Monday, February 22, 2010

Charity vs. Welfare

I was reading an article on politics and got tired of seeing another writer proclaiming the self-evident need for the government to engage in "charity"-- but does it? When a government makes payment to individuals, is that really "charity"? I have to say no. In, fact, it is the opposite.

When the government helps someone, it is not "charity"; it is "welfare" or "the dole". Charity is voluntary. Welfare is coercive redistribution. Voluntary action and coerced action are opposites -- you cannot use Welfare and Charity interchangeably, since they are actually mortal enemies.

Let me give you an example. If I see that my neighbor is hungry, I have two choices: I can help him or not. If I choose to help him, I engage in charity. What governs my choice? My estimate of his worth and the degree to which I feel his suffering is an injustice. If his house burnt down or someone robbed him, if he had some unfortunate illness, or if the factory that employed him was shut down for its carbon footprint -- if he was a victim of some circumstance not of his own making and was working to get out of it -- I am likely to choose to assist him gladly.

This assistance is not my grudging performance of duty, but my benevolence and love for my fellow men -- which I feel to the degree of their personal virtue and the closeness of our relationship. However, if I see that my neighbor drinks away his paycheck, destroys his property through indifference and negligence, can't hold down a job because he doesn't show up or is incompetent -- if I see that he slept through school, never cracked a book and is generally a no-good jerk -- my choice is likely to let justice take its course and not to stand between him and the consequences of his own actions.

In this way, voluntary individual charity reinforces virtue among citizens.

Even charity must be paid for, and the payment is personal virtue.

You earn charity by deserving it.

Welfare does not consider the character of the recipient. Rather than providing payments to those that only suffer unjustly, welfare provides payment without the requirement of virtue and often to those who do not rate assistance at all. Often, welfare even denies payment to those who show too much productive ability and not enough "need". The less you deserve welfare, the more likely you are to get it. In true Kantian fashion, it dutifully gives values away without payment of any kind. Welfare is the epitome of sacrifice -- and the opposite of justice.

We have implemented a system by which my neighbor demands charity as his right, as his due. He demands not only cash in an emergency but payments year round and lifelong -- from universal pre-K to "free" health care to food stamps to corporate bailouts. Corporate bailouts are a logical consequence of the welfare state; The powers we gave to the government to assist "the poor"  are the same powers that are used for welfare to corporations with political pull. The tax laws instituted to help the American indigents also enable wealth to be taken for the unearned benefit of foreign indigents and friendly dictators alike. We've violated property rights, and so our system has become a game of who can grab the most before he is voted out and replaced with the opposing gang. You can't have corporate welfare without individual welfare. You cannot violate property rights for the poor without also violating them for the strong. Once a principle is violated, anything goes. This is the reason why, in America, the poor get poorer and the rich get richer: they are each subsidized, giving an unfair advantage to the powerful and an incentive towards dependancy to the weak.

But the issue isn't only practical, it's primarily moral.

Government "charity" goes over the heads of the individuals who earn and produce -- it invalidates their judgement about who is deserving and who is not. It FORCES some men to involuntarily sustain the lives of others. It forces me to support and sustain people I don't know and will never know. It is indifferent to my values and contemptuous of my consent. It takes my cash and gives it to some recipient I can never judge. I will never know if I am involuntarily supporting a potential friend or whether my money is being funneled to someone who is standing on street corners preaching the destruction of everything I love.

Welfare is diametrically opposed to the principle of justice, which is why that is the very word the left adopts and distorts; "social justice" is a thing altogether different than true justice. It  is an attempt to get for men by force what they could not get voluntarily. It enables my crooked and lazy neighbor to get from me at the point of a gun the wealth and services I would never give him otherwise. It enables him to go on being crooked and lazy without end, without consequences, without facing moral judgement from the people who are supporting him.

The vaunted "safety net" is not protection from physical harm, it's a protection from moral consequences. It allows a man to have his needs met without accepting responsibility for his own life. It's worse then outright theft; a burglar at least acknowledges that I own my property and that he is engaged in thieving -- he sneaks around, hopes I won't catch him, and grants that the police have the right to capture him, punish him, and return my property to me. But the welfare recipient claims his loot by right -- he's not stealing bread, assisted housing or health care from me directly and so does not acknowledge it as theft. He receives it safely laundered through the magic of having it extorted from me by a third party, the taxman.

He is absolved of considering me at all -- whether that money could buy me an extra meal or my children's education or pay for my funeral -- he doesn't have to care where the money came from or to consider my needs -- only to proclaim his own needs and demand assistance by right. He doesn't have to look me in the eye and ask for help. He doesn't ask my consent at all. He doesn't have to think of where the money came from; whether I worked overtime to earn it, whether it was my inheritance or whether I saved it penny by penny through a lifetime of scrupulously competent labor. The welfare recipient doesn't have to consider me in the slightest -- I am safely offstage, out of sight, out of mind. I am not present to judge him, to question him, to estimate his worth. He takes my money without having to deserve it. He takes my money without even the necessity of having to say "thank you".

That is the whole motivation and result of your government programs: to remove ever more freedom, gratitude, justice, consideration, friendship, judgement, morality, virtue, and reason from this world: to enable lazy men to evade the fact that things in this life are ultimately paid for by work, by virtue, by ambition and thought. To take with guns what justice will not render.

I suggest you rethink the nature of charity and ask yourself whether the government is actually helping people or whether it is corrupting the concept of "charity" and hurrying the destruction of everything good, benevolent and just in this world.

-Richard Gleaves

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  1. I've had more thoughts than I'm going to put into this comment. But just for now I want to know what you think about this idea. Should a full time mother be considered employed and be compensated for the value of her work? Also, although less likely, even a stay at home father. Where do you stand on the moral compass of the value of an active parent? The reason I think of it here is because the current welfare state supports parents in charge of children in many different ways. WIC is one example.

    1. No, being a mother is NOT a full-time job. (I am a mother of two, step-mother of two, and grandmother of 2) I was a single mother who raised her children while working. Yes, there came a time I needed public assistance... but I used it as just that... assistance. To ASSIST me in the efforts I was already making, I received $213 per month. I only collected those benefits for 8 months because I used the $213, plus my ex-husband's $300 every month, to pay rent on a tiny little trailer. I found babysitters in my trailer park. I walked to work. I did not own a car, I didn't eat carryout, I wasn't overweight, I didn't have cable, etc. Sure, looking back I see that it was a "hardship." But you know what? I didn't feel that way at the time, it was just "what you do." I'm stronger for it. I'll never go back there.

    2. Being a mother IS NOT a job darling... Yes it's work, but it's not a job. People get paid to DO A JOB, not to "do work." Wiping your own ass is work. Do you think someone should pay you to wipe your ass?

  2. Parenthood is a choice. My husband stayed at home with my two daughters and I worked. My husband was compensated by the very valuable upbringing my kids had with their father. We struggled a bit financially. People who received WIC took my hard earned money away from me. I really could have used the money for my own kids. WIC provides food high in fructose that makes kids fat.

  3. As if often the case (and growing moreso with time) it seems that any good topic that comes up I've commented about either on facebook or my blog. So I'll defer to an old status message for my comment. ;)

    "Charity is laudible, social welfare is not. Charity is helping others with the willful consent of the giver. Social welfare is helping others by mandate of law and therefore only possible with the coerced consent of the governed."

    As another aside, however, I once had a sort-of 'crisis-of-faith' with Objectivist principles when I pondered a worst case scenario where people who were otherwise good people who did everything right might end up suffering due to extreme circumstances while others had plenty. That is until I took Rand's advice for such scenarios and re-examined my premises. I came up with a couple of things worthy of note here:

    1) human life has value and there is value in helping others. People can find their own value in providing charity even for the seemingly least able to appreciate it or give it back. (a great example, ask anyone that volunteers with the special olympics if they like what they do)

    2) even in very bad situations, people will still find ways to help others because of the value they find in it. furthermore they will tend to find the 'best' places to place that money to do the most good when resources are short - kinda what you said about people receiving charity being 'deserving' of it.

    3) based on #1 and #2 if things ever should get sooooo bad that even people that find value in giving are unable to give, as horrible as it may sound - based on 1 and 2, that would be a REALLY bad situation - and in such a situation the people that have managed to accumulate enough to fill their needs are probably the people you would really want to survive!

  4. @Kristina I am quite sure you exaggerate about WIC. It's easy to dis something you're not actually looking at, so take a look and just like anything else it's the choices the people make. They are not handed Fat directly by the government. Other than that, thanks for giving your example and answer to my question. I'm not surprised by your answer.

  5. The decision to give birth is not a license to extort the rest of society to support the life that one irresponsibly brings into creation. If someone chooses to have a child then they must shoulder that burden and should consider the consequences before they decide to have them. I see no reason why society should be liable for the recklessness of those who are not secure enough to raise their children properly.

  6. <>

    The question to ask about "Compensated for the value of her work" is value -- to whom?

    When you work, you provide your effort to an employer and he compensates you in mutual trade to mutual advantage. The mom works, but with whom is she trading? Her kids are not necessarily a value to anyone else but her -- in fact, the more of a welfare state you set up the more her kids represent an added burden on the rest of us, so paying her to mother them would be to compensate her for a disvalue.

    The work involved in parenting (and it is work) is like the work involved in any other activity. If a woman tends her vegetable garden all day she is working -- but to whom is her work a value if she's not trading with anyone? If a man cleans house all day while his wife is at the office -- he's doing work, but who is it you think should compensate him for it?

    The people who compensate a mother for the work she does raising children is.... the children! They provide her with a source of joy, contentment, entertainment, love, and non-material values of family and the opportunity for her to pass along her values. If such rewards are not enough compensation for her, she has no business having children. The idea that the state should compensate her for the "service" of having children and supporting them is disgusting. That's the philosophy of Nazi Germany or Communist Russia -- that mothers are creating new workers for the German fields or for the proletariat wheat collective. You don't have kids for the state and so the state has no business "compensating" you for being a mother. If motherhood is not to your liking and you find no joy in it, then I'm all for legalized abortion and ubiquitous birth control. Also adoption comes to mind, but not "compensation"

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  9. of coure it is different, charity is by free will, and when you establish free will by law it is no longer free will. but this does not remove the fact that it is the ACT of charity. the firrst amendment states "Congress (the lawmakers) shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion" because when you make it a law it is no longer free will.
    Congress has indeed made a law respecting the establishment of religious charity. Charityis a contribution for the ACT of care for the poor. Welfare is the (F.I.C.A.) federal insurance "CONTRIBUTION" to care for the poor. the only difference is charity is by free will and welfare is by force of the law. this is what it looks like when government establishes religion, it turns it from free will to compulsion by law. but this does not change the fact that the social security ACT is the ACT of charity.

  10. Hi, I'm an economist and I have recently began forming a research thesis on this topic. The results have been surprising, while you are absolutely right since the great depression private charities have been unable to support the poor during times of need, this hasn't always been the case. Every recession dating back from the Panic of 1907 and prior, including the long depression of 1873 (the great depression of the day) were completely manageable by private charities. When income tax was created in 1913 with the Federal Reserve, charitable contributions plummeted (almost 80% tax rate on the rich back then, surprised?). Private donations never regained the percent per GDP it once had and during the onset of the great depression, the government of course then took over the role. Since then the attitude of the "haves" changed about charity (I'm still running statistics on that part of the hypothesis, its more difficult to quantify while keeping out biasing variables). Also the Great Depression was worsened by the irresponsible monetary expansion and easy credit released in the '20s by our newly formed central banking system. Basically I am coming to the conclusion that private charity does work and is much more sustainable. Finally, I pose a question for you and your view point, since our government will be bankrupt by 2030 latest, how will a poor government support it's people?

  11. All taxation is redistribution, and most tax money goes either to pay off the national debt, or is in general a redistribution upward, in gigantic tax breaks for profitable corporations, and direct gifts to banks who redistribute it to their wonderful CEOs in suits who gave us so much clean fun the last 5 years. That is the money you generated. I'm from Canada, where social spending is less than 3% of gov't expenditure - and that's all social spending, including the military. Your very extensive ressentiment of those who are scraping by on the dole has nothing to do with your bank account - benefits are peanuts. It has to do with the fact that you hate your job, rightly so, and your moral indignation is envy with a halo. Basic Income is coming. The terrific privilege (ha ha) of the dole, raised to a decent level, can be extended to include you, loyal supporter of your master's profits, or (if you're master), a loyal taker of other people's labor power at a rate that makes welfare look like nothing.

    Do you want to know who is really exploiting workers? Those who maximize profit on their backs, all over the world. See it? See the elephant?

  12. This Article proves just how brainwashed Americans have become, Welfare is the government establishment of the ACTS of Christian Charity. this is exactly what the colonist left Europe for. remember "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion?" of course it is not charity anymore you D/A now it is government established forced Acts of Charity. Care for the poor is care for the poor, healthcare is healthcare, education is education, they are one in the same government established the Christian ACT of charity in the social security ACT. See--

  13. The problem with leaving the alleviation of suffering to charity rather than welfare (i.e. to benevolence rather than coercion) is that that system will naturally benefit those with no concern for the suffering of others. I.e. the heartless are the ones that prosper most. Is that really a behaviour we want to incentivise?