September 30, 2008

Phorced Philanthropy

     Senator Joe Biden recently made some interesting comments regarding what I call, at the risk of being oxymoronic, “forced philanthropy.” Biden, whom I grudgingly like for his refreshing candor, despite his being wrong on most issues, has actually equated paying higher taxes to fund increased entitlements with patriotism and being religiously observant.

     He implies you are being “stingy” if you bristle at or oppose an increase in your tax burden in order for the government to redistribute your money to other people. The good Senator seems unconcerned that free will and personal choice be a part of the transaction at all.

     Look at it this way: You know a man who’s suffering a temporary financial hardship. You head off to Safeway or Costco and then bring him four fat sacks of groceries to help see him through. This is a moral transaction, primarily because it is voluntary. You feel good for doing a good thing. The man feels good and grateful for the act of generosity, and is likely to do the same for someone else in need some day.

     On the other hand, what if the government takes the four sacks of groceries from you and then gives it to a man unknown to you who may or may not deserve it? This is not a moral transaction as it is done at the point of a gun—the decision is not yours. You don’t feel good having the government confiscate the groceries you purchased. The man isn’t particularly appreciative, because the groceries have come from a faceless entity. He doesn’t feel grateful; he feels entitled, and he’s not likely to, if he’s ever even in a position to, be charitable to anyone.

     If these contrasting scenarios don’t make sense to you, you might have to reassess your understanding of logic. If you feel government is essential in order to feed, cloth, and house the poor, you have precious little faith in your fellow human beings and far too much faith in government.


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