On charity versus welfare

I am attacked:

Tim Worstall asks:

And what the fuck’s wrong with voluntary collective action rather than State enforced collective action?

Answer: charity presupposes a condition in which some people have stuff which they can do without, and some people lack stuff that they really need. This inequality (which, like all inequalities, is morally objectionable on the face of it) is only sustained by the actions of the capitalist state in enforcing property rights through its monopoly on the legitimate use of force. In a more just world, there would be no need for charity because you would not have a situation in which some people have, whilst others need.

That’s interesting. All inequality is immoral? That I have an IQ above my shoe size while Polly T might well not is immoral?

Aside from this obvious point, I honestly don’t see any moral difference between a spontaneous, voluntary urge to do good on the part of certain individuals, and a reflective, truly collective urge to do good as manifest in a legal requirement to provide support to those in need through the existing system of taxation and welfare.

And that’s even more interesting, isn’t it? There’s no moral difference between the actions of an individual unforced and the forced actions of the same individual? Forced by the monopoly on violence of the State?

And do note that we actually have good evidence that the taxation and welfare system is not in fact voluntary nor freely entered into. For there’s that what, £120 billion, tax gap we keep being told about. Pure and clear evidence that some to many people do not in fact agree with that State system. For by their actions they, at risk to their liberty, deliberately avoid it.

32 comments on “On charity versus welfare

  1. You assume TW, rather kindly, that you are dealing with someone with a brain filled with data and reasoning power to give independent thought, rather than one filled with wood and therefore entirely rigid and fossilised.

    Meanwhile may I wish you a very merry Yuletide/Christmas… careful with the wassail… and a super New Year.

    Please keep your commentaries coming: with which it is a pleasure both to agree (mostly) and disagree (occasionally).

  2. …which, like all inequalities, is morally objectionable on the face of it…

    Of course, “on the face of it” means “on the surface” rather than “self-evidently”, so this could be true. On the surface, inequalities seem horribly unfair, but then one grasps that many of them are natural; that others are unavoidable; that others are the product of people being more and less deserving and that others contribute to the rich diversity of the human experience.

    Some really are immoral, to my mind at least, but a blanket statement raises questions of (a) the grounds on which it could be justified and (b) why the advocate hasn’t sold their computer to provide for people who can’t even eat.

  3. I agree with your second point, by the way, which is precisely why I do support legal requirements over voluntary donations. (In some cases, of course.) If we thought people would fund services out of sheer conscientiousness we wouldn’t have to bring laws into it.

  4. If a man uses ‘honestly’ and ‘truly’ in his arguments, he’s lying to himself first, then you.

    Thank you and the other commenters for an educational year.

  5. As for “Britain’s greatest ever prime minister”, a wholly tendentious comment, if ever there was one.

    In my book, CA goes down as one of the most meddlesome ever since we took the best part of 70 years undoing most of, sadly not all, the wrongs committed by his government.

    If only we could have dismantled the sentimentalism that lies behind the idea that he was the greatest ever, some of the institutions he left behind might have worked rather better.

  6. As soon as I see that you have to be logged in to sites like that I lose interest.

    But I will say if you can’t see any moral difference between someone being forced to do something or doing it voluntarily, then you are not a human being, merely a cog in the State Machine.

  7. Pingback: Charity | Longrider

  8. For the avoidance of doubt, my ealrier comments on other threads were mean’t to support the notion that government, if it to mean anything, has a duty to provide a base level of care to its citizens and NOT to say that it was in any way better or prefereable to voluntary charitable acts.

    Now that’s out of the way; indeed what flatulent tosspottery.

    I like this:

    Property rights are “only sustained by the actions of the capitalist state… through its monopoly on the legitimate use of force”

    Whilst tax is “a reflective, truly collective urge to do good as manifest in a legal requirement to provide support to those in need through the existing system of taxation and welfare”

    So a tax imposed by government is a reflection of a “truly collective urge to do good” whilst allowing people peacefully to enjoy this own property is enforced by “monopoly on the legitimate use of force”.

    Oh, and an individual act of generosity can only be “spontaneous” whilst the collective (tax) is “reflective”.

    The sad fucker!

    Merry Christmas

  9. Yeah, but then the Courageous State cannot go around making up figures for the tax gap and and then in the next breath claim tax is a voluntary expression of our colelctive goodness.

  10. So the inequality caused by the fact that I save 20-30% of my salary each month whereas my hypothetical colleague (same age, same salary, same career path, same family situation) is in debt and lives paycheck to paycheck is, like all inequality, morally objectionable?

    Foxtrot Oscar springs to mind.

  11. Just to be awkward though, it does raise the interesting point that charity is done for one of two reasons- either it has some gain to the philanthropist (the acquisition of admiration, power over other people etc), in which case it is not actually a philanthropic act, or else the money must have zero marginal utility to the philanthropist, in which case it’s hard to argue that it is immoral to tax it and spend it on their behalf. That would be a violation of their property rights; but since nobody cares about property rights any more, that is irrelevant.

    I must admit to being largely with Attlee on the issue. It is largely a cold, grey loveless thing. Attlee had been involved with charity and was thus well aware that most of it was done not out of kindness but as a means to exert power over the weakest. William Boothe and his “give a sandwich, wrapped in scripture” philosophy. The Third Sector, so far as I can see, has very little to do with some genuine desire to help others, and a great deal to do with exerting influence. Charities act as front movements for moral entrepreneurs.

    This is one reason that I am a libertarian. I believe that a genuinely free market economy would have very little demand for charity, and one reason I’m a minarchist not an anarchist is that I am happy for some tax moneys to be used to assist the genuinely needy and that this can be done in a far more neutral manner than any charity- which inevitably will be just a hive of busybodies- can hope to achieve.

    The Anglosphere has been cursed, distorted and much ruined by the rise of the philanthropist as a socio-political class. To the bowels of hell with them all.

  12. @”This is one reason that I am a libertarian. I believe that a genuinely free market economy would have very little demand for charity,”
    What about disasters etc? Surely we could all need charity/state help if we were to end up in a wheelchair.
    Or is that the little demand that you are talking about?

    I am not disagreeing with you just asking for clarification.

  13. David,

    Yes, that is the relatively small demand I’m talking about. I see libertarianism as a means to transition from a society in which large numbers of people are dependents, to one in which very few are. In a sense, a lack of dependence is the essence of liberty.

  14. As much as I agree with Tim that the actions of a government in a representative democracy are hardly a collective voluntary decision of the citizenry, and not all inequality is immoral or even capable of being levelled out (abacab puts this brilliantly above and I have plenty of similar anecdata), there are are some other points in that blog post which are more worthy of debate. Reliance on charity has more ways it can go wrong. One issue that strikes me is that during a downturn, the wealthy may have to cut their charitable donations (not necessarily because they’re bastards, some of them are losing their fortunes) just when benefits are needed most. Charity is disproportionately directed at cute and fluffy heartstring tuggers not into the dark and neglected or simply mundane corners it is needed. Also, what Ian B says about patriarchal motivations.

    There’s clearly a case that a welfare safety net is utility maximising.

    Tim’s position looks FAR more reasonable when you bear in mind he supports citizens basic income. Don’t think many of his critics realise this.

  15. MBE

    “One issue that strikes me is that during a downturn, the wealthy may have to cut their charitable donations (not necessarily because they’re bastards, some of them are losing their fortunes) just when benefits are needed most.”

    The same can be said of the state and if it doesn’t do that then it will be taking more from that downturned economy which is itself ultimately detrimental to the welfare of the needy.

    “Charity is disproportionately directed at cute and fluffy heartstring tuggers not into the dark and neglected or simply mundane corners it is needed.”

    Well that’s a value judgement, I’d rather individuals made those than the state. Is that because of indifference to neglected corners or because the state does not give to those causes so individuals do ? I think there’s evidence for the latter in the existence of the RNLI. If the dark corners are neglected then surely the state isn’t helping them either ? In fact politicians are less likely to favour such areas as there’s few votes there, mental health is an example, it doesn’t have the appeal of, say, cancer research.

    I think Ian B’s claim that people only contribute to charity for power or because the money is of no marginal utility to them is also inaccurate. I don’t claim to be able to discern the motives of others but I see no reason to think that there aren’t a lot of people who give money to charity for purely altruistic reasons and some of those will be genuinely giving up something to do so.

  16. Actually MBE I’m not even sure that you are correct to say that charity goes disproportionally to the cute and fluffy, are you talking about animal charities ? If so then I recall reading somewhere that in fact they don’t get anything like the amount that they are thought to. Can’t provide evidence I’m afraid but it seems quite believable as the idea that cat homes and donkey sanctuaries get billions is one of those meme thingys that are trotted out to show how tight fisted and sentimental the British supposedly are.

  17. Thornavis – you’re obviously correct to point out that government spending decisions can have a political dimension that makes some causes “more worthy” than others. But I think government may still do a reasonable job prioritising overall. Particularly since some of those “causes” (the unemployed, disabled, ill) can vote!

    Charitable causes come in and out of fashion – I wasn’t thinking just of animal charities though they are an example. But I think it’s asking a lot to expect charitable donations to be collectively allocated and responsive in a rational way. (It’s unhelpful to compare it to a market since donors don’t get the feedback of profit or loss to inform them if they’re investing wisely.)

    For instance if unemployment rises 35%, is the Charitable Fund For The Unemployed going to immediately get the 35% rise in donations that it needs if it is to be reliable? If not it will have to reduce the benefits it gives out to compensate. When the state runs the system there is no such problem – unemployment benefit is actually an automatic stabilizer. Might put a hole in the budget deficit but the unemployed know how much they’ll be getting and there’s no fear of the system collapsing for lack of donations.

    Anyone who wants the entire welfare state run by charity (1) is either politically naive or idealist, (2) needs to understand that the scale of charitable donations would have to expand by an enormous amount. What may be painted by the Mail as the Charitable Fund For Subsidising Layabouts And The Unproductive would need to raise many more times in donations than our current charitable sector put together. Moreover, at a time when its donors feel the pinch, it would have to be able to double its fundraising when required. How is that meant to work?

    If idealists want rid of a bureaucratic welfare state I think they’d do better to look at basic income guarantees than expect charity to fill the gap.

  18. The idea that people people give to charity either only for personal gain or because altruism is merely the absence of marginal utility is profoundly depressing…and just plain wrong. People are better than that, rich and poor.

    No, I have no statistical evidence and I’m not looking for it

    Merry Christmas All

  19. MBE

    I wouldn’t argue with your points about unemployment and I wasn’t suggesting that charity could replace all state provision. Rather that the state is involved in so much now that it is impossible to know what a society where individuals took most of the responsibility for their own and other’s welfare would look like. Our view of this is coloured by the situation immediately prior to the creation of the welfare state, which was admittedly not good but in a much richer world where the wealth is more widely spread who knows what would be possible. Perhaps some form of the old friendly societies would flourish again.

  20. MBE

    Basically I agree, there is just too much expenditure (real, genuine, needed expenditure) for charities to be expected to cover it by fundraising.

    However, isn’t there surely a great deal of scope for charities to spend tax-raised monies, to have leeway to allocate tthem as they see fit? I know this is not ‘charity’ and the non-government sector at the moment is dominated by left-wing politics, with shitty campaigns like the food poverty crap we’re seeing this Christmas. Surely though this can be overcome if government took more of an overseer, a regulatory role.

  21. If we did have a guaranteed basic income, I wonder just how much “real, genuine, needed expenditure” there would be. Something quite manageable I should hope.

    Decisions about allocating research funds eg between cancer and mental health, I’m quite happy to leave to government boffins than who can put together the most emotive campaign. On a basis of expected QALY-per-pound, something approaching an objective choice might be achievable.

    As for donkey sanctuaries vs inner city music projects vs public art and culture, I’m quite happy that be left to the tender consciences of charitable donors. It’s not obvious why their collective personal priorities should be “wrong” in a way that a government committee could make “right”. This is a matter of human wants, rather than “needs”, so the case for state intervention is much reduced and the risk of dehumanizing “dependency” negated.

  22. Who benefits from Charity?
    The donor may benefit from a better reputation than he/she would otherwise have.
    The organiser gets the same, plus influence over the recipients, plus these days a salary- often considerable.
    The recipient benefits from whatever he/she gets.
    The problems are that the recipient could likely have benefitted more from something else for the same cost, as neither donor nor organiser has neither the incentive or the means to find out what is most needed, that the organisers have an incentiive to maximise the problem, and extend their reach, in order to keep their own jobs and influence going. Indeed many “charities” spend all their income on campaigning- i.e lobbying- for other peoples money to be spent on their pet project.
    Of course these criticisms apply more strongly to state organisations there to provide of help, except that in the case of state provision the donors lack the power to determine what cause is worthwhile.
    It would be better if we each actually helped our neighbours, whose needs we can readily assess, but these days too many people are ships that pass in the night.
    I fail to see why charitable giving should attract tax breaks though- the tax break effectively means that every tax payer has to give to every charity whether they approve of it or not- I certainly had no desire to contribute to the Smith Institute. And awarding an organisation charitable status implies giving power to officials to decide what is and is not a good cause.
    In summary organised private charities are better than state provision, but not as good as individual action, and would be better if they simply operated as companies.
    Although I’m tempted by the thought that it would be nice if registered charities had to be run by people who weren’t being paid for it.

  23. All this presupposes that others, and not the individual, is responsible for his well being. You, and your state, are not responsible.

    BWTM . . . property rights and free trade bring prosperity. The destruction of prosperity in the name of equality is quite odd. The left pursues the lowest common denominator for all humanity.

  24. IanB
    ‘it does raise the interesting point that charity is done for one of two reasons- either it has some gain to the philanthropist (the acquisition of admiration, power over other people etc), in which case it is not actually a philanthropic act, or else the money must have zero marginal utility to the philanthropist,’
    You make this claim with no support of facts or reason, so nothing need be offered to dispute it. You are claiming to be able to understand the motivation and/or financial status of every person who commits an act of charity. I think that claim seems a little unlikely.

  25. “Answer: charity presupposes a condition in which some people have stuff which they can do without, and some people lack stuff that they really need. ”
    LIE
    Charity means someone doing something for another for no reason except that he/she wishes to help the other.
    Do *not* accept this lie as a basis for your argument. You should have been taught better at school.
    Ian B Please note – even if you went to a militantly atheist school, the word Charity is defined by Mosaic law (whether or not all so-called Jews/Christians practice it and whether or not it is practiced by non-Jews/Christians, such as the Samaritan), Charity seeks no benefits for the giver/doer.

Leave a Reply

Name and email are required. Your email address will not be published.