“Charity as an Economic Political Policy”
By Richard E. Noble
Charity has been around for a good many centuries. Charity is a principle espoused by nearly every religion that has ever existed. I hesitate to say that Charity is a basic principle of every religion that has ever existed because I am not personally knowledgeable of “every religion that has ever existed”. I do know that Buddha, Jesus Christ and Mohammed were all proponents of Charity. I know that Jews believe in Charity. I really don’t know if it was Abraham, Mosses or who; but I do know that the Old Testament is filled with recommendations to Charity and charitable acts.
Governments, on the other hand, have a tradition of the “Separation of Charity and State”. There are no Governments that I have ever read about that have had a Department of Charity.
It has recently been announced over and over on the TV and elsewhere that Americans have given over two billion to Charities this past year. Of course only 10% of that money went to help the poor and less fortunate – which is what I thought the concept “charity” intended. Over 90% of all those “charitable” contributions went to Harvard, Yale, the old Alma Mater football teem, Art Museums, and other Gala events celebrating the lives of the rich and famous. And at the risk of being somewhat unkind, I hesitate to mention that these “charitable “contributions netted 50 billion in tax right offs. Of course giving to other than the poor and depressed is still a nice thing to do – but should we be calling it “Charity” and should it be tax deductible?
I have always thought of Charity as a nice thing to do - nice people are always involved in Charities. I have never thought of it as a political solution for poverty, pestilence, disease, famine or any of the short-comings of “society” or “societies” in general.
Poverty, for example, has been around for as long as Charity - maybe longer. But nevertheless even here in the “most prosperous” country in the world we still have poverty. Of course, not everyone agrees with that statement. Milton Friedman, the Nobel Prize winning economist, is quoted to have announced at one of his lectures not too long ago that there was no poverty in the United States of America. Someone in the back of the audience screamed an expletive to the contrary.
I would venture to say that Milton has a definition of Poverty that may be different from, say Mother Teresa’s or Jesus, Buddha and Mohammed or ever John Kenneth Galbraith’s for that matter. But opinions differ. For example, learned people on the Nobel Prize Committee awarded Milton Freidman a Nobel Prize for Economics for his leadership in the promotion of ideas like the above. I find that somewhat scary. But as far as I know even Milton Friedman was not against Charity.
So we know that Milton wasn’t worried about American poverty, I wonder what he felt about sickness and disease? Should we let the charitable organizations and various kindly religions take care of the sick and diseased now that they have conquered poverty here in America?
But it was only recently that I realized that many people consider Charity as the proper method for curing the problems of mankind, society - sickness, disease, old age, unemployment, education and whatever. I am very naive. I have always known that this idea was out there but I always thought that the advocates of this idea were just spoofing - playing me along. I really didn’t think that they were serious. But they are. Here in America people of this sort have actually formed their own political party. And it seems that there are advocates of this idea in both political parties.
Actually I am more Conservative than most Conservatives. I have never believed in giving anybody anything. I have always believed in employment, job opportunity, education, equal opportunity for all classes, living wages, a fair distribution of wealth and so forth. I have always thought that Charity was for unusual and tragic cases - emergencies.
Speaking of emergencies, Mississippi comes to mind. I keep hearing commentators on the tube criticizing the Government. Some, on the Right, have gone so far as to tells us that the Government has been totally useless and that Wal-Mart, Conoco, the Actors and Entertainers Guilds, the Salvation Army, Red Cross, Oprah and the Angel Network, and others have been the true saviors of the displaced in Mississippi. And their conclusion seems to be - “Why don’t we just do away with the Government altogether?” Of course, once again, nobody likes to mention that most established charities are subsidized by the government – state, federal, county, city etc. – in one way or another.
I must admit getting rid of the government does sound like a pretty good idea but there is one thing that sticks in my mind.
Shortly after the disaster in Mississippi there was a huge worldwide celebrity fund raiser. Every comedian, singer and rock and roll band in the world, it seemed, joined in. Which was wonderful and generous and all things good and kind. The results of that extravaganza were that this Celebrity Gala raised more money than had ever been raised in such an event, in that period of time ever in history. They raised One Billion dollars in a week or two. Fantastic!
But, in even less time than the Gala Celebrity Fund Raiser, the United States Government alone deposited on account for use and distribution in Mississippi - Forty Billion dollars. After discussion in the Congress, that amount was then raised to, I think, One Hundred and Fifty Billion dollars.
Now granting all the problems that come with the distribution of these funds - which we can assume the Charity Gala will also experience - who would you rather have trying to cure your mother’s Alzheimer’s or your baby sister’s M.S., or the next disaster - the Government or Oprah, Sting, Catholic Charities and the Salvation Army?