“Charity” Is Not The Answer. And Don’t Call It Charity.

.

In this essay, the word charity is a misnomer caused by two factors. First, Republicans who were called fiscal conservative or libertarians, use the word charity to disguise their disdain for federalized social programs. Second, the insidious and discriminatory theory of small government. Going back to charitable structures of the old days, is a fantasy they propose, which would reinstate debtors prisons, workhouses, chain gangs, child labor, etc. Coincidentally, one of the government services that held the Roman Empire together as long as it did, was their systematic dispensing of food to the urban Rome poor. Development of such a huge empire and urban area required a change in how governments helped people. In concert, the Romans gave away land to the rural poor as well.

.

I have consumed a number of articles, position papers, and books on the value of charity including Anand Giridharadas’ book, Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World. My knowledge base in the private charity arena is comparatively thin, so feel free to check out more sources for yourself. Try a conservative libertarian’s take, here. Someone in the private charity field here, and another perspective here.

.

That said, I will be using the word charity very liberally in this essay. Not just the here, and there, help concept found in the dictionary definition (below), but as a foundational element that Republicans decry as irrelevant in many areas, where government currently spends billions. In the government program arena of “charity”, a.k.a. entitlements, my knowledge base is much thicker. The conservative libertarian’s view of how charities function falls mostly within the dictionary definition, and private charity sphere.

.

Generally, I would not consider many government services as true charity either; on the other hand, the strict libertarian would not expect charities to cover these areas. That is, when libertarians say we should move government programs into the private charity arena, they are also saying remove entitlements altogether.

.

Bootstraps are flung my way by the libertarian at this point because the most extreme part of their government responsibility philosophy is to ignore everything, except to protect property rights, and provide a national defense. It is either private charities or private sector, a.k.a. for-profit for everything else. Therefore, I will name the additional responsibilities progressives and liberals call for, de facto government “charity”, to keep all current socials services bundled together under one thematic umbrella until I eliminate the concept of charity altogether at the end.

.

That all being said, the name is not as important as keeping our social programs in one basket. Since none of the services the government provides are actually charity, yet Republicans want to break them into two distinct groups to destroy the nation’s safety net.

.

Do we go with private charities doing most everything “charity” related, and drop the other supportive elements (de facto “charities”) like Social Security, and SNAP…

Or…

Do we allow the government to do what it is generally, currently doing, and add more social services, when needed?*

*These are both budgeted items paid for out of the general fund, and other services from the we-pay-for directly column, at least to some extent (e.g. Social Security).

.

The funding gap between libertarian tight sphincter austerity, and spending on government services for societal improvement is a disputed policy region the sides squabble over. Helping someone get a job is not charity from the everyday perspective, and neither is making sure a Black person is not discriminated against, but there must be people paid to achieve it through a decent and stable funding source, if it is to be provided long term. Giving someone money until they find a job may be considered charity as well, but it does not need to be a person who is on the edge of survival. A union would not call job finding help or job skills training charity. Should any American call it charity when the government provides funds for the same reason?

.

My take is not going to be a replication or refutation of the arguments or facts such as the libertarian linked to above has written about, or Anand Giridharadas, who is on the other side of the spectrum. Rather I will be creating a logic structure to show how idiotic, and pernicious it would be to increase the private charity designation to assume responsibility for most every government program. These are the programs now employed to help improve society, and on the other side of the spectrum, care for those who cannot care for themselves in any significant way, and many who will never be able to do so. Libertarians see charity as being for the latter group alone, and that government should stay out of the societal improvement portion.

.

Therefore, such strict libertarians and fiscal conservatives want to eliminate a large part of American charity. Again, I do not believe all social programs are charity, and I am not saying this to mask the negative connotation the word charity has for many Americans. It is due to how, and why the funds are distributed. As labor union members pay dues into their funds for various purposes, all workers in America contribute to our overall investment fund. We do this by being Americans, paying taxes, the investments made by our ancestors, our potential to improve the nation, and via other general, and specific path ways. It is our money as a nation of many people, and should be employed to improve our future as a people.

.

The current wealthy families must not be the sole future inheritors of our nation. To make sure this no longer happens in an extreme inequality direction, every American should get a basic investment over the first twenty, or so, years of their life in a very similar fashion. That basic investment should include education, transportation (in some form, to and from, job and school), housing, and sustenance.

.

Those reasons are similar to why we should not tie general physical health to personal or family financial wherewithal, or banish the lives of elderly Americans into desperation and destitution, merely because we can turn a blind eye to it. While conservatives demonize any government assistance as totalitarian socialism, these are not outrageous social program parameters, since many European nations have achieved nearly the same benefit level for over seventy years. Now that I have provided the core programs’ generic outlines, I will explain why the government is the only valid entity to manage these areas of society.

.

Narrow Minded About Government.

The atrophying and inelasticity about government has been a work in progress by conservatives. Many still demand small government. Yet, Jefferson tried to make that the hallmark of our national perspective, but he lost to Hamilton as to how government should be funded. Later the gold standard, championed by conservatives, after its introduction in 1879, was a maniacal inflationary monster, finally going to its dinosaur grave. Big changes must happen, the old days and ideas do not often survive intact.

.

Ironically, Jefferson also directly caused even larger government due to his purchase of the Louisiana Territory. His no-standing army lost out to WWII, and the Soviet threat. The government also had to invest in (White) military service personnel after the war as well, i.e. the GI-Bill and FHA loans. Social Security is unlikely to see elimination, and Medicare will hold on for many generations at least, no matter what Republicans do.

.

However, the small government harangue was revved up again by Reagan in the 1980s, and by every Republican pundit, POTUS, and Congress since. These forestalling whine-fests, and gridlock sessions, harm our ability to advance as a nation, and make it difficult to do what we should be doing, better. Making government small is intrinsically devoid of making government better at what it does. No one can pinpoint when small is enough, or when it is where it should be to do what it is supposed to do, so we know when we see good being done. But we know what doing things better is, we can measure it.

.

More importantly, Republicans, conservatives, and libertarians, and their stingy policy ideas have the acceptance of much less than 50% of the population. To punch such an austerity plan through our national psyche, is within many orders of magnitude of not happening. While I have little worry that these endeavors will have more than partial success, it is the doing government better portion that loses out. Republicans cannot functionally be about both small government, and also doing government better, because they believe getting small is one, and the same as getting better government.

.

However, since government will never be as small as conservatives want it, their better government will never occur as well. The never-never problem puts the fiscal conservative plan inside a paradox: government stays big as government gets much badder. Of course, the deeper conspiratorial version of the Republican small gov idea is that stripping government haphazardly, and managing it badly (due to never improving it) is more worthwhile to their short term profit gouging goals. They believe in the long term everyone will be better off by their unrestrained capitalism.

.

Unfortunately, in the short term many people die waiting for their better future. Their bullshit, in-the-end-everything-is-better trope covers up versions of the same death spiral it created for others previously. Their laissez faire economics will continue raping our nation as their ancestors did, and their own children will likely be better off. For context, in the original version, Jefferson’s plan, Indigenous Americans and Black Americans never benefited in the short term to say the least. The current Republican or libertarian small government charade fits well with a Trail of Tears it will inflict on many Americans of this century in the short term, the poor, especially people of color who struggle economically.

.

By narrowing our gaze so we only see how it benefits us in the short term, mostly Whites with at least some wealth. Narrowing our minds helps us not think beyond our austerity sphincter musculature, making it easier for our White privileged consciences to accept an extra thirty pieces of silver provided by the small, lower-taxes’ government proposition. Who doesn't mind a few more dollars back from the government, or never being taxed more in the first place?! That simplistic message, insidious with colorism, always sways too many people, which is what conservatives rely on, almost exclusively.

.

If you can drop kick twenty to forty percent of your fellow Americans into the ditch, until sometime a thousand years from now when they will benefit, then Republicans have you. Of course, that never benefits the meek, does it? The meek only deserve afterlife benefits, after they inherit 6 feet under the earth from premature death; luckily god gave us that meek killing out.

.

Have Private Charities Do It “All” Like In The Past!

First, even libertarians do not expect charities to do “everything” government is doing now. They would eliminate those extra programs as they perceive them, in their nebulous small government plans. Many of those programs, or services they will eradicate from the lives of struggling Americans, or allot to the profit, swindle-poor-people sector.

.

Second, doing anything comprehensively is very problematic for charities. Private charities are gap fillers. The federal government is backed by itself, forever, as far as we can be concerned here. If the overall federal government fails, everything else fails. So for all intents and purposes, it can guarantee such and such social program will always continue, like no other entity is able to promise.

.

The superiorly and consistently stable financial structure of the federal government is not mentioned much by Republicans. That’s because they would not agree. It is antithetical to their overwrought sovereign states’ myth, where the federal government has much less power. Of course, their idea was trashed for the most part when we moved to the Constitution, the founders made it based on We The People. The federal government issues debt to entities that buy it as investments a.k.a T-Bills, or Treasury Bills. If our national debt was really as bad as fiscal conservatives say, why does every country in the world buy our debt, and most investors prefer it as the most reliable investment of all time?

.

Realize that we have spent over twenty trillion dollars since 2001 of discretionary spending that was never budgeted! That is as much as one year of GDP. How is that possible with Republicans in control half the time? Yet, we spent it on Afghanistan, Iraq, housing and financial crashes in 2008-09, 20 massive hurricanes costing over one billion including 13 over $10B, and 2 over $125B, and now COVID. Our ability to spend as much as we need is evident in those figures alone. Not even Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, the Waltons, Mike Bloomberg, Warren Buffet, Brin and Page, Larry Ellison, Mark Zuckerberg, Steve Ballmer, Elon Musk, and Laurene Powell Jobs, together times 10 can make that kind of “charity” promise over 20 years!

.

The federal government could issue too much debt, but Japan has been overextended significantly for almost 3 decades, now at 240% of GDP and, since 2010 over 200%, a lot higher than our debt percentage even after COVID. Our debt to GDP ratio is about 109%, and at the current rate will hit 130% by 2023. Japan has not disappeared, and the Japanese people are actually doing fine as to their standard of living. Their debt problems are more structural than ours including their population aging at a much higher rate. Ours has been almost all drasticdiscretionary” funding: wars, crashes, disasters, a pandemic, and massive tax cuts. Taxes should be collected up to a point to fend off extreme inequality, but they are not the only funding mechanism.

.

The book, The Deficit Myth by Stephanie Kelton, explains debt financing very well. The federal government is not a business, or a family budget, and is not meant to be managed like one. Yes, the states better fit that narrative, since they must balance their budgets due to having no constitutional capacity to print money; another reason states are not sovereign. Some entity must be able to print money, otherwise the financial system would always jam up. The federal government must be ready with a firehose, whereas states can use buckets. The gold standard was problematic in a similar way as states, while it was a large bucket with pretty liquid, once all gold was bought up, the bucket could help no one else. It clanged and crashed our nation to a halt. That is a very simplified gold standard narrative, but you get the idea.

.

Private charities have never had the responsibility of filling every gap in our national improvement system. Going back to old charity concepts like local Black Lodges, fraternal orders, and women’s auxiliaries will never have the scope required for a nation of 330+ million inhabitants. The math will never work, someone will be left out. The government will still be on the hook for millions upon millions of people. It is the same reason we have not closed the literal killer, health insurance gap today. With all the charities we have, why wasn’t healthcare the first gap closed? The reason is that a million and a half private charities, plus the various go-fund-me-millions-of-Americans-are-so-fuct-dot-coms, were never developed to agree on what’s most important.

.

These stellar private charities will overfund protecting traitor monuments like the Jeff Davis spire in Kentucky from (warranted) demolition, and the Stone Mountain confederate mural in Georgia from (justifiable) defacement, and let tens of thousands die from lack of health insurance, and a higher per capita percentage who die are Black Americans.

.

The Private Charity Math Is Off.

How does yesteryear comport with today? I would say it does not in most ways. Reforming society would be required to make private charities even what they once were, which never got anywhere near completely inclusive. People lived more in large homogeneous groups back in the day. Today, we live as individuals, to a considerable extent because we decamp our home towns in higher numbers, after college or service in the military, and for jobs. Those who do not leave, are more likely to be of less means.

.

If we were today the melting pot some suggested in years past, it may be an easier transition, but it would require 550,000 groups of 600 individuals and family members to include every inhabitant in the U.S. At best, 20% to 40% would never become a part of any of those groups due to logistics, health, income, wealth, introverts, individualists, skin color, gender, and-or religious affiliation. This leaves a minimum of 66 million Americans who would need charity, household incomes of less than $28K. From 440,000 groups, $25 per month per adult, 396 adults per 600 member group would raise about $100K per year. That would be $44B each year from the 440,000 groups formed, if 20% of Americans did not join.

.

That $44B would need to go to the 66 million in the bottom 20%, which equals only $667 per person per year. This means year after year after decade, after century. That does not take into account the 21% to 40% income percentiles not joining, or not being able to contribute because they use every cent to cover everything. Of course, more than a couple thousand per household each year would likely be needed. And this does not cover the logistics of getting all this money to the right people, at the right time.

.

What if none of the groups wants to help a certain group?

Will each group hire a person with such experience and the staff to get it done?

Will the groups be able to determine who are half the families in need who get $500 a year, then the increments of $500 to 10 other levels of families in need?

If these groups only help their own, then who helps those who do not join, or cannot master the group project?

What if 5%, or 95%, of the groups help their own, and the rest only help others, so an even bigger subset who need help, don’t get it?

While my fundraising scheme does not take in the full scope of the problem, it really does not matter, since the complicated logistics demonstrate the problem. Redeveloping town by town, or zoom meeting by zoom meeting, any level of consistent charity services to most, let alone all, Americans, would be a Sisyphean task in staggering orders of magnitude. The federal government is already handling most of these logistics. Does it need to update its act, do better at fighting any fraud, and be more cost effective? Yes, of course. But so-called fiscal conservatives are not really focused on reforming and updating because programs must be either perfect, or dismantled.

.

There is no former way we did things, that was done haphazardly even then, that is really applicable to today. Such arguments skim the top of the old timey concepts value, and never look into how it could actually be applied in a society of 330 million.

  • Do we shut down the government program first, and then apply the new, old thingy?
  • What if the new-old thingy does not work as hoped?
  • Do you put razor-wire around your gated community?
  • Do we slowly drain public schools of students and money as we go to chintzy-for-profit charter schools that shut down every other year, or five or ten years, because funding is lacking?
  • Does stability mean nothing in every societal situation?

.

The Perfect Social Program System.

Saying there is some work to do on a social program, is tantamount to a politician saying, “Stab me in the back, make me admit I am Hugo Chavez, since this lives-saving social program was not perfect, and it did not stay perfect for years, and decades, without updating.” Improvement is our American Exceptionalism motto when it comes to private enterprise, yet we ask our government to “do with what it has forever, or give up, so we can be taxed at a lower tax rate”.

.

Conservatives do not want a perfect social program, and nothing even close. Their economic theory demands that such is not possible, which again, precludes improvements. Gridlock is the way Republicans cut off the process entirely. Learning from failure is no longer an option. We must now give the “free” market the opportunity to fleece us. They did it with for-profit colleges. They are doing it with charter and for-profit schools, mostly so they can avoid integration, or paying more to poor districts like Southern conservatives did after Brown v. Board of Education. Removing stability to make a splash, and scoop up some cash.

.

When these private for-profit or not, entities fail, and they will, what happens to the Americans who must pick up the pieces of their lives, or their children’s lives? The federal government is fully defended and guaranteed, shouldn’t some parts of society be fully defended and guaranteed as well, not just private property? We cannot give private property more importance than the current human condition. Such a harshly-limited protection regime is very uncharitable, to say the least.

.

Conclusion.

The extent to which charity is not charity, is directly proportional to where parity has never been parity. Black Americans have one tenth the wealth of White Americans. This does not mean there are no wealthy Blacks, or there are not millions of very poor whites. But on average Blacks have $17K in wealth and Whites have $171K. If we were to go to a private charity model, Black Americans would be left out in multiple ways. That is because much of the private charity, like much of how things get done today, would be done divided by the color line.

.

If this long standing, and current, pernicious conundrum continues, Black Americans will forever be 10th class citizens as to wealth. Wealth begets wealth, after all is said and done. While some Blacks will make it to the big leagues of wealth, their struggle is first compounded by the Black community’s current lack of overall wealth. If almost everything continues to be differentiated by the color line, imposed by Whites, how do Blacks overcome all these imposed disadvantages en masse? Unless Whites are willing to make changes en masse, most of these problems will continue for centuries more. Therefore, social programs that help all, and especially Black Americans, and other people of color, must continue, be more robust where needed, and forever improved.

.

Ending social programs a.k.a entitlements, SNAP, etc., and only doing more of what private charities are doing now is not enough. Even more homogeneous nations like Sweden have had social programs running for decades, and not just charity type work. Anyone serious about ending social programs and instituting a charity only response to our social problems is promoting vicious colorism and hate of the other. Read The Condemnation of Blackness by Khalil Gibran Muhammad, and fully understand how demonically regressive such old world ideas like charity are.

.

By Richard The Chwalek.

***There is another path that may just make a few fiscal conservatives and most every liberal and progressive happy, as to how social programs can be developed and managed. Here are 3 essays (among others) where I introduce the We The People System. Essay one, and essay two, and essay three.

Writer/Consultant. Wife/Two-20 something daughters. Flyover Midwesterner. RN/Engineer son, been there/done some, antiracist, feminist, ecotarotcardist, politics

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store