative costs involved, but would rather send that money to the catholic church, which has a far more bureaucratic structure.

      Besides, charitable donations are already tax deductible, so if you are giving money to help the poor, you wont be paying taxes on it.

      • Thales permalink
        March 9, 2012 10:45 am

        Heh, it kind of sounds like you’re saying that the Catholic Church has greater bureaucratic and administrative costs than, say, the U.S. government. But that can’t be true.

      • Kurt permalink
        March 9, 2012 12:09 pm

        Why can’t it? Several programatic examples come to mind where Catholic agencies spend a greater proportion on administrative costs. I don’t know about overall.

      • modestinus permalink
        March 9, 2012 5:49 pm

        I don’t think you follow me. By “administration,” I mean “regulation” — and these are, more often than not, drags on the economy. Some, are, of course justified, but may are not. Moreover, private law remedies could handle a lot of the tasks which centralized agencies believe they ought to govern. My argument isn’t based on the costs of administration itself (though that’s part of it), but the costs that administration has on economic welfare across the board.

      • Thales permalink
        March 10, 2012 10:02 am

        Why can’t it?

        Because the budgets and administrative costs of my parish, or the diocese, or the Vatican; when compared to a similar level of government either local, or state, or federal, are miniscule in comparison. Also, you say that some Catholic agencies spend a greater proportion in administrative costs, but I see no evidence of that. (That’s not to say that government social programs aren’t necessary — they are, as there are areas in which the government is needed to provide a service to the community that can’t be done in the same way by a church or charity.)

    • March 9, 2012 11:14 am

      But there is really no evidence on the aggregate level that the kinds of regulation and spending you are talking about affects growth at all. A large government does not hamper the Scandanavian countries. And the highest growth in the US occurred in the three decades after the war, and this period coincided with extremely high taxation and heavy regulation. We need to get past the simplistic and false Reaganist mantras.

      • modestinus permalink
        March 9, 2012 5:51 pm

        For a start, I would suggest you read Kahn’s Economics of Regulation and move on from there. Do you have any cites/proof of this assertion? The administrative state today is exponentially larger than it was during the post-WWII era. So your comment isn’t even coherent on that level.

        I think what we might need are “social commentators” who have done their homework.

    • Paul DuBois permalink
      March 9, 2012 11:20 pm

      I will never argue that regulations cannot be improved and that they do not out live their purposes from time to time. But please be more specific when discussing regulations that drag on the economy. Most of the regulations I know of come after gross abuses by industry or by those in power.

      To be specific, in the 60’s the river in Cleveland caught fire for the tenth time, once again causing millions of dollars of damage to bridges and other public structures. No industry was ever punished. None of the industries responsible for the pollution in the river slowed their rate of pollution. The continued to pollute until after laws were passed, regulations were signed and they were forced to reduce their pollution by inspectors. The air over Detroit was yellow and stung your eyes. This continued until the same actions forced industries to stop. As late as the 1990’s car companies were still getting caught rigging their cars so they could pass emissions testing.

      The FDA began regulating drugs because charlatans were selling all kinds of “cures” that did nothing in the best cases and harmed people in the worst cases. By the time the people buying the “cures would find out the sellers would be long gone.

      Labor laws were passed because companies would not pay workers what they were promised. force them to work for free or refuse to provide safe working conditions. Employers are still caught trying to find ways to pay less than minimum wage and still encourage works to ignore unsafe working conditions.

      Both of the recent major oil spills and the Massey mine disaster show companies put profit ahead of safety even to the extent of breaking the law. I could go on, but I and commenting not writing a blog. It is easy to say we have too many regulations that are a burden to the economy without being specific, or defending the society we would have if we did not have these regulations.

      • modestinus permalink
        March 12, 2012 8:58 am

        Most of the problems you have identified could be “regulated” (if you want to use that word) through private law mechanisms. My objection is to centralized, administrative regulation which, typically, is at some distance from the problems and lacks the proper structure of incentives, knowledge, and initiative to correct many of the problems they face. Moreover, institutional limitations, epistemic blockage, and politicization also slows down the effectiveness of these institutions to the point where, again, private remedies seem to be the better option. Also, my argument is focused squarely on federal regulation, which tends to exhibit all of the aforementioned problems in ways localized regulation may not.

        My point isn’t that all regulation is bad, but that the growth of the administrative state and its internal culture — which survives on the notion that we need more regulation, more administration, more rules, more lawyers, etc. — is deeply problematic. And even if one believes that this growth has been a good thing, my initial point is that you have to put its costs into any calculus concerning taxation since, as noted, regulation functions as a form of tax. (What’s the difference between charging an industry, say, $1,000 for an annual license or $1,000/per year for operating? Nothing.) Looking at tax rates isn’t enough.

        Moreover, though the U.S. went through a period of industrial deregulation in the 1970s and 80s (starting with the airlines), those roll backs have been met with large increases in other areas. Unfortunately people use “deregulation” in a very simpleminded way, or make the error of equating “economic deregulation” with “total deregulation” (and to say that the modern regulation of industries, even if the emphasis is no longer on profits, entry, and service levels, is not economic is to miss how those regulations actually work).

      • Paul DuBois permalink
        March 13, 2012 11:42 am

        But none of the problems I mentioned were “regulated” through private law mechanisms. That is the point, many other things were tried to right these wrongs and they all failed. To think that environmental regulations at a federal level (or many other regulations) do not have a cost is silly, but to say they are all cost without benefit is blind and silly. I asked for examples and specifics and got more general assertions. There is no place on the planet or point in time when “private mechanisms” have lead to cleaner air and water, safer working conditions or a well behaved financial industry. Countries that have allowed environmental regulations to be determined by local governments have seen a race to the bottom resulting in little or no regulation at all.

        In addition, industry would prefer a set of rules they play by as opposed to a constantly changing landscape where they spend a billion dollars to build a plant and then wait for litigation to see if they can run it.

  2. dominic1955 permalink
    March 8, 2012 3:27 pm

    In issues such as these, there are simply too many ways to skin a cat such that pulling out phrases out of their wider context and presenting them as some sort of dogmas does not actually address the issue or even present a strong challenge to the article in question.

    Also, there is a theological issue at stake in this form of argumentation. Would you be willing to dogmatize phrases in the same way from, say, Lamentabili sane? Something tells me no, but I would be glad to be proven wrong.

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      March 8, 2012 9:16 pm

      Proof text out of context is pretext of proof text.

  3. March 8, 2012 3:58 pm

    Hm. I don’t doubt the article probably isn’t based on Catholic social teachings, but rather on all sorts of American “conservative” Capitalist ideas. And I certainly think the broad principles you outline about the common good and justice and charity are true as well, and part of Catholic Social teaching.

    However, things get problematic here when you start talking about “rights” to unemployment, welfare, pensions, and income re-distribution by taxation.

    The problem is that, while I wouldn’t deny that the State has these authority to do these things, it is not at all true that Catholic Social Teaching implies a big government welfare state ala American liberalism (or European socialism) as a lot here on Vox Nova seem to imagine.

    Frankly, I think Catholic social principles more or less imply that this is at best treating the symptoms. I’ve said before many times here: there wouldn’t be a need to RE-distribute income if we had a monetary system that distributed it fairly in the FIRST PLACE.

    This idea that having a “first distribution” of income according to participation in production and the market (which arbitrarily bootstraps the two), and then having a “second distribution” of THAT money by coercive State taxing and then distributing it again through hand-outs or government spending…is frankly absurd.

  4. Kurt permalink
    March 8, 2012 4:29 pm

    You are very kind, MM, to respond to this by philosophical and learned response.

    Statements like this from other Catholic leaders is causing me to simply re-direct thousands of dollars previously contributed to Catholic causes to those I have confidence in, such the President’s re-election effort, organizations to protect gay people, efforts to defeat the Blunt Amendment, secular charities to help the poor, unemployed, sick and homeless, along with a limited number of Catholic causes to which I can look the decision makers in the eye and make sure they understand the intent and use of my contribution.

    • Jimmy Mac permalink
      March 8, 2012 9:20 pm

      The best thing to do is to be sure that your charitable contributions DO NOT fall into the hands of the clergy, particularly bishops. Rather than realizing that they are holding money in trust on behalf of their people to be used properly, they view this money as their very own personal funds over which they have 100% right to do anything and everything, irrespective of for what the people many have thought they for giving in the first place.

      The 11th commandement is Thou Shalt Not Fund Fools.

    • Ryan permalink
      March 8, 2012 9:49 pm

      Articles such as the one above are the fruit of Catholic infatuation with people like Ron Paul, Judge Napaitano and Lew Rockwell. BUT THEY’RE AGAINST THE WAR AT LEAST!!!

  5. Peter Paul Fuchs permalink
    March 8, 2012 7:46 pm

    The answer is simple. The simple reply is that many Bishops and their representatives are indistinguishable from talking-heads on Fox News. Not very hard to discern. Further their reading of history is jejune, and seems to be taken from glossing a Thomas Woods book. That’s really scraping the bottom of the barrel.

  6. Mark Gordon permalink
    March 9, 2012 12:59 pm


    You are entirely right about the op-ed. But can we not also agree that social spending by the State is, in fact, NOT the answer. The answer ultimately is justice and an equitable distribution of wealth, not welfare. Dorothy Day, whose anti-liberal, anti-capitalist credentials need no burnishing, was appalled by the welfare system in the United States, not only because it represented a failure of Christian charity, but because it created a dependence on what she derisively termed “Holy Mother State,” a dependence that only provided back-door legitimacy to a corrupt capitalist system.

    • Kurt permalink
      March 9, 2012 1:52 pm

      But can we not also agree that social spending by the State is, in fact, NOT the answer.

      I think we can agree if we are all liberals. Contrary to the right-wing caricature, the American center-left has been the leading proponent of this. A strong and vital labor movement so workers have a voice on the job, corporate accountability and shareholder rights, the right to hold a job in the private sector and particpate in the economy regardless of race, sex, creed or sexual orientation, strong consumer organizations, credit unions, and community organizing all have met opposition from conservatism and received support from the democratic left.

      • Mark Gordon permalink
        March 9, 2012 3:06 pm

        Yes, and along the way the American center-left – now almost thoroughly co-opted by corporate power (c.f. Chris Hedges) – merely put its imprimatur on an economic system that is built on war and debt, views labor as a commodity, promotes mindless consumption, and routinely wipes out middle class assets. The liberal concoction that Dorothy Day described as a “dirty, rotten system” is as much a creation of the center-left as it is the center-right. Congratulations.

    • March 9, 2012 2:30 pm


      This is a good point. But I think I lean a bit closer to the Christian Democratic answer than the distribist answer. That would mean adequate social spending, in line with Catholic social spending, but where the programs are implemented by mediating institutions.

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      March 9, 2012 3:20 pm

      From House of Hospitality, by Dorothy Day:

      We do not deny that the State is bound for the sake of the common good, to take care of the unemployed and the unemployable by relief and lodging houses and work projects. Pope Pius XI pointed that out very clearly. He lamented that so much money was spent in increased armaments that should be spent on the poor. He urged the “press and the pulpit throughout the world” to fight the increase of armaments, and added sadly that “up to this time Our voice has not been heard.”

      No, we are not denying the obligations of the State. But we do claim that we must never cease to emphasize personal responsibility. When our brother asks us for bread, we cannot say, “Go be thou filled.” We cannot send him from agency to agency. We must care for him ourselves as much as possible.

      And we claim that as Catholics we have not sufficiently cared for our own. We have not used the material, let alone the spiritual resources at our disposal. We have not drawn upon our tremendous reserves of material and spiritual wealth. We have scarcely known or recognized that we possessed them.

  7. JL Liedl permalink
    March 9, 2012 2:05 pm

    Ha. And someone once accused me of “cramped binary thinking.” Third-way, anyone?

    • Mark Gordon permalink
      March 9, 2012 2:45 pm

      FAIL! By definition, third way thinking isn’t “binary.”

      • JL Liedl permalink
        March 9, 2012 3:08 pm

        Yah, that’s my point. Hard to convey sarcasm over the internet, especially without italics at one’s disposal. Let’s try it again:

        “Ha. And someone one accused ME (<— this is the bit that makes it ironic) of "cramped binary thinking." Third-way anyone?"

  8. johnmcg permalink
    March 9, 2012 4:19 pm

    I’m wondering if there’s some space between “I disagree with an editorial published in the Diocese of Brooklyn’s newspaper” and “Diocese of Brooklyn has jumped the shark”

  9. Kurt permalink
    March 9, 2012 5:29 pm

    The diocese of Brooklyn has nothing on the diocese of Sacramento. Many years ago, the diocese started a service to the homeless, Francis House. It order to better serve the homeless, Francis House became an ecumencial Christian initiative. A few months ago, they hired a new director, an ordained United Methodist minister.

    This week, the diocese announced it was ending all support for Francis House because the employee in question, in a personal capacity and prior to employment at Francis House, had indicate a pro-choice and anti- Issue 8 stance.

    Better not to house the homeless than to do it in concert with a Samaritan, …excuse me,…. Methodist.

    • Cindy permalink
      March 9, 2012 11:52 pm

      That one does make you wonder Kurt. What is truly more important? What is greater? It’s really something to think about.

  10. Anne permalink
    March 10, 2012 9:09 pm

    Kurt: “Better not to house the homeless than to do it in concert with a Samaritan, …excuse me,…. Methodist.”

    Good one. It’s giving me the bends to hear all these Catholic bishops — and diocesan spokespeople — sounding like Republicans of the far, far right. I’m a Boomer, you see, and all my adult life, or at least since Vatican II, I’ve been used to a more progressive sound — often criticized by rightwing Catholics for being so progressive — emanating from the USCCB.

    Still, historically speaking, we’ve heard this other sound before, as of course has most of the world. For much of our history, America’s bishops have been pro-immigrant, pro-union, pro-socially conscious government and social welfare spending, including on old-age assistance and universal health care. But there have been times….e.g., in the Jim Crow South (never mind the prewar South!), where dioceses and schools were segregated and bishops championed the rights of the rich and the white, and in post-WWII times all over the country, when Communism was the #1 Catholic bugaboo and bishops spoke out in defense of politicians such as Joe McCarthy. IOW, we’ve been here before, and we’ve been elsewhere as well. Through the mercy of God, this too shall pass. Sigh.

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