Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Neglecting the Common Good

I agree with Thomas Bushlack from Catholic Moral Theology that our debate on the debt ceiling is neglecting a key element:
Drawing upon modern Catholic social thought and the work of Thomas Aquinas’ political thinking, the goal of law and political authority is to serve, enhance, and protect the common good of society (see, for example, Summa Theologiae I-II Q. 90). It is perhaps ironic – or tragic – that the common good is the one element that seems to be missing from the current national debate. This seems to be due to the fact that the ideology that holds the most momentum right now in our political system – and hence that controls the terms of our debate – is the far-right ideology represented most vocally by the tea-party movement (but engaged by others as well). This ideology, rather than upholding the common good as the end and goal of government and law, sees government as the very source of the problem. Therefore, those who propound this ideology are seizing upon this moment of debate over government spending, taxation and revenue creation, and the debt ceiling as an opportunity to starve government at its source by cutting off its supply of money. Some of the more extreme elements seem entirely willing to let the whole system come to a crashing halt rather than think about long-term solutions that seek to protect the common good of all involved.

What would bringing the language of the common good back into the discussion accomplish? For one thing, it would re-establish the principle that government has a necessary role to play in seeking the common good (not the only role, but still a necessary one). It would also allow us to recognize that in times of economic hardship sometimes government spending is the last resort to help spur the economy. This principle, established by John Maynard Keynes and until very recently accepted by those on the right and the left, would remind us that the time to cut programs and spending is not during an economic downturn, but rather once the economy has rebounded enough to pick up the slack currently left by the high unemployment rate.

The best of American democracy has always fostered political experimentation and pragmatic results over ideology, but in our current situation the experiment being run by the far right is playing Russian roulette with our common good, and will have disastrous consequences for our economy.

Ultimately, those hit the hardest by this experiment will be those who are already most vulnerable .

In a climate such as this, Christians – and all people of good will – have a responsibility to continue to uphold the principle of the common good as the foundation of our political life together in society, even if it appears that very few are capable of hearing the message right now.

Please pray that our politicians will reach a compromise borne out of humility, prudence, and wisdom; and one that does not neglect the common good, especially those most vulnerable in our society.

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