Two major problems here

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.

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.

There is however, a practical difference, in the sense that the former option has more failure modes than the latter. If we, as a community of individuals, choose to rely on charity as the means to ensure that those in need do not starve, then there is a greater chance that certain unfortunates will slip through the system, or be denied what they need because they’re ugly, or smell bad, or are for whatever reason thought to be undeserving by the ‘charitable’ individuals left to dispense their support.

Our two problems?

1) The food bank movement is driven by filling in the gaps created by the incompetence (or malevolence, your choice) of that State. So shouting that the State should be doing it all ain’t gonna work, is it?

2) That state doing the charity thing doesn’t change that basic inequality, does it? We’ve still got to go and tax the richer people to provide the funds to feed the poorer. It’s just a different mechanism of taking from those with lots to give to those with little.

Honestly, some people, can’t see the heart of their own arguments.

50 thoughts on “Two major problems here”

  1. Fascinating claim that all inequality is morally objectionable.
    So person A works hard for 40 years and ends up with more stuff than person B, who spent their adult years lying on the sofa in their underwear watching Jeremy Kyle. And that’s morally objectionable?

  2. On food banks, I think the leftist theory is that if I decide to drop a can of soup in the collecting trolly at the local supermarket to help someone less well off than I am then this is proof that evil capitalism has destroyed society and allowed fat bankers to BBQ babies whereas if I am taxed a lot extra and this tax is passed across the desk of any number of civil servants before what’s left of it is handed to someone less well off than I am to enable them to buy a can of soup then we have reached a socialist paradise.

  3. 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.

    Boilerplate 6th form Marxist bollocks. Why does every generation think they’re the first people to spout this shit?

  4. “all inequalities [are] morally objectionable on the face of it”: I know nothing about the blogger, but the odds are that I am taller, handsomer, and more intelligent than he is. He is probably healthier than I am. I see no moral dimension whatsoever to these disparities.

  5. Nah, the most chilling phrase in the quotation is “this inequality…is only sustained by the actions of the capitalist state in enforcing property rights through its monopoly on the legitimate use of force”

    Just ponder on that for a moment. Now ponder on what the alternative is.

  6. Actually, what charity presupposes is that someone is happy to help someone else and not say “hey, that’s not my problem, that’s the states”. Perhaps the fuckwit who criticised you would like to ponder on what he would like to happen if he was knocked down and lying in the middle of a busy road. Would he (a) want passers by to help him out of danger or (b) those passers by to stand doing nothing because it was the state’s job to send rescue services.

    The problem with the aforementioned fuckwit’s standpoint is that it relies on the absurd premise that the state can sort everything out and that once you have paid your taxes that ends your obligation to worry about your fellow man or do anything to help him (or her).

    Charitable donations are needed because the state is slow, inefficient and incompetent and because we are here and now and living in this world not some fantasy land of what things ‘ought’ to be. I bet the pompous twat walks past charity collecting boxes without contributing because of his high minded, high handed principles and I’m sure the starving are very grateful for his theoretical view of the world.

  7. He objects to property rights enforced by the State with its monopoly use of force, and favours instead the abolition of property rights by the State by using its monopoly of force.

  8. “Perhaps the fuckwit who criticised you would like to ponder on what he would like to happen if he was knocked down and lying in the middle of a busy road. Would he (a) want passers by to help him out of danger or (b) those passers by to stand doing nothing because it was the state’s job to send rescue services”

    I think he would expect “spontaneous collective action” to save his sorry ass. Perhaps he would expire while the citizens around him, indoctrinated all their lives by neo-imperialism, try and work out what “collective spontaneous action” is.

  9. In the old days people could drop a shilling or two into the church collection box and thus absolve themselves of having to think any further about any unfortunates around them.

    These days we have progressed a state further – you can expiate your guilt and sense of responsibility by advocating punitive taxation of others. At least the evasion in the old days had a personal cost.

  10. Dear Mr Worstall

    ”There is however, a practical difference, in the sense that the former option has more failure modes than the latter.”

    Mr TACJ isn’t wrong there – the state indeed has only one failure mode: total. Obviously he hasn’t heard of multiply redundant structures.

    Charity is a cold grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.

    Plainly Mr Attlee was not aware of the devolution of government largess into a system of taxing the poor into greater poverty to pay huge sums to politicians, bureaucrats and sundry hangers on. Perhaps it was different in his day.

    Monty Python knew a song about this:

    Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore
    Riding through the land
    Dennis Moore, Dennis Moore
    Without a merry band
    He steals from the poor
    And gives to the rich
    Stupid bitch

    http://www.metrolyrics.com/dennis-moore-lyrics-monty-python.html

    Hope this helps.

    DP

  11. “…which, like all inequalities, is morally objectionable on the face of it…”

    I am not tall enough to get things from the top shelf in a supermarket. Others are. I curse you, inequality!

  12. Attlee wrote the ‘grey loveless thing’ when he was about 20. I have a feeling he changed his mind, because shortly before his death the Clement Attlee Foundation was registered as a charity to do good works in the East End of London, which it continues to do.

  13. “…a spontaneous, voluntary urge to do good on the part of certain individuals, and a reflective, truly collective urge to do good…”

    So charitable people (or ‘charitable’ as he puts it) cannot TRULY come together and do good. That is his world view. It does not correspond with the evidence of my own experience and leaves me feeling very sad for him.

    “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”

    No mate sorry. In a truly just world we would only concern ourselves with the need side of that little equation. We would address that so that we wouldn’t then need to worry about about those who have more than they strictly need, whether or not they have what they want or would like. And in a truly just world we wouldn’t even start to entertain false notions that we live with a zero-sum economy. In a truly just world we would look at the world as it actually is and put aside our Teenage Trot fantasies.

  14. bloke (not) in spain

    @Rob
    “He objects to property rights enforced by the State with its monopoly use of force, and favours instead the abolition of property rights by the State by using its monopoly of force.”

    No. The State force is only needed for the first part. It’s the absence of State force abolishes property rights. For you have no rights* in the absence of a State.

    *Rights in the sense of legal.

  15. 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.

    How exactly is it a ‘truly collective urge’ if it requires state violence to enforce it?

  16. Others have already made good points. I’ll add another: the author of this assumes that a person’s need trumps the property rights of another. Right there you a basis for endless coercion.

    The idea that needs confer the right to seize why others have can’t be countered often enough.

  17. In a more just world, there would be no need for charity because . . . no one would have anything. That is his vision.

    “The inherent blessing of socialism is the equal sharing of misery.” – Winston Churchill

    We Americans are taught the fable of The Little Red Hen. In a just world, the slothful would die. In the Bourgeois Specialist’s world, the LIttle Red Hen would be raped, her bread taken, and her house burned. That is the end point of a no property rights world.

  18. Actually, what charity presupposes is that someone is happy to help someone else and not say “hey, that’s not my problem, that’s the states”.

    You’ve just described France. The reason there is so much dog shit on the streets of Paris is they have been conditioned to think the government is responsible for picking up their dogs’ shit. At the high level they are very collectivist, but as we saw in the Soviet Union this makes them extremely individualistic at the low levels (hence 10,000 French elderly died in a heatwave because nobody gives a shit about their neighbour).

    Contrast this with the UK, where we’re not as collectivist at the high levels but definitely more so at the lowest: we pick up our dog shit because we see it is our duty and that it is unpleasant for other people to step in.

  19. I note there’s no comment facility on this daft Trot’s blog, just so he can delude himself that everyone reading it is also part of his happy-clapply money-tree-cultivating, unicorn-farming utopia.

  20. “Others have already made good points. I’ll add another: the author of this assumes that a person’s need trumps the property rights of another. Right there you a basis for endless coercion.”

    As people brighter and more eloquent than I have said, once “need” becomes the basis for doling out resources, people will seek to maximise their need. And will turn it into a virtue, even.

  21. I’ll be having my deja vu tomorrow.

    Also, the nasty little shite allows no comments and did not have the courage to comment on Tim’s original article.

    I think he’s “Tom James, @TACJ, Bookshop employee, electrical engineer, science fiction enthusiast, student of economics. Too lazy to blog, too ornery to forbear.”

  22. “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.”

    Or … in a more just world, there would be no need for weapons because you would not have a situation in which some corrupt, power hungry, (usually lefty) nutjobs would want to steal territory from, and/or extinguish the lives of, people they don’t like.

    Or … in a more just world, there would be no need for private schools/surplus places/grammar schools because all state schools would be super-duper and well above average.

    But life ain’t f*cking like that. Now, go and spend a decade or two in the real world and come back when you’ve actually learnt something.

  23. bloke (not) in spain

    @TimN
    I find your comment amazing. You seems to have visited an entirely different France than the one I recognise. The amount of public spiritedness, if that’s what one calls it was, in the places I’ve lived, about an order of magnitude above what I’d expect in the UK.
    But then, Paris. I’m not sure Paris is strictly speaking in France. Many French I know would vehemently deny it.

  24. But then, Paris. I’m not sure Paris is strictly speaking in France. Many French I know would vehemently deny it.

    Indeed, that reflects my experience. At a local level, the French are very collectivist. When our world fell apart and we were stranded without income for a few months, the local villagers did small things to help – donating firewood, for example.

    The Deja Vu comment is because Tim commented on this article a year ago -and I did likewise. Take a look at the date on the linked piece.

  25. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    BniS

    Town and Country applies here. I saw it too in Italy, Austria and Germany and no doubt you saw it in France & Spain.

    People in villages or small towns will “get involved” and show a higher degree of civic mindedness (Burgerinitiative) because they can walk into a town hall and speak personally to the local mayor to complain about next door’s leylandii or the local incinerator or something. In the cities, of course, it doesn’t work that way. Instead of the mayor, you have a faceless and no doubt bored bureaucrat with a 3rd class degree in Media Studies.
    We have that latter issue everywhere in Britain. Want something done ? Phone the council and six weeks later a bloke in a hi-viz jacket turns up unannounced or some Guardian readers arrive to steal your children.

    We are the most charitable country in Europe and I think it is because we live so remotely from power. Our experience tells us that the state is useless and we need charities to fill the gaps that the State leaves behind.

    And of course many give to charity, because it is our Christian Duty.

  26. The essence of charity – as opposed to state provision – is that it makes the giver a little happier and so more likely to continue giving. Making people happy and reducing the state’s control is anathema to commies.

  27. bloke (not) in spain

    BnliA.
    I’ve lived in rural France. I’ve lived in city France. I’ve briefly lived in Paris.
    Currently, I’m sort of partially resident in central Lille. I don’t find the Lillois much less public spirited than Les Merissiens or Les Merissiens. Much more than Les Bordelais.
    We are doggish people. We don’t let the dog shit on the streets. He uses the dog toilet kindly provided by the City of Lille. Sorry, I can’t imagine such a facility surviving on the streets of London or Lille’s UK equivalent (Manchester?). It’d get trashed. Or ‘residents’ would object to it’s presence. ‘Residents’ meaning a tiny, unrepresentative but unopposed clique of caniphobes. We take the dog over the park area by the Citadel on Sundays. The other users of the facility, doggish or not, manage not to turn it into the rubbish dump that is Finsbury Park on weekends.
    Maybe it’s because I can do that trick of turning the name of a place into a collective for it’s residents. It’s a ubiquitous usage across France. A self description. An identification with the community around. Try it in English?

  28. bloke (not) in spain

    “We are the most charitable country in Europe and I think it is because we live so remotely from power.”
    Maybe it’s because the English have real, serious difficulty in helping people personally. The face to face thing. So they pacify their guilt.

  29. Nobody seems to have noticed is that Charities are there not to replace the state provision but to supplement it. In the good old days before Blair politicised Charities and the Charity Commission, one precondition for obtaining charitable status was that the charity did nothing to “relieve the rates” i.e. you could not *replace* any service paid for by the local council.
    Charities are there to do things that the state does not.

  30. But then, Paris. I’m not sure Paris is strictly speaking in France. Many French I know would vehemently deny it.

    Quite possibly. But the dog shit theory was told to me by the French lady who was leading our intercultural awareness training on arrival in France. It may well be different in the provinces.

  31. Philip Scott Thomas

    Just two problems?

    It’s an old canard that the Right regards their opponents as mistaken, while the Left regards their opponents as evil.

    Not least as a result of IanB’s comments here over the past few years about the new Puritanism, I’ve come to regard this as more than just an old saw, and more as a failing on the part of the Right/right-leaning libertarians/free-marketeers/neo-liberals/what-have-you. It’s past time to start hitting back at bullshit like this:

    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.

    Seriously, there’s no moral difference between those who voluntarily gives up a portion of his/her salary to assist others and those who have a portion of their salary taken from them, regardless of consent, to assist others?

    Sorry, but no, there are no moral brownie points for aiding the poor via your taxes. None, zero, nada, niente, bupkiss. Put your hand in your pocket and shell out the hard-earned because you’ve decided that the recipient is a worthy cause, then yes, you’ve my respect.

    But advocating for the government to take more off the backs of its taxpayers to shell out on your favourite charity means nothing. Talk is cheap. Put your money where your mouth is and maybe I’ll revise my opinion of you.

    Until then you’re just an old gasbag.

  32. Of course they want ‘charidee’ to come out of taxes.

    I earn bugger all, that way somebody else pays for it!

  33. “Maybe it’s because I can do that trick of turning the name of a place into a collective for it’s residents. It’s a ubiquitous usage across France. A self description. An identification with the community around. Try it in English?”

    You’ve never heard of the douce Edinburgh suburb of Morningside where the Morningsiders live?

  34. Philip Scott Thomas

    Somewhat surprisingly (to me), BBC R4 reckons it’s now ten years since the great SE Asian Boxing Day tsunami. I’d never have guessed it was that long ago.

    What I remember from that event is that the British Red Cross had to ask the British people to stop donating so damn much money; they were so overwhelmed by the level of voluntary contributions that they didn’t know how to spend the money.

    It’s remarkable how utterly pathetic the general British populace are when it come to foreign aid and they are when left to their own devices, innit?

  35. Bloke no Longer in Austria

    It’s remarkable how utterly pathetic the general British populace are when it come to foreign aid and they are when left to their own devices, innit?

    Well there’s a bit of a difference between buying the President of Bongo-BongoLand a new Mercedes or sending Indians to Mars and trying to help some poor bugger and his family whose hovel on the beach has been scattered 3 miles inland.

  36. So Much for Subtlety

    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.

    We know this is not true. When people study groups like the Yanomamo they find very high levels of inequality. And the sort of inequality that hurts – if someone has a nicer house than me, it doesn’t bother me that much. But if someone is monopolising all the women, that really stings:

    As Chagnon described it, Yanomamö society produced fierceness, because that behavior furthered male reproductive success. According to Chagnon, the success of men in violent interaction and even killing, was directly related to how many wives and children they had.

    So no doubt this Trot turd likes this society. No property rights. No monopoly of force held by the police. Guess what? The Hunters and the Murderers have significantly more wives and even more children, often with someone else’s wife. You don’t like it, you can always complain.

    Somehow I think one of our problems is that we have moved too far from that world. After all, I suspect this little sh!t would have long been bred out of Yanomamo society.

  37. This inequality (which, like all inequalities, is morally objectionable on the face of it)

    I think we have a volunteer for the Cyberman upgrade.

  38. Schoolboy nonsense of course, but then each generation has to discover this for itself, and it does us no harm to be served an occasional reminder. No matter how needy there will always be people that resent being helped by those more fortunate – charity chokes their throat. Better the State: it is easier to rationalise ‘benefits’ as entitlement rather than charity.

  39. “Seriously, there’s no moral difference between those who voluntarily gives up a portion of his/her salary to assist others and those who have a portion of their salary taken from them, regardless of consent, to assist others?”

    This reminds me of something which has always puzzled me in debates with (certain) religious people. For some reason, if someone is nice to other people because he believes God will punish him if he doesn’t, he is a good person and will go to Heaven; if I am nice to other people just because I want to be, I am a bad one and will go to Hell.

    Or, simplifying a little: it is good to do what I tell you is right; it is bad to do the same thing of your own accord.

    Is it just a simple divide: some people (religious and left-wingers) think that there is a greater good to which we all have obligations, while others (non-religious and right-wingers) think that there’s just a load of individuals trying to get along with one another?

  40. It’s the state lottery which I find the most unjustifiable abuse of the notion of charity. i.e. abolishes the link between giving and cause.
    Church raffles are different because it’s the prize givers that are donating not the players.

  41. So Much for Subtlety

    Pellinor – “This reminds me of something which has always puzzled me in debates with (certain) religious people. For some reason, if someone is nice to other people because he believes God will punish him if he doesn’t, he is a good person and will go to Heaven; if I am nice to other people just because I want to be, I am a bad one and will go to Hell.”

    Sorry but WTF? Which religious people think this? May I point out that mainstream Christianity, ie Catholicism, accepts justification by both deeds and faith and/or grace. A tiny number of Christians, either extreme Lutherans or Calvinists, would hold to justification solely through grace – that is, God decides if you will be saved or not and there’s nowt you can do about it. But even they would not say that if you’re damned you’re damned *because* you do good deeds.

    Most Christians have traditionally held that those who are not Christians, through no fault of their own, can be saved if they perform good deeds.

  42. I’ve been told it by various people 🙂

    They may not speak for their churches, but certainly some people believe it (or profess to).

    I suspect that the key point is that although “those who are not Christians, through no fault of their own, can be saved if they perform good deeds”, my lack of Christianity is clearly and entirely my own fault 🙂

  43. “Charity is a cold grey loveless thing…”

    Whereas , of course, the Leftist State is all cuddly and warm. Sadly, the tens of millions of victims of Marxism couldn’t be reached for comment.

  44. A reminder on property rights (cf bloke not in Spain) : their real significance is that they they protect the individual against the state (not his neighbour)-whether under the theory of natural rights or as stated in a constitution. Property rights are a barrier to state power.

  45. “He objects to property rights enforced by the State with its monopoly use of force, and favours instead the abolition of property rights by the State by using its monopoly of force.”

    I’m sure he doesn’t support the abolition of property rights. He probably just thinks that universal individual property rights should be abolished.

    The only other universal property right that is internally consistent is everyone owning everything equally. He can believe in that if he wants but I doubt he will get many people agreeing.

    Otherwise all that he is advocating is some people having property rights while others do not. This is the usual socialist position. And as usual it is dressed up as concern for other people.

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