Following up to yesterday’s post on social teaching, the continued efforts of some Catholics to define the work of social justice as directing as much government money as handouts to the poor as possible, rather than the real purpose of helping the poor—which is to empower them (teaching individuals to fish rather than just giving them fish)—as George Weigel aptly notes in this article from the Ethics & Public Policy Center.
“Barring an international conflagration or another 9/11, both of which may God forbid, the 2012 election is going to be fought on the question of America's fiscal future: Will the United States get a grip now, and over the next several decades, on the costs associated with an aging society? Or will we spend-and-borrow ourselves into virtual insolvency? Greece, Portugal, Spain, and other European countries have chosen the latter route, causing serious distress domestically and some disruption in the international economy. If the United States opts to go down the same road, the consequences will not only be grave at home; they will be far graver abroad, as American profligacy puts unbearable strains on the international financial and economic systems.
“In 2011, the United States is like a patient who has been told that he or she has a serious, advanced, but curable disease: curable if certain measures are taken. There is little debate about the diagnosis, for everyone can read the demographic and budgetary realities; thus just about everyone, left, right, and center, agrees that we've got a major, but solvable, problem, the resolution of which will determine whether our children and grandchildren thank us, or wonder why we didn't have the wit and will to fix what was wrong when we had the chance. The question before the electorate in 2012 will be, what are the measures necessary to cure the disease?
“Catholic social thought ought to be helpful in sorting this out. Its both/and approach to society and public policy—the individual and the common good, the market and a strong legal and cultural framework to guide it, the responsibilities of individuals and the responsibilities of government—are a refreshing antidote to the statist and libertarian ideologies of the day. Few, if any, comprehensive visions of the free and virtuous society are as balanced and supple, or as amenable to creative mixes of public and private initiative, as Catholic social thought.
“Yet in the hands of some Catholics, Catholic social thought has been reduced to another argument for what Blessed John Paul II criticized, in the 1991 social encyclical Centesimus Annus, as the Social Assistance State—what Americans more familiarly call the Nanny State. In this view, virtually every problem on the 2012 agenda—from the solvency of Social Security and Medicare to federal budgetary discipline and debt reduction—can only be addressed by an increase in the government's involvement in the economy, the society, the culture, and the lives of individuals. Such thinking betrays a sorry lack of imagination (not to mention a sorry lack of historical understanding, of the "been there, done that" school). It is also a crude caricature, and thus a betrayal, of Catholic social thought and the social doctrine of the popes from Leo XIII through Benedict XVI.”