"In the following pages I offer nothing more than simple facts, plain arguments, and common sense; and have no other preliminaries to settle with the reader, than that he will divest himself of prejudice and prepossession, and suffer his reason and his feelings to determine for themselves; that he will put on rather than off, the true character of a man, and generously enlarge his views beyond the present day." - Thomas Paine, Common Sense

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Charity Over Welfare

In 1887, a severe drought resulted in widespread crop failure throughout the state of Texas. As the crisis garnered national attention, Congress was eager to pass a bill to assist struggling farmers in the American West that would "enable the Commissioner of Agriculture to make a special distribution of seeds in drought-stricken counties of Texas, and making an appropriation there-for."

President Grover Cleveland, famous for his 584 vetoes and strict Constitutionalist beliefs, had his reservations about the bill and vetoed it. Upon submitting his veto to Congress, Cleveland remarked:

". . . And yet I feel obliged to withhold my approval of the plan as proposed by this bill, to indulge a benevolent and charitable sentiment through the appropriation of public funds for that purpose. 

 I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constitution, and I do not believe that the power and duty of the general government ought to be extended to the relief of individual suffering which is in no manner properly related to the public service or benefit. A prevalent tendency to disregard the limited mission of this power and duty should, I think, be steadfastly resisted, to the end that the lesson should be constantly enforced that, though the people support the government, the government should not support the people.

The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood."

Cleveland went on to appeal to his countrymen to voluntarily give to the suffering farmers, which actually ended up providing more relief to the farmers than Congress intended with the bill.

There are two lessons to this story. The first is that government aid or "welfare" is unconstitutional; the second is that private charity is superior to government handouts.

The federal government (as opposed to the states) has no constitutional authority to redistribute the wealth of the citizens of the states. James Madison, in rejecting a proposal to offer financial aid to French refugees that had settled in America, stated:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents."

In 1830, Congressman Davy Crocket voted against giving a sum of public money to the widow of a deceased veteran (could you imagine the outrage nowadays?): 

" . . . I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity . . . We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to so appropriate a dollar of the public money . . . I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bills asks."

In his First Inaugural Address in 1801, Thomas Jefferson said:

“A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government."

In a letter to Joseph Milligan dated April 6, 1816, Jefferson wrote:
“To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.”

These men understood that charity is far more effective at helping the less fortunate than government aid. Don't believe it? Well, consider the fact that out of every tax-dollar given to federal welfare programs, only 20-30 cents actually reaches those in need. The vast majority of those tax-dollars do nothing but feed the wasteful, unnecessary government bureaucracy.  Meanwhile, out of every dollar given to charity, between 70-80% of it goes directly to the needy.*

*Source: The Costs of Public Income Redistribution and Private Charity [pdf], by economist James Rolph Edwards, Journal of Libertarian Studies, Vol. 21, Number 2 (Summer 2007).

From the same source:

“[R]aising only half as much money through voluntary donations, the private agencies (and families) could deliver the same amount as the government, saving, in the process, all the costs the government imposes on the public through the compulsory taxation.”

The thing is, if you decide that one charity doesn't give enough to the poor or they're wasteful, etc., you have the option of donating to a different, more effective charity. Hence, there is an incentive among charities to provide a high level of service and efficiency. On the other hand, if you decide not to pay your taxes because you don't approve of how the government manages its welfare programs, you go to jail.

Now go sit in the corner and think about how you could've been more charitable.
All government agencies and departments are encouraged to spend their appropriated money; if they have money left at the end of a budget period, that saved money is removed from their allotted budgets for the following year. However, if the department spends way over its budget, it's seen as "underfunded" and immediately given more money. There's no incentive for the government to provide a better service to the less fortunate, because either way it's going to get its cheese.

Yum. Government cheese.
This evidence flies directly in the face of those who think that the government should or even can help the poor. Think of how stupid that logic is: it's better to trust politicians, who by their very nature are often the most morally repugnant people in any given society, with billions of forcefully-taken tax-dollars to properly care for those in desperate need, rather than allow charities, individuals, local communities, and basically those that actually care to voluntarily sacrifice to help their neighbors and countrymen.

In over 50 major cities in America, including New York City, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Miami, and my native Philadelphia, churches and individuals are actually forbidden from giving out food to the needy without first getting a permit. That's right, it's illegal to help others unless the state gives you the O-K.
Such unspeakable evil!
Those who irrationally believe that government aid is superior to charity either have absolutely no faith in other humans (despite their naive trust in authority figures and government institutions to do what is best for us), or simply do not understand how inefficient government is at providing any service, especially help.

Related posts:

Recommended reading (click links or pictures to purchase from Amazon.com):

by Murray Rothbard

by Ron Paul  

by Henry Hazlitt

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  1. We used to pack up sack lunches and go out and feed the homeless. (Phila) It was a great way of showing my kids compassion, caring, charity and humility. There were so many lessons in that one simple act and hopefully it gave the homeless one night that they didn't have to wonder if they were going to go hungry. To think that the government makes it against the law to help others is just ridiculous!

    Great blog by the way. Common sense is definitely missing in the world today!!

    1. I remember going on a service trip to West Virginia to help rebuild the home of a woman who, in addition to having her home burn down from a lightning strike, had also just recently lost her husband AND her daughter. Despite everything that happened to her, she was so grateful for our help that every day we were there, she would spend what little money she had making breakfast for us workers.

      That's something that I think every human should experience, but saying "let the government do it" only distances oneself from those in need. It is not the government's job. It's ours.

    2. "That's something that I think every human should experience, but saying "let the government do it" only distances oneself from those in need. It is not the government's job. It's ours."

      Yes! Exactly!! I think that is the probably the biggest problems of our youth today. They are out of touch. My boys (Ant and Nick) go to something called "June Project" and it gives them a chance to help those in need. Fixing houses, doing yardwork, whatever they need. They need to experience what it feels like to really need. They also do the 30 hr famine, and let me tell you, my kids like to eat. They weren't very excited about it, but were troopers! LOL When they came home, they knew what it was like to be hungry and had learned about others that lived like that all the time.