Opinion from a Libertarian ViewPoint

Posts Tagged ‘charity’

True Generosity Involves Choice, Not Coercion – Foundation for Economic Education

Posted by M. C. on April 1, 2020

But that’s not how they see it. They torture logic to justify why those they “care” about, often including themselves, deserve your money more than you do.

In his words, “moral considerations have no place except where liberty exists.” He demonstrated that while government coercion can create more “need,” it undermines charity. Further, he saw that coercion “justified” because it is deemed charitable by someone other than the one whose resources are used was a threat to liberty more broadly:

When the tax filing deadline comes during a political campaign, it can be quite instructive. That is because many of those who are loudest in their insistence that other people must be taxed much more heavily to help others—that is, for charitable purposes—have their own charitable contributions revealed. And that can provide valuable insight into the credibility of their claims.

The reason is that, as Thomas Jefferson put it,

To take from one…to spare to others…is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association—the guarantee to every one of a free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.

But while that problem haunts government “charity” pursued at others’ expense, our individual charitable activities violate no such ethical rules. In fact, they strengthen our ethical muscles. And government has long encouraged them via itemized deductions in the tax code. Yet, if we are generous with others’ resources (even when it is against their will) but not with our own resources, it brings into question whether it is really assistance for others or power over others that motivates their positions.

So what did we learn about candidates’ charitableness? According to the Washington Post, for 2017 returns, Beto O’Rourke’s family donated one-third of 1 percent of its income to charity, Kamala Harris gave 1.4 percent (and none at all her first three years as California’s attorney general), Amy Klobuchar and Kristen Gillibrand each gave just under 2 percent, Bernie Sanders gave 3.4 percent (plus proceeds from a book), and Elizabeth Warren gave 5.5 percent. For people who advocate massive increases in what others will be forced to pay for government “charity,” that reveals a substantial amount of cognitive dissonance.

But that’s not how they see it. They torture logic to justify why those they “care” about, often including themselves, deserve your money more than you do. And they portray themselves as above such criticism because they “give” so much as critical cogs in advocating those (involuntary) transfers while asserting that opponents who object to proposed government tax and transfer “charity” are just selfish.

This issue means that Americans could benefit from revisiting the largely unknown “other side” to the coercive government charity argument. And few have provided that better than F.A. Harper, a Cornell University professor and member of the Mont Pelerin Society who helped start the Foundation for Economic Education, co-directed the William Volker Fund, and founded the Institute for Humane Studies. Consider an abbreviated version of what he wrote in Chapter 4 of his 1949 book, Liberty: A Path to Its Recovery, titled “Liberty and Charity.”

“One accusation above all others seems to have wide appeal…the charge that liberty means selfishness and a lack of the spirit of charity.”

“Is liberty…in conflict with charity? Is it proper to accuse one who asserts his right to the product of his own labor, together with rights to private property, of being uncharitable and totally self-seeking?”

“The right to the product of one’s own labor, and the associated right to keep it and to do with it as one may choose, is not in conflict with compassion and charity. Leaving these matters to voluntary action, rather than to apply compulsion, is in harmony rather than in conflict with Christian ethics…assistance given voluntarily and anonymously from the product of one’s own labor…is truly charity; that taken from another by force, on the other hand, is not charity at all, in spite of its use for avowed ‘charitable purposes.’ The virtue of compassion and charity cannot be sired by the vice of thievery.”

“’Political charity’ violates the essentials of charity…It is not anonymous; on the contrary, there is boasting about the process by the politician both in the form of campaign promises yet unfilled as well as by reminders during the term of office…to insure that the receiver of these fruits of ‘charity’ is kept mindful of an enduring obligation to the political agent. And the source of the giving is not from the pocket of the political giver himself…the wherewithal is taken by force from the pockets of others. And some of the amount collected is deducted for ‘costs of administering’ by the one who claims personal virtue in the process. All told, the process of ‘political charity’ is about as complete a violation of the requisites of charity as can be conceived.”

“Those who contend that the rights of liberty are in conflict with charity falsely assume that persons generally have a total disregard for the welfare of others …Evidence to the contrary is that the infant and the helpless members of the family, and other needy persons, do not ordinarily starve in a society where these rights prevail. The right to have income and private property means the right to control its disposition and use; it does not mean that the person himself must consume it all himself.”

“[There is also] the effect on compassion when welfare by force is attempted as a substitute for charity; when aid is no longer that of voluntary and anonymous donations from the product of one’s labor, for specific and known purposes.”

“Compassion is a purely personal thing. The body politic cannot have compassion. One cannot delegate compassion to a hired agent. Nor is compassion so cheap a virtue as to be practiced by the mere distributing of grants of aid taken from the pockets of others, rather than from one’s own pocket or from his own effort in production. A charity worker may be a kindly and lovable soul, but as far as compassion is concerned, he is only an employed person buying groceries and things for certain persons by using other people’s money.”

“When a taxpayer is forced to contribute to ‘charity’ in spite of his judgment of need, he will increasingly shun the sense of responsibility which is requisite to a spirit of compassion; he will lose compassion as he more and more accepts the viewpoint: ‘That is the government’s business!’”

“Advocacy of these rights of liberty is sometimes called ‘selfishness.’ ‘Self,’ if used in this sense, means the entire circle of the person’s family, friends, relatives, organizations—anything which this person considers worthy of help from his income or savings.”

“If ‘selfishness’ is to be charged against the one who demands the right to that which he has produced, selfishness of a far less virtuous order should also be charged against any non-producer who takes the income and wealth from another against his will.”

“If control of the disposition and use of income and wealth is to be called ‘selfishness,’ then it is unavoidable that someone act selfishly in the handling of everything produced. The question then becomes: Who should have the right to be selfish, the one who produced it or some other person? Is it selfishness to control the disposition of that which you have produced, but unselfish to control the disposition of that which you have taken from those who produced it?”

“For this argument to be accepted, one would have to hold that non-producers are better qualified than producers to judge the wise use of what is produced. He would have to hold that non-producers are somehow more virtuous than producers; that they have superior wisdom and conscience. He would have to hold that the taking away from the producer by force will not discourage him from production, since it is not possible to be charitable with something not produced.”

“If the members of the human race be so self-centered that they are judged to be unqualified to handle the use of what they have labored to produce, the advocates of ‘charity’ by force…must face an interesting question. How will it be possible to administer the program? Who can be found to operate a program of ‘wise charity,’ if that be true? If one could be found, by what respectable means could he be expected to gain his throne of power over all those supposedly self-centered dregs of humanity?…And finally, they should review carefully their starting assumption that justice and charity and selflessness can best be attained through giving legal or moral sanction to the taking by one person of the product of another’s labor by force. Whence comes the alleged superiority in the morals and wisdom of the taker–is it the result of his having engaged in the taking, or in gaining power over others, or from where? More reasonable is the assumption that proficiency in these respects is found in a person lacking in morals and wisdom.”

“Liberty is not in conflict with charity. More accurately, charity is possible and can reach large proportions only under liberty; and under liberty, ‘need’ for it would probably be greatly reduced.”

Currently, Americans are already more than knee-deep in campaigns that revolve in major part around proposals to massively scale up mandatory government “charity,” largely in search of the votes of intended beneficiaries. But seven decades ago, Harper answered the argument that charity required, or is even advanced by, such government coercion.

In his words, “moral considerations have no place except where liberty exists.” He demonstrated that while government coercion can create more “need,” it undermines charity. Further, he saw that coercion “justified” because it is deemed charitable by someone other than the one whose resources are used was a threat to liberty more broadly:

Liberty will be allowed in society only insofar as there is acceptance of the conduct of others…Tolerance in disagreement demands acceptance of separate domains within which a person is allowed to make his mistakes, if he does so with what is his rather than with what is yours. Private property within the economic arena of scarce and desired things operates to this end. Once these domains are accepted, then it becomes a prime moral right of a person “to do what I will with mine own” instead of to do what I will with your own.

Be seeing you


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Why Don’t Pro-Tax Millionaires Just Pay More Tax Voluntarily? | Mises Wire

Posted by M. C. on February 29, 2020

This argument has led to the conclusion that we need government, and its ability to coerce people, to tax us (more than we would have voluntarily given) to force us to give “what we really want to give,” which could make the “donors” better off despite the coercion involved.

One need not look far for evidence that many Americans want to help the poor. One obvious piece of that evidence is that many give substantial amounts of time, effort, and money to do so. But given that evidence, why do we need government to be so substantially involved in redistribution, backed by coercion, rather than relying on individuals and voluntary associations to provide charity?

One argument that has been made involves the free rider problem, the argument that leaving charity to voluntary efforts would result in less charity than we “really” want to contribute. In a nutshell, the problem is that my personal contribution, at most, will have virtually no effect in reducing poverty, so that even though I want to do something about it, I don’t contribute because the problem of poverty is so large relative to my resources.

This argument has led to the conclusion that we need government, and its ability to coerce people, to tax us (more than we would have voluntarily given) to force us to give “what we really want to give,” which could make the “donors” better off despite the coercion involved.

I have long thought this was an unsatisfying argument with several problems. As E.C. Pasour wrote, “The free rider concept…has also been widely misused in the case of charity.” In particular, although it is true that my potential contributions are far too small to appreciably reduce the existence of poverty, which could potentially trigger a free rider problem in reducing poverty, my potential contributions are large enough that I can do something about the poverty of a particular person or group I encounter or discover. I can make an appreciable difference to them. For such circumstances and choices, the standard free rider story for why I don’t give would not seem to apply, unless people are assumed to care about poverty but not about those poor individuals they encounter or discover, which seems a very odd combination of preferences. We can also join with others in groups, where our contributions are more impactful in particular areas (this was, in fact, one of the primary principles at a church where I was in charge of charitable giving for years).

However, that is not the biggest problem I have with the “government coercion makes us give what we really want to” argument. To the extent that the free rider problem does arise, it is true that government intervention can change how much charity is provided, but the result is not necessarily closer to what we “really” want to give than what we give voluntarily. A big reason for this is what is called expressive voting.

Say there was a (wildly optimistic) one-in-a-million chance that your vote would swing an electoral outcome to a result benefiting you by $10,000. Viewed instrumentally—solely as a means to an improved end—the expected value of that vote is one cent ($10,000 divided by 1 million). Such a small payoff cannot explain choosing to vote, much less adamant support for a particular candidate or measure. If the payoff in the same circumstance was $1 million, its instrumental value would be one dollar ($1 million divided by 1 million), which would generate virtually identical results.

However, people often also care about the expressive value of voting—what they feel their vote says about them. They might want to vote for something because it makes them feel better by, say, embellishing a noble self-characterization or “cheering” for a position they wish to be associated with. For instance, a vote could validate one’s sense of self-worth by illustrating that “I care,” “I am patriotic,” “I am not a racist,” “I am not selfish,” etc.

Consider one of the “1 percent” who is faced with a vote on whether to raise taxes on “the rich.” With a one-in-a-million chance of changing the electoral outcome, the expected instrumental cost of voting to raise their own taxes by $1 million is one dollar. Therefore, if the value of demonstrating their generosity to themselves and/or others by voting for the proposition exceeded one dollar, such voters would benefit (i.e., advance what they care about) by voting against their instrumental self-interest.

So, once we incorporate this expressive motive for voting, can we be sure that someone’s vote for a proposition that would give $1 million to government poverty efforts from their own pocket (i.e., $1 million would be their share of the tax bill) more closely matches how much they “really want to give” than what they actually choose to do with their own resources? No. There are likely many people who would be willing to bear an expected additional burden of one dollar to vote for giving their $1 million share of such a tax but who would not be willing to actually donate $1 million of their own money for the same end. In other words, the cost of voting to give that $1 million is far lower than the cost of actually giving $1 million, and that artificially low price makes me willing to vote for giving far more charity than I want to give to charity. Like any other subsidy, it makes me do too much of something due to the law of demand.

As a result, can we say that how much charity I would vote for (my share) is a more accurate indicator of what I want to do than what I actually do with my own money? Since I am not convinced that the free rider effect on charity is very large but think that the massive effective subsidy inherent in expressive voting would be quite large, I think the answer is no. Even if free riding does exist to some extent, I think that what we actually do with our money is a more accurate indicator than what we vote to do with it. In fact, I find it highly plausible that such voting on charity could make people far worse off. And that “solution” to the free rider problem would also make government massively larger, which is seldom an effective means of advancing our well-being.

I think this verdict accords with the Constitution, which does not mention a federal role in charity, and its widely accepted meaning earlier in American history. As Grover Cleveland said roughly a century after its signing, in vetoing federal aid to drought-stricken Texas farmers:

I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the General Government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit….The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune….Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthen the bond of a common brotherhood.

Be seeing you

1/20/2013: I’m from the government and I’m here to help


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To Save Humanity, Stop Caring About So Many Problems | The Daily Bell

Posted by M. C. on October 14, 2018

Why does it suck to be around someone who is always complaining?

Because they are “centralizing” their problems to the group.

We all get annoyed by things. But when people broadcast what annoys them, they force everyone around them to share in their annoyance.

So then, not only do we feel annoyed by whatever naturally irks us, but we also are forced to feel annoyed by the other person’s complaints.

By sharing their complaint with others, they have increased the overall annoyance of the group.

Instead of being annoyed for five minutes by my own problems, I am annoyed for ten minutes. Five minutes by the complaints I keep in my head, and five minutes by their complaints they force into my ears.

There are a lot of problems in the world. You can’t care about all of them.

And if you try, you will probably feel overwhelmed, depressed, and powerless.

Yet we rely on big centralized institutions like national media, national politics, and national monetary policy.

This produces the same result as our complaining acquaintances.

They force problems on all of us that really shouldn’t affect 320 million Americans from coast to coast. Read the rest of this entry »

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