Thursday, September 10, 2009

Today on Kresta - Sept. 10, 2009

Talking about the "things that matter most" on Sept. 10


3:00-6:00 – A Catholic View of Health Care Reform
Shaking off a summer of setbacks, President Barack Obama summoned Congress to enact sweeping health care legislation last night, declaring the "time for bickering is over" and the moment has arrived to protect millions who have unreliable insurance or no coverage at all. In a televised speech to a joint session of Congress, Obama spoke in favor of a provision for the federal government to sell insurance in competition with private industry. But in a remark certain to displease liberals, he did not insist on it, and said he was open to other alternatives that create choices for consumers. We take THREE HOURS today to analyze the health care reform debate from a distinctly Catholic perspective. We talk with Bishop Samuel Aquila of Fargo, N.D., Leonard Nelson, author of Diagnosis Critical, Kristen Day of Democrats for Life, Douglas Johnson of National Right to Life, and Kevin Schmeising of the Acton Institute.


  1. Greetings, I have been considering this health care issue for quite a while now. Obviously it has been on our plate as Americans as one of the main dishes that we are force-fed. While I strongly disagree with the single-payer system on the menu right now, my mind is boggled by the options that are available. I believe that doing nothing is not an option. As a plight is brought before our eyes, we must contend against it with the full force of the grace that is given to us. One of the ideas that floats around in my mind is similar to the co-op plan discussed by Mr. Nelson. What if private groups like the Knights of Columbus were to extend their ministries to include things like employing, or at least networking, Catholics with good solid doctors who would negotiate, privately, prices for members? I know the word "guild" doesn't ring well in the ears of many people these days, but I can't think of another way to distinguish this idea from current things like family practices, that don't really do anything to aleviate costs. Perhaps I can bring this up on an open line segment. Peace be with you.

    In Christ,

    Matthew Wade

  2. Also, Mr. Kresta, you focus on "subsidiarity" and "solidarity", but what about "just prices" and "just wages"? These are not always determined by the free-market, but they are terms just as dear to Catholic Social Teaching as the two former. "Just price" and "just wage" dialogue can easily be implemented in health care discussions.

  3. Matthew,
    Thanks for commenting. I'll just leave a short note and let you provide the next volley. Yes, "just prices" and "just wages" are important to the vocabulary of Catholic social teaching. However, have you found a better way of setting either than through the market?

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  5. Mr. Kresta, I am honored with the response. I'm a little taken aback at the attempt at deflection. However, I must answer the question at hand: I've derived no formula or chart that would help me determine the "just price" or "just wage". Therefore, although a "free-market alone" leaning individual may fall back on supply and demand charts, historical data, and perhaps some "consumer preference" data, I have no such tools. Perhaps I am arriving at the conclusion that no such method, scientifically exacting as it must be, can exist in accord with certain principles laid forth by Holy Mother Church.

    I have not given much study to the situation described in the below article, so I submit it to our discussion as neutral, although I submit it nonetheless:

    This seems to me to be a very real case of ostensibly purposeful ignorance of market-set prices.

    That being said, none of the above justifies leaving such principles as the "just price" and the "just wage", alongside rightly discussed principles such as "solidarity" and "subsidiarity", out of a Catholic discussion of health care reform, especially when one of the major focal points of the discussion is the need for a critical assessment of the cost of health care in the United States.

    I submit this to you as graciously as a "volley" can be submitted.

    In Christ,

    Matthew Wade

    P.S. - My apologies for deleting the previous post. I left out the word "just wage" but didn't want to clutter your discussion board with another post, although it appears I've done so anyway.

  6. Matthew,
    I think of the volley like a graceful tennis player rather than a musket toter.

    The reason I asked what you had in mind was to clarify. (BTW, the article you sent along is very interesting and I hope to interview Msgr. Schaeffer soon.)Many people assume that the civil authorities have the competence and authority to set a just wage. I've never seen it work that way. Civil authority may be part of the mix but social norms and corporate commitment seem more important. The Church can do a lot by reigniting the discussion and not just letting everyone assume that it's up to the government to do this.

    There's a long history of Catholic reflection on justice. While Catholc social teaching talks about a just wage, the means of providing it are unclear. The just wage emerges during medieval debates about the just price. So it seems to me that the answer will come through economic rather than political means.

    When Thomas Aquinas treats justice in buying and selling, he insists that justice was determined not only in the value of a thing or service exchanged but also in its estimated worth within a local community. Thomas assumes a stable social order, however, and with increased mobility of workers and families, this approach was less useful.

    Pope Leo XIII tries to deal with the "social problem" of labor while taking into account cultural shifts. He rejects the idea that the market is the only consideration in determination of a just wage. This leaves the worker selling his labor at a disadvantage in his relationship with the employer who is economically and socially more powerful. They may enact a legal contract but even if legal it may not satisfy the fuller justice that flows from human dignity.

    A just wage would include compensation that would support one's family in a frugal manner. Pius XI supports the right to a just wage in his encyclical on marriage. A year later he argues that the just wage is an expression of the fundamental dignity of each human being.

    From the New Dictionary of Catholic Social Thought: "The fiscal situation of businesses must be considered; workers cannot demand excessive wages. The common good is the context in which a just wage is set, while unemployment is an evil that is contrary to social justice. The principle of subsidiarity demands that each level of society contribute to the common good. Pius XI distinguished between what was due in justice and what was given in charity."

    The article that you sent along raises an interesting question: Is the price Msgr. Schaeffer pays a function of justice or charity?

    Later teaching by John XXIII says that just wages are set by mutual collaboration between labor and management with the protection of government. JPII in Laborem exercens (1981) calls a just wage central to social ethics since it secures a fair relationship between worker and employer.

    Throughout the history of the discussion there has been no one dogmatic application of the just wage nor a clear mechanism for either establishing or insuring it.

    A just wage seems to be relative to local conditions, a minimum for a family to live frugally, legal protections for economic agreements freely entered into are provided by government. Furthermore a just wage is conditioned, naturally, by the employer's ability to pay. All of this is directed toward and sustained by a vigorous notion of the common good.

    I just got interrupted and will try to return to this later.

  7. Mr. Kresta, you flatter me (certainly without knowledge of doing so) with a comparison to the grace of a tennis player. I concede that most of the time my volleys would probably be interpreted as closer to the gracefulness of a canon shot in Lee's army than a backhand from Agassi's racket. Nevertheless, I graciously accept the compliment.

    I am edified by your brief dip into the realm of a deep pool of Catholic teaching on such pressing social matters. Indeed we are forced to look back to the Middle Ages to find blossoming in Catholic thought theories about justice in the market place and economic life, of course not yet separated from spiritual and moral life. But if we turn to these thinkers, and such a turn requires us to square with St. Thomas in one way or another, we see ideas such as "stations in life" and "needs versus wants" that are acknowledged as influential in, and inseparable from, economic matters. A right ordering of society was considered in light of the ability of citizens to practice virtue in cooperation with grace. I refer you to an article written by Mr. John Medaille a few years back that discusses some of these views, but I'm fully aware that his is only one in a long list of analyses, specifically pages 4 to 6:

    It is a wonderful way to transition going from St. Thomas to Leo XIII, as the teacher precedes his 19th-century student. His encyclical Aeterni Patris familiarizes us with his (and correct me if I'm wrong, but the Church's) view that Thomism is the philosophia perennis. Thus a thorough discussion of his views would require us to build a solid Thomistic foundation, something that can't be established here. However, I think it is safe to say that a common thread spun by Pope Leo XIII on down has been the promotion of ownership of the "means of production", if not immediately, then by a process whereby thriftiness and frugality are rewarded. "We have seen that this great labor question cannot be solved save by assuming as a principle that private ownership must be held sacred and inviolable. The law, therefore, should favor ownership, and its policy should be to induce as many as possible of the people to become owners." (RN, para. 46) Indeed, the ""social problem" of labor" is an issue in RN, but Pope Leo also outlines many principles that weren't new to his time, or ours: the importance of family and religion in a society, the right to assemble in unions (with a special emphasis on associations like Guilds), the dignity of work, the rejection of purely employer-employee negotiated work contracts, etc.

    (continued in a second post)

  8. (continuation of previous post broken into two pieces due to length)

    Having only gone through two of the dozens of Catholic thinkers on this topic, one morally binding in Pope Leo XIII the other morally favorable in St. Thomas, I concede that I won't be able to address your references to later Popes in this post. However, we continue to two-step (Square Dance if you will, I am from Texas) around my original question concerning the presence of talk about "subsidiarity" and "solidarity" and the absence of talk about "just price" and "just wage" in your three-hour program on health care reform. When we consider reform, of any sector or sort, we must approach the issue, as Catholics, from a different perspective than that of the "eyes of this world" and I don't feel like that was done properly today. Health care bills are skyrocketing. Insurance costs are skyrocketing. If I force myself to accept that the free-market determines such prices (granting that such a market is not truly free right now), I'm left with my undergraduate education telling me that either outrageous profits are resulting, costs somewhere are following a similar trend, or possibly both. Perhaps we should discuss doctor's wages or costs for visits.

    It is of course easy to posit that "just prices" and "just wages" are difficult animals to cage and classify, and I wouldn't disagree; but when we talk about the former two principles, "subsidiarity" and "solidarity", we should be quickly reminded that they are just as difficult to cage and classify, let alone apply. It is the nature of the world in which we live that it is a difficult and arduous task to come up with truly Orthodox Catholic solutions to the problems that the Evil One has caused. This task is only amplified when the full beauty of Catholic Teaching is shaded at different times.

    I look forward to the completion of your comments, and ask a timeout to re-string my racket and tie my shoes.

    Sincerely yours in Our Lord Jesus Christ,

    Matthew Wade