I’ve enjoyed reading the comments on my post yesterday where I contributed my two cents on the current national debate over raising the debt limit.
Many of you contributed your own two cents and I think we’re starting to accumulate a healthy savings account of back-and-forth opinion.
I want to expand the debate now, taking into consideration one of the best points was made since yesterday’s post, as well as update readers with the news that the debate in DC over raising the debt limit appears to have broken down for now, which means we have more time to share our views.
First, an important clarification: an observant reader (from Minnesota) notes that Abp. Nienstedt published a letter taking exception to the way his first letter to Governor Dayton was taken as an endorsement of the Governor’s budget solutions:
Some commentators interpreted my message as favoring one party’s approach over another’s. That was not correct.
I took pains to express clearly and carefully the principles that should frame the budget discussions, namely, concern for the common good and providing essential services for the poor.
… I speak from the church’s age-old tradition of ethical analysis and moral insight that is found in our Catholic social teaching. From these teachings come principles which are applied using prudence and practical wisdom.
The church does not (as I did not in my letter) offer specific political or economic solutions, but rather proposes an ethical and moral framework in the hope of moving the discussion in the right direction.
The pursuit of the common good demands that power not dominate over justice, that the interests of partisanship not threaten the good of society as a whole, that the basic interests of the poor and most vulnerable not be ignored.
I agree with all of this. The question then becomes, how best to secure the common good while not ignoring the needs of the poor? It would seem to me that raising taxes on the rich to prop up a bloated government welfare system is not the best way to secure both of those goals. Instead, reducing the size of government and reforming these welfare programs is the better way forward – freeing up more capital among private individuals and private (normally religious-run) charities to directly care for the needy.
And in fact, it appears that Governor Dayton is seeing the light today:
Mark Dayton, the Democratic governor of Minnesota, announced on Thursday that he would drop demands for a tax increase and agree to budget terms proposed by Republican lawmakers before the state shut down government services two weeks ago, but with several new conditions.
A final resolution in Minnesota is still some time off, of course, but at least the Governor has acknowledged that taking more money from the private sector is not the only answer to his state government running in the red. The trend of Democrat Governors and state legislatures stepping back from their attempts to tax their way out of budget deficits is a healthy one, and I hope politicians here in DC are taking notes.
Getting back to the comments on my original post, I think Deacon David brought up an excellent point:
A point to remember is that the Catholic social principle of the universal destination of goods applies also chronologically. Too much debt deprives our children and future generations of their rights. […] The government, therefore, directed by us sovereign citizens, has an increasingly compelling moral imperative to reduce the deficit, reduce the national debt, and maintain a relatively small size and tax burden (relative, I mean, to its legitimate functions and obligations, not to its waxing desire for power). At the same time, it must justly protect the poor. Some reasonable combination of first fostering subsidiary entities (most especially strong families and churches) and of ensuring a safety net only secondly seems prudent; note that the better the first is achieved, the less the government role [is needed] in the second.
I think this is spot-on, because it begins by making a crucial point: those who are in government today have a responsibility not only to those alive today, but to future generations as well.
Think of it this way: if government only had an obligation to those alive today, why not immediately take out a line of credit which had to be paid back only after 100 years and give every American a million dollars? Why not? Because that would be a grievous injustice to the Americans who would have to pay back that debt in 100 years. And yet, this is practically what our government is doing by running up these huge debts.
The notion that the “universal destination of goods” applies over time is about the most succinct way of formulating why I strongly believe this national debt debate is a profoundly important moral issue.
As someone who has followed politics closely for only a short period, I don’t care all that much about explaining how we got here (or assigning blame to who/which political party) got us here. But as a young man who can look forward to seeing the harmful effects of crushing national debt affect myself and my generation as we grow up and raise the next generation, I care entirely about fixing where we go from here.
UPDATE: Related reading— “Social teaching and the federal budget: a Catholic politician’s views by Congressman Paul Ryan” (Our Sunday Visitor)