Entitlements Are Not Charity

One all-too-common misconception in politics is that if one opposes a particular program or law, he necessarily opposes the purported goal of the program or law. As with other entitlements, those of us who oppose the food stamp program are not uncaring about the plight of people who genuinely do not have the money to put food on their table. Rather, we believe that there are much better ways to help the needy than through government, namely, through private charities.

By its very definition, charity involves voluntary contributions, while government involves force. The government does not have any of its own money with which to be generous; rather, every dollar the government spends must first be seized from one party, through forcible taxation, before it can be given to another party — in this case, the recipient of food stamps. Forcibly taking money from one person and giving it to another is not charity or kindness; it is theft, even when cloaked in the guise of generosity.

In a free society, government should exist only for the purpose of preserving liberty, by preventing one person from harming another or from taking the property of another. The very identity of government is subverted when, at the same time that it prevents Smith from stealing from Jones, the government itself steals from Jones and gives to Smith!

It is certainly incumbent upon each individual to do whatever he can to assist those in need. But the individual should be free to provide the assistance — be it money, time or emotions — in the manner he sees fit, not in the manner some politician in Washington sees fit.

Furthermore, individuals and communities are far better at providing charity and care for those in need than is the government. If entitlements were abolished and tax rates cut accordingly — so that the federal government could fund only its constitutional functions, delineated in Article 1, Section 8 — there would be so much more money remaining in each community. Imagine how much more charitable work our already-generous philanthropists and community leaders could do if they weren’t forced to give such a large chunk of their incomes — which, for some wealthy philanthropists, is in the tens of millions of dollars annually — to the government.

The advantages of private charities over government programs are as numerous as they are obvious:

When donating to charity, individuals control their contributions. They can decide how much to give, they can choose to give to an individual who they know is in need, or to give to an organization that they know is responsible in distributing their funds to those most in need. But with government taxes and entitlements, the individual taxpayer has no control over where his money goes.

Community leaders are far better equipped to deal with issues in the community than are politicians in Washington, who make a one-size-fits-all program in a nation of over 300 million individuals.

Recipients are more likely to seek funds from community organizations or individuals only if they truly cannot get by without it, for they feel that it is dishonest and stealing from the community to do otherwise.

On the other hand, many people are more than happy to take whatever federal (and state) funds they can, whether they need them or not, for they do not feel like they are actually taking money from real people, but from some far-off entity. Indeed, some people hide certain income from the government, for fear of “losing their benefits.” Others even refrain from earning a little extra income, for the value of the benefits they would lose by being above a certain income threshold would be greater than the amount of the extra income.

In this way, many “social programs” actually disincentivize some people from earning money — rather than merely providing a boost during a difficult time — thereby serving to ensure that these individuals and families remain eternally financially stagnant and dependent upon these programs. Programs like these — which are largely funded by forced contributions from those taxpayers who do seek financial advancement rather than stagnation and dependence — have no place in a free society.

If social programs were indeed eliminated and taxes reduced drastically, it would be far more just, and in many cases more beneficial for all concerned, including the poor. When all is said and done, there may still be some individuals who fall through the cracks, but if we do have a limited government program to assist them, it should be done on a local level.