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Sunday, November 07, 2010

The Big Society

UPDATE: I thought I'd add this link to a past New York Times article about the welfare system here in the US (h/t A Thinking Reed) ... In a Tough Economy, Old Limits on Welfare

Today I saw stories in the news about a plan in the UK from secretary Iain Duncan Smith to force the unemployed to do manual labor at no pay to receive their benefits. The story says this is what is done in the US but that's incorrect .... here some people on welfare may have to work to keep benefits (link), but those receiving unemployment insurance do not. As mentioned in another story, John Dickie, of the Child Poverty Action Group, one of the leading organisations in the campaign, said: “We need welfare reform that treats people with dignity, protects them from poverty and provides genuine support into work that pays. This proposal fails on all counts. These punitive proposals are a distraction from the real barriers people face trying to get back into work – lack of jobs, lack of childcare and discrimination in the labour market. People need real jobs that pay real wages" ....

A few months ago I had a post about the then UK elections and the "big society" idea of David Cameron and Phillip Blond, and proponents of the conservative Catholic "third way" (read about these guys in an America blog post). I said then that I thought it sounded like religicized trickle-down economics. Rowan Williams seems to share some of my concerns ....

Rowan Williams attacks Coalition over Big Society and spending cuts

Dr Rowan Williams said government spending cuts threatened to remove vital services, particularly in rural areas, while church and voluntary groups were already at full stretch. His comments, which followed private talks with the Prime Minister, reinforced his warning that the Big Society agenda must not be simply “an alibi” for public spending cuts .....

Shortly after the election, Dr Williams said he could only give “two and a half cheers” for the Big Society because he was concerned that the plan to give voluntary and charitable organisations a greater role running public services meant the government was “washing its hands” of its responsibilities. Speaking at a Church of England conference on faith in the countryside, Dr Williams suggested that his fears were proving well-founded ....

When the pope was visiting in the UK a couple of months ago, he supported the idea of Cameron's big society - conservative Catholicism and Radical Orthodoxy often dovetail. Call me cynical, but I think supporters of the "big society" are deep-sixing gospel values for their own benefit, at the expense of the needy.


Blogger Mike L said...

Being as old as I am I have seen the movement from individuals supporting charitable works to the government taking over that task. I am not convinced that this has been a good thing. I have seen social security go from a plan that was supposed to be a safety net that supplied only the very basic needs for people that did not have retirement plans or did not save for retirement, to a plan that is basically a retirement plan itself. Again I am not sure that this has been a good thing.

My experience of cruising on a sailboat for three years supported my feeling that making someone else, namely the government, responsible for my welfare was not a good thing.Most of the cruisers I met were quite independent, making sure that they were prepared for almost any emergency. At the same time, most of them were not only willing, but most happy to help someone that needed help. I remember sitting in a friends cockpit taking apart and working on his transmission, five times till we got it right. While responsible for ourselves, we were also a community that took care of each other. Government welfare just doesn't seem to work that way, and I suspect it has much to do with the destruction of community life.

It seems to me that there needs to be a balance, but our political system and the nature of people does not seem to allow that: the promise of more goodies by politicians gets votes and wets the appetite for more "free" goodies. Of course they are not free, tax payers pay, not only for the goodies but also the infrastructure that they require, and those that don't get the goodies feel cheated.

When I was cruising, accepting help was not an affront to my dignity because I knew that I would sooner or later I would be helping someone else. I think our current system denies us that dignity. Yet without government help, many might fall through the cracks.

I see a problem, I don't see a real solution, or much of a hope of changing things.


Mike L

7:15 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


We so disagree about this :)

The trouble I see with expecting other people as individuals, or expecting private organizations like the church, to help others is that individuals and private organizations have agendas.

The Catholic church, for example, discriminates against gays and lesbians, and individuals also discriminate in many ways.

Also, indivuals may want to help in certain situations, but not have the necessary skills, while government organizations can train their employees to have those skills.

There's a reason why we have social services instead of having citizens rely on the "kindness of strangers" like Scarlett O'Hara :) or on church sponsered charitites like in the middle ages. Those things don't work very well and they don't work for everyone and they can't be relied upon to be fair and consistant.

Having the government, whicvh is really just us in unison, help each other and ourselves, doesn't stop individuals or religious charities from helping too. It doesn't have to be either/or.

1:32 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I think you've misunderstood Mike. Although he doesn’t actually say it, it sounds like he supports the concept of “subsidiarity,” which is an important principle of Catholic social teaching. I support that concept too.

Moreover, I think your faith in “government” is unfounded and dangerous.



1:56 PM  
Blogger crystal said...


What does subsidiarity mean?

Is that the same as distributionism?

Actually, the government is the one organization, in a democracy, that is not dangerous, because we the voters have some say in the way it is run, unlike the total lack of power we little pew-cogs have in regards to how the church is run.

2:29 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Here's an article that discusses subsidiarity with an example:

If you really believe what you wrote in your last paragraph then I there's a bridge here in Brooklyn that I'd like to sell to you.

4:12 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

I absolutely believe what I wrote.

4:20 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

I would love to have a serious discussion about politics (What is it? What's its purpose?, etc.), democracy (Is it working? Does it need reform? Underlying philosophical foundations, etc.), with you one day Crystal. I would be very interesting indeed.

4:33 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

I believe Crystal is on the rught track. The 'official' position of the Church that it cannot change (see "The American Catholic Revolution")is absurd and just a ploy to keep the hierarchy happy by making the laity think they are second rate citizens in the church. Or stay in their place as the 'traditionalists'love to say in fancy language. O yes, the Church is the people of God. Unfortuneately the hierarchy are first class citizens---the laity are allowed but not essential.The laity have no 'votes' in the church kingdom.

2:00 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...


My relationship with Crystal is similar to my relationship with my sister (who is a Baptist) – we strongly disagree on some things, we give each other hell, but underneath it all we love each other precisely because we each love Christ. So, Crystal and I will probably disagree for a long time but that’s not really a problem for me, and I don’t think – or at least I hope – it’s not a problem for her.

I saw on your blog that you are a convert too so we have that in common. I, however, have never felt like a second rate citizen in the Church and I could care less about votes, so I can’t understand why that’s such a big deal for you. (Perhaps you can let me know why you think that’s so important.) Regarding priest’s, believe me, my experience has been that many of them are complete narcissistic idiots BUT they have the power from Christ Himself to forgive my sins and make Christ present on the altar so I can viscerally unite myself with Him – the one I long for - in Holy Communion and so the lack of personality, zeal, orthodoxy, etc., is really irrelevant (unless of course they engage in actions that make the sacrament invalid). I often think of “The Power and the Glory” or what St. Francis said about priests when I feel like nuking them. So, yes, we all need conversion and reform.

There’s so much beauty in the Faith, so much good that Christ is doing through His people, that it’s incredible to me that we focus on what’s missing instead of what’s there. (And I include myself in this observation!) And what’s there is Christ Himself. What else do we need?



3:34 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

Henry, we should not use Crystal's blog for our disagreements. I will just say that about the only time Crystal and I differed was when she calls herself a "convert." The American bishops made it clear that those Christians of other churches should never be called "converts." That word is reserved for non-christians who unite withe Roman church.

4:08 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

It's my understanding that conversion is defined as 1) any turning or changing from a state of sin to repentance; 2) from a lax to a fervent way of life; 3) from unbelief to faith; and from a non-Christian religion to Christianity.

You are absolutely right that since the Second Vatican council the term is not used to describe a non-Catholic becoming a Catholic. The preferred term is "entering into full communion with the Church."

So, since you were an Anglican you are technically not a "convert", as I am. Precision is important and so I thank you for reminding me of that fact.

lastly, you are right about not using Crystal's blog to discuss our questions. I send you an e-mail through your blog so we can have a discussion.



9:11 PM  
Anonymous Henry said...

Excuse the typos - it's past midnight here in NY and I am a bit punchy.

9:12 PM  
Blogger Mike L said...


Let me say that I do NOT expect other people, either as individuals or as private organizations, to help me, or even the government when I screw up. That is not to say that I do not appreciate their help when offered, and I will certainly accept a $250 rebate on the taxes I pay if the government offers it :). In this way I maintain SOME of my freedom.

An interesting story about government aid. I require a CPAP machine for sleeping at night, and Medicare does pay for part of the cost as well as part of the cost of supplies. Medicare, does in fact specify the maximum amount that it will pay. When I complained about the high cost of some of the equipment I was told that they could not sell it for less or Medicare would reduce what they allowed. I see this as having two problems with it. If you don't have Medicare, you are paying way too much for some things. On the other hand, I think the best doctors get underpaid, while the poorer ones may well get overpaid. This is a problem with the government, everyone has to be treated the same.

With that said, I will simply have to disagree with you that Big Brother is the best thing around.



P.S. The CAPTCHA word is "masta"

8:41 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I have medicare too because that's the medical insurance for people with disabilities. When I had that operation on my face, my part ot pay was about $500.

I know government programs have their problems but I just think they're the best oprion, as other plans have worse ones.

The people who get government money don't need is always because they screw up or make mistakes - life isn't a level playing field and not everyone has the same oppoertunities. Part of what I like about liberal democracy is that it has the ideal of not leaving anyone behind. Maybe I just feel that way because I benefit from it myself.

2:04 PM  

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