Matt Zwolinski recently discussed arguments for a Basic Income Guarantee (BIG) at BHL and Libertarianism.org.  One of those arguments was that a BIG might be required on libertarian grounds because private charity will be insufficient. However, there are good reasons to believe that private charity will not be insufficient. For those interested in a longer version of the arguments I set out here, see my Is the Welfare State Justified? (Cambridge University Press, 2007) chapter 6, section 6. (An earlier version is “Egalitarianism and Welfare State Redistribution,” available here)

1.    What does “enough” mean?

One thing it doesn’t mean is that the amount of private aid must be equal to the amount presently spent on state welfare. As Matt noted in his post, state welfare programs are an inefficient, byzantine mess. Private charities will be far more efficient than state welfare, and thus will not have to match the quantity of state welfare.

The reasons for this comparative efficiency are no doubt familiar to readers of this blog. Private charities have more freedom than state welfare programs to treat those receiving aid as individuals and to target their aid to specific groups with very specific problems. They are superior in their ability to change policies if need be, since they have to jump through fewer hoops or go through fewer intermediaries than a political system does in order to try a new approach. Private charities are superior to state welfare systems in evaluating and obtaining information about whether its goals are being met. It is easier to determine how a policy is working when it is for a small, specific group rather than for a larger, heterogeneous group. Furthermore, private charities are more closely monitored than state welfare programs; voluntary donors have a stronger incentive to evaluate the charities they fund than rationally ignorant voters have to monitor the programs they are taxed to support.

Not only are private charities more efficient than state welfare, but in a libertarian society it is less likely charity will be needed, since that society will lack  barriers to the poor’s advancement that exist in our crony capitalist or interventionist economic system–occupational licensure, minimum wage laws, zoning laws, oppressive levels of taxation, etc.

But if private charities need not match the quantity of state funds for the former to be ‘enough’ or falsify the claim of ‘insufficiency,’ what should enough mean? Since to be a BHL means, roughly, that a central justification for libertarianism is that it is good for or serves the interests of the poor and vulnerable, then private charities would fail to be enough if they didn’t do that. Of course that’s vague, but at the very least we would know private charities were insufficient if the amount provided were so stingy that would enormous suffering would occur—widespread malnutrition, large numbers of people without shelter, etc.

2.    Empirical considerations

At first glance, it might appear that there is no empirical evidence to evaluate a claim of insufficiency, since even in the US and the UK, there was never a period when state welfare was completely absent or abolished. However, the US in the late nineteenth century provides us with something very close to a natural experiment for testing the claim that private charity would be insufficient absent state welfare, because from the mid-1870s until around the turn of the century, unconditional aid to able-bodied needy people—“outdoor relief,” as it was called—was either abolished or curtailed drastically in large, and some medium-sized, cities. Since organized charities kept fairly detailed records of their activities, we can see whether the claim that private charity alone would be insufficient is historically accurate. It does not appear to be. In almost all of the relevant cities, private giving rose to the occasion, and the amount contributed was roughly comparable to the amount given by outdoor relief.

Of course, that individuals seem to have risen to the occasion a century ago does not prove that this would occur today. However, there is a more general argument that explains why the results of the late-nineteenth century United States should not be too surprising. Government welfare tends to crowd out private giving; so when government welfare is (nearly) abolished, we should expect crowding in, that is, people react to the absence of government welfare by increasing their donations. And that’s what appears to have happened.

A natural response to this argument is that we cannot rely on crowding in. Even if it is plausible that the abolition of state welfare would increase donations, the increase may not be sufficient in today’s circumstances. True, it may not be. The question, though, is this: if history does not support a claim of insufficiency, and if the crowding-out that occurs because of state welfare suggests that some crowding-in will occur when such welfare is absent, why think that private charity will be insufficient? Now we are at the point where we can look at the argument Matt cited for the insufficiency claim, which is from chapter 9 of Milton Friedman’s Capitalism and Freedom:  “[W]e might all of us be prepared to contribute to the relief of poverty, provided everyone else did. We might not contribute the same amount without such assurance.”

3.    Public good arguments

David Friedman, in his reply to Matt, describes the argument of his father as follows: “charity faces a public good problem.” Strictly speaking, his father does not say that in the passage Matt quotes: what Milton Friedman argues is that contributing to charity (relief of poverty) faces an assurance problem. To show the existence of a public goods problem one has to show, first, that there is a genuine public good, and second, that voluntary provision of this good means it will be underfunded. The usual way of showing the latter is to argue that because of free rider and assurance problems, not contributing to the funding of these goods is a dominant strategy.

At first glance, voluntary provision of charity is a terrible candidate for a public good. A public good is nonexcludable and jointly consumed. But if what one values is one’s own contribution to charity and the benefits that accompany this (the psychological benefits from helping others, the sense that one did the right thing, etc.) by definition failure to contribute excludes one from this good.

One can get out of this problem by assuming that what potential contributors value is simply that charity be provided, and that they are indifferent between whether it is themselves or others who provide the contribution. If a significant number of potential contributors feel this way, then it appears that for them contribution to charity is a public good: noncontributors cannot be easily excluded from enjoying the benefits generated when others provide charity, and one’s enjoying those benefits does not seem to diminish others’ enjoyment.

But for such contributors, do we have an assurance problem and a free rider problem? Milton Friedman’s argument that there is an assurance problem is flawed. As Robert Nozick pointed out in Anarchy, State, and Utopia, there is an assurance problem only if a potential donor does not value his contribution (or values it less than its cost) if it fails to produce, in conjunction with others, a sufficient amount of charity. It is this assumption that supports the claim that a potential donor will prefer withholding his contribution if he thinks enough others will not contribute; if he thought that there was some net value in helping reduce poverty or disadvantage even if a sufficient reduction was not achieved, he would contribute even if others did not. It is hard to see, however, why a potential donor of this type would place no or almost no value on the partial reduction of poverty. Even if someone thinks that one should address the whole problem, this implies not that addressing the parts has virtually no value, but only that doing so has less value than addressing the problem in its entirety.

Thus, it seems that there are good grounds for contributing to charity even if one thinks that others will not adequately contribute. If this is so, then there is no dominant strategy here: I will not contribute (that is, I will free-ride) if others give a sufficient amount, but I will give if others do not. In game-theory parlance, we have a game of “chicken” here. There is no settled view about what strategy is rational in a game of chicken, but noncontribution is clearly not a dominant strategy.

Furthermore, a plausible case can be made that just as there really is no assurance problem, there really is no free-rider problem, either. This is because it is not obvious what amount of charity is “sufficient,” and therefore one should probably reason as if providing some sufficient amount of charity is not a real option. In these circumstances, contribution becomes a dominant strategy—one gives because one is never sure that others have given a sufficient amount, and one values the bringing about of a partial reduction of poverty or disadvantage.

4.    The burden of proof

Since neither the historical evidence nor the public-goods argument supports the claim that private charity would be insufficient were state welfare abolished, and since the sensitivity of private aid to the amount of state welfare provided suggests that private aid would rise if state welfare were ended, it is hard to see what basis there is for claiming that private aid would be insufficient in the absence of state welfare. Of course, I haven’t proved that private charity won’t be insufficient. Indeed, I doubt that this is the sort of thing one can prove. But unless there is some obvious argument I am overlooking, I think the considerations offered here put the burden of proof upon those who argue it won’t be sufficient.

***********************************************

A few qualification, caveats, etc.

#1: What occurred in the late nineteenth century in the US was very close to a natural experiment regarding the claim of insufficiency. Although unconditional government aid was abolished or drastically reduced in large and some medium size cities, not all forms of government welfare were abolished. Prior to the rise of an extensive welfare state at the national level, government aid for the poor in the UK and the US consisted of outdoor relief mentioned in the body of this post (cash and in-kind aid such as food or fuel for the winter), and “indoor relief,” i.e., poorhouses. Poorhouses were workhouses that had rather harsh conditions: long hours were mandatory, and whipping and other punishments for infractions of a house’s rules were common. Poorhouses were not abolished in the U.S. cities that abolished outdoor relief in the late nineteenth century. Still, examining whether or not private giving made up for the absence of outdoor relief in those cities is relevant for the issue at hand: a major form of government welfare was abolished or drastically reduced for a quarter-century, and thus these cities relied on private aid for a substantial portion of the provision of aid to the needy and unfortunate.

#2: The empirical evidence I mention above comes from Frederic Almy, secretary of the Buffalo Charity Organization, who in 1899 gathered data on outdoor relief and private charity in forty cities, ten of which had completely abolished outdoor relief. Almy found that the cities with the lowest level of such aid had the highest level of private charity, and vice versa. See Frederic Almy, “The Relation between Private and Public Outdoor Relief—I,” Charities Review 9, no. 1 (1899): 22–33; and Frederic Almy, “The Relation between Private and Public Outdoor Relief—II,” Charities Review 9, no. 1 (1899): 65–71. Almy’s study does have some drawbacks. The relationship he found did not hold very well for cities with intermediate levels of outdoor relief; for these cities, the main observable relationship was that northern cities provided more total aid (public and private) than southern cities did. (Almy thought that the explanation for the regional difference was the harsher winters in the north.) Also, Almy’s study only measured private giving by regularly organized charitable societies; it omitted charity provided by individual churches, mutual aid societies, and the Salvation Army, so it may be that his study systematically underestimated the amount of private charity. Still, Almy’s study seems to refute the claim that when state welfare is abolished or drastically cut back, significant  harm must result since private charity will not pick up the slack.

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  • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

    One thing that deserves a place in this discussion is this:

    When you accept private charity, it comes with a level of responsibility that is not always present in state-sponsored welfare. If you know you are taking money that was donated by your community, you are likely to want to “make good” on their investment. It is a rare person indeed who could take a community donation of some kind and then just while it away.

    So private charity comes with a built-in enforcement mechanism that makes a person want to “aspire to it,” so to speak, and I think that means that in some cases private charity is more effective with less money than public welfare is.

    • DST

      I agree with what you said, but I would add one small point. The desire to “make good” on a charitable investment is probably not simply based on the extent to which the charity is private, but on the personal connections between the donor and the donee. An individual receiving charity from a neighbor who he knows rather well is probably going to have more that desire than someone receiving charity from a large organization, such as a national religious group. Of course, the government is the ultimate large, impersonal organization, so clearly it stands out as the quintessential institution that people feel no compunction in scamming, so your main point stands.

      • http://www.stationarywaves.com/ Ryan Long

        Yes, absolutely agreed. It has to be personal, IMO.

    • SimpleMachine88

      Welfare recipients donate almost nothing of their income to others. The working poor, those earning the same amount of money, donate the most.

    • Tom Van Dyke

      Spot on. As long as we call it charity–what it is–the receiver incurs some obligation. If only gratitude!

      Harry Truman, 1965. LBJ drags him out for the signing of the Medicare bill.

      TRUMAN: :This is an important hour for the Nation, for those of our citizens who have completed their tour of duty and have moved to the sidelines. These are the days that we are trying to celebrate for them. These people are our prideful responsibility and they are entitled, among other benefits, to the best medical protection available.

      Not one of these, our citizens, should ever be abandoned to the indignity of charity. Charity is indignity when you have to have it. But we don’t want these people to have anything to do with charity and we don’t want them to have any idea of hopeless despair.”

      The “indignity” of charity. There you have it. And once it’s a right, an entitlement, there is no reasonable–humane–limit.

  • David Johnson

    One cannot predict that abolishing welfare, in and of itself, will result in the market providing an equal level of charity. Abolishing welfare only gets rid of one roadblock to greater charity, that of welfare crowding out private giving. There are other roadblocks that government has erected that contribute to the lack of charity (taxation) and the level of poverty (economic interventions). I’m fairly confident that if all those roadblock were greatly reduced or eliminated, that private charity could provide for the vast majority of the poor. It is not certain, however, and it seems inevitable that there will always be those who fall between the cracks regardless of system. It seems to me that a guarantee of social justice drives many on the left, and they will side with the most toothless of state guarantees over the risks of non-state solutions.

    Thus I don’t think the libertarian movement should argue for the elimination of welfare, the utterance of which will drive many on the left (and some on the right) into fits of apoplexy, but rather a reform and restructuring of welfare, reserving a role for government as the safety net of last resort. Those on the anarchist side of the aisle will quibble over leaving a role for government in place, but consider it one step on the road to shrinking the scope of government to where it can be finally eliminated.

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      The trouble with leaving a role for government is that it inevitably expands under the pressure of interest group lobbying. Before you know it, we are back where we were.

      • TheBrett

        What makes you think the same thing wouldn’t happen in a mostly libertarian government? As long as the government is democratic, it will be susceptible to pressures for special rules, special protections from various parties.

        • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

          I agree.

      • David Johnson

        It’s incrementalism. You can’t get to libertopia in a single giant step.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I agree, I have always said we need some sort of modest social safety net to serve as a sort of inoculation against catching full blown socialism. The early socialists also understood this which is why many of them opposed creation of a welfare system as it stopped the masses from being sufficiently angry at the inequality in the system.

      • SimpleMachine88

        Capitalism actually doesn’t tend towards collapse. The market makes working people richer over time, not poorer. The early socialists were writing at a time when people didn’t understand this. The economics that’s based on is all wrong.

        • Jerome Bigge

          The prediction was made that over time there would be a concentration of capital into fewer and fewer hands. In retail trade we see fewer and fewer “Main Street” stores as they are driven out of business by the “big box” stores which can sell at a lower price due to volume and having fewer employees relative to their sales. While this is “good” for the consumer, the number of people working in retail trade is falling. And increasingly now production of goods takes place outside the US where the cost of labor is much lower. Effectively leaving only those jobs “that have to be done here”. Which are increasingly “service industry” jobs paying considerably less in wages and benefits than did the jobs that were the jobs that were done by our parents and grand parents. Today the highest paying jobs are found more and more in the financial industry. It was the same financial industry that was the driving force behind the “Great Recession”, which is looking to be of considerably greater endurance than first thought.

          • 1234

            It’s important to note that in 2013 the means of production is a $500 laptop. Training for developers is available for $25-$50 a month (Treehouse). Small, boutique brands seem to be proliferating in most industries. Crowd-Funding helps outsiders start businesses (Kickstarter).

            I do worry about automation and the sheer scale of the attempt to employ everyone. If returns to capital are going to explode, I think governments should build massive sovereign wealth funds and use their gains to fund a basic income, while otherwise liberalizing the economy (and eventually reducing taxation). In the long run this fantasy could produce permanent income security as well as propertarian liberty.

            On the other hand, we are by no means certain that wage and employment problems will become worse, or that they are driven by technology. Here are two papers arguing against the popular thesis:

            http://www.itif.org/publications/are-robots-taking-our-jobs-or-making-them

            http://www.epi.org/publication/technology-inequality-dont-blame-the-robots/

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            The endurance of the recession is nearly entirely the work of government malfeasance IMO.

          • Bryan C. Winter

            These Fanny/Freddie are nominally private companies, but being spun off by the federal government, had a specific role in ensuring housing loans were available to people without large amounts of down-payments. Fanny and Freddie backed something like 70% of all housing debt.

            They spin the debt off into securities, and sell them on the market, after being rated triple A. So there are now economic distortions, and the price signals being sent to the finanical industry are incorrect. Housing prices were to high for the actual supply and demand of housing, because of speculation driven by excessive purchasing of homes by people who really had no business owning a home. Housing prices spiked, bringing in speculaters which further spiked the homes.

            The risk rating on the assetts was wrong, so that bid up the values on the market, driving up rational leverage ratio’s a bank could justify.

            There is is arguments about the amount of leverage a large bank should be able to hold, just for system stability questions, but the housing crisis was caused by a housing bubble, and a bubble is by definition, the extreme overvaluing of an asset. Giving people low interest guaranteed loans on housing was clearly a factor, and in my mind, the largest factor in inflating the bubble in the first place. How it popped is almost immaterial to it’s assistance in the first place.

            of course this was done to help people. But in helping people you make higher prices for everyone else… and run the risk of inflating bubbles.

        • WraithKenny

          What are the conditions that support that claim?

  • Jameson Graber

    I don’t know if economists have a word for this, but the common sense explanation for why government needs to pick up slack for private charity is that there is a disconnect between how much people say is good to do and how much they end up willing to do. So if you ask someone, for example, whether they should be giving more to the poor, I’m guessing a lot of the time the response will be “yes.” (Or maybe that’s wrong, because we do, in fact, have a developed welfare state which many people think will take care of everyone. There’s your crowding out effect.) The point is, giving is something we think is important, but it’s hard to actually make ourselves do it.

    Some are of the persuasion that if we don’t do it, we must not *really* think it’s important. I don’t think that’s a fair way to look at people’s intentions or beliefs. It seems fair to say that our belief in the need for charity is genuine. The reason we don’t do more of it is often simply that it’s hard to think of others before yourself.

    Of course, this is no different from dieting, exercise, getting more education, etc. So it certainly doesn’t mean, a priori, government ought to force us into it.

    • http://independent.academia.edu/DannyFrederick Danny Frederick

      Part of the problem is that it is easy to forget about it because, if you are doing well, you tend not to encounter people who are needy (barring special occupations). Modern societies are different to historical ones because, in one sense, the poor are not always with us: they are usually somewhere else.

    • WraithKenny

      Economists have a phrase for this, “free rider.” When we think something is worth it, but we don’t contribute because we value ourselves more, and someone else will take care if it. You are describing the free rider problem. It’s natural, but it is a problem. The solution is to not make it voluntary.

      • Jameson Graber

        It’s sort of a bizarre form of free rider problem, though, isn’t it? One of the differences here is that a major benefit of giving to charity is pyschic: people feel good when they give voluntarily. But make it mandatory and that benefit is no longer there.

        So I don’t think this is exactly a free rider problem, because the benefit is in the giving, and not simply in the fact that money has been given. Although if it’s that latter issue you’re more concerned with, then yes, I agree, this is a free rider problem, and David Friedman’s comment very much applies.

        • WraithKenny

          I think that that is how the article describes it, but I think that the formulation is completely disingenuous: it swaps the cost and the reward, and the inverse doesn’t hold.

          Opting out of charitable giving is the classic textbook example of the problem of free riding. Talking about the loss of the reward of feeling good is a extremely strange (and unsound) perversion of it.

  • Jameson Graber

    There’s another issue, here: suppose people decide that giving about 5 percent of your wealth to charity is the right thing to do, because you owe that much to others on the basis of our common humanity (or citizenship, or whatever). Let’s say (for the sake of argument) that a lot of people are willing to do this freely, particularly those in the middle and upper-middle class. But then they notice a few notable exceptions, who happen to be billionnaires. They realize how many people could be helped with just 5 percent of all that wealth. So they decide to impose a tax…

    And really, it’s not hard to see why they would do that. Sure, it’s *possible* that this is just another example of the majority oppressing the minority, but doesn’t that just sorta ring hollow?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      Not to me. If you want to affix a special tax to rich people, for those purposes that is no better than organized theft. It is immoral. Period. Notice I am not saying that progressive taxation is in itself immoral. People who do well, you can argue should pay a larger share of the shared burden. But what you are talking about is a specific policy of soak the rich for a dubious purpose, as the money would not be confiscated and given to viable charities, it would just go to government, with all it’s stupidities, redundancies, and inefficiencies.

      • Sol Logic

        I understood it as him proposing a flat 5% for everyone..

      • Jameson Graber

        OK, I didn’t make myself clear: what the people would propose would be a tax imposed equally on everyone. As Sol Logic suggests, a flat tax.

        • Les Kyle Nearhood

          sorry, I thought you were saying pretty much just the opposite. I get confused at times.

        • Jerome Bigge

          A small financial transaction tax (say 1%) would in theory bring in as much as a trillion dollars as the total value of financial transactions by everyone in one year is said to be in the hundred trillion dollar range. Effectively it is a sales tax on goods and services whenever money changes hands and for reasons of fairness, applies to everyone. This is a much more “fair” method of taxation (if taxes are considered necessary) than taxes on income, property, profits, dividends, or work.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            I would agree that such taxes are much less harmful to economic growth than income taxes, however in the current political climate we are likely to end up with both.

          • Jameson Graber

            From the point of view of political philosophy, the issue of which form of taxation we should have doesn’t seem as pertinent as whether we should have taxation and for what purposes. What do you say to the underlying philosophical suggestion of my comment, namely that a society would be right to collect taxes for the purposes of charitable redistribution? I worry about the practical aspects of this, but I’m not as convinced as other libertarians that there is something inherently unjust about it.

          • Charity Case

            “Society” doesn’t collect taxes. It is the work of a specific minority made up of individuals with one-sided arbitrary privilege. Taxation is, first, the means by which this class receives and augments its living. Only fools and BHLs would believe that charity would ever come before this primary parasitical goal. There are occasions that require the initiation of force– and BHL has done a good job at exposing a weakness in absolutism. It is merely that some BHLs go too far in wanting to institutionalize– engaging in their own absolutism essentially– a bleeding heart libertarian state.

  • Han Solo

    Government is not charity. Government is not compassion.

    Government programs are strictly run with strict guidelines and forms etc.

    They give help to people that don’t need it, just because they fit the right numbers on the form, deny people who DO need it because they don’t fit the right numbers, and have no flexibility to help people in the way that they DO need help that is not on the form.

    Eg, someone might not need a check, but instead need help finding the right sort of clothes to wear to an interview, or they might need bus tickets instead of food stamps or whatever.

    Private charity has REAL caring humans who can do whatever they think is best to including helping people however they FEEL is best, government employees cant/wont do that.

    Get a clue, government assistance is dehumanizing, degrading, and demoralizing.

    • Jerome Bigge

      A good example of something that does not fit actual needs is Obamacare. Effectively the type of health insurance provided does not meet the needs of most people. The deductibles are excessively high, therefore discouraging people to seek health care unless they become seriously sick or injured. So people end up paying “more” for something many of them won’t be able to afford to use. It would have made more sense to put the maximum coverage on the “front” end even if this meant financial limits on the “back” end. From the basis of dealing with issues such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, high blood sugar, all of which are not difficult to treat with medication, it makes far more sense to treat these common issues at low cost rather than to wait until the individual is brought into the emergency room with a serious problem.

  • TheBrett

    It does not appear to be. In almost all of the relevant cities, private
    giving rose to the occasion, and the amount contributed was roughly
    comparable to the amount given by outdoor relief.

    But the amounts in question were pretty stingy by comparison to modern aid, and also highly conditional (as in “if you’re not a poor widow with seven children and a good Christian, good luck getting it”). I’m highly skeptical that private charitable aid will rise to the level of support we have today, particularly since we don’t see that type of rise when comparing different state levels of support within the US – states with light safety nets are not, as least from what I’ve read, more likely to have higher charitable spending on the poor than states that pay more.

    As Matt noted in his post, state welfare programs are an inefficient,
    byzantine mess. Private charities will be far more efficient than state
    welfare, and thus will not have to match the quantity of state welfare.

    Do you have empirical support for that argument?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I have seen before, but cannot put my finger on, some comparisons between public and private. One, I remember was done in New Orleans in the 1980’s concerning getting homeless people help, and giving them a permanent place to live. The amounts spent were similar but the private charity helped many people while the government one basically did nothing. This is anecdotal but it is pretty consistent in my experience.

    • Jerome Bigge

      There is also the problem of administration. Government programs generally come under civil service rules and regulations, and giving good service often doesn’t appear to be part of the organizational mission. Of course there are also problems with some charities where the administration costs are 50% or more of the cost of running the charity. But government programs tend to be more of a problem because they develop their own advocacy and even if no longer needed, are difficult to get rid of. Google sometimes for a list of all federal agencies. The number will surprise you. And often the states have their own parallel agencies doing much the same thing. There is a whole lot of taxpayer money being wasted… And not very much interest in reducing the costs of all this.

  • Bob Waldrop

    I disagree that the late 19th century experienced sufficient private charity. This was the era of the “Orphan trains”, which were a response to the precarious situations and high mortality rates of the urban poor during that period. http://www.kancoll.org/articles/orphans/or_hist.htm

    If there had actually been sufficient private charity, there would not have been so many abandoned and orphaned urban children. more than a quarter million orphans were sent from cities into the rural areas on these trains, some to conditions little better than slavery, others to find a normal life as members of an adopted family.

    I founded an organization that gives private charity. The Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House community delivers food to people in need who don’t have transportation. 2/3rds of our deliveries are to people who without charity or government support would die of starvation, exposure, or neglect. They are disabled, ill, and/or elderly. We make about 350 deliveries a month, of one to three bags of miscellaneous groceries, what’s in the bag is dependent on what we receive,d and we alas get a lot of junk food and carbohydrates. We get a little meat, but not a lot. We even have a hard time keeping peanut butter on the shelves. a lot of the people we deliver to are diabetic and what we deliver is largely not good for diabetics. We get almost zero fresh food, a little fruit, mostly apples.

    We don’t get government subsidies and we are not a 501-c-3 so gifts to us are not taxable. There are religious and practical reasons for that as we speak out on justice and peace issues and don';t want our free speech to be hindered byh 501-c-3 rules. , we operate on less than $15,000 in annual revenue, all volunteers here, no salaries. We get food from the Regional Food Bank, which does benefit from some subsidies in the form of commodity food. E.g., occasionally we get bags of dried figs, and dried cranberries, from a USDA support program (who knew that there was a subsidy for figs and cranberries?). Without that backup support, we would not be able to do as much, since if I went to the grocery store and bought $10 in food for 300 households that’s $3,000/month and it isn’t much food either. I guess one bag of our grocery deliveries might supplement 5 or 6 meals for a single person.

    Given how hard it is for us to do what little we do, helping maybe 350 households a month in an urban area with more than a half million people, I remain dubious that private charity will be enough,.Sure we are more efficient than the food stamp program, but we don’t provide all of the monthly food for even one person. We provide supplemental groceries. I agree that if the laws that keep able bodied poor people from establishing microenterprises were repealed there would be fewer poor people. But there are a lot of people who are not poor because laws forbid them from working, they are sick, disabled, and elderly without kids or family to help. Our nursing homes are full of people like that. These days generosity is a fleeting thing. it can be roused for a quick and sudden event –like a response to a natural disaster, and it has an annual cycle in that between Thanksgiving and Christmas people are more generous, but day in, day out, taking care of people, changing their diapers, feeding them, etc. I don’t see private charity being able to rise to that burden. We would try. But it would mark a return to the days when people died of starvation in the streets. Some people are generous. Most people are not that generous.. Many people these days are contemptuous of people in need. They consider them to be inferior and their situation to be entirely their fault.

    Many of our elderly people, btw, are raising kids and grandkids. Sometimes as many as ten kids with one senior, in a one bedroom apartment or house.

    • Sol Logic

      Sounds like you are a model BHL. Humanity would be screwed without people like you.

      • Bob Waldrop

        Well I was a card carrying member of the LP for 16 years and ran for office several times under the libertarian banner,but as I have gotten older, and more experienced, and also more religious, I became a much less “hard core” libertarian, particularly on the issues of what happens with the poor. I rage against the fascist Republican claim to be for economic freedom, as I see nothing from any Republican anywhere about increasing the economic freedom of low income people. And I see a lot from Republicans about how we need more welfare for the oil bidness, more welfare for the tourist bidness, more welfare for manufacturing, more welfare for sports teams like the OKC Thunder, owned by three of the richest guys in Okalhoma, but nevertheless the beneficiary of $120 million in taxpayer dollars for a “practice facility” plus a pile of other goodies.

        • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

          I think you are being a little bit unfair. I don’t know whether you consider school choice as constituting “economic freedom of low income people,” but I think you should. If either party has been fighting for this, it is the Republicans. If you consider freedom from the constraints of the min wage, right to work without joining a union, opposition to licensure laws as part of “economic freedom,” then same conclusion. If you believe that onerous regulations kill entry-level jobs, then same conclusion. What battles are the Democrats fighting for the “economic freedom of low income people,” BTW?

          • Bob Waldrop

            Right to work without joining a union has nothing to do with helping the poor. Oklahoma repealed its right to work law several years ago and there are more poor people here than there were before. When has any republican party anywhere come out in favor of e.g. repealing the laws licensing doctors? Here in Oklahoma, Republicans are INCREASING regulation of lower income occupations and FORBIDDING economic freedom to nurse practitioners and nurse anesthesists. As far as eminent domain. . . Here in Oklahoma, Republicans lead the due processed lawyerly lynch mobs that ethnically cleanse low income areas in good locations so the land can be bought cheaply with eminent domain and converted to the use of nice, Republican voting white people.The Republican Party is the party of economic fascism. The Republican Party of Oklahoma has never seen a corporate welfare check that it didn’t think was the greatest thing since sliced bread. The Republicans joined forces with the Democrats to pass the “Food Safety Modernization Act’ last year and when the FDA gets through writing regulations on the growing and selling of fresh produce, they may very well completely shut down the nation’s farmers markets, roadside vegetable stands, and other low-level food enterprises.

            The Democrats are no better, but at least they aren’t hypocritically bleating that they favor “economic freedom” and want to “get rid of onerous regulation.” Bah humbug! That’s a load of animal manure. Because the Republicans are such hypocrites on this whole economic freedom issue, they are much worse morally than the Democrats. Much worse.

          • Bob Waldrop

            PS. In the absence of economic freedom for low income people, and of course everyone else too,. I don’t see opposition to the minimum wage as helping the poor. We live in a collectivist economic system that unjustly transfer wealth to a rentier class of economic aristocrats with access to political power. In this context a minimum wage law is a push back against the obviously successful efforts of economic aristocrats to limit the economic freedom of low income people. This artificially increases the number of low income people looking to work for someone else at a job, and thus the system is already rigged to REDUCE the wages of the lowest paid workers. In this context, the common libertarian argument against increasing the minimum wage is nothing more than carrying ideological water for the rentier class. My advice to libertarians is to simply shut up about the subject but I doubt anyone will pay any attention to me. OR AT MINIMUM — point out that perhaps the reason we need minimum wage laws is because our present system artificially and unjustly inflates the number of people who must work at a wage for someone else, and artificially and unjustly suppresses the number of people able to start entry level micro enterprises with limited capital and lots of sweat equity.

          • Sol Logic

            What about companies who relocate to places they can find cheaper labor because of more lax wage laws?

          • Bob Waldrop

            The labor market is always dynamic. Business come and go, in response to market needs and also in response to various bribes and incentives offered by governments. In the case of the US, with a national minimum wage, that minimizes the issue of businesses crossing state lines. As to exporting jobs elsewhere, well, reducing US wages to hmmm $1.25/hour might stem that tide but it would likely cause a violent revolution.

          • Sol Logic

            Yes if you did it suddenly it might, gradually, maybe not as they might be too busy working..

          • Sol Logic

            “When has any republican party anywhere come out in favor of..” Actually the party has been taken over by liberty people in several counties and even some states all over the country. Sorry about your stste though, where apparently that didn’t happen.

          • Bob Waldrop

            These liberty leaning Republicans need to make more noise. I am familiar with Ron Paul, btw, in fact I caused strange aerial phenoma in OKC (pigs flying through the sky) when I registered Republican so I could vote for him in the primary. He has always been marginalized by his party’s leadership and alas has retired. It has yet to be demonstrated that his son will be the man his father is when it comes to these issues. But admittedly, neither made “helping the poor via economic freedom” a major plank in the way that they emphasized non-interventionist foreign policies and ending the drug war. Both of those I of course strongly support and would do a LOT to help the poor, not only in the US, but overseas where poor people are generally considered fair game for US politicians intent on proving they can be as bloodthirsty and belligerant as the next guy.

          • Sol Logic

            Fair enough.

          • WraithKenny

            None of that would make any sense to someone who isn’t a hard core libertarian, and then only a few of those. None of what you’ve said is economic freedom. Economic freedom is not having the government subsidize your competitor.

        • Jerome Bigge

          We need more people like you! Keep up the good work!

          • Bob Waldrop

            There;’s nothing special about me. I yam what I yam, which essentially is a redneck with an attitude and an education. I got started giving away food in 1999 when I was worried about y2k and accumulated quite a stash of food storage, more than was usual for me. Then when we decided to start the Catholic Worker House, I asked around to see what wasn’t being done, and everybody said “we need people to deliver food to people who don’t have transportation and thus can’t get around to regular emergency food sources. (OKC has very primitive bus systems and is so widespread that it is hard to function here without a car. Since,I conveniently had all this food already piled up that’s what we started to do. And all ther est grows organically from that. One of the nice things about the Catholic Worker movement is that no one has to give you permission to do it. You Just Do It. I had previously been involved with the KCMO CWer and I called them up and that’s what they told me, so that’s what we did. All it is is a very libertarian thing, actually, taking personal responsibility to solve what part of the problem is within my power. Everybody doesn’t have to do what we do, but I think it would be a lot better world if everybody would work on doing something about the poverty issue. Libertarians often lead with the worst choice of all the possible issues to bring up, such as arguing against the minimum wage and against government programs that help the poor. We need more libertarian rage against the corporation, a statist economic institution that unjustly limits the personal responsibility of market actors and less ideological lynching of people that are picked on by everybody else, because it’s always open season on the poor. The tendency of libertarians to pile on the poor with everybody else has always somewhat demoralized me about the movement. If all us libertarians are going to be so “ideologically pure”, then there ought to be more fruits of your purity on display for all to see. Maybe what I’m saying is that I think a more populist libertarianism would be more interesting to many more people out there.

        • Sol Logic

          ” I see nothing from any Republican anywhere about increasing the economic freedom of low income people.” There’s this guy, Ron Paul, he has talked about that on several occasions. Long time republican ex-congressman you should check him out.

    • Tony Dreher

      Shapiro might have erred by claiming that the charity was sufficient, but I think the more important point is that private charity was comparable in amount to state provided relief. That, of course, doesn’t necessarily mean that people would give as much as the government currently provides today. However, I can’t find any evidence to back your assertion that people aren’t that generous. According to the National Philanthropic Trust, charitable giving has increased almost every year since 1972 (http://www.nptrust.org/philanthropic-resources/charitable-giving-statistics). This is in spite of an ever growing welfare state. Again, it might not be sufficient (whatever that means), but it seems hard to argue that private giving wouldn’t be comparable to state welfare.

      • Bob Waldrop

        I’d have to read the footnotes at the NPT website, but “all charitable giving” does not equal “charitable giving that helps the poor.” Their figures would would certainly include e.g. donations for museums, religious institutions, schools, and etc., which may or may not have any relationship to what is going on with helping the poor. A better indicator would be to track donations to Catholic Charities, St. Vincent de Paul conferences, Salvation Army, LDS Welfare Services, etc adjust the figures for inflation and see what is happening. I may be somewhat cynical on this subject because there is a long line of people constantly telling me “Oh Bob, the work you do is so wonderful”, but the line to actually help is much much shorter, lol. 431 bags of groceries involves a lot of manual labor. And if we were providing 100% or even 10% of a household’s monthly food needs, that’s a lot more work and more money and I don’t see where it would come from.

        • dalecarville

          Libertarians are quick to volunteer visions of their king-for-a-day prospecti to their fellows; they donate high-word count powertrip fantasies and adolescent pipedreams to
          their contentious brotherhood of pompous windbags.

          • Sean II

            I find it hilarious that YOU – a guy who writes with the purple prose of a sophomore faking his way through an essay question – can use the words “pompous windbag” and fail to see the irony.

            If you insist on saying nothing, please use fewer words.

  • Charity Case

    Prof. Dan, why not say that historical comparisons actually do provide natural experiments instead of saying “almost”? If you really mean almost, does that mean you can grasp, measure even, the distance to where historical events are actually comparable as if done in a lab? Dubious from an economic perspective. Never mind the factors that cannot line up– what about even listing the things that are constant in your opinion? What is the same now as it was then? And if you say that a principle of “efficiency” applies no matter who what where when etc. then does that not betray your empiricism? For where does an economic law come from? If you say from studying history, wouldn’t that beg the question and even seem circular?

  • http://naturalaw.failuretorefrain.com jurisnaturalist

    The relevant comparison is not whether private charity would be sufficient to meet the needs of everyone in poverty, but whether it would do better than government welfare.
    There simply is no way to help everyone in need. It won’t happen, and that Nirvana should not even be considered when comparing the alternatives. The “gotta save them all” motive is nice, but immediately subject to all of the collective action and knowledge problems that have been covered here.
    How much of the motive to care for those in need through collective action is due to a desire to treat the poor as “others,” as subjects rather than individuals. There is a failure to adopt analytical egalitarian analysis that removes those in need from being objects of sympathy and places them in the same category as animals that must be “husbanded,” or “homesteaded,” as some libertarians would say.
    Sympathy cannot be imposed.

    • Sol Logic

      Well, there’s a way to at least provide them with a BIG. Isn’t that the point here?

      • Jerome Bigge

        I’ve studied the idea and think it should be seriously looked at as a replacement for a lot of government programs we have going on today. Also it makes more sense than increasing the minimum wage which will create unemployment and most likely an increase in prices. Financing the BIG is a problem, especially attempting to use the tax system that we have today. Mainly because our tax system tends to do a lot of harm. On the other hand it appears that an automated financial transaction tax does less harm than any other kind of tax as it is effectively more “fair”. It is “a pay as you go” type of tax, and smaller than most sales taxes are as it taxes all economic transactions by a few percent at most. Quite a lot different than what we have today. When you add up all the taxes we pay, the figure is surprisingly large. Income tax, payroll tax, property tax, sales taxes, local and state taxes, all of them together are not that much lower than what they pay in European social welfare states.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    I believe that government could play a positive roll by changing the laws to make the creation of Benevolent Societies and Mutual Assistance societies commonplace. Government may even be used to provide seed money to get these started, then step out of the way. The way these worked in the past, they helped low income people by providing modest savings, insurance, unemployment relief, and credit services. They were run as either non-profit or nominal profit corporations. But the Progressives did not like them and passed a number of regulations which crushed them. If they could be revived I think they could be part of the answer.

  • SimpleMachine88

    The reasons are this comparative efficiency are no doubt familiar to readers of this blog

    Actually, you missed The advantage of private charity. When you levy a tax, you incur a deadweight loss, whereas you don’t from private charity. On the margins, that’s around 34-48 higher cost for taxes compared to charity.

    That’s because voluntary aid is voluntary, and involuntary aid is involuntary, and that comes with all the problems of trying to get people to do something they don’t want to do. People work or invest, and generally do things that other people find useful, because they want what they get in return. If you reduce the amount they get in return, they don’t do it. And they’ll find loopholes, they’ll cheat, there’ll be all sorts of distortions. But if you get people to want the pay, in order to give it to charity, none of these problems.

  • Dshapiro

    Thanks for the comments. A few replies.

    To David Johnson: I didn’t argue that private charity would match the amount of state welfare were the latter abolished. I argued that it need not match it, since private charity is more efficient than state welfare.

    To Bob Waldrop: I read the article on the “Orphan Trains,” thanks very much for the link. I’m not sure, though, what conclusion to draw from it. The article mentions a couple of innovative charities that appear to have rescued a lot of children from very difficult situations. How does that show that private charity did not rise to meet the absence of outdoor relief from the mid 1870’s to 1900? Perhaps your point is that if the charities had really risen to the occasion during that period there would not have been a need for rescue in the first place? Maybe, but it’s possible that is too demanding a standard—there may always be a need for rescue, and the question, I would think, is whether the rescue occurs.

    BTW, regarding orphanages, I highly recommend David Beito’s From Mutual Aid to the Welfare State: Fraternal Societies and Social Services, 1890-1967. The book discusses mutual aid societies, not charities, but part of mutual aid societies’
    mission was to provide orphanages, and Beito presents considerable evidence
    that they did a pretty good job in doing so during the period of their heyday,
    from 1890 through the 1920’s.

    You are skeptical that private charity would be sufficient based on your experience with the charity you founded. It’s hard to know, however, whether one can scale up from your experience. Also, right now we have a welfare state, and I suspect some people don’t contribute because they think “well the state is taking care of the matter anyway.”

    To The Brett: I rechecked my book regarding the
    conditional nature of aid during this period, and it varied. The conditions
    that were placed upon some able bodied adults were not that onerous. (You can
    find the relevant section in my article, pp. 4-5) It’s no doubt correct that the
    amounts given are not what we would expect today, but I’m unclear why that is
    relevant.

    You asked whether I have empirical support for my argument that private charities will be more efficient than state welfare. My post is a mixture of more theoretical arguments with empirical arguments. At that point in my post, I am relying on familiar arguments for that markets are more efficient than government programs—in a libertarian society we would have, in effect, a market in private charities.
    To Charity Case: See caveat #1.
    To Simple Machine: good point.
    Daniel Shapiro

    • Charity Case

      My question stands.

    • Bob Waldrop

      Indeed, my point is that if private charity had risen to the need, there would not have been a need for orphan trains. Or as much need, I agree that orphan trains were a necessary private response to the problem, which does say something of how spontaneous order can work in such a situation, but I think if we had had better private relief there would have been less need for the trains, if any need at all.

      • Bob Waldrop

        I am, btw, a big fan of mutual aid and cooperative organizations. I also started the first food coop in the US to only sell locally grown and made food and non-food items, and ten years later, we gross about a million dollars a year.

      • Jerome Bigge

        Considering how unhealthy cities were in that era, the kids were probably better off living in rural areas and breathing fresh air. Horses create a lot of “waste”, and while there was some attempt to clean up after them, it wasn’t all that successful. Of course there was a lot of flies, and without window screens, they were all over. Disease was common, and without antibiotics, there was a lot of death from ordinary diseases and injuries.

  • Greg Tobler

    A BIG does not rule out the continuance of private charity. It will mean a redirection of charitable efforts to something besides basic, day to day survival. Somehow, I can’t think of that as a bad thing.

  • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

    Daniel:
    First, excellent, well-reasoned post. Second, I have a question. Assuming that for political reasons it is impossible to end the welfare state, wouldn’t it still be wise to take advantage of the evident superiority of private charities by bidding out the welfare function. In other words, a state (better still a city or county) solicits applications from a wide range of reputable secular and religious charitable organizations, and then makes grants to the best proposals.

    It then monitors the performance of these groups as measured by objective criteria, e.g. employment, criminality, etc., then renews/expands the grants to those organizations with the best performance. Then repeat the process periodically. I know this would be a far from perfect solution to poverty relief, but it still seems likely to beat the hell out of the status quo. What do you think?

    • Dshapiro

      Thanks, Mark, for your comment. As for your query: I don’t know. I do think welfare reform (TANF) was a substantial improvement over unconditional welfare (AFDC), and I argue for that view in my book. (My impression is that welfare reform has been somewhat gutted under the present administration, but that’s only an impression, so don’t quote on me on it :-) )

      Daniel Shapiro

  • David Friedman

    If what each individual values is the provision of charity, not the provision of charity by himself, the result is a conventional public good problem; the benefit to the charitable is neither excludable nor crowdable. Putting it in terms of a “sufficient” amount of charity merely confuses the matter. The issue is not the right amount or none. Charitable people think a small amount of charity better than none, a larger amount better than a small amount. Acting independently, each individual gives until the benefit to himself of the increase in charity received due to his giving an additional dollar just balances the dollar cost, just as in any other consumption decision.

    If there are N equally charitable individuals, each is receiving 1/Nth of the benefit of his donation, paying all of its cost. Hence he will stop giving long before the point at which marginal benefit equals marginal cost. If every charitable individual gave a dollar more than the individually optimal amount, all of them would be better off. The situation here is no different than for any other public good. The result—a suboptimal level of charity—holds even if we ignore the benefits to the recipients.

    The existence of a public good problem does not imply an output of zero, in this case or other cases. It does not even always imply a suboptimal output, since in some cases a unanimous contract or similar device can solve the problem. Such a solution might work for a small public—if what I value is not charity to everyone but only charity to members of my congregation, say. But it is hard to see it working on the scale of a nation, or even a city.

    As with other examples of market failure, a suboptimal result from private action does not imply that governmental action is better, given that the mechanisms used to get governments to take the right actions themselves suffer from serious market failure problems.

    • murali284

      Full point

  • Jerome Bigge

    Private charity actually worked rather well as long as the number needing help wasn’t too large. However, the private charities were overwhelmed during the Great Depression for the simple reason that the level of unemployment reached as high as 25%. And this was in a society with much lower educational requirements than what we have today in 2013. The problem we have today is that a large number of jobs that used to be performed by the less educated are today either performed outside the US or have been replaced by automation of one kind or another. There are also increasing barriers to self employment that prevent people from using the skills and talents they have to support themselves.

  • Chmee

    I only have one thing to contribute to this discusssion; Ever look at the balance sheet of a 501(c)3 organization and see where the money flows to? Complain all you want about govt inefficiencies, when 90% gets eaten up by “administrative costs” (nice way to say you paid yourself and your family members a nice hunk of change) and less than 10% of the amount that gets donated to a charity actually winds up in the hands of the people it was intended to help, I really don’t see how anyone can honestly say that a private charity is in any way better than what the government does. It’s legitimized theft as well. Very few, like the Salvation Army, are exceptions. So do we assume that people will ‘self regulate’ by avoiding those charities that are abusive and not donate to them? It isn’t happening now, even though it’s been widely publicize. So what would lead me to believe that the current level of abuse will change after you get the government out of the equation, both in welfare participation and regulation of charities?

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      When you say most, what you are talking about are the many small 501’s which were set up with the actual intent of bypassing taxes and funneling cash into a persons hands. A few of the large charities also have large administrative costs, but most do not. At any rate what you are complaining about is not necessarily a problem with private charities so much as a problem with tax loopholes and lax enforcement.

  • Curious

    Abolition of welfare should not be isolated from a broader context of libertarian reform, and in reality would not be.

    A big piece missing from the model is that a broadly libertarian economy will not look like the economy of today. It will be substantially more prosperous. Unemployment will be lower. As a reference point take Singapore, a country that is not libertarian but is somewhat more economically libertarian than the US. For Q3, their unemployment rate was 1.8%. I think it peaked at 3.3% in 2009 or so, usually hovers around 2%. This is all cursory correlation, but real models will and have produced statistically significant correlations between prosperity and freedom.

    This point is made, slightly in para 3 of Point 1 in the article, but it needs to be much more fully developed and stressed. Don’t assume that we just eliminate welfare and the economy stays the same, the only difference being taxes lowered by the welfare cut. Assume no income tax, or a low flat tax. Assume a much cleaner regulatory structure. If you really want to have some fun, assume a free banking system. Assume much stronger economic growth.

    Talking about a guaranteed income is so lazy and non-visionary. If we’re already restricting ourselves to that narrow political space, we won’t accomplish much. The basic assumptions of the welfare state, including its presumed necessity, need to be fully questioned. Another thing y’all need to do is question the preference for financial equality. You seem to sometimes just import this value from the left without examination. There is no reason to prefer any particular distribution or bell curve, and preferring equality might be as weird and arbitrary as preferring inequality. We might decide that it’s not even worth thinking about financial equality — that it’s the foot fetish of public policy.

    We might also question the *interestingness* of poverty. People seem to think it’s incredibly interesting and important. Why? Does it imply suffering? Maybe we should explore how much suffering is actually happening. I’ve been quite poor for long stretches, but I’m sure poverty is really that interesting. We should probably also allow for the deservingness of some poverty, to use another fake word (mine was totally deserved). Don’t leap to the assumption that poverty implies injustice. The basic income stuff could really weaken the feedback loop between certain behaviors and poverty incomes. Matt hasn’t even approached a survivable argument for it.

    • genemarsh

      “Assume no income tax, or a low flat tax. Assume a much cleaner regulatory structure. If you really want to have some fun, assume a free banking system. Assume much stronger economic growth.”

      Quite a Kampf you’ve got there! Sounds like a role-player game where many digital millions die while you’re getting the hang of things.
      SecondLife: Kampuchea.

  • MingoV

    “… a BIG might be required on libertarian grounds…”

    Welfare states and nanny states are not compatible with libertarianism. The above statement is equivalent to “… large, private, profit-making corporations might be required on communistic grounds…”

    • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

      You might be correct if you restrict the term ‘libertarianism’ to refer to only radical right-libertarianism and exclude all forms of left-libertarianism, sufficientarian libertarianism, or libertarian socialism, all of which may be compatible with BIGs.

      • martinbrock

        Ruling out systematic support for the needy as a community standard, while ruling in systematic respect for individual property rights, is not libertarian at all. It is proprietarian statism.

        • http://philosopherstoner.blogspot.com/ Nick Flamel

          No dispute here. But what you call ‘propertarian statism’ is usually called ‘libertarianism’ by its proponents. It wouldn’t be the first time that misleading terms are used to make an authoritarian system sound nice.

  • martinbrock

    A community requiring respect for individual property rights as a condition of membership may also require contributions to the needy, and I expect most free communities to require both, because I expect most people freely to prefer communities requiring both over alternatives.

  • DavidCheatham

    Since organized charities kept fairly detailed records of their activities, we can see whether the claim that private charity alone would be insufficient is historically accurate. It does not appear to be. In almost all of the relevant cities, private giving rose to the occasion, and the amount contributed was roughly comparable to the amount given by outdoor relief.

    Wow, that’s some silly logic.

    The fact that, when government spending went down, that private spending went up, does not mean that _either_ of them was even _close_ to enough. There is literally no conceivable way of arguing that charity in the 1870-1900 was ‘enough’, and the entire premise is so insanely stupid it is hard to even argue coherently against it.

    To start with, there was the rather large problem that about 22% of the population were denied private charity due to their skin color, and those people, for rather obvious reasons, were the people _most_ in need of charity in 1870. I don’t know the exact numbers, but it does not seem unreasonable to assume that something like 3/4 of black people live in poverty at that time, so, yes, it’s amazing how well charity works when it excludes the poorest 15% of the population from the start.

    Except, of course, charity back then didn’t work particularly well even _after_ that. We’re talking about a society where the correct way to ‘care’ for orphans was to…put them to work.

    So, yes, if the government doesn’t spend anywhere near enough money doing something, the private sector can, in fact, cover that. That has no bearing at all on whether or not the private sector can cover _anywhere near_ as much as required for welfare now. (Which, incidentally, is _currently_ not enough.)

    And, yes, I know the argument that in magical libertarian land, somehow people will have more money. But I would suggest the burden is on libertarians to do that _first_, and then we can talk about cutting back on welfare.

    And I have to point out that government welfare is _nowhere_ near as inefficient as you guys are trying to make it out, considering the vast majority of it is _cash payments_ to people. Which, yes, has overhead, but it’s overhead that gets smaller with scale. Trying to suggest that some sort of private organization would be able to collect donations and distribute the equivalent of welfare checks _cheaper_ than the government is completely and utterly delusional.

  • JayLib

    For me, it’s a given that private charity is better than government charity, BUT —

    Charity is indeed a noble and beautiful virtue, grateful to man and approved by God. But charity must be built on justice. It cannot supersede justice. What is wrong with the condition of labor through the Christian world is that labor is robbed. And while we justify the continuance of that robbery it is idle to urge charity.
    Henry George

    Let’s focus on leveling the artificially slanted playing fields, razing the tollbooths placed between people and the productive labor they’d like to be doing. A true libertarian society is an (economic) rent-free society where labor gets paid, or pays itself, what it is actually worth, rather than what monopolists or quasi-monopolists can get away with paying. WHere monopoly can be justified on grounds of expediency (as in public thoroughfares, or exclusive land tenure), collect a fair price for the community — that is the just basis for any public revenue as well as for a Basic Income Dividend (which, in that form, is not a “grant” but a return on commonly owned assets) .

    • JayLib

      “A true libertarian society is an (economic) rent-free society where labor gets paid, or pays itself, what it is actually worth, rather than what monopolists or quasi-monopolists can get away with paying” …
      and “what the government decides to let us keep.”

  • Counsellor

    Presumably in your works you deal with what are the needs and how they arise, rather than dealing with a single sense of individual obligation that leads to caritas or agape meeting or ameliorating some of those needs; not all of which are economic, nor originate from economic causes; nor have economic panacea.

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