Tuesday 13th October 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


(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 . . .

Vatican revokes Catholic priest’s press credentials after he challenged archbishop

ROME, October 12, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – Amid continuing concern about the Vatican press office’s “manipulation” of the family synod’s message, a priest who has been covering Vatican news for over 15 years had his credentials revoked last week, and was…Continue Reading

Condemned ‘Catholic’ group uses Vatican press access to challenge African bishop on homosexuality

Analysis ROME, October 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — At the Vatican’s press briefing Thursday, the head of a U.S. group that aims to change Church teaching on homosexuality challenged an African bishop for perceived silence on the criminalization of “gay and…Continue Reading

Cardinal Schonborn says Synod’s contentious parts are yet to come

ROME, October 9, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) –Thursday, October 8, saw a surprise for the Synod of Bishops on the Family, when the Synod Secretariat announced that the only German-speaking discussion group among the 13 discussion groups (circuli minores) is not, as…Continue Reading

Leading African cardinal critiques Vatican spokesman Fr. Rosica

ROME, October 9, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) – South African Cardinal Wilfrid Napier, a leading cardinal on the organizing committee for the Synod on the Family, issued a pointed critique on Twitter of a controversial report on the Synod by the Vatican’s…Continue Reading

Archbishop Chaput: Synod’s working text risks ‘compromise’ with sin

ROME, October 8, 2015 (LifeSiteNews) — Fresh off of the World Meeting of Families, Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput gave a strong intervention at the Vatican’s family synod this week, warning that the meeting’s working text risks “compromise” with sin. The…Continue Reading

Canadian Catholic Schools Defy Archbishop on Transgender Policy

DMONTON, Alberta, Canada, October 8, 2015 (ChurchMilitant.com) – A Catholic school district in Canada is planning to approve a transgender policy contrary to its archbishop’s guidelines. The Edmonton Catholic school district in Alberta wants to push through a radical transgender…Continue Reading

Synod Showdown Report—October 5, 2015

We’re just out of the first press briefing of the Synod 2015, and things have pretty much picked up where they ended last year. The lead story, if you want to say there’s a lead to this, was a question…Continue Reading

Gov. Brown signs controversial assisted-suicide bill

Caught between conflicting moral arguments, Gov. Jerry Brown, a former Jesuit seminary student, signed a measure Monday allowing physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs to terminally ill patients who want to hasten their deaths. Brown appeared to struggle in…Continue Reading

Someone is Lying About the Pope’s Meeting with Kim Davis

Papal spokesman Father Thomas Rosica flatly denies Kim Davis met privately with Pope Francis when he visited Washington, D.C. which stands in flat contradiction to Davis’s claims. In Roscia’s telling Davis was part of a large number of people as…Continue Reading

Top Universities Defend Research Using Body Parts From Aborted Babies

Some of America’s top universities have signed a letter urging states not to support legislation that would ban the sale of aborted babies for research. The letter comes after ten videos surfaced exposing Planned Parenthood’s organ harvesting business, along with…Continue Reading

Catholic Hospitals Sued For Refusing Emergency Care To Pregnant Women

The American Civil Liberties Union on Thursday announced that it is suing Trinity Health Corporation, which operates 80 hospitals nationwide, for refusing to provide pregnant women suffering from life-threatening emergency complications with abortions. Trinity Health hospitals have “repeatedly and systematically…Continue Reading

Too Scared to Pray? ISIL Cancels Prayers for Fear of Russian Airstrikes

The Islamic State terror group cancelled Friday prayers in the Syrian city of Raqqa and emptied mosques there out of fear of further Russian airstrikes, according to activists and city residents. According to the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights,…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 . . .

Synod on the Family: Press Briefing Day 7

(Vatican Radio) Monday 12 Oct. Fr. Federico Lombardi SJ, spokesman for the Holy See, was accompanied by Fr. Thomas Rosica CSB and two couples – Pedro & Ketty De Rezende from Brazil and Ishwar & Penny Bajaj from India – at the daily press briefing for the Synod on the Family. It would be a welcome innovation if there was a proposal to the bishops of the world to ensure much more formation and accompaniment of couples…Continue Reading

Synod of Bishops, Week 1: Suspended Between Pastoral Despair or the Decision to Hope


Archbishop Charles J. Chaput of Philadelphia gave probably the best description of the Synod’s Working Document – and by extension of the Synod’s discussion so far. In his October 7 speech at the Synod, published on the archdiocese web site – Archbishop Chaput said that the working documents “present us two conflicting views: pastoral despair or the decision to hope.” The Synod Fathers’ sentiment after one week has been swinging between these two poles. Pope…Continue Reading

Pope’s Morning Homily: Be on Guard, Evil One Is Always Trying to Deceive

At Casa Santa Marta, Francis Considers Necessity of Discerning and Watchfulness Vatican City, October 09, 2015 (ZENIT.org) Staff Reporter | 3436 hits Pope Francis today at his morning Mass in Casa Santa Marta recalled that a Christian should always discern what God is doing and asking in a situation, since the Evil One is always present as well, and trying to deceive. Vatican Radio reported that the Holy Father drew his homily from today’s Gospel…Continue Reading

Prelates Note Satisfaction With Synod’s Work So Far . . . Say Instrumentum Laboris a ‘Martyr Document’ Meant to Be Changed

Rome, October 09, 2015 (ZENIT.org) Staff Reporter Though reports from the 13 working groups read today at the synod of bishops showed generalized dissatisfaction with the Instrumentum Laboris, Cardinal Antonio Tagle of Manila says that is to be expected, as the working document is meant to be a “martyr document,” revised and corrected during the process of the synod. That was one of several points made at today’s briefing in the Vatican press office, to…Continue Reading

Is Education Possible?

By DONALD DeMARCO It may seem odd to question whether education is possible. After all, is it not true that education is going on, if not flourishing, all over North America? The question, however, is not without merit for, in far too many instances, what passes for education is not really education at all. Relativism,…Continue Reading

A Movie Review . . . Giving Their Lives Over To “A Better Way”

By REY FLORES For the past year and a half since a young man named Mike Brown was gunned down in Ferguson, Mo., race relations in America have been going backwards. It wasn’t so much that the racism grew again in an organic manner, but seems to have been manufactured by the government and the…Continue Reading

“What Is Transgenderism?”

By BRIAN CLOWES Conclusion (Editor’s Note: Brian Clowes has been director of research and training at Human Life International since 1995. For all of the previous Culture of Life 101 articles on homosexuality, e-mail him at bclowes@hli.org.) + + + “We psychiatrists should work to discourage those adults who seek surgical sex reassignment” — “sex-change”…Continue Reading

War Party Targets Putin And Assad

By PATRICK J. BUCHANAN Having established a base on the Syrian coast, Vladimir Putin began air strikes on ISIS and other rebel forces seeking to overthrow Bashar Assad. A longtime ally of Syria, Russia wants to preserve its toehold on the Mediterranean, help Assad repel the threat, and keep the Islamic terrorists out of Damascus.…Continue Reading

Biblical Types Of Our Lady

By DONAL ANTHONY FOLEY A previous article looked at the role of Mary as the New Eve, and now we will look at some biblical types of our Lady, and see how the early Church fathers saw different types and prophecies concerning Mary in the Old Testament, that is, that particular incidents or artifacts pointed…Continue Reading


Our Catholic Faith (Section B of print edition)

Mexican Exorcist Moves Toward Sainthood

By ELISE HARRIS VATICAN CITY (CNA/EWTN News) — Among the eight causes for sainthood advanced by Pope Francis is a Mexican exorcist who lived during the time of the Cristero War, and was mentored by a bishop who has since been canonized. The Pope gave the green light to move the causes on to the next step in a private…Continue Reading

An Apologetics Course . . . The Church Of Christ Is Visible, Imperishable, And Infallible

By RAYMOND DE SOUZA, KM From the 15th century onward, there have been some novel doctrines about the nature of the Church of Christ. In order to avoid obedience to the pastors of the Church, especially the Pope in Rome, those creative little minds came up with the idea that the Church is not visible: That is, she has no…Continue Reading

Mission Of The Catholic Laity: Priest, Prophet, And King

By DON FIER Part 2 As baptized Christians, as we saw last week, each member of the lay faithful participates in the life and work of Jesus Christ and thus in His threefold office of priest, prophet, and king. As expressed by the Catechism of the Catholic Church (CCC): “The whole People of God participates in these three offices of…Continue Reading

Catholic Replies

Q. We recently celebrated the Feast of the Archangels Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael. But aren’t there other groupings of angels and what are they? — A.C., Florida. A. Based on the writings of Saints Dionysius, Gregory the Great, and Thomas Aquinas, the Church has taught that there are nine choirs of angels. Beginning at the highest level, they are Seraphim,…Continue Reading

Choose To Serve Rather Than To Be Served

By FR. ROBERT ALTIER Twenty-Ninth Sunday In Ordinary Time (YR B) Readings: Isaiah 53:10-11 Heb. 4:14-16 Mark 10:35-45 In the Gospel reading today our Lord tells us that He came, not to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. This is our hope for eternal salvation and, obviously, it is our hope…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes… Pope St. John XXIII

By CAROLE BRESLIN Part 1 Although rare, it is not unknown for a poor man, who had no connections and did not seek to develop them, to rise above all other men in stature and in influence over mankind. Such was the case of the sharecroppers’ son, Angelo Giuseppe Roncalli. Throughout his ecclesiastical career, he was obedient and kind, but…Continue Reading

Catholic Heroes . . . St. Thomas of Hereford

By CAROLE BRESLIN During the High Middle Ages the power of kings began to disintegrate, as shown by the Magna Charta, which was established in 1215. Although neither party of the agreement held up to its commitments, the beginning of more democratic rule had arrived. Three years later a noble family gave birth to a man who played a significant…Continue Reading