Escaping the Poverty Trap

Catholic scholar defends Paul Ryan from Georgetown liberals


Catholic scholar Michael Novak defended Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget from attacks by Georgetown University professors and addressed the reasons government programs do not fix poverty in a Thursday speech at the Catholic Information Center.

Georgetown University staff sent Ryan, a Catholic, a letter on April 24 attacking his budget plan. They claim it “decimates food programs … radically weakens protections for the elderly and sick” and “gives more tax breaks to the wealthiest few.” They also charged Ryan with “profoundly misreading Church teaching,” and argued the bill reflected “the values of your favorite philosopher, Ayn Rand, rather than the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Novak argued that the government programs Ryan’s budget limits, part of the “war on poverty,” actually impoverish people. “The poverty problem is not a monetary problem,” he explained, “but a behavioral problem of dependency.” He described welfare as “a honey pot,” which grows addictive.

“If you complete high school, if you work 50 weeks a year, and if you get married and stay married … you have a 97 percent chance of not being poor,” Novak said. A Heartland Alliance report backs up these claims.

Novak, referring to Thomas Sowell’s book Basic Economics, said, “It’s a very inefficient way of curing poverty by building up a large bureaucracy. … You end up feeding the sparrows by feeding the horses … and the horses eat it up.”

A new study by the American Enterprise Institute’s Nicholas Eberstadt shows an increase in dependency along with the increase in government over the past fifty years. “Every poverty program should have a study to judge its impact” before it is enacted, Novak argued.

“The Jesuit suggestion” among the Georgetown staff would encourage Ryan to “overlook the fact that poverty is increased by the federal government,” Novak said.

Novak stressed the importance of community in alleviating poverty. “It starts with families,” he explained, “politics in the family, politics in the neighborhood, politics in the community.” Men and women value the respect of the significant people in their lives, Novak said. “The greatest weapon in the whole world,” he argued, “is the raised eyebrow.”

The difficulty now, he said, lies in the fact that “people with taste, with manners, and with good habits are afraid to insist on them.”

A life-long Democrat, Novak changed his voter registration two years ago. “I always hoped the Democratic Party would change, but it’s getting worse and worse and worse,” he said.