Friday, January 20, 2012

Free Market Charity

Several people have heard me say some fairly harsh things regarding food and housing subsidies and other government "welfare" programs. Of course, the more Marxist leaning "progressives" will label me as "cold-hearten", "lacking compassion", "racist" or other complete untruths.

Those people who have read my writings, heard some of my social or political commentaries, of know me in general would say that I'm a rather conservative guy. Now, there are a few issues that, if I discussed them, would make some conservatives skin crawl. I may even get some death threats from the Westboro Baptist Church and other groups for those views. (To be honest, death threats from WBC would just get filed into my "Death Threats From Left-Wing Extremists" file and be reported to the FBI. WBC has been called, by the left, an extreme right-wing group. If they did their  research, they'd find the Phelps family is mostly registered and active Democrats. They are hardly conservatives.) However, on most issues I lean rather right of center.

So this article just may raise a few eyebrows.

Am I against government subsidies to a large sector of the "poor"? Yes I am. In fact. I am rather against government run subsidies in general. I have several reasons for my views.

My first reason is one of simple human nature. People deprived of incentive to perform, produce, succeed, or excel will not put forth an attempt to do so. Why work if I don't have to? Now, incentives come in all sorts of flavors. Some people are motivated by higher needs such as religious views, ethics, and morals. However, most people are motivated by basic needs. I, for one, have a habit of not cooking dinner unless I am actually hungry. Yes, there are days I forget to eat, or just couldn't be bothered to stop what I was doing to get food.

That same principle applies to most people. It may not be along the lines of not wanting to get off the couch to cook. It could be not bothering to do laundry because you still have clothes hanging in the closet. Yes, I got somebody's number with that one.

When it comes to working and earning, why would somebody want to if all of their basic needs are met if they don't? A single parent of four, unemployed, and on EBT and FHA has more disposable income than a family of five (two parents, three kids) with a household income of $60k before taxes. That is just the wrong answer. Being idle and lazy is rewarded more than working.

Basic needs are a great incentive to do. If you had to hunt or farm in order to feed your family, you would. If you had to build your own house to have a place to live, you would. If the only incentive was survival, you'd do what it takes to survive. It is basic human instinct.

Now that I have angered even more people who are preparing to send me comments and hate mail saying "You evil, heartless bastard!", allow me to enlighten my dear readers further.

I do a lot of charity work. I am currently in two volunteer elected offices for one NPO. My Fiancee sits as a volunteer member on the board of another. I support private charities and NPOs. I find their work to be far more effective in assisting people in need than any government program. In doing so, I also have choice in where my efforts and money are used.

Most conservatives agree with this concept. Conservatives proportionately give more in charitable donations and do more charity/relief work than Liberals. Let me try to explain why, at least from my personal perspective.

First of all, charity is a moral concept. Most religions teach of its virtue. It is one of the five pillars of Islam. Most Christian churches run charity drives. They are supported by Christ's teachings. Jewish teachings preach about charity and giving to those in need. A Druid church (religious organization) I know also teaches about the virtues of charity and helping our fellow humans. By and large, conservatives are people with religious or spiritual convictions. It is generally accepted that it is right to do good things for those less fortunate.

However, for a virtue to be a virtue, it must be freely chosen. If you do a charitable act from your own choice, you did a good thing. If you refuse to, you may get some flack, but nobody will begrudge that it was your choice.

When the government takes your taxes and disperses them, it does so against your will. It takes that money with the force of law. If you break the law, they can take it at gunpoint (and toss you in jail). That is not choice. That lacks virtue. That is not charity. It is, theft, on a moral level. Because you worked for that money, you gave up a portion of your time on Earth, your life, to earn it. We have a term for working to the benefit of others under the force of law or at gunpoint:  indentured servitude. That can be simplified to a single word:  slavery. Conservatives abhor slavery.

Let's say we have $100 we have decided to designate for feeding poor American family we know.

If we give that money to the government to put into EBT or some other government run program, here is what happens. It goes into a fund. Out of that $100 comes the salaries of the 20+ bureaucrats that have to designate the use for those funds and screen multiple families to decide which one they will give aid. Then some pet government project that has little to do with feeding a family takes it's bit, because, you know, some politician earmarked funds for his pet project. By the time that $100 has gone though the government filters, you are lucky to have $30 left. To top it off, they may not give that $30 to that family we know. Some family of non-citizens may get it instead.

On the extreme other side, we can do what somebody I know did. There was a young married couple. The husband's paycheck came up short for a couple of months in a row. The remaining pay went to other necessities like rent and utilities. Not much was left for food. So, this person took the couple shopping. the couple also did not want to take advantage and buy things like prime rib and crab legs. They picked out healthy, cost-effective food. Most of it was staples with a couple of inexpensive comfort items.

One could argue that there may have been another family in more need than the one we designated, but were unaware of. That's where the NPOs step in.

For years, I gave to NPOs through a system called CFC. CFC, or Combined Federal Campaign, is a program through which federal employees (I was active duty Army) give to NPOs directly from their paychecks. I did stop going through CFC over the last 7 years of my career. CFC did, however, grant me the data and education I needed in regards to the NPOs I chose to support.

All NPOs have an overhead. However, their overhead varies depending on several factors including advertising budget, paid administration, paid workers, volunteer ratio, and other things. However, they must, by law, publish their dispersal figures annually. So, if you want to feed poor families, you find one with a lower overhead and administration ratio. I purposely stayed away from those with an overhead and administrative percentage over 20%. In the end, I think the highest one I was donating to had an 8% rate.

What does that mean? Let's suppose a local food bank has a (high) overhead percentage of 20%. It means we give them $100. They take $20 to use towards paying people to do social work, paying rent, and screening aid recipients. The other $80 goes to some family in need. It could be our chosen family. It could be another local family who is more in need. An added beauty of a food bank is that we also have the option of buying food and donating ALL of it to the bank. So that $100 worth of food goes to those in need.

Most NPOs don't give their aid for free, at least not under most circumstances. If the NPO is religious in nature, the beneficiaries may have to endure a bit of preaching. Other NPOs offer counseling, budget classes, employment seminars, and the like. Some of these other things the beneficiaries must endure are from conditions the NPO contractually made with some "evil capitalist" business that funds the charity. I don't see how having to sit through a class on how to write a better resume or fill out a job application are bad for the beneficiaries, anyway. And, while the beneficiaries may have different religious views, I don't see how a little preaching on the benefits of living a more moral life can be harmful either. You have a brain. You have a choice to take the advice or not. It doesn't hurt to listen.

I have yet to see prime rib and crab legs at a food bank. Then again, I live in Arizona, not Maine. In Maine, I could see lobster being dropped off. I have seen items like turkeys, hams, and briskets dropped off around holiday times. I did not see the cash donations used to buy Monster and Red Bull. I have seen EBT cards used to purchase those items.

The people I have seen go to local food banks for food are happy for what they receive. They do not act as though they are owed this food. They do not act as though they are entitled to it. In fact, that couple I discussed earlier also went to a food bank. After the husband's pay problems were corrected, they went and purchased food to replace what they "borrowed". They didn't have to. But they did. How many families on EBT do you hear talking about getting a job so they can pay the government back for the money the American Tax Payers lent them? In fact, I am willing to bet you'd be met with malicious comments if you even suggested it.

We live in the best country in the world. The majority of our poor would be considered rather well off in most 3rd World countries. Can we do better? Yes. People deserve a hand up. They deserve that incentive to NOT GIVE UP. They need the encouragement to prosper and achieve on their own merits. Government "entitlements" don't do that. They foster a mentality of complacency, apathy, and laziness.

The most greatest faculty human being have is called Reason. Reason allows us to take in data and make choices. Those choices are our greatest power. Being able to choose what charities you give to, what morals you support, what programs you think work best, is the very power that makes NPOs a better choice than government subsidies. It is an INDIVIDUAL right. Conservatives love to exercise their individual rights.

Taxes and federal revenues dispersed into government subsidies reduce and deny that individual right to choose. They deny the inalienable rights to life (do productive things with your time), liberty (freedom to choose your own life's course), and the pursuit of happiness (keep, lose, or give away the property you earned by your own merits and effort).

My choice? I'd rather see $80 of my $100 go to those who need it and will appreciate it than $30 of that $100 go to those who believe I owe it to them. It is, after all, MY MONEY.