Subsidiarity

 

If we wish to create a society which will help citizens to achieve their human potential and happiness, we need to ensure individuals are responsible for their own actions, that they respect the rights of others and that they know that they are not entitled to anything that they have not earned.  We need to put the family in its rightful place as the central economic unit in our society.  We want to nurture the formation and easy continuance of families.  We want to inculcate the concept that family members have responsibilities to love and support each other, and that those family relationships endure.  We need to restructure our society to limit the role of government to those essential activities that cannot be done otherwise. This is the principle of Subsidiarity.

 

To achieve these things, some changes will be structural; others will involve changing cultural norms.  Subsidiarity is the principle of devolving decisions to the lowest practical level, that what individuals are able to do, society should not take over, and what smaller societies can do, larger societies should not take over.  Its advocates range from Alexis de Tocqueville in 1835 to Pope John Paul II in 1991.  It facilitates a wider range of solutions, quicker and more informed decision making, and greater involvement of more citizens.  There is less chance of one bad decision causing a systemic failure and less opportunity for moral hazard.

 

We can formulate a hierarchy of responsibility and support as shown in the diagram.

 

We do whatever we can ourselves, with our family, with our friends and neighbours.  We form voluntary organizations - businesses, clubs and societies - so that like-minded citizens can achieve their common objectives.  We keep government activity as local as possible, jointly funding only those activities that the group agree to be valuable, keeping citizens closely involved in what is relevant to them. Subsidiarity applies to taxation too.  Taxes should be raised by the authority responsible for spending those funds.  There should be no spending without taxation.  A good society should encourage the formation of voluntary associations and should not impede them unless they pose a threat to society.

 

The benefits of subsidiarity are as follows:

  1. Liberty is enhanced -  if you can do something yourself, or with a few colleagues, in the way you want, then you do not have to submit to a less preferable, majority view.

  2. Society uses the ability of more citizens to devise solutions.

  3. There is more variety of solutions; not just one majority view, but lots of minority views.

  4. Others can see what works well, and what does not, and change their course to suit.

  5. Solutions can be implemented more quickly because you do not have to spend time convincing others up the hierarchy.

  6. If you get it wrong you can fix it easily because its scope is more limited.

  7. More citizens are involved in the life of the society. They gain experiences in leadership, in decision making, in working together.

Peter Francis Fenwick       Writer      Melbourne     Australia