OPINION – Several months ago, a friend in Salt Lake City encountered a homeless man panhandling for money to feed himself.
My friend invited the man to come with him to a nearby fast food restaurant where he would buy him something to eat. As they entered the busy restaurant, my friend noticed the homeless man became extremely nervous and chose a table far away from any other patrons.
As the man was eating, my friend asked him why he was so unnerved by the presence of others. The man responded that he realized that he smelled bad and that people were often cruel to him for this reason.
As they talked, the homeless man expressed his gratitude and told my friend that he could tell that my friend was a good man. My friend thanked him and told him that whatever goodness he possessed was the product of understanding and living his Christian beliefs to the best of his ability.
The meal cost my friend a few dollars and 20 minutes of his time. But the value of his effort to voluntarily affirm the worth of a fellow human being – especially one that others actively avoided – is more difficult to quantify.
This is an example what real charity looks like.
It reflects the principles of a better time in America’s heritage when the average person felt a personal duty to voluntarily give of their time and means to help the downtrodden.
Jacob Hornberger of the Future of Freedom Foundation points out that this was the norm during the 125 year era of American history when there was no income taxation, no welfare state, no central banking and fiat currency, and few economic regulations.
Great philanthropists like Buckminster Fuller, Andrew Carnegie, and Peter Daniels all built up great fortunes while donating millions voluntarily.
After all, let’s not forget that that’s the way America’s churches, museums, hospitals, schools, opera houses, soup kitchens, and so much more got constructed …. When people were free to accumulate wealth and decide for themselves what to do with it, among the greatest beneficiaries were those who were the recipients of massive amounts of voluntary charity.
The system under which we labor today can only be called forced or mandatory charity. It’s a form of statism which has captured the hearts and minds of most political leaders and a good many citizens.
Supporters of forced charity cling to the notion that if something isn’t mandated and backed with the threat of government force, it lacks legitimacy. Using this as justification, proponents of forced charity use the power of the state to forcefully extract revenue from the citizenry and redistribute it as entitlements.
In at least 33 U.S. cities, this might-makes-right mindset has been taken so far as to criminalize the act of feeding the homeless.
This means that private charity groups are being threatened with fines or jail time for “competing” with government-run services. It’s clear which group has the best interests of the needy in mind and which one is simply protecting its turf.
Power-seekers know that dependency can be used to create constituencies. They also understand that state-granted benefits can be predicated upon the taker’s obedience.
Perhaps that’s why C.S. Lewis urged us to:
Read Montaigne; that’s the voice of a man with his legs under his own table, eating the mutton and turnips raised on his own land. Who will talk like that when the State is everyone’s schoolmaster and employer?
Private charity has no incentive to create lifelong or multi-generational dependency to create a power base. It’s goal is to help people through a temporary rough spot and bring them to where they can stand on their own as citizens not subjects.
Over several generations, this forced charity has had the effect of anesthetizing the public’s conscience to the point that fewer people still feel a personal duty to give voluntarily.
The public is left to assume that the taxes appropriated from their earnings will somehow be put to use helping the needy – minus a generous chunk that supports bureaucratic overhead. Forced charity serves to diminish the amount of wealth in a society which further limits truly voluntary efforts.
The answer to meeting the charitable needs of a community are found in promoting greater, not less, freedom. In a genuinely free society, we would be free to keep what we earn and to voluntarily decide where it would do the most good.
Authoritarians may chafe at thought of losing control over their fellow citizens but if we’re serious about helping the needy, it must start with truly voluntary giving.
Those choices must be made free of coercion.
Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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