Compulsory charity—that is government funded charity—is a foundation stone of politics in America. It is justified with this message: “There are fellow Americans who are suffering; we must help them. Therefore, we will take your money and provide that help.
If you don’t agree to this you are a selfish, unfeeling person whose opinion, and property rights, we should and will ignore.”
Proposals to cut funding for any compulsory charity invariably bring tearful claims that
tragedy will result. Admittedly government charity does fill some very real needs. Sometimes it does not—as in the recent California scandal where state issued aid cards—provided to welfare recipients to buy essential food and shelter—were used instead, to the tune of $69 million, at Hawaiian resorts, race tracks, Las Vegas and even Disney World (yes, in Florida, not Disney Land in California).[i]
The precision with which government welfare is administered is not the focus here. Nor is it the ever growing number of welfare dependents in the country and our obvious failure to end their dependency. Rather the focus here is on the underlying question: Does the government have the right to compel some citizens to provide charity to others? Many believe the government—or rather those then in control of the government—should have ultimate control of your property. The extent you get to use your property and how you spend your income is not an inherent right, they believe. Rather it is privilege that
may be granted or denied by the government. This belief is the basis for compulsory charity. Because paying taxes is mandatory, using taxes to fund charity creates compulsory charity. If tax payers don’t report and transfer a significant portion of their income to the government, their property is taken by garnishing their wages and seizing their property.
Charity is almost universally admired as a virtue. Individuals vary greatly, however, in how much this actually motivates them to transfer their wealth to help the needy. The danger, however, is that in our democracy those receiving charity have the same right to vote as those giving charity. Our government is elected as much, or possibly more, by those receiving government charity as by those providing it. When those receiving
charity are thus put in the position of being able to force others—through taxation—to provide them with charity, is it really charity? No matter how worthwhile I believe my pet charity is, do I have the right to force others to contribute to it?
One obvious effect of compulsory charity is that all of the funds forcefully taken to fund compulsory charity will no longer be available to fund personal, genuine, charity. As compulsory charity increases the need for it will grow—not because individuals are less
charitable, but because their means of being charitable are being forcefully taken by the government. All in need will become completely dependent upon the government.
The question we face is whether or not to base our care of the needy on compulsory
charity? Can it be done without corrupting the political process? For Christians, there is the meaningful story of the widow’s mite—wherein a widow who donated her last two mites was counted as more worthy that those, who having much more, contributed much more. (Luke 21: 1-3). This story, however, does not deal with our situation—where government officials grab the two mites and tell the widow they are “needed for charity.”