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Should the Federal Government Be Involved With Charity?

By JLP | July 16, 2012

I’m reading Burton Folsom, Jr.’s book, *.

Very interesting!

Why? Because all I ever remember hearing about FDR was how he moved the country out of the Great Depression. Everything I rememember hearing about FDR was positive. I hope to go into more detail about the book in the future but I wanted to share these thoughts on charity that I found in chapter 6. They are definitely something to think about.

Throughout American history, right from the start, charity had been a state and local function. Civic leaders, local clergy,and private citizens evaluated the legitimacy of people’s need in their communications or counties; churches and other organizations could then provide food, shelter, and clothing to help victims of fires or women abandoned by drunken husbands. Most Americans believed that the face-to-face encounters of givers and receivers of charity benefited both groups. It created just the right amount of uplift and relief, and discouraged laziness and a poor work ethic.

The Founders all saw relief as local and voluntary, and the Constitution gave no federal role for the government in providing charity. james Madison, in defeding the Constitution, observed, “Mo man is allowed to be a judge in his own cause, because he interest would certainly bias his judgment and, not improbably, corrupt his integrity.” In othe rwords, if relief, and other areas, were made functions of the federal government, the process would become politicized and politicians and deadbeats could conspire to trade votes for food. As Madison asked, “What are the different classes of legistlators but advocates and parties to the causes which they determine?”

He goes on…

“…Sometimes, of course, Congress was tempted to play politics with relief. In 1887, for example, several counties in Texas faced a long drought and some farmers lost their crops. Texas politicians helped cajole Congress into granting $10,000 worth of free seeds for these distressed farmers in Texas. After the bill passed the Senate and House, President Grover Cleveland vetoed it. “I can find no warrant for such an appropriation in the Constistution,” Cleveland said. Such aid would “deestroy the partitions between proper subjects of the federal and local care and regulation.” He added, “Federal aid, in such cases, encourages the exectations of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character.” As for Texas, Clevland noted, “the friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow citizens in misfortune.”

Folsom goes on to state that Texas ended up receiving $100,000 in help from volunteer contributions.

Personally, I would like to see us go back to charity-based giving instead of government programs where money is automatically deposited into people’s accounts and there is a detachment from where the money came from. I also want to take the power out of the hands of politicians who dangle freebies in front of potential recipients in order to get votes. Disgusting, if you ask me.

Thoughts?

Topics: Economics, Giving, Politics | 21 Comments »


21 Responses to “Should the Federal Government Be Involved With Charity?”

  1. BG Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    “A democracy cannot exist as a permanent form of government. It can only exist until the majority discovers it can vote itself largess out of the public treasury…” **

    Original author unknown.

  2. Russ Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 3:37 pm

    I agree. Charity would be more efficient if left up to individuals. The political left likes for government to take the producers’ funds through taxation and then dole out to the charities/causes they see fit.

    Most charitable giving would be more efficient and cost effective if done at the local level.

    People, including the wealthy, are not stingy and enjoy helping others. However, when government takes so much of our disposable income, it makes it that much harder to be charitable.

  3. Russ Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 3:46 pm

    It would also cut out a lot of the fraud that is prevalent with government run programs because when charitable giving is local, the people running the programs know when someone is just trying to game the system.

    I’m sure food stamps, health services, school lunches, etc could all be handles locally through churches or other locally based organizations without the help of the federal government.

  4. Jack Says:
    July 16th, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    The government should NEVER be involved in charity as such. (International Aid in the pursuit of national interests is another matter entirely.)

    It boils down to this: If the people they claim to represent wanted their money to go to that charity, they would already be giving to that charity! If the Congresscritters think the people are not smart enough to know where they should donate their money, how can those people possibly be smart enough to elect those who are supposed to know better?

  5. BG Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 7:44 am

    If the people they claim to represent wanted to build that road, they would have already built that road! If the Congresscritters think the people are not smart enough to know where to build a road, how can those people possibly be smart enough to elect those who are supposed to know better?

    (In response to Jack #4)

  6. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 7:48 am

    There are some things that the people cannot do on their own, such as building roads, fielding armies, having courts, etc. Those things that the United States government is supposed to do are specific and enumerated in the Constitution.

    But funneling money to charity is NOT something we need government to do.

  7. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 7:53 am

    Playing devils advocate, I’ll remind you that local charity is not without it’s very significant problems.

    Charity is not given equally. A given charity may decide to ignore the needy who are not a member of a certain religion, is a certain color, is from a certain country, etc.

    “Local people running the programs know when someone is just trying to game the system” is an utterly false statement. That the same as saying local people know which priest at a church is a sexual predator. Fact is, people are scammed everyday, even when they should know better.

    “International Aid in the pursuit of national interests is another matter entirely.” That’s a load of horse hocking. How can “national interest” be more applicable outside the US than inside the US. Are people staving in Africa more important than people starving in Texas? Should the US give aid to starving Ethiopians more than N. Koreans, because of “national interests.”

    In the US today, the govt (federal, state and local) all participate in certain “charitable” benefits along side of private charities. The main reasons are two fold: First, local charities may not have the resources to address certain needs and may not be equitable in their distribution methods to the needy. Second, as the US became prosperous, various groups and individuals have used govt to provide services to those less fortunate in our society.

    Of course, the “buying of votes” is not limited to just the “liberals” as “conservatives” play the same game just as well, if not a bit better.

  8. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 8:38 am

    Val,

    If you do not like how a charity is helping the poor, start your own that does it YOUR way.

    The scamming happens with both charity and the government programs. The government programs just make bigger targets for scammers.

    National interest can be more “applicable” when dealing with other countries because we may be trying to secure access to their markets, we may have a strategic interest in the region, etc. They are, to be blunt, a way of bribing other countries. These factors do not come into play internally.

    “Local charities may not have the resources”?

    What “resources” does the government have that the people do not?

    “and may not be equitable in their distribution”

    Then start a charity to balance the ones you think are not being equitable? Do you actually have any examples of charities that discriminate as you allege?

    “[As] the US became prosperous, various groups and individuals have used govt to provide services to those less fortunate in our society.”

    It is still wrong to do so. It is wrong for you to personally threaten someone to get money from them, even if you give that money to the beggar on the street corner. It is equally wrong for you to for a gang to threaten and bully people into giving you money, even if you turn around and give that money to the poor. It is equally wrong for you to get millions of people to bully everyone into giving you money, to give to the poor.

    If the people wanted their money to go to the poor, they would give their money to the poor.

  9. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 8:54 am

    Charity it and of itself is a very difficult thing. A tsunami in Asia can raise millions in temporary relief efforts from America citizens when national news reports the tragedy for days/weeks on end. Yet, the everyday tragedies are often ignored and even scoffed at by folks who are otherwise quite decent human beings.

    Charity is a very complicated subject and there is no “one size fits all” solution. The reason govt is in the charity business is because private charities fell short when the needs were greatest.

    There will always be those who abuse any system of charity, public or private. Yet, should we abandon all charity to prevent such fraud? Should all those who are in need be ignored because of a few abusers? Should we revert back to a 19th Century style of charity where the only help is local help?

    Is there a true difference between govt giving dollars to the unemployed and govt giving tax credits to oil companies? The difference between govt giving dollars to homeless veterans and govt giving tax breaks to individuals with incomes over $1 million? The difference between govt giving dollars to drought victims in the mid-west (in the news this week) and govt giving “aid” to Israel?

    Me thinks the govt has way too many fingers in too many pies. Me also think the situation is going to become much worse before it gets better. Here, I’m referring to Citizens United and corporate money having an ever larger impact on campaign financing and policy makers. Perhaps we are reverting back to the 19th Century after all.

  10. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 9:23 am

    Yet it is the government that is slower to respond and more likely to provide a one-size-fits-all “solution.”

    Should we revert to local-only help? Well, I do not think that was ever really the case. But the government should NOT be in the charity business.

    You offer a false choice between the unemployed and oil companies. First, unemployment insurance is just that, insurance that people pay into while they are employed. If they have not paid in to the system, they do not get benefits from the system. That said, those programs are managed at the State level, which is perfectly constitutional. There is neither need nor constitutional authority for the United States government to be involved in those programs.

    As for the oil companies, exactly what tax credits are you talking about? FYI, the bill to end those so-called big-oil credits simply exempted them from credits that are available to every other company; it was not trying to end any credits specific to oil companies.

    There IS a significant difference between government payments to those drought victims and giving money to Israel. The people of the United States are perfectly capable of giving their own money to help other people in the United States. In our government’s giving money to Israel, we forge strategic alliances between our governments that would not occur as a result of private donations.

    As for Citizens United, we are actually reverting to just a few years ago before the latest wave of campaign finance reform. There are a couple of solutions, but would require amending the Constitution. The first would be that only those who could VOTE in an election can contribute to that election. That would eliminate donations from corporations, unions, PACs, etc. It would also eliminate donations from those not able to vote.

    The second might not require a Constitutional Amendment. That solution would require all donations to go through a clearinghouse that removes information about the donors. You cannot buy favors if you cannot show it was YOU contributing to the campaign!

  11. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Jack said, “if the people wanted their money to go to the poor, they would give their money to the poor.”

    Suppose you look at the French Revolution where the elite were jailed and killed by the peasants in revolt. The middle class was over taxed and marginalized by the aristocracy. A world of absolute inequity always ends in revolt. China is under this very threat today.

    As there are FAR more poor people than there are rich people, one way to keep the peasants from rising up against the wealthy (middle class is wealthy by comparison) is through repression by force, like in China. That repression is not free but is paid for by taxation.

    So, is it wrong to take a small portion of *your* money (taxation by threat of force) to keep the poor from committing crime or worst, from revolting. Is it in *your* best interest, as well as the well being of the nation, to provide a system of charity and hope to those who have nothing?

    You need to study your history more and learn from the lessons of others who have come before you. What seems so absolutely “Right and Wrong” in a limited context has a completely different meaning (and consequences) in a larger picture.

  12. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 10:44 am

    Jack, the number of govt programs at all levels in the “charity business” is thousands. There is overlap, but the program tend to target specific problem. WIC is a good example.

    In the early days, the Fed Govt did not provide charity to citizens to my knowledge. Although I suspect (I have not done any research to prove my speculation here) that there may already have been some type of govt charity at the local levels. The city of New York would be the first place to look for such policies.

    In Citizens United, the SC over turned a century of policy on campaign financing. The first effort at wide-ranging reform resulted in the Tillman Act of 1907, prohibited corporations and nationally chartered banks from making direct financial contributions to federal candidates. Disclosure requirements and spending limits for House and Senate candidates followed in 1910 and 1911. General contribution limits were enacted in the Federal Corrupt Practices Act (1925). An amendment to the Hatch Act of 1939 set an annual ceiling of $3 million for political parties’ campaign expenditures and $5,000 for individual campaign contributions. The Smith-Connally Act (1943) and Taft-Hartley Act (1947) extended the corporate ban to labor unions. As you can see, campaign finance reform is NOT a recent issue. It goes back to the pre-Civil War era. I agree it will now take a Const. Amendment to put the brakes on Campaign Finance.

    I agree the Fed Govt has an interest in forming alliances with other nations, by not in the name of bribes to “opening markets” to US corporations. Especially when those corporations have been busy over the last 4 decades off shoring jobs to 3rd world nations to sell their cheap products to those other nations, as well as to US citizens. History clearly shows that US foreign policy over the past 70 years has been more about opening markets to US corporations and less about fostering or nurturing Democracy.

  13. JLP Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 11:00 am

    It drives me nuts to hear radio or TV advertisements for programs like WIC, Food Stamps, or Medicare.

    It’s all by design. Invent a program to get give something to someone. Make the program bigger to include more people. Then, scare people into believing that voting a certain way will bring those programs to an end.

  14. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 12:56 pm

    Val,

    What inequality we have in the United States is NOT absolute, but is quite fluid. Two-thirds of the people in the U.S. are in a different income quintile than their parents were at the same age. 87% have more family income than their parents did at the same age — after adjusting for inflation.

    Less than half of the children of the top quintile stayed there, and less than half of the children of the bottom quintile stayed there. The children of the top quintile are actually making slightly less than their parents did, while the children of the bottom make TWICE what their parents did.

    The idea that the poor have “no hope” is pure nonsense.

    No, it is not wrong to use taxation for police officers to enforce the law. Yes, it is wrong to take that money to bribe people not to break the law. Poverty does not cause crime. Criminals cause crime. Crime rates have not increased in this recession (http://www.city-journal.org/2011/21_3_crime-decline.html), nor did they in in the Great Depression.

    Government freebees are not charity, they are THEFT. Charity is that which is given without threat or coercion.

    If the government had not made employing people in this country so expensive, there would be less pressure to offshore jobs. Opening markets to our products DOES foster democracy. Free trade benefits all involved.

  15. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 4:16 pm

    Jack,
    Tax dollars used to pay farmers to grow more (or less) corn/soybeans/wheat is theft. Tax credits given to families with children is theft. Surplus FICA taxes spent by Congress to minimize deficit spending and giving Govt IOU’s to the Social Security Fund is theft. Govt lowering tax revenues while increasing deficit spending instead of paying down it’s debt is theft. Congress bailing out insolvent private corporations is theft. Social Security is theft.

  16. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 4:22 pm

    > Tax dollars used to pay farmers to grow more
    > (or less) corn/soybeans/wheat is theft.

    YES

    > Tax credits given to families with children is theft.

    NO — tax credits lower the amount of theft! :-D

    > Surplus FICA taxes spent by Congress to
    > minimize deficit spending and giving Govt
    > IOU’s to the Social Security Fund is theft.

    ALL FICA taxes are theft.

    > Govt lowering tax revenues while increasing
    > deficit spending instead of paying down it’s
    > debt is theft.

    NO — who are they stealing from when they LOWER tax revenues?

    > Congress bailing out insolvent private
    > corporations is theft.

    YES

    > Social Security is theft.

    And now you are repeating yourself — FICA is Social Security.

  17. BG Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 6:13 pm

    “NO — who are they stealing from when they LOWER tax revenues?”

    My Kids, and your kids…the next generation is being robbed blind.

  18. Jack Says:
    July 17th, 2012 at 6:27 pm

    That comes from the borrowing, BG, which would not be necessary if the government stayed within its Constitutional bounds. There is plenty of money to pay for all of the CONSTITUTIONAL things our government is doing.

  19. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 10:31 am

    Jack,
    Our civilization is not the fields and farms of 1789. We have changed and advanced as other developed nations before us. We are now a post industrial nation of 309 million people.

    The Govt is not some foreign institution on another continent. It is OUR institution. We (can) participate in it everyday and every election. We, the people, must hold it accountable by measure, lest it fall under the control a select few and it become our master rather than our servant.

    The Constitution is not set in stone and it will change, both in word and in meaning.

    In 1816, Jefferson wrote that “some men look at Constitutions with sanctimonious reverence and deem them like the ark of the covenant, too sacred to be touched.”

    Jefferson saw imperfections and imagined that potentially, there could be others, believing as he did that “institutions must advance also”.

    Social Security came about because the majority of our free market private sector failed to protect the welfare of US workers. Railroads were the exception in that day and those workers have there own retirement plan and are exempt from the Social Security program.

    The Fed Govt acting in Charity for the welfare of it’s citizenry is appalling to you. Yet, you live in a republic, where the majority will (sometimes) rule the day. It is not always necessary to amend the Constitution for the Govt to act in the general welfare of the people in ways you find disagreeable. That is why we have three branches of Govt.

    If you do not like Govt Charity, file a lawsuit and challenge it in court. Petition your Congresscritter to propose a Constitutional amendment to ban the Fed Govt from it’s acts of Charity. But do not be surprised when your efforts fail.

    In comment #1, BG restated an infamous quote. Nixon won the 1972 election partly because he pressed for expanded benefits to Social Security benefits above and beyond the Democratic Congresses proposals.

    There are many things I see our Govt do that I find appalling as well, but I must ultimately accept the fact that my voice is but one of many. I use this board among others to express my views and education. In this small way, perhaps I may educate and inform others. Perhaps even influencing opinion. I also hope to learn from others that I may advance my own knowledge and opinions.

    It became obvious that debating your thoughts on this matter were mute when you declared govt charity a crime of theft. That’s a opinion so absolute that no debate can dissuade. Yet, the debate is, of itself, valuable. For I have learned more of the hard line style of thinking. Even though I disagree with you point of view, I can at least respect it.

  20. Valkyrie Frost Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 10:34 am

    JLP, I completely agree with you on the misleading ways election campaigns promise to create, expand, or eliminate certain programs in order to get votes.

    Perhaps a truth in campaigning law needs to be enacted, where an elected official may be impeached for false advertising.

  21. Jack Says:
    July 18th, 2012 at 2:50 pm

    Please, Val, you get to vote in ONE election out of 435 elections for the House of Representatives, not EVERY one, and TWO out of a hundred Senate elections. And you do not have the right to vote for President at all.

    I know liberals are big on changing the meaning of words — it makes lying much easier. But the fact is that the U.S. Constitution says, “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

    There should be no need for an amendment to ban charity by the feral government, because the power to do that was not given to it by the States in the Constitution.

    Your premise is that stealing is OK so long as you have a majority of the voters willing to hire thugs to do the stealing in your name. Well, it is still stealing.

    You also seem to think that government charity is necessary because people are too stupid to donate properly. If people are that stupid, how can they be smart enough to elect the people who will make those decisions for them?

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