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During the holiday season, we are often reminded to give to those that are less fortunate. This time of year, many of us reach into our own pockets to donate to charitable causes that we hold dear. Even in the face of tough economic times, Americans have shown that we are still generous with our hard-earned money. In 2009, Americans voluntarily gave an estimated $307.65 billion to private charities. A total of 57 billionaires have now joined the Giving Pledge to eventually give away at least half of their fortunes to charities of their choosing. It is praiseworthy for someone to voluntarily donate their money to assist a fellow man in need. But it’s wrong to reach into someone else’s pocket and force them to pay for a charity of your choosing.
Should charity be a function of the government? In 1887, the 22nd and 24th President of the United States Grover Cleveland vetoed an appropriation bill that included taxpayer funding for drought-stricken counties in Texas by saying:
The friendliness and charity of our countrymen can always be relied upon to relieve their fellow-citizens in misfortune. This has been repeatedly and quite lately demonstrated. Federal aid in such cases encourages the expectation of paternal care on the part of the Government and weakens the sturdiness of our national character, while it prevents the indulgence among our people of that kindly sentiment and conduct which strengthens the bonds of a common brotherhood.
Today, we have tons of government “charity” programs supposed to help the less fortunate. Nearly all of these programs do more harm than good. As we have seen, these programs lure people into long-term dependence on the federal government. Moreover, all of these programs are involuntarily funded by taxpayers. Is this true compassion? No, of course not. Grover Cleveland understood that coercion is not compassion. According to Future of Freedom Foundation President Jacob Hornberger,
The essence of human liberty was the right to help one's neighbor or not. If a person was not free to reject his neighbor (and God), then he could not be considered truly free. And Cleveland knew that if compassion was to mean anything, it must come only from the willing heart of the individual. Thus, for government to force someone to share with his neighbor was considered a denigration of both liberty and morality.
Unfortunately, some politicians portray themselves as caring since they favor expanding mandatory government “charities.” It is not kind to spend other people’s money on causes that they might not personally value. As Jacob Hornberger says, “in other words, kindness among Americans is now reflected by the willingness of the IRS to seize their incomes and of government officials to send that money to the needy.”
Here’s a thought exercise from the video below. Imagine a friend and you are approached on the street by a needy man in your community. You gladly offer him assistance by reaching into your own pocket and giving him as much money as you can afford. Your friend does not offer any money. What would you do? You may try to persuade him to donate. But most of us would feel immoral to steal money from a friend against their will to give to another person. If that is the case, why do we allow the government to do this for us? As Ayn Rand said, “Do not ever say that the desire to ‘do good’ by force is a good motive.”
In 1981, economics Professor Walter Williams said "you may win your way into office and retain that office essentially by promising some Americans that you will give them the fruits of another man's labor.” But with the growing influence of the Tea Party movement, more Americans want government that takes away less. Once upon a time, communities used to be the ones who cared for the needs of their people through voluntary and peaceful action. Just imagine how much more we could donate to the needy if the federal government would stop confiscating so much of our paychecks. This holiday season, let’s put more faith in our fellow Americans that they will choose to do the right thing.