(From the President’s Corner section in Volume 19, No. 24 of the Liberator Online. Subscribe here!)
What a great time of the year! In the spirit of the season, charity and helping those in need are uppermost in the minds of many people.
This is wonderful. However, some people, in their commendable desire to help the unfortunate, are calling for government to play a larger and ever-greater role in this.
But such government involvement actually harms the needy, those who want to help, and the very organizations that do the most good.
- Government aid greatly diminishes the role and influence of private charities and religious and spiritual organizations. Churches, temples, charities and similar organizations can do many vital things that government cannot. In addition to aid, they can offer community, spiritual growth, personal counseling and much more. However, when government becomes the primary provider of aid, these bedrock social institutions lose countless opportunities to encounter and influence others in life-changing ways. Indeed, they become increasingly seen as irrelevant and unimportant.
- Government programs rob the potential giver of the great benefits of giving. In many spiritual traditions, a charitable gift is just as important for the giver as it is for the receiver. Indeed, some might argue it is even more important. As the saying goes, “It is better to give than to receive.” Giving teaches crucial spiritual lessons and brings other wonderful benefits to the giver. Yet if money is simply seized from people to fund government welfare programs, potential givers may believe they have done their part and feel no need to do any actual giving. And a gift is not really a gift if it has to be compelled by force. Opportunities for personal and spiritual growth are lost.
- Government is remarkably, famously inefficient. Those who give want to know that their gift provides the maximum benefit for those they want to help. Wasteful, poorly operated, faceless, coldly bureaucratic government organizations are a poor choice to do this. Indeed, who, given the choice, would give their money to, say, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services instead of a local soup kitchen or an effective national private charity? Charities are constantly being evaluated, and are constantly motivated to innovate, improve, become ever more efficient. Tax funding of poorly run government programs robs spiritual and charitable organizations of precious funds that would otherwise be spent far more efficiently to help those in need.
It’s the season for giving. Give with love, give with joy, give in the most effective way you can.