In the last five years, I have visited The Catholic Thing only twice, because their commentary is consistently stupid. That having been said, someone recommended an article to me that is so incredibly stupid I could not refrain from writing this post.
Peter Brown attempts to lay out the differences and similarities between subsidiarity and solidarity. Insofar as he sticks to just that, he does a fair-to-middlin' job of it.
But, Lord, have mercy!
His examples are simply, incredibly, inexorably, inexecrably stupid.
Take this jaw-dropping whopper of idiocy, for instance:
The Knights of Columbus was originally set up along the friendly society model. ... A small community could provide for the health care that was available in 1870. It was much harder in 1910. It would be impossible today with the cost of care for, say, cancer or heart disease easily running into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. If subsdiarists really want the 1870 community model , then the tradeoff is accepting 1870’s health care. Any takers?Who in the name of God's green earth does he think pays for health care today? Tooth fairies? Does he think NO ONE pays for health care? That bodies pile up in the streets, unshriven, unwashed and unburied?
Insurance companies are, in terms of financial subsidies, functionally identical to friendly societies. There is zero difference between them in that utilitarian sense.
And of course the cost of modern medical care for cancer or heart disease is NOT "impossible today". If it WERE impossible today, then no one would be able to pay for such care. In fact, hundreds of thousands of people successfully pay for such care every year, and most of them DO NOT pay for it out of their own pockets.
These bills are paid off by the modern equivalent of "friendly societies" - insurance companies. It's just that Blue Cross/Blue Shield run a much tighter financial ship and are much better businessmen than say, the The Union of Illustrious Catholic Parishioners of East Timbuktoo. Well, and BC/BS doesn't hold as many prayer meetings.
Furthermore, "friendly societies" are not moribund. If Brown had bothered to do ANY research, he would have discovered that the Knights of Columbus has one of the highest-rated life insurance companies in the nation. Brown apparently fails to realize that the vaunted "solidiarity" can be attained through either secular or sacred institutions. Both work. Obviously.
So, the community DOES already pay for health care.
Community members pay via whichever insurance company each member of the community chooses to join. Those who don't choose to join STILL have their health care paid for by another community institution - the Catholic hospital - or by yet another community institution, the state or federal government.
When Did Friendly Societies Begin to Fail?
According to Brown:
"The friendly societies actually began collapsing well before the emergence of the modern welfare state."Maybe the man could pick up a book and read it sometime. Originally, the monasteries were the source of everything we consider "welfare". The modern government-run welfare state doesn't begin anywhere in Europe until the governments destroy the monasteries. England didn't need welfare and poor houses until Henry VIII destroyed the monasteries. Europe didn't need government-run welfare until Napoleon destroyed the monasteries.
In the 1880s, Bismarck began old age pensions, medical care, unemployment insurance and all the rest of it as part of his Kulturkampf - his bid to destroy the power of the Church in Germany. He had lost the battles he created through overt attacks on Church authority in the 1870s, so he went to more subtle and nuanced attacks in the 1880s. He followed Julian the Apostate's strategy. As we now see, it worked.
Friendly societies fell apart because the government TOOK all the money that had been given to friendly societies. If Brown had just read Chapter 7 of Larry Elder's "Ten Things You Can't Say In America", he would have known that:
"In 1871, the Chicago fire nearly destroyed the city, yet it entirely rebuilt itself without any government aid.... Economist Thomas Sowell notes that nearly 70 cents of every welfare dollar never actually makes it to aid the intended victims.... In 1910, before England's massive welfare state, there were 26,877 registered mutual aid societies, and some estimate there were nearly as many unregistered ones... When, however, England decided to federalize welfare, the number of mutual aid societies plummeted.... since government took over aid to the needy, individual assistance was no longer required. And, since individuals saw taxes go up to support a welfare state, they felt less inclined to give more on top of that which the government already required."Even if they wanted to give more, they couldn't. The government had taken their excess.
Then Brown makes the absolutely ludicrous claim that friendly societies can't work in a highly mobile society such as ours.
Another thing that killed the friendly societies was the other modern capitalist phenomenon: social mobility. With people increasingly moving from farm to city and from city to city, the social solidarity that made the societies work fell apart.I ask the dear Lord in heaven, how any man can write anything so stupid and still get it by editors, still get it published? Of course, friendly societies were created PRECISELY in response to a highly mobile society. Why did the Knights of Columbus form, for instance? To care for millions of Irish immigrants who had each journeyed thousands of miles from their homes. Where did the English friendly societies originate? Why, in the mobility forced upon English farmers as a result of the enclosure movement.
Friendly societies have always been a RESPONSE to mobility. They are welcoming committees, stabilizing influences for a mobile people. He's got the cart firmly in front of the horse, and now wishes the horse to dance backwards to match his tune.
The Coup de Grace
And, to prove that Peter Brown is a complete idiot, he testifies to it:
But what would replace the friendly societies after the world wars and the Great Depression delivered the coup de grace? There was really no one left but the state and some private insurance beset by the same adverse selection problems that killed the societies. As the adverse selection problems inherent in private insurance have grown, the state has assumed an ever greater role.Oh, those poor governments! They just stood by and sighed while two world wars and a great depression broke out for no reason at all! The governments had nothing to do with any of that! And of course, the state just HAD to step in to save all those poor insurance companies, who would barely survive if it wasn't for benevolent government assistance!
Horrors! Think, Emily, think what the world would be like if government was too small, too weak, to save us from the nasty wars and depressions we inflicted on ourselves! If only our governments had been stronger then, we would NEVER have had such terrors!
Oh, whoa is me! I faint at the thought of small, weak government! Oh, hold me!
At the turn of the last century, with the racist Woodrow Wilson at the helm, the American government stole power from the people, passed laws to eviscerate and emasculate people, so it could accumulate the power it wanted.
The government stole the friendly societies' money, stole their social power, broke their legs and blamed it on ... what... social mobility? And Peter Brown actually expects us to buy into this claptrap?
The government is currently destroying the secular equivalent of friendly societies by destroying insurance companies and related organizations. And we're going to blame it on some nebulous "problems of modern society"?
Peter Brown may or may not be a theologian.
He is certainly an idiot.
But he is not a completely useless idiot - he highlights how our bishops think.
So, if you ever wanted to read something by a USCCB stalking horse, Peter Brown is your man.