Perspectives: Forced charity is false charity

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.

Hornberger writes:

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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Twitter: @youcancallmebry

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  • NotSoFast April 20, 2015 at 8:56 am

    Good honest article Bryan. Most neighbors want to agree with what your saying, but don’t want to upset the apple cart.

  • sagemoon April 20, 2015 at 9:23 am

    Another great piece, Bryan.

  • Roy J April 20, 2015 at 10:23 am

    This is an incredibly complicated issue, to which there is no easy answer. On the one hand, it might be better if the greater mass of the American population lived on their own land and produced much, if not all, of the things necessary for their daily life within their own communities; this sort of society has deep roots and an independence that historically has been shown to have an astonishing longevity (consider the history of the French peasantry that extended into the 20th century). But this raises two formidable difficulties when faced with reality. The first is difficulty is this: how does a country which relies on its enormously urban population to maintain its industrial strength safely move that population towards a more agrarian culture of semi-independent ownership (ignoring for the moment that this may not be a better situation)? Secondly, students of World War II can easily point out that the United States could in no way have defeated Japan in the Pacific (nor assisted the Allies in Europe) without its pre-existing industrial economy. It is an indisputable economic and historical fact that without the Five-Year Plans implemented in the 1920s and 30s by the monster, Stalin, the Soviet Union would have been utterly destroyed by Nazi Germany. There would have been many heroic battles of Leningrad, each with as many casualties (well over 3 million), and all ending in defeat; but there would not have been a single Kursk. The reality is that empire necessitates an industrial society (and defense against enemies is only one reason among many to support it); and a highly mobile industrial workforce necessitates a welfare system (this is another historical fact, and can easily be verified). Anyone wishing to consider the problem as it stands might do well to consider reading Alexis de Tocqueville’s ‘Essay Concerning Pauperism’; it is a short work on welfare, and worth the small effort of obtaining it.

    • Roy J April 20, 2015 at 12:45 pm

      …that should read ‘The reality of empire today is that, etc, etc”. Hem.

  • fun bag April 20, 2015 at 10:36 am

    Sounds like our resident doof “Perspectives guy” would like to see more dirty homeless begging in the streets. A real genius this guy is. I guess the site needs some sort of filler though, and I guess ol’ Hyde’s junk reads fill that place…

  • KarenS April 20, 2015 at 1:36 pm

    Ah, yes, let’s go back to the past. It seems to be the current right-wing mantra. Everything was so much better back then. For every Andrew Carnegie there were hundreds of robber barons, shady banks, and others out to plunder. There were poor houses and people did starve to death. Women and blacks knew their place. Oh, the good old days.

    • fun bag April 20, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      nothing that old perspective doof comes up with is at all original. he just tows the old extreme right wing party line along trying to please the typical hard right wing, gun totin’ Utard idiot. And I suppose they just gobble it up like flies to dog s**t.

  • Free Parking April 20, 2015 at 4:01 pm

    Some of the things this guy comes up with makes me wonder what he’s smoking before her starts writing..

  • NotSoFast April 20, 2015 at 4:36 pm

    Bryan, Listen carefully dude. Can’t you hear them? REAL CHARITY BE …! YEA!
    Hang on to your wallet Bryan. The 99 percent folks are at your front door.
    Banners in hand, demanding that you stay away from their apple cart.Plus you better refill it promptly with stimulus quality goodies. ( if you know what I mean).
    Ed. ellipsis.

  • dodgers April 20, 2015 at 8:51 pm

    Good points Bryan.

  • Hugh Jass April 22, 2015 at 9:10 am

    the practice of obtaining something, especially money, through force or threats.

    If someone jumps me in a back alley with a gun in my back and demands all of the money I have, it’s extortion…though we usually call it by another name.

    If the Government comes after the money I have earned through my own labors to support itself or one of my equals and threatens me with jail time, liens, or seizure, is that not also extortion…though we usually call it by another name?

    Why is it legal for a government to do if it’s not legal for an average citizen to do?

    • Roy J April 22, 2015 at 11:01 am

      I don’t know HUGHJ, to what higher law are you appealing when you say what the government is doing is illegal? Just wondering.

      • Hugh Jass April 22, 2015 at 3:11 pm

        What makes extortion, either by Joe Citizen or any government entity, legal or illegal?

        • Roy J April 22, 2015 at 4:36 pm

          Well really, what exactly are you calling extortion? Taxation in general? Please be more specific.

  • Roy J April 22, 2015 at 5:00 pm

    Also, though the article referenced about 33 cities trying do drive out the homeless, this is nothing new. In Seattle the city regularly bulldozed a gigantic blackberry patch nicknamed ‘the Jungle’ because the homeless would move in once the blackberry vines were high enough, and crime rates in the surrounding neighborhoods soared. It seems like there are always cities and communities who try to solve their homeless citizen problems by foisting those citizens on others, or making things so uncomfortable for the homeless that they move on. Not very Christian, but typically American.

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