$0.02 More On the Debt Limit Debate

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)



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  • Paul


    Is there some sort of authentically Catholic apologetics resource or book for Catholics to refer to in discussions with people about the faith? I was a lapsed Catholic who has recently returned to the faith and am currently devouring the Church’s apologetics literature (Chesterton, Kreeft, CS Lewis for his defense of Christianity). I am open to more apologetics suggestions. My knowledge of the faith and ability to defend it grows by the day, and this will likely be a lifelong process. I realize that at this point I am unable to strongly defend every point of Catholicism and for this reason wanted to know if there is a modern central resource compiled with authentically Catholic responses to common questions. I know there is the catechism and the encyclicals, but I guess I was looking for something more in a Q&A format (such a resource might be long!). Any suggestions?


    • Michael B.

      Paul, I can’t speak for Thomas, but I’d highly recommend the recently released “Youth Catechism of the Catholic Church”, or “YOUCAT”, which Pope Benedict personally wrote the forward for. As a volunteer catechist, I’ve found it an extremely valuable resource for explaining the faith to teens and adults. Plus, it’s in a question-answer format, like the Baltimore Catechism, and indexed to the Catechism of the Catholic Church, so if people want to go deeper they know where to look in the Catechism. Here’s the profile of the new “YOUCAT” from its publisher, Ignatius Press.

  • tex

    Thomas, I couldn’t agree more with your article. I’ve had a number of discussions with people who are old enough to either be near receiving benefits of Social Security, or those who soon will, and their sentiment is a definitive “Hands Off”. For them, the fact that they’ve been paying into the system for so many years makes them feel entitled to receive benefits, and I have nothing but understanding for how they feel. But the fact is, there is no fund, only a promise. A promise that the next generation will be the one to carry you. Unfortunately, it’s a promise that is made for that generation, not by that generation.

    Like you, I am young enough to be at a point where I can make decisions. And while I may not be able to take away the guarantee that I will take care of the current generation of dependents, I can decide not to become one in the future. Our generation needs to step up where others have not.

    Paul Ryan’s plan, while not perfect, at least works towards this goal, and for the very same reasons you mentioned. He openly speaks about the motivation he received from his children, and his desire not to do unto them what was done unto him. I can do nothing but respect his desire and share the same wish for my daughter.

    Debt is a moral issue, as is helping the poor. But to steal from the next generation to give, even to the poorest of the poor, is not moral. Ends cannot be used to justify the means. For many though the hope in the conversion of the heart has given way to coercion by the state.

  • Matt B

    Tom, I remarked in a previous post that people will no longer be willing to invest in US debt. That comment essentially ignores the people, both here and abroad, who have already floated umpteen bezillion dollars of US government debt to date. (Where did all that money go? I don’t see a CBO study on that!) My second point is that these investors will not see their holdings eviscerated by devaluation and inflation very willingly. The problem of national debt and default leads inexorably to the problem of national expropriations and war. The moral dimensions of debt reach far beyond merely economic concerns. See if I’m wrong. (But the arm of the Lord still can save.)

  • Davide Mancinelli-D’incerti

    @Tom Peters did you see what’s going on here in Ohio? The State Senate passed a measure or law that would greatly restrict the killing of yet to be born child. The strictest in the nation. Thx Davide



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