Now an Ohio Catholic!


  1. Did anyone ever say anything about an emotion when talking about love? No. More importantly, my post had nothing to do with being “progressive.” Anyone who has any understanding of the traditional role of government, instead of the free-market liberalsm, will know it is a traditional understanding to see the government enforces justice (which included regulating financial abuses to help society as a whole).

    More importantly, it is rather ironic to try to claim I am one who forgets the incarnation and we are to be incarnational. You entirely ignore the whole point of the post which is to look beyond economic charity — to be truly giving of oneself to another in love (not an emotion; in caritas) — to someone real, in front of you. To point out that real incarnational love is capable no matter what social position or status one is at. One should point out that Bill Gates himself needs charity — in the true sense, not the superficial “I give money to a cause” sense. Love indeed is to be given — and once we move beyond toe false “give money” sense of love (which is truly gnostic), we really can move on to true up-lifting modes of love. Where is the lack of incarnational theology in this? Nowhere. The fact of the matter is it is given to real persons before you — that no matter who they are, there is still room for LOVE for CHARITY– points to this.

  2. I do not have any social statistics on the matter, but I think you need to consider certain qualifications with regard to your portrait of family care for the aged:

    1. It is atypical for the aged to live with their children, but it is not unusual at all for retired parents to move to be near one or more of their children. In my limited circle of acquaintances, I have seen the opposite as well multiple times: middle-aged people taking jobs near their elderly parents as a precautionary measure. The difference between residence with and residence near might perhaps be attributable to the general increase in affluence since my grandfather and his brother took charge of their mother and father between 1945 and 1949.

    2. I think if you investigated matters, you might discover that three-generation households of the sort you describe were typically not long in duration. (In the case above, four years).

    3. Sorry to be a repetitive bore, but custodial care supplementing and supplanting family care is not a novelty. The population of state asylums fifty years ago was 9x what it is today. Among their charges was not only people insane from schizophrenia and tertiary syphilis, but also the senile and the retarded as well.

    4. With regard to the homeless: the Urban Institute offered many years ago that there were 600,000 homeless. Given the increase in the general population since then, perhaps the number is now 700,000. Providing basic subsistence for a client population that size (with much volunteer labor) likely would not set you back more than about $10 bn. I think philanthropic donations in this country are typically around 2% of domestic product, or around $280 bn. Organizations like Covenant House can handle the homeless and might be more likely than public bureaucracies to supply the ministry necessary to move some of these folk back into workaday life.

  3. Darwin,

    Thanks for the good post. Referring to Mr. Karlson’s Vox Nova post, I think it is a mistaken to think that the “what about charity?” argument seeks to keep people in poverty so that charity can occur. I really think it operates on the other side of the equation – how does charity occur when the resources that would be devoted to it are confiscated (taxed away)? In a perfect socialist world, the government would provide all basic necessities to those in need; however, I never see us reaching that perfection. The poor will always be among us, and will always require some form of charitable assistance. I hope the charitable among us will still have the means of picking up that slack.

  4. “The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries.”

    Winston Churchill

    The problem with socialism is that sooner rather than later the socialists always run out of other peoples’ money, as the welfare states in Europe are demonstrating and Obama and the Democrats in Congress will soon learn.

  5. The problem with so many responses here: nothing I said was about socialism — bringing out that social justice is the role of the state follows Catholic Social Teaching. To point out that the common good is to be met by the state is not socialism. To say this is not to say that everyone has to be at the same level — it is that there is a minimum level everyone has to be at. Once there, you can and should have a diverse society, but again, those who have more are expected to use it more as stewards, knowing that everything is given to their custody by God.

  6. Henry,

    You may not have intended your post to be progressive, but I think it certainly displayed a strongly progressive sensibility in two senses:

    1) While it is true that traditional Catholic teaching holds earthly justice to be the responsibility of the state, it is indeed a new and novel understanding of “justice” to take it to mean assuring through statist social welfare programs that “there is a minimum level everyone has to be at”. In traditional Catholic countries, throughout the centuries, the material help of the poor was addressed primarily by Church institutions, not state institutions. Indeed, statist social welfare programs were initially pioneered in Europe by anti-clerical regimes in the 19th and early 20th centuries, having already done much to dismantle the Catholic institutions which had served a similar function. So at a minimum, I think it’s reasonable to take your reading of this as progressive both on the modern political spectrum and also as an interpretation of Catholic teaching.

    2) The idea, which you hint at (at least in apposition to the current state, whether or not you mean it to be seriously achievable), that it is reasonably achievable to reach a society in which all people truly receive an equal minimum standard of living via the beneficence of state programs, is certainly a politically progressive vision and quite arguably a humanisticly progressive vision as well, in the sense that we have never seen such a society in actual existence in history and positing that one is achievable seems to mean positing a change in basic human behavior.


    I certainly did not mean to suggest (nor have I ever heard anyone suggest) that charity has its only form in providing money directly to people or to some sort of fund. Indeed, I would think the examples I provided (parenthood, providing for aging parents, etc.) made it clear that charity is often expressed through and formed by some other more direct and personal act. However, I think it is very important to be clear that charity is nurtured through acts, not merely through some sort of general good disposition. In that sense, arguing that charity will take place regardless of whether the practical need for it is replaced by statist programs seems to deny the important of actual acts in developing, nurturing and expressing charity.

    For instance, to take your example, it is certainly true that Bill Gates is in need of charity, in the sense that he is, like any person, in need of having love expressed to him in relationship — primarily through acts. Obviously, in his case, the acts through which he needs charity to be expressed to him do not include providing food, shelter, money, etc. But that doesn’t mean that charity towards Bill Gates involves the amorphous good will of those disputing on the internet either. Bill Gates needs charity in that he needs those with whom he interacts to treat him in a loving fashion, though acts. The only way in which I can think of that any of us could provide charity to him would be to pray for him — which people are certainly welcome to do, I’m sure he needs the prayers.


    You say your primary point was indeed this, that charity is expressed primarily through loving acts towards real people whom we encounter, rather than simply proving them with money (often indirectly). I’m sorry that I missed this in the piece, as it’s a point I basically agree with. However, even so, I think it’s important not to draw an artificial barrier between charitable acts which provide a material help to people (food, clothing, shelter, money, etc.) and loving acts of some other sort.

    As I pointed out with the example about rearing children: it is often the providing of necessities which teaches us to love in the first place, and it is only as the love grows that we learn to provide love in other ways as well. When we purposefully sever all of the bonds of dependence within society so that we can live the individualist dream with the help of the state — our livings assured regardless of our interactions with other persons, begin to choke out the very personal interactions which teach us love.

  7. Art,

    Certainly, as you point out, the fact that aging parents seldom now actually live with their children doesn’t mean that children don’t have any interactions with the aging parents. And for those with the means or opportunity, people often did seek others ways out in times past rather than providing care themselves. (My wife and I actually lived in a three generation situation for a while with my grandmother in her last months, and I can certainly agree it’s often not fun or easy.)

    Though also to shade the details a bit here: the situations I’m talking about with my Indian coworkers don’t necessarily involve frail parents needing care. It just seems to be standard practice that when a father retires, he and his wife start moving in their their children rather than paying rent. This usually ends up with them providing primary care for their grandchildren, while often both child and in-law work.

    Also agreed that some of the items I mentioned can be tackled quite handily (and perhaps better) by private organizations than by the government. I was just trying to think of a couple of highly visible forms that government “charity” programs often take which one wouldn’t necessarily see vanishing. Unemployment benefits and the FDIC were probably much better examples than food banks or homeless shelters.

  8. The FDIC is an actuarial pool. It does not qualify as charity (unless you regard insurance companies as charities).

    It seems my point went by you, so I will re-iterate. I offer that elderly parents live in separate digs from their children because they have the disposable income to do so as part of the general improvement in levels of affluence over the years. The elderly often prefer not to live with their children, even when they are welcome to do so. In 1947, a bourgeois like my grandfather got to work with a mix of public transportation and long walks, owned one car which only his wife knew how to drive, suffered the summer months as he had all his life as a born-and-bred Southerner, heated his house in the winter with coal in a furnace he got up in the middle of the night to stoke, and had seen a good many of his teeth leave him behind. He also had his mother and father stashed in his little suburban house nine months of the year. His counterpart today has everything but those wretched wisdom teeth the oral surgeon took out, drives to work, wimps out with air conditioning, has a gas furnace he thinks about only when the bill arrives – and lives about a ten minute drive from his mother’s ducky garden apartment.

    What cannot be readily replaced by purchases is the labor and individual attention one’s children can offer, which is why you see both parent and child moving to be near each other even when such is not, strictly speaking, a necessity. Both are calculating that there may be (or will be) a time when such is necessary. Also, when your mother is in a hospital or nursing home, she needs an advocate. Which is to say she needs you, even though an institution is caring for her in most respects. It’s easier if you live right there.

  9. Art,

    Agreed that the FDIC is not a charity — though I certainly wouldn’t consider other safety net programs to be charities either. For instance, the health care bill, which many liberal Catholics have insisted is a necessity for justice in our country, basically just forces people to belong to actuarial pools.

    I don’t think that any of the government programs which fill the place which closer social solidarity might otherwise cover count as charitable in the least. They’re programs which in some sense or another grant us more security to allow us to lead life individually. The FDIC is perhaps a reach, but I think that at least in how people experience its effects, it’s arguable. Since it guarantees deposits, it makes people far more inclined to save in banks rather than in hard assets such as family held valuables. By getting savings into banks, it helps overall circulation, and allows greater lending. If instead we lived in a world in which only those who thought they knew enough to be sure which banks were “sound” actually put their money into banks, while others hoarded cash or valuables, we’d probably have an economy in which people had to rely much more on extended family for large purchases rather than relying on credit. Etc.

    I don’t disagree with your point about living with parents. It’s something a lot of people don’t prefer to do if given the choice, so the simple increase in wealth would probably make it less common even without social security and medicare. That said, given that many people are not actually all that great at planning for the future, I would imagine that without those programs a lot more people would end up falling back on three generation familial arrangements, or a lot more money transfers within extended families.

    Though, of course, if those programs had never existed in the first place we might have a much heavier cultural emphasis on saving which would result in most people being in the same or better shape by retirement either way. Maybe the programs breed improvidence more than isolation.

    I wonder how one could try to examine the question…

  10. Henry Karlson, above, seems to have said a lot of true things, while failing in the end to come to the correct conclusions because he neglects that force and charity are antitheses; that love which is forced is not love. Since government does absolutely nothing without exercising force (sometimes directly and strongly, sometimes indirectly and softly), much of what he’d advocate under the banner of incarnational and communal exercise of love turns out, in practice, to look a lot like a crowd of nine wolves and one sheep voting on how best to feed the hungry.

  11. R.C. I have not argued that the government is acting in charity, only in justice. Justice IS the domain of government.

    DC actually, the state throughout history was also gave all kinds of help and aid to the poor, and enforced a level of justice which got undermined with the change into a capitalistic system. For example, they had rules such as one could “eat off the land” as long as one only took what one could eat and needed to eat from the land. That wasn’t a Catholic institution giving to the poor, it was the government forcing landowners to give. This is just one example among many. Again, Catholic Institutions, as always, and in any situation, would and should give in charity according to the time and place, so that it gives over and above what was being done by the government. This would always be the case, even in a more just society.

  12. The FDIC is not an income transfer program either. It is a receiver of insolvent institutions. Its funds, as a rule, come from assessments on member banks, and it usually expends little from its funds. It typically administers haircuts to the creditors of the bank not subject to its guarantees and marries the bank off to a healthier institution.

    Social Security and unemployment compensation are income transfer programs and Medicare and Medicaid are collective consumption schemes. They are not actuarially sound pension and insurance programs. So they count as ‘welfare’ (though not, strictly speaking, charity). Military and civil service pensions may aspire to be actuarially sound programs predominantly financed by the contributions of their beneficiaries. They are, however, typically subsidized defined-benefit programs. You would not call that ‘welfare’, however. ‘Rent extraction’ would be a better term.

    Programs such as Social Security and Medicare induce people to save less than they otherwise would. I have never attempted to make a bibliography of the literature on this topic. IIRC, Martin Feldstein made his bones as an economist studying just this question.

    You do raise the point that time horizons vary according to social stratum. Edward Banfield built much of his interpretation of contemporary urban life on this observation and Gloria Steinem has also written on the question, but I do not think much discussion of this makes it to general audiences and no politician is likely to acknowledge it. It is the variation in time horizons over the community that (I think) makes a measure public provision of certain services (medical and custodial care) advisable. With regard to just about anything else, the circumstances of the impecunious can be improved by rectifying perverse features of the tax code. (Tax relief is not charity either).

    One thing you make a glancing reference to is the decay in relations between shirt-tail and collateral relatives. I think this is a much more severe change than that between elderly parent and adult child.

  13. I was reading Aristotle’s Politics, and came across this passage which seems remarkably relevant (not just to this post, but in response to the ill-educated folks who claim that private property is a creation of the Enlightenment):


    Property should be in a certain sense common, but, as a general rule, private; for, when everyone has a distinct interest, men will not complain of one another, and they will make more progress, because every one will be attending to his own business.
    * * *

    And further, there is the greatest pleasure in doing a kindness or service to friends or guests or companions, which can only be rendered when a man has private property. These advantages are lost by excessive unification of the state.

    The exhibition of two virtues, besides, is visibly annihilated in such a state: . . . liberality in the matter of property. No one, when men have all things in common, will any longer set an example of liberality or do any liberal action; for liberality consists in the use which is made of property.

    Such legislation may have a specious appearance of benevolence; men readily listen to it, and are easily induced to believe that in some wonderful manner everybody will become everybody’s friend, especially when some one is heard denouncing the evils now existing in states, suits about contracts, convictions for perjury, flatteries of rich men and the like, which are said to arise out of the possession of private property. These evils, however, are due to a very different cause- the wickedness of human nature. Indeed, we see that there is much more quarrelling among those who have all things in common . . . .

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