Thursday, October 27, 2011

Subsidiarity: Why haven't I heard this before?

I think of this as a boring but important post. I'll keep it short, so stay with me. (And try to stifle your yawns!)

You've heard of "social justice" but have you heard of "subsidiarity"?

I hadn't, until about a year or two ago. The Catholic principle of subsidiarity has been added to my list of "Why haven't I heard this before??" (along with the three stages of holiness and the natural law).

So, here we go...

The definition of "subsidiarity" according to Wikipedia:
Subsidiarity is an organizing principle [which holds] that matters ought to be handled by the smallest, lowest or least centralized competent authority. 

The definition of "subsidiarity" according to the Oxford English Dictionary:
[T]he principle that central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed effectively at a more immediate or local level. 

In other words, if something can be done by a smaller and more simple organization (as opposed to a larger and more complex one) then it should be. The family is the simplest, most "local" organization in the social order, followed by such organizations as the neighborhood, city, state, nation, and the like. The more complicated, further removed and more centralized an entity or authority, the less effective, more impersonal, and even more harmful are its interventions into areas proper to smaller and more local authorities.

Subsidiarity holds that decisions and policies should be made at the lowest level possible, and intervention by higher and bigger social organizations should only be undertaken when those lower levels truly need and desire a supporting (not usurping!) action.

What's really cool is that subsidiarity is a Catholic principle, sprung from Catholic social teaching.

Pope Pius XI wrote of it here:
As history abundantly proves, it is true that on account of changed conditions many things which were done by small associations in former times cannot be done now save by large associations. Still, that most weighty principle, which cannot be set aside or changed, remains fixed and unshaken in social philosophy: Just as it is gravely wrong to take from individuals what they can accomplish by their own initiative and industry and give it to the community, so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do. For every social activity ought of its very nature to furnish help to the members of the body social, and never destroy and absorb them. (Quadragesimo Anno, 1931)

Sixty years later, Blessed John Paul II warned of the dangers that come from violating the principle of subsidiarity, namely, the modern welfare state:

[E]xcesses and abuses, especially in recent years, have provoked very harsh criticisms of the Welfare State, dubbed the "Social Assistance State". Malfunctions and defects in the Social Assistance State are the result of an inadequate understanding of the tasks proper to the State. Here again the principle of subsidiarity must be respected: a community of a higher order should not interfere in the internal life of a community of a lower order, depriving the latter of its functions, but rather should support it in case of need and help to coordinate its activity with the activities of the rest of society, always with a view to the common good. 
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. (Centesimus annus, 1991)

The role of the family must not be usurped by communities and cities, the role of cities must not be usurped by states, and the role of states must not be usurped by the federal government. Worst of all is when the federal government overtakes a role proper to the family.

On a personal note: It's frustrating when well-meaning Catholic proponents of social justice claim that a vote against more and bigger federal social programs is somehow "un-Catholic." Nothing could be further from the truth, of course, as the Catholic principles of social justice must never be divorced from the Catholic principle of subsidiarity.

But the misunderstanding is not really their fault, as they probably have never even heard of subsidiarity. Which leads me back to my original question:

Catholics, were you ever taught about the principle of subsidiarity?



  1. Wow! Not a Catholic .. but that totally makes sense. And, no, I have never heard the word before, either.

    Off to yawn my way to bed. (kidding)

    :) :) :)

  2. Mama D, what are you doing up so late??? Wait… what am I doing up so late??

  3. This is a great post and great concept for social structure. I think you would enjoy reading about Chesterton's Distributism as an economic system, which goes hand in hand with subsidiary as a social system.

  4. I definitely learned something new!

  5. You know, my husband, who's had more Catholic education than I have as a result of going to a Catholic university has definitely explained this priciple to me, but I didn't know it had a real name! Or that he was explaining it as a Catholic teaching. D'oh! --Jan

    (sorry, spelling error)

  6. Let's just add this to the list of things that if I think about too long make my blood boil because 'I've never heard of this before.'

    Lord Have Mercy for we know not what we do.

  7. Like Jan, I've heard of the idea before but never knew it had a name! I think just watching how the Church functions makes us understand subsidiarity. Great post! So good to know these terms.

  8. Actually, it was discussed, albeit briefly and not in depth, in my RCIA class. It was the session where we learned about the Church's social justice teachings -- this is the document we were given; see the paragraph under "Role of Government."

  9. I was going to say the same thing as Monica--I hear the social teaching of subsidiarity mentioned alongside the economic model of distributivism quite often (Thomas Woods, Lew Rockwell, etc.) Mark Shea takes an interesting approach to the topic:

    But to answer your question...I was never formally taught about subsidiarity (at least by name) but rather in generalities.

  10. Big surprise -- I heard about it from Sarah! And I'm not sure where she learned about the concept. We most definitely did not learn about subsidiarity in school, at church, or at home. I hope this generation does a better job relaying knowledge alongside critical thinking and logic to our children. It has been a long road trying to figure it all out for myself! This is one of the reasons I homeschool with a classical Catholic curriculum. I want my kids to be "battle ready" in a confusing and deceptive world. Of course, any parent can relay this information regardless of schooling choice -- have them read Leila's blog about once a week :).

  11. Mrs. Mike, good points, and I especially like this:

    1941 Socio-economic problems can be resolved only with the help of all the forms of solidarity: solidarity of the poor among themselves, between rich and poor, of workers among themselves, between employers and employees in a business, solidarity among nations and peoples. International solidarity is a requirement of the moral order; world peace depends in part upon this.

    My issue is that so much of what is taught as Catholic social justice today is unbalanced (or completely one-sided), and thus the need to balance it. Solidarity has been emphasized to the exclusion of subsidiarity (in my experience), so we've got to get back to teaching both -- with the acknowledgement that no economic or social system is perfect and that we can have a legitimately wide range of opinions on which systems work best for a given nation or people. Again, prudential judgement comes into play here.

    I take note of JPII's words, as he saw first hand the devastation and despair of true socialism, and I think his comments do reflect what has happened in the modern welfare state in the west. The following article, which illustrates the horrible effects on human dignity of the welfare state in England, seems to speak exactly to what the Holy Father was warning against:

    (hat tip to our frequent commenter Mary for that link)

    I would argue that we have something similar here, with our inner-city generational welfare (mostly fatherless homes, where the gov't has replaced the father in a family). It is soooo dehumanizing.

    So, we need balance, and we need systems and philosophies that preserve human dignity. Vast and distant federal government bureaucracies are notorious for quashing human dignity and killing the soul (and are accompanied by "an enormous increase in spending" as the Holy Father has said).

  12. Elizabeth, ha ha! :)

    JoAnna, I am glad they threw in that paragraph, but I wish they would have emphasized the actual sinful nature of the usurpation of roles, which is called a "grave evil" by Pius XI:

    so also it is an injustice and at the same time a grave evil and disturbance of right order to assign to a greater and higher association what lesser and subordinate organizations can do.

    I think a case can be made that the modern welfare state (I am not talking about a legitimate safety net provided by the federal government!) is morally evil. I think the usurpation of parental rights and the role of parents as primary teachers is another area where we can rightly claim a grave injustice. NYC's new sex ed mandates for children as young as 10 are one example, on a city-wide level, and there are a million more on state and federal levels.

  13. I LOVE this! A great response to "social justice" Catholics who try to claim that there are more important (or even other) issues than abortion. Bookmarking!

  14. One more thing I should add: We've discussed on this blog before the annihilation of the role of churches and faith-based groups by government lately. The bigger social organization (state and federal gov't) has snuffed out the smaller, more personal, more local activity of the Church. The Church's role in adoptions and foster care has been effectively "usurped" and "destroyed" recently in many areas of the country, as well as the role of Catholic hospitals and businesses and entities providing health care, in the government mandating of abortifacients and birth control for all.

  15. Yeah, what I linked was a quick and dirty summary, essentially. If you navigate around the site (specifically, this page) there are links to the various papal encyclicals and whatnot. We were encouraged to explore those on our own time. :)

  16. JoAnna, that's great! I am glad it was covered. We didn't cover it when I taught RCIA because I'd never heard of it, ha ha!

  17. My RCIA classes were once a week from January to June, I think from 6pm to 9pm, and we just barely scratched the surface of Catholic teaching. I did (and still do!) a LOT of independent research. There's so much to learn!

  18. Leila,
    I agree to a point. But, I think there are concerns that might appear to be something to be handled at the city or state level, but actually need national intervention. Some of these things would be regulatory in nature.

    I am thinking of certain environmental laws and educational standards. Take the Americans with Disabilities Act. It has revolutionized how we deal with handicapped people in all walks of life. There are absurdities (like the Appalachian Mountain Club being required to install an expensive wheelchair access to one of its MOUNTAINTOP huts), but think of the millions of physically or emotionally disabled students who now have access to the best educational systems etc.

    I also think of places like Finland (a welfare state) that have a booming economy (they will certainly face problems due to demographics just like others, but are in far better shape than Germany even), a first-rate school system, and produce lots of high-tech marvels (Nokia). Granted their model might not work so well scaled up for the U.S., but we can learn things from them that work.

    There is no doubt our government spending is out of control, and I do think entitlement programs need to be curtailed. The cost of healthcare will swamp doubt...but it will swamp private insurance too...the problem is multifaceted.

  19. Mary, yes, and I consider it a given that there are some things that must be done on a federal level (though we can disagree what those specifics are). In no way am I an anarchist. :)

    And of course, nothing on this earth is perfect. But what I've said before is that while situations, circumstance, people and emotions are complicated, principles are not. We start with basic principles and we build from there in a messy, broken (fallen) world. So, it's the "never losing sight of those principles" that matters to me, and I think in many ways we have lost sight of them, to the detriment of human souls...

  20. I abhor what has been done to shackle churches in the adoption arena. It makes no sense. BUT!!!! we should keep in mind that before Social Security was in place millions of Americans were abjectly poor. It is not perfect, but the churches of that time were not doing a sufficient job...they just were not. The reduction of elderly poverty was an unmitigated benefit.

  21. Not boring but very important!!! Great post, Leila!

    And this is why the Pope would never accept the ridiculous report that calls for a world bank. It completely violates the principle of subsidarity.

    CCC 1883 talks about this, too!!

  22. it's stuff like this that makes you qualified to have 8 kids....I would rather be smart then be able to cook. :) My kids are screwed! :) Hopefully, I can nourish them to "smartness" because it sure isn't going to be by example! LOL

  23. Sew, you crack me up! You are more than qualified! God thinks so. ;) And so does H!!! :)

    Lauren, thanks for the CCC reference! I wanted to put that in, but it had part of JPII's quote and I didn't want to be redundant... at least not in the post, ha ha.

  24. I am not trying to sound all smarty pants because I had NEVER heard of many Catholic words until about a year ago when I started taking courses, but this is cool. I learned it in my first theology class.

    This idea actually goes back to the time of Moses, and it was Pope Leo XIII, a contemporary an opponent of Karl Marx, who (I think) first used that term in an encyclical, Rerum Novarum, in the late 1800's.

    Moses tried to manage everything himself as the leader of Israel until God told him, through his father-in-law Jethro, to divide up the people into successively larger groups of ten and establish counsels to lead them leaving minor decisions to groups best able to make them, and himself less burdened so he could guide through God's word.

    The Church, too, is ordered in this way. We have a hierarchy of leaders and there is a great deal of interaction intended between parishioners, priests, bishops and the Pope. One of the goals of modern theology is to increase the interactions within the hierarchy through education and communication.

    This is also the order of a Republic and the order the founders of the United States intended. That is why we elect leaders at many levels.

    Then if I can be so snooty to drop a link, I posted about after the shallacking of the last elections.

    Cool stuff, this Catholicism!!!

  25. I only heard of this when I started to homeschool my children about 20 years ago thanks to Seton!

  26. Stacy, that is AWESOME, thanks!!

    mtmom, go Seton!! :)

  27. I am not Catholic, but I agree with this 100%. We are more willing to help each other when the government isn't doing it.

  28. Not boring at all! (at least for the armchair political philosophers). I am always in awe at the depth and breadth of the Church's teachings. I suppose that's what happens when she has seen governments of every form come and go for 2000+ years...

    ...which has me wondering where in the world the document that Lauren mentioned, from the Pontifical Council on Peace and Justice, recommending a single, global financial regulatory system, came from. Of course it's been hyped and played up by the mainstream media, but the language of it seems to fly smack in the face of subsidiarity. The New American has published about the most objective criticism I've seen of it yet:

    Re: homeschooling, I'm afraid that it may be quickly becoming the only way our kids get the un-politicized truth about this and so many other things. Another great op-ed at TNA:

  29. This is the first time I've heard of it.

  30. I've always held this belief in theory, but didn't know it had a name... and that the Catholic Church teaches it! I feel a little bit more Catholic now :)

    This is actually kind of fitting, since I just went on a retreat with a bunch of social justice focused Catholics - which is not a bad thing, except when that's all you focus on (and at the expense of other, non-negotiable issues).

  31. I had never heard of this. I had to ask my son, a junior at a well known Catholic University, if he had heard of the term. He had in his Catholic high school religion class! Best part is he agrees with it, although, he said he likes to take it one step further from the family to the individual (yes a bit libertarian.) I gleefully exclaimed that if all 7 of my kids want to do as much for themselves as possible and my husband and I only kick in when necessary...I am good with that! I envision them cooking meals, cleaning, raising money, sewing their own clothes....but I digress.

  32. Has anyone here read "Basic Economics" by Thomas Sowell? Sowell is a free-market economist and a brilliant one at that. He has a real gift for combining world history, economics, and social issues to clarify economic laws, real-life applications, and effects on society, even among very different cultures. While Sowell never uses the word subsidiarity, "Basic Economics" illustrates modern and historical applications of this concept, as well as analyses and examples of large centralized governments. No matter how badly we want to organize the world under one big, central umbrella, where centralized planners can hand out justice and wealth to all, it is a physical impossibility with the immense and infinite complexities involved in managing constantly shifting nuances of individuals, neighborhoods, communities, regions, etc. And he illustrates and explains how individuals and smaller-scale communities succeed where large bureaucracies, no matter their intentions, will eventually fail society every single time if they step outside their primary functions of defense, legal framework, etc. This is not to say different societies cannot have different degrees of federal involvement, but we do have to be very careful about those degrees.

    And to think the Church has understood and applied this concept for thousands of years, while all novel human efforts to manufacture utopia continue to crumble. If we could only learn from the truth staring us in the face...

  33. I feel like I just took an important class on "Catholic Social Justice and Words You Should Know..." Haha. What a great grouping of thoughts and ideas! Thank you for so much insight in one bubble of a blog!


  34. Oh, this is so timely! I've been thinking about writing you to see if you've heard about this! My husband and I learned about subsidiarity 2 years ago when our church became involved in a group that has ties to an Alinskyian organization, the IAF (Industrial Areas Foundation)- which promotes a VERY liberal political agenda, not to mention being very divisive to the parish. We began studying the Catechism and other Church documents to try to inform our priest about the TRUE social doctrine of our Church. Unfortunately, he sided with the liberals, so we (as well as many others) joined other parishes, so that our tithes would not support the work of this group (each member parish pays dues to the IAF). We believe that the "smoking gun" that got our former parish and other parishes involved in the IAF is the JustFaith program. Have you heard of it? It is a 30+ week course designed to educate people about social justice issues. What it really does is indoctrinate people in LIBERAL social justice (definitely NOT subsidiarity). Many of the resources used in the program are written by dissident Catholics. The founder of JustFaith, Jack Jezreel, is associated with Call To Action--a dissident group that promotes same-sex marriage and women priests--and Pax Christi--another dissident group.
    Here's a website that has a wealth of information on the Church's Social Doctrine and Alinskyian Community Organizing:

    Another great resource is Stephanie Block of the Catholic Media Coalition. She has researched and written extensively on these topics.
    Anyone else have experience in this? We're STILL trying to remove these programs from our diocese.

    BTW, I've had numerous interruptions while trying to write this, including a crying baby, and a 2-year old that did a belly flop while trying to jump off the sofa. While comforting him, he vomited his breakfast all over me. Maybe someone is trying to keep me from posting this?? Whoever said that being a stay-at-home mom was boring?!

  35. LeAnn, way to be a warrior for truth!! It's stuff like that (the Saul Alinsky garbage) that makes me so frustrated. Catholicism is incompatible with that! And all the "Liberation Theology" heresies (JPII was fiercely opposed to that, and anything with a Marxist bent). So much of that passed off as compatible with Catholic social justice principles and nothing could be further from the truth! I remember following the Call to Action dissidents years ago, to keep my eye on their destructive shenanigans, and I wonder if they are still even vibrant? They were all pretty much aging hippies back then. Are they still around? Very sad.

    I haven't heard of JustFaith, but thanks for the warning and heads up! I am sad that your parish was split and that your pastor sided with dissidents, but I am praying that as the younger, orthodox priests replace the "old guard" of the dissidents from the last few decades, we will see the Church in America righting the ship.

    I love that last paragraph… can totally relate! Gotta go get the three monkeys off my bed before they break their necks!

  36. Thanks Leila. Unfortunately, Call To Action is still around. Here's an excerpt from their website:
    An Open Letter to President Obama
    "We support marriage equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people not in spite of being Catholic, but because we are Catholic. As Catholics, we believe that we are all beloved children of God, and we want the laws of our land to mandate fairness, justice, and equality for all."


    Love your blog. I read every post, but rarely respond, mostly because of 4 little people who require my attention. Thanks for being a beacon of light and hope for us!

  37. LeAnn, did you hear me groan all the way from AZ? I mean seriously?? Why don't they just become Episcopalians? The gilt without the guilt as they say… They have as much integrity as "Vegetarians for meat eating".

    Oy, vey!

  38. I know! Then they can have women ordinations too!

  39. I am curious what non-Catholics and atheists think of this principle.

  40. I had not heard of this before.. so educational! Thanks for sharing!!

    I can't wait to share this with my DH tonight.

  41. I would venture to guess that a lot of them would agree with this concept, because it works even outside of the context of Catholicism. That is part of the beauty of Catholicism -- It articulates truth for all of nature and mankind, regardless of whether or not one chooses to believe that reality. A person does not have to believe in gravity, but it still exists and applies itself indiscriminately across the globe. We can choose to ignore it because maybe we think life would be better without it, but bad things tend to happen.

    Just as one example, I would bet Thomas Sowell wholeheartedly agrees with this concept based on his ideas outlined in a myriad of books. He is not Catholic. I also know of atheist libertarians and, while they are still on their own spiritual journey, would doubtfully have any trouble embracing this concept. Many conservatives already embrace the concept even if they've never heard of the term.

    Now a Marxist would not care for this concept at all. To suggest that people are capable of functioning and should function without the help of centralized bureaucracy for most areas of life puts a damper on their (historically tragic) philosophies.

  42. Lucky 7, hilarious! Elizabeth, I love Thomas Sowell.

  43. Leila, when I stumbled across your blog, I was impressed by your knowledge and manner of explaining things. You dropped one-half notch in my admiration of your knowledge. Perhaps it's just because I've always read so much, but the principle of subsidiarity is old news to me. The CCC has as a good a definition as any other (although I don't have access to chapter and verse at the moment).

    You can't really discuss what is going on with this country and the calls for the government to do just about everything without understanding this principle. We are called to grow in holiness and love our neighbor --- and that 'we' starts in the mirror, not with the government.

  44. Do Not Be Anxious, then you set me up much too high. I am ignorant of many, many things. :)

    Lauren reproduced the CCC definition here in the comments. I almost included it in the post, but it restated JPII's quote and I wanted to give his full statement.

  45. Timely discussion, since our priest just last week sympathized with the "occupy" people camping out on Wall Street--"They are there because there is too much income disparity. People are fed up!" So I started reading Rerum Novarum, and while it is interesting and informative, I was really hoping to find something that would speak to our current situation as Americans. While there is certainly a very poor segment of our population, I think most welfare clients (much less the "occupiers") have no comprehension of the abject poverty that exists elsewhere in the world. So my question is: how do we, as Americans, minister justly to the poor and needy? I've been in soup kitchens where the guys had diamond stud earrings and more expensive brand clothing than my own kids. I don't want to find excuses to avoid serving the poor, but I do want to serve the poor--not the people who didn't feel like working. Maybe the two can't be separated. And sadly, I'm wary of Catholic Charities as an option because I'm not really sure of their social justice bent. We live in an area that has been terribly influenced by a liberal seminary/college, and their influence is everywhere. Ugh.

    I think I'm rambling, but this is really something that's been on my mind a lot lately.

  46. robbie, it's a great question. I am as perplexed as you. I've had the same thoughts and I don't know the answer. Anyone?

  47. Regarding income disparity and Occupy Wall Street--why isn't anyone occupying Hollywood? Or the NFL? How many millions did superstars (actors or athletes) make last year? For a priest to sympathize with the occupy group is just plain sad. Has he read any of the reports about the garbage that is going on with these protests?

  48. Generally speaking the issue here is what is the lowest level where things actually work?

    Part of the problem that we have had continuously is how to measure, enforce, grade, and understand what is going on and what to do about it.

    Public education has been traditionally a State and County level operation for years, but was recently nationalized (under Bush I believe) with the whole "No Child Left Behind" legislation, trying to create some kind of national standards attached to Federal spending.

    In the arena of social justice, just throwing subsidiarity out there doesn't actually change anything... You'd still need to argue specifically what you think could and should be moved down the ladder.

    I also don't see what this has to do with abortion at all?

    I think the issue is more that the Federal government has claimed jurisdiction over EVERYTHING over the years such that Congress becomes the de facto arena of choice.

  49. I am also going to say that I have some sympathy for the Occupy movement. Is it perfect? Certainly not. Like most liberal protests it suffers from being unfocused and unclear in its goals.

    But the general idea that the system that we have is corrupt? There is some truth there.

  50. So, Devil's Advocate... Does this mean that we are OK with allowing the Defense of Marriage Act to go away?

    Marriage has been a State level matter forever. Was it after the first state legalized gay marriage that we decided to move up to the Federal level to try and stop state level actions?

    Subsidiarity is a good rule of thumb. It also cuts both ways.

  51. Nicholas, I think the Department of Education was begun under Carter? Along with several other departments of questionable value.

    As for DOMA, well, DOMA does not put a program in place or do anything at all. It just restates the definition of marriage as it's always been. No bureaucracy, nothing. So, I'm not sure subsidiarity even applies. No function is being "taken over" by a higher authority.

  52. Nicholas,

    DOMA defines marriage for federal agencies, not state agencies. It (obviously) hasn't prevented some states from legalizing "gay marriage."

    I think subsidiarity does actually apply. The highest levels are right to define such things for the common good of society, just like Church councils put forth common doctrine for all the faithful.

    Nicholas, subsidiarity can't cut both ways, it's unidirectional. When the higher levels don't do their job, the lower levels become confused and bad things happen. With abortion, the federal government ruled that no state could defend unborn human life with laws to restrict abortion...and look at what is happening to our nation almost four decades later. Some people say its decline is not related to abortion, but the people who were predicting such decline back then, and ever since, saw it coming. Gosnell was only a matter of time, and he's almost certainly not the only one. There's really no way to even know if abortions are done later than 24 weeks or if staff members are killing the babies before or after they are separated from their mothers any more.

  53. Nicholas,

    "But the general idea that the system that we have is corrupt? There is some truth there."

    Could you elaborate? What is corrupt?

    In the WSJ yesterday (I think it was) there was an article about how apple orchards are advertising $150 a day for people to pick apples, they are in NEED of workers. But all those unemployed people aren't interested. Too hard?

  54. @Stacy - By cut both ways I simply meant that it could as easily apply to things we do not like :-p

    As for corruption, how about the bank bailouts? We talk a good game about capitalism, but when you privatize the gains but socialize the losses, that isn't capitalism.

    I can't speak to a specific WSJ article, but yes, transient agriculture has been something that has a hard time finding workers... but how many people actually live near these farms?

    In our society, a day labor situation with no benefits is certainly far from ideal, and I doubt there are convenient public transportation routes to farms. But the presence of some low skill, no benefit transient jobs doesn't mean there aren't other serious problems with our systems.

    Stacy, where you say "I think subsidiarity does actually apply. The highest levels are right to define such things for the common good of society, just like Church councils put forth common doctrine for all the faithful." -- Isn't that more or less the opposite position of the original article?

    I read the original article as saying that "social justice" oriented Catholics who are in favor of Federal intervention type programs should take a good look at subsidiarity and see that these programs are really things that should be handled at a lower level. But certainly they would see themselves in the exact position you described - looking to protect and define the common good.

    I don't have a problem with that concept in general, but again by "cut both ways" it would say if we are keeping to the lower levels to handle things appropriately, our appealing to the higher levels would be equally inappropriate.

    But I would argue that both sides routinely appeal to the highest levels (eg Congress) because in today's terrible political climate, that is the only avenue that seems effective.

  55. Thanks for elaborating. There is corruption, but "occupying" public places and doing nothing really doesn't address it. I don't get the impression the "occupy" people know what they are actually protesting, nor do they understand the 1%. I just wondered your take on it. Bank bailouts -- were bad.

    Regarding the apple orchards, work is work. I do get frustrated with the people who continuously find excuses not to work.

    The principle of subsidiarity holds that policy decisions should be made by those who are most affected by these decisions, but higher authority may correct these decisions for the sake of the common good. However, authority should enable the lower unit to continue to make its own decisions in conformity with the common good.

  56. True, and I don't entirely agree with the protesters... However, we have free speech and free assembly, and if they have nothing better to do than to camp out in some small parks in downtown areas, I don't have a problem with that.

    If anything, I think the amount of unnecessary police violence has been the real black eye in this whole business, and is what is getting them whatever limited credibility they have achieved.

    I'm a tad more liberal than most posters here, I would expect, in that I do find it troubling that the income and wealth gaps in the US are so pronounced, but more so that they keep growing at such an incredibly fast rate.

    And I do think that it is a problem that Wall St banks like Goldman Sachs can essentially just make stuff up that "creates" wealth out of thin air -- until it falls apart. The ridiculous derivatives and other so-called "exotic" products that Wall St was bandying about before the housing crash that really no one understood and essentially turned out to be toxic and worthless, necessitating the major bank bailouts...

    The problem that I see, (and which I think the Occupy Wall St people are also trying to talk about but are terribly inarticulate at) is that in the wake of all that, the big banks are fast on their way back to business as usual, and fighting tooth and nail against any changes that would prevent them from going back and doing the same kinds of things that led us to the economic woes we have experienced over the last few years.

    I don't know what the answer is. I'm not a economics genius. I understand that regulation has its own problems as well... But doesn't something need to change?

    And that is how I see Occupy Wall St. They know that something is wrong, but they don't know what to do about it. And they are hoping if they keep a spotlight on the problem long enough, we as a society will do something to fix it.

  57. I think Stacy is right on with the idea that there is work out there for those who want to find it. Not saying there are jobs for all people in all places; but there are plenty of jobs that aren't filled. Locally, a new Super-Walmart was built. For the first two months or longer their stock was terrible. I enquired from several workers and a manager as to why the brand new store was so pathetically empty. They all pointed out that they were unable to find enough employees to work the (ginormous) store. Also, the employees they hired had a tendency to show up only when they felt like it, or only for a day or two before never coming back.

    Further, how many of the OWStreeters have overpriced college educations? How many of them have marketable degrees? Kids are encouraged to go to the school of their dreams and do whatever they want, but the fact is that these things may not be economically advisable. And Wall Street is to blame for that economic disparity? It sounds like a bunch of my kids: "That's NOT FAIR!" No, baby, it isn't. That's LIFE. Great article about this at FrontPageMag

    There is an awesome little essay written by Alexis de Toqueville called Memoir on Pauperism. He finds that people develop an entitlement mindset (OWS) in a welfare state--in other words when subsidiarity is not practiced. He makes a good case, and this was in early 19th century England. I think we're there. You can read it here:

  58. Without doubt the college system in this country also needs an overhaul, and needs to start seriously decreasing the amount of non-marketable degrees being pushed out. Costs also need to come into line, as education does appear to be the next "bubble" - tuition prices are way too high for the value that is received in many cases.

  59. Didn't the government force banks to give high risk loans to poor people would could not afford to pay them back?

    And as a mom of college students... don't get me started. The availability of free money from the government makes it advantageous for the universities to hike tuition endlessly (our state school was 20% last year!!). They know the kids will get the government loans, and the kids (not the schools!) will be the ones with the burden of the debt. Take away the free money for schools (carried on the backs of students), let the universities bring down their tuition, and the kids will be able to pay for their tuition again.

    The whole system now is unsustainable.

    Stacy, you have convinced me that DOMA is about subsidiarity. It's like the fundamental right to life. It has to be protected at the federal level. That is one of their few responsibilities.

    I'm sure the Founders could not have imagined that one day "marriage" would include two grooms and no bride!! Or that sodomy would be the act of Holy Matrimony! Since the fundamental unit of society (and the first rung of subsidiarity) is the family unit (based on marriage), I can see the need for the federal protection of that first, essential rung.

  60. I don't recall the government ever "forcing" banks to give high risk loans to poor people... If anything they did that voluntarily because the boom made it seem like the sky was the limit.

    It is possible that semi-private operations like Fannie/Freddie were "forced" to do something, but I do not recall hearing much about that.

    Banks got greedy, and started making the subprime loans because they were making so much money off the sliced and diced mortgage derivatives that they needed more mortgages to slice and dice.

    If anything, after the bailouts the government gave the banks money and begged them to make loans and instead the banks just either sat on the capital, used it to pay back the government ASAP, or gave themselves bonuses :-p

  61. robbie, I agree, I hear time and time again from small business owners that the hardest thing for them is to find workers who are willing to work!

    Nicholas, I agree that banks were greedy, but I'm thinking of the Community Reinvestment Act? And yes, Fannie and Freddie turned into a nightmare. I see the student loan bubble coming and it won't be pretty. The federal government's "good intentions" routinely make things worse, in my opinion. It always sounds good and "compassionate" but real life outcomes? Bad!

    For the record, I was against bank bailouts. And car company bailouts.

  62. robbie, that article on the Penn professors' statement was very interesting!

  63. @Leila - Ah, OK... that is a older law though. I do not believe that was a part of this current crisis.

    That act doesn't appear to have been designed to force particular loans, it just prevented banks from refusing to do business in certain areas... That being said I do not know near enough about it to either defend it or disparage it.

    But yes, certainly the point is made that the federal government routinely insinuates itself in all sorts of things.

  64. I find it interesting that the principle of subsidiarity (as in the formal naming and definition of subsidiarity as a Catholic concept) came up in a time when the world was shrinking rapidly due to communications advances. In 1891 when this was first introduced, the telephone was breaking onto the scene (though it was still highly impractical for most home use), efficient train routes were allowing mail to travel faster than ever in larger quantities than ever, and the telegraph could transmit information across a continent nearly instantly. In short, this was the first time that *not* abiding by subsidiarity could be actually feasible.

    And I'm pretty sure that I'll shock some people when I say this, but I learned about the principle of subsidiarity and the principle of solidarity in school. Public school world history, to be specific.

  65. Welcome to Subsidiarity Leila!
    Another interesting Quote
    "No one can be at the same time a sincere Catholic and a true Socialist" Quad. Anno, Pius XI, 1931


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