Saturday 4th July 2015

Home » Featured Today » Currently Reading:

What Seems To Be . . . A Morally Mandated Public Policy Position May Not Be

March 5, 2014 Featured Today No Comments

By STEPHEN M. KRASON

(Editor’s Note: Stephen M. Krason’s “Neither Left nor Right, but Catholic” column appears monthly [sometimes bimonthly]. He is professor of political science and legal studies and associate director of the Veritas Center for Ethics in Public Life at Franciscan University of Steubenville. He is also co-founder and president of the Society of Catholic Social Scientists. He is the author of several books including The Transformation of the American Democratic Republic [Transaction Publishers: 2012], and most recently published an edited volume entitled Child Abuse, Family Rights, and the Child Protective System [Scarecrow Press: 2013]. This column originally appeared in Crisismagazine.com. All rights reserved.)

+    +    +

Two recent newspaper articles — one in the Catholic and the other in the secular press — illustrate the need to be skeptical about claims that particular public policy approaches are morally necessary. Both discussed recent federal legislative efforts: one to raise the minimum wage, the other to cut food stamp benefits (the legislation that ultimately passed did so slightly). Both involve helping the economically disadvantaged. Concern for the poor is certainly a Christian obligation. The universal destination of created goods and a just wage are basic principles of Catholic social teaching and the right to life and the means necessary for its development (such as food, shelter, medical care, etc.) is at the top of the list of human rights stressed by the Popes.
The problem is that policies cannot be made synonymous with a moral principle itself, or held to be essential to achieving it.
This confusion was made manifest right in the title of the Catholic press article, which was from the Catholic News Service and appeared in my diocesan newspaper: “Calls to Hike Minimum Wage Echo Long-Standing Catholic Social Teaching.” A Fordham University professor was quoted as suggesting that Catholics have to support a minimum wage increase. In truth, nowhere in the papal social encyclicals does it say that laws mandating a minimum wage are morally required.
The article mentioned how the Church in the U.S. has long made this a legislative priority and while acknowledging that a minimum wage is not a living wage, nevertheless proceeded to discuss it as if it were. It virtually outright dismissed any arguments against the current proposed increase — to say nothing of the issue of whether minimum wage legislation generally is a good idea — by quoting a University of Illinois professor who is a political scientist and labor relations scholar and activist (and not an economist) that “there is no argument not to increase the minimum wage.”
The other article talked about how physicians were warning that a cut in the food stamp program would certainly cause health problems for the poor and an increase in health-care costs that would be borne by government. So, if the taxpayers did not ante up now they would have to do so later. It quoted two physicians, one who heads a children’s health advocacy organization and another a medical professor, who respectively called the proposal to cut food stamps “dumb” and “sort of ridiculous.”
Besides absolutizing policy approaches — basically suggesting that if these policies were not in place and, in fact, not expanded it would be immoral and damaging to people’s welfare — the articles illustrated several other problems with how public policy is thought about.
First, of course, is the familiar tendency to shut down any opposing or different ideas about how to address the questions at hand and, more, to demonize anyone who dares do so (they are “dumb” or “ridiculous”). We even at times witness some orthodox Catholics who are quick to brand anyone who raises questions about a policy like the minimum wage as a “neo-liberal” (with the implication that he’s a dissenter from Catholic social teaching).
As is so often the case, neither article examined the question sufficiently. While the one on the minimum wage mentioned the argument that increases could lead to business closings and job loss, it quickly dismissed it. It never considered that that could also present a moral problem. It also failed to note that teenagers, students, and second-wage earners in a family hold most minimum wage jobs. The article’s suggestion that hiking the minimum wage will help alleviate poverty seems to have ignored the fact that two-thirds of those categorized as impoverished do not work at all, so a minimum wage increase ipso facto would not help them. It didn’t consider that the biggest beneficiaries might be suburban teenagers from better-off families in after-school jobs.
For all of its attempt to make minimum wage laws look like an imperative of Catholic social teaching, the writer of the article seemed impervious to the fact that the country that did much to inspire the development of the Church’s modern social teaching, Germany, has no general minimum wage (though there is a vague legal provision prohibiting an “immoral wage”). Mostly, minimum wages there are set by collective bargaining agreements. In fact, several other countries also have alternatives to minimum wage laws.
One of the problems of Catholic activists and even spokesmen for the Church in the U.S. who promote something like minimum wage laws is that they seem to grab for it just because “that’s what’s out there.” They also have bought into the standard American mentality — especially pronounced on the left, of course — that there’s always a legislative solution to a problem. The issue is compounded here because they haven’t even defined sufficiently the problem they are trying to solve (as the article’s statements about poverty make clear).
Indeed, if addressing poverty is what’s important, why did the article say nothing about the problems of single parenthood, illegitimacy, and family breakdown (that is, issues involving personal conduct) — which are major contributing factors to poverty? Before being so ready to embrace a legislative solution, did they reflect about the greatest example of a programmatic failure to solve the poverty problem, LBJ’s “War on Poverty” whose 50th anniversary we’re now celebrating? Do they devote any effort to other ways to build up what might be called a “just-wage culture,” such as by actively promoting sound business ethics?
Minimum wage laws may indeed be necessary. I have not been an anti-minimum wage advocate. It’s a problem, however, when people don’t even want to debate such an issue, or dismiss out-of-hand serious questions raised about it, or implicitly insist that one thing is the only workable policy approach, or try to claim that this or any policy approach is an imperative of Catholic social teaching instead of acknowledging that it, despite its eighty-year history, is a matter of prudential judgment.
The article on cutting the food stamp program (by the Associated Press), besides making claims of consequences about which solid evidence of a clear cause-and-effect relationship might be hard to come by, similarly saw no other way to address an aspect of poverty. While mentioning private food banks — which it claimed were overstretched — this one federal program operating at a certain level seemed to be the only real solution.
Again, there was no mention of single parenthood and the other problems that contribute to poverty. Nothing was said about personal conduct in any way being a factor. While talking a lot about the adverse effects on children, none of the spokesmen or activists quoted said anything about the increasing trend of young, able-bodied male adults to be on the food stamp rolls or about whether it might be problematical in some way that almost 50 million Americans are now on food stamps. The spiraling costs to the American taxpayer seemed to be a non-issue.
They seemed impervious to the conditions under which those categorized as impoverished in the U.S. are living: 80 percent have air conditioning, 92 percent have a microwave, 70 percent have a VCR, two-thirds have cable or satellite TV, more than half of “poor” families with children have a video-game system, etc.
Why could those with genuine food needs not be sufficiently helped by expanded private and charitable efforts? Do they know for sure that additional private funds are not available? Were efforts to help those truly in need of adequate food before the food stamp program was started under LBJ insufficient? It may have been the same as with health care for the poor. Great Society-era policymakers just assumed — without adequately researching it — that the poor needed a national program (Medicaid), when in fact there was an enormous amount of charity care available.
So the food stamp article also was a shallow examination of both that program and the broader topic of poverty that it’s part of and also showed a fixation on one kind of policy approach — carried out at the highest level, the federal government.
Having seen the problems of these two major public policies — and doubtless many other current economic and social welfare policies — is there an alternative? That obviously requires careful examination of the subject, giving heed to tough questions and uncomfortable facts, and engaging in sober-minded reflection and consideration of different courses of action — the very things I’ve said are not much being done. Ideology, perceptions, truisms, a sense of moral righteousness, and just a plain fixation on a certain way of thinking seem, rather, to rule. As a result, the contingent becomes the absolute, and mere policy choices are confused with moral truth.

Share Button

Comment on this Article:

Untitled 3

Pope FrancisAn Open Letter To His Holiness Pope Francis      Given the controversy and confusion surrounding the 2014 Synod on the Family, the staff of The Wanderer and its supporters thought it appropriate to address Pope Francis with an open letter . . .

Listen to the Pope, Iowa Catholic Leaders Tell GOP

Catholic leaders call on GOP hopefuls to heed pope’s teachings on climate, economics By THOMAS BEAUMONT and RACHEL ZOLL, Associated Press ANKENY, Iowa (AP) — Roman Catholic leaders in the early voting state of Iowa implored candidates for president Thursday…Continue Reading

Supreme Court upholds ObamaCare subsidies

The Supreme Court on Thursday upheld ObamaCare subsidies nationwide, in the second major court victory for President Obama on his signature health care law. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that subsidies are valid even in states that did…Continue Reading

Synod on the Family’s working document sets the stage for spirited discussion

Vatican City, Jun 24, 2015 / 12:00 pm (CNA/EWTN News).- That the discussion at October’s Synod on the Family is going to be a lively one is indicated by the fact that the most controversial paragraphs of the final report…Continue Reading

Abortion Drone Will Fly Dangerous Abortion Pills to Poland to Violate Its Pro-Life Laws

drone

The pro-abortion organization that formerly ran the abortion boat that distributed the dangerous abortion pill in international waters outside pro-life nations that protect unborn children has come up with a new marketing scheme to push abortion in pro-life nations: drones.…Continue Reading

St. Louis’ Catholic Archbishop Carlson discusses same-sex marriage, clergy sex abuse, racism, more

At their annual spring meeting held in St. Louis last week, U.S Catholic bishops discussed several issues currently facing the Catholic Church, including: the clergy sex abuse scandal, what the Church sees as challenges to marriage, and the pope’s upcoming…Continue Reading

Nienstedt resigns; New Jersey bishop named interim head of Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis

Archbishop John Nienstedt has resigned in the wake of criminal charges against the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis for its “role in failing to protect children and contribution to the unspeakable harm” experienced by victims in priest sex-abuse cases. Nienstedt says…Continue Reading

Priests needed: As Church growth explodes worldwide, parishes can’t keep up

Washington D.C., Jun 12, 2015 / 05:11 am (CNA/EWTN News).- The global Catholic population is growing – so quickly, in fact, that priest and parish numbers cannot keep up, says a new study on trends in the worldwide Church. And…Continue Reading

Cardinal Kasper hints at new ‘Vatican II’ strategy to gain approval of Communion proposal

June 11, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – In the face of increasing opposition to his plan to approve giving Holy Communion to people who are in adulterous remarriages, Cardinal Walter Kasper is hinting at a new “Vatican II” strategy for accomplishing his…Continue Reading

No Law Can Be Based on Injustice

In 2010, the United States Congress passed the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was designed by President Obama and Congressional leaders to expand access to affordable and comprehensive health insurance coverage in the United States. After the law…Continue Reading

Cardinal: Divorced and remarried Catholics need support for conversion, not changes on communion

Catholics who have divorced and remarried need help for the “difficult climb” of conversion and spiritual growth, not a change in Church practice on the reception of Holy Communion, a prominent cardinal said. Cardinal Ennio Antonelli summarized the advice of…Continue Reading

Obama: Without Catholic Nun We Would Not Have Gotten Obamacare Done

(CNSNews.com) – While addressing the Catholic Health Association Conference in Washington, D.C., yesterday, President Barack Obama said that the Affordable Care Act—AKA Obamacare—would not have been enacted had it not been for Sister Carol Keehan, the president of the Catholic…Continue Reading

Cardinal Kasper Backpedals on Papal Endorsement of Controversial Proposal

Almost single-handedly one cleric has turned the Church’s teaching on Communion, marriage and divorce into an international debate. For decades, German Cardinal Walter Kasper has promoted a proposal to allow divorced-and-civilly-remarried Catholics to receive holy Communion after a period of…Continue Reading

Untitled 5 Untitled 2

Attention Readers:

  Welcome to our new website. Readers who are familiar with The Wanderer know we have been providing Catholic news and orthodox commentary for over 145 years in our weekly print edition. Now we are introducing the online daily version of our print journal.


  Our daily version offers only some of what we publish weekly in print. To take advantage of everything The Wanderer publishes, we encourage you to su
bscribe to our flagship weekly print edition, which is mailed every Friday or, if you want to view it in its entirety online, you can subscribe to the E-edition, which is a replica of the print edition.
 
  Our daily edition includes: a selection of material from recent issues of our print edition, news stories updated daily from renowned news sources, access to archives from The Wanderer from the past 10 years, available at a minimum charge (this will be expanded as time goes on). Also: regularly updated features where we go back in time and highlight various columns and news items covered in The Wanderer over the past 145 years. And: a comments section in which your remarks are encouraged, both good and bad, including suggestions.
 
  We encourage you to become a daily visitor to our site. If you appreciate our site, tell your friends. As Catholics we must band together to rediscover our faith and share it with the world if we are to effectively counter a society whose moral culture seems to have no boundaries and a government whose rapidly extending reach threatens to extinguish the rights of people of faith to practice their religion (witness the HHS mandate). Now more than ever, vehicles like The Wanderer are needed for clarification and guidance on the issues of the day.

Catholic, conservative, orthodox, and loyal to the Magisterium have been this journal’s hallmarks for five generations. God willing, our message will continue well into this century and beyond.

Joseph Matt
President, The Wanderer Printing Co.

Untitled 1

A Powerful Weapon: 15 Quotes on the Holy Rosary

We live in evil times. I hardly need elaborate the multitude of crises that fill the globe. Sadly, many are being swept away by this flood of evil and are succumbing to an overwhelming anxiety and discouragement. But no matter how tempting it is, we must not shrink back. We must pray and fast with a living faith and a firm confidence—and there is no better way to…Continue Reading

12 Ways to Become a Committed Catholic Man

There is a Catholic “man-crisis.” Large numbers of men who were baptized Catholic have left the Church and the majority of those who remain are “Casual Catholic Men”, men who do not know the Catholic faith and don’t practice it. This large-scale failure of Catholic men to commit themselves to Jesus Christ and His Church has contributed to the accelerating…Continue Reading

Today . . .

Univ. of San Francisco Celebrates SCOTUS Marriage Ruling, Despite Catholic Mission

usan

July 2, 2015, at 11:22 AM  |  By Justin Petrisek  | While the U.S. bishops responded to last week’s marriage ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court by upholding the teachings of the Catholic Church, one Jesuit university chose to publicly celebrate the decision in direct conflict with its Catholic identity and mission. Over the weekend, the University of San Francisco (USF), a Jesuit Catholic university, used its Twitter and Facebook accounts to celebrate the San Francisco…Continue Reading

‘No Global’ author at Vatican event on climate and poverty reduction

(Vatican Radio) A Catholic climate scientist and a secular Jewish feminist formed an “unlikely alliance” in the Vatican press office on Wednesday to present a two day conference entitled ‘People and Planet First: the Imperative to Change Course’. The conference, which will take place at the Pontifical Augustinianum University in Rome, includes some 200 political, religious and civil society leaders from all continents who’ll be discussing Pope Francis’ new encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ in light of…Continue Reading

Cardinal Turkson on Laudato si’ and children

pope798

(Vatican Radio) Cardinal Peter Turkson, the President of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, on Tuesday addressed UNICEF House at the United Nations in New York. He spoke about the new Encyclical of Pope Francis, Laudato si’, and how it relates to children.   The full text of Cardinal Turkson’s remarks are blow   Remarks on Laudato si’ to Child-Focused Agencies UNICEF House, 30 June 2015 Cardinal Peter K.A. Turkson, President, Pontifical Council for…Continue Reading

U.S. decision to legalize same-sex “marriages” godless, sinful – Russian Church

Moscow, June 29, Interfax – The Russian Orthodox Church has appealed to all Russian advocates of the American model of governance, asking them to think twice about the consequences of the United States’ decision to legalize same-sex “marriages”. “The people who are into ‘democracy the American way’ and trying to reconcile it with traditional values need to think hard after this decision,” the head of the Synodal Department for Church and Society Relations Archpriest Vsevolod…Continue Reading

Although Their Adversaries Seem Strong . . . Law-School Interns Are Reminded That Even Old USSR Collapsed

By DEXTER DUGGAN PHOENIX — Almost ready to start applying their new knowledge to battle moral challenges around the globe, law-school students at a dinner here were reminded that the Soviet Union once was regarded as an invincible adversary, but it finally collapsed in relatively short order. The Christian law students from 11 countries, interns…Continue Reading

Culture Of Life 101 . . . “The ‘Gay’ Case Against Abortion”

By BRIAN CLOWES (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For electronic copies of previous articles on homosexual “marriage,” the special rights agenda, and the role of homosexuality in the Church crisis, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + “Feminists and political liberals have argued…Continue Reading

Protecting Hatred Preserves Freedom

By ANDREW P. NAPOLITANO The tragedy of a mass murder in Charleston, S.C., obviously motivated by racial hatred, has raised anew the issue of the lawfulness of the state expressing an opinion by flying a Confederate flag at the statehouse, and the constitutionality of the use of the First Amendment to protect hate speech and…Continue Reading

NATO-Russia Collision Ahead?

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN “U.S. Poised to Put Heavy Weaponry in East Europe: A Message to Russia,” ran the headline in The New York Times. “In a significant move to deter possible Russian aggression in Europe, the Pentagon is poised to store battle tanks, infantry fighting vehicles, and other heavy weapons for as many as…Continue Reading

The Myth Of Autonomy

By DONALD DeMARCO I Never Sang for My Father, a 1970 film based on Robert Anderson’s play by the same name, features a father who identifies himself as a “self-made man” who struggled hard for everything he achieved. Toward the end of the play, the father, now elderly and incapacitated, offers a desperate declaration of…Continue Reading

Advertisement

Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Catholic Replies

  Editor’s Note: D.M. has e-mailed to us the following thoughtful comments: “In a recent reply regarding the bishops and our borders, you noted that our immigration system is ‘badly broken.’ To me that was a bit like hearing the proverbial fingernails on a blackboard. It seems to me that those who seek to dominate all of us use the refrain,…Continue Reading

Chosen By God

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Fifteenth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Amos 7:12-15 Eph. 1:3-14 Mark 6:7-13 In the first reading, Amaziah, the priest of Bethel (the place of the original Temple of the Lord), chastises the Prophet Amos for preaching against the goings on in the House of God. The priest tells the prophet to go and make…Continue Reading

National Mass Recalls Anniversary of St. Columbanus… “Why Are You So Frightened, You Men Of Little Faith?”

ARMAGH, Northern Ireland (ZENIT) — A national Mass of Thanksgiving to mark the 14th centenary of St. Columbanus was held at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on Sunday, June 21. Opening remarks were given by Archbishop Eamon Martin of Armagh, and the homily was given by Fr. Neil Collins. Following are the texts of both, provided by ZENIT News Agency.…Continue Reading

An Apologetics Course… Refuting Objections To The Spiritual Soul’s Existence

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM Part 8 The reader will have noticed the progression of thinking in this new series of articles in The Wanderer: Instead of dealing with various topics rather randomly, the section consists of a series of articles in the format of lessons within a course. So, the first topic was the most basic one, that is,…Continue Reading

The Four Marks Of The Church — Holiness

By DON FIER For the past two weeks, we have been unpacking the teaching of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC) on the first of her four marks, that she is one. Our Lord left no room for uncertainty when He said, “There shall be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16), nor did St. Paul when he proclaimed that…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… St. Josemaria Escriva

By CAROLE BRESLIN Part 2 With the outbreak of civil war in Spain and the attack on the Catholic Church, many priests and religious were martyred. The existing government changed the constitution to legalize persecution of the Church by closing Catholic schools, ceasing reparation payments, and suppressing religious discussion. Among other things, this helped lead to the secularization of society…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Josemaria Escriva

By CAROLE BRESLIN Part 1 God, in His loving Providence and perfect timing, gives the Church holy men and women to guide the Mystical Body of Christ. During the chaos of the Protestant revolt, he provided St. Ignatius and St. Teresa of Avila. At the beginning of the 20th century, as the lay faithful were being called to participate in…Continue Reading