“It lies in the power of a ruler to benefit every class in the State, and amongst the rest to promote to the utmost the interests of the poor…since it is the province of the commonwealth to serve the common good”, wrote Pope Leo XIII in his encyclical on labor, Rerum Novarum.
Today, Republicans are split on the issue of social security. Some want to cut it. Others, including President Trump, want it preserved. Just this week, Ohio Senator JD Vance spoke out against cutting social security. Unfortunately, debate on the American right consists exclusively of an ill-fated fight between “socialism” and “capitalism.” Rather than engage with the substance of our most pressing economic issues, conservatives simply throw the words “socialist,” “communist,” and “Marxist” without batting an eye, particularly when the issue of social security is concerned.
We should start by recognizing that conservative adherence to the “free market” has its own moral pitfalls, just as does socialism and communism. The free market alone does not inherently contain the ability to orient society to the common good. An economic system based primarily on competition and self-interest by nature does not have the backing to do so. In the end, it is focused narrowly on the success of the individual, rather than the community. As Leo XIII discussed, this is not a complete condemnation of “free markets.” Instead, it is a recognition that capitalism’s unique focus on production, development, and exclusively building capital has contributed to the destruction of the dignity of labor and is tailored to the success of the few
A rightly ordered economic system begins with the common good – an emphasis most importantly on families as the bedrock of the political community, setting the structures for them to flourish. Today, this is often interpreted to mean that the economy should be structured in a way that allows families to live on one income. While this has been a rallying point in recent years for many on the “New Right,” and it is certainly a necessary goal, we must go one step further. More specifically, recent proposals have included making birth free, something currently absent from the American tradition, although not in the past. At a time when building a family and owning a home is a great difficulty, making birth free would be an important first step in providing for the security of the American family. Similar proposals, such as paying married couples to have children, and eliminating income taxes for those who do, should be considered as well.
Republicans would be foolish to propose cuts to Medicare and Social Security precisely because of these reasons. Believing that each person must “pull themselves up by their bootstraps” ignores the fact that we primarily have an obligation to help our fellow citizens. Appeals to the “free market” and wealth “trickling down” is not a sufficient vision of the common good. Man must have a living wage and be able to live and work with dignity. This is not to say that the current welfare state is without flaws, far from it, but meaningful improvements would seek the financial aid of those who need it the most on conditions that do not lead to abuse of the system. None of this is to say that the state, or any institution, is capable of curing poverty or every social ill; however, to remove Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid is to say we do not care about our elders and the poor.
Moreover, regardless of one’s feelings toward entitlements, they are already permanent features of the American system. Cutting them would spell electoral defeat, plain and simple. Politics is about votes and cutting entitlements is a surefire way to lose them. Elections cannot be won under the banner of everyone being on their own to compete in an oftentimes predatory market. Instead, orienting our markets towards the common good requires that we first concern ourselves with the good of the political community, families, and the most vulnerable. In this way, conservatives should be willing to regulate corporations that seek to challenge this order. Labor unions, too, should not be viewed as enemies, but as organizations that allow workers to have a voice in their labor and for all laborers to share in the solidarity of the common good. A blue-collar Republican party should instead seek the labor movement’s support.
All of these policies are animated by the common good. As Leo XIII reflected, it is in the duty of the state and fellow citizens to set the structures of the common good, serving in the interest of laborers and the poor. Recognizing this vision may be difficult, as taking on any system is, but true change and a true common good will seek to enact these policies for a better economic vision than the binaries of capitalism and socialism.
The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Lone Conservative staff.