Abrogating Responsibility (an ongoing series?): Charity

Last time in my haste to vent about my bad day, I wrote about abrogating our responsibility of protection and basic neighborly conflict dispute to police.

In this post I’d like to look at a considerably larger problem: the shifting of the responsibility of charity onto government. (I’d like to say “this will be a more well thought out post, but I write all of these during baby naps, so…you get what you get.)

Definition 3 in Wiktionary describes charity as “Benevolence to others less fortunate than ourselves; the providing of goods or money to those in need. ” But this definition hides something very important: willingly providing your own goods or money to those in need. (The first clause hints at this with the use of the word “benevolence.”)

As someone with a certain affinity for virtue based ethics, this is a very important distinction we’ve lost. “Forced Charity” is not charity at all it is merely submission to the people with the guns. (Heck it’s not even a Kantian style “duty for duty’s sake.”)

And yet repeatedly we see people confusing using their vote to “tax the rich” or “expand the safety net” as an action of charity. We see this even from groups that should know better, who flog bible quotes to make their point. (Career Suicide Status: Ongoing!)

Research suggests that government grants tend to reduce private giving to charities. But more to the point, higher taxes make it harder for the middle class to find money to give to charities. Consider a case: My tax rate roughly including sales, property, federal, FICA, state, and local taxes is over 25%! And frankly that’s rounding down in quite a few places, assuming I do well preparing my taxes this year and stay in the lowest tax bracket.

That means that for every dollar I (I mean my wife) makes, 25% of it goes straight to someone else. After expenses, and trying to keep a rainy day fund up, there’s just not much left at the end of the month.

Now yes, I’m a bad person. I could do better at actively cutting back my expenses and giving that money to charity. But this also brings out the point: if so much of my money is redistributed before I even get it, I’m less inclined to want to give more. Is that good and just? No, but I am, as I said a sinner.

The difference is I recognize this flaw (for all the my failures to fix it I suppose) whereas many on the left respond by merely voting other people’s money towards their favored issues, calling it “charity” and resting on their laurels. This is the lie that socialism tells us that people seem to accept: forcible redistribution is as virtuous as real charity. (Feel the Bern!)

Virtue must be practiced for it to take root and grow, and we risk creating an entire generation who haven’t practiced charity (or has practiced a perverted shadow of it.) The results will be disastrous. And we haven’t even gotten into government’s lack of agility, desire for power, or Milton Friedman’s four ways you spend money among other horrific downstream effects.

5 comments to “Abrogating Responsibility (an ongoing series?): Charity”
  1. Cannot find so much as a comma to disagree with, tsrblke!

    What I WILL say, however, is this: IF it is necessary to distribute “charity” via the government — and it probably is, given that we have so many who would give nothing if it was left to the public — then for G*d’s sake let’s not create a giant, money-wasting bureaucracy to do so. This giant Charity Machine wastes most of what could/should go to the poor, and is beholden to politicians who get to decide what pet recipients get the loot.

    It is, therefore, as if Robin Hood stole from everyone and handed the goodies out to his extra-Merry Men exclusively.

    Human nature being what it is, I don’t expect the government to ever understand this. And, of course, it is the current government that is responsible for so much of the pain and poverty that exists in this country, so I think the majority of the relief should come directly from those who caused the misery.

  2. A fundamental difference between public and private charity is worthiness.

    Among those in need, private charities can decide whom to help, based on worthiness. Someone who has fallen on hard times, through no fault of his own, and who just needs a hand up to get back on his feet – sure. Someone who has fallen on hard times, through his own fault, but who has seen the error of his ways and mended them – sure.

    But the wastrel, the pharmacologically-addled, and the work-shy who just want subvention to carry on exactly as they’re currently existing? No.

    Public charity, on the other hand, cannot make such distinctions, or face a blizzard of lawsuits. Government cannot say, “X is worthy of assistance, but Y is not” without incurring severe repercussions, most notably from the press. With public charity, everyone, whether worthy or not, gets a handout, which in turn encourages others at the margin to queue up for one.

    THAT is the problem with public charity. That, and the temptation that government has to use it differentially to buy electoral support.

    • Exactly.

      But that is a symptom of the size of government. I suspect that if government were significantly smaller the distribution of public largesse would be more carefully controlled, because the truly needy are not voting blocs.

      Or are we as a nation so far gone that we can no longer recognize the difference between need and want?

    • I disagree in part though.
      Consider part of what we have now: large government providing grants to private charities.
      A hybrid model if you will. But it’s still not charity, it’s forced taxation for the purposes of redistribution.

      Now by necessity, taxation has to be done via coercion. (Government is, by definition, approved coercion.) But that doesn’t mean that government need replace charity as the benefactor of the poor whether via grants to private charities or acting as “Charity” itself.

      To McScribbler’s point. Yes, people are greedy. This alone however does not justify government redistribution.
      I’m leery of “social cohesion” arguments too because they seem to become “we need total control over the populace.”
      Plus government is actively harming charities. Regulations seemingly designed to shut them down. Which makes sense if you think about it from this perspective: if private charities do something (usually better) government feels threatened.

  3. The problem with large government providing grants to private charities is how they decide on which charities to bestow their (our) largesse. As between a charity focused on ghetto dwellers or one focused on wounded combat soldiers, you know which would get it. Or between pro- and anti-abortion groups, etc.

    So once again, public charity becomes a vehicle for buying support and implementing partisan policy initiatives.

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