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If during this just-concluding Christmas season you went out with your own money and bought presents to give to people who would have otherwise received nothing, good for you. You committed an act of charity.
If, however, rather than buy presents with your own money you instead entered the home of a neighbor, took all of the presents from under the tree and then passed them out to the poor, shame on you. You’re a thief. That the items that you took wound up in the hands of the needy doesn’t make it any less so.
And thus we illustrate the key difference between charity and government welfare. Charity is voluntary.
Yet charity and welfare are similar in that they draw their water from the same well.
Our welfare system got its start in 1935 with the passage of legislation creating Aid to Families with Dependent Children. It was designed primarily to offer assistance to women who bore sole responsibility for raising children due to the absence of a father in the home. In its infancy, the program primarily helped widows.
Early welfare was well-intentioned and arguably necessary. But our welfare system has morphed into something that is both unaffordable and in many ways antithetical to the goal of helping the poor.
Nearly 80 years after its creation, our welfare system has become incrementally less about meeting exigent need and incrementally more about so-called “social justice.” The taking of wealth from the “rich” in order to give it to the “poor” has become an end unto itself.
There can be no doubt that a good and decent society has a duty to alleviate the suffering inherent to poverty. The very scriptures call for us to feed the poor.
But neither the scriptures nor proponents of welfare ever go on to answer the question, ‘With what?’ If we are to provide food to those who cannot obtain food for themselves, someone must first produce the food. If government is to provide cash payments to poor people, it must first get the cash. Since the government has no money of its own, it must levy taxes upon those who do something taxable, i.e. earn money through work or investment.
Charity is not an atonement for having created wealth. The creation of wealth is a precondition for charity. Similarly, welfare shouldn’t be for the purpose of extracting “justice” from someone for getting wealthy. Someone getting wealthy is the precondition to offering welfare.
Implicit in the belief of liberals that taking wealth from Sam is morally justified because it improves the lot of Tom is the recognition that Sam has the wealth to take in the first place. They never consider the questions of where did Sam get the wealth and what will become of Tom when it has, at last, all been taken away? They never consider the implications for Tom when Sam says, “I’m not going to produce anymore if they’re just going to take it from me.”
Recently, in an apostolic statement Pope Francis said, in effect, that capitalism is OK with him on the condition that we feed the poor. I say, with all deference to the Holy Father, that we can feed the poor only on the condition that we have capitalism.
If you would feed the Lord’s flock, you must first plant the fields. But planting fields entails risk and no one takes risk absent the possibility of reward. The greater the risk, the greater must be the potential for reward. When that potential is realized, it’s called wealth. From the creation of wealth, and only from the creation of wealth, are charity and welfare even possible.
Capitalism – which is to say the pursuit of wealth — has lifted more humans out of poverty than any other economic system ever tried.
Our welfare system cannot help the needy if its first mission is to cut the wealthy down to size. No one in America is poor because someone else has become lawfully rich. But if we ever reach the place where no one is rich, everyone will be poor.