I’ve been reading a wonderful book, Building the Free Society: Democracy, Capitalism, and Catholic Social Teaching, and have just read the following, which seems appropriate to share with you during a period in our country’s economic planning when many of the issues now being addressed were written about.
“Individual liberty has been persistently linked in Catholic thought to the notion of the “common good,” and John XXIII’s concern [in writing Mater et Magistra: On Christianity and Social Progress, in 1961] was to promote the common good in a “suitable manner” by the “production of a sufficient supply of material goods” (20). Such a goal is consistent with the Christian worldview, but Christian social ethicists have never agreed on the morally appropriate and economically effective means to achieve that desirable worldly end. Some would argue, and not without reason, that Mater et Magistra tends to overlook the ways in which state intervention in the economy obscures the price mechanism, thus distorting information exchange and patterns of production and consumption and inviting excessive bureaucratization. Such an oversight may well be due to the Church’s tendency to give weight to the social order of the Middle Ages as a normative model of Christian society.
“This criticism of the Church may have had some validity in the past. In recent times, however, John Paul has taken a more cautious approach to the role of the state, both as the regulator of the economy and as the remedy for social problems.
“In what is perhaps one of the most notable innovations in the encyclical tradition, John Paul speaks cautiously about the danger of the welfare state. Looking at welfare in light of the principle of subsidiarity, he warns:
“By intervening directly and depriving society of its responsibility, the Social Assistance State leads to a loss of human energies and an inordinate increase of public agencies, which are dominated more by bureaucratic ways of thinking than by concern for serving their clients, and which are accompanied by an enormous increase in spending. In fact, it would appear that needs are best understood and satisfied by people who are closest to them and who act as neighbours to those in need. It should be added that certain kinds of demands often call for a response which is not simply material but which is capable of perceiving the deeper human need. One thinks of the condition of refugees, immigrants, the elderly, the sick, and all those in circumstances which call for assistance, such as drug abusers: all these people can be helped effectively only by those who offer them genuine fraternal support, in addition to the necessary care. (Centesimus Annus, 48, )” (p. 57)