Over at Inside Catholic, Mark Stricherz takes issue with my characterization of Catholic social teaching. Supposedly I have implied that this teaching is “libertarian” on economics, and have adopted a “Catholic businessman’s understanding.” Do I detect a slight whiff of condescension, or even hostility, toward businessmen here? I haven’t talked to enough Catholic businessmen about their understanding of the Church’s social teaching to comment on the accuracy of Stricherz’s second point, but I don’t consider it important. On the first point, he is just wrong. I didn’t even claim that a strict economic libertarianism is compatible with Catholic social teaching, let alone that it is compelled by it. I merely pointed out that a range of public policies, including relatively free-market ones, are compatible with that teaching.
Stricherz complains, “We are told to endorse very specific policies to protect unborn infants but only very general principles to aid the poor and needy.” Brian Saint-Paul makes the most important point here: To the extent that Catholic teaching has more specific implications for anti-abortion legislation than for welfare legislation, Stricherz’s problem is with it and not with us. (It’s also true that the specificity of the teaching with respect to the unborn can be exaggerated. I don’t think Church teaching gives us a determinate answer about which level of government should legislate against abortion or what the penalties for breaking the law should be.)
Stricherz claims that tax cuts do not alleviate poverty because the poverty rate has not fallen since 1981—and then attributes ignorance of this history to his straw “Catholic businessman.” Maybe the businessman knows more than Stricherz about the limitations of that mismeasure of poverty. The most effective anti-poverty legislation of the last thirty years was welfare reform. It seems to me that it dovetails more neatly with my understanding of CST than with that of Stricherz–and plenty of people who share his understanding said so at the time.