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Government Social Programs vs. Private Charity

"Oh, if government didn't provide for the poor and needy, then charity would! Small local charities would be vastly more efficient than Government, and provide better services to boot!" This, first of all, ignores simple economies of scale; small local charities would have much more overhead/dollar and much less purchasing power than large national charities. Second, if natural charity worked with modern man, we'd still live in a Victorian era of asylums, orphanages, and debtors' prisons. It didn't. We don't, and we're better off today because we've recognized that fact. Could charity cover the gap if the Government closed down all it's social programs? My math says no. I wish I was wrong, but history has shown that the poor, diseased, or downdrodden are nearly universally ignored by society as a whole, so if we reduced taxes by the $1.3+ trillion spent every year on social programs, the $300 billion a year in charitable contributions wouldn't increase to cover the gap, even if we were able to get incredible efficiency gains. Charitable contributions nearly universally come from disposable income; we don't naturally sacrifice our own standard of living to raise another.

Not that Government run social programs are perfect: we waste tons of money by making Social Security payments mandatory, you receive them whether you really need them or not; by allowing welfare recipients to shop for themselves at retail (even at convenience store prices) vs. using the economies of scale to buy foodstuffs and other essentials at wholesale prices; using subsidies and tax credits instead of collective bargaining to make essential services (phone, water, power, housing) more affordable, etc; and paying most benefits out in CASH. There's even a measurable (sizeable even?) amount of graft and abuse. But despite their faults, and the levels of abuse, they provide some level of social safety net that didn't exist 30-80 years ago, and I think society is better for it.

An aside about the graft; Florida recently required all welfare recipients to take a drug test. They found that less than 2% of applicants failed the tests. From this we learned at least three things:
  1. that the 4th amendment doesn't allow the government to require invasive tests of worthiness for social programs.

  2. that contrary to popular belief, most welfare recipients are not drug addicts.

  3. that implementing bureaucracy to police graft may save some money, but not significant amounts.

So if you're going to propose to me that we "Abolish Social Security" or cut social services in some other way, you'd better be prepared to explain to me
  1. where those people will go for help when they need it.

  2. how those charities would receive the funding they would need to care for the large numbers of people who would need their services, and

  3. How that makes us a stronger society than the status quo.


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