Paul Ryan, the USCCB and the Poor

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A fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal by economist Antony Davies and Catholic theologian Kristina Antolin:

Someone is twisting the Catholic Church’s teachings on caring for the poor, but it isn’t Paul Ryan. His controversial budgetary ideas demonstrate that he has a better grasp of Catholic social thought than do many of the American Catholic bishops.

The culmination of centuries of theological and philosophical thought, the church’s teachings cannot simply be satisfied by a government edict to “feed the poor.” Commanding “Let there be light!” works fine for God, but for mortal beings, edicts don’t carry the same punch.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has long supported government interference in the economy as a means to help the poor. But we suspect the bishops haven’t fully thought this through: If God really did favor a top-down approach to poverty reduction, why wouldn’t He establish a government with the power to wipe away poverty on demand instead of leaving things to chance and the possibility that someone like Mr. Ryan would come along and mess up His plans?

Perhaps we dehumanize the poor when we treat them as nothing more than problems to be solved, and we dehumanize the rich when we treat them as wallets to be picked.

Wealth and poverty are catalysts for bringing the rich and the poor together in community, and community is the hallmark of the church’s mission on Earth. Government is not community. Government is one of community’s tools, a coercive one we use when it is necessary to force people to behave in ways they would not otherwise behave voluntarily.

Go here to read the rest.  Ever since the New Deal, the Church in America has gotten way too comfortable looking to government as a solution to the problem of poverty.  This flies in the face of the traditional Catholic emphasis that helping the poor is an individual duty imposed upon all of us by God, with the Church through her charitable activivties taking the lead.  Christ said “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and the unto God the things that are God’s.”  Looking to Caesar to help the poor shifts the duty from us onto the State, a duty which the State routinely performs poorly, often trapping the poor into lives of dependence upon the State for a meager living.  Some people in our society, through no fault of their own, cannot work due to mental or physical impairment.  Those should always receive assistance from the State for a basic standard of living.  For all others, we should recall the admonition of Saint Paul:   [8] Neither did we eat any man’s bread for nothing, but in labour and in toil we worked night and day, lest we should be chargeable to any of you. [9] Not as if we had not power: but that we might give ourselves a pattern unto you, to imitate us. [10]For also when we were with you, this we declared to you: that, if any man will not work, neither let him eat.

[11] For we have heard there are some among you who walk disorderly, working not at all, but curiously meddling. [12] Now we charge them that are such, and beseech them by the Lord Jesus Christ, that, working with silence, they would eat their own bread.  Our charitable efforts should always be geared to teaching those who are unemployed to find work and become self-supporting.  Many of the disorders in our society are attributable to our fostering a culture of dependence upon government and subsidizing sloth.  To most Catholics of earlier generations this would have seemed common sense.  That it may strike many Catholics as radical today is a testament to how far off the beam we have gotten as a society.

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  1. Sometimes the safety net can become a hammock. Sometimes it can also become a snare. I recently did some research into GDP growth in Chile. It seems they are doing almost everything right, although they do need to do something to reduce income disparity. Personally, I think the best thing we could do to help the poor is to pursue GDP growth with low public debt and low inflation. Public debt represents a huge transfer of wealth from taxpayers to bondholders. I recall a push by the USCCB for debt forgiveness in Third World nations.

    It is a bit inconsistent to lament public debt in poor nations and encourage the same in wealthier nations. In both cases it represents the same drain on the economy and hurts the poor when it approaches the levels the U.S. currently owes. This is money that does not invest in factories, does not build roads, and does not pay doctors. It crowds out the private investment that is necessary to grow GDP. It goes from the hands of taxpayers to the hands of bondholders, and in that way tends to increase income disparity rather than correct it. Well-paying jobs created by private investment of savings is what reduces income disparity. Lack of private investment caused by crowing out from government debt ensures future unemployment. If the USCCB were serious about helping the poor, they would encourage the elimination of debt in the United States, just as they encouraged it for Third World countries.

  2. Bottom line, Jesus never directed his disciples and followers to get government to do what he directed them to do, themselves. I’ve never had anybody be able to show me where in the bible Jesus said, “Go get government to feed, clothe and go take care of the poor.”

    Catholics who deceive themselves believing they are “doing the Lord’s work” supporting the Democrat Party, and believe that they, themselves, are “better people” than others for it, are sadly mistaken. NO ONE is going to heaven because they are a Democrat, or for that matter any other party affiliation. There are some parties that may keep you from going to heaven – the KKK, the Nazi Party, the Communist Party, according to Catholic teachings concerning the 5th Commandment. And I would add to that the Democrat Party because of their support and promotion of the denial of the right to life to innocent human beings by legal abortion. Certainly, if the Church teaches “it’s a sin to deny one their human rights” as do those who join the KKK, the Nazi Party, and the Communist Party, then how can Catholics who give their name to, and vote for the Democrat Party candidates, be exempt? The murder of babies is nullified because the Democrat Party has co-opted a Christian teaching? And doing so for the sake of developing a permanent voting block? By making poverty a permanent way of life through government hand outs of other peoples’ confiscated possessions (earnings), the Democrat Party has also feed the beast of covetousness in the “poor” and “lower income,” which this President is so skilled in doing.

  3. It seems that assistance for the poor is, and has been for three generations, in place for those who access such. It’s curious to see how the bar of benefits has been raised as well. A lot of the food, shelter, clothing, medical, education, furnishings, cars, contraception and technological necessities provided are beyond what some wage earners can materially acquire.

    Much is made of providing civic ethnic cultural programs and celebrations, ethnic church programs funded by charities which are not supported by these beneficiaries, and on to such as language accommodations. There is a contrast in removing the ‘American flag’, exclusive suppression of Christian prayer and Holy Day symbols (Manger scenes at Christmas), Christmas Carols, and many traditional customs of America which celebrate the basis of the country to which many immigrate. July 4th, Independence Day, is marketed as picnics and fireworks. November 11th, Veterans’ Day, is a long weekend of shopping early for Christmas gifts. May 31st, Memorial Day, is marketed and reported as the summer picnic or getaway kickoff. In my city, halloween decorations exceed Christmas decorations. March 17th, St. Patrick’s Day, is a party for wearing green because he brought the faith to Ireland? Easter – bunnies and candy?

    Accommodations have ironically created legal tangles for tradition to be included. This is not the religious fanaticism of Catholics and Christians demanding that they be removed from the public square. Catholics and Christians are now asking to be included once again in the public square.

    Tolerance exists. The point though is now so exreme that those demanding tolerance are becoming dangerously intolerant of different forms of lifestyles, like we saw with Chick A Fil, just because a man said he supports traditional family structure.
    Unlike the news of Coptic Christians in danger of being crucified now in enlightened 2012, the danger of the mindlessness aspect is not as life threatening here yet. Insanity of selfishness is growing where love of God, life and others is being forgotten and ignored.

    Someone just rang the doorbell to speak for E. Warren for Senate and was dismayed by hearing that I was registered Independent and decided to vote as pro-life as possible. He said that I didn’t care about women’s choice or the welfare enrolled and would have gone on. All I could say was that it was my choice to be ‘pro-life’ because I couldn’t stand for murder of babies in the now various ways being defined . I was told that I was a one issue voter and the Pope would love me. I said I hoped so, then said the money numbers to pay for the promises didn’t work for me either. He shook his head like I was shameful and left.

    Some elderly at church are ‘surely lifelong’ Democrats and why change now – heard that conversation in passing and thought – they would be hurt to know the fiscal irresponsibility and betrayal by their affiliation .

    Clear, responsible approach to the debt and keeping promises in place to those who need to know that there is even a debt problem is a gift we need to embrace and support. The things that the more liberal population want are already theirs, so in 2012 they have to wage word war to divide and conquer.

    It’s time for a wake-up calls – and thanks for the light in the darkness during this election process.

  4. Alphatron Shinyskullus:

    Truth. Catholic U. of Chile economics scholars closely associated themselves with the U of Chicago econ dept. and Milton Friedman.

    After General Pinoche saved Chile from the bolshevists, he commissioned the “Chicago boys” to cut government central planning, privatize the Chilean model of social security, end catastrophic central planning, reduce collectivist taxes and spending, institute free market reforms, etc.

    In the next decades, Chile moved from being tied with Argentina as an economic basket-case to enjoying among the highest median family income in Latin America.

    Argentina is still an economic basket case as will be the USA if Obama gets four more years to finish off (what the USCCB and Obama-worshiping imbeciles view as) the evil, unjust private sector.

    A close friend of mine knows about the catholic bishops. He told me the super-secret (eyes-only) USCCB, Post VatII translation of Matt 25 read: “I was hungry and you voted democrat . . . ”

    I wish that I was certain that I was just kidding . . .

  5. T. Shaw: I knew about the University of Chicago connection, but not that it was also the Catholic University of Chile.

    Chile employs a countercyclical monetary and fiscal policy, has no appreciable public debt, and encourages investment through privatization of the national pension fund. Rather than being a temptation for politicians, pension funds go to support investment, which reaches about 25% of GDP. This has fueled enormous GDP growth and lifted people out of poverty. We need to be doing what they are doing.

    Regarding the translation of the NAB, it seems the feminists had a higher priority.

  6. Medicaid covers most nursing home residents (60% or 67% from two internet sources I read). Therefore Catholic old age homes like St. Ann’s in Jersey City, N.J. run by nuns for decades exist and function based mostly on funds from Medicaid money.
    Medicaid Fed and state expenditures in 2010 were 401.1 billion dollars. The Vatican is thought to have 1 billion dollars in investments. If the Vatican donated their entire savings to Medicaid, it would not make a dent….it would be 1/401 of the need. Catholics gave $60 million to help Haiti. The Vatican gave $200,000 each to Haiti, Japan, and Iraq. The scale of the problem in the US is way beyond the Catholic charity level.
    Medicaid pays for 37% of childbirths, pre natal care, and sixty days of post partum care for those females making less than $15K and who have no other insurance like a secretary in a small business on Main St. like an Interior design shop….or think of a girl working the counter in
    a bakery. Therefore Medicaid pays for 37% of Catholic Hospital births plus the pre natal and post partum money that goes to doctors. This Medicaid money is not going into the pocket of the delivering bakery counter girl but rather into the system, including Catholic, that is delivering the baby. A ten week abortion costs much less…around $400. Ryan cuts therefore logically could increase abortions but that is not Ryan’s fault unless he sees an alternative.
    If unleashing entrepeneurial energy leads to great jobs, how is a bakery counter girl affected.
    Is she suddenly capable of software engineering at the new nearby factory….or will someone move to that spot from India?
    I think neither party knows what to do about an underclass that is bigger than we think when 42% of Americans die with an estate that is under $10,000. They both know that the deficit must be reduced but no one knows the consequences like increased abortions and shoddy coverage of the elderly sick non millionaires… Medicaid cuts back.

  7. Forget about Medicaid. If they don’t turn around this train wreck, there will be mass rapine, starvation, and violence.

    Get real and stop letting the lying pols run us into Hell on Earth.

    Last week, my first reaction was, “I can suspend my crisis investment program.” Not.

    No we cannot.

  8. Bill, the problems that you point out make it even more imperative that we engage in a policy of fiscal and monetary restraint, encouraging the investment needed to expand our GDP. Medical costs are increasing much faster than GDP, and so we can expect Medicare liabilities to expand faster than GDP. Government spending is being fueled by debt, and high levels of government debt have always been a hindrance to economic growth. If we want social programs to continue, they have to be done with fiscal restraint. A good source for viewing the incredible growth in social programs can be found at

    It’s an interactive table, so click on government current receipts and expenditures, then table 3.12, government social benefits. Many of the programs listed are growing much faster than the economy is, which means that they are on an unsustainable path unless something is done to either curb benefits or expand growth in GDP. But you can’t expand both public benefits and GDP at the same time given our current level of public debt because the public sector has crowded out the investment necessary for GDP growth. We have to engage in restraint of public benefits and increase our level of investment to have any hope of obtaining the kind of economy the USCCB wants us to have. Only when we have resumed a path of strong economic growth can we begin to expand the amount of public benefits that senior citizens will require. Of course, those same senior citizens failed to save, failed to have children who could support them, and now demand that these same diminished future generations provide for them NOW, and pay when they are in the workforce, without any hope of having the same level of benefits for themselves if we continue on our present course.

  9. Please explain why those “through no fault of their own, cannot work due to mental or physical impairment” should “always receive assistance from the State for a basic standard of living.” Why should people in this category be cared for by the state rather than by charitable organizations?

  10. If a charity could do it I would be all in favor of it. However no charity I can think of has the resources for life time support. Fortunately the people in this category are not numerous compared to the 50% of American households currently receiving some form of government assistance. One very good argument for trimming dependence upon government is that it frees up huge resources to help those who are truly unable, through no fault of their own, to help themselves.

  11. When Medicare was instituted, nursing homes were built by the private sector. Government cooperated by passing regulations that said that grandma had to have her own apartment with bath, and kitchen if she was to stay at home. Three generations in a household were forbidden by law. Grandma couldn’t watch the little children, answer the phone, peel potatoes, read to the children, be there for them when they came home from school. Grandma was needed to fill the enterprising nursing homes which Medicare will pay for. Head Start was initiated, then Day Care. Mom and dad had to have two incomes to pay the taxes that funded grandma’s nursing home, Head Start and Day Care. The help, tradition and wisdom that grandma could bring to the family was outlawed. The family was outlawed by the social engineers and the greedy. Pay your taxes and shut up. We will tell you how your tax dollars will be spent. Government manufactured “the poor” and invented “compassionate care” to control the money. These programs made as many of “the poor” as it helped. Some good came from it, but not enough good to justify the destruction of our families and culture, and none to justify taxation to fund what a citizen rejects and abhors.

  12. Alphatron,
    Yes except to the lumping of all medicaid seniors together at the end. A person could be a celibate laymen or a couple who were sterile etc etc and they all could have saved several hundred thousand dollars plus a house yet if in their sixties they had e.g. a totally disabling stroke that let them live but not walk, after ICU in a hospital, they would enter a skilled nursing facility where medicare would pay for the first 100 days, then if they were the last spouse, their savings and house would go to the skilled nursing home at around the rate of $50 to $70K a year after which medicaid would cover them per year until they died. Sixty to sixty seven percent of those in nursing homes are covered by medicaid. Other elder people have children who themselves run into huge bills e.g. autism therapy bills which are uncovered by insurance. Long term health insurance…new and not thought of in the past… runs over $2K a year which is light for those who are well covered in other areas like a northeast teacher who has health coverage and pension but it is heavy for those uncovered for neither health nor pension like a hardware store owner who is paying $12K for family health care insurance on his own per year.
    I don’t know the answer.
    As to medicaid and single mothers, as long as the US Government’s concept of free speech allows tv shows to propagate fornication as humorous to the young…Two and a Half Men…How I Met Your Mother…then the US judicial system is making the bed the US has to lie in. Some Catholics working class and tv years ago did the same humorous propagating of drunkeness….Catholic Dean Martin in particular back in the early decade of tv.

  13. David:

    I work for an insurance company, and I sometimes have to evaluate disability cases. The cost is enormous, and well beyond the scope of charity which ebbs and flows with economic conditions. There are some costs which should be borne by all members of society, Lifetime support is typically a few million dollars. Support for the disabled includes more than room and board. You need medical care, and sometimes attendant care. Even with funds invested to grow over that lifetime, given the mess the Fed has made of our money supply, returns are very, very low.

    That said, there are sheltered workshops which help some of the disabled be productive, and these are typically charitable ventures. But not all of the disabled are able to participate, and it can be difficult to find work for those who can do some work because they are not as competitive as those without disabilities.

    The government should do things that the people on their own cannot accomplish, and the reliable funding for the care of the disabled is one of those things. It’s too big of a problem to tackle on merely a charitable level, although charity has an important role to play.

  14. Bill, I was speaking about the baby boom generation as a whole, which killed fifty million potential taxpayers and contracepted countless other millions out of existence. Obviously, not all of that generation engaged in that behavior, but the vast majority did.

    Single motherhood is currently being tacitly encouraged in public schools. You don’t need the media at all. Planned Parenthood is trying to get into the classroom all over the country, and the federal government is actively subsidizing those efforts.

  15. Jesus told the rich man to give everything to the poor and follow Him;

    He did not hold the rich man down and have the Apostles rifle through his pockets.

  16. If unleashing entrepeneurial energy leads to great jobs, how is a bakery counter girl affected[?]
    –e.e. cummings wannabee

    At the most basic level, more people have the income to shop at bakeries which leads to more demand by employers for bakery counter girls. Bakery counter girl wages then tend to rise. Plus, increasing productivity in the economy increases the buying power of each dollar in wages that she earns.

    Notice that the bakery counter girl benefits from a vigorously growing, increasingly productive economy even if she herself doesn’t obtain one of those “great jobs” herself or start a bakery of her own.

    (Did “wannabee” really need that explained?)

  17. Micha,
    I’m not understanding the wannabee insult. Are you Christian? If so, read 2 Tim.2:23 onward.

  18. John 12:1-8

    1* Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2 There they made him a supper; Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at table with him. 3 Mary took a pound of costly ointment of pure nard and anointed the feet of Jesus and wiped his feet with her hair; and the house was filled with the fragrance of the ointment. 4* But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (he who was to betray him), said, 5 “Why was this ointment not sold for three hundred denarii * and given to the poor?” 6* This he said, not that he cared for the poor but because he was a thief, and as he had the money box he used to take what was put into it. 7* Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. 8 The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”

  19. Two personal anecdotes about Medicaid: I have two brothers-in-law (BIL).

    (1) My eldest BIL knocked his girlfriend up. They were planning on marrying anyway, but when she went down to the Medicaid office on the recommendation of a friend, the Medicaid officials instructed her that if she would claim she didn’t know who the baby’s father was and remained unmarried, Medicaid would pickup the entire tab for the pregnancy and birth. Guess what she did? Yep, claimed she was ignorant of paternity andputoff the wedding. And when they were once again planning their wedding and she popped up pregnant with their second child, guess what she did again? Yep, same thing. Medicaid paid for the births of their first two children at no cost to them. They finally did get married after all that.

    (2) My youngest BIL and his wife just had their first child. She has some birth defects and will likely have special needs. Both of the parents are perfectly capable of working and had jobs. I say “had” because the social services administrator for the hospital advised them that if they were to both be fired and unable to find work, Medicaid would pay for everything- respirator, feeding tube equipment, in-home 24-hour nurse,etc and so on- and that, should they be unemployed (wink, wink), they should apply for all the social assistance they can get so they can just stay home with the baby. So what do you think they’ve done? They’ve both intentionally missed contacting their employers by their return dates and have both been terminated. They have begun filling out the unemployment paperwork, applications for food stamps, Medicaid, etc and so on. And they won’t pay a dime towards my neice’s care.

    Now, I don’t begrudge them *some* assistance. The baby is disabled through no fault of anyone and realistically there’s no way they can pay the full amount it will costs to care for her, much less the hospital bill thus far. But they’re not going to be paying out a dime now and that’s just wrong. In both of these cases our “social services” folks encouraged my relatives to game the system so they wouldn’t have to take any monetary responsibility for their children. Again, that is wrong. And if this is representative of the experience people have with social services around the country, then this is clearly wrong.

    This stuff *has* to be cleaned up and reformed. There’s no universe in which any of these people should be encouraged to do the things they’ve been encouraged to do by our own government.

  20. I am only mildly bothered by the fact that they are not contributing to the care of their children. What gets me is that the soopergenius politicians who enacted these programs designed them in such a way as to nearly require the target clients to abandon adult work life or at least restrict their efforts in such a way as to maintain their eligibility. Has Henry Waxman or the National Association of Social Workers ever objected to this (much less sponsored a restructuring plan)? Or is making people dependent the whole point?

  21. Of course making people dependent is the whole point. It locks in Democrat voters.

    While many, perhaps most ordinary, Dem voters are well-meaning people who follow their hearts rather than their heads on this matter, the same cannot be said for the pols. I have come to believe they know exactly what they are doing – making people dependent on them so they can increase their power, while posing as “compassionate.” It is downright evil.

  22. @ Bill Bannon “how is a bakery counter girl affected.
    Is she suddenly capable of software engineering at the new nearby factory”
    There are many degreed and skilled workers working minimally paid jobs right now.

  23. “I am only mildly bothered by the fact that they are not contributing to the care of their children. What gets me is that the soopergenius politicians who enacted these programs designed them in such a way as to nearly require the target clients to abandon adult work life or at least restrict their efforts in such a way as to maintain their eligibility.”

    @Art, this is where I am, too. I understand they’re going to need help and that my neice’s medical problems aren’t anyone’s fault. I’m fine with some of my tax dollars going to help out (in addition tote efforts my family makes personally to help, of course). But that these folks have been openly encouraged to get fired and be dependent on these programs is outrageous. And the other BIL whose (now) wife was encouraged to claim illegitimacy of her children is another outrage. These people aren’t broke. They make as much as my husband and I do. Because we have high deductible insurance (and have to scrimp to afford that) we footed the majority of the bill for the birth of both our children. These people could afford to do things they way we did (ie, the right way, IMO) but were openly encouraged to mooch off the taxpayer and lie in the process. That’s wrong.

  24. The thing of it is, perverse incentives arising from means-tested programs have been a matter of public discussion among liberals for 30 years (Ken Auletta’s The Underclass was published in 1982). Cretins like Waxman put a good deal of effort into relaxing eligiblity standards for Medicaid but not in programmatic redesign to excise or vitiate the perverse incentives. The Republicans did not manage diddly/squat during the four years they controlled both Congress and the Presidency. To be fair, it is easy to imagine that if they attempted anything the Democratic Senate caucus would have filibustered, but one does get the impression that creatures such as John Boehner are propelled only by negative public attention or by pressure from business lobbies (who do not care about this stuff). It all makes you wanna holler.

  25. Yeah. It does. I think the reason there’s such a resistance to reform to try and weed this kind of abuse out is likely because it’s easy to propagandize. Who wants to be the one out there talking about the people who are abusing the system when the political opposition is going to trot out some hard case as an example and imply that you’re accusing this upright person/family in need of being liars scamming the system? No one, I’m sure. Which is, of course, a large part of the problem to begin with.

  26. I’m confident that much of the covetousness of many for their countrymen’s goods in order to prop up Medicaid and Medicare is due to the covetors’ lack of belief in the afterlife Jesus promised. The covetors grasp at each few additional minutes in a hospital bed because they think this world is the sum of all the life they’ll ever have.

  27. Mandy, they are not abusing the system. What they are doing is the system. No scam here.

    I agree with you about the propaganda exercises and the press will find these people if the Democratic congressional staff does not.

  28. Paul W. Primavera: “Jesus said, “Let her alone, let her keep it for the day of my burial. 8 The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me.”
    Jesus was never anointed again.

  29. Bishops have never been reluctant to see civil law supersede any merely spiritual admonitions as to the almsgiving

    When Charlemagne as King of the Franks, in a general assembly of his Estates, spiritual and temporal, in 778-779 ordained, “Concerning tithes, it is ordained that every man give his tithe, and that they be dispensed according to the bishop’s commandment,” the clergy greeted his words with cries of “Long Life and Victory to our most Christian King.”

    When, in 801, he issued a capitular making this universal, Pope Leo III bade all obey “the august Charles, crowned by God, great and pacific emperor.”

    Charlemagne established a a quadri-partite division: One, the bishop retained for himself and those who were dependent upon his hospitality ; a second portion was distributed by him among his clergy ; a third was administered for the benefit of the poor and strangers, and the fourth went towards maintaining the fabric of the churches.

    In 829, the payment of tithes was made enforceable by the summary remedy of distraint both by the Emperor Louis the Simple and by Lothair for Lombardy. Their payment was no longer a religious duty alone; it was a legal obligation, enforceable by the laws of the civil head of Christendom.

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