09 10

26 May 2011

Helping the Poor

I saw a bumper sticker very much like this today. The one I saw actually added a word, so it said:

When did helping the poor become a sin?

It made me sad, because it speaks to a divide that doesn't need to exist. Obviously, helping the poor, in and of itself, is not sin. Americans, both Liberal and Conservative, are often giving and generous people. Members of both groups often care deeply about those less fortunate than themselves, yet to listen to our political debate one might come to the conclusion that some, particularly Conservatives, don't care at all about the poor. I know that as a constitutional originalist I have been told that I clearly don't care what happens to the poor. Nothing could be further from the truth.

I simply don't think that charitable works fall into the proper role of government, so I oppose governmental "charity" whenever it come up. I believe that charitable work is, in every case, the exclusive domain of the private sector. The reasoning behind this belief is all in the funding. Let me explain.

Government produces nothing. Any funds the government has come from taxation - that is, from taking money from the individual citizens. The money is taken regardless of the condition it leaves the citizen and their family in, regardless of the individual's opinion on the matter. You know the old saying: "Nothing is sure but death and taxes." So, anything we spend tax money on must be clearly justified, in all cases, before we take that money from its rightful owners.

I believe we Americans should use extreme care before lending our support to any proposed government program. We should fully recognize that government is no plaything. As George Washington warned, “Government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master!” (The Red Carpet, p.142) It is an instrument of force and unless our conscience is clear that we would not hesitate to put a man to death, put him in jail or forcibly deprive him of his property for failing to obey a given law, we should oppose it.
-Ezra Taft Benson, Proper Role of Government

I like to test the programs by putting myself in the place of the recipient, and my widowed neighbor lady in the position of the taxed "donor." Could I make her pay my children's medical bills, buy my groceries, pay my mortgage or bail out my failing business? Would I be justified in sending her to prison, garnishing her wages, or otherwise penalizing her for refusal? Of course not. If I do that as a private citizen, it's called theft. If I get my government to do it for me, it's called Legalized Plunder. In both cases it's clearly morally wrong.

Legalized Plunder - or governmental "charity" - is also unconstitutional. James Madison, also known as the Father of the Constitution, said this about it:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

None of this implies that there is not a need to assist those less fortunate; only that the government is not a moral means of doing so. Clearly for Christians there is a religious imperative to assist wherever and whenever we have the ability.

But even were it moral for government to assist with charitable works, I would still oppose it. The inefficiency and corruption of government is legendary. They hardly qualify as a well-run, effective charitable organization! Eliminating governmental "charity" would dramatically reduce the tax burden. With that money, one of the things my husband and I would do is increase our charitable donations - to charities of our choosing. Rather than being forced to contribute to Planned Parenthood, an organization that I despise, I would give to my faith's Perpetual Education Fund, or the Humanitarian Aid Fund. In order to help on a more local level, we would give a larger fast offering. But my family's money is being taken from us to fund other things, not of our choosing. And the sad fact is, by the time I care for my own family's needs, there's just not a lot left over to assist others. It doesn't have to be this way. I fervently believe that if the government did less, individuals and private organizations would do more, and ultimately there would be more work done to help the poor, and that the work done would be more effective.

No, of course it's not a sin to help the poor. But if we are not careful about the way we collect the funds used, we may be guilty anyway.


Cellista said...

Well said. I especially like how you put your widowed neighbor in the place of the taxed "donor." It seems like we are always being asked to think of our poor widowed neighbors as those whom we would be hurting if gov't programs got cut, and we surely wouldn't want our dear neighbor to suffer, now would we?

Ritsumei said...

Thank you. The whole "heartless conservative" thing drives me crazy. It's so one-dimensional, like nothing outside of government even exists.

Gillian said...

I wanted to let you know I got the owl pellets & supplies in the mail yesterday. Thank you so much!

Jen said...

Well said! Thank you. I think you're right: people would give more if they had more to give and we'd feel better about doing it. Which then, would lead to more giving! Perhaps things would actually get better without all the red tape in the way!

Ritsumei said...

Gillian, I'm so glad they got there! Hurray for fun science!

Jen, I agree. We've actually had conversations recently about how we'd do more if the government would just stop stealing from us. Between that and the nasty inflation lately, we're not nearly as generous as we'd like to be. It's taking more and more to simply avoid becoming "objects of enevolence" ouselves, even with a good job!


Blog Widget by LinkWithin