Government and Economic Health

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Another fine econ 101 video from the Center for Freedom and Prosperity.  The day after we learned that the Federal debt now equals the annual size of the US economy seems like an appropriate time to watch the above video.  We have attained a size and cost of government in this country which threatens to severely damage the economy which pays our bills, public and private.  This cannot go on and will not go on, either by our elected representatives finally taking steps necessary to curb the size and cost of government or through de facto national bankruptcy.

30 Responses to Government and Economic Health

  • The US general government has been broke since 1933. The government is broke because of fiat money, but the country, these United States are very, very wealthy. We needn’t worry, we just need to jettison the central bank, the debt owed to that bank and all the government ‘regulations’ that hamper our wealth.

    We have a few choices:

    1) Constitutional restoration
    2) Revolution
    3) Civil War
    4) become obsolete

  • 1) We can only go bankrupt if we voluntarily declare it.
    2) Big government doesn’t necessarily require big taxes nor excessive debt. The ill effects of spending without financing or raising revenue are inflation and exchange rate depreciation. Inflation is very low right now and is following a similar trend as the Japanese experienced in their ‘lost decade.’
    3) Politicians may decide that there is too much government and that is all fine and good, but if they cut spending, then they must cut taxes too. Drops in the deficit will only reinforce the recession.
    4) You must not have taken economics, or you would understand that GDP=C+I+G+Net EX. G only crowds out I and C if it raises interest rates. That doesn’t seem to be a problem at the moment does it?
    5) What does this post have to do with being Catholic? If you are promoting Catholicism in politics, then show me where in Catholic Social Teaching encyclicals it says all of this. What does the teaching of Christ, the Apostles, and their successors say on the proper role of government?

  • 1. You can be in de facto bankruptcy without declaring it, and we are headed in that direction. Bankrupts are individuals who can’t pay their debts and cannot be legally compelled to do so. That is a pretty good summary of the situation facing the federal government in the very near future.

    2. Not necessarily, but usually, and that is our situation currently.

    3. Not necessarily depending upon what is cut.

    4. I have read a fair amount of the dismal science, enough to know that most economists are very good at predicting the past.

    5. Every post on this blog does not pretend to be Catholic Holy Writ. Catholicism over the past 20 centuries has said almost everything under the sun regarding government and its role, as one would expect from an institution that dates from the reign of Tiberius Caesar. In answer to your last sentence, Christ says very little, the Apostle Paul preached a fairly submissive attitude to the Roman Empire, except in matters of religion, and the Popes have been imperialists, feudalists, theocrats, monarchists, republicans, and every shade in between. Currently Catholicism is fairly comfortable with social democracy of a European sort. Lord knows, literally, what the views of the incumbent of the seat of Saint Peter will be regarding government a century hence. An example of just how shifting this can be in relatively short time periods in the life of the Church, imagine a debate on the subject between Pius IX and John Paul II.

  • Alex:

    I note Donald used the term “de facto” bankruptcy. One needn’t make a formal declaration that one isn’t going to pay one’s debts, to be in a situation where one cannot in fact do so without incurring intolerable difficulties.

    When you ask where in Catholic teaching it “says all of this”: All of what, specifically? Are there particular elements in either the video clip, or Donald’s note, which you hold either to be in opposition to Catholic teaching, or simply not mentioned in Catholic teaching?

    For of course a thing need not be mentioned to be true! “All truth is God’s truth.” I don’t know that the formula for GDP is found anywhere in an encyclical, for example; but it needn’t be.

    And of course it is a moral obligation that we not damage the economy through foolish policies, especially since poor folk are most harmed by such mistakes. (Foundational preferential option for the poor: Don’t destroy the jobs market! Corollary: Don’t make rich people too poor to hire. I myself have never been given a job by a poor man, and I don’t suppose many other folk have, either.)

    On the statement that government spending only crowds out private spending if the government raises interest rates: I don’t see how that addresses the argument.

    There is necessary spending; there is wise but not necessary spending, and there is unwise and not necessary spending. If (to use round easy numbers purely as an example) half of my tax bill were going towards spending of the unwise and unnecessary variety, and if half of every government dollar spent was borrowed but the other half was derived from taxation, then a quarter of my tax bill would represent unwise and unnecessary spending, and a comparable amount of our national debt would represent unwise and unnecessary borrowing.

    Had my taxes instead been reduced by the same amount, then 10% of that amount would have gone to the church (and thus indirectly to the poor), another segment (the percentage would change in proportion to my income that year) would have gone directly to the needy; some additional portion would have gone towards savings. The remainder would have been spent that year, becoming part of either “C” (Consumer spending) or “I” (business Investment in expansion or maintenance of operations). Let’s say — again for easy numbers — that this “C or I” spending ended up being half of the amount in question (which was itself a quarter of my tax bill, using the easy numbers from before). In that case unwise and unnecessary government spending would have replaced “C or I” in 12.5% of my tax bill.

    The real numbers are very different of course; it might boil down to only 1% of some people’s bills, 5% of other people’s bills. But multiply that by the hundred million or so people who actually pay income taxes, and as they say in D.C., “a billion here and a billion there, and pretty soon you’re talking about real money.”

    One could of course argue that the unwise and unnecessary spending was wholly funded by borrowing, and that taxes paid for all the prudent or necessary spending…assuming the numbers matched up in each category. In that case one could say that no “C or I” spending was unnecessarily crowded out. But that’s not a realistic way to look at money: It’s fungible; whether debt-based or tax-based, dollars are dollars. Seeing the debt vs. taxation balance as a percentage of each dollar is more realistic.

    Or, one could say, “Hey, all we care about is keeping GDP going; who cares whether it’s through government spending or private spending?” But that’s shoddy thinking: Our goal is not to win a game where the score is based on GDP, but to have a decent society with a functioning economy where folk can find jobs. Government spending is therefore not equivalent to private spending: The latter creates wealth through voluntary exchange and transmits helpful price-signals (required for economic health), whereas the former only transfers wealth through involuntary mechanisms and often obscures price signals (which detracts from economic health). This is why, even when all government spending is tax-based, if a given spending item is not necessary or its wisdom is “iffy,” it’s better, as a general rule, to leave it in the hands of consumers and businesses.

  • I was in college when today’s U profs were running through the streets screaming, “Ho, Ho, Ho Chi Minh: NLF is sure to win!”

    My question re the gross domestic product formula: Doesn’t G squander do-re-me that could have been better used in C and I: the wealth creation arena?

    The money could be invested in plant and equipment instead of buying dem votes and Bud Light.

  • As always, I think the real trick is to maintain a proper balance between government and private spending. Obviously we cannot have a 100 percent socialist/communist nanny state in which the government becomes responsible for meeting every single need and everyone is taxed to death to support it. Government cannot solve every problem.

    However, a society in which absolutely everything other than law enforcement, the courts and the military were privatized — no public schools, libraries, parks, roads, or other types of infrastructure, no public universities, no public regulatory bodies of any kind, etc. — wouldn’t necessarily be an economic paradise either. (What if, for example, ALL roads were toll roads and people who lived in small towns or rural areas had to pay for their daily drive to work?) To some extent, private business depends on the existence of an infrastructure that it cannot or would not be able to create on its own; and this is where a responsible government would get involved. It also makes a difference what level of government you are talking about — some things are more appropriately done at the local or state level than at the federal level, and vice versa.

  • 1) I agree, but what makes you think we can’t pay our debts?
    2) I agree, but it still isn’t necessary.
    3) What do you propose we cut? I think there is a lot of wasteful spending and it annoys me to no end, but the free market hasn’t indicated it will provide for those born in less favorable situations and neither have our people as whole.
    4) You are right most economists are very good at predicting the past and terrible at predicting the future, but that sidesteps the accounting identity known by everyone who has taken basic macroeconomics. Are you arguing that because economists are terrible at predicting the future then we should disregard all of what they say?
    5) I agree, but shouldn’t we as Catholics defend and promote the teachings of the Church rather than promote our own opinions about politics and life?

    R.C. –

    Im not sure what you mean by intolerable difficulties. Other debt ratings agencies may make it more difficult for us to pay our debts by lowering their ratings on our debt. Inflation and exchange rate depreciation may get out of control, but where in our current situation has that happened? You can’t compare us to the EU because we are sovereign in our own currency. I agree that the pace we are on currently is unsustainable, but I do not believe this is an immediate concern because these intolerable difficulties don’t appear to be anywhere near our current situation. A much more immediate concern is joblessness. If government spending declines and nothing takes its place then joblessness surely will not get better and none of the data I have seen has convinced me that the private sector has, is, or will take up the slack. Decreasing taxes doesn’t help the deficit situation either.

    I agree with the rest of your comment whole-heartedly; you make very excellent points with well though out arguments and thought-experiments. I don’t believe that the size of government must be big in order to sustain spending. I too believe that there is much waste in government spending that would be better spent by the private sector through tax cuts. The one big problem is that the private market isn’t efficient at distribution. It distributes to those who command the most economic power. I believe the saying goes “the rich get richer while the poor get poorer.” This isn’t always the case and I do believe in rewarding hard work and risk taking, but many people start with a huge disadvantage and get more piled on top of them as life goes by simply because they were born in that state. Justice owes that we do something to give them a boost from their situation. This, in my opinion, is best met through private charity and job creation, but it seems that this just doesn’t happen. There isn’t enough charity and stability of jobs isnt there when left up to private individuals. In this way I think the government must step in because individuals are either unwilling or unable to do it themselves. “How much government?” is a tough question.

    All should be ordered towards getting to heaven. I see both the government and individuals as obstacles to this and any emphasis toward materiality leads us away from this goal. The poor need to be shown charity in more than just material goods. They need their dignity upheld and opportunities to be educated, provide for themselves and their families, and support the common good. Free markets ignore the human person. We need individuals to transcend the market with charity and justice. I wish this was done without government transfers, but it isn’t. People seem to want handouts from whoever they can get it from, but you know and I know that what they really want is to be loved, to find happiness and fulfillment. The government really CANT do this. So if we as individuals would take up our responsibility and our calling the government wouldn’t have to and wouldn’t feel a need to.

  • If anyone thins our government is not bankrupt then I suspect they have no idea what bankruptcy means. The debt and unfunded liabilities our government is carrying CANNOT be retired by all of the wealth in the entire world, let alone what America can generate. It is not just that our government shouldn’t have this much debt, or that we don’t have the desire to settle it, it simply CANNOT be paid off. The borrower is the slave of the lender. Our government is the slave of the money power and that makes us defacto slaves. We need to jettison the debt, the central bank and the wealth hampering regulations that favor the politically connected business and group interests at the expense of everyone else.

    Elaine,

    You stated, “However, a society in which absolutely everything other than law enforcement, the courts and the military were privatized — no public schools, libraries, parks, roads, or other types of infrastructure, no public universities, no public regulatory bodies of any kind, etc. — wouldn’t necessarily be an economic paradise either.”

    Some of us would rather not have public (which means government run) schools, etc. Of course, if your local government was pressured by the citizens to have such a monstrosity, they could provide it and those of us who don’t want it would move to the place that doesn’t have it – of course, we’d also take our wealth and our money with us. When people have choices, the market decides. Compare the cost and benefit of most Catholic schools as compared to government schools, there is no question which works better.

    Most of the things you think would not exist without the force and threat of government would probably exist and in a better way. Enoch Pratt and Andrew Carnegie have provided more and better libraries than just about any municipality. Businesses would pay for infrastructure because their customers would demand it. Ford can’t be in business without roads and gas stations, yet we NEED government roads and we HAVE private gas stations – which seems to always provide better service?

    As for so-called regulation, which merely means control and should mean to make regular, usually fails. Enron and Madhoff were protected by the regulators, it was the independent forces of the free market that brought them down. Regulations are usually used to favor one company or group over all others. Over-regulation is unjust and leads to economic disruption, which always does the most damage to the poorest people. Government ‘regulation’ caused the moral hazards that led to the most recent financial crisis and then Wall Street banks were bailed-out, regulations were increased and the banks are doing great – how’s everyone else doing?

    As for an economic paradise, that would be one in which the principle law of economics does not apply – the law of scarcity. We will never achieve that this side of heaven, but we have to try and come as close as we can.

  • American Knight-

    I suggest you read Quadragesimo Anno pp. 103-109. The free market isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

  • 1) “I agree, but what makes you think we can’t pay our debts?”

    Basic math. Unless we are willing to implement economy killing tax increases there is simply no way to pay off the accumulated debt while also meeting entitlement expenditures. The only reason we have stumbled along thus far is through the greatest borrowing spree in the history of the planet, and I think our ability to do this is nearing its end.

    2) “I agree, but it still isn’t necessary.”

    It may not be necessary, but it is what is happening.

    3. “What would you cut?”

    I would start with Rand Paul’s 500 billion cut proposal and move on from there. In regard to the less fortunate, it is only the free market that provides the wherewithal to do anything for the less fortunate. All the social programs in the world are worthless without an economy to pay the bills.

    4. “Are you arguing that because economists are terrible at predicting the future then we should disregard all of what they say?”

    Take anything any economist says with a boulder of salt, and look closely at their track record in regard to predictions and economic advice.

    5) “I agree, but shouldn’t we as Catholics defend and promote the teachings of the Church rather than promote our own opinions about politics and life?”

    Depends. The teaching against abortion has been changeless since the Apostles. Catholic teaching on economics has been all over the lot as has Catholic teaching regarding government. In those areas I suspect that because of the variety of teaching we see through history we are not dealing with the eternal truths of Christ, but rather fairly ad hoc stances arising often from secular developments. That explains why the Church could embrace feudalism in one era, and the welfare state in another. Some portions of the teaching on economics of course are always true. The admonition to remember the poor for example. However when someone tells me that because of this admonition I must agree that the government should do x, y or z, or the economy must be structured in a particular manner, I get skeptical.

  • Alex,

    I suggest you read the seventh commandment.

    A free market is not an anarchic market, it is the natural market that is created by numerous and unrelated individuals being useful to each other, primarily for the sake of sanctity and also for the material benefit of others. Government has a very important function in a free market; however, that function is to protect the market and not necessarily to provide so-called ‘services’.

    As for the Church’s position vis. economics and politics, I like what our resident barrister stated above. The Church has no charism in political economy other than to state principles of charity and justice, how those are applied is our work. Using the intellect God gave me I can see no other economic system that provides the material benefits of a free market and allows people to exercise charity and justice toward their brothers and sisters. I know some subscriber to Distributism is going to attack me; however, a truly free market, and not the corporate capitalism we call a free market, is more-or-less Distributist.

    Once again, I’ll point to the quality (being what it is) of Catholic education against government schooling. Much better quality, abysmal as it is, for considerably less cost, offering much more choice, flexibility and opportunities for the poor. I currently have no children in school, yet through my parish I support our school. Of course, I also have large sums confiscated from me so I cannot direct them toward a Catholic school so that I can subsidize the indoctrination of some poor soul at the government school. As a Catholic and an American I find that abhorrent.

  • Knight: I realize that Catholic education is better, but special needs students like my own autistic daughter are NOT accepted into most Catholic schools and often have no choice but to attend public schools. Where are they going to go if public schools are abolished? Homeschooling, maybe, but not everyone can do that full time (particularly single parents, or couples that both have to work). And if public universities are abolished, most of the middle class will lose ANY hope of being able to advance beyond high school.

  • Alex,

    Some additions from Centessimus Annus regarding Marxism and Socialism:

    24. The second factor in the crisis was certainly the inefficiency of the economic system, which is not to be considered simply as a technical problem, but rather a consequence of the violation of the human rights to private initiative, to ownership of property and to freedom in the economic sector. To this must be added the cultural and national dimension: it is not possible to understand man on the basis of economics alone, nor to define him simply on the basis of class membership. Man is understood in a more complete way when he is situated within the sphere of culture through his language, history, and the position he takes towards the fundamental events of life, such as birth, love, work and death. At the heart of every culture lies the attitude man takes to the greatest mystery: the mystery of God.

    On “State Capitalism and needs for the market with proper controls:

    “In this sense, it is right to speak of a struggle against an economic system, if the latter is understood as a method of upholding the absolute predominance of capital, the possession of the means of production and of the land, in contrast to the free and personal nature of human work.73 In the struggle against such a system, what is being proposed as an alternative is not the socialist system, which in fact turns out to be State capitalism, but rather a society of free work, of enterprise and of participation. Such a society is not directed against the market, but demands that the market be appropriately controlled by the forces of society and by the State, so as to guarantee that the basic needs of the whole of society are satisfied.”

    Given proper constraints, the market is seen by the Church as a positive:

    “42. Returning now to the initial question: can it perhaps be said that, after the failure of Communism, capitalism is the victorious social system, and that capitalism should be the goal of the countries now making efforts to rebuild their economy and society? Is this the model which ought to be proposed to the countries of the Third World which are searching for the path to true economic and civil progress?

    The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.”

    This all goes with the Church teaching that the Church herself offers no specific solutions to the problems of the world, but merely the principles to guide laymen in making those solutions. The Church also teaches that people, using historical, economic, sociological etc. knowledge, may come to distinctly different solutions. This is what people are doing here on the blog.

  • This in addition to the authoritative teaching of the Church (contrary to some of our co-religionists misinterpretation of CST) the Catholic Social teaching is not utopian. That we cannot perfect this world through our efforts. In fact, the current President of the Pontifical Council for Peace and Justice notes that CST is about seeking the “best possible world.” Not the ideal world, but what is possible given numerous constraints. This includes avoiding excessive govt. debt etc.

  • Elaine, I think here in Upstate New York there are about 840,000 people (give or take) between the ages of 18 and 25. Enrollment in private institutions of higher education stands somewhere around 110,000. That would be 13% of those demographic cohorts. The patriciate is not that large. I work in an office of about 70 people. It is not hard to find multiple examples of people from wage earning families or the common-and-garden bourgeoisie who garnered degrees from private colleges or sent their children there.

    As for primary and secondary education, if we re-chartered all public schools as philanthropies to be financed by vouchers, donations, and endowment income (not tuition and fees) and then allowed extant private institutions and new foundations to participate in the voucher program, I would wager institutions serving niche clientele such as yourself would be able to find a school that worked for you.

  • (Guest comment by Don’s wife Cathy:) Art Deco, one of our sons is part of that “niche clientele” of autistic kids like Elaine’s child. Don tells me that Livingston County is the geographically the fourth largest county in Illinois — but it’s overwhelmingly rural/small town (county seat pop. 12,000; next largest town (ours) pop. 4,200); countywide pop. under 50,000). Finding enough special-ed students to make a privately-funded special-ed program viable in a low-population area like ours would mean transporting students long distances — longer than would be desirable for many of the students. Don & I are very thankful that there is a special-ed program which can accomodate our son through the local public school system. We were offered the opportunity to enroll our son in special ed a year early, but chose to wait a year so we wouldn’t have to send him out of town to special ed.

  • Phillip -

    I know well what CST says about capitalism and socialism. I am planning on doing my dissertation on it. I am not arguing for socialism, but if you are going to argue for a free market then you should know what you are arguing for. Unfortunately, a free market is characterized by monopolistic competition, corporations, and large businesses with much incentives and resources to persuade government policy in their favor. If there were ample competition (the check on the self interest of the free market) then this wouldn’t be such a problem. Free markets tend to lend power toward the greedy and ruthless, not the hardworking.

    I wish the free market were more virtuous. The popes are clear that this takes virtuous actors within the market. So my desire is to increase the virtue of myself and others so that whatever economic system we live in will perform better. I don’t think government is the answer in many ways, but they also have the power to set rules and maintain competition and give the less fortunate a better chance to compete, whereas individuals do not. Fortunately, as the author points out, we can be Catholic in any form of government. In our current form of government, the Popes make clear in their teaching how this must be done. They do not suggest policies but remind us of our priorities. If we order all our actions and policies toward these priorities, then we will achieve the ‘best possible world’ in this life.

    So if you argue for the free market, then understand that it tends toward big business/corporations/monopolistic competition (as well as inequality of living and less opportunity of advancement) and then be willing to make economic decisions for others and not solely out of self-interest. If we all did this, there would be no need for any intervention, let alone government intervention, but we find that many cry out for it because they find themselves in need because of the free market.

  • Alex,

    Free markets are morally neutral, it is the actors in the market that set the morality of the market and I know you understand this; however, your assertion that free markets tend to monopoly and rewarding the ruthless is not accurate. It may happen, it sure has here in the USA, which is why we don’t have what can reasonably be called a free market. We have a managed market that is relatively free as compared to others.

    Monopoly and what is called state capitalism or corporatism occurs because of the government. Not necessarily the intent of the structure of government but the use of the threat and force, of which government has sanctioned use, by those who are in the market and don’t want it to be free. They just want to be free to extract as much from the market as possible.

    Our government was set up as a protector of the North American free trade zone between sovereign states and commonwealths and it worked. It worked so well that some men became so wealthy, elevating many others with them, that they began to think they were gods of the market and wanted to secure their god-like status. How’d they do that? They took over the government and twisted it from a Federal government, protecting a free market and restrained by law and checks and balances and fashioned it into a National government that is directly involved in every aspect of our lives so we can be better consumers and borrowers for the market gods.

    The solution is to restore the Constitution in practice and not in words only, elect moral men of honor to office and work to sanctify the world as moral actors in the market. It won’t be perfect, but it will be much better than Airstrip One.

  • Elaine,

    Subsidiarty dictates that some level of government or community effort should try to satisfy genuine needs when private institutions or individuals or families CANNOT. We don’t know if that is the case because the private schools have to compete with the government schools, which have an unfair advantage. I know at least one Catholic High School in my county offers and excellent special needs program. Would there be more if Catholics who owned real estate weren’t forced to pay for government indoctrination. Perhaps, probably, I don’t know because it hasn’t been tried. We should try it and see if it works, I suspect we’ll be very surprised by the results. If the market doesn’t respond, then the community, the county, or the state would have to. But, when the state insinuates itself first, it crushes the market and then becomes self-funding with an unending appetite to the detriment of all, except those being compensated by the state.

  • Mrs. McClarey,

    You are making an implicit reference to several questions – the size and distribution of the autistic population, curriculum for the autistic population, per-pupil cost of teaching the autistic population, and the feasibility of cross-training the general set of special education teachers to teach autistic students – the answers to which I do not know.

    Implicit also in your remarks is that instruction of the autistic requires a cross-subsidy drawn from the general school budget (either inherently or because economies of scale are not to be had) and that the costs of such would not be borne by a school absent compulsion. That may be the case, but there are ways around the problem that do not involve erecting and permanently maintaining public agencies to produce services which can be readily contracted for by private parties. One would be cross-subsidies financed by philanthropic donations (If I understand correctly, the core of the autistic student population in rural and small town Illinois would be about 450, with a periphery of about 2,500). If worst comes to worse, the State of Illinois could incorporate a private foundation whose interest and divident income could finance the cross subsidy through grants to schools, and provide the initial endowment.

  • “Unfortunately, a free market is characterized by monopolistic competition, corporations, and large businesses with much incentives and resources to persuade government policy in their favor. If there were ample competition (the check on the self interest of the free market) then this wouldn’t be such a problem. Free markets tend to lend power toward the greedy and ruthless, not the hardworking.”

    Actually I believe American Knights comment about markets being neutral is more corect though that dovetails with your comments about individuals being morally upright converting society. That is consistent with Catholic teaching. Your comment above seems more of an ideological position and not one that has been pronounced upon by the Church’s social teaching.

    ” I don’t think government is the answer in many ways, but they also have the power to set rules and maintain competition and give the less fortunate a better chance to compete, whereas individuals do not. ”

    As noted, I do not deny that the state has the power to establish limits to the Free Market. Though, from a Catholic perspective, that government is also composed of fallen individuals who can, as within the Free Market, predispose the state towards self-interest, preservation of special interest groups including corporations and unions (see Wisconsin teachers) and not necessarily the common good.

  • (Don’s wife Cathy again:) Art, I’ll take your word for it on how special ed programs could be privately financed. My concern is more over keeping such programs as locally-based as possible, so that as little of the students’ potential instructional time is wasted on transportation to and from a central-but-distant location in thinly-populated areas. If locally-based special ed programs could still be done via private funding, I wouldn’t have a problem with that.

    American Knight, it’s great that your county has a Catholic high school with a great special-needs program. My county, however, has no Catholic high schools at all, and just 2 Catholic grade schools (the nearest one being 9 miles away, with some students from our parish). There are some special ed services available to the parochial school students (f.ex. speech therapy); however, the Catholic grade school our parish has access to does not have the resources for a self-contained special ed classroom, which is the level of support our autistic son would have needed in grade school and still needs in high school. (As far as I know, I don’t believe the other parochial school in our county (in the county seat, hence a larger school) has a self-contained special ed classroom, either.)

  • “5) I agree, but shouldn’t we as Catholics defend and promote the teachings of the Church rather than promote our own opinions about politics and life?”

    “They do not suggest policies but remind us of our priorities. If we order all our actions and policies toward these priorities, then we will achieve the ‘best possible world’ in this life.”

    Alex,

    In general people here are applying their Catholic principles towards a just society. They just don’t happen to coincide with your positions. For example your own position on the natural trend of markets which is not a position the Church has defined.

  • Cathy,

    According to the principle of subsidiarity your community, county, or state should step in and fill the need that has not been met, but only until a lower order body can step up and meet the need.

    Of course, the principle problem you are facing is the problem of the whole world, Catholics are poor evangelists. If we were keeping our commandment from Our Lord to baptize all nations in the Name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, then you’d have a vibrant Catholic community and probably one that is wealthy enough to meet the needs of the minority of special-needs children and the minority of the individual person in need, you can’t get more minor that that.

    My chief concern, probably articulate poorly, is that we have allowed government, at all levels, to enter space it is not meant to serve and even create needs and codify them as rights that only it has the monopoly to fill. By doing this government distorts the natural market of matching people’s needs with those who can satisfy them. When government schools command education and offer it ‘free’ (actually by debt, taxes and confiscatory redistribution of wealth) then they enjoy a virtual monopoly over the need of education and how to define and satisfy that need. This crowds out the true innovators in the realm of education and the sole arbiters of what that education should be – the children’s parents.

    I use Catholic schools as an example; however, other private secular institutions may be able to fill the need just as well. For example a company that specializes in educating special-needs children could contract with schools, parents and acquire philanthropic or charitable funding combined with direct billing. This is unlikely when the government schools provide this service ‘free’ – this may or may not be a benefit to the child, but it certainly is a benefit to the budget for the school because no politician is going to cut the budget for children with special-needs (well, except may be Crusading Christie of NJ). That does not mean the child is getting the best service, nor that anyone is getting the most cost-efficient benefit; usually the services provided by monopoly government with hidden costs are more expensive and of lower quality.

    All that being said, it is still incumbent on government to step in when the market is NOT satisfying these genuine needs, but, we have to have measures to get the government out as soon as possible so a lower order can do it instead.

  • In regard to our autistic son, Cathy and I had to fight like the dickens to get him included in CCD. Our local director of religious education, supported by our parish priest, had zero interest in having our son participate due to his autism. Cathy was willing to instruct our son separately from his class while CCD was in session, with Larry joining for group activities under Cathy’s close supervision. That is what we were fighting for and it was a fight to get that. To be quite blunt, few people other than their parents are really interested in the education of mentally handicapped kids, and that includes some of the special ed teachers we have encountered over the years. I would prefer a voucher system for all kids so that reliance would not have to made on the state, since education, especially education for special ed kids, is something the state does poorly. The main concern for Cathy and me of course is that our son receive an education, however it is accomplished. Most of his education however, we have done ourselves. My heart goes out to parents confronted by this challenge who are less prepared for it than we were.

  • Don,

    That is a sad reception. It is not lost on me that teaching about the virtue of Charity is part of CCD and what an opportunity was missed. We are called to love and what could state that more to children than teaching the faith. Furthermore, if we really believe that we are a catholic (universal) covenant family of God, then all the children and their education is our responsibility. It is sad when convenience trumps obedience and I know I have been guilty of that far too often.

    I am confident that your example provides hope to many parents.

  • Phillip and American Knight –

    I really agree with what you say. The government is made up of fallen individuals just as markets are full of them.

    “Our government was set up as a protector of the North American free trade zone between sovereign states and commonwealths and it worked. It worked so well that some men became so wealthy, elevating many others with them, that they began to think they were gods of the market and wanted to secure their god-like status. How’d they do that? They took over the government and twisted it from a Federal government, protecting a free market and restrained by law and checks and balances and fashioned it into a National government that is directly involved in every aspect of our lives so we can be better consumers and borrowers for the market gods.”

    I agree with this statement as well. If we had morally sound politicians and wealthy individuals then they would not use government to their own advantage…big if right? That’s why John Paul II said this in response to the question “Is capitalism the best system?”:

    The answer is obviously complex. If by “capitalism” is meant an economic system which recognizes the fundamental and positive role of business, the market, private property and the resulting responsibility for the means of production, as well as free human creativity in the economic sector, then the answer is certainly in the affirmative, even though it would perhaps be more appropriate to speak of a “business economy”, “market economy” or simply “free economy”. But if by “capitalism” is meant a system in which freedom in the economic sector is not circumscribed within a strong juridical framework which places it at the service of human freedom in its totality, and which sees it as a particular aspect of that freedom, the core of which is ethical and religious, then the reply is certainly negative.

    We need both moral politicians and players in the market. (We need moral people!). Government policy doesn’t make people more moral, but outlining rules and guidelines can help them stay the course. Transferring wealth that wealthy people won’t through personal charity is also beneficial to the society and the common good if done for the right reasons. It is ideal of me to think this is possible. I hope for such a world and hope I am doing my part to evangelize and make disciples of all nations. I think part of that is educating others that free markets make some rich who don’t always use it for the common good, and by its nature encourages selfishness. I think part of that is educating others that government distorts the beneficial processes of the free market and is often controlled by “economic dictators” (as we read from CST) who use it to maintain their wealth and status. I don’t think that free markets are the answer and I don’t think that the answer lies in more government control or spending. I think the Popes have taught the same thing. I think it’s clear that at the bottom of it all is that all of us need to act in solidarity for each other and the common good. I think you realize this, too, and I thank you for contributing toward this mission!

  • “To be quite blunt, few people other than their parents are really interested in the education of mentally handicapped kids, and that includes some of the special ed teachers we have encountered over the years. I would prefer a voucher system for all kids so that reliance would not have to be made on the state, since education, especially education for special ed kids, is something the state does poorly.”

    I agree there, Don. Public school special ed is far from ideal, but most of the time it’s the only game in town if you have a special needs child. (And in many areas, it took the force of the federal Individuals with Disabilities in Education Act, or IDEA, to make that possible.) It’s possible, I suppose, that if public schooling were abolished the amount of money families save on taxes could then be sunk into private education; but I wouldn’t bet on it ever happening.

    In the end I have to agree also with Alex, that both business and government are made up of fallen human beings and neither side has all the solutions.

  • Alex,

    I think in general we are in agreement. Glad you recognize we too are applying CST. One addition I would add is that we need moral poor. There is nothing inheritly moral about the poor. They too are fallen and can be corrupted by Govt. programs. Thus the need to be careful about social programs that can promote dependency and deter the poor from seeking to improve their life.

    “Transferring wealth that wealthy people won’t through personal charity is also beneficial to the society and the common good if done for the right reasons. It is ideal of me to think this is possible. I hope for such a world and hope I am doing my part to evangelize and make disciples of all nations.”

    One has to be careful here also. CST does not deny that there be classes. To seek to absolutely level the playing field is not in accord with CST. And while it does note the universal destination of goods, it does also teach that people are entitled to their property and to provide for their families. This includes, in the long-term. retirement. Wealth, which given current life-spans and costs, may be quite a bit for a couple seeking not, in accord with CST, to be dependent on the Govt. Also CST teaches that taxes should not discourage productivity. These are legitimate concerns for placing limits on the taking of wealth.

    Thanks for helping me evangelize about CST.

  • Alex,

    You, Philip and myself are in general agreement because we are all trying to apply the Truth practically and being Catholic we have the benefit of the teaching of the Church. We differ, as we should, in detailed application and on this the Church is silent. This is good because if the Church did all the work, what would be left for us to do?

    One thing to note is that the ‘wealthy’ and the ‘poor’ are not static classes in our country. I know people who were very wealthy one year, after years of being poor due to losses and some of the wealthy weren’t all that wealthy in following years. What we consider poor in this country would be considered very wealthy in most other places in the world and don’t fall for Marxist garbage about relative wealth within a society. Additionally, when we refer to the poor it is not always, exclusive or necessarily to the materially poor. One can be ‘poor’ and still carry envy and covetousness in one’s heart, which renders one no longer poor in spirit. When Christ stated that the wealthy will have a tough time getting into heaven, he wasn’t referring to the materially wealthy. After all some of his closest friends and disciples were wealthy. Levi (Matthew), who left his wealth to follow Christ and also Joseph of Arimathea, who remained wealthy – he even gave Christ his lavish garden tomb to rest in for three days – of course, Joseph didn’t know that Christ’s body was only going to reside in the tomb for a short while.

    While those who have wealth ought to give to the less fortunate, we have no right to demand that they do it through confiscation. The wealthy man is deprived of freely offering his material wealth in Charity and Truth if we force him to give it away. The recipient of the wealth is also deprived of accepting and offering his current poverty to God if we tempt him with ‘free’ stuff. Also, how is the poor man supposed to be grateful to God and the benefactor if he thinks that it is the government that provided him the benefits? As Phillip stated, making the poor dependent on government programs robs them of their dignity, which sadly, is the overarching purpose of government programs, to increase clients, and acquire a voting block and keep feeding the machine.

    Notice the good Samaritan. He helped the man on the road, he did not demand that Roman Centurions do it and he didn’t use threat of force to make someone else help the man. He did it himself, from his own Charity.

    A free market, that is kept free by government, is the environment that allows the most free choice and therefore the most good. Of course, it also allows for ill, but that is a result of our Fallen state and not the free market. Coercion, force, fraud, deceit and all other ills employed by fallen man in a free market should be checked by government without interfering or adding a burdensome compliance cost to all other actors. Of course, the government needs to be checked also. it is a balance and the pendulum will not stop swinging from one end to the other until the Judge returns to balance the scales. Nevertheless, we can keep a modest balance and when we err, we should always err on the side of freedom. Compulsion breeds resistance and resistance agitates and aggravates. Freedom allows for the Peace of the Holy Spirit.

    Another important point to note is that the Church, even in temporal matters, is chiefly concerned with the salvation of souls and not their material economic benefit. It is far better to be a poor Holy nation than a wealthy nation of perdition. Wealth is good, all material is good, when God created the world He said it was good, when He created our first parents He said they were very good. The garden was good, the tree in the middle of the garden was good in and of itself, it was not good for man to eat of it, but the tree was good. Since that disobedience we tend to use wealth, a good, poorly. It is us who taint it. Redistributing wealth through force is not good, even if a material benefit is facilitated. We cannot use evil means to do good, we are only permitted to use good means to do good.

    Violating private property, in order to bring about a good result, still results in breaking the seventh commandment. One could argue that killing an abortionist prevents him from killing others, yet since we have the power, at this time, to make his actions illegal, we have no right to employ murder, an evil, to bring about a good. We cannot rob one man to benefit another, just because we feel one man has too much and the other hasn’t enough. We create an occasion of sin for both men while we are sinning ourselves. Wealth maybe evenly distributed, but three souls may be lost to hell.

    Thanks for this discussion, it is very enjoyable and moves my mind to want to do my part in bringing about Catholic Social Justice by helping people understand what we ought to do, voluntarily; rather than through political force.

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