The Wrong Way to Help the Poor

Some people believe that charity (helping people in need) is a bad idea. Recognizing the challenge of charity (making people dependent), they take the position that all charity is wrong.

This doest make sense for so many reasons I won’t bother mentioning them. I will say only this. I know a few people who espouse this radical approach publicly and yet provide charity privately.

This brings us to the more relevant question: what role should government have in charity?

And that is where the argument gets interesting.

At one end of the spectrum are people that argue government should have no role at all. The government’s job is only to protect freedom and property. Frederic Bastiat’s monograph, “The Law”, does a good job making this case. At the other end of the spectrum are people that argue that the government should be in charge of charity because the government has a responsibility to redistribute wealth. They believe that you can’t trust private individuals to do “enough.” So the government should step in and collect money forcefully through taxation and then decide how it is best to be divvied out.

Even if you take this latter view — essentially a socialist view of economics — you must deal with the question of the government’s efficiency.

This essay from the NYTimes suggests that the government doesn’t do a very good job of that.