2 Responses to Should We Just Have "Assistance"?

  • 1. Being in the social service game a long time, sorry to say that most of D-C’s rhetoric is a song that’s been sung many times before. Since about 1933 in fact. Most states struggling with budgets were those along FDR’s whistle stop tour- PA, NY, Cali, etc. They’re the ones who have been ramping up services steadily since that point. Now perhaps a breaking point.
    2. What is justice? What is fairness? Most of the world’s population exists on $2 a day. By their standards, even our poorest are living large. Plasma teevee for me, but not for thee? We can argue this stuff into eternity.
    3. Also remember- all those job training requirement programs enforced by the Feds, installed between 1987 and 1996, have been wiped out by the Porkapalooza Bill. Now, technically, there is no reason for these folks to turn off Judge Hatchett, get off the couch, and search for a job.
    4. Which means the Dems never liked those ideas in the first place. Coming from places like the Heritage Foundation and the American Enterprise Institute. Slick Willie was forced to sign off on many of these reforms in 1996 because the GOP had the upper hand on Capitol Hill. Now the Pubs are back on their heels. Thus our Apostle of Hope and Change wiped them out with one stroke of the crayon.
    5. Because it is useful to our political ruling class- mostly Dems but some GOPers too- to keep a certain segment of the population sedated and out of the mainstream productivity game. Means lockstep votes. Oh- kinda like what happened on November 5.
    6. But I am keeping my wandering eye on this Chicago Tea Party movement. Created in a mid-day rant by CNBC’s Phil Santelli on the plan to bail out people who can’t pay for their mortgages. As in are the honest folks who make the minimum every month just a bunch of suckers. Numerous protesters in that spirit have greeted our Apostle in his clumsy visits to shore up the masses. Most of whom are already bought off by state and federal payments, the choir for whom he is preaching.
    7. In my more paranoid moments, I have wondered if the current reality was exactly what FDR and LBJ had in mind in creating and expanding these welfare programs.

2 Responses to Shutting Down the Slumdog to Save Him

  • This is the classic sweatshop dilemma: people wouldn’t take these jobs unless they were better than the alternative, but they are awful jobs nonetheless. My first inclination is to say: ‘regulate them out of existence!’ But, as you note, taking away people’s only opportunity for employment is an odd way to go about helping them.

    At the same time, I think it’s morally unacceptable to turn a blind eye and say ‘the market will sort it out…eventually’. I think the best answer, as Blackadder would say, is ‘first, do no harm’. It’s not enough to want to make people’s lives better if in fact they are harmed by our actions. But, as the post suggests, there are a lot of prudential questions raised by these type of situations that don’t lend themselves to easy answers. I favor a via media between job-destroying regulation and a dogmatic trust in markets, but in the end this is a very fact-specific inquiry in any individual case, with plenty of room for honest disagreement.

  • The rationalist side of my mind would say, “Regulate the jobs away, and make assistance available if necessary. After all, a little money goes so far with these people.” But I think there’s a human cost to taking away someone’s livelihood which goes beyond the amount of money involved.

    In many ways, we’re very lucky in the US that there wasn’t some much richer country to come in and look at us as we struggled with these kinds of conditions 100+ years ago. It left our dignity intact, and that’s worth a lot. Sometimes more than a life.

    I suppose my ideal situation would be getting hold of the money to put real factories with real safety regimes into the slums _right now_ doing the same work, so that those people could have better jobs doing the same work. But it’s not that simple because that kind of systematization would create more efficiency, which would mean not as many people would get a piece of the pie. Though I suppose with more efficiency would come the money to buy more goods and services.

    Which circles back to: It’s complex and I’m glad there was no one watching as we went through these stages.

14 Responses to The Poor You Will Always Have With You

  • Very good post. In a narrow sense, I take this scriptural passage as an admonition against utopian idealism. It doesn’t mean we are justified in doing nothing, but rather, we cannot expect to create a paradise where there is no poverty.

  • Much like you wrote, Ryan, here’s what the Pope has said about things being in their “proper order:”

    “At the heart of all temptations…is the act of pushing God aside because we perceive him as secondary, if not actually superfluous and annoying, in comparison with all the apparently far more urgent matters that fill our lives.” (from Jesus of Nazareth)

    He goes on to quote Deut 8:3 (“Man does not live by bread alone…”) as well as German Jesuit Alfred Delp: “Bread is important, freedom is more important, but most important of all is unbroken fidelity and faithful adoration.” The Pope writes: “When this ordering of goods is no longer respected, but turned on its head, the result is not justice or concern for human suffering. The result is rather ruin and destruction even of the material goods themselves.”

    Notice that it doesn’t diminish the need for social justice and caring for the poor; instead, it explains the reason why we care about these things in the first place. As paul mentioned, it’s a bit of cautionary teaching about the dangers of utopianism, which would twist human nature for a misconception of the common good.

  • Dear me, what a lot of words! I am reminded of God speaking to Job [Ch. 38]:
    “Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?”

    I believe Our Lord’s words were meant more simply. As between honoring God [Himself] and giving to the poor, we will always have occasion to give to the poor. So, if we are not going to give to the poor, give to the God.

    Otherwise it would be beholden on us to sell all the real estate of the Church and the treasures and other wealth and give it to the poor.

    But is not the real meaning of the words, that we should intend to give to the poor [perhaps never ending poverty] because God told us to? Even if we have to give up one of our cars, should we not do it and come to rely on God?

  • Thank you for addressing the serious problem of the perpetual misuse of this passage.

  • POPULORUM PROGRESSIO

    ENCYCLICAL OF POPE PAUL VI
    ON THE DEVELOPMENT OF PEOPLES

    MARCH 26, 1967

    Excerpts:

    The Use of Private Property

    23. “He who has the goods of this world and sees his brother in need and closes his heart to him, how does the love of God abide in him?” (21) Everyone knows that the Fathers of the Church laid down the duty of the rich toward the poor in no uncertain terms. As St. Ambrose put it: “You are not making a gift of what is yours to the poor man, but you are giving him back what is his. You have been appropriating things that are meant to be for the common use of everyone. The earth belongs to everyone, not to the rich.” (22) These words indicate that the right to private property is not absolute and unconditional.

    No one may appropriate surplus goods solely for his own private use when others lack the bare necessities of life. In short, “as the Fathers of the Church and other eminent theologians tell us, the right of private property may never be exercised to the detriment of the common good.” When “private gain and basic community needs conflict with one another,” it is for the public authorities “to seek a solution to these questions, with the active involvement of individual citizens and social groups.” (23)

    The Common Good

    24. If certain landed estates impede the general prosperity because they are extensive, unused or poorly used, or because they bring hardship to peoples or are detrimental to the interests of the country, the common good sometimes demands their expropriation.

    Vatican II affirms this emphatically. (24) At the same time it clearly teaches that income thus derived is not for man’s capricious use, and that the exclusive pursuit of personal gain is prohibited. Consequently, it is not permissible for citizens who have garnered sizeable income from the resources and activities of their own nation to deposit a large portion of their income in foreign countries for the sake of their own private gain alone, taking no account of their country’s interests; in doing this, they clearly wrong their country. (25)

    Programs and Planning

    33. Individual initiative alone and the interplay of competition will not ensure satisfactory development. We cannot proceed to increase the wealth and power of the rich while we entrench the needy in their poverty and add to the woes of the oppressed. Organized programs are necessary for “directing, stimulating, coordinating, supplying and integrating” (35) the work of individuals and intermediary organizations.

    It is for the public authorities to establish and lay down the desired goals, the plans to be followed, and the methods to be used in fulfilling them; and it is also their task to stimulate the efforts of those involved in this common activity. But they must also see to it that private initiative and intermediary organizations are involved in this work. In this way they will avoid total collectivization and the dangers of a planned economy which might threaten human liberty and obstruct the exercise of man’s basic human rights.

    The Ultimate Purpose

    34. Organized programs designed to increase productivity should have but one aim: to serve human nature. They should reduce inequities, eliminate discrimination, free men from the bonds of servitude, and thus give them the capacity, in the sphere of temporal realities, to improve their lot, to further their moral growth and to develop their spiritual endowments. When we speak of development, we should mean social progress as well as economic growth.

    It is not enough to increase the general fund of wealth and then distribute it more fairly. It is not enough to develop technology so that the earth may become a more suitable living place for human beings. The mistakes of those who led the way should help those now on the road to development to avoid certain dangers. The reign of technology—technocracy, as it is called—can cause as much harm to the world of tomorrow as liberalism did to the world of yesteryear. Economics and technology are meaningless if they do not benefit man, for it is he they are to serve. Man is truly human only if he is the master of his own actions and the judge of their worth, only if he is the architect of his own progress. He must act according to his God-given nature, freely accepting its potentials and its claims upon him.

    Superfluous Wealth

    49. We must repeat that the superfluous goods of wealthier nations ought to be placed at the disposal of poorer nations. The rule, by virtue of which in times past those nearest us were to be helped in time of need, applies today to all the needy throughout the world. And the prospering peoples will be the first to benefit from this. Continuing avarice on their part will arouse the judgment of God and the wrath of the poor, with consequences no one can foresee. If prosperous nations continue to be jealous of their own advantage alone, they will jeopardize their highest values, sacrificing the pursuit of excellence to the acquisition of possessions. We might well apply to them the parable of the rich man. His fields yielded an abundant harvest and he did not know where to store it: “But God said to him, ‘Fool, this very night your soul will be demanded from you . . .’ ” (54)

    To Government Authorities

    84. Government leaders, your task is to draw your communities into closer ties of solidarity with all men, and to convince them that they must accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace. Delegates to international organizations, it is largely your task to see to it that senseless arms races and dangerous power plays give way to mutual collaboration between nations, a collaboration that is friendly, peaceoriented, and divested of self-interest, a collaboration that contributes greatly to the common development of mankind and allows the individual to find fulfillment.

  • I see this passage as a rebuke of the “time better spent” fallacy. You know the one: “Wouldn’t our time be better spent taking care of the poor than in (doing whatever the Church happens to be doing at that moment in time).

    Here’s an example.

    And my response.

  • Segue:

    accept the necessary taxes on their luxuries and their wasteful expenditures in order to promote the development of nations and the preservation of peace.

    Interesting, the Holy Father here is recommending the “Fair Tax”, he seems not to be in favor of the income taxes which tax not luxuries and expenditures, but productivity… hmmm.

  • Eric,

    can we excommunicate anyone who opposes the Fair Tax then????

  • I don’t think that is grave enough an offense for excommunication.

  • Eric,

    even if they are pertinacious?

  • Even so.

    We might make them tithe more though.

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34 Responses to Socialism, Catholicism, & the Common Good

  • There is some confusion going on here. The Church says nothing about taxes, but only about the common good. and the poor [lege, needy]. Aquinas has stated this more clearly:

    “Whatever a man has in superabundance is owed, of natural right, to the poor for their sustenance” [Thomas Aquinas. S.Th. 2.ii.Q.66.art.7]

    Note: OWED. [Superabundance: more than you need].

    The problem with Socialism is the attempt to assume our moral obligations – by the government. We have done morally creditable by merely paying taxes.

  • I agree with John Henry, there is a legitimate area of discussion between the left and right of this question, but the principles are immutable.

    Gabriel hit the nail on the head, there is a grave obligation on all of us to see to the needs of the poor. Government ‘dole’ doesn’t fulfill this obligation, nor does it, dispel the evils of poverty, beyond a bare minimum to avoid starvation or exposure it only makes them permanent.

    Another question is the principal of subsidiarity. Where is the subsidiarity in putting all social welfare in the hands of the federal government, much worse, the “United Nations”?

  • Gabriel,

    Rerum Novarum refers to “the moderation and fair imposing of public taxes,” as one of the means through which a State “prospers and thrives,” and says that rulers should “promote to the utmost the interests of the poor.” (para. 32).

    With regard to socialism, it says the following:

    “These…benefits, however, can be reckoned on only provided that a man’s means be not drained and exhausted by excessive taxation. The right to possess private property is derived from nature, not from man; and the State has the right to control its use in the interests of the public good alone, but by no means to absorb it altogether.”

    Notice, then, that the State 1) has the right to take taxes; 2) a duty to promote the interests of the poor, and 3) that socialism (absorbing all private property) is a violation of the right to possess private property.

    As far as I can tell, the post is consistent with the Church’s statements above. Could you clarify your objection?

  • “…there is a grave obligation on all of us to see to the needs of the poor. Government ‘dole’ doesn’t fulfill this obligation, nor does it, dispel the evils of poverty, beyond a bare minimum to avoid starvation or exposure it only makes them permanent.”

    I think this is a good point to make. And I certainly agree that we all have a grave obligation. Ideally private donations would be sufficient. But when we look out into the world we see people that do not in fact have money for shelter/health care/retirement. This raises the question of why these people don’t have necessities.

    I think there are two major reasons: 1) Private charitable donations are not in fact sufficient to cover these needs (whether because of information inefficiencies, selfishness, or a combination of factors); 2) The structural barriers to private donations reaching the neediest are too high (for instance, the poor and the wealth do not tend to live in close proximity). In these situations, it may be desirable for the government to step in to facilitate wealth transfers. This, admittedly, has its own drawbacks, but this is a case in which the ideal solution (private donations providing for the less fortunate) is unworkable, and so we have to select from other alternatives.

  • I wonder if we haven’t bought into a false premise, here, John Henry. I am not nearly old enough to remember the Great Depression, nor do I have more than anecdotes from he period before 1930. However, has it ever been true that lpeople in our country ever starved to death, or died of exposure, simply because the government *wasn’t* there to be the safety net?

    I have thought it axiomatic that the community of faith has always been the safety net for it’s community; it’s my theory that private charity has only begun to fail to reach people as the government usurped its role as preferred provider of charity. Tax policy interferes with the private transfer of wealth when it disincentivizes charity. Confiscatory taxes for the purpose of transferring wealth cannot help but fail to reduce the resources available for care of the poor: fewer dollars flow in, and government inevitably wastes dolars that a charitable organization would have put toward care of the poor.

    One of the biggest social justice failures of the mdern church has been, IMHO, it failure to maintain it’s ability to work exclusive of the government.

  • John Henry,

    the needs of the poor were seen to long before the welfare state began. The Catholic Church was a major facilitator of that, as were other religious organizations, as well secular ones. It seems to me that government could have easily stepped in to provide additional funding in times of emergency to fulfill this, but they don’t they push the charities out and take over control, thus permanently building government, to the detriment of all. You see, there is a fundamental difference between charitable assistance, and government assistance… the latter is commonly referred to an entitlement, and therein lies the problem.

    You crossed a line when you ADDED the phrase it may be desirable for the government to step in to facilitate wealth transfers I don’t see that wealth transfer is a legitimate role of government. Is there some basis for this suggestion? If the state, in light of subsidiarity, only has a role in preventing the poor from the deepest deprivation, then where does “transfer of wealth” (a socialist principle) come into place?

  • However, has it ever been true that people in our country ever starved to death, or died of exposure, simply because the government *wasn’t* there to be the safety net?

    Well, here I think we have two different standards in mind. I would venture to guess that very few people have starved to death in the U.S. over the last fifty years or so; but imo a country as wealthy as ours should aim higher than just preventing starvation as it “promotes to the utmost the interests of the poor.”

    “I have thought it axiomatic that the community of faith has always been the safety net for it’s community; it’s my theory that private charity has only begun to fail to reach people as the government usurped its role as preferred provider of charity. Tax policy interferes with the private transfer of wealth when it disincentivizes charity.”

    I agree with you that this is a real concern, and Darwin has written some great posts on this. There is a two-fold disincentive at work here: 1) citizens give less because they expect the government to provide services; and 2) they have less money to give after taxes. I’ll confess at the outset that I do not know of any great studies that quantify whether the increase in government taxation is a net loss or gain for the poor.

    As I discussed above, I suspect that the government is better positioned than private individuals in many cases to provide certain services, given the information and coordination costs involved. Additionally, I think it’s worth keeping in mind that the U.S. is not a Catholic culture; about 25% self-identify as Catholic, and that includes a lot of people of the Christmas/Easter/Baptism/Funeral variety. Individualism and self-reliance are the hallmark American character traits. The faith community is different than it would be in a heavily Catholic culture, and that may suggest a need for more government intervention to provide for the poor.

    As an aside, it is interesting to me that most of the countries that formerly were heavily Catholic in Western Europe have much more generous/onerous taxation and wealth-distribution systems in place. This suggests to me that maybe those countries agreed that the state was uniquely well-positioned to address certain types of poverty; granted, that doesn’t mean they were right. But it’s food for thought.

  • “I don’t see that wealth transfer is a legitimate role of government. Is there some basis for this suggestion? If the state, in light of subsidiarity, only has a role in preventing the poor from the deepest deprivation, then where does “transfer of wealth” (a socialist principle) come into place?”

    I agree that there are important differences between private transfers of wealth (particularly through faith communities) and government transfers of wealth. However, there are significant similarities as well. Why do governments like ours provide these benefits? Because, basically, their citizens demanded them through their elected representatives. In this way such transfers are in fact willed by the community as a whole. If citizens choose to re-distribute community resources through their governments, I am not sure that this raises ethical problems.

    The easiest response to this, I believe, is that such wealth transfers are the result of a type of demagoguery in which wealthier members of society are deprived of their possessions by the democratic mob. But I am skeptical that the wealthiest, most influential members of society are likely to be victimized in this way for very long. Elites shape the public debate in our country (and presumably most democracies/republics).

    Additionally, as I discussed above, government agencies may have real informational advantages. Furthermore, the government has significant financial advantages. Notice that in this economic climate, most private charities will struggle significantly with financing. Donations dry up while the demands on such charities increase substantially. Most private charities are not in a position to borrow significant amounts of money (at least at a reasonable interest rate) to provide services to individuals who, by definition, are bad credit risks. Here the government is able to obtain financing when private charities can not.

    You may reply that the government should provide financing only during these times; but once funding is obtained, its hard to let go of; and once there is funding, the government begins to exercise control over how the funding is spent. I don’t really see a way around this problem practically; and, as I said, I think it is interesting (and possibly instructive) that many of the countries that were previously the most heavily Catholic in Western Europe elected to provide fairly generous safety nets for the less fortunate. Certainly, pure socialism and pure property rights are in tension with Catholic Social Thought. But that does not mean that any gestures toward socialism or towards increased rights to private property are disallowed. And, in fact, I believe the Church’s emphasis on the universal destination of goods and the need for rulers to “promote to the utmost the interests of the poor'” suggests that some expansions of social welfare programs in the U.S. may better reflect the goals of Catholic Social Teaching.

  • Nicely said, John Henry. I’ve always felt the tension in Catholic social teaching when it comes to matters of political economy, and I think it’s a good thing our Church doesn’t prescribe policy. I only wish we could discuss differing policy viewpoints with more civil discourse, more resorting to facts and evidence, and less vilification of the other side’s motivations.

  • “I only wish we could discuss differing policy viewpoints with more civil discourse, more resorting to facts and evidence, and less vilification of the other side’s motivations.”

    Agreed. Everyone has there preferences, but we should try to evaluate policies on the merits, rather than assuming at the outset either that government intervention is the answer or that government intervention is a bad idea. Extending the presumption of good faith to those who disagree is an important step in that process.

  • I think it is interesting (and possibly instructive) that many of the countries that were previously the most heavily Catholic in Western Europe elected to provide fairly generous safety nets for the less fortunate.

    I think the major question that should be asked in regard to this statement is the following: did this nations move to more socialistic societies because of or in spite of their Catholic heritage? Consider that France, one of the heaviest socialistic nations for a time, threw off its Catholic mantle and yolked itself to the mantra of secularism, and then that in turn gave rise to a socialistic society.

    Though I’m no great student of history, it has seemed to me that as religious devotion waned, materialism stepped in to fill the gap, and with it came the notion that life simply isn’t worth living if one can’t have a TV, a car, health care, and a few other goodies that very few people actually enjoy world round. And with the heavy materialism, there came, on the one side, the idea that the economy is all important, and on the other side that the wealth should be redistributed so that everyone meets some “bare minimum” that coincidentally includes a TV, a car, health care, and a few other goodies.

    Now, I’ve said in previous posts that the government has the obligation to provide for those scant few that fall through the safety nets that should be in place at local levels. The problem isn’t that, though. As the old adage goes, the devil is in the details. Personally, the problem I have is that so few people turn to the church looking for assistance. So few people look for help from neighbors or the community, but especially from the Mystical Body of Christ that seeks to help anyone who comes through the door. People are looking first to the government, and the very real danger is that if this continues long enough (and long enough could be just a few more years to a couple of decades), then the government will bankrupt the nation, bankrupt its citizens, and still not be able to make good on its promises.

    But there’s another issue at stake, and that’s how socialism affects man’s obligation to work. Now, I understand there are those who simply cannot work, or those who can only work in ways that do not pay the bills. But I’m not considering them in this statement. Look at what happened in France under their heavily socialistic government. Unemployment skyrocketed (especially among college graduates, who faced similar rates as immigrants, around 40%), and industrial growth just about halted altogether. This means two things: people unable to work, and people who have jobs not working because their government mandated jobs are guaranteed whatever they do.

    Or consider the great Russian experiment with communism, where even today farmers don’t bother growing crops because they spent an entire generation under a government that subsidized their lack of industry. Consider the huge lines of people trying to purchase (at outrageous prices) a few scraps of food from the market.

    It isn’t that I have any problem with CST stating that our excesses rightfully belong to those who do not have enough. The problem I have is the effectiveness of the government trying to bridge the gap, which, in my very humble opinion (yes, that’s sarcasm for extreme hubris) is about as inefficient as it can be.

  • And the private sector has such a wonderful track record in bridging the gap…

    Remember: whenever local or private sectors are not sufficing in meeting a vital societal good, the principle of subsidiarity allows (if not actually encourages) that broader institutions step in…

  • I’m just going to recommend Thomas Wood’s “The Church and the Market”, which I”m reading now.

    Its been a great analysis of Catholicism and economics from a libertarian standpoint, arguing that the Church has much work to do in the area of economics.

  • Remember: whenever local or private sectors are not sufficing in meeting a vital societal good, the principle of subsidiarity allows (if not actually encourages) that broader institutions step in…

    Mark, exactly right. My point, though, is not that the government shouldn’t do anything, but that the real issue is trying to argue how much is too much, and what methods are or aren’t effective.

  • Are we not attempting to create heaven on earth? What of that terrifying statement of Our Lord’s “the poor you will always have with you”.

    I take this to mean that social [government] efforts to abolish poverty will never work. Rather the poor are a challenge to and an opportunity for us exercise charity.

  • “the poor you will always have with you”

    See, even Jesus knew that resources were scarce. By what right or moral would a government have to take those resources from one group and give it to another?

    Now, for a person to give the fruit of their labor willingly and with love…thats the kind of generosity and charity I’ve understood Christianity to stand for. For a government to coerce that charity would seem to remove the love from the act. De-christianizing it in a sense.

  • Rather the poor are a challenge to and an opportunity for us exercise charity.

    Your view is an instrumentalist reduction of the poor to mere “opportunities” for the rich to be “good Christians.” NO THANKS.

  • John Henry,

    I disagree with the statement that “[t]he alternative to a poorly run government program is often no assistance at all.” This is no more true than saying that the alternative to a poorly run government steel mill is no steel mill at all. In a country as wealthy as ours, there are lots of resources that are potentially available for charitable assistance programs. In many cases, however, such programs are crowded out by the presence of poorly run government alternatives.

  • What’s often missing in this discussion of public transfers vs. private charity is economic growth and job creation. Sometimes the argument against government intervention is not that the private sector will provide a replacement charitable program, but that private sector growth will provide greater job opportunities. There are concerns about getting people with the right skills into those jobs and the wages they pay, but for the most part, this is how an economy functions and would continue to function in the absence of any government.

    And of course, not everyone can get a job. Thankfully we do have social safety net programs and private charities to step in in those cases. The system is not perfect now, but we’re debating in the margins. To argue public vs. private sector endlessly isn’t very productive. The devil is in the details, and we have to be serious about looking at the real problems that real people face. “The poor” is flung around so wantonly that I don’t think it has any real meaning. What does it mean? Anyone who “feels” poor? Or are they poor by some objective standard? The reason I bring this up is that we make the mistake of forgetting the working poor, especially recent immigrants, who do have jobs but struggle from day to day. The homeless are of course a concern, but their poverty is very visible and has certain institutional processes in place to deal with it. What do we do about people who might have jobs but face day-to-day struggles with making ends meet? There’s a real issue there, and a lot of the policy prescriptions don’t measure up.

  • “Rather the poor are a challenge to and an opportunity for us exercise charity”.

    “Your view is an instrumentalist reduction of the poor to mere “opportunities” for the rich to be “good Christians.” NO THANKS”.

    Not for the rich, but for all of us, to exercise charity. I tend to avoid arguing with Our Lord.

    And consider His praise of the poor woman who gave what she could out of her meager resources, as compared to the rich man who could easily afford what he gave. Hers was the greater contribution. Even J D Rockefeller noted that the poor were the most generous of people.

    In these exchanges, there seems to be little confidence in God.

  • I tend to avoid arguing with Our Lord.

    Are you, then, a pacifist?

  • ‘Twas on a holy Thursday, their innocent faces clean,
    The children walking two and two, in red, and blue, and green:
    Grey-headed beadles walked before, with wands as white as snow,
    Till into the high dome of Paul’s they like Thames waters flow.
    For those of you who want to have the poor around for your ‘Christian virtue’, let’s let Blake in:

    Holy Thursday

    O what a multitude they seemed, these flowers of London town!
    Seated in companies they sit, with radiance all their own.
    The hum of multitudes was there, but multitudes of lambs,
    Thousands of little boys and girls raising their innocent hands.

    Now like a mighty wind they raise to heaven the voice of song,
    Or like harmonious thunderings the seats of heaven among:
    Beneath them sit the aged men, wise guardians of the poor.
    Then cherish pity, lest you drive an angel from your door.

  • “I disagree with the statement that “[t]he alternative to a poorly run government program is often no assistance at all. This is no more true than saying that the alternative to a poorly run government steel mill is no steel mill at all. In a country as wealthy as ours, there are lots of resources that are potentially available for charitable assistance programs. In many cases, however, such programs are crowded out by the presence of poorly run government alternatives.”

    I agree there can be a crowding out effect, both because people now expect the government to meet certain needs, and because they have less to give after taxes. I also think higher taxes act as a drag on the economy, which can have subtler (but very real) effects over time. It is important to weigh these considerations against any advantages the government may have in providing services. These could include a more consistent stream of funding, more widespread coverage, the failure of existing private institutions, and possibly lower government information costs and economies of scale.

    These factors will vary significantly from issue to issue, and it is fine to have an abstract preference for either smaller or bigger government. In my opinion, however, determining the common good in a given situation requires an empirical examination of the pros and cons rather than a reference solely to ideological preferences. I am not sure that we have a fundamental disagreement here, as long as you acknowledge that sometimes people may be better served by government services, and I acknowledge that sometimes the government ‘cure’ is worse than the disease.

  • Henry,

    I seem to be confused. On the one hand you argue government can best deliver certain “services”. On the level of a “safety net”, which, with due regard to SUBSIDIARITY would be the obligation of every level of government after family, Church, and other charitable bodies have FAILED (read FAILED, not, are less efficient). Now, a safety net is an entirely different animal from “transfer of wealth”. So, let’s be clear and argue for and against these categories independently, and not use the unrelated arguments for one to further the ideological goals of the other.

    While there is an argument that government intervention can save people from starvation and/or living in the most dire of circumstances. I fail to see where government mandated “transfer of wealth” has provided an opportunity for the poor to actually lift themselves up, hard work is what it takes.

  • “Now, a safety net is an entirely different animal from “transfer of wealth”. So, let’s be clear and argue for and against these categories independently, and not use the unrelated arguments for one to further the ideological goals of the other.”

    Please explain the distinction you are making. At some level, any service provided by a government, whether it be for defense, transportation, etc. is a redistribution of wealth. Establishing a safety net is a transfer of wealth.

  • John Henry,

    Please explain the distinction you are making. At some level, any service provided by a government, whether it be for defense, transportation, etc. is a redistribution of wealth. Establishing a safety net is a transfer of wealth.

    Sorry, I wasn’t communicating it well. If you take money from me, and use it to supply food to someone who has no money to buy food. There is of course a taking of wealth from me, but I don’t think it’s fair to consider the food to be wealth being transferred. I’m making a distinction between wealth and subsistence. Frankly, providing much beyond subsistence implies something other than a compelling emergency, which is then a violation of subsidiarity.

    To be clear, I think the situation of limited resources is different from the modern economy in most countries (especially US). It doesn’t take money to make money here, so much as it takes hard work. In a more primitive agricultural system where land is the only “capital” and it is a fixed resource, there may be no other way than government action to provide an opportunity to the poor. Yet, it doesn’t serve the poor to have that as a free entitlement, but a due reward for hard work.

    When the government pays for services which the taxpayer uses (defense for example) that is no more “redistribution of wealth” than is my paying the lawnmower guy. When I speak of transfer or redistribution of wealth it means taking something from one person and giving it to another without any goods or services being provided.

  • Michael J. Iafrate Says:
    Monday, February 2, 2009 A.D. at 1:39 pm
    “I tend to avoid arguing with Our Lord”.

    Are you, then, a pacifist?

    Come again?

  • A few comments:
    1) In poor / less-devloped countries, a major problem is the governing class. Corrupt government officials essentially steal from their own people, using foreign aid money to build themselves palaces while their people starve. Thowing more money at the situation only makes the palaces bigger. Church (and other private) assistance makes much more difference because it goes direct to the poor.

    2) Government welfare tends to operate against the principle of subsidiarity; see my post Big Government vs. Subsidiarity. Further, the CCC says “the principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism” — which would include socialism.

    3) It is extremely difficult to build, especially at the federal level, a government welfare scheme that does not harm the very people it is supposed to help. In particular, current and past welfare policy tends to discourage effort and perseverance, and create an unhealthy entitlement mentality. As old as it is, I think Murray’s Losing Ground is an excellent resource for understanding this dilemma.

    4) Chesterton was no fan of big government. He was a distributist — neither a capitalist nor a socialist. He would consider most of us to be “wage slaves”.

  • PS I am not by any means suggesting that we should not help the poor and needy. However, I think the current balance is wrong and even harmful to the poor themselves, primarily. I would like to see more private, Church-based charity (indeed the Church was the original charitable organization) and less governmental schemes, for reasons in my previous comment.

  • Come again?

    That’s what I figured.

  • Toll catholics and others:

    My name is Peter, who is going to be a candidate to convert to catholicism coming up in August. I’m also disabled and living off of your supposed sodcial welfare program that you go against all of the time. I live beneath the poverty line with the SSI you love to hate. Yes, I do mean hate by your ignorant rants against the needy and the people with the less wealth to have as many opportunities. Let’s look at history then shall we? Largely in a agricultural revolution or prior in the United States under mercantilism the following existed: slavery, indentant servitude, discrimination of minorities (e.g. people of color, disabiled or abled body poor), regulations non-existant, selective state powers with no accountability or transparency, etc. The greater good of the community by a large bureaucratic diversified nation like the U.S needs something to bridge the gap either between states with local governments to federal government or all faiths together both protestant and catholic to even half ass work. You don’t see protestants and catholics working in such a way and probably will ever see such on fundamental disagreements stretching back in the anals of history on their origins of thought.
    Secondly, I find it appalling by the apathy and lack of compasion on your guys part. I’d be ashamed of living in such a small bubble but this isn’t socialistic jargon I’m talking about. The general christian thinks everyone is lazy, gluttonous, or in general are sinners cause that is what they want. Perhaps it’s a perpetual cycle of lack of exposure in your precious neighborhoods? It’s time to desegregate all communities to intergrate resential zones more diversified and perhaps qith quotes on such and such class to expose you to harsh realities without government care. Perhaps you would give more than your little tithe to protect and shelter them from an excessive unregulated markeplace where their are no morals put in place in capitalism (e.g. lies, desceptions, back room deals, protectionalism, tarrifs, embargos, regional trade blocks, etc that affect the third world with subsedization thrown in there. What incentive do businesses have to regulate themselves? it’s no efficent so throw it out right? Seriously the FDA, EPA, EOC, ADA, Vocational Rehabilitation, NAACP, etc wouldn’t need to be in place prior to if those responsabilities were done correctly but they won’t be whether higher taxes or no taxes. For example, the shipping off of jobs under corporate Wal-Mart of 1970’s to 1980’s and lack of regulation resulting in Triangle Shirt Ways Fire 1911, Progressive Era reforms of the early 20th century, discrimination and other things.
    Thirdly, you say hard work right? Lots of americans right now of no fault of their own have lost jobs due to the international recession. What do you suggest them do? Buy a yhact or somehting with no money and very little to no credit if credit is doled out by wealthy business bank holders? This is ridiculous cause the opportunity cost isn’t there with the margain of profitability other than the feel good mentality that business care not about at all. The problem is that America has a GINI report of Russia, yet our poor don’t have adaquate funding in their own hands for essuch services of essentials for housing, clothing, food and etc like health care is a right not a privledge. It should be a last resort for anyone with dignity to take handouts but people need unemployment in the short time to live somewhat productive lives of a life worth living in a life without sinning. When the economy usually drops, crime riseses like the eighties especially the presedential attempted assassination or points of contention of our perpetual warfar like cult of a country like Spanish American war, Mexican-American War, WWI and WWII, Korean War, Vietnam, Iran-Contra Affair, supporting terrorist like the Taliban or Alqaeda, and other things that are at times human rights violations like the atom bombs. This point is usually often over looked cause they think it’s a human right to kill to save the opressed so what is the difference between the supression of the poor there than here other than some statistics and conditions in living conditions? They don’t have health care, adaquate households or pure foods like the maltrition to our children here. Look at other statistics like prenadial health care, capital punishment, GINI, pre-existing conditions, obesity levels, lead paint toys (e.g. China), mad cow disease, sodium levels in unregulated foods, lack of private transparency and accountability and other things that are appalling to name are not worth defending.
    Finally, the two major questions of our day need to be address between secular and church. What is considered a right or a privledge? Secondly, what is sustainable and unstainable or efficient for the long haul? The other is do you describe yourself as a business or a christian tycoon more/? There is an an interesting split in how people who claim to be christian using a cafeteria style approach picking some moral issues and throwing others under the table like the 2nd commandment. Greed, gluttony, lust, etc are also things to steer away from like envy on the other side. I used to feel envy for rich people but now I’m turning toward pity cause they sadly think that all things must have physical worth to put a number in front of somethng like life, which according to the Vatican prolife is the right choice? We care more about a baby being born than we do about making an indusive environment for those children to live fulfilling lives of prosperity like education, health care, shelter, clothing and adaquate nutritional food with relatively as low as possible crime rates in their given area. We should have systems in place with preferentual placement of section 8 housing closer to areas with lower incidents and lock out as much as possible their generational struggle to make them more productive citizens. Sadly this won’t happen in this current limelight for the uneducated supposed enlightened clergy think that is socialism the evil doer of all forms of evil. For the record, I believe in equal cooperation and work unions on the moderate end to address issues in conjunction between christian nonprofits and public sector shared responsabilities. The other issue with your arguments is that not all americans are christian because we live with atheist, pagans, hindis, muslims, taost, etc as well and because you might not like it you shouldn’t biasedly tell others and hence the separation of church and state even if impractical is needed in the 21st century of diversity of thought and of body with the soul as well for good measure. On a closing note, I think it could be better if the coggs of inefficient behavior by block grants to churches with experience could install such facilities like nurse shops and hospitals to take care of the poor better just in a proportional bases to feel the pain directly rather than unobjectively to see where your precious tax dollars go not to waste a majority of the time rather to the needs of the people. Surely though there is some waste and room for improvement but not out right destruction of essential programs.
    note: I’m currently in college looking forward to getting a computer science degree to open my own company in the future.
    note 2: my sister owns a major construction firm not to far away, yet stays away from me and still she claims to be religious when she has over 100k a year and neglects me and my debelatated brother in a mental institui9on? This is fairly common by the way.

    sincerely,
    Peter

  • A thoughtful opinion and ideas I will use on my own article. You’ve obviously spent a lot of time on this site. Congratulations!!

17 Responses to Theology, Sanity, and Homosexuality

  • We are not to conform to the world but conform to the kingdom of heaven which Jesus preached as love, care, concern for one another. If same sex couples are called to love care and concern for one another then they must follow their truly formed consciences. Sin occurs when we turn away from love. Christians must follow Jesus and Jesus is not made in our image but we in is. Follow love and allow otehrs to do the same. Love is AND not OR.

  • Ryan,

    an excellent post!

    Ken,

    actually Christ also called us to sexual fidelity in marriage, or celibacy. He defined marriage as one man and one woman. There’s no loophole for “loving same sex couples”.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Ryan,

    Thank you for explaining the role of the Holy Trinity. That is one aspect that I am still a novice at understanding how the family roles are to be understood.

  • Tito,

    Glad you liked it, though I wonder if I truly did it justice. There’s so much to say on that one particular topic, especially in addressing concerns of how we can compare such a physical, material action with the spiritual nature of God, and how the condition of man as both matter and spirit applies. In addition, I still feel like a novice myself about it.

    My wife suggested that I glossed over a lot of things in my post that would have made it better, especially with leaving out statistics. For example, I could have (and maybe should have), for example, linked in to Catholic Answer’s tract on gay marriage, or searched out the studies themselves to cite the negative consequences of homosexual acts. She also felt I more or less wimped out (PC style) in denouncing homosexual acts as sinful. Any thoughts?

  • Great post. I’ve enjoyed the whole series, especially this one.

    Maybe you could write more about infertile couples and how a love that is “open to life” even when it is not likely to occur is still sacramental and valid. I get very irritated when people compare infertile married couples to homosexuals. Like you wrote, love is not more important than procreation. But sometimes we can be made to feel inferior because of our infertility. We want to be both unitive and procreative. I’d like to have a short but effective position statement on why male and female are still important, even when procreation is not possible.

    Are there any good Church documents that explore infertility and adoption in more depth?

  • Ryan,

    Good post. I think a sincere and candid discussion about the nature of homosexuality is so vital and yet so far away with the politicization of everything in society.

    It is very, very difficult to grasp the understanding you have presented with a poor understanding of metaphysics and how things relate to one another. The Theology of the Body which is fundamentally what you’re arguing is a metaphysical presupposition of a certain ordering and arrangement of things.

    I’ve heard it argued and in the past, have argued that homosexuality is natural. What occurs in nature, by definition, is natural. There are actually documented cases of homosexual behavior in hundreds of animal species. However, this is not the Christian theological connotation of the word “natural.” God creates objectively, that is, toward an objective, toward a goal. We have a purpose, a meaning, our being—our human nature—is aimed toward some objective, an end that we must achieve that will “fulfill” our human nature. Our nature is how God designed us, so what is “natural” for human beings is clearly not what you find some animal doing; it is only what fulfills our design. Cows are different from dog. The nature of a dog is different from that of a cow. A cow cannot live a life as a dog and still be a cow. What is natural to a dog is not natural to a cow. It does not fulfill the cow’s nature. Cows do not go about sniffing and burying things. So, it follows what is “natural” to animals is not necessarily “natural” to humans. In fact, some animals can change their sex. Male seahorses bear life. This is not the case for humans; hence, animals should not be the objective point of reference for human behavior. But with a reductionist mentality and with little sense of Christian metaphysics, it is rather difficult to get people to see this point though to us it seems self-evident.

    In my own life, I came to a startling realization and it is clearly based on Christian metaphysics. The sexual design — which goes beyond sexual activity — is wired into our very nature and to participate in its fulfillment by the act of free will is to flourish and be human.

    However, when I became suspicious of whether or not — and I’ll say it is my view that there is a genetic predisposition to homosexuality, but I don’t believe it to be the sole cause — God actively intends homosexuality rather than “passively” allows it. If the latter is true, which I’ve become convinced of, to act on homosexual desires is destructive because it’s an attempt to abolish the very order written into human nature and thus harmful at every level.

    One can begin with the most obvious — the physical — it seems curious as to how it is so readily never considered how it could not harm a man to suffer rectal trauma by being penetrated repeatedly through an opening clearly designed for a radically different function.

    Emotionally and spiritually, the harm is not as self-evident, but I think, more pronounced. Consider the emotional harm: if God designd the male-female pair to complement and balance one another, then it follows that same-sex relationships drive each partner to extremes — instead of balancing, the two reinforce one another.

    If one considers — presupposing one actually believes this — the fact that because men are more inclined to be promiscuous than woman because a difference in physiology as childbearers that makes women more conscientious, unbalanced by women (this is not considering contraception) such inclinations ca lead to anonymous no-brakes promiscuity of men who have sex with hundreds of other men. On the spiritual level, through homosexual acts one is seeking union with someone that is one’s own mirrior image; in other words, yov are still trapped in Yourself and I think this is the ultimate manifestation of the self-indulgence and pride behind homosexual desire. It is a ‘no’ to martial sex that takes you beyond Self and allows you to know someoe who is really Other. I think this in many ways confirmed by the fact that among homosexuals, typically one person plays the more masculine role and the other adopts a more feminine role in regard to sexual activity. In that way, homosexual acts are less like marital love than like masturbation with another body. Same-sex sexual activity is fundamentally an imitation of marital love, but can never be it and that’s the real moral frustration.

    I think much sociological evidence confirms such notions not to mention basic concerns of health — active male homosexuals on avg. have a lifespan 20 years shorter than that of heterosexual males from a variety of reasons.

    I think even if a couple is not capable of giving birth to physical life, there unity is life-affirming and giving in emotional and spiritual ways. The union and activity of marital love in an infertile couple does not directly contradict the very design of the sexual order. They have a magnificent cross and will suffer a temptation not shared by many others; I read about a Catholic couple who can’t procreate because of natural reasons and to protect themselves from impurity, they practice NFP as penance. So I think there is much possibility there; at least, I don’t think it is immoral as long as the intentions are correct.

  • On the spiritual level, through homosexual acts one is seeking union with someone that is one’s own mirrior image; in other words, yov are still trapped in Yourself and I think this is the ultimate manifestation of the self-indulgence and pride behind homosexual desire. It is a ‘no’ to martial sex that takes you beyond Self and allows you to know someoe who is really Other. I think this in many ways confirmed by the fact that among homosexuals, typically one person plays the more masculine role and the other adopts a more feminine role in regard to sexual activity. In that way, homosexual acts are less like marital love than like masturbation with another body. Same-sex sexual activity is fundamentally an imitation of marital love, but can never be it and that’s the real moral frustration.

    Eric, it’s amazing how you can articulate so much better than I can the points I want to make! Thank you.

  • Eric,

    What occurs in nature, by definition, is natural.

    I don’t think that is the proper definition of “natural” as it’s generally used. Would anyone describe a Siamese twin as “natural”?

    From Merriam-Webster:
    occurring in conformity with the ordinary course of nature

    Just because it occurs in nature does not mean it’s “natural”.

    God actively intends homosexuality rather than “passively” allows it

    Don’t you think that this would be accusing God of doing evil? It seems to me that this is dangerously close to the anathema addressed by the Council of Trent regarding Calvinism (props to Peter Park on pointing this out):

    Canon 6 on Justification:

    If anyone says that it is not in man’s power to make his ways evil, but that the works that are evil God works as well as those that are good, not permissibly only, but properly and of Himself, in such wise that the treason of Judas is no less His own proper work than the vocation of Paul; let him be anathema.

    It follows that, if God actively wills homosexuality then does it not follow that the behaviour inherent, is a work of God as well. We do not believe that concupiscence is the active will of God but a consequence of original sin, how could this particular temptation be actively willed?

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • I don’t think that is the proper definition of “natural” as it’s generally used. Would anyone describe a Siamese twin as “natural”?

    Don’t you think that this would be accusing God of doing evil?

    Matt, I think you missed the point here. Eric was stating that these are the arguments put forward by people trying to justify homosexual acts. He then goes on to explain why those arguments are wrong. For example, he states:

    However, this is not the Christian theological connotation of the word “natural.” God creates objectively, that is, toward an objective, toward a goal. We have a purpose, a meaning, our being—our human nature—is aimed toward some objective, an end that we must achieve that will “fulfill” our human nature. Our nature is how God designed us, so what is “natural” for human beings is clearly not what you find some animal doing; it is only what fulfills our design.

    This clearly refutes the proposition that you (rightly) denounced but (incorrectly) attributed to him. He also goes on to state that he has examined the argument of whether

    …God actively intends homosexuality rather than “passively” allows it. If the latter is true, which I’ve become convinced of…

    Latter, here, refers to the passive permission as opposed to the active intent. Eric is fully stating that he believes that God passively permits people to struggle with same-sex attraction, not that God actively intends people to deal with same-sex attraction and act on it.

    We appreciate your comments, but I would ask that you carefully consider what someone actually says before rebutting his arguments. (On the other hand, don’t for a moment think that I haven’t been guilty of the same many times before!)

  • Ryan,

    I’d appreciate if Eric explained his intent here, it’s quite possible that I’m misunderstanding, but your response only adds to the confusion. I certainly wouldn’t want the apparent contradiction to be left unclarified.

    Matt

  • Matt,

    I was making a distinction between the world “natural” as used in modernity in reference to anything that has a genetic cause — directly wired into one’s behavior via genes — or biological, which refers to things inborn that are not necessarily genetic. Some extend the connotation to things that frequently occur, e.g. sayings like it’s a “natural” temptation or it’s “natural” to feel that way. I clarified that this is not what Christians, in theological language, mean by the word “natural” — the word in theology implies what something’s place is in the creative order and respects God’s design. The nature, is practically synonymous, with the very essence of something. Thus, I was implying that this reality if taken to be true, redirects one’s opinion of homosexuality as acceptable to be expressed to a inclination toward a grave sin. The latter being my conviction.

    In regard to God’s will, I was making a distinction. God from a purely metaphysical basis is the First Cause, therefore, he literally holds everything in existence even creatures with free will that can choose to do evil — God wills actively that we have free will with the full knowledge we may misuse it. I once had the challenge of explaining to someone how a good and loving God could somehow be involved — don’t misunderstand my language — in creating at every moment of it’s existence, the planes that were crashed into the twin towers because any existing things hinges upon God’s creative act, which is not a one time thing, but rather creation is an ongoing activity and God is participating in it with an incomprehensible divine plan that we humans struggle to learn.

    Now in regard to homosexuality, I do believe that God allows homosexuality to exist. Nothing can exist without God allowing it. However, the question I asked myself before I converted to Catholicism, as a person who is homosexual was whether God actively intends it — that is, he creates it and intends it, or is it the fruit of moral disorder or physical evil that God only passively allows to exist though it is not something he intends, but rather permits as it were. I personally believe — and this isn’t at all infallible — that there is a genetic or biological basis for homosexuality. I don’t think it’s the sole cause or the cause of it for everyone. I don’t believe this reality — a physical evil — changes the very essence of human nature or implies that man should re-write his metaphysical place in creation to accomodate homosexual acts. Homosexual acts are fundamentally against the natural law and in Christian terms it is a sin.

    I didn’t think I was in anyway ambivalent on the matter, seeing that I was praising a post that made zero accomodations for morally accepting homosexual behavior.

  • Eric,

    I think I understand what you’re saying, but could you clarify that you what you are saying is that it is God’s “passive will” to allow homosexuality to occur? I guess I’m just too simple, but you seem to keep leaving that question open.

    a. active will – God actively intends it — that is, he creates it and intends it, or

    b. passive will – is it the fruit of moral disorder or physical evil that God only passively allows to exist though it is not something he intends

    I think the only orthodox answer is b, wouldn’t you agree? While “a” doesn’t necessarily justify homosexual acts, I believe it is contradictory to Catholic teaching on God’s nature.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Yes. Point “b” is the position I hold and was expressing.

  • I personally believe — and this isn’t at all infallible — that there is a genetic or biological basis for homosexuality.

    Just for what it’s worth, I thought I’d add my thoughts on the issue, though I’m by no means an authority.

    The question is: is homosexuality a matter of genetic predisposition or is it a psychological phenomenon? Or I should say, this is how people pose the question, and I think it glosses over a huge number of important factors, the first and foremost being that “both” is as a legitimate answer as either.

    Part of the problem, as I see it, is that we do a lot of training and conditioning of ourselves in matters of sexual attraction, especially in bad ways. There are many, many “fetishes” out there that people wouldn’t normally ever consider sexually arousing, but with exposure and a disordered desire for arousal and sexual gratification, these fetishes become very sexually charging.

    This is exemplified in the largest plague of sex crimes in Wyoming: child pornography (possessing, not producing, thankfully). Therapists and offenders themselves both will tell you that most people who get heavy into child porn don’t do so because they were naturally inclined to pedophilia or anything like that; rather, in their usage of pornography, and their ongoing drive for new ways to stimulate themselves, they came across child porn, and developed an association with it. Through repeated exposure (and willingness to expose themselves to it), they eventually trained themselves to be aroused by children.

    Of course, that’s on the extreme end of deviancy, and many people will protest that those people are latent pedophiles, anyway. They’ll also claim that people who go for the weird fetishes are latent perverts, as well. I disagree, for the most part, but where I do agree will wait until I hit the biological portion of this reply.

    Part of the problem of following this line of thought is that many will jump down my throat for comparing homosexuality to child porn, but I feel there’s a connection. Christopher West said that humans aren’t necessarily programmed for homosexuality or heterosexuality, but instead are programmed for sexuality, and the natural (as in the Christian “natural” that Eric defined) development of that is in opposite-sex attraction. Various influences in a person’s life lead them towards and away from properly ordered desire (positive influences like a strong, committed, loving family; negative influences like movies, TV shows, magazines, etc). Some of these influences can occur very early in a person’s life so that they’re not even aware, years later, that they even had an influence. Others are recent enough that it is easy to track back how a person ended up with a particular sexual desire.

    So yes, I do believe that there is a “nurture” component to same-sex attraction. I’ve seen too many people “nurture” themselves into a particular sexual deviancy not to believe that. And yes, I feel I’ve seen people “nurture” themselves into same-sex attraction. In some of the more “socially progressive” areas of high school and college (I’m thinking the liberal arts here, specifically theater), the pressure to be openly homosexual or at least openly supportive of homosexuality was strong enough to lead some to experimentation and to the struggle with sexual identity. Of course, one can simply say that in such a homosexual-friendly environment, homosexuals would naturally drift there, especially those who had hidden it away for so long (even from themselves). But as I said, this whole reply is a matter of personal opinion, not a scholarly treatise.

    But I also believe that there is some genetic propensity towards homosexuality, as well. This belief comes from two lines of thought. First, I believe that there is a biological imperative to see the opposite sex as sexually desirable, and if we are to believe that, then I think we must be willing to admit at least the possibility of the wires getting crossed in some people. Second, while I hold that training has a lot to do with what we find sexually appealing, I also believe that some people are more prone to various forms of sexual behavior than others. Some people naturally have a huge sex drive, others barely have a sex drive at all. Some people very easily slip into (or readily embrace) sexual fetishes, others continue to be repulsed no matter how often they come across it. Thus I believe that no only can wires get crossed, but they can cross in a spectrum of degrees.

    So, to sum up, I believe homosexuality originates first in a biological predilection (very strong in a small number of people, less strong in a few more, and weakly in others), but after that, it depends on influences and training. Some people, a very few, need practically no influence or training at all; others need only a nudge, and others still require some traumatic experience. People with only a weak predisposition (or even no predisposition at all) can still train themselves into same-sex attraction.

    So there’s my theory. It squares with what I know from my limited exposure to homosexuality (I have had a couple friends who are homosexuals, but we’ve almost never talked about it) and from my struggles with my own sexuality. However, it may not square with anyone else’s experiences, so I’m willing (and perhaps eager) to hear what others think.

    As a note, when I say that I feel people are trained or conditioned into homosexuality due to particular influences, that is not to say that they chose to do so of their own volition, or that they would have agreed to it if they knew what was happening. Indeed, my theory of influences and conditioning tends to lean towards early life experiences that perhaps aren’t even remembered. But in any case, my belief that there is training, influence, and conditioning leading to same-sex attraction does not in any way imply that anyone is culpable for his homosexuality.

  • Ryan,

    I think you hit the nail on the head. Studies by the Catholic Medical Association find very similar conclusions. This a very strong argument indeed, for the dangers of the homosexual indoctrination that is being foisted on our children.

    Frankly, the attempt by gay activists to push for the genetic origin is simply a red herring. It really doesn’t matter whether this propensity is purely genetic or purely learned, it is still disordered in a moral sense, and in a biological sense.

    God Bless,

    Matt

  • Excellent thread.
    If some genetic material carries a ‘homosexual’ component, Why is the homosexual act described as an ‘abomination’ in Scripture?
    i.e God creates the process for this genetic material then condemns His creation…we’d better call Plantinga on this one!
    Could it be that homosexuality is not a psychopathology but rather a pneumopathology?
    Scripture also says that homosexuals will not gain heaven, but then neither will liars, whoremongers, ect., an indicator that we all require forgiveness and salvation.

  • Pingback: Catholic Moral Theology And Homosexuality « The American Catholic

5 Responses to I'll Take Her on a Test Drive

  • Love “consists of a choice to devote oneself to another.” That is one of the truths that the vast majority of Americans don’t know about or cannot come to grips to. Love is a choice, it is not a “feeling”. Yes, you can have feelings of love, but the greater and correct definition of love is “the commitment of oneself to another”.

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

    Tito

  • I’m paraphrasing it badly, having seen it only once somewhere, but didn’t Bishop Fulton Sheen say something to the effect that to like is biology, to love is an act of the will?

    Ryan, this is probably your best post in this series so far. There’s a lot here to think about. Just for the sake of counterargument, one might say that you’re arguing by assertion that all premarital sex is not self-giving. I’m sure there are a lot of people who think that they’re very giving of themselves in this regard. How do you convince them that they’re holding back from that full union?

    I think your point about the “must have sex” mentality is a very good one, one that’s completely lost on our society. However, I’m sure that someone would counter that it might not be an imperative to have sex, but that it’s darn close enough. I’m not sure how to change that understanding.

  • I agree with J. Christian, an excellent post as well.

    How does one engage with secularists who live together and claim they are willing participants and thusly not “using” each other so to speak. Citing statistics that cohabitating couples have the highest propensity of divorce certainly shoots down their theory of “preventive divorce” by “living together”.

  • I would argue that any premarital sex is not self-giving, but there’s a lot of qualifications to be made about that. I’d be willing to concede, for example, that there are indeed self-giving aspects to some of the premarital relations out there, but that perhaps the selfish aspects outweigh the self-giving. That’s a very hard thing to judge for either the individuals involved, much less for someone looking on. It takes a vast amount of self-honesty to look at our sexual behavior and see it for what it is. (Of course, we can go overboard the other direction and feel any sexual behavior is reprehensible, so keep that in mind.)

    One of the questions I found myself asking a number of years ago when I was obsessed with one girl or another was, “If I can’t have her as my girlfriend, do I even want to hang out with her?” Implicit behind this is the selfish mentality. If we’re not going to have sex, do we even have a relation? I think a lot of people would be surprised at their answers if they were actually confronted with that reaction. We’ve become so inculcated with the notion that to be a couple is to have sex that we’ve grown to the point where a relationship is practically only about having sex, and then, sex for pleasure, not sex in its fullness.

    One revelation I had recently, probably back in February or so (so about 3 months before our wedding), I had to seriously stop and ask what it meant for my relationship with my wife if we could never have sex (for health reasons, for example, or simple accident in following NFP and not being in the mood during the infertile areas of the cycle). It was astounding when I realized how personally painful the thought of never having sex was, and eventually making the commitment to give up sex altogether, if our marriage warranted it, was something that has greatly strengthened our relationship.

    So how do we talk to people about whether or not their sexual relationship is selfish or self-giving? That’s hard, because sex tends to be so intimate an act you have a difficult time getting anyone to talk seriously about it. Trying to suggest to someone who is not seeking advice that, say, cohabitation is harmful is bound to turn them away in anger. The problem, of course, is the cognitive dissonance. I’m willing to bet that most people feel there’s something not quite right with premarital sex, but they dismiss it with any number of excuses. It doesn’t feel quite right because of the linger social expectation that sex should be within wedlock, or because of fear of pregnancy, or something like that. Eventually, we become so acclimated to bringing out those excuses to the fore that, for most intents and purposes, we rarely feel that discomfort.

    Perhaps the best we can do is try to, subtly, force people back into thinking about why the discomfort exists in the first place. Trying to get them to answer seriously the questions “Could you go without sex?” or “if you couldn’t have sex with her, would you still want to be with her?” could at last replant the seeds of doubt. Something else we could try is just to explain our Catholic position. Instead of trying to denounce any of their actions, simply explain why we Catholics view premarital sex with disdain. If we can get them to hear us out, and perhaps even get them to ask questions just so they know better the reasons why Catholics seem such prudes, that might also plant seeds.

    The biggest problem with secularists, especially materialists, is that trying to suggest there’s something wrong with using another as an object, or even demeaning oneself as an object for someone else’s pleasure tends not to work. They’ve convinced themselves that there’s no inherent dignity in the human person, and that’s where, I think, we have to start. It is sometimes horrifying in conversation to realize that the person you’re talking to really has no respect for the human person, believing we’re just chunks of meat with a “take what you can, when you can” mentality. To be honest, I have no idea how to uproot that, other than through prayer that God might move this person to faith.

  • Recognizing the dignity in each person is one of the basic concepts of Christianity that seems to have been fallen on the wayside in society. Part of this problem may lie in the public school system as well as parents, both of which have stopped in teaching Christianity at all (which could be an entire post in itself).

    Not recognizing the dignity in each other tends to make us more course in our engagement with others. Thus it’s easier to demean other whether physically, verbally, or any other manner.

33 Responses to Should Catholics Own Guns?

  • I do. I don’t see anything in the catechism that says I’m obliged to passively let a home invaded kill me in my own bedroom.

  • Indeed. The passages I quoted from the catechism affirmed that we have a moral duty to protect ourselves, out of the love of self derived from our existence as a gift from God. I personally believe that gun ownership should remain legal and in some places be more accessible.

    On the other hand, you have to consider the likelihood of a trespasser attempting to kill you in your home. What actually is the risk, and what is the risk of having a gun in the house? This is why it is a question of prudence. For me, since I’m not a hunter and have no training, owning a gun would pose a greater risk than an intruder, so until I get the training, a gun is definitely not for me. For my wife, who is trained and has been around guns her entire life, a gun poses much less risk than an intruder, and so a gun is definitely an option for her. How does that mesh between the two of us? Right now, her guns are in storage well away from home. Perhaps in the future that might change.

  • In addition to training/experience, there is also a moral duty to know how “strong” one’s firearm is in relation to the proximity of your neighbors. For example, using a hunting rifle (with a high muzzle velocity) to defend yourself very well poses risks to your neighbors if you miss, and perhaps even if you don’t. The flip side of 2263-65 is that you can’t risk your neighbor’s lives, either.

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  • I’ve never liked guns, and haven’t shot one since my Army days three decades ago, but I strongly support the right of people to own guns for hunting and self-defense. I agree with this line from my late father’s favorite western, Shane: : “A gun is a tool, Marian; no better or no worse than any other tool: an axe, a shovel or anything. A gun is as good or as bad as the man using it. Remember that.”

  • Of course, what I didn’t argue in this post is how effective guns are at what they’re purported to do. I’ll leave that to someone else. But, to play devil’s advocate, speaking of a gun as only a tool may mask part of the issue. Does handing a person a tool with which it is easy to kill someone–especially since guns are designed for killing, be it animal or human–make it more likely that a person will kill? Under what circumstances is merely owning a gun bringing a person into the near occasion of sin? I think those are the questions that Catholic opponents of gun ownership would ask. (I don’t think the accidental death ranks near as high, since by that mark we’d have to ban cars before banning guns…)

  • Yes, Catholics should own guns if they see the need. Good luck trying to get the Vatican security details to disarm 😉

  • “Does handing a person a tool with which it is easy to kill someone–especially since guns are designed for killing, be it animal or human–make it more likely that a person will kill?”

    Depends entirely upon the persons wielding the weapons Ryan. I’ve lived my life almost entirely in rural Illinois. Most of my neighbors have guns of all sorts, pistols, shotguns, rifles,etc. I have never been threatened with a weapon, even though for the past 26 years I have brought legal actions, on behalf of clients, against thousands of people who live in the surrounding area. Some people can be trusted with firearms, just as they can be trusted with knives, axes, etc, and other tools, while other people, including some of my criminal clients, could not be trusted with a paper clip.

  • “Does handing a person a tool with which it is easy to kill someone–especially since guns are designed for killing, be it animal or human–make it more likely that a person will kill?”

    As Donald said, it depends a lot on the person, but for someone who’s got a basic level of moral responsibility and has received at least 20 minutes in training on basic gun safety and respect for what they can do, my experience is that generally the knowledge of what a gun can do as a tool is sobering rather than a motive towards irresponsible behavior.

    Robert Heinlein (hardly an exemplar of Catholic thinking, I know) said, “A well armed society is a polite society.”

    And while that could be taken to refer to the reserve of mutual fear, my experience is more that people who know they bear the responsibility of handling highly lethal weapons remember to be more polite, more careful, and more helpful for it. I’ve been treated rudely in church far more often than I have at the gun range.

    This, I think, is where familiarity with guns is very, very important from a safety perspective. The person you want to fear is not the “gun nut” with the AK collection who’s down at the range every other weekend, but the person who went and bought a gun that he or she has never shot — or perhaps only shot once. That’s the person who’s likely to be quick to reach for it “like in the movies”.

  • I think, for the most part, agreeable that people have a right to self-defense and the right to defend their families, and therefore, a right to gun ownership. However, I am most curious as to why many second amendment advocates I’ve encountered oppose very reasonable gun control laws.

    24 to 48 hour waiting periods. I’ve encountered opposition to this idea and I’ve been told (I wouldn’t be surprised) that some politicians actually vote against such laws. Common sense would suggest that if a person cannot wait two measely days to get a gun, perhaps it would be prudent to think twice about giving it to them.

    I read in a book about Catholic Social Teaching (I haven’t checked the statistics that were footnoted) that some 40% of gun sales are done privately and background checks are not done. I’ve further encountered opposition to changing this reality on the basis of a slippery slope argument.

    Moreover, laws restricting the number of guns bought in day have found opposition. Does one really need to buy more than twenty guns at a time? I can’t recall the precise number, but I do not remember it being unreasonable.

    I’m just not certain why sensible gun control laws are opposed when the right to own guns is respected while seeking to minimally regulate the flow of guns.

    I am not a fan of guns. There’s a debate in the Texas state government to unrestrict concealed carry laws to enable teachers and students to carry concealed weapons on their campuses and even in classrooms. I don’t think words could even describe my opposition to this idea.

    Thoughts?

  • There’s a debate in the Texas state government to unrestrict concealed carry laws to enable teachers and students to carry concealed weapons on their campuses and even in classrooms. I don’t think words could even describe my opposition to this idea. Thoughts?

    Well, ever since Va. Tech….

  • I simply see no need for a Catholic to own a gun, an instrument for killing.

  • The solution to the problem of armed violence in schools is to enable everyone to be armed as to even the playing field?

  • Hey Mark,

    That is what Carl Rowan thought too.

  • Just as a follow-up, I do not own a firearm, and I tend to be ambivalent about the 2nd Amendment. I have mixed feelings about gun control, but as a Va. Tech alum the incident was a particularly jarring reminder that only those who break the law have guns in gun-free zones.

  • I don’t think a single incidence speaks enough volume to write off other ills that may come of such a policy that we may currently be blind to. I think emotional reaction to such incidences potentially can lead to legislation that doesn’t get fully evaluated.

  • However, I am most curious as to why many second amendment advocates I’ve encountered oppose very reasonable gun control laws.

    Probably a couple of reasons for this.

    On the unreasonable level, gun owners often start to feel fairly persecuted by the gun control lobby, and so their emotional reaction is simply to oppose everything that the gun control lobby advocates, regardless of whether it seems like a good idea.

    On the reasonable level, oftentimes laws which seem to make a lot of sense to gun control advocates do not make much sense to people from the perspective of law abiding gun owners. For example, as you point out a lot of gun sales are private person-to-person sales which currently require no paperwork to be filed in most states. I once made a private gun sale myself. I knew that a buddy of mine had been wanting a Swiss K31 bolt action rifle for some time, and I had a chance to buy one for under $200. It’s a moderately hard to find rifle (a straight pull bolt action rifle that the Swiss army used until the 50s and which the papal Swiss Guard used until fairly recently) and it’s not exactly the crowd killer — the design has not changed since 1931. So after checking with him on the cell phone, I bought it for him, and then sold it to him the next time I was down where he lived.

    Now in states that apply all the same rules to private party sales that are applied to dealer sales, I would have had to drive down to his town, take it to a gun dealer, give it to the gun dealer, who would then run a background check and hold on to it for a waiting period before letting him have it. (And generally charge a $50 to $75 fee in the process for his trouble.) Since these sales are usually between relatives or friends, that seems like a royal pain and rather unfair.

    The solution to the problem of armed violence in schools is to enable everyone to be armed as to even the playing field?

    To be fair, though, that’s not the suggestion. In all states that I’m aware of the licensing process to get a concealed carry permit is intensive enough that it’s very clear by the time you get one that you
    a) have no criminal record
    b) know how to use a gun well
    c) understand thoroughly the (very severe) legal consequences to using a gun improperly

    The change in law that they’re looking at would simply allow people who’ve already gone through that process to continue to carry (if they want) on the premises of “gun free” institutions like universities. I don’t have a strong opinion either way, personally, as you’re going to find very, very few licensed carriers among the student and faculty demographics. But to the extent that we already have a legal process for determining who’s allowed to carry, I don’t have a problem with them carrying in schools, hospitals, etc.

    I look a quick look around for data, and at least in Florida only 0.01% (out of 1.4 million) of those licensed to carry later commit crimes involving guns — so it doesn’t sound like much of a risk to me.

  • Darwin,

    On the first note, I don’t think inconvenience as reason to oppose those laws. I’m just as sure that criminals obtain guns from private gun sales and that the small inconvenience one might pay in the hobby of collecting guns, if it could potentially save one life is worth every bit of it.

    On the second matter, I see your point, but Florida’s demographics are not the same as, say, Los Angeles, Houston, or Chicago. Statistics of Florida don’t immediately apply to the rest of the country.

    And on the same level, I think numbers of student/faculty gun carriers will change depending on the demograpics and the state. I think much more would have to go into analyzing such a policy.

  • On the first note, I don’t think inconvenience as reason to oppose those laws. I’m just as sure that criminals obtain guns from private gun sales and that the small inconvenience one might pay in the hobby of collecting guns, if it could potentially save one life is worth every bit of it.

    I see your point, though at the same time — if Criminal A has a gun he wants to sell to Criminal B, and the state in question requires that private party sales be made through a dealer, I strongly doubt that the criminals in question would feel they needed to go over to the dealer and subject themselves to a background check and waiting period. I’d have to look the statistics up, but according to nationwide statistics slightly over half the guns used in all crimes are already obtained illegally.

    So I think often gun owners (myself included) feel like these laws simply make us jump through useless hoops, while doing very little to actually keep guns out of the hands of criminals. That said, if a law really would be successful in keeping guns out of criminals hands, I personally think it’s worth some inconvenience to achieve that.

    On the second matter, I see your point, but Florida’s demographics are not the same as, say, Los Angeles, Houston, or Chicago. Statistics of Florida don’t immediately apply to the rest of the country.

    Agreed, though due especially to the drug trade Florida has plenty of crime in some areas. Still, though I’d have to hunt for more data, I think you’ll find that people with concealed carry permits are absolutely the safest people you could possibly deal with in regards to guns. (Also, it’s hard to compare as Chicago, DC, New York, and Los Angeles all have incredibly restrictive gun laws compared to most other parts of the country. The concealed carry approach has not been tried in any of those places.)

    Gun training, background check, and knowledge of the world of trouble you’d be in for mis-using the gun ought to be roughly the best combination of factors for reducing people’s likelihood of committing crimes.

  • “I don’t think a single incidence speaks enough volume to write off other ills that may come of such a policy that we may currently be blind to. I think emotional reaction to such incidences potentially can lead to legislation that doesn’t get fully evaluated.”

    Well, sure, but emotional reactions work both ways. If we already have concealed carry permits under state law which allow people to carry everywhere else in the state, why should colleges and universities be different? If you think there are ‘other ills’ that we are blind to here, shouldn’t we see those ills everywhere else in the state?

    If you are against concealed carry laws, then maybe the question is irrelevant, but otherwise I do not see why a university campus is significantly different than a block away from a university campus. If anything, university students and faculties are less likely to be criminally dangerous. To me the suspension of an otherwise valid concealed carry permit on university grounds seems more emotional (no guns in our pristine intellectual utopia!) than rational, but I would be willing to revise that view if there is empirical support for the ban.

  • Wow, I can’t believe this thread has been up for nearly a whole day, and Michael Iafrate hasn’t posted a kneejerk leftist response. (For someone who seems to think the most important thing in the world is to question the assumptions and beliefs that come naturally to you, he never shows the slightest openmindedness about questioning his own leftist beliefs. Anyone who disagrees with him is the enemy.)

  • Happy Advent, S.B.

  • I don’t think a single incidence speaks enough volume to write off other ills that may come of such a policy that we may currently be blind to. I think emotional reaction to such incidences potentially can lead to legislation that doesn’t get fully evaluated.

    The question isn’t necessarily are we reacting to a single incident (though I agree that many, many, many reams of paper with worthless blots of ink have been forced through legislatures everywhere in response to single incidents), but whether the single incident is indicative of a larger trend. Part of the problem with trying to learn if arming the campus deters shootings is that there isn’t much evidence one way or another. But from the one incident that we have, we can speculate that either a) having guns nearby did nothing to deter the shooter, as he still shot and killed several people or b) having guns nearby allowed several students to halt the shooting before it became a massacre.

    Frankly, I’m of the opinion that allowing guns on campus and keeping legal in all places the right to carry a conceal weapon are suitable deterrents for crime. Attempting a crime becomes like playing Russian roulette. Will there be a bullet in the chamber, or won’t there? Granted, some will take the risk anyway, just as some will still obtain guns illegally and commit crimes that way. At this point, I feel it becomes a number game determining which methods decrease deaths the most.

    The problem, of course, is that no gun law is going to solve all the problems. Fallen human nature, and all that. I know from personal experience that it is very, very frustrating to have to deal with inconvenient legalities, and it isn’t because they’re inconvenient. Rather, it is like being treated like a criminal when I haven’t committed any crime, while the legal nonsense does nothing to prevent real criminals from doing what they will, anyway. That sense of being judged before any crime has been committed has, I think, more implications than simply us crying out in frustration about punishing those who obey the law, while doing nothing to stop those who break the law.

    However, I don’t feel that such limitations as: licensing, background checks, waiting periods, and bringing a gun by at least the county office after a private sale are beyond reason. Mark is exactly right when he describes guns as instruments of killing. While I disagree with him as to whether or not a Catholic can/should own a gun, I do feel that it is important to keep in mind that a gun is a weapon. The gravity of that fact demands a healthy respect for guns. To that effect, I believe every gun owner needs to be licensed (just like anyone who drives a car needs to be licensed); I believe a background check is important, especially since it is against federal law for a felon to own a gun, or to provide a felon with a gun (so a bit of cya there); I think a waiting period is a good idea to help with those few cases where someone might need a day or two to calm down before he actually receives his gun; and I think a gun should come with a title, like a car, that has to be transferred to the new owner with a minimum sale of $1.00 (so you can then go down to the county office and pay your $0.06 tax).

  • 24 to 48 hour waiting periods. I’ve encountered opposition to this idea and I’ve been told (I wouldn’t be surprised) that some politicians actually vote against such laws. Common sense would suggest that if a person cannot wait two measely days to get a gun, perhaps it would be prudent to think twice about giving it to them.

    I remember watching an interview once with a woman who had sought to buy a gun in a locality with a waiting period, and then was attacked and raped during the waiting period. In that case, at least, a waiting period turned out to be pretty harmful.

    Now you might say that such occurances are rare. And you’re probably right. But then cases where someone goes to buy a gun in order to kill someone and then changes his mind about it during the waiting period aren’t that common either. In fact, it is not obvious that cases of the former type are not more common than cases of the latter type. And unless one can establish that the latter sort of case is more common than the former, then the justification for the law would seem to be rather weak, even aside from considerations of inconvenience.

  • I wonder what Saint Gabriel Possenti would have to say?

    http://www.gunsaint.com/

  • As a friend of mine said….

    When seconds count, the police are only minutes– or hours– away.

  • blackadderiv-
    I’ve heard of a couple of cases where the dead woman was found with a card that indicated she had a restraining order aginst the murderer, and that she was to pick up her handgun the next day….

    Yeah, worked great, eh?

  • “I’ve heard of a couple of cases where the dead woman was found with a card that indicated she had a restraining order aginst the murderer”

    How true Foxfier. I’ve often been in court when judges issue orders of protection. The judges usually admonish the petitioners that the orders of protection are merely pieces of paper and that they still need to take precautions for their safety. The police will often tell people that they cannot guard them twenty-four hours a day. A gun is often the only means by which a physically weaker potential victim, usually a woman, has any chance against a stronger assailant.

  • I can think of a few people in the old testament who, not only owned weapons of killing, but were commanded by God to use them swiftly.

    *picks up the indiana jones whip he got for christmas and wonders… wwjd*

  • If guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.
    Also, if Catholics don’t own guns, only non-Catholics will own guns.

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10 Responses to Does a Profit Driven Business Model Corrupt

  • I agree that the pursuit of self-interest is not itself an act of greed, but I would still say that greed matters a great deal for markets. Pursuing self-interest may not corrupt, but the habit of greed does, and its corruptive effects will be felt in the market. The greedy man will seek his own interests at the expense of others, by causing harm to others if that harm helps him in a cost-benefit analysis. Situations can be made where workers are coerced into working for sub-standard wages. Customers can be convinced through advertising to pursue the fulfillment of false needs, things that may actually be spiritually or physically harmful for them. I don’t see that the market itself provides sufficient incentives to check the ill effects of greed. Rather, I think that for a free market to work well, to be really free, it has to function in a society ordered by moral frameworks that encourage people to pursue the good.

  • I think that for a free market to work well, to be really free, it has to function in a society ordered by moral frameworks that encourage people to pursue the good.

    Quite true, although ditching markets in favor of heavy command-and-control approaches does not solve the problem of sin, either. Was it James Madison who made the remark about our Constitution being suitable only for a moral people? The same is true of free markets. That’s why we don’t really have 100% free markets; we have a mixed solution.

    The economist in me would also add that we don’t need to be entirely fuzzy about deciding if/when free markets are a good thing. There are very strong theoretical models that suggest how markets can fail. Asymmetric information, public goods, principal/agent problems, externalities, etc. All of these market failures remind us that not all markets can satisfy the conditions for an efficient competitive equilibrium. The only question that remains is, How often are these failures present?

  • Ditto to j-c. A profit-making organization is only as good- or bad- as those within it. Particularly those at top of food chain. True of any Girl Scout troop, corner bakery, humongous bureaucracy. Simply a smokescreen for the eternal Capitalism vs. Socialism debate. Say we communicate on fancy computers hooked up to loads of internet sites. Not likely they could be developed at USDA. Or that fancy cell phone surgically attached to you. Your local Motor Vehicles office is not a hothouse for these technological developments. Of course we have the laff-riot issues involving the current governor of Illinois. Of course it was Michael Dukakis who noted the Greek proverb that the fish stinks from the head. Twas ever thus.

  • Do you live in Chicago’s Hyde Park or what? That exact same scenario of grocers played out in Hyde Park. The Co-op is completely gone (hurrah!), while the family owned Hyde Park Produce just moved into the Co-op’s smallest location (more than doubling its size). The family owned location provided decent to pleasant service and average to above-average products for the expected local grocery store, while the Co-op in its considerably larger main location provided terrible service, average to below-average products and no significant difference in price.

  • A profit-making organization is only as good- or bad- as those within it. Particularly those at top of food chain.

    Indeed, good point. I think that a free market tends to reward good people running businesses well (with well being defined as: in the way that their customers want them to) but it certainly doesn’t make people good!

    Also ditto on Kyle’s point about the necessity of virtue for free institutions to work. Though I’d add: free institutions tend at least to reward virtue, while command-control institutions often do the opposite.

    And of course to J. Christian’s point, there are certain circumstances where a market isn’t really free and equal, in which case the attempt to act like it is can run into problems.

  • And no, Cheryl, I’ve actually never been to Chicago. Though we do have our share of “community run” organizations here in Austin, the blue spot in the heart of Texas.

  • One of the things that I think is important to look at in the question of greed versus honest profit is the worth of the job. DC brought up good points in the carpenter/mechanic example he gave, but there’s a flip side to it. Suppose I’m offering a general service (say, computer repair and virus-cleaning) to people, and I charge a much lower rate than my competitors but barely eek by on my earnings. If I then raise my prices and earn more money, that’s not necessarily greed, but getting a more accurate reflection of the value of my work. We had some discussions a while ago about just wages, and the concept applies here, as well. If I, as a private practitioner, raise my rates, one could try to argue that it is simply greed and I’m price gouging; but on the other hand, the raised rates could simply be me ensuring I receive a just wage for my work.

  • The greedy man will seek his own interests at the expense of others, by causing harm to others if that harm helps him in a cost-benefit analysis.

    The greedy man will do this if he can get away with it. Most people, I think, greatly overestimate the degree to which he can get away with it in a market setting.

    A profit-making organization is only as good- or bad- as those within it.

    I disagree. Obviously the people that make up a profit-making organization (or any other type of organization) matter a great deal. But they aren’t the whole story. The “rules of the game” also tend to matter quite a lot.

  • Great post and great comments. As an ex-distributist convert to free markets, I think that the biggest problem is that “anti-capitalists” frame the argument incorrectly. They rely on undefined terms. They also overlook opportunity costs. Maybe there are trade-offs in the market system. But there are trade-offs in anything in life, and the market offers the most choices and minimizes adverse impacts. As blackadderiv noted, socialists tend to exaggerate the potential for exploitation within a market/rule of law system. They ignore the egregious political, moral and economic exploitation under a controlled economy, as I saw when in the former Eastern bloc in the early 90s.

  • As a practical matter, no organization can consistently operate at a loss, and hitting the break even point exactly is almost impossible, so all organizations (even ostensible “nonprofits”) seek to make a profit. It’s the only thing a wise manager can do: try to make sure that revenues exceed costs. Your pastor in your local parish probably thinks this way, too.

    Another thing we can add to the list of market failures is missing markets. Sometimes there’s a bad outcome because we don’t have a market for something — like information or risk — that might make us better off. Think of credit rating agencies, for example, and the informational role they play in finance. Missing markets aren’t something that government can typically supply; they’re often an innovation that makes other markets more competitive and efficient.

7 Responses to Basic Health Care and the Common Good, A Conservative Response

  • Good post.

    I’m part of a project in Madison, WI that is addressing this issue right now. It’s called Our Lady of Hope Clinic, and it will offer free basic healthcare to the uninsured.

    How will this be paid for? We are currently recruiting and signing up benefactors. These benefactors will pay a single annual fee to receive all of their primary care from the clinic. What’s in it for them?

    1. Their contribution serves the poor.
    2. They get high-end concierge-style care. In other words, instead of the average six-minute appointment, they are guaranteed 30-minute office visits so the provider gets a complete picture of their health and their needs. There is 24/7 access to a personal physician. This also allows for a focus on preventative medicine so health care doesn’t turn into “sick care.”
    3. Only 300 benefactors per physician–about 10% of the typical practice. This allows for the long appointment times and individualized attention. It also allows the doctors to spend slightly over half of their time treating the poor.
    4. 100% pro-life. Parents don’t have to worry about doctors pushing birth control pills on their teens.
    5. No billing or claims. The annual fee covers everything.
    6. There are tons of tax deduction opportunities, depending on one’s situation.
    7. Depending on their current coverage, many people can actually save money by becoming benefactors and switching to a high-deductable secondary coverage for their advanced care.

    Certainly the solution to American health care is not singular, but I believe this model will make some serious inroads. It’s a win-win for the poor and the benefactors.

    Additionally, it eases the burden on the system. When the uninsured can treat, for example, their diabetes early, it cuts down on ER visits that will never be paid for. This reduces the sunken costs of our hospitals and benefits the consumer.

  • Oh yeah, if you’re interested in learning more: http://ourladyofhopeclinic.com/

  • Sounds like a pretty good idea. It kind of reminds me of the stuff Wal-Mart is doing with its health clinics. My main concern is that if these sorts of things become too popular, the AMA will try to shut them down, ostensibly on grounds of safety but really as a form of protectionism for doctors.

  • How dare you question the motives of the AMA. What’s next, teacher’s unions? The ABA?

  • When I was fairly young our family got most of our care from a local clinic which worked on something like this model — it was I believe open to anyone who was a city, state or federal employee (my dad worked at a city college) and it was the local clinic at which young doctors did their internships.

    And yes, one of the major obstacles to this kind of thing is the AMA, which wants to make sure that the value of doctors (and thus cost of health care) remains high.

  • How dare you question the motives of the AMA. What’s next, teacher’s unions? The ABA?

    Ha!

  • Diagnosing standard diseases and infections, and treating them with anti-biotics. Standard inoculations. Basic screening tests. Treating basic injuries. X-rays. Standard ultrasounds and pre-natal care. Delivery in cases without complications. Well-child care.

    It is an interesting idea, although it may be difficult to distinguish in practice between ‘basic’ and advanced health care. To cite one example, during both of my wife’s pregnancies, either she or the child required more than ‘basic’ care; it is hard to assess pregnancy risks ex ante.

    I have had a couple acquaintances (both in their twenties) in the past five years who went to the doctor with fairly minor complaints (a persistent cold, a sore knee) that turned out to be cancerous, requiring prolonged medical treatment. It is possible that a regular nurse or less skilled personnel would have made the proper referrals for a timely diagnosis; but health care is a field where incremental differences in education can matter a great deal. At least, so it appears from the outside.

    Given the large number of people who cannot (or will not) pay for basic insurance now, the balance of harms may weigh heavily in favor of relaxed licensing requirements. Any change will have trade-offs, and this is an interesting suggestion. How feasible it is politically is another question entirely…..

11 Responses to CNN Wolf Blitzer's "Diatribe" of Cardinal Stafford

  • I finally decided to write a comment on your blog. I just wanted to say good job. I really enjoy reading your posts.

  • Since my sensitive eyes do not partake of cable teevee honkers, I

  • …..missed the Blitzer misrepresentation. And I go so what no institution gets worse media coverage than Holy Mama Church. Comes with the requisite Obama worship. My advice to all those who are aggrieved by the Blitzer blitz- satellite. radio. My XM has many and varied music channels. Just added great new ones from new parent company Sirius. My own favorite- brace yourselves…… The Grateful Dead Channel. 24/7 music from a band whose leader- Jerry Garcia of blessed memory- clearly deserves rank in the pantheon of Lennon/McCartney, Brian Wilson, Motown geniuses, Gamble/Huff here in Philly. Two hours of their music = supreme bliss. There will be enough sturm und drang in next few years. A blast of the Dead and life gets better. Oh- also has the superfine Catholic Channel, too. Father Dave is a hoot. Learn about your faith. Better than griping about MSM.

  • Since my sensitive eyes do not partake of cable teevee honkers…

    Actually there’s a channel that accommodates those of us with sensitive eyes and common sensibility. Perhaps you could tune into Fox News especially between 1:00 and 3:00 PM. Martha McCallum is so soothing to eyes that she could inform you that the world will come to an end in two hours and you’d be happy. Then again, maybe that’s just me…

  • It’s not just that Wolf occasionally veers from good stabdards oif journalists. He is actually a bad journalist. He doesn’t even know how to ask questions that can reasonably be answered, and virtually all his questions are begging for a specific, channeled response. This is actually true all around and really has been for some time.

    Perhaps it has always been this way.

    “The inadequate and biased transmission of news, and the profitable dissemination of nonsense, barred the general public from any intelligent or concerted participation in politics, and made democracy impossible.”

    – Will Durant, on newspapers of the 17th century, in The Age of Reason Begins

  • How significant were the Obama-related remarks in the cardinal’s speech? It seems to me like he dedicated a few minutes to current events, compared to the fifty minutes dedicated to general theological concerns. Did the CUA newspaper and the rest of the press seize on the political aspects?

  • Gerard,

    I share your sympathies about television in general. I don’t have cable but I picked up this tidbit of information from Matthew Balan of NB. I’ve stopped watching tv in general with the exception of two comedies to be named later.

  • Tito- my sensitive eyes largely confine themselves to pigskin stuff. Cannot wait for upcoming SEC championship scrum between Florida and Alabama. Major heavyweight bout, 4 rounds or TKO. Winner sure to play Big 12 South winner in BCS Game- TexTech, Oklahoma or Texas. Serious fun. But you you may ask but G.E. you’re Pennsylvanian why antipathy for Penn State? Simple. Am proud alum of Temple University, major urban institution. Penn State is 500 miles from nowhere. Nit Lions regularly pound my Owls, including 45-3 beatdown this past October in Happy Valley. Thanks to Iowa Hawkeyes for 24-23 field goal win over Nits. Insures- a. Hawkeye Coach Kirk Ferentz keeps job; b. We get SEC Winner vs. Big 12 South Winner, with Heisman Trophy Winner at QB (Harrell of TexTech? McCoy of Texas? Oklahoma’s Bradford?) Let PSU partisans point their Winnebegos to lovely Pasadena and Rose Bowl against worthy Pac 10 foe- probably Oregon State with Coolest Name In Sports- freshman pheenom Jaquizz Rodgers. Will Beaver fans offer novenas to St. Jaquizz?

  • I’m partial to OU, brothers coach of my alma mater Arizona. So I’m hoping for an OU run to the national title game.

    Other than that, I read Catholic material via the hardcover variety and digital.

  • “We feel we must disagree with those prophets of gloom, who are always forecasting disaster, as though the end of the world were at hand.

    “In the present order of things, Divine Providence is leading us to a new order of human relations which, by men’s own efforts and even beyond their very expectations, are directed toward the fulfillment of God’s superior and inscrutable designs. And everything, even human differences, leads to the greater good of the Church.”

    John XXIII

  • Terry- does that mean that God wants a Florida-Texas Tech shootout in the BCS championship game?

6 Responses to On Just Wages, Work, and CST (Part II)

  • The argument against the minimum wage is not so much that it violates the the sacred right of private property or freedom of contract as that (to the extent it has any effect at all) it serves to increase unemployment, and thus hurts the very people it is intended to benefit. You seem to recognize this (with your comment about the folly of just raising the minimum wage to the point where we can all live in luxury) but you don’t follow the reasoning through to its natural conclusion.

  • As BA said, I think the main question surrounding the minimum wage is whether it’s better to have more jobs that pay less or less jobs that pay more (with higher prices for everyone). I do not have a strong opinion either way on the answer, but I don’t think it is obvious that a minimum wage is always the best approach.

  • Yes, I did seem to forget to mention that vitally important aspect of minimum wage. For those who would like to read a little more on it, there’s an excellent post over at Catholic Exchange. I’ll see if I can’t do a little digging to have some facts on minimum wage increases and the harm it does to the economy when not handled well.

  • The utter nonsense of Catholic Social Teaching, with its implied socialist/totalitarian goals, is why I left the Church. It is this nonsense that impoverishes the backward nations of the world and enslaves a billion Chinese. No member of the hierachy has any concept whatever of economics or what elevates people above the feudal muck the Church is mired in.

  • Bob, that’s absolutely fascinating, especially considering that CST states:

    1) A well-regulated free market (one that has some oversight to prevent abuses like monopolistic price-jacking) is the most consistent with human nature, directly corresponding with man’s need and obligation to work for a living, man’s right to private property, and man’s interaction with his fellow man;

    2) Socialism is a grave evil

    3) Charity and the care for the poor and needy is best accomplished locally first, and from the state as only a last resort.

    If you left the Church because you felt it taught socialist and totalitarian goals, I suppose that’s okay, because those views are objectively wrong.

    They just aren’t what the Church teaches.

  • Bob – It seems to me that systemic corruption, a lack of respect for the rights of individuals, and a failure to consider the obligation we have to care for the weakest members of society is more characteristic of impoverished nations than an adherence to Catholic Social Teaching. There is very little evidence that Catholic Social Teaching is responsible for the enslavement of ‘a billion Chinese’ people.

3 Responses to On Just Wages, Work, and CST (Part I)

  • Pingback: On Just Wages, Work, and CST (Part II) « The American Catholic: Politics and Culture from a Catholic perspective
  • There are a lot of points in this post that are worthy of comment and/or critique. My first impulse would be to write half a dozen or so long comments each addressing a different point, but if I did that each individual point would likely get lost in the volume. So let me, for now at least, confine myself to one particular point. You say:

    Associated with work is the principle of remuneration. Ideally, a man receives in return for his toil compensation proportional to the effort he has expended. It is justice that if a man expends more hours in labor, he receives further compensation.

    I sense the ghost of the labor theory of value lurking behind these remarks, and I want to send that specter back to the foul perdition from wince it came. It’s not true that compensation ought to be proportionate to the amount of labor that a man expends in performing a given task, or to the amount of time he labors. If A can do a particular job twice as fast as B, then it is perfectly fair for an employer to pay A more than B for the same amount of time worked. What matters is not how hard a person works or for how long; rather, it is the value he produces that will determine his compensation. (It is true that, for practical reasons, a lot of compensation is determined based on time worked, whether in hours, or days, or weeks, or whatever; but there is no reason in principle why it has to be this way, and indeed it often isn’t, as anyone who has ever worked on commission can tell you).

  • blackadderiv,

    Well, I hope the specter is duly banished. I wanted to keep concepts as simple as I could, as this was a long, long post (noted by how I decided to divide it into two posts). The part you have quoted here was merely the comparison of a man with himself, not with any other men. I wasn’t even necessarily thinking so much as a man working for wages in some company, even, but down even to the most basic. If you think of ancient, prehistoric man, out hunting and gathering, the idea would be this: if you spend more hours a day picking berries, chances are (there’s no guarantee, of course), that you’ll end up with more berries.

    You are exactly correct to point out that a man deserves compensation for quality as well as quantity of work. I never meant anything to imply that I denied that. On the other hand, you can’t deny quantity of work, either, at least within context. Quality, quantity, and rarity of work (i.e. special skills that only a few have) are all factors that have to be consider together when working with the whole picture. You’re exactly right about that.

22 Responses to Just Wage Open Forum

  • 60 hour work weeks, particularly spread between two different jobs, is feasible but tiring for a healthy young person without dependents. However dependents make this type of schedule difficult to maintain, particularly given the frequency of divorce and/or illegitimacy in the U.S. Childcare can be very expensive, and generally requires an adult working less than 60 hours a week.

    That said, it’s interesting that the $7.42 figure is in the ballpark of what the minimum wage ($7.25) will be next year. My understanding is that only about 1-2% of the U.S. workforce makes minimum wage, although that percentage may increase when the minimum wage is adjusted upward. Numbers aside, I am looking forward to your discussion of the just wage in CST.

  • Hmm…Not the resounding turnout I’d been hoping for, but then, I can’t expect people to hang out here every hour of every day, either.

    What I failed to make clear in my initial posting is that what I was calculating was a living wage for Laramie, WY, for two people.

    What I intend to discuss with a post that will hopefully be up tomorrow is that there is difference between just wage and a living wage, between just wage and minimum wage, and a living wage and minimum wage.

    I hope we hear more from other people about what they view as a living wage where they live, especially from Michael and Mark. This is, or at least seems to be, an important topic for them, and I’d really like to have them contribute a little before I post my next article.

  • Couple thoughts:

    What a good living wage is varies a huge amount by part of the country. I recall $8/hr feeling very comfortable in Steubenville, Ohio — but then I was paying $400/mo for a three bedroom duplex which I shared with three other working adults.

    Living in Los Angeles, it could be a lot rougher. Car insurance was $200/mo and medical insurance was $500/mo through my work for my wife and (then one) kid. Rent was $1000/mo for a one bedroom apartment.

    I think you were right to calculate an income and a half for two people. Sometimes that’s the husband working a job and a half, sometimes it’s both working, but it’s certainly not unreasonable.

    More generally:

    It seems to me that the real measure of a “just wage” has to do with the value of one’s work. It’s wrong for an employer to pay you less than a reasonable percentage of the value that your work creates for him — especially if paying you only a tiny percentage of the value your work creates results in putting you in poverty. (If you create a lot of value, it may be just to pay you pretty small percentage — though people often want more. In a given month I can point to a few million dollars in revenue that are directly attributable to my actions at work, and my wages are a pretty tiny percentage of that, but I’m nonetheless paid a comfortable enough wage I don’t think I could complain that getting a small percentage is “unjust”.)

    This creates, I think, dual responsibilities for the employer and employee: The employer has a responsibility to design jobs which are of enough value to pay a decent wage — and the employee has a duty to, if he’s a head of household or wants to be, be economically valuable enough to earn a decent wage through the value of his actions.

    My favorite example in this regard is the position of “greeter” at Wal Mart: I think Wal Mart is remiss in having a job description which contributes virtually no value to the company. But I also think that a worker who is a provider has a duty to be able to do something more valuable than being a greeter at Wal Mart. If the father of a family is working as a greeter and having trouble making the bills — the problem is not so much that he’s not being paid enough by Wal Mart as that he shouldn’t be working that job as a head of household.

  • DC, here’s something interesting for you. If you Google “catholic social teaching just wage”, your 2007 post on just wages is the second link that pops up. Just FYI.

  • Darwin Catholic has hit the big time ;-).

  • Boy, that’s odd. I would have thought some “social justice” focused Catholic site would rule that one.

    The benefits of being around a long time, I guess…

  • This creates, I think, dual responsibilities for the employer and employee: The employer has a responsibility to design jobs which are of enough value to pay a decent wage — and the employee has a duty to, if he’s a head of household or wants to be, be economically valuable enough to earn a decent wage through the value of his actions.

    You’ve hit the nail on the head. Using economics positively and not normatively, we can set aside “justice” for a moment and say that a market wage is simply the value marginal product of labor (p*dq/dL).

    Now what does that mean if we’re not just “neutral” economists but Catholics who care about social justice? It means exactly what Darwin said: there is a dual moral duty at work. The employer has to be more realistic about the value and productivity of the work being provided, and the employee has to have the sense to know what constitutes valuable and productive work. Unfortunately, the reason we see guys in chicken suits on the street corner advertising stuff is because neither party is getting it right.

  • a just wage? that would be whatever my employer and I agree upon for me to work for him, with no coercion involved. And it doesn’t matter how I spend my money, or if I agreed upon to little, or how many bills I have.

  • Anthony,

    Actually the Church has ruled that a just wage is not just solely determined by whatever you and your employer agree upon, with or without coercion. Due to certain factors on the part of the employer and the employee, it is possible for the employee to agree, willingly and without coercion, perhaps due to ignorance, on a wage that is far below what the position is actually worth. Now, it is one thing if you’re accepting a much lower wage as a matter of volunteer work or charity, but it is something else if, say, you accept a position worth $20/hr for $8.50/hr, thinking that is a great wage (because you’ve only made $5.15 up until then), and the employer really could pay you $20/hr, then that’s a different story.

    Granted, there are hundreds of different variables to consider, and I believe that, for the most part, the employer/employee contracts are more or less just.

  • Due to certain factors on the part of the employer and the employee, it is possible for the employee to agree, willingly and without coercion, perhaps due to ignorance, on a wage that is far below what the position is actually worth.

    It’s not clear to me how one determines “what a position is worth” without reference to a free labor market.

  • I don’t believe I ever suggested that you could. The assumption that an employer and an employee can make a just contract as regarding the employer’s wages depends upon both having full knowledge of the market forces, and full access to the market. The assertion that, at times, it cannot simply be left to a private contract between employer and employee is due to the recognition that most people will only have an imperfect knowledge of the free market, and only partial access to the market itself.

  • BA,

    I think that in an open market, wages will tend to hit the maximum value possible given the value of the work done.

    So I guess I’d argue that an unjust wage would most often be the case of some sort of market breakdown — either a segment of employees not knowing the real market value of their work and being cheated into working for much less; or employers using some sort of market restriction or force to make employees work for a wage well below what the market would set if allowed to function freely.

    Does that sound reasonable?

  • The scenario envisioned, I take it, is that a man takes a job from employer A at $10 an hour not knowing that another employer, B, is offering $20 for a similar position. I doubt that this sort of thing happens very often, and if it ever did, the simple solution would be for the guy to quit his job and take the position with A.

    Determining which jobs are comparable to each other is, of course, a tricky business (I say this as someone who could be making double or triple my current salary by taking a “similar” job to the one I have now; yet I’m not going to do so because there are other non-monetary considerations in play).

    As for market restrictions making wages lower than they should be, I would certainly agree that the restrictions are unjust, at least in most cases. But given the restrictions, I’m not sure you can say that the agreed upon wage is unjust (at least if implicit in the idea is the notion that it’s immoral for an employer to pay it).

  • There can be conditions, such as a monopsony employer in an isolated region, where the equilibrium wage is below the market wage. A minimum wage in situations like that can help workers.

  • BA,

    I think I’d envisioned something more like: Joe normally pays his technicians at Joe’s Auto Shop $20/hr. He charges his clients $70/hr and has no shortage of work in sight. However, when he hires a new technician Tim, he tells him “Of course, this position only pays $15/hr” because he notices that it’s been a couple months since Tim lost his last job and Joe figures he probably doesn’t have many options. Tim works well and a couple months later finds out he’s making 25% less than the other workers, but Joe tells him, “We only do pay reviews once a year. You’re welcome to leave if you don’t like it,” knowing that there aren’t any mechanics near by hiring.

    Now, I guess you could argue this is the market wage, if Tim is not in fact able to go find another job. However, it does strike me that if there’s no economic reason why Joe has to pay him less, other than that he thinks he can get away with it and make his business more profitable, he’s arguably cheating Tim, and in that sense behaving immorally by paying an unjust wage.

    I don’t think it’s the kind of thing which external entities like governments can do a good job of preventing, so I wouldn’t support any kind of regulation to prevent that kind of occurance, but it does seem to me that Joe is treating Tim unjustly and thus arguably sinning.

    On the market restriction question, I might envision something like:

    The large manufacturing concern in a small town has gone under, and the town council puts out big tax and funding incentives to bring in a new company. Company ABC somes in and sets up a widget factory, part of their deal being they get the town council not to give building licenses to any other manufacturers to come into the town for at least three years. (Illegal, I would hope in the US, but let’s imagine.) ABC then announces it will pay $5/hr in its factory, which is a quarter of what the old bankrupt employer in town paid. The labor of one worker creates $100 in value for ABC per hour. But since people would have to move out of town to get manufacturing jobs elsewhere, enough people grit their teeth and go to work in ABC’s factory that they’re able to run a booming business with huge profits.

    I’d argue that’s pretty clearly of treating workers injustly and thus immorally — but all that has to be done to prevent that at a government level is not provide local monopolies to employers. There’s not a need to legislate wages, but rather to allow employers to compete.

    Do those examples seem to show clear cases of unjust wage paying?

  • I think this discussion, where we connect the moral wage to the current free market value of the labor, is off basis. Why do we have to take the current market value as a given? Maybe the current market value of the labor is unjustly low.

    Look at it from the point of the consumer. Is it moral to purchase goods or services paying a price that we know provides for inadequate wages to those who have labored to produce or deliver the product? As a consumer, should we not be willing to pay for things knowing that their producers are not compensated enough so that they can have an adequate living? I think that justly compensating those who produce our goods should be a major factor in determining what we are willing to pay for an item.

    You are treating the matter as if the market value of labor should determine just compensation. I think that what we need to do is to make sure that the morally just wage determines the market value of the labor.

  • Michael Enright, I have to politely but fervently disagree with your statement. You more or less put the cart before the horse, by immediately judging that wages ipso facto are unjust. You also make a broad, and I think invalid, assumption that just because wages are inadequate to live on, they are unjust.

    I will make a quick statement here, and more in my upcoming post, that not all jobs are intended to be positions one makes a living from, and thus the wages offered for those positions can both be just and inadequate to make a living. For example, I would not expect someone to make a living being a bag boy at Safeway. I would expect that to be a position intended for teenagers looking to earn some money while accruing job experience and a history.

    Honestly, if I felt a company engaged in dishonest business practices by paying its employees unjustly, then I would be morally obliged to shop elsewhere. However, I’m not going determine the price I’m willing to pay for a product based only on the wages paid to the company’s employees. The price I”m willing to pay is based upon how much I need an item and how much I can afford to pay for it. Judging whether or not a company pays just wages is separate issue and depends on regional economic concerns, the jobs themselves, and host of other issues.

  • I have to say that you are taking my statement out of context. I never said anything about teenage workers, although they may have a family to take care of themselves. There are plenty of grown adults forced to do work, and sometimes very hard work, that pays very little. One great example of this is migrant labor.

    Secondly, I never suggested that you determine the price based solely on the wages that are paid. You put that in yourself. I am not advocating for the labor theory of value.

    I also never judged any wage as unjust. That would have to be a specific call based on each particular job.

    All I made was a modest claim. My modest claim is that when purchasing something, and we know that the employees are paid inadequately, that we choose another provider and be willing to pay more so that the laborers are paid adequately. That is one of the factors we should look at when considering what we are willing to pay for an item. We shouldn’t be looking to pay the cheapest prices in order to be cheap if we know that means for inadequate wages. (I did not define what an inadequate wage is). The market itself should advocate for fair wages.

  • I beg forgiveness, then. I did read more into what you wrote than you actually put there. To my mind, there is no separating a just wage from market forces, and what you were saying seemed to suggest (I only say “seemed to suggest”, not that you did so) that we determine numbers beforehand (how, I don’t know), and then compare how the world lives up to that standard.

    Your reply states that I was making an issue out of practically nothing (though there are minor details I could quibble over with you). Mea culpa.

  • Ryan, I pretty much stopped taking you seriously after “… the Church has ruled that… ”

    lol

  • Anthony,

    This is directly from Centesimus Annus, an encyclical by Pope John Paul II, looking back at Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical Rerum Novarum from the perspective of a hundred years:

    8. The Pope immediately adds another right which the worker has as a person. This is the right to a “just wage”, which cannot be left to the “free consent of the parties, so that the employer, having paid what was agreed upon, has done his part and seemingly is not called upon to do anything beyond”. It was said at the time that the State does not have the power to intervene in the terms of these contracts, except to ensure the fulfilment of what had been explicitly agreed upon. This concept of relations between employers and employees, purely pragmatic and inspired by a thorough-going individualism, is severely censured in the Encyclical as contrary to the twofold nature of work as a personal and necessary reality. For if work as something personal belongs to the sphere of the individual’s free use of his own abilities and energy, as something necessary it is governed by the grave obligation of every individual to ensure “the preservation of life”. “It necessarily follows”, the Pope concludes, “that every individual has a natural right to procure what is required to live; and the poor can procure that in no other way than by what they can earn through their work”.

    If you don’t like it, I’m sorry. Or maybe you’re thinking I meant “dogmatically defined” when I said “ruled”, which I did not mean. I meant that popes, after long deliberation and consideration of the teachings of the church, came to the conclusion that I then just passed along in my comment.

  • Hello. It is test.

12 Responses to Cardinal George's Official Statment on Abortion

  • The Catholic Anarchist and I agree! Probably not one of the signs of the Apocalypse, but close!

  • “This was bad law [I would say “this is bad law”].”

    Actually an attorney would use the phrase “this was bad law” which might indicate that the cardinal consulted with an attorney when drafting it. Heaven knows, however, that I would never set up my profession as models of good English usage.

  • Donald,

    Thanks. I was wondering about that, especially from such an important document such as this.

    I like the statement as well. I hope Cardinal George and President-elect Obama will be able to have a good dialogue on this and hopefully a fruitful outcome.

  • Decent stuff. Tito’s comments in red were welcome and clearly modelled on those by the esteemed Father Zeulsdorf on the most excellent What Up That Prayer Say. Almost bold or at least appears that way compared to the usual oatmeal served at the USCCB Restaurant. Time to find out if all those bold letters and statements they released in the past 12 weeks weren’t just vacant moosh. Could be tough times ahead for them and many practicing Catholics, particularly those in health care. Must pray for them to maintain the tungsten reinforcement in their vertebrae. And for us too.

  • Tito – Did you add more commentary since you originally posted this? Just to clarify, I think the statement itself is a good one. I have no comment whatsoever on your own commentary, other than to say I think you should have placed it at the end of their statement rather than mucking it up with your own interruptions.

  • The red is a little jarring to me, personally, but I like the statement. Thanks for posting it Tito.

    MI- approved your comment (not the second one, although I found it amusing). I feel your pain with the moderation; it’s happened to me occasionally with the auto-filters at VN and I know it’s off-putting.

  • Too bad the Catholic Church does not persecute the pedophiles and rapists within their very ranks with the same fervor they pursue the people’s elected representatives who do not kowtow the Catholic line.

    What about protecting the children that are already born? This is an organization that by it’s very actions basically condones child molestation!!!!!

  • M.I.,

    I was thinking the same thing. The red seems to scream out. I was puting in my commentary and saving the column after each paragraph, hence why you thought you saw double or something.

    I believe Fr. Z uses a slightly off-blue on the background to calm down the screaming red. I like your idea of puting the comments at the end though.

    I’ve been practicing on my personal blog with the red commentary a la Fr. Z and still haven’t figured out the right balance so as not to distract from the statement itself.

    It’s a work in progress and I also agree with you that the statement itself would have been sufficient, though what fun would that have been?

    😉

  • Zebediah,

    Could you present proof of the Church’s teaching on the condoning of said behavior?

    Here’s our catechism link so you can find it for us and post it on our website: http://www.vatican.va/archive/catechism/ccc_toc.htm

    In Jesus, Mary, & Joseph,

    Tito

  • Pingback: Canonical Options For Dealing With FOCA « The American Catholic: Politics and Culture from a Catholic perspective

16 Responses to Pop Quiz

  • “Our taxes going to the needy, however beneficial it might prove, is an abrogation of the human will towards charity. It not only bereaves us of the choice of where our money goes, but it also stunts the growth of charity in our souls.”

    That’s funny!

    You caricature the Right very well…

    “As a note, Senator Obama—like many on the left—seems to have little to no faith in human charity.”

    I know. Does not he see how little the poor need anyone beyond individual givers, uniting outside of the government? Case in point. Latin American countries under right wing dictators…the usa…

  • Did you use the Acton-Cliff Notes?

  • So Mark, do you believe the populace at large incapable of charity? Or if not, perhaps you can enlighten us as to how exactly we’re supposed to provide for the poor.

    Frankly, I can’t see how leaving people with their money to choose to spend/donate as they deem right is a bad thing. Even if they waste the money on trinkets or fast food, that’s jobs for people. Take that money away, that decreases the number of jobs available, which makes more poor. Handouts don’t cover what a steady job can provide.

    But you might have a different viewpoint. Please, enlighten us.

  • I personally know someone in my family who made some unwise decisions, got pregnant, lost her job and healthcare insurance for not being able to work (her healthcare was attached to her job). The man who got her pregnant is a deadbeat. So, she set her eyes on abortion. Luckily, she has a pro-life Catholic in her family and together, we made the decision that she shouldn’t do that.

    She’s received about 200 dollars a month from the government on unemployment. Many in our family contributed what they can to assist her with her baby that was born in July.

    My point? There was no way that this “redistribution of wealth” in anyway really changed the playing field. Or, what if that “redistribution” made it easier for people to be like me — the first in an entire family to go after higher education. It costs $30,000 a year to receive the education I do. My mother makes just about that much in a year. How many youth with potential are barred from going to school because of skyrocketing costs?

    It seems to me that even if I knew that the government would be assisting people, it would no in way bar me from doing charity. I think the notion that the government doing some of the work will prevent people from doing charity is absurd. The reason people don’t give charitably is selfishness — it’s not because someone else is doing it. Would you stop giving to charity? Would you not stop to help someone because the government gave them a few measely dollars that hardly enables them — even stretching the money — to live even comfortably in this society? Do you remember when minimum wage was $5.15? Have you ever watched a family struggle making it by on such a salary?

    Obama seems to have little faith in human charity. Maybe. But as far as the rich giving to charity, the amount they give is hardly a dime in terms of the money they have. What is $2 million dollars to Bill Gates?

    Moreover, I dare to ask how fair is the economic system we have. It’s fundamentally social Darwinism — survival of the fittest. It’s a system of unrestricted competition and it’s the very reason why a small few can set a monopoly on money and get richer, usually without doing anything. Perhaps, all it takes is nothing but an investment.

    But how is such a system that is naturally disadvantaged to the poor and lower middle class really compatitible with the Catholic faith? It’s not a natural law approach to anything. It’s a consequentialist ethic — which is in itself moral relativism with another mask. What is good in terms of business usually has more to do with profit, shareholders, and prosperity of that particularly business than with the human dignity and welfare of society. Ultimately, we’re banking on the moral uprighteousness of the private sector just as we’re banking on the moral uprighteousness of the government. All of mankind is fallen from sin. Why should we trust one over the other? Why is one method so much superior to the other?

    Sure you’ll disagree with me, but I think it is something that Catholic Social Teaching is entirely consonant with political conservativism. But political liberalism, or “socialism” is just bad business all over the place. If I’m not mistaken, Catholic teaching is beyond “left” and “right” politics. And though the issue at hand is not “non-negotiable” and thus we can have legitimate disagreement, we’re not both right. Or maybe we’re both wrong.

  • Eric,

    Excellent response, and tough questions to address. I don’t believe that government spending on the poor destroys all charitableness, or that the government shouldn’t spend money to help others. But I do think that government handouts have a tendency to harden hearts towards those receiving handouts, especially here in the U.S. where there is such a culture of individualism that we tend to look down on people in need. Indeed, I struggle a lot with the question of how we can justify railing against higher taxes when there are people in need. Aren’t we just struggling futilely to cling to material wealth, wealth that ultimately means little in the long run? My problem, ultimately, is not whether or not the government should send some tax revenue to aid the poor, but how much it should tax others to do so. How much is enough, and how much is too much? Frankly, if tax cuts increase federal revenue, then why speak at all of “raising taxes out of fairness” even if it means less federal revenue to spend on welfare?

    But the problem of charity is a real one. Certainly there is a problem when half the people you talk to complain about “lazy good-for-nothings, feeding off the government”. Does this mean that the government not giving out welfare will inspire charity? Not by any means. But I do believe there’s a point where the government takes so much and hands it back out to so many others that it starts to wound charity in the hearts of those who are taken from.

    I fundamentally disagree that our economic system is naturally disadvantaged to the poor and the middle class. Maybe that’s because I come from a middle class family, and am in third generation receiving a college education. Maybe it’s because I come from Wyoming, which has very few minorities, and thus I don’t see the discrimination minorities suffer from. Maybe it’s because in Wyoming, you can always work construction, the oil fields, or the coal mines, and make more in a year without a high school diploma than most college graduates make. Or maybe it’s because I’ve seen my father work hard and build a small accounting firm, and has risen from making barely $30K/year to over $60K/year. Maybe its because my family was willing to offer a friend of mine free housing, food, clothes, and even a car for cheap in an effort to help him make it through college. And that friend started from a poor “white trash” (he’ll admit the white trash if you ask him) family, most of which is still in the gutters, not because they can’t haul themselves out, but because they keep wasting all the chances they get.

    The way we think things work undoubtedly comes from what we see growing up. Eric, I’m not sure what all difficulties you’ve had to face in your life, so I can’t necessarily appreciate where you’re coming from. But when I look at the economic system we have, I can’t see a better system for providing the poor with opportunities to rise out of squalor.

    Wealth tends to concentrate on a small percentage of the population? That doesn’t bother me any. Most of those who are wealthy worked their way to it. I think it is a fundamental prejudice to suggest that the rich don’t do anything to earn their wealth. I’ll agree that some don’t, and I’ll agree that some get rich quickly from dirty methods. But those are a scant few among the other hard-working, successful people.

    I could rant about this for hours, but I have work to do, so I’ll let it go there, without having said anything of substance. And I do understand very well the story of the rich man who donated a lot of money to the temple, but only a tiny, tiny fraction of what he had, and the poor woman who gave up her last two talents, and how Jesus praised her before his apostles for the sacrifice she made. There, at least, I can readily agree with you.

  • One interesting group to look at in this regard is the Amish. They refuse both social security, medicare and any form of private insurance because they believe such approaches do not constitute truly “being your brothers keeper”. Instead, each Amish community has its own emergency fund. Everyone is assessed, according to his means, to pay into that fund, and the fund then pays out when families run into problems (medical or otherwise) that result in expenses they can’t meet themselves.

    Now, here’s the thing: Even the most well off know they need to contribute to that fund, not only in order to avoid social and moral ostricization, but also because they know they have no other recourse. If the rich Amish bought insurance, but everyone was supposed to pay into the community fund to help the poor ones who couldn’t afford insurance — I would imagine that it would be a lot harder to get everyone to chip in. People would still have their charitable impulses reinforcing the need to help with the community fund, but their sense of self interest would no longer reinorce that impulse.

    Not that I’m saying I’m eager to give up my insurance…

    What I do think it can show the rest of us, however, is that getting people to participate in charitable/solidarity actions at a serious scale (not a hundred spare dollars once or twice a year, but enough to really cover the needs of those without their own means) relies on a sense of urgent need. If your self interest is brought into play because you rely on the same community fund, that gives urgency. If you know that there are no other options out there, and so if your parish (to pull an example) doesn’t put together a significant scholarship fund, than many of the students from poorer families will simply not be able to go to college — that gives urgency. But if one has the general feeling that there must be an awful lot of programs out there (private and public) already meeting a given need, there’s not much sense of urgency and people tend to keep themselves to themselves.

  • Ryan,

    I’m not convinced that tax cuts increases federal revenue, in fact, I think the opposite. It’s heatedly debated in political circles. But that’s not our interest here. We’re concerned on how we as Catholics — even as we disagree — can transform the political landscape with millions of other people with whom we agree and disagree. That’s the challenge. Personally, I’m all in favor of the FairTax. But that’s not the current tax system.

    I believe that the government has moral purpose. How the mechanism is used is the fundamental question. It’s difficult to answer. I’m not sure I agree with people having a hardened heart in receiving government “handouts.” I’m sure there are plenty who are grateful. It seems to me that if we had a system where people could receive needed assistance for a specific amount of time — in other words, a transition period — with information forwarded to them to aid them in finding a job and provided evidence that they are searching, I think we would be better off. This would decrease dependency dramatically and encourage self-sufficiency.

    It also seems to me that there are shades of the culture of individualism in saying “this is my money and the poor shouldn’t get it unless I say they can.” People of that sort don’t seem to care for charity — either through the government or themselves. Now surely this doesn’t account for the majority of conservatives. Nevertheless, the question of how much the government should help is one of prudence and that’s not definitively answerable.

    I do share your concern that the government giving out too much can have an adverse effect to some extent. I’ve been in the car with friends who say when they see a homeless person, “the government really ought to do something to help him.” But I don’t think that the lack of charity is contigent on the fact that the government is helping people, but rather it inadvertently reaffirms the lack of charity and moral disordering (for an ordered morality demands charity) that already exists in their own life. And I don’t think that we can avoid doing as much good as we can through the mechanism of the government (without the State exceeding its boundaries) for the sake of unintended consequences. It’s like not standing up against injustice because one fears that it’ll cause an unwanted backlash.

    In terms of our economic system, it depends on if its an unrestricted free-market or a free-market with a few minimal regulations. I favor the latter. I think the former does naturally give advantage to the upper middle class and the rich. I think that there are opportunities for people to rise out of poverty, but I attribute it more to God’s grace than to the system itself. I’m not entirely convinced that most of the wealthy worked their way to it. Just at my school, I see kids with a silver spoon in their mouth who in many ways are totally ignorant of the plight of others. Their parents can easily and readily afford college. Many of them have gone to private school their whole lives–some with tuitions just as high as their college tuition. They are born with all the support they need and with many advantages. What about children born to parents who aren’t as well off?
    Supposedly 60% of the bottom of the socio-economic scale is comprised of single parent households. Statistically children raised in such environments are more likely to do drugs, drink alcohol regularly, to drop out of school, to repeat a grade, to be sexually promiscuous, and the list goes on. I was born into the place on the scale. My grandmother who is 75 years old, to this day works, cleaning houses for two different families. One of which she has worked for her entire life (my grandmother’s family always worked for that family and I believe generations ago was “owned” by that family). The family she has worked for the longest is very wealthy. The lady — Mrs. Moroney — is a very liberal, pro-choice Democrat (she supports government intervention). She also happens to believe in me so much that she is willing to pay all remaining costs of my education — out of pocket — which has totalled over $30,000 by now. This was all generous charity and I am very grateful. But I ask myself to question — of the thousands of people that are born into a similar situation as mine, how many receive the same blessings?

    I’m not saying “let’s have a mass government ‘hand-out’ party,” but that there is some merit to the government assisting people. And yes, I’m looking at all of this through the lens of my own life — and I’d like to think through the lens of the lives of other people who won’t share my blessings. I find it very disheartening when things are just classified as “socialism” and dismissed. It really cuts off rational discourse and creates the endless culture war — this clash of orthodoxies — that we’re experiencing and are all frustrated about. Many Democrats, myself included, aren’t in favor of equal results in life. That’s not realistic. But we do favor an equality of opportunity and currently — and I don’t think anyone would argue this — there is a large disparity in the socio-economic ladder that makes this very difficult. Thus, people should be provided the resources they need — public and private — to help them achieve those means. No, we shouldn’t just subsidize it and give them a free ride and teach them that a lack of personal responsibility is alright; it isn’t.

    But I think a safety net that relies solely on charity in the western world is a recipe for disaster. It won’t happen. And the worse our education gets (its happening), the worse our morals get (its happening), and the more we’re all geared for ruthless competition with one another, we will fall. We’ve got to help as many as we can and I think it requires — at least at this point in history — that the government be involved. That’s my perspective.

  • Ryan,

    Would you say that the Amish system is an honest example of the doctrine of subsidiarity and distributism?

    Just a rhetorical question from a die-hard free-market capitalist just learning about Catholic teaching on economics and rethinking his position.

  • Eric,

    As a quick note, I might have been confusing about it, but the “hardened hearts” refer to the people seeing others getting handouts, paying their income into handouts, not the people receiving the handouts.

    I see the growth of government as a necessary effect of the decline of the morals of the populace. As people become less inclined to take care of themselves, the government has no choice but to step in a fill in the gaps. So to some extent I agree that government-funded welfare is a result of uncharitable hearts. I do feel that there’s a feedback in the system, though. As charity decrease, the role of the government increases, further justifying reduction in charity, forcing more government increase, and so on.

    But government exists to be a safety net, so I will never argue against the government providing safety nets. Government exists to protect us from outside threat. We could, perhaps organize that on our own with a bunch of independent militias, but it would be ineffective. Thus it provides a safety net there. Government exists to protect our rights from impinging neighbors. While we might have some success dealing with matters privately, and privately should be our first recourse, the courts exist as a safety-net to assure our rights are preserved. (I just wish they would stop inventing rights at the drop of a hat.) And these are cases that don’t directly touch upon the economic issue we’re talking about. Yes, we cannot count on safety nets that rely solely on charity. That, I believe, is actually called anarchy.

    The government first and foremost has to respect the human dignity of those it governs. Included in human dignity is industry, and compensation for labor. Thus I agree with government policy that regulates the markets so as to prevent monopolies and unjust wages. Thus I also agree with taxes, for I see the government as a body of people also deserving in compensation for their labor.

    The government has the ability to steer us through particular market forces, through taxes and subsidies. It can introduce artificial demands and artificial supply restrictions. And in do so, it can throw the market out of whack.

    Let’s consider colleges, for example. The cost of college is high, true, but its purpose is also to provide a further education and qualifications that make an individual valuable for some select positions in the market. Not everyone needs to go to college. Others can find themselves quite content with trade jobs or as laborers. Not everyone wants to be an executive. I agree, though, that having a college education gives one quite an edge in finding a nice, comfortable, high-paying job, and that many people who would be suited for those positions don’t get the chance because of financial considerations.

    What happens when we subsidize college education? The demand for college increases, as we’ve seen. We’ve struggled to send as many of our youth to college as we can, which in turn increases the demand. The demand is especially for prestigious universities. So what happens to the cost of attending? It goes up. On the flip side, a college needs students for a large portion of its funding, especially private universities that don’t receive state or federal funding. So more students means more funding. Except for the need for more facilities, more professors, more housing, more equipment, and so on. The net result? A mess. Usually the cost of attending continues to soar. At least, that’s how it has been at the University of Wyoming, and this little state university is one of the least-expensive to attend in the nation, even as an out-of-state student.

    Saying that, of course, calls my attention back to your silver-spoon students, who had no clue of the problems people around them suffered. Extrapolating from Wyoming probably makes me one of those, doesn’t it?

    “No, we shouldn’t just subsidize it and give them a free ride and teach them that a lack of personal responsibility is alright; it isn’t.”

    What is the right balance between providing, and enabling sloth? The problem, of course, becomes that the further away from the beneficiary you are, the less capable you are of making that decision. That’s why I feel government should be a last resort, and that family and community should be the first responders. They’re the best ones to know what you need (statistically speaking, anyway).

    To use your benefactor as an example: God bless Mrs. Moroney for her generous donation. Her example definitely supports what you said before about government intervention not preventing charity. But she also, by your very words, justifies my position. She knows you, knows your needs, believes in you, and thus has made a contribution. (You can burn me if I’m speaking out of line, too personal, or such, or if I’m just flat out wrong.) She wouldn’t necessarily do that to someone off the street because she doesn’t know if such a contribution would be worthwhile, what that person actually needed.

    Back to the college example, we don’t know if everyone needs the opportunity to go to college. For some, maybe going to college is the last thing they need. It certainly is telling when you provide a college education, practically free of charge, and many students simply flunk out for lack of care. Maybe it makes more sense to make the last two years free of charge as opposed to the first two. Federal Stafford loans already reflect this: the further you get in college, the more you can borrow.

    The problem I have is that too many of the policies suggested smack of eating the whole harvest without preserving seeds for next year’s planting.

    I would ask, then, what do you view as the ideal economic policy? How would you craft things so that everything works perfectly? I don’t ask this to be flip, but as a serious consideration. For a long time, I was very Ayn Rand-ian about unregulated free markets (while my sister was very, very Marxist, go figure). But I’ve migrated from the radical end to feeling that regulated free-markets, with government safety nets to assist those who fall through the cracks in the market work well. I might go a little further left of that, if convinced, but I cannot see any other economic policy in existence that provides the poor with as many opportunities.

    One thing that always caught me was this. Suppose we all stopped eating fast food and donated that money to charity. Well, that would nice at first, except it would put some 10 million people out of jobs, needing more charity. So suppose we cut out other luxuries in our lives and donated that money to charity. That’s more money given to the needy, but more people out of jobs, too. Keep following this line of thought, and suddenly we have huge unemployment and nowhere near enough money to help everyone. That’s why I was for a long time a follower of Rand’s “Virtue of Selfishness”.

    But then there’s the catholic concern about God and mammon. That’s what changed my mind. Economic growth is important, because it is far more beneficial for a poor man to have a job than handouts. But we can’t subscribe to Rand’s selfishness, because it is selfishness itself that causes the corruption in the markets. And addressing immediate crises in human lives is more important than keeping economic growth high. Putting the growth of capital over all other considerations is just as evil as socialism. But certainly, there has to be some concern about economic growth. I just haven’t figured out the right balance, yet.

  • Tito,

    I would. And the distribution here doesn’t bother me much because it is down at a community level. What worries me about government redistribution is that it is impersonal and wasteful. The thing is, I have no problem with saying that the rich have an obligation to assist the poor. Ideally, I would like that to remain between the rich and the poor without any government intervention. Of course, thing’s don’t work that way.

  • Ryan,

    I was thinking the same thing about distributism. I like the concept, but at the smallest nuclear stage as possible.

    Being raised in a very small town in the middle of the Pacific, I can see this model working well in a neighborhood setting as opposed at the federal or state levels.

  • Ryan,

    You’re misunderstanding me. I can’t answer you point by point, so let me hit a few points. Since we’re talking about the United States, when I say “government,” I’m not necessarily saying the national government. If something can be taken care of at a more local level, then it must be done there first if it can be just as efficient. Therefore, the city government or individual state governments — in my view — bear the responsibility of providing a “safety net” without going beyond its own means. I’m very much in favor of state and local governments providing assistance first to avoid the creation of unnecessary bureaucracies. Moreover, the farther away from the situation one gets, the less pressing it is and the less efficient one is at managing it. So, I think there is a way one can honor the principle of subsidiarity while seeking other principles of Catholic Social Teaching such as preferential option for the poor and vulnerable.

    I think such a half-way measure allows for much common ground debate instead of the polarizing back and forth, endless system of liberals vs. conservatives. Why? Liberals initiate new programs, seek to fund older ones that are falling apart, and they tend to do it especially while having a majority at the national level. In comes the conservatives, they deregulate, cut taxes, cut programs, etc. It goes back and forth and the tug-of-war effects the economy and many who are on the receiving end of such things.

    In my view, human dignity must trump economic growth. A respect for human dignity usually leads to some sort of solidary and community–which usually doesn’t allow for economic collapse. A lack of respect of human dignity leads to a cold machine of unrestricted free-market capitalism, where what’s good for the businesses is good for everyone (which really means almost everybody) and it’s based on a consequentialist ethic of right and wrong, which as I have said, emphasizes profits and shareholders over public interest and I don’t see how this is at all compatitible with Jesus’ teaching. However, to be fair, there must be a working economy if we’re going to be able to help those in need and therefore, the regulation by the government has to be kept to a minimum and this is why I support doing it, as much as possible, away from the federal level so that regional or state problems are solved within the state and only assisted federally if it is necessary.

    There is no such thing as a perfect economic system. But I believe that a free market that has “common good” oriented regulation that is kept to a minimum, without handicapping the market, I think is most effective. But that’s my view and I’m not absolutizing it anyway. Though, I don’t think I’m fundamentally wrong. For example, in regard to minimum wage laws the reason that the Bishops support it is because there have been cases of people being employed for wages that are not sufficient to live decently in our country, particularly to provide for one’s family. Making $5.15 an hour is ridiculous (the current wage is $6.44, I think). Now, arguably, it might have been better for each state to deliver a different minimum wage law, but nevertheless be required to have one could have been a common ground solution. Surely it’s cheaper to live in some states than others. But the fundamental recognition in law that there has to be some relative wage that is fitting to the economic situation of our country that respects human dignity should be established.

    Now in regard to education, you have some good points. But I’ll just point to Texas. I live in a state that is predominantly governed by conservative policies because everyone votes for Republicans. Every fiscal year when we start cutting the budget, education is usually first in line. So in places like “third ward” in Houston, which is essentially a ghetto of blacks and hispanics — the schools are run down, underfunded, science labs have no equipment, teachers are poorly paid. The cost of college as you mention is rising. All of this, but we’re having an 11 billion dollar surplus this year in Texas.

    In my view, it’s not simply the money that’s required, it’s the priortizing and the budgeting. Clinton ended his presidency with four surpluses and a deficit of 5.63 trillion dollars. (I’m not saying that he deserves all the credit — he doesn’t). When Bush leaves office, that deficit will have about doubled. We’re fighting a war that requires us to borrow $10 billion dollars a month. On a side note, over half a million Americans die from various forms of cancer and we spend about $5.5 billion on cancer research. That’s not even a month in Iraq.

    When political conservatives take office, funding for public education and financial aid for students are first in line to be cut and money is delivered elsewhere. So in my view it’s not entirely about cost (costs do matter) but when it comes down to what matters, what doesn’t, what’s more important, and what isn’t, is when I begin to go liberal. I think a lot of problems could be solved if our priorities in our budgets were different.

    And what I really want to get at here is that I’m talking here mainly in theory–sort of like a framework. The approach liberals take, I generally agree with. Now are their policies and tendency toward nationalizing some matters an immediate consequence? I don’t think so. I’d argue that I’m “liberal” and other self-identified liberals sometimes aren’t. Just to give an example or two. If liberals really cared about the weak and vulnerable, they would oppose abortion. If liberals really cared about personal freedom, then they would support transitory welfare systems with strict limits so that Americans don’t become ultra-dependent on the government for survival. In that way, I can argue that I’m adopting a more faithfully “liberal” position.

    I think it’s fair to say — as usual — we agree, more or less, on principle and not on policies.

  • Eric,

    I feel I need to go paragraph by paragraph here…

    P1) Good to get on the same page. I was thinking you only meant federal government. Now that that’s cleared up, with you 100%.

    P2) Still 100%

    P3) Still 100%. I really think that full respect for human dignity and a thriving economy go hand-in-hand, that the second naturally springs from the first. Yes, human dignity must indeed trump economy when it becomes an either-or situation. I think we only differ on when that happens. Maybe the how, as well. We’ll see.

    P4) I’m only cautious about the minimum wage thing. That might be because in Wyoming, in most cities the cost of living is cheap. (Not in Laramie, where college students drive housing prices up, or in Rawlins, which is struggling to house a massive number of construction workers, or in Jackson a.k.a. “Little California”.) There’s a lot I could say about minimum wage, and it reflects back on immigrant workers that cram together in a small house, only staying there to sleep, essentially, as they struggle to make ends meet. But then, I don’t know if finding roommates to help split the cost is a good idea or not, giving the potential of abuse. And I suppose, reluctantly, that it makes sense to index minimum wage against inflation, but minimum wage is minimum wage for a reason. It is the wage that says “I have no skills, yet”. I’d rather see a bill mandating a certain amount of raise every so often than a bill raising minimum wage. Your thoughts on that?

    P5) To fix education, we have to fix our public schools and the success of our students there. I have no good ideas of how to do that. The cure, I don’t think, is as simple as throwing money at the problem. Do you think Texas might be willing to have recruitment of public school teachers on the level that it recruits football players? Get all the public schools together and have a draft of potential teachers, of which stats regarding each one’s teaching ability are publicly known? I’d definitely be willing to distribute some of that $11 billion surplus to help each school acquire teachers up to some set salary cap.

    It seems to me that fixing college, or making college available to more and more people, does little unless we actually make our public schools quality schools again. But then, I’ve also heard that a lot of failing schools are failing due to cultural reasons, not financial ones. Do you know or have any experience with this?

    P6) Priorities are going to be a place we differ. All I can say about your example, though, is that cancer is something that plagues all mankind, the Iraq war that is primarily an American and Iraqi problem. The problem I have with the Iraq War right now, and ever since the terrorists decided to make Iraq the central front, is that the Iraq War seems to be a low priority thing, even with all that we seem to be dumping into it. It doesn’t feel, to me, that we’re taking the war seriously. If we had really been serious about it, ramped things up to the levels of previous wars, I think we’d be out of Iraq by now. And since we thought we could fight Iraq in our spare time, I don’t think we should have gone in in the first place. I guess maybe I would amend what you have to say, then, is not just priorities, but commitment to them. Enough half-baked ideas or empty promises.

    P7) Makes sense to me.

    P8) I talk in theory a lot, too. My field of research is theory. Mathematics is about as theoretical as you get. So don’t worry if you’re getting too theoretical.

    P9) I think, between us, we could hammer out an acceptable policy. Let’s try to have one drafted up to present to the next president, whoever he is!

  • Ryan,

    In regard to your first question on minimum wage. Currently, minimum wage laws are done from the federal level. States can raise the wages higher, but cannot be lower than the federal mandated minimum wage. The notion of a “living wage” was introduced by Pope Leo XIII against the excesses of laissez-faire capitalism and communism. The Holy Father affirmed the right to private property while insisting on the state requiring a living wage. In essence, private property requires state protection and a certain dimension of the common good requires state regulation. Thus, minimum wage is a set legal stature by which the state mandates that all workers be given a “living wage,” which is necessary for a person to achieve a humane standard of living–a person should be able to afford quality housing, foods, utilities, transportation, health care, and minimal leisure.

    Some excerpts of Rerum Novarum:

    “If a worker receives a wage sufficiently large to enable him to provide comfortably for himself, his wife and his children, he will, if prudent, gladly strive to practice thrift; and the result will be, as nature itself seems to counsel, that after expenditures are deducted there will remain something over and above through which he can come into the possession of a little wealth. We have seen, in fact, that the whole question under consideration cannot be settled effectually unless it is assumed and established as a principle, that the right of private property must be regarded as sacred. Wherefore, the law ought to favor this right and, so far as it can, see that the largest possible number among the masses of the population prefer to own property.” (#65)

    “Wealthy owners of the means of production and employers must never forget that both divine and human law forbid them to squeeze the poor and wretched for the sake of gain or to profit from the helplessness of others.” (#17)

    “As regards protection of this world’s good, the first task is to save the wretched workers from the brutality of those who make use of human beings as mere instruments for the unrestrained acquisition of wealth.” (#43)

    How the state ensures a “living wage” can have a variety of forms, I imagine. The most common method is through minimum wage laws. Obviously, I support minimum wage laws. Given the unique structure of the American political system, I don’t think minimum wage laws — as I’ve said — have to be legislated on a national level. Since each state has its own economy, since the price of living in Alabama is not the same as the price of living in New York, then it seems to me preferrable that minimum wage laws still be made, but by the state rather than federal government. That way, the minimum wage in New York or California (places where it’s relatively more expensive to live) be higher than the minimum wage in Louisiana or Nebraska where the cost of living is notably lower. Giving differing state economies, it is more reasonable to not have an across the board minimum wage law. That’s my view on that matter.

    In regard to education, I don’t think we disagree much. We spend more money than any other industrialized nation in the world on education and we have a poor quality of education. One thing — we’re also a much larger country than many others and we have a profoundly different system. So in some ways, I think it’s not always good to compare. There is a need of money, as I noted with schools with outdated textbooks, lacking scientific lab equipment, and poorly paid teachers.

    One thing I think is the emphasis on athletics and not on academics, particularly in the south. The other is the shortage of teachers. Teachers aren’t paid well for all the work they do. A lot they do for free (e.g. staying after school to tutor students for hours). One thing is that education needs to be the item on our list that doesn’t face routine budget cuts. Huge surpluses and problems in our education system such as the ones we have, don’t make much moral sense.

    On the matter of proving the quality of education, I agree entirely. I’m in favor of all but abolishing standardized testing. All it does is gear the entirety of one’s education toward remembering facts to pass some test. The emphasis in education should be on writing well, thinking rationally and critcally, and being able to articulate clearly and synthesize ideas coherently. This usually curbs one’s tendency toward relativism because many of these tenets are present in a liberal arts education.

    Education is also suffering because of at home issues. Students in single parent households are likely to do poorer in school than those who have a traditional family setting. Some parents (Asians especially) are more interested in their children’s academic success than other ethnic groups (African Americans and Hispanics especially). This needs to be a factor that influences our approach to education so that this isn’t a cycling, never-ending reality. The people who grow up to vote, to effect the morality of our country and our culture, come through the education system. There will always be some failing at home and if there isn’t a “safety net” of some sort in the education system to limit cultural and moral relavitism through educating people away from that, we’ll continue to have problems. I suspect in retrospect that one of my high school teachers was a Catholic and that he geared me away from such forms of thinking. Surely, an aversion of relativism isn’t contigent on one’s being Catholic, but simply on being rational (so it’s possible to achieve). After all, everyone who approaches the abortion debate with a poor understanding of morality (and the ‘answerless’ question of when life begins) came through the American education system. It’s why I think it is so fundamental.

    In regard to priortizing issues, I was merely pointing out the fact that it seems that our priorties are misplaced. For someone who calls himself a “liberal,” I think most liberal methods in international policies are severely flawed. To give one example, sending millions of dollars to African governments to help people is commendable in intention, but in policy it doesn’t work. To send money through the machinery of a corrupt government is to waste money because it’ll never reach the people. There is a sufficient amount of food in Africa, it just isn’t distributed justly. I’ve been told (so I’m not sure if it’s true) that the government stores food up and keep it from its citizens. So we have to find more creative ways of dealing with these morally-pressing problems besides throwing American money at it. Essentially, I’m bad mouthing putting more financial power on foreign rather than domestic issues. Cancer was just the example I used. And I too agree that much of what we do, we do half-heartedly, which is an essential ingredient to its failure.

  • Eric,

    I’m ambivalent about standardized testing. For the one year I tested the waters in the college of education, I was exposed to a lot of prejudice about how schooling is to be done. Standardized testing is bad. Dividing students up into tracks is bad. Lots of projects that span many subjects are good. Lessons should be tailored so that the brightest and slowest are each engaged and learning. Grades should be based on rubrics, not the 100 point or A, B, C, D, F scales. Some of these points I agree with, others I don’t. One of my presentations was on standardized testing, and because the prevailing attitude was so negative, I tried to put as much positive spin on it as I could, and I couldn’t muster very much. (Even so, everyone thought I was a crazy conservative who was gung-ho on standardized testing.) But the question becomes, how do you ensure that certain benchmarks are met, that students are actually learning what they need to learn?

    The problem, like in all other areas, is the human factor, especially with teachers. Do we trust all teachers when they say that students have learned what they need to learn, or do we have some other measurement to go by? We can probably trust good teachers, but what about bad ones? But then, how can we trust test written and graded by people who are distant from the students have no idea if the results correspond to the student’s actual abilities? So I don’t think standardized tests are good, but I don’t have a more reasonable alternative, either.

    On the cultural issue affecting education, I’m with you 100%. But I’m not sure how to fix that problem. You can’t legislate that there have to be two parents, and you can’t mandate that parents take sufficient interest. I kind of feel that the only hope is to try to stress to our youth the importance of respect for sex, the sanctity of marriage, and the strength of a stable home in order to try to make life for the next generation better. And that becomes increasingly difficult as the nation is rapidly purging itself of respectable role models.

    As for minimum wage, I can agree that letting the states decide where the minimum is a good idea, especially in the respect for local economies. One of the problems I have is that the minimum wage can only go up. That might be all right if minimum wage is indexed against inflation (though I have arguments about that involving an increase in minimum wage only exacerbating inflation), but there are times when the economy slumps, and companies can only offer lower wages or lay people off. Another problem I have is that I have strong feelings against minimum wage being the base “living wage”. I’m not entirely certain why at the moment. Minimum wage is for the base, green, unskilled worker. Someone who has held a job for a year should not be making minimum wage. He should have seen some raises along the way, at the least. But that is theory, not practice. But here’s the main concern: when you increase the cost of unskilled labor, business tends to be less inclined to hire unskilled labor, and that hurts the unskilled laborers, makes it more difficult to develop skills and build a resume. So I guess the question is: is it really better to have no job at all than a job at $5.15/hr?

    I have no idea how much cost of living in in some places, but I think two people can live frugally in Laramie on about $1500/mo. That ends up being $750 per person take home. Using my sledgehammer approach to taxes (I assume the government simply takes 20% at this level), this amounts to needing to make a little less than $6.00/hr, assuming 40 hours a week, 4 weeks a month. At $5.15 an hour, this means the need to pick up a part-time job, but it is manageable. I know this doesn’t offer much chance of getting ahead, and any emergency can quickly destroy the budget.

    How do these numbers weigh against where you’re at?

    For the priority issues, I feel I might have stepped a little out of line with parts of what I said, and I apologize. And everything you said in your last comment about priorities is dead on, so I don’t have too much to add there.

  • I don’t think you stepped out of line on anything. Your apology is well accepted, but it isn’t necessary.

    To be brief, minimum wage laws are complicated and I don’t think we can come to an exhaustive, objective conclusion on what we should do. You pointed out correctly, I think, that a bare minimum wage can allow a person to live decently if they’re conservative and unyieldingly prudent with their spending habits. However, the slightest emergency can lead them to financial ruin. All I have to say is look at the skyrocketing cost of health care and the basic requirement of education today — with students needing supplies for projects, entire classes being mandated to purchase something, etc. The greater the number of people in this situation, the worse off we’ll be. Because we can’t have that many people fall through the cracks and expect our economy to survive. At the same time, we have to promote personal virtue and responsibility and not go into communism. So it’s a fine line.

    I agree entirely on standardized testing. I did change the standard of measuring progress: “The emphasis in education should be on writing well, thinking rationally and critcally, and being able to articulate clearly and synthesize ideas coherently.” I’m not opposed to testing if the entirety of your education is geared toward the goal of a sort of liberal arts — writing, analyzing, critical thinking skills, and being able to synthesize (coherently) information. If the education is good, then any sort of standardized test at the end of the day should be fairly simple. That’s currently not the case. Our education is geared toward passing a test and not toward being a fully developed human with knowledge of history, the arts, and the capacity to articulate and communicate effectively orally or in writing. Therefore, with the failure to do well on standardized tests, standards of education become increasingly lower, more class time is spent on taking practice tests, etc, than on actually developing these deeply needed skills. I think that’s why education is in such a crisis.

    I truly support any American who teaches their children at home because of personal disatisfcation with the current system. I’m glad this conversation is happening here because it deeply concerns me that Christians, especially Catholics, are not at the front of the American education reform movement. Most of whom I know (or rather, I have discussed it with) are just are very cynical and apathetic toward it. Behavior, values, etc. are learned. And if we cynically criticize culture and education, but aren’t the agents of change, our Christian values will receive — at most — lipservice. That’s what has happened in this country. Every sort of moral relativism, every affirmation of birth control, religious relativism, etc. will be conditioned into the next generation–in both education and culture. This is what I think happened in the late 20th century. The education system was taken away and Christians have not been on the forefront in reform and influence. We’ve created private schools, began to home school, but the mainstream public education that influences the majority, we’ve left to its own designs. And we’re paying for it now.

13 Responses to Send Me Your Poor…

  • The fear with immigration seems, to me at least, to be rooted in the notion that if we don’t limit immigration, then we will pluck the tree bare of fruit and not have any left for planting. All the hidden costs that illegal immigrants bring suggest there is some reason for concern there. A surplus of labor tends to depress wages, which isn’t necessarily the end of the world, unless someone out there is mandating unreasonably high minimum wages. But the fact that so many of these immigrants have no problem finding people who will hire them–coupled with the fact the US has had for years a very low unemployment rate–states this isn’t as large a problem as people think. Personally, I’m all for finding all the illegal immigrants and at the very least handing them green cards (or whatever the permission-to-work tag is now).

    Culture is another matter, as well. The problem with the Hispanic wave of illegal immigrants is that they tend to be isolated from the rest of the nation. What I don’t know is whether that is the fault of the Hispanics–wanting to come, pluck the tree bare, and then hurry home without being tainting by US culture–or us–so prejudiced against the immigrant, legal or not, that we isolate them. Regardless of which case it is, we still could do a better job of reaching out to our immigrant communities and help them more.

  • Why is the standard a condo, two cars, a game cube, a cell phone, and Levis what makes “life worth living”. I understand that you did not actually promote this as the standard, but I think it is worth discussing. Who actually has this standard?

    I think the problem is this is what we demand, not for them but for us. People aren’t affraid of having neighbors that are poor. People are affraid of being poor, or as you put it, not living the “American Lifestyle”. Thats why we don’t want to have the kind of redistribution it takes to provide for things like healthcare to immigrants, because we need to live our “American Lifestyle”.

  • Ryan,

    I’d agree in finding culture and education more troubling than economics in many ways. Though to a great extent, that’s part of a larger part of breakdown in education and culture in the US. I’m not clear that we’re doing any better inculcating education and American culture in native born poor children than we are with the children of immigrants.

    Michael,

    Why is the standard a condo, two cars, a game cube, a cell phone, and Levis what makes “life worth living”. I understand that you did not actually promote this as the standard, but I think it is worth discussing. Who actually has this standard?

    What I was thinking of (though expressing it in a slightly satiric way) is that we have a standard of what constitutes “poverty” in the US which is based on our own standards resulting from living in the US: a family should be able to afford its own, stand alone home; you should be able to afford a good working car; your house or apartment should be at least a certain size; etc.

    Obviously, even a very working class lifestyle in the US is very, very well off by the standards of many countries in the world. So given the chance, you might find a three generation family with eight people living in a one bedroom apartment in the US — four adults earning minimum wage pooling their resources to make expenses — and yet compared to their life in Guatamala two years before they might feel like they’re doing very well.

    Now my approach to the above situation would be to say, “They’re getting the chance they want to create wealth and work their way out of poverty into a US lifestyle.” However, I think we often hear people say, “It’s horrible that we allow immigrants to be treated this way, why don’t we pay them a decent wage?”

    At a basic supply/demand level, though, I don’t see how we could both guarantee that they’d make a wage much higher than the current US minimum wage; allow nearly unlimitted immigration; and avoid having high unemployment.

    And so, since even at current low wage levels an immigrant to the US is often making 5-10x what he or she would have been making back home in an undeveloped or semi-developed country — I’d tend to support opening up legal immigration a lot and allowing there to be lots of low wage labor which gradually creates wealth and lifts itself out of poverty.

    However, I think the two forces pushing back against that idea (probably far to strongly for us to ever adopt such a policy) are:

    1) Low skill/low education workers in the US who don’t want to see their wages go down because there is a large supply of immigrant labor willing to do the same work for less.

    2) Well intentioned people across the political spectrum but especially on the left don’t want to see immigrant families be poor — and so would rather either keep immigrants out or provide so much support in terms of either minimum wage hikes or social services that lots of immigration results in high unemployment and/or unsustainable needs for social services spending.

  • The old “lump of labor” fallacy always gets rolled out in tough times. It’s still a fallacy, though. Immigration actually leads to economic growth; it doesn’t steal jobs from domestic workers.

  • Someone please argue how Hispanic culture is inferior to American culture…

  • Mark,

    I didn’t see where anyone said that Hispanic culture is inferior to American culture. But more generally, do you have a problem passing judgment on a culture? Even if, say, that culture practiced infanticide or virgin sacrifices as part of its way of life? It’s people who are created equal, not the attributes of their culture…

  • j.

    True.

    But I guess I have this quetion? why do we have the intense focus on insuring/insisting that Hispanics are thoroughly assimilated into ‘Amercan culture.? And what in God’s name is American culture, that is seemingly so said to be a threatened by unassimilated, outside influences?

    I look back at the educational endeavors of the 1920s and see some of the untrue, terrible things that were simply assumed about Jews, Italians, the Poles etc.

    Is not the concern coming from the same ignorance and/or prejudice?.

  • -I’m all for open boarders,-

    I spent eighteen months after college as a full-time volunteer in shelters that aided illegal immigrants (actually, about half that time was on the Mexican side working with the homeless and running a women’s shelter). So, I don’t share the fear or hatred of the immigrant. Actually, I like Spanish and Latin culture more than I do American, and I only speak Spanish in the home, so I am quite comfortable with immigration.

    However, I could never agree with some of my fellow volunteers that we should have open borders. That seems reckless. What has always annoyed me about the immigration situation is the way it is set up. The truth is that for many years we had nearly non-existent unemployment and these workers were not taking jobs from people (I never lost a teaching job to an illegal immigrant and I never wanted the job in the orchard busting my ass for minimum wage). Basically, we needed these people but we made them go through hell to get here (Pragmatically, the border enforcement is a good idea: it generally only allows the strong and young to get through and then we exploit them for labor. Obviously, that is an inhumane practice and, to cover it up, that is why the immigrants are always painted as a problem rather than the solution to our need for cheap physical labor).

    I just wish that our policy could be more honest. Admit we need a certain amount of people and recruit them!

    It always amuses me when people say, “Why don’t they just come legally?” They think that it is just as simple as dropping into the US consulate and getting papers. It took me over two years (and the frequent assistance of Senator Jon Kyl’s office) to immigrate my wife and my own children, and I am a natural-born US citizen. Can you imagine how hard it is for Jose the orchard worker from Nicaragua? It is impossible, actually. You have to meet income and property requirements that are unreachable for your typical Latin American worker. They have little choice but to come illegally.

  • Rob,

    I think you bring up an important and (outside of those who’ve actually had to deal with the current immigration regulations) little known point: Whatever the right approach is, the status quo of immigration regulation is just plain disfunctional. It’s very, very difficult and time consuming to immigrate legally (coming in on a student visa and then getting an employer to sponsor you for a work visa is probably the easiest route) and the combination of a very difficult immigration process with occasionally lax enforcement is that we end up actively selecting for people who are willing to ignore the law and sneak in. (Which in turn leaves them most open to being exploited.)

    As for open boarders — I personally think that it would be most just to allow anyone without a criminal record or a serious communicable disease in (19th century style) but I don’t know if I’d actually support the policy if there was a vote on it tomorrow in that I don’t think the US is open to dealing with the consequences of really huge immigration. Realistically in the short term, I think we need to expand the quotas and simplify the process, and enforce what laws that we do have.

    Mark,

    Someone please argue how Hispanic culture is inferior to American culture…
    [snip]
    But I guess I have this quetion? why do we have the intense focus on insuring/insisting that Hispanics are thoroughly assimilated into ‘Amercan culture.? And what in God’s name is American culture, that is seemingly so said to be a threatened by unassimilated, outside influences?

    While I don’t think it’s impossible to say that in certain cases one culture is inferior to another (not all cultures are equal) I don’t think that “Hispanic culture” (whatever that means — “Hispanics” being a very broad and diverse group) is inferior to US culture.

    However, I think society is generally only healthy and free of strife when people share a common culture. That doesn’t mean they can’t have differences based on their culture of origin, but it’s important that they be able to speak to each other (shared language) and that they share certain common knowledge and archetypes derived from their nation’s history, political philosophy and literature.

    This isn’t something unique to the US. It seems to me that if one was going to emmigrate to Japan, one would owe it to one’s new country to learn at least some Japanese and develop an understanding of Japanese history and literature as it applies to modern Japanese culture. Similarly, if you moved to France, you’d owe it to them to learn some French and learn enough of their history and culture to understand “Frenchness” as your new fellow countryment would.

    In the same sense, if our own country is to resist becoming a Balkanized federation of unassimilated cultures which don’t have any interest in each other, it’s important that US citizens learn English in school and develop an understanding of American history and literature (including American political archetypes.) That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t retain an appreciation of their own culture of origin as well — but there needs to be a sharing in real culture — not just consumer MTV culture that you pick up from the television and radio.

    Which is why I think it’s essential that our schools do a massively better job than they have in recent decades.

  • DC,

    I forgot to make my point! LOL

    I was going to say, even with my background, I think that any country has the right, really a duty, to defend it’s borders, even seal them off. So an “open” border would just be reckless. But our present kookoo pokicy is essentially an open border, since the difficulty of legal immigration encourages people to cross the border anywhere but at a legal checkpoint.

    However, I atke issue with your concern about Balkanization. This country has always been on the verge of Balkanizaton and has always survived. Common language? There are still (small) places where French and German are spoken first in this country. 100 years ago, upstate New York and much of New England were French speaking (and Cajun in Louisiana). Lots os Pennsylvanians were German speakers (the first World War convinced them to change that, though!). These were not people who learned foreign languages as a hobby. They spoke “foreign” languages at home and in business! Now, though, those areas are practically museums, little Williamsburgs. The same will happen in the Southwest. It behooves people to learn English. The ones that aren’t learning English are the parents (I dare you to pick up a foreign language after a childhood of little or no education and having six kids to support!). But their kids, the ones born here, are native English speakers just like you and I. I know. I taught these kids for ten years.

    If there is anything I am worried about, it is that they WILL assimilate into our sick culture. I find it hard to relax when I see the ease with which the kids of simple, earnest, Catholic immigrants become drug-using, abortion-seeking, “good Americans”.

  • Rob,

    I don’t necessarily disagree with you much on the assimilation question. I don’t have a problem with Spanish newspapers and radio stations and some of the stores I go into being primarily Spanish speaking — that’s just a matter of serving the people who are local. (Back in Los Angeles our neighborhood supermarket went through stages of being mostly in Spanish, then Russian and later Arabic and Turkish.)

    What did worry me a good bit with the California schools was that because they got paid more for “ESL” students than English-speaking students, they’d often shunt kids off into classes that were mostly taught in Spanish for all eight years of their elementary education. However, they didn’t cover Spanish grammar very well, so the Spanish spoken was often low quality, and for “Hispanic culture” there was a lot of messing around about “Aztec culture” because they felt uncomfortable discussing anything that was Catholic in a public school setting.

    So you’d end up with kids who sounded uneducated in both Spanish and English and didn’t have a real grasp of either culture — though they were definitely fluent in the trashy pop-culture which pours out of American TV sets every day.

    Though I should say: Although the ESL classes tended to cover less math and writing than they should have (and thus hurt kids in the long run) — I don’t think that the “normal” classes in most of our public schools do a very good job of instilling American and Western Culture. So the problem is certainly wider than just dealing with immigration.

  • -there was a lot of messing around about “Aztec culture” because they felt uncomfortable discussing anything that was Catholic in a public school setting. –

    LOL Aren’t liberals a riot? Yeah, because the average Mexican kid really identifies with the ancient Aztecs more than he does with Christianity. Gimme a break.

    -I don’t think that the “normal” classes in most of our public schools do a very good job of instilling American and Western Culture.-

    But they do. They just don’t instill the culture we want them to instill. George Washington? Naaah. Bill of Rights? Plymouth Rock? In God We Trust? Naaaah! Instead, they teach the permissive, nebulous and totally unidentifiable blob-culture that is the new America. By “blob”, I mean that most people no longer stand for anything or try to even say anything, because all viewpoints are equally offensive, so the solution is to make everything “okay”. The new culture is non-culture…

    Ah, what am I doing? I’m preaching to the choir, right?

  • ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind…and…you shall love your neighbor as yourself’.

    There are no liberals, conservatives, Mexicans or Americans. There are only children of God. There are no British, Canadians, Brazilians, black-white-or-brown.

    National pride, saluted flags and hoarded money are idols when revered in greater sanctity than the greatest commandments of our Lord.

    Would Christ turn away a desperate immigrant? Would Christ tell someone to speak the right language? Would Christ turn away a person who is not Christian? Would Christ care that you would not share for fear you may lose a piece of your fortune?

    We should put our fears aside and trust in the Lord.