If I understand them correctly, I’m not sure I would agree with either one of them.
If I have read the “social encyclicals” correctly, the popes have supported the idea that it is the absolute duty of a society to provide decently for those who do not have decent means and who cannot help themselve it obtaining them. They also support the “most proximate competent means” for doing it.
The most proximate means is the family. But if the family can’t do it, then the parish, diocese, or whatever. If it can’t do it competently, then the community, then the state, then the feds, and so on.
I don’t think anyone today can say with any degree of certainty whether means more proximate than the federal government can do it, because it has been so long since anyone actually tried it on any kind of scale. It is assumed the federal government has to do it because it has the resources. But it takes the resources away from more proximate levels in order to have them.
In a major city particularly, if you know what you’re looking for, you can find really magnificent remnants of the Church charitable institutions of long ago. But most of those “social agencies” are now long gone, for various reasons. Nobody now living has a memory long enough to really know how well they functioned or even quite how they functioned.
But on the assumption (and it really is nothing but an assumption) those entities failed in their efforts, then the duty would have to flow “upstream”. In considering all of it, however, we would need to consider the appropriation of funds from the lower levels of otherwise competent authority to higher levels. None of that would be easy.
So, as things are now, we drift along, with various protagonists advocating this or that without any of them actually knowing what the best way truly is. So, the most powerful entity; the federal government, takes all duties on itself by default for lack of better ideas, and distributes it politically. As to that, all we need to do to realize its ineffectiveness is to consider the upper middle class subsidy called “cash for clunkers” and the failure of the feds to improve SSI from its current miserable level.
Something has clearly gone wrong, but I don’t think some on the one hand saying the “free market” will fix everything automatically and those on the other hand promoting ever greater outlays to the federal government are offering anything truly helpful.