Friday, January 14, 2005

False Philanthropy

One of the biggest gripes I have with the political left (and I do have many) is that they want to use the power of government to force us to care about the things that they care about. The fact is that I do indeed care about many of their pet concerns: I do care about the environment; I do care about the poor; I do care about free expression. I really do care! But, why must they resort to government to impose these cares on us? Why not reason with us, argue with us, convince us that we must save the spotted owl, for example? Then use the power of public opinion to force companies not to deforest the owl’s habitat. NO! That would be too slow and too difficult. Instead, they take the easy way: use government to force us to do what they believe is in our best interest. Then, after the fact, tell us that they have acted on our behalf. But, of course, it matters little whether we believe them or not, they have already imposed their will upon us.

The power of government should not be used for such trivial matters as this. It should be reserved for only those essential functions for which it was created in the first place: maintaining peace and safety. All other matters: health care, environmentalism, economics, and so forth should be left to the private sector. If this or that interest group cares that drug prices are too high – take that concern to the public – not to government. Drugs prices, or the price of any commodity for that matter, is not within the realm of government control, or at least shouldn’t be. Prices are ultimately controlled by market forces of supply and demand. Government intervention can only distort prices, and history has shown that government intervention usually makes matters worse in the long run.

If the public at large can be convinced that a cause is worthy, they will respond through private charities. One need only look at the huge amounts of giving that has already occurred in response to the recent tsunami in the Indian Ocean to see how generous the public can be in supporting a cause that they believe is worthy. The energies of the Left would be much better spent trying to convince us that their cares are worthy rather than force us to care by hijacking government and its power to tax. Voluntary contributions could conceivably exceed the funds that are appropriated by government social programs. But it would take considerable work on the part of the Left to convince the pubic to voluntarily give. It is far easier to focus their attentions on a few politicians, all of whom want to appear to be caring decent people, and then direct tax dollars to their pet concerns. This forced giving has been referred to as false philanthropy by Bastiat.

By resorting to forced giving through government programs rather than voluntary giving through private charity, the Left is responsible for a large and growing schism in society between the Haves and the Have-Nots. One need only spend a little time listening to talk radio or the TV news shout-fest programs to see how hostile the left and right are becoming toward one another. While such hostility may not be anything new, it certainly seems to be growing worse. It is especially worrisome that racial politics is a part of this schism. If the Haves were not being forced to support the needy, and if the Have-Nots did not feel entitled to a part of my income, then society at large, and political discourse in particular, would not be nearly as hostile as it currently is.

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