Friday, May 12, 2017

Subsidiarity Is Not Libertarianism

For anyone who's served on a committee, completed a school group project, or worked anywhere with anyone, there's a simple, proven way to solve every problem:

Just do it yourself. 

If it's a big task, maybe invite a partner to join. If it's more complicated than that, maybe, hesitantly, a few more partners. 

Whatever you do, don't form a committee. (Or at least don't call it that.) Committees' greatest accomplishments usually center around self-congratulatory socials and ensuring hot coffee with proper creamer at every meeting.

Starting small forms the basic idea of subsidiarity, an approach to social and economic problems that uses the lowest level possible to resolve problems. 

It originates from Catholic social teaching, and thanks to the recent, lively, presidential campaigns, "subsidiarity" has become quite the buzz word among amateur economist-theologian hybrid experts on social media comment feeds (present company included). 

In democracy, subsidiarity prioritizes local oversight and accountability as best-resourced to serve the common good, whether it's security, occupational safety, education, transportation, beautification, or health. 

However, subsidiarity only endorses low-level handling of social and political work to the extent that this level accomplishes the common good. 

If the local government is incapable, or unwilling, to sufficiently resolve the social or political problem at hand, it is a moral mandate of subsidiarity that the problem escalate to the next level up, until resolution is accomplished. 

My small, middle-class neighborhood doesn't have the resources to independently monitor crime. For the common good, we participate in the city police department. Many towns nearby don't have the resources to form their own police departments, so their problem of security escalates to the next level up, and they participate in a county-wide police department. 

Regarding the drinking water crisis in Flint and the principle of subsidiarity, it is the responsibility of local government to resolve this sanitation problem, in service to the common good of its citizens. 

However, by the same claim of subsidiarity, the rest of the nation cannot shrug and wish them well, if the local Flint government is incapable of producing safe drinking water. This crisis must escalate to the point of resolution, whether that occurs at the county level, state, region, or even national.

CNN's Timeline of the Flint water crisis demonstrates an escalation through levels of government in pursuit of resolution, which has yet to come.
While subsidiarity focuses on the smallest effort necessary to accomplish a common good, it does not follow that subsidiarity in action must be small-scale. The World Health Organization tracks communicable disease outbreaks, coordinating international response efforts with local health programs. It is necessarily large-scale. 

Subsidiarity does not exist as a defense of states' rights; its end is social justice, not federalism.

Subsidiarity does not underfund legitimate social welfare initiatives, in the name of "subsidiarity." 

Subsidiarity does not innately prefer private or non-profit over public programs. 

Subsidiarity does not mandate all work for the common good be accomplished through voluntary charity as opposed to taxation. 

Subsidiarity does not believe that taxation is wrong.

Subsidiarity does not presume large-scale programs inherently less successful than small-scale programs. 

Subsidiarity does not mean "rugged individualism," every man for himself. 

Subsidiarity is not interchangeable with "small government." 

Subsidiarity favors decentralization of power, but does not necessitate it.

To the point, if a public good cannot be accomplished at a lower level of government, it obligatorily begs federal involvement.

Regarding healthcare, a legitimate argument can be made, in the name of subsidiarity, that a single-payer healthcare system would be a simpler, better use of resources than most citizens' current arbitrary, inaccessible, unaffordable patchwork of care, primarily provided via for-profit insurance companies that are more accountable to shareholders than patients. 

The New Yorker, calling it like it is.
Granted, subsidiarity favoring a national healthcare initiative may not be the case; perhaps adequate healthcare provisions can be created and maintained at more local levels, without a single payer system. Nonetheless, if affordable, accessible healthcare for all cannot be accomplished at a low-level, due to disaffected politicians, lack of funding, lack of local health resources, geographically-concentrated disability needs, or any other incapacity, the problem must escalate to the next higher level. 

While left-leaning politicians might err on the first component of subsidiarity, that social and political work be done at the lowest level possible, right-leaning politicians might overlook the second: that a social or political problem must continue to escalate through higher levels of intervention, until it reaches resolution. 

Every political party likes to claim sole alignment with Catholic teaching, using adopted pop-culture words of subsidiarity, solidarity, pro-life, whole-life, and social justice. 

Despite this polarization of national politics, faithful Catholics must remain independent purveyors of truth. 

The Church cannot be contained by any American political organization -- Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green, or even the American Solidarity Party whose platform explicitly identifies as Catholic -- any more than a good cup of committee coffee could hold ocean.

Soli Deo gloria!

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