Private Charity versus Government Safety Net

Arthur C. Brooks is a scholar and president of the American Enterprise Institute. His recent book, The Road to Freedom, a pleasant takeoff on Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom, is excellent and I recommend it. Brooks’ thesis is tainted, however, by his call for maintaining the government safety net out of a desire for “social justice.” This is a fraudulent term used by liberals to obscure their true intent of finding new areas of society for government intrusion and corruption. If one believes in ordinary justice one must be alarmed whenever the words “social justice” are spoken or written. When the word “social” is combined with “justice”, as when “greater” and “good” are combined, it should be a warning to all that something smelly is being perfumed.

The government safety net is one such very stinky aspect of our society that should be viewed and experienced for what it actually does and not what might have been intended by the do-gooders who created it. Caring for the poor is a laudable goal of any society, but when it becomes soaked in partisan politics, as it inevitably must if it’s to be a function of government, it ceases to be a benefit to the poor and becomes a cancerous parasite that impairs the health of that society.

Before government occupied this field, caring for the poor and sick was a function of private charity. It worked better for the poor then and would do so now as well because it not only enabled those in need to get the help they needed, it allowed them to maintain some semblance of human dignity by forging a healthy relationship between the givers and the receivers of the assistance. Government entitlements are not charity and can never accomplish the benevolence of charity. Fortunately, and entirely attributable to the wonders of free market capitalism, America is a rich country with many wealthy people looking for ways to make generous and worthy donations of their money. The Koch Brothers just donated $100 Million for a new wing of a cancer hospital in New York City.  Letting the poor regain their self respect and the wealthy use their largess for something good instead of multi-million dollar political contributions would benefit them, the poor, and everyone else.

When medical device heiress Pat Stryker used a part of her fortune to deny poor Hispanic children the chance to learn English instead of using it to help provide a safety net for them, it was not only that she was woefully misguided in her thinking, but also because the provision of a safety net has been so taken over by the government that wealthy people like her no longer think of it when they set out to do something useful with their accumulated wealth.  Taking this function away from Government might contribute to the enlightenment and benevolent happiness of Ms. Stryker and others like her.

For an excellent essay on the benefits of private charity and the hazards of public charity, i.e., government welfare, see Alexis de Tocqueville, Memoir on Pauperism.

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