There's been a bit of kerfuffle lately between the House GOP and the US Catholic Bishops over the budget and Catholic social teaching. I'll borrow a Rick Garnett post to summarize the context:
Here is Rep. Paul Ryan's April 29 letter to Archbishop Dolan; here is Archbishop Dolan's reply. The exchange is well worth reading, I think, especially as a follow-up to the much remarked public letter to Speaker Boehner, which was signed by a number of Catholic academics. (As I indicated, in an earlier post, I thought the letter to Boehner overstated the alleged conflict between his voting record and "the Church's most ancient moral teachings", but that's water under the bridge.)
Speaker Boehner reponded, in a statement, to the Ryan-Dolan exchange:
“I welcome Archbishop Dolan’s letter and am encouraged by the dialogue taking place between House Republicans and the Catholic bishops regarding our budget, the ‘Path to Prosperity.’ Our nation’s current fiscal path is a threat to human dignity in America, offering empty promises to the most vulnerable among us and condemning our children to a future limited by debt. We have a moral obligation as a nation to change course and adopt policies that reflect the truth about our nation’s fiscal condition and our obligation to future generations, and to offer hope for a better future. Our duty to serve others compels us to strive for nothing less. As Chairman Ryan notes in his letter to the archbishop, Americans are blessed to have the teachings of the Church available to us as guidance as we confront our challenges together as a nation.”
Michael Sean Winters, at NCR, and others are underwhelmed by Ryan's letter and -- in Winters's case -- skeptical about the possibility for consonance between the vision proclaimed in the Church's social-teaching tradition and that on display in the work of Ayn Rand. I don't share (what seems to be) Winters's view that Ryan's reported interest in the (banal and turgid) writings of Ayn Rand has, in his budget, simply been translated into proposed policy. (By the way, for Rand-haters, David Hart's essay on the occasion of the "Atlas Shrugged" movie is a must-see.)
One does not have to like Ayn Rand (and I don't), or to be a "Catholic neo-con", to think that (a) it is both profoundly immoral and stupid to continue accumulating debt burdens at our current rates, (b) deep cuts in spending are required, and (c) these cuts require more than the usual promises of increased attention to "waste, fraud, and abuse" and "corporate loopholes" and will have to touch popular social-welfare programs (and defense spending). Winters is right, of course, to say that Rand's vision is less attractive (because it is unsound) than is Pope Benedict's; but this fact does not eliminate the need to attend more seriously than, say, Sen. Reid has been willing to do to the need to cut spending and to design carefully any tax increases so as to avoid stunting growth.
Catholic neo-con, of course, is more or less where I situate my politics on economic issues, so I have no trouble embracing Rick's points a to c. I'd go on, however, to express a certain amount of skepticism about the Bishop's policy prescriptions. As Michael Novak observes, Catholic prelates and theologians tend to be poorly trained in economics and inexperienced with the business world. They “are likely to inherit either a pre-capitalist or a frankly socialist set of ideals about political economy.” Consequently, theologians “are more likely to err in this territory [i.e., economic justice] than in most others.”