Watch these before quoting me a social encyclical

Watch these before quoting me a social encyclical

I’ve been largely absent from blogging the past few weeks (you’re welcome!) due to work. Weren’t all-nighters supposed to end in grad school? Anyway, I stumbled across a series of four videos that would make excellent primers for anyone interested in economic or political issues, including folks of a religious inclination who wish to bring Christian social thought to bear on such issues. I’ve been saying, until I’m blue in the face, that Catholics will never be taken seriously in the policy arena unless we get our economic and political understanding right. Unfortunately, most offered Catholic opinions, informed as they are on Catholic social teaching (Rerum Novarum and such) are usually woefully ignorant of even basic economics (sometimes admittedly so). It’s great to know that the Church supports a living wage, but what exactly does that mean in practice? Is it even possible to practically implement? While the Church’s voice can legitimately be taken seriously in debates on bioethics, because Catholics have delved deeply into that and related disciplines, it seems to almost proudly stand aloof from the discipline of economics. Check that; I suppose one could consider the antiquated antagonism of the “capital vs. labor” mentality as a branch of economics, but it’s been overturned for a few centuries now. Despite that, the Church and her social theorists seem determined to cling to economic theories that still want to rage against the (literal) machine. These four videos provide some refreshing insights for those interested in Catholic social doctrine. Since papal encyclicals are not infallible, even those that suggest that human laborers have more dignity than human capitalists, keep...
“Some Economists are Idiots;” no argument from this one

“Some Economists are Idiots;” no argument from this one

Andrew pointed me to this article lamenting the use of anonymous-but-still-to-be-trusted “some economists” in a New York Times article on taxation of oil companies: Large oil companies typically pay high rates, but some economists say that the high rates do not cover the pollution costs imposed on society. “Some economists” are likely referring to the idea of externalities: market activity can occasionally create costs or benefits that are borne or enjoyed by people other than the buyer and seller. In this case, the production or consumption of oil apparently creates pollution costs that neither oil companies nor oil consumers are obliged to pay for. The cost of the pollution, though, is borne by society and so, the argument goes, in order to equate the oil companies’ private costs (which don’t include pollution) with their true social costs (which do include pollution) the oil companies should be assessed pollution taxes. If the oil company were forced to pay the tax, the argument goes, then it would produce less oil and therefore less pollution. A few flaws seem to surface: As the article makes clear, oil and gas companies already pay a pretty hefty corporate income tax as it is, compared to other industries. (As a sidebar, it seems to contradict the principle of justice when companies in different industries pay different tax rates. Even presuming that oil and gas pollutes and that its high tax rate includes a pollution tax, does oil and gas pollute more than industrials, which pay a 13-percentage-point lower tax rate? Is it just to penalize some businesses way more than others? Why and/or when?) It is notoriously...
Pushing back the limits of subsidiarity

Pushing back the limits of subsidiarity

Micah suggested I add my 1.5 cents on this post; an excerpt: In broad outline, “Subsidiarists” are people who are fearful or hostile to the state provision of social welfare – preferring that charity be dispensed at lower levels of society: communities and families. “Solidarists,” by contrast, believe that society as a whole is often the best administrator of social welfare, and prefer that things such as health insurance be run by the state. I find these to be odd definitions. The Catechism says the following (1883,1885, 1894): Subsidiarity, according to which “a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to co- ordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good…” The principle of subsidiarity is opposed to all forms of collectivism. It sets limits for state intervention. It aims at harmonizing the relationships between individuals and societies. [aside: How are “societies” distinct from individuals? How can an individual have a relationship with a “society?” Is not a society just a collection of other individuals? Reply below in the comments] In accordance with the principle of subsidiarity, neither the state nor any larger society should substitute itself for the initiative and responsibility of individuals and intermediary bodies. Brown’s definitions are quite odd. There is clearly nothing in the Catechism about being “fearful or hostile to the state provision of social welfare.” The principle merely recognizes communities of higher and lower...
Lottery Question: Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Lottery Question: Why Do Good Things Happen to Bad People?

Most of us have pondered at one time another the ageless question: why do bad things happen to good people? Occasioned by the recent record-breaking lottery excitement, I’m flipping the question: why do good things happen to bad people? When I was a teenager, I babysat for some very wealthy family friends who had a second home in an exclusive gated community in Kansas City. It was, in my humble expertise, a posh mansion. One morning, my parents received a call from these friends and went to the computer to watch a video of the most recent lottery winner. There on the screen was the latest winner, who had just purchased the home next to our friends’ posh manor – he was a redneck. Within a month, we heard that he had placed a large trampoline in the front yard, a major faux pas in an exclusive neighborhood. In the time since that incident, I’ve married into a self-described redneck family and looking back, I can’t imagine that I would have allowed the attitudes of my neighbors to keep me from installing a trampoline, either. I certainly can’t say that I think rednecks are “bad people,” but much of America would consider them unworthy to win the lottery: why did they get to win the lottery? Why do good things happen to bad people? While the traditional question (Why do bad things happen to good people?) is an essential matter of justice in an often unjust world, our question, no less traditional, is a matter of ingratitude. The real core of the question is not why good things happen to...
The Distinction Between Welfare and Charity

The Distinction Between Welfare and Charity

When I was a sweet, naïve freshman in college, I was inspired by a “liberal”, philosophy, namely, that if we all paid higher taxes, then fewer people would be poor. It seemed like such an easy and straightforward way to help so many people out, who could possibly be against that? Slowly I began to realize that this philosophy was too easy. I knew lots of faithful Republicans whom I knew for a fact were definitely “pro helping poor people” and yet were opposed to this government philosophy. One day I was eating lunch with a notoriously Republican friend of mine, and on our walk back to the dorms, he stopped to give his leftovers to a man begging on the street. We had been debating politics and I asked in all sincerity, “If you Republicans really love the poor, why are you against the government helping them?” It’s a simple question, but it seems to be at the crux of a major divide in our country today. I actually can’t remember his response, but as the years went by and I discerned my role as a Catholic in politics at a deeper level, I realized that charity, freely given out of love is what God asks of us. Charity that is coerced by punishment of law (through taxes) isn’t charity at all, it’s rendering to Caesar what is his.  Of course, rendering unto Caesar is important, we need a society with roads, bridges and stoplights. In fact, Jesus endorses this kind of giving, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesars, render unto God what is God’s”. Being charitable is...