Two Approaches to Fighting Poverty

America, a Catholic magazine that has been around since 1909, and which takes a liberal/progressive view on social issues, is currently running essays by Catholic politicians Senator Paul Ryan (R) and Congressman Joe Kennedy III (D), on the poverty problem and how best to address it. The contrast in the approaches both politicians offer is quite astonishing given that both are attempting to take a ‘Catholic approach’ to the problem. 

Both politicians acknowledge that there is a deepening divide between the rich and the poor and middle classes. But this is the only commonality between the ‘fixes’ being offered. 

How each politician applied solidarity and subsidiarity, two key principles of Catholic social teaching, to their approaches is worth examining since they serve to show how Catholic social teaching is pretty much being twisted by the left as they continue down a path toward totalitarianism.

Senator Paul Ryan’s essay: Preferential Options

Senator Ryan says Washington is the primary cause of the poverty problem. 

“And because the federal government is so disorganized and dysfunctional, Washington is in many ways deepening the divide: It is not helping people get back into the workforce; in fact, it is effectively encouraging them to stay out.

“Take an example: a single mom with one child. Imagine she works full-time year-round for $7.25 an hour (or $15,080 a year). To give you some perspective, she is making just below the poverty line for a family of two, which was $15,730 in 2014. Now imagine she is offered a raise to $10.35 an hour (or $21,528 a year). If she accepts, much of her federal aid will instantly disappear. At this point, thanks to higher taxes and lower benefits, she will effectively keep only 10 cents of every extra dollar she earns. So the federal government is effectively discouraging her from getting ahead.”

And this is the problem in a nutshell. Many people do better today being on public welfare then they can by working. Ryan’s fix for this problem is to consolidate up to 11 federal programs into one stream of funding to participating states – to push decision-making and implementation down to the state level and even down to the community level.

“Each state that wanted to participate would submit a plan to the federal government. That plan would lay out in detail the state’s proposed alternative. If everything passed muster, the federal government would give the green light. And the state would get more flexibility to combine programs such as food stamps, housing subsidies, child-care assistance and cash welfare.

“If approved, the state could use that money to expand state programs and to partner with local service providers. So families in need would have a choice. There would not just be a state agency or a federal agency. Instead, they could choose among non-profits like Catholic Charities USA, for-profits like America Works or even community groups unique to their neighborhood. And instead of offering a bunch of different benefits, these groups could offer a more holistic form of aid through case management.”

While even Ryan admits his plan may not be perfect, he is certainly not doing away with the “safety net,” as the Dems have said, and his plan may actually provide for a path out of poverty. It does rely on money from the federal government, but it also offers a hand up, instead of just a hand out. It’s a start and it’s worth a pilot program or two to see if it will work.

Congressman Joe Kennedy III’s essay: Dignity for All

According to Congressman Kennedy, the cause of the poverty problem is greedy corporations and more government is the solution. 

Congressman Kennedy starts his essay by mentioning a specific situation in the Dominican Republic from some years ago, implying that poverty was caused when some greedy businesses (“tour companies from the North Coast”) discovered a great natural tourist attraction and began bussing in people to see it. These tour companies exploited the locals, he says.  What he avoids saying is that the poverty problem existed long before the tour companies arrived. 

The poverty problem got fixed, he says, once “We raised money and built a small business to run the park operations with more local autonomy. We set up a community reinvestment fund so that a portion of every entrance fee went into the local neighborhood -- to build a bridge, buy a school bus, bring clean water to the community.” 

So while Kennedy assiduously avoids saying it, big business did not cause the poverty problem, and big government did not fix it. Some tour companies spotted an opportunity and took advantage of it. After a while the local community got organized and ‘got in the action.’ This is solidarity and subsidiarity in action. Unfortunately Kennedy does not seem to want to recognize this since the rest of his essay continues to point to big business as the cause of poverty, and more federal programs and big government as the solution. 

Kennedy also says, “Our recent political choices have succeeded only in compounding and entrenching these growing inequities.” So by Kennedy’s own admission big government, more laws and regulations, and more federal government programs, are really not the answers to the problem of poverty since they are the results of “our recent political choices” and have only served to exacerbate the problem!

Despite this contradiction, Kennedy insists that government is the fix for the problem. We just need to invest more money in education (even though we’ve been doing that since the 70s and nothing has changed), and we need to eliminate “the false choice between providing for a family and caring for one.” (While this may sound profound, it really is exactly what he says -- a false choice.) He also says, we need to pass the Paycheck Fairness Act so that women are not paid less than men and pass the Employment Non-Discrimination Act so LGBT workers “are not relegated to the economic margins.” But we already equal pay and anti-discrimination laws in place.

And, of course, we have to reverse, “the deeply structural injustices and inefficiencies that keep our policies stacked against those with very little,” reform “our badly broken campaign finance system” and “resurrect strong voting rights protections,” he says. 

So according to Kennedy, we need more laws and regulations because those we already have are causing injustice.  And let’s not forget about “strong voting rights protections” because anyone can vote here in the U.S., even dead people and non-citizens, and we certainly don’t want to do anything to change that. 

But here’s the kicker. Kennedy says, “None of these policies is a silver bullet. But together they work to reform a system that routinely denies working-class families mobility, opportunity and justice. Most important, they build the one force poverty cannot overcome: individuals with the means to invest in themselves, define their own future and make their families better off.” 

Hearing such rhetoric it’s kind of hard not to ask, what reality do you live in, Congressman?

The truth is that here in the U.S. people can invest in themselves, define their own future and make their families better off, and the system does not deny working-class families mobility, opportunity, and justice. But that is not the DNC mantra is it? It’s easier to get elected when you tell people they are victims, play on their fears, and offer them free stuff, as opposed to telling them ‘we’ll help you out to some extent, but in the final analysis you are the master of your own destiny.’   

There is a big difference between the two approaches. Kennedy’s approach is to point fingers at greedy corporations and use inflammatory rhetoric to keep getting progressives elected and growing government. Ryan, on the other hand, at least offers a plan aimed at limiting federal government intervention, and pushing assistance down to a state and ultimately a more local/community level -- a plan that is in keeping with Catholic social teaching.

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