What Paul Ryan Missed

Gerald J. Beyer, a professor of theology at St. Joseph's University and an expert on solidarity, offers an introduction to the Catholic notions of subsidiarity and solidarity in this response to the budget plan proposed by Republican Rep. Paul Ryan:

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has rightly criticized Paul Ryan’s proposed draconian cuts to social programs that aid the poor. Catholic scholars rebuked Ryan for claiming that his budget reflects principles of Catholic social teaching. Ryan deserves credit for elevating Catholic social teaching to a central place in the discussion. Unfortunately, he badly misunderstands two bedrock principles of CST—solidarity and subsidiarity. He also misinterprets how these principles apply to the scourge of poverty in the United States.


Ryan correctly identifies one aspect of solidarity, namely the “recognition of the common ties that unite all human beings in equal dignity,” as he puts it. However, Catholic social teaching adopted the view of Heinrich Pesch, S.J., (1854-1926) and Oswald von Nell-Breuning S.J., (1890-1991), who envisioned three aspects of solidarity: 1) solidarity as de facto human interdependence; 2) solidarity as an ethical imperative; and 3) solidarity as a principle concretized in legislative policies and institutions.

By its very nature, solidarity requires advocating social change on the structural level. This is the case because eliminating the causes of the suffering of the wounded and oppressed requires embodying solidarity in social policies and institutions. In other words, solidarity includes but goes beyond charity to promote justice and human rights, particularly by empowering the marginalized. Charity is important, but never sufficient to meet the needs of the poor, as Pope Benedict reminds us in Caritas in Veritate. Christians must thus foster the common good through “the institutional path—we might also call it the political path—of charity, no less excellent and effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor directly.” As John Paul II argued, the entire social, economic and political order should be shaped by the principle of solidarity.

You can read the rest here.

Tim Reidy


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J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
I will repeat my still unanswerred question.  Is something socially just if it hurts the poor?  The War on Poverty and the Great Society programs overall have devastated the African American community in the US and in the process hurt large numbers of other Americans.  How is anything that is being advocated today by liberals/progressives different in kind from what was implemented as part of social action in the last 50 years?

Maybe Paul Ryan understands this much better than Prof.Beyer and knows what true Catholic Social Teaching/Action should be about.  Namely, helping the poor not sentencing them to a life of hopelessness.
Tim Huegerich
6 years 7 months ago
I'll just repeat my response to the article here because I am very interested in discussion. First, though, I want to be clear that I do not endorse Ryan's nonsense claims about government causing poverty, nor his outlandish claims about the debt. (The only way his own plan reduces the deficit is with the equivalent of pink slime http://taxvox.taxpolicycenter.org/2012/03/20/ryans-mystery-meat-budget/. He shows no concern about debt at all in his actual numbers but instead shows every intention of directly transferring funding for the poor to the richest in the form of tax cuts.)
I personally oppose the Ryan budget and support more anti-poverty spending on the federal level, financed by higher taxes on the middle class and up. But it is simply wrong to imply that Catholic social doctrine requires such policy positions, and stifling legitimate debate does great harm to the cause of promoting Catholic social teaching.

It is telling that the author mischaracterizes #48 of John Paul II's final social encyclical. It actually outlines strong limits on government provision for the poor: “in exceptional circumstances...when social sectors or business systems are too weak or are just getting under way... such supplementary interventions...must be as brief as possible... By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and
While this is grounds for opposing social spending cuts in the middle of the current deep recession, it is hardly an endorsement of the permanently expanded social states of Europe. And Pope Benedict has echoed these cautions in his own encyclicals. So there are legitimate Catholic grounds for debate about the proper size of government.

Yet, what is beyond debate is that we as a Church are failing to live out solidarity with the poor both domestically and globally. Missing from both Ryan's speech and this article is any exhortation that we take responsibility for loving the poor directly. Ryan embraces a false “morality” that says people should “spend their hard-earned dollars” however they want, while the author just makes excuses for our pitiful charitable giving. Where are the Peter Maurin's and Dorothy Day's of today to challenge us to care for the poor “at a personal sacrifice” rather than arguing about what other people should do?
Tim Huegerich
6 years 7 months ago
JR, I have often seen the claim, by Ryan and others, that "The War on Poverty and the Great Society programs overall have devastated the African American community," but where is the evidence? What is the argument that they have not only failed to sufficiently help but actually hurt people?

The other thing you may be missing is that no one today is advocating a return to those programs of the 70's and 80's. As the article points out, much of federal anti-poverty spending today goes to private charities like Catholic Charities. Most of the rest is subsidizing state programs, giving states various levels of discretion about how to run the programs, consistent with subsidiarity (this is the case with Medicaid and TANF, the result of welfare reform).
Tim O'Leary
6 years 7 months ago
Tim #3 and 4
There have been multiple studies on the failure of the War on Poverty in the economic literature. Some books that review the data include Charles Murray’s Losing Ground: American Social Policy, 1950-1980, and Marvin Olasky’s The Tragedy of American Compassion.
For a shorter read on the failures in the poorest part of rural America, see Michael Janofsky’s often cited article in the New York Times (Feb 9, 1998). http://www.nytimes.com/1998/02/09/us/pessimism-retains-grip-on-appalachian-poor.html?pagewanted=all&src=pm
A couple of quotes from the NYT
“Federal and state agencies have plowed billions of dollars into Appalachia,” he wrote, yet the area “looks much as it did 30 years ago, when President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a war on poverty, taking special aim at the rural decay.”
Janofsky visited Owsley County, Kentucky, and found a poverty rate of over 46 percent, with over half the adults illiterate and half unemployed. “Feelings of hopelessness have become so deeply entrenched,” he reported, “that many residents have long forsaken any expectation of bettering themselves.”
Tim Huegerich
6 years 7 months ago
Tim Leary and JR Cosgrove,
As an academic economist, I don't find newspaper articles or books considered independently of their critical reception by peers particularly persuasive. Thank you for pointing me to the sources that have formed your own views, though. As one example of an academic critique, you might consider this contemporary review of Losing Ground, http://www.irp.wisc.edu/publications/focus/pdfs/foc83a.pdf. It acknowledges that he raises important points, but also shows how he plays fast and loose with the data and imposes interpretations not warranted by the evidence.

But what I also want to focus on is that your references are books from the 80's and early 90's, and you ignore my point that ''no one today is advocating a return to those programs of the 70's and 80's.'' Today's welfare program, TANF, has such strong incentives to urge recipients into work that it has not continued to support many families that cannot find jobs in the current economy. The other point raised by Murray, that welfare could discourage family stability, has also shaped current policy since the 90's.

So let me ask directly for your evidence that 2000's anti-poverty policy actually makes the poor worse off. You must understand that such a counter-intuitive claim requires serious evidence. 
Tim Huegerich
6 years 7 months ago
JR, now let's talk the details of Ryan's budget. 

I see that your claim that Ryan's budget is bigger than Clinton's comes from Investor's Business Daily, a publication also known for promoting birther claims. Setting that aside, let's look at the numbers and understand why it is misleading. IBD reports Ryan's 2013 budget is 46% larger than Clinton's 2000 budget in inflation-adjusted terms. First, the dollar values are not the right numbers to use since US population has gone up by 11% in that period - both taxpayers and users of government services have gone up. Secondly, we are currently in the middle of a huge recession with unemployment at 9% compared to 4% in 2000, and that accounts for the bulk of the increase when measured correctly - we want more people to be receiving UI, food stamps, Medicaid, etc. when millions more Americans are unable to find work. Finally, military spending has increased dramatically since 2000. Amazingly, the *increase* in military spending in that time period ($300 billion) is on par with the sum total of all federal anti-poverty spending.

You seem to see it as a virtue that Ryan has not specified where the cuts in his budget will come from. As Bishop Blaire's letter explains, the House Budget calls for an immediate $33 billion cut to ag and food programs, with some indications that the bulk of the cuts will hit food stamps. http://www.usccb.org/issues-and-action/human-life-and-dignity/hunger-food-nutrition/upload/Letter-to-House-Committee-on-Agriculture-2012-04-16.pdf It is left up to others to try and determine what exactly such cuts will mean, but one estimate is that 8 million people will be cut from the program: http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3717

Ryan also doesn't specify what tax exemptions he would remove to offset rate reductions. So at this point he just asks us to trust him that he will raise $460 billion per year somehow from someone. By the way, your claim that reducing tax rates will increase revenue is baseless (a theoretical possibility if the top tax rates were 90% as it was in the 50's, but an absurdity at current rates) - if you don't believe me, please provide a reputable source backing your claim.

Yet, the most alarming thing about Ryan's budget is his long-term vision of how to balance the budget while still cutting taxes. It is essentially to eliminate everything but (dramatically smaller) Social Security and health care spending and (somewhat increased) defense spending. Again, he doesn't give the details, but the numbers clearly imply this. Either he intends to eliminate every other function of government, or the numbers in his budget for 2050 that allow him to claim a reduction in debt are nonsense lies:

"The CBO report, prepared at Chairman Ryan’s request, shows that Ryan’s budget path would shrink federal expenditures for everything other than Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), and interest payments to just 3¾ percent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2050.  Since, as CBO notes, “spending for defense alone has not been lower than 3 percent of GDP in any year [since World War II]” and Ryan seeks a high level of defense spending...the rest of government would largely have to disappear.  That includes everything from veterans’ programs to medical and scientific research, highways, education, nearly all programs for low-income families and individuals other than Medicaid, national parks, border patrols, protection of food safety and the water supply, law enforcement, and the like." http://www.cbpp.org/cms/index.cfm?fa=view&id=3708
J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
''As an academic economist, I don't find newspaper articles or books considered independently of their critical reception by peers particularly persuasive. ''

I suggest you read the book because it contains hundreds of example and then dispute what it obviously wrong.  Yes it was 1984 but there is little evidence that things have gotten better.  I would look at out of marriage births as one key statistic.  At the time of Murray's book it was about 57% for African Americans and now hovers around 70%.  Hispanics illegitimacy rates have gone from 24% to 48% in that time and white  rates went from 10 to 25% or higher.  It is not just blacks that have succumbed to flawed programs of government.

To see the continued decline in the white community, read Murray's recent book, Coming Apart.  It paints a grim picture as the underclass continues to grow in many dysfunctional ways.  For a large section of our society the American dream is unreachable and we can point the figure at government intervention for that.

I find it beyond the pale how some can deny the obvious.  There are serious problems out there and Murray's main thesis in 1984 that every intervention has unintended consequences that are usually counter productive.  You say you are an economist and you should surely know that incentives are what drive human beings.  There are too many unknown incentives tied to nearly every social action the government institutes.  Murray indicates what many of these incentives are and how they lead to ever increasing dependency and an inability to get one out of a downward path.

As far as Ryan's budget is concerned, expenditures for social programs are way up compared to the Clinton years on a per capita basis.  Until you or anyone else can show otherwise, then I suggest that all the anti Ryan rhetoric be canned.  Until someone delineates specific dollar amounts as opposed to hypothetical budget cuts we should all remain silent in our criticism.  Otherwise, one has to ask why.
Tim Huegerich
6 years 7 months ago
Expanded welfare benefits simply don't work as an explanation for the increase in out-of-marriage births. One prominent paper that explains why is here: http://www.scribd.com/doc/61440563/Akerlof-a-G-Explorations-in-Modern-Economics-Selected-Papers-OUP-2003-ISBN-0199253919-525s-GG#page=152

Basically, welfare benefits have become less generous and more strict in eligibility since the early 70's, but out-of-marriage births have continued to increase. The paper proposes that the primary explanation is the increased availability and acceptance of contraception and abortion, which fits the data much better.

So what you claim is "obvious" is actually wrong - just doesn't fit the facts. If you accept everything Murray says as obvious truth without being willing to critically examine it, how can you expect others to critically examine their own ideas? If you are interested in considering critical views in the search for the truth, here's a review of Murray's latest by a conservative: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2012/02/09/coming-apart-the-review.html

It is true that there are unintended consequences to many government policies, but we can understand them and mitigate them. If you are somehow convinced that government programs just can't ever help, then do you support the founding of new Houses of Hospitality or the work of the St. Vincent de Paul Society to directly go the poor in person and build community and support? While we can debate Murray's economic analysis, what is most clearly wrong with his approach is the notion that we have no responsibility for our brothers and sisters. 

On the Ryan budget, I'm not sure what more you want. I gave you specific dollar amounts. I explained that current social spending is up because there is currently more need due to the economic conditions. I explained that Ryan's long-run vision allows for now social spending at all besided Medicaid.
Joshua DeCuir
6 years 7 months ago
Just one observation (because frankly this horse done been dead), but on this paragraph:

"By its very nature, solidarity requires advocating social change on the structural level. This is the case because eliminating the causes of the suffering of the wounded and oppressed requires embodying solidarity in social policies and institutions. In other words, solidarity includes but goes beyond charity to promote justice and human rights, particularly by empowering the marginalized. Charity is important, but never sufficient to meet the needs of the poor, as Pope Benedict reminds us in Caritas in Veritate. Christians must   thus foster the common good through “the institutional path—we might   also call it the political path—of charity, no less excellent and   effective than the kind of charity which encounters the neighbor   directly.” As John Paul II argued, the entire social, economic and   political order should be shaped by the principle of solidarity."

It strikes me that this paragraph provides support for many of (but not all) of Ryan's proposals, especially his proposed structural reforms to the big entitlement programs.  After all, Ryan's proposal with respect to those reforms is to more closely align them with present societal needs, particularly because the present mechanisms result in larger payments to the not-very-poor middle class seniors, and NOT many of the poorest.  So isn't he advocating structural reforms aimed at justice, and not simply charity?  Alice Rivlin, John Breaux, Ron Wyden and Erskine Bowles all seem to think so, since they have all supported reforms to these entitlement reforms precisely along the lines as Ryan.
J Cosgrove
6 years 7 months ago
Mr. Huegerich,

I too would highly recommend that you read Charles Murray's Losing Ground.  It is available in paperack or as an ebook for the Kindle, so if you have an IPad, Kindle or just a plain PC or Mac it can be downloaded in less than a minute using the Kindle app.  Or get a copy from your library.  This book lays out in devastating detail the negative effects that the Great Society had on the poor, not just in economic terms but in spiritual terms.  The really sad thing about Murray's analysis is the extreme harm all these programs did to good intentioned people in the black community in terms of lower economic expectations, inferior education, and more crime as a result of essentially the white condescension for them.  A new but far more harmful racism than the Jim Crow laws ever were.

As far as the Ryan budget, this is the fourth or fifth time it has come up here and a couple weeks ago I pointed out that the Ryan budget is extremely large and represents about a 50% increase over the last Clinton budget in constant dollars and Clinton said in his last state of the union message that he didn't view government as too small or that Americans were hurting because there was not enough government programs to help them and he said that the country was the strongest it has ever been.  So how can Paul Ryan's budget which is substantially higher than Clintons in constant dollars hurt the poor.  I haven't seen any numbers yet on any  so called cuts, only rhetoric.  

Also from what I understand Ryan's tax proposals will actually tax the rich at the same levels and here too no specifics on the actual taxes have been put down.  There is supposed to be hearings on these issues this summer.  People have pointed out that he proposes rate reductions but also forget that he also proposes the elimination of many exemptions to offset the rate reductions.  Again we should wait to see what happens.  And sometimes a rate reductions can produce more tax revenue for a variety of reasons.  The budgets were balanced at the end of the 90's primarily because of a tax reduction on capital gains.  So a Clinton tax cut helped balance the budgets and we have lots of other examples of tax cuts having a positve effect of tax revenue as well as the economy.

Also one of the great unknowns is just what is the optimum tax rate in terms of revenue generation for taxes and for economic activity.  If the country could return to the same trendline for GDP that existed the last 25 years prior to 2008, then that would generate enough tax revenues to almost eliminate the deficit.  It is certainly possible to disagree on things but the constant anti Paul Ryan drumbeat does not add clarity to anything.


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