When we met Pope Francis, it was immediately evident that he exemplifies Christian charity. We have been particularly moved by his statement , “ The Pope has the duty, in Christ’s name, to remind the rich to help the poor, to respect them, to promote them.” These words, which may come to define Francis’s papacy, remind all Catholics that what Pope Saint John Paul II called the “ preferential option for the poor ” is at the heart of Christian teaching.
We strive to adhere to the Holy Father’s vision, spending our free time donating talent and treasure to the church and its charitable works. Among our acts of service: We have both served on the board of the Papal Foundation, one of us (John) served as the founding chairman of the Catholic Foundation for the Archdiocese of Denver, and we both helped found the Seeds of Hope Charitable Trust, a program that provides scholarships to low-income students in failing schools.
But Pope Francis’s words have also led us to support a group outside the church: the nonprofit community associated with Charles and David Koch, including Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce.
In 25 years of knowing Charles and his wife, Liz, and in more recent interactions with David and his wife, Julia, we have seen them demonstrate a deep concern for the least fortunate. The nonprofits associated with the Kochs, which bear the common mission of advancing free enterprise and free societies, reflect our shared conviction that limited government is most conducive to lifting people out of poverty. The two of us, along with hundreds of other philanthropists and businesspeople, support their efforts.
We believe that Catholic teaching supports our conviction. Known in the church as “social teaching” or “social justice,” it rests on three pillars, as laid out in papal encyclicals: the dignity of the human person, solidarity and subsidiarity. Solidarity stipulates that society should join together in pursuit of the common good; subsidiarity requires that social ills be addressed at the most local level possible.
All three principles are actively under assault by the growth of government and the concentration of power in Washington.
Welfare policy provides a clear example of how federal policies can undermine human dignity. To our society’s credit, the United States has devoted much of its national treasure to combating poverty — January marked the 50th anniversary of the “War on Poverty,” on which we have spent some $22 trillion. Unfortunately, some of our country’s anti-poverty programs are so poorly designed that they harm the poor, encouraging dependency where they should encourage upward mobility.
Pope Francis has rightly declared that “where there is no work, there is no dignity.” In light of these words, the U.S. welfare system can actually deny dignity while claiming to grant it. Some government assistance programs can be more lucrative than work. This unfairly — but understandably — incentivizes some to stay out of the job market, abusing the social safety net designed to help those who truly need help. In so doing, it traps people in the poverty they’re trying to escape.
Washington’s rejection of subsidiarity contributes to this crisis. Every new federal law seems to create or empower a federal agency to regulate another facet of the U.S. economy and Americans’ lives. For the poor, this results in two problems.
First, Washington typically addresses complex social problems with one-size-fits-all solutions. This often creates more problems than it solves. Subsidiarity, on the other hand, recognizes that private associations and local or state governments are better equipped to address most social issues. They have a better vantage point from which to identify and address local problems. And since local and state communities are most invested in the success of the individuals and families who comprise them, they’re more likely to recognize and reform a broken program, whereas Washington’s solution would be to expand it.
Second, Washington’s centralization of power saps the vitality of the wider economy. Washington’s insatiable growth annually siphons trillions of dollars from the economy — some of which philanthropists like us could give to local charities and businesses could use to create the jobs the poor desperately need. Instead, the money is lost in Washington’s alphabet soup of government agencies.
This centralization — which misconstrues the principle of solidarity by conflating big government with the common good — also leads to the corrupt capitalism that Pope Francis has condemned. The Holy Father witnessed firsthand in South America how capitalism can degenerate into cronyism when government becomes too powerful. There, politicians and bureaucrats hold the keys to the kingdom. Entrepreneurs must kiss the regulators’ ring or bribe the local bureaucrat at every turn. Bureaucrats and businesses also collude to protect politically favored companies and crowd out competitors — an arrangement that invariably keeps the rich rich and the poor poor.
This phenomenon isn’t found only in Third World dictatorships. It’s increasingly evident in Washington, where corruption, special interests and lobbyists are more prevalent and powerful than at any point in our lifetimes. The poor are an afterthought when there are hands to be shaken, subsidies to be grabbed and favors to be dispensed.
We support the Kochs’ efforts because they are fighting to replace this broken system with a limited, responsible government. They oppose the cronyism and corporate welfare that prop up the rich at the expense of the poor. They encourage personal responsibility, ethical business practices and community engagement. Indeed, given what we have seen, we believe the Kochs are doing more to help the poor than the “social justice” campaigners who so often attack them.
The two of us will continue to devote the vast majority of our money and time to the church and its charitable activities. Yet helping the poor also requires a fundamental change in how our society — and our government — understands and seeks to address poverty. For us, promoting limited government alongside the Kochs is an important part of heeding Pope Francis’s call to love and serve the poor.
John Saeman and Carol Saeman are financial contributors to the Freedom Partners Chamber of Commerce, which also receives financial support from Charles and David Koch. John Saeman is president of Medallion Enterprises, an investment and management company.