Thursday, March 27, 2008

Charity Versus Compulsion

These days it has become fashionable to speak of how much one cares for those less fortunate. In many cases, caring is demonstrated by helping those who are less fortunate. This is normally not done with one’s own money, but by pursuing legislation to take government funds and give them to those in need.

The problem with this tactic is that those who pursue it fail to realize that the ultimate source of government funds is the American taxpayer. Every dollar that the government holds in its treasury is a dollar that was earned by a hardworking American citizen. Each dollar in the treasury is a dollar that American families could use to better their own lives.

Our current system of government funding of social charities is one of compulsion. The government forcibly takes money from US citizens through taxes. This money is then redistributed to those the government deems worthy or needy. This system began with Franklin Roosevelt’s New Deal and was increased greatly by Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society. Prior to these programs, most charity in the United States was at the local level. Local groups, such as churches, collected money from local residents and distributed it to local people in need. There were some large-scale charitable efforts, such as collections for assistance for Ireland during the Potato Famine, but these efforts were also private.

Studies have shown that blue-collar Americans are charitable givers. In fact, lower income Americans give a larger percentage of their incomes to charity than the rich. For example, Barrack Obama’s tax returns reveal that, of his income of several hundred thousand dollars annually, only one to two percent is donated to charity.

If Americans retained more of their own money, they would still give to charity. In fact, their donations to charity would probably increase because they would have more disposable income available to donate to charity. The ability to donate to charity is currently limited by the fact that the government takes twenty to thirty percent of the annual income of most Americans through income taxes. Property and sales taxes account for even more lost income.

Likewise, Americans would most likely be more comfortable giving money to groups that they, rather than the government, choose. Much government social spending goes to programs like Medicare and Social Security, which already take up large portions of the federal budget. In the near future, these programs will grow so large that they will require large tax increases to prevent bankrupting the country. The government is notoriously inefficient and the massive bureaucracy spawned by the government eats up a large amount of the money that might otherwise go to help the needy.

Other government funding goes to groups that many might find objectionable. Planned Parenthood is opposed by many Americans for their role in promoting abortions. Although many Christian charities are very effective, many Americans feel that they should not receive government funding due to their religious nature.

If Americans were allowed to choose who would receive all of their charitable spending, competition could be introduced into charitable funding. Americans would be allowed to pick and choose charities on the basis of what is important to them, as well as choosing charities that have reputations for effectiveness. The result would be that many worthy charities would receive more money than they do currently.

Charity is, by definition, voluntary. People see a need and voluntarily give some of their earnings to help meet that need. When the government mandates that people pay taxes to fund charity, then it is no longer charity. It has become income redistribution. In the words of Karl Marx, “from each according to his ability to each according to his need.”

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