Leading Republican "thinker" Congresssman Paul Ryan at Georgetown University the other day:
The overarching threat to our whole society today is the exploding federal debt. The Holy Father, Pope Benedict, has charged that governments, communities, and individuals running up high debt levels are “living at the expense of future generations” and “living in untruth.”
The words in quotation marks have started popping up in the Googlesphere recently, which suggests that someone is e-mailing around the quotes. It's important to look at the source, which is a book-length interview of Benedict by the German journalist Peter Seewald:
Q: If it is a question of a good example, the State has not proved to be very exemplary either. Governments today pile up debts to heights never seen before. A single country like Germany spent no less than 43.9 billion Euros just on interest payments to banks; in other words, for the fact that despite all our wealth we have lived beyond our means. Those interest payments alone would be enough to provide food for a year for all the children in developing countries. Worldwide, since the onset of the financial crisis, government debt has increased by 45 percent—by now totaling more than 50 trillion dollars—inconceivable figures, and a completely unprecedented situation. In 2010 the member states of the European Union alone are taking out more than 800 billion Euros of new loans. The new debt in the United States government budget is pegged at 1.56 trillion dollars, the high point of all time. The Harvard Professor Kenneth Rogoff says, therefore, that there is no normality any more, but only an illusion of normality.Certainly generations to come are being burdened with colossal debts. Isn't that also an insanely big moral problem?
A: Naturally, because we are living at the expense of future generations. In this respect it is plain that we are living in untruth. We live on the basis of appearances,and the huge debts are meanwhile treated as something that we are simply entitled to. Here, too, everyone understands in theory that it would require careful deliberation to recognize again what is really possible,what one can do, and what one may do. And yet people do not take it to heart. Above and beyond the individual financial plans, a global examination of conscience is indispensable. The Church has tried to make a contribution in this regard with the encyclical Caritas in veritate. It does not give answers that would solve everything. But it is a step toward putting things into another perspective and looking at them not only from the point of view of feasibility and success, but from the point of view that sees love of neighbor as something normative and is oriented to God's will and not just to our desires. In this respect impetus would have to be provided in this way so that a change of consciousness can really come about.
A few things to note. The question is as long as the answer. By the end of the question, economics professor Ken Rogoff sounds like the dudes who wrote The Matrix. Benedict's answer -- as Ryan's carefully worded excerpt acknowledges -- says absolutely nothing about budget deficits per se, and especially not anything about the right way to address them. It's as much, if not more so, a critique of private debts as public ones to the extent that it addresses Seewald's 10-clause question at all.
Anyway, Ryan should know better (but maybe he doesn't) to go before the Jesuits in Georgetown and start picking and choosing his Pope quotes. In other segments of the interview book, Benedict talks about off-limit topics for Ryan, like global warming and social safety nets. Indeed, bear in mind that Paul Ryan is a Republican from Wiscsonsin and consider this part of the encyclical that Benedict referred to his answer:
Through the combination of social and economic change, trade union organizations experience greater difficulty in carrying out their task of representing the interests of workers, partly because Governments, for reasons of economic utility, often limit the freedom or the negotiating capacity of labour unions. Hence traditional networks of solidarity have more and more obstacles to overcome. The repeated calls issued within the Church's social doctrine, beginning with Rerum Novarum, for the promotion of workers' associations that can defend their rights must therefore be honoured today even more than in the past, as a prompt and far-sighted response to the urgent need for new forms of cooperation at the international level, as well as the local level.
Paul Ryan supports Scott Walker, the union-busting governor of Wisconsin. Why do they hate the Pope?
UPDATE: Washington Post's Dana Milbank with more about the Georgetown even.