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Apr. 24, 2018

Paul Ryan’s exit interview: Rethinking how a great society helps people rise

Drawing from the Catholic principle of subsidiarity, the outgoing speaker of the House says breaking the cycle of dependency requires the federal government to support customized solutions developed at the local level.

Peter Jesserer Smith

WASHINGTON — The federal government has a vital role in helping people fight poverty “person to person, soul to soul,” according to Speaker Paul Ryan.

However, Ryan also believes the federal government can do a much better job — not by providing direct services, but through partnership with more localized governments and private charities that are close to the people they serve and can provide customized solutions that fit their needs.

Ryan, a Catholic Republican from Wisconsin, is retiring from Congress at the end of his term. In this interview with the Register, Ryan explains the Catholic social vision, built on the principles of solidarity and subsidiarity, behind his approach for how the federal government can give people a hand up — not a handout — from poverty.

What role do you believe that government has in the care of the poor and lifting persons and communities in our society out of poverty?

The way our federal poverty-fighting system is designed now, government is displacing private investment and local charity by dominating everything. Instead, the government should provide resources and tools to local units of government, the private sector and groups, so that they have the tools they need to do this work in their communities.

We are also responsible for creating an economic climate where every man and woman has the opportunity to work. That is a critical piece of fighting poverty and one of the reasons our recent tax law was so important. We are seeing a strong economy, with millions of jobs that need to be filled, and now we need to figure out how to encourage more people to come into the workforce.

How do you think Catholic social teaching’s principles of subsidiarity and solidarity could be better applied to how the federal government currently provides assistance and services to the poor?

These teachings show we believe in the dignity of every human person, and we are called to care for one another. Specifically, this means helping the poor and doing it at the community level. We have 80 different federal government programs, spending nearly $1 trillion a year annually to fight poverty. This approach began more than 30 years ago and signaled to the American people that poverty was a problem the government alone would solve. This has actually ended up isolating and marginalizing the poor.