Friday, May 12, 2017

Subsidiarity Is Not Libertarianism

Thanks to 2016 politics, "subsidiarity" is quite the buzz word among amateur economist-theologian hybrid experts on social media comment feeds (present company included). 

"Just do it yourself" is the starting point for subsidiarity, a Catholic approach to social and economic problems that uses the lowest level possible to resolve problems. If you can't do it yourself, form a small team. If the small team is insufficient, get a bigger team. 

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

An important, yet easily-overlooked, caveat to subsidiarity is its limited endorsement of low-level solutions, only to the extent that they accomplish 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. 

Ex. 1: 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. 

Ex. 2: 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.
A List Of Things Subsidiarity Is Not: 

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

Subsidiarity is not an excuse to underfund legitimate social welfare initiatives, in the name of "subsidiarity." 

Subsidiarity is not an innate preference for private or non-profit over public programs. 

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

Subsidiarity is not a belief that taxation is wrong.

Subsidiarity is not "rugged individualism," every man for himself. 

Subsidiarity is not a presumption that large-scale programs are inherently less successful than small-scale programs. (The World Health Organization tracks communicable disease outbreaks, coordinating international response efforts with local health programs. It is necessarily large-scale.) 

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 buzz words of subsidiarity, solidarity, pro-life, whole-life, and social justice.  

To be sure, 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.

We must remain free to criticize and compliment our polarized national political ideologies at will, change our secular allegiances day-by-day, in response to their changing words and actions. And most importantly, we remain beholden to none, even if they quote our mantras, take photos with our clergy, or use our social teaching as pop-culture jargon.

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