Last updated on 2014.06.18
A Facebook friend points me toward this intelligent essay from the Catholic America magazine explaining how budget-slashing Rep. Paul Ryan (R-WI) gets poverty, the Pope, and the proper role of government egregiously wrong. Rep. Ryan has tried to justify his Ayn Randian anti-government philosophy in terms of Catholic social teaching. Theologian Gerald J. Bayer says Nope, don't think so.
Bayer's rebuttal is somewhat heady reading. Every word well deserves your effort. I humbly offer some highlights:
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 [Gerald J. Bayer, "What Ryan Missed," America, 2012.06.04].
Government is not the enemy. It is not an aberration. It is a tool through which we all can and should work together to do justice and enact mercy.
Bayer speaks of Ryan's use of the term subsidiarity, the idea that solutions are better when carried out by the smallest group possible (i.e., better to have a local solution than a national solution). But some problems, like unchecked capitalism and concentration of wealth, are so big you must have a big government to address them:
Contrary to Ryan's imagination, the current pope has not embraced modern-day laissez faire capitalism or neoliberalism. Rather, Pope Benedict sees the redistribution of wealth through government programs as a necessary fulfillment of subsidiarity, given neoliberal capitalism's strong tendency to generate vast inequality and large swaths of poverty. At times, the pope even sounds a lot like Occupy Wall Street, albeit in slightly more Vaticanese terms: "grave imbalances are produced when economic action, conceived merely as an engine for wealth creation, is detached from political action, conceived as a means for pursuing justice through redistribution."
The pontiff clearly sees a robust role for government, which does not violate the principle of subsidiarity. In addition to wealth redistribution, governments should promote full employment and oversee multiple levels of institutions to ensure access to sufficient food and water. Benedict also decries the slashing of social safety nets and the evisceration of labor unions, which has jeopardized the rights of the poor and workers. He laments erosion of the "solidarity associated with the traditional forms of the social State." If that doesn't vex Paul Ryan and Catholic neoconservatives enough, the pope contends that globalization must be governed by authorities at the local, national and international levels in order to foster "economic democracy" [Bayer, 2012.06.04].
Bayer looks at the weakening of welfare in 1996, the huge number of workers earning poverty wages, and our failure to regulate the financial sector, and concludes that Ryan's misreading of solidarity and subsidiarity leads us to a dysfunctional society where we fail to work together to fight poverty:
Ryan provides the wrong solutions to poverty for two reasons. As I have argued, he misinterprets solidarity and subsidiarity. He also misunderstands poverty's causes in the United States. Contrary to Ryan's contention, the causes of poverty are not rooted in an expansive government and a culture of dependency on hand-outs. Rather, it is rooted in government's failure to perform its duties in accordance with the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity. In other words, "smaller government" caused the problem [Bayer, 2012.06.04].
Sounds like Rep. Ryan should have spent less time reading Atlas Shrugged and more time paying attention in catechism class.