October 12, 2004

Moving From Forced to Voluntary Charity

If I have any quibble with doctrinaire libertarians it is in their common lack of emphasis on creating practical roadmaps of how we get from where we are today as a society to the libertarian end goals of radically reduced government.

The issue of charity is a very prickly one for libertarians, with several approaches. Some are against charity entirely (these tend to either be objectivists or at least very fond of Ayn Rand) whether it is public or private. Some feel that we should just cut out forced charity entirely and immediately. Others, like myself, prefer a graduated approach that isn't going to shock the system so much and thus has a chance of actual progress into real life policy.

Only the gradualists who are for private charity but against it's public imitator really care about the nature of public charity per se. Fundamentally public charity is of two components, the forced allocation of resources to charitable ends and the forced allocation of charitable dollars to specific charitable activities. If you could get rid of the whole thing in one swoop, it wouldn't matter what the subcomponents are but decades of effort have pretty conclusively proven that we're not going to get there in one large step.

The easier argument to make is that while overall forced social contribution to charitable enterprises might be morally worthy, the government picks some awful causes and misallocates resources so badly that freeing individuals to allocate their own charitable dollars is a big step in the right direction and will allow society to get more stuff done with the same amount of resources. This is essentially the same argument that President Bush is trying with private Social Security accounts.

Once you've shown that significant improvements can be accomplished by loosening the command and control public charity bureaucracy, it's actually easier to say that public officials are not only not able to set charity sector allotments properly to maximize benefits but they aren't qualified to set the global numbers either. It might even be easier to the point where such a policy might pass in Congress a few decades down the road.

Hat tip for forcing me to think on the subject: The Angry Economist

Posted by TMLutas at October 12, 2004 02:36 PM