Do God-Fearing or Godless People Give More to Charity?

Have you donated to Foundation Beyond Belief yet?

Here’s some incentive if you haven’t:

We have some catching up to do.

(Thanks to Kaleena for the link!)

  • http://narsdoktorsausa.com Marissa

    exactly, we have some catching up to do..but in our village I am the only one giving/helping the poor and very poor kids.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Does “give money for any cause” include donations which help support the opulent lifestyle of hypocritical preachers? I think that such donations should be assigned a negative value, they are not just neutral.

  • flawedprefect@gmail.com

    How is this polled? I’m kinda skeptical that the skew is because many charities are founded by religious organizations. Are these figures income of institutions, or are the individuals who give polled once they donate?

    Where can I find out if you don’t know?

  • Jim

    The problem with statistics like this is that they need to be broken down further. In this case, how many of the “religious folk” are charitable in order to avoid eternal damnation and/or buy their way into heaven? Those aren’t issues for secular folks. I submit that secular folks are more honest about their charity, IMHO.

  • http://cousinavi.wordpress.com cousinavi

    We need to define “give”, “volunteer” and a host of other terms before we permit some vacuous graph like that ginned up hunk of crap to stand unchallenged.
    Every Christian blood donor must offset one HIV infected, non-condom-accessing African? /Rhetoric
    The argument that faith results in a greater degree of charity ought not be supported with graphs produced by folks who have little interest in facts.

  • john locke

    I really would like to see a source on that stats. I didn’t see one, and its impossible to know how they polled otherwise.

  • duhsciple

    Sheesh! All we need is more “we’re better than you” hypocritical rhetoric.

  • The Other Tom

    We have some catching up to do.

    Do we? Why should we let the behavior of religious people drive our agenda?

  • Sackbut

    I don’t think it’s so terrible to consider that religious people might be more charitable than non-religious people, particularly when charity to religious organizations is factored out. There are tons of reasons why that might be the case. It’s not a problem with the survey, it’s a problem with people jumping to conclusions based on the results. No need to get defensive about it.

    There are many possible reasons why the results might be the way there are. I could add some speculation (read: pure guess, I hope intelligent) about it: religious people attend weekly meetings of a group that encourages giving to charity; religious people are more likely to be conservative, and thus more likely to think private organizations (including religious ones) rather than the government should be in the business of providing for the poor; many charities are religious organizations, and non-religious people would rather give to no one than give to religious organizations. But those are speculations. It would be interesting to learn more about the results, but that doesn’t mean the results as they stand are useless or invalid.

    We in the non-religious community would probably like non-religious people to show up well in any reasonable measure of how charitable people are. I know I am happy to have a charitable clearinghouse specialized in non-religious causes. Maybe thinks like this and the atheist group in Kiva can make it easier for non-religious people to contribute money with confidence that their money isn’t going to fund churches.

  • Frank

    The statistic I notice from that link is that in terms of charitable donations, one American is equivalent to 3 Frenchmen, 7 Germans, or 14 Italians. Yet Frenchmen, Germans, and Italians are all better off than Americans. This says to me that donating to charities doesn’t usually solve problems, at best it provides only temporary alleviation. If we want to actually make the world a better place we need a different strategy, one that starts with rejecting the assumption common in religion that donating to charity is a good thing to do and a measure of goodness. The statistics here are just bad metrics, we need better ones.

  • http://sa.mu/el samuel

    Does this make sense?

    “There are also twice as likely to attend religious worship.”

  • Jeff Dale

    Even if it is true that religious people donate and volunteer more than secular people, there’s one potential reason for it that shouldn’t be overlooked. (Paraphrased from my response on another thread.)

    Religions have had centuries to develop values-based community, while nonbelievers were (*ahem*) discouraged from organizing. Even modern secular societies uncritically defer to religions on questions of values, as though various and contradictory conceptions of the divine will should take precedence over common public interests and civic virtues. As a result, secular people, generally speaking, don’t have established, time-tested, and widely accepted institutions for instilling values in their kids and participating in values-based community, unless they belong to a religious organization.

    In other words, *IF* secular people, on average, are in fact somewhat less charitable, it could be because they weren’t brought up to buy into an ideology that included charity (among other sometimes less savory things) and didn’t have a ready alternative for instilling charity (without the other less savory things). As secular adults, we can explain to each other the secular reasons for charity and other virtues, but how much better would it be to have those virtues taught to kids in our secular public schools? Ah, but we can’t do that, lest we step on religion’s precious turf.

  • Dave B

    I’m a student with very little money but I buy homeless people in Boston sandwiches and drinks when I pass by them. I find that is much more direct rather then giving some money to a big group I don’t necessarily trust.

    I also don’t do it to buy my way into heaven or because some guy in a dress told me to do so.

  • Euan

    There is scan evidence that charities work.

    At best, charities paper over the cracks of the failure of a society; I would rather be taxed more and have the state provide the essential safety net required rather than give to charity. Case in point, a national cancer charity in Australia gave one cent out of each dollar to the cause, the rest being swallowed yup in organisational costs. That’s just absurd.

  • http://mingfrommongo.livejournal.com mingfrommongo

    All these numbers are screwy. Who knows what was meant by a “charity.” According to the linked statistics, charities in the U.S. collect 1.384 trillion dollars each year. That’s enough to give over $30,000 to each person in the U.S. currently living below the poverty level. Since that’s not actually being done, I think the definition of “charity” is too broad.

    I think that believers appear to give more because they count the money used to keep evangelists on the airwaves as well as any money they donate that actually does some good. They probably count the purchase of Rick Warren’s books as a “donation.”

  • Calvin

    Maybe these stats come from the fact that there’s more religious people than non-religious?

  • Tom Woolf

    Reginald sort of makes my point… Does the “charity” for the believers include donations to their church? It should not – gifts to the church should be considered no differently that my Moose Lodge membership fees…. They are used for upkeep the clubhouse, to fund meetings, etc.

    Fees for maintenance of a clubhouse are NOT charity.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    I give a regular monthly donation to three charities. I give blood three times a year and try to drag at least one other person who has never been along with me when I go. I help out with my childrens’ schools’ charities whenever I can commit the time and resources to do so. I participate in work place charity events. If I die I will give my organs away to those people who might make use of them.

    As a salaried person in the UK I get no tax incentive for doing any of this. As an atheist I have no otherwordly ulterior motives, only secular motives, for giving.

    I could certainly give more and do more but I think that is true of almost every single person who isn’t just struggling to stay alive. I don’t even consider the little I do to be exceptional. Everybody I know does more or less the same as me.

    I take this quite personally. I know I shouldn’t because statistics generalise but how dare anyone suggest that I don’t do my part to help others and that secular people are somehow less charitable.

    BTW the image comes from a larger document that cites the National Center for Charitable Statistics as a source. Their quick facts page shows “Approximately 26.4% of Americans over the age of 16 volunteered through or for an organization between September 2007 and September 2008″ which is far below even the 39% for secular volunteers for secular causes. I don’t know enough about statistics or their analysis or the source of these figures to judge but the discrepancy makes me doubt their veracity.

  • Revyloution

    Just like the liberal Christians who want to sweep the fundamentalists under the rug, so too do we secularists sweep the sociopaths under.

    A decent sized chunk of atheism is populated by the objectivists. Penn Gillette is an excellent example, and I was one for many years. They are glad to apply social Darwinism as justification for why some people have more, and others have little. Then, they can point to taxation as the reason they choose not to be charitable. Scrooge’s words come to mind ‘Are there no workhouses? Are there no prisons?’ It is a tempting idea, when you know there are no supernatural forces watching you, to assume your good fortune is due solely to your own wit and skill. Then when the government taxes you, you claim to have little left to be charitable with.

    As a footnote, I want to add that I know Penn Gillette gives quite a bit to charities, and is a generous man. I have a great deal of respect for him. I left the philosophy of Objectivism because I feel that its an idealist philosophy that doesn’t fit the real world we occupy.

  • QrazyQat

    Isn’t promoting Rick Warren’s AIDS work in Africa an example of a “secular cause”? In other words, giving money to kill people.

  • Brian Macker

    Catching up? It’s not a contest you know.

    Besides, giving money to your religion isn’t charity, . It’s a voluntary use fee. If you use the church then you should certainly pay for it, and it doesn’t help some kid starving in the street to maintain some vast building in which you pray.

    The difference in giving on secular causes is no really significant considering many non-believers are underground.

  • QrazyQat

    To add to the above, aiding the Bush administrations PEPFAR straegy in Africa, which added immensely to the AIDS death toll there, is another example of “secular” giving which is both likely to be engaged in overwhelmingly by religious people and is highly morally offensive.

  • Ed

    I saw this discussed here a few days ago and I pointed out in my comments a link which disputes some of the claims.

    The facts as presented here are misleading. Vexen Crabtree points out in his 2005 report that depending on whether or not you focus on aid as compared to GDP or as compared to GNI the USA will look either saintly or miserly in the extreme when it comes to charity.

    Comparing USA aid to that of European countries is not in itself a simple task. The American people are actually no less generous than those of other developed countries. By comparing aid as a percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) you measure the amount of aid that is given by individuals. On this scale, Americans look angelic, giving twice as much as Britons or Canadians. By comparing aid as a fraction of Gross National Income (GNI) as the studies on this page has done, you combine the generosity of the government and individuals. Europeans pay higher taxes to their governments, who in turn operate as welfare states, doing much charitable work2. For this reason, European governments always appear more generous in league tables compared to American governments, which is decidedly not a welfare state. American citizens give no less than others, according to The Economist, “the extra percentage point of its GDP that individuals deposit in rattling tins hardly reflects the much lighter taxes they pay”2. American citizens give more, but the government does so much less that the country as a whole looks miserly.

    To claim Americans are #1 in giving to charity is not exactly true. Crabtree goes on to point out the aid the USA government does give, almost 90% of it is contingent on other countries buying our own services and products with the aid we give; which reduces free trade and commerce and harms the countries economy. The countries that are the least religious are all the countries that give the most foreign aid, many of them are also welfare states- one could consider this to be a form of charity as well.

    Have a look at this site as well.

    My conclusion is that much of the unsourced facts on this poster are rubbish.

    Nathaniel Wallace, whose blog I linked to above where I first saw this posted, points out that “Structure and community are two aspects that I respect and miss from my days of going to church” in the context of perhaps why the religious may “give” more. I think this is an interesting topic and may have some truth to it. (see my comment on his site)

  • http://skepfeeds.wordpress.com/ Skepdude

    An important thing to understand, or even accept is that while we’re not fans of religion, we must acknowledge that it can inspire people to do good deeds to a great degree, as this entry shows. An even more important point though is that we the godless CAN catch up. I say let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us get rid of nonsensical beliefs but we can retain the good. There is something more than belief in God in this whole religion thing, and our job is to figure out exactly what it is and maintain it and cultivate that in a secular world.

  • Ed

    Sorry, forgot to include the link to Vexen Crabtree’s report on charity across the world. Here it is. Also I rather wish I had not called the charity stats presented in the poster as “rubbish” and instead stuck with my earlier and more accurate claim, that they are misleading.

  • Brian Macker

    Ed,

    I don’t think it is valid to consider welfare as charity. That’s totally bogus.

    Obviously if I pay for my own health insurance that is NOT charity. If on the other hand I pay taxes for my own health insurance then it is still not charity.

    Money spent by the government fails as charity in one other way. The money given is not done voluntarily by the person who earned it. For example, if you are robbed by a poor person that doesn’t count as charity on your part. It’s no different if the government forces money out of you and hands it out to others. Besides the money is not handed out as charity but as an entitlement and with the purpose of vote buying. No one who receives voluntary charity believes they are owed the help, and certainly they don’t get to vote on how much they get.

  • MV

    Brain,

    If there is private means or government support, there is no need for charity. So welfare is a replacement for charity. I much prefer higher taxes to a random smattering of charities. YMMV.

    If you equate government taxation to being robbed then you fundamentally have an issue with organized society. The whole point of a society is the redistribution of wealth in some manner for some set of goals. Welfare, or charity, may be one of those goals. One of the hazards of living under a representative government.

  • Brian Macker

    I didn’t say it was robbery. I said it was involuntary, and therefore wasn’t charity. Charity is freely given, not an entitlement of some kind.

    On the separate subject of “Is all taxation robbery?” Well no, just some, and it all depends on how it is spent, and on what. You can’t justify taking my money for things I would never like spend the money on or utilize anyway. There are a few things, like military defense, that can be justified this way. Most others can’t and therefore much of tax collection reflects mere robbery.

    No I don’t have any fundamental issue with organized society. That’s baloney.

    “The whole point of a society is the redistribution of wealth in some manner for some set of goals.”

    Nonsense. We don’t have a military for the purpose of taking from citizen A to give money to citizen B. Using taxes to support the police and courts don’t serve that purpose either. Etc.

    “Welfare, or charity, may be one of those goals.”

    Charity cannot be a goal of taxation. It generates a contradiction. No more than you can fuck for the sake of virginity. “Welfare”, which is newspeak if I ever heard it, is not charity, it’s an entitlement.

    In fact the welfare of minorities went down on many metrics with the expansion of “welfare”.

    Taxation is justified on the free rider concept. We can’t prevent them from benefiting from our expenditures in this direction so that justifies our taxation of them. One can be a free rider on military defense. Kinda hard to be a free rider on private charity since it can be withheld from you.

  • Brian Macker

    Off but also on topic.

    Many Muslims have justified Mohammad’s taking of many wives, even exceeding the four woman maximum, by arguing that he was acting charitably to widows.

    This is laughable for many reasons:
    1) He’s the one who instigated the conflicts that resulted in so many widows.
    2) These were not little old ladies without any prospects. Most were in the age range 25-35 and Mohammed was in his fifties. I’m in my fifties and let me tell you no 35 year old looks like an old widow to me.
    3) One of those “widows” was his adopted sons wife. She divorced his son when Mohammad got the eye for her, and put out the infallible claim that this was Allah’s desire. He basically said, “You know I’m against this but Allah told me that it is his will”.
    4) What kind of charity allows the donors to sleep with the beneficiaries? Last I heard the women’s shelters don’t have the victims turning tricks for donations.

    Crazy Muslims.

    Worse yet one of the beautiful things about Islam in the eyes of the Muslim is the budding of love/marriage of the 57 year old Mohammed with a six year old girl Aisha, and her eventual defloration at age nine (according to the Hadith).

    Some Muslims like to do those back of the envelop calculations with dubious assuptions to claim she was 14. However even then this is obvious lechery. The guy aready had multiple wives. There is no way he was thinking in the best interests of Aisha when he married her. He was thinking with his dick.

    Worse yet, the normal rule for Muslims (and the idolaters of the area) is that women can get divorces, and that divorcees and widows can remarry. Conveniently Allah told Mohammad in his ear that none of his wives get this right.

    Mohammed was an dirty old man when he married Aisha and died shortly thereafter, which left her as a teenage widow with no ability to remarry. How was that in her interest, whether she was fucked at 9 or 14?

    What a selfish prick Mohammad was, and he justified it by claiming an angel spoke in his ear. Double bastard.

    Most Muslims try to justify this by claiming that it was as if Mohammad was the father of all the Muslims, and therefore his wives are like the mothers to all Muslims. They claim that Mohammad’s widows remarrying would be like incest.

    Really, I kid you not. This is how fucked in the brain they are.

    How about this then. Why couldn’t they marry non-Muslims? Or worse, if Mohammad is the father of all Muslims then isn’t his marriage to a Muslim woman directly analogous to incest??? He’s marrying his analog daughter.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Brian Macker

    Obviously if I pay for my own health insurance that is NOT charity. If on the other hand I pay taxes for my own health insurance then it is still not charity.

    If you pay someone else’s health insurance then is that charity?

    The money given is not done voluntarily by the person who earned it.

    That is true to a degree but you still get to vote for the party who promises to spend more on healthcare or more on education. You indirectly decide how your contribution is distributed. No it isn’t the same but it does go to highlight that comparing a higher tax welfare state’s charitable donations with that of a lower tax nation’s charitable donations is fraught with difficulty.

  • Ed

    Brian, you are right that charity implies a freely given gift. However if I permit my government to give away my tax dollars to another country, with no strings attached, shouldn’t that be considered charity?

    Maybe yes maybe no.

    Regardless, one of course could argue as some have pointed out here, that religious people are not really “giving charity” either since they (perhaps) are offering aid because of fear of hell or hope for heaven. Some people might even argue that all altruism is really selfish.

    More importantly however, I don’t think the distinction between whether or not aid is “true charity” matters much to a person living on a dollar a day. What matters most is reducing the greatest amount of suffering. When we look at governmental giving and include private giving (secular and religious) to other countries the USA is miserably low on the list. In fact the countries that are doing the most to alleviate suffering (whether or not you want to call it charity) are the countries that are the least religious (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands). Secular societies provide better for the health and well being of their own citizens and apparently the citizens of other countries as well. Call it what you will, what matters most is the reduction of suffering. By this metric, the secular are leading the way.

    This site is a lot to slog through but it is informative.

  • Ed

    caveat on my earlier statement

    When we look at governmental giving and include private giving (secular and religious) to other countries the USA is miserably low on the list. In fact the countries that are doing the most to alleviate suffering (whether or not you want to call it charity) are the countries that are the least religious (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, and the Netherlands). Secular societies provide better for the health and well being of their own citizens and apparently the citizens of other countries as well. Call it what you will, what matters most is the reduction of suffering. By this metric, the secular are leading the way.

    I hope it is clear from my earlier posts but I will reitterate here, the above quote is only true in terms of percents, the USA does give more actual dollars than any other nation.

  • Brian Macker

    “If you pay someone else’s health insurance then is that charity?”

    Yes if it was done so voluntarily. It could be, as long as there isn’t a quid pro quo where I benefit.

    If a “patron” named Mohammad pays $100 of a woman’s medical insurance bill in return for a blow job, that isn’t charity, that’s prostitution.

    An insurance policy is an economic good that one purchases. If no fraud is involved you get what you pay for, even if that means that money is in net transferred from those who are well to those who are sick.

    The economic good being purchase is not the money transfer, you are NOT buying a contract that guarantees a redistribution of wealth from the rich to the poor. A rich guy with such an insurance policy may end up with a health issue which drains more money than he ever contributed for the policy.

    If I pay taxes and in return get the entitlement of an insurance policy, then get sick, it could very well be that this transfers money away from the needy and to me. In no way would that be charity.

    In fact, since the richer citizens are better connected these programs are notorious for becoming redistribution mechanisms from the poor to the rich. An example being federal education assistance. On net the upper middle class wins out.

    “That is true to a degree but you still get to vote for the party who promises to spend more on health care or more on education.”

    Voting doesn’t change the underlying nature of the act. They could vote in the U.S.S.R. Care to vote on who to turn into slaves?

    The founding fathers were very frightened to set the US up as a democracy because it was shown empirically to be a bad idea throughout history. In athens the public would literally vote people out of personhood when they got pissed at them.

    That’s why we are a republic not a democracy. Yet even republics have this problem, Rome devolving to bread and circus.
    We are in the process right now. So they created us as a republic limited by individual rights.

    Voting is a notoriously bad way to make decisions, and especially when there are multiple decisions being made. Voting dilutes and distorted the desires of the participants and interferes with plan coordination. These are all economic issues that would take a long time to explain.

    Every four years I am presented with two choices, A) or B) for president. Yet, these two choices are supposed to represent my desires on hundreds of issues that have little to do with organizing society. Most societal organization is done via free markets.

    If I buy private insurance, and without all the unjustified governmental restrictions and intrusions, then I am free to select a policy that matches my needs. There is great variety in what would be best for each individual. Voting ruins this at a first level by forcing a one size fits all policy.

    With only two candidates it is likely that neither is proposing a policy I would want.
    Worse, at the same time, I am being asked to vote on other issues. It’s very likely that the candidate that proposes my next best alternative health care will also be in favor of other policies in other areas that I am against.

    Suppose each policy is simple for or against. So uppercase A represents for, and lowercase a represents against.

    We now put health care, agriculture, science funding, education, etc. under government control.

    I may be for A,b,C,D,e,f,H. The two candidates are proposing A,B,C,D,E,f,h, and a,B,c,d,E,f,h. I want A but my choice in that direction on healthcare means I must sacrifice some other choice on another issue.

    Meanwhile there is no way for the candidates to know why the people are voting for them. The first candidate may have won on issue E but may mistakenly think that it’s all about h, no one wanted h in the first place.

    Plus the candidates make sure that they lie so that no one actually knows their positions on any of the issues. Every issue they are clear on they will lose voters. So instead they campaign on vague platitudes like “Hope” and “Change”, then let gullible and ignorant voters assume the best.

    One voter assumes “Change” means change from A to a, while another thinks it’s change from h to H. Meanwhile the candidate actually whats to change A to A’ and h to h’, or not change those at all.

    Meanwhile had we let the two voters keep their money then the first have chosen to spend on a and h, while the second could have spent on A and H.

    Voting does NOT allow any true choice. It’s a sham and we should restrict the number of choices we have to make through government to an absolute minimum if we want to meet the actual desires of the people most closely.

    Replacing the free market with voting destroys the connection between choice and consequence, reduces freedom, stifles diversity, destroys innovation, interferes with plan coordination, etc. I didn’t cover the half of it and that is why there are entire schools of literature on the stuff. Not just single but many books.

  • AnonyMouse

    We really need to adopt the Canadian voting system, where you can choose the person you really want to win AND the person you wouldn’t mind winning. It might actually give voters some modicum of control over who gets elected, instead of throwing their votes into “the popular choice” because they know their preferred candidate won’t get elected anyway.

    As for charity… phuh. It’s quick, it’s easy, and it absolves responsibility (at least until the next bell ringer). As many point out, though, tons of donated money is easily swallowed up by operation costs. For this reason, it’s better to buy and donate clothes, food, and toys than money.

  • Clay Barham

    Is it self-centered greed or legitimate self-interest that concerns most about Ayn Rand? Many who admire and criticize Ayn Rand’s beliefs about people standing on their own feet say she promoted selfishness, thereby greed, which is self-centered and anti-individual creativity. That is not Ayn Rand. She admired creative individuals like railroad builder James Jerome Hill, on whom she was reputed to have based her character Nathaniel Taggart in Atlas Shrugged. Independent “I’m OK, you’re OK” people are OK with Rand, not thieves and takers. Howard Roark’s summation to the jury, from Fountainhead, does not show a self-centered individual destroying his work. If greedy he would simply accept his payment. Roark was an other- and outer-centered individual in love with his own dreams and creations, as one would love a spouse, child or family and refuse to allow them to be assaulted. That is the self-interest that built America. Though love for anything more important than self is not inconsistent with Christianity. Claysamerica.com.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    Brian, you’ve clearly given this a lot of thought but your argument that government provided social care programs (health care, unemployment welfare, public disability schemes, social housing, etc) reduces choice and therefore the ability to give to charity assumes that people have a choice to begin with.

    If I desire A,b,C,D,e,f,H like you but I can only afford f then I don’t have a choice. By voting for a candidate and party that supports A,B,C,D,E,f,h or a,B,c,d,E,f,h I retain my choice of f and gain a few other things that I would otherwise not be able to have at all. Things that I may have had to rely on the charity of others to provide.

    OK, I agree that democracy is far from a perfect system and socialised welfare programs are costly and prone to error. Charity is no substitute for a committed system of support for all members of society though.

  • George

    You cannot count the money given to their church which is most of their giving. When adjusted to remove church giving, the secular giving is greater.

  • http://hoverfrog.wordpress.com hoverfrog

    George

    You cannot count the money given to their church which is most of their giving. When adjusted to remove church giving, the secular giving is greater.

    Playing Devil’s Advocate for a moment, why not? If I were to give to a church fund raiser so that the church could set up an inner city youth centre, build a hospital in Africa or start a campaign to educate people on drug and alcohol abuse then aren’t I giving to charity? Even if they skim off half the cash for “administration” I’m still giving to charity.

    Brian Macker above argues that taxation cannot be counted as charity when used for the provision of social welfare and social services and you argue that if a church provides this kind of charitable service then that isn’t charity either.

    Where do you draw the line and how do you account for charitable giving if you already give through taxation or donations to a church that provides for charity?

  • Brian Macker

    George,

    You have a very confused notion of choice. It’s not economically sound. What we can afford is always limited. The government cannot magically produce the extra resources, and in fact lowers production.

    If you can afford only f and someone else can only afford A, B, and F then that’s all there is. Voting someone else into control who implements a, B, c, d, E, f means a lot less f, and a lot less A, B, and F, and a lot more unwanted a, c, d, and E.

    Problem with government is that it tries to accomplish a-z when there is only resources for much less. It will even borrow and print money in an attempt to divert resources from the very productive activities that actually support it.

    If you can only afford f then what gives you the right to take from others to get more of the other things. Maybe you should reduce your level of consumption of f so you can afford more of the other things instead of using government to steal my production.

    If you are truly in need then that is the point of charity. When the government hasn’t completely destroyed the economy as it did during the Great Depression, and it is in the process of doing now, then private charity had no problem helping the poor.

  • Jeff Dale

    Not really trying to get into this argument in a significant way, but I see one point that I think needs to be clarified.

    You have a very confused notion of choice. It’s not economically sound. What we can afford is always limited. The government cannot magically produce the extra resources, and in fact lowers production.

    If you can afford only f and someone else can only afford A, B, and F then that’s all there is. Voting someone else into control who implements a, B, c, d, E, f means a lot less f, and a lot less A, B, and F, and a lot more unwanted a, c, d, and E.

    These comments are generally true when the goods in question are production goods. If the economy is producing a certain number of widgets per year, and the gov’t gets involved in producing the widgets instead of private industry, you tend to get fewer widgets and/or higher widget prices. Generally speaking, we don’t want that unless we think there’s some overriding good for which we’re willing to pay in reduced production.

    And that’s the key. We don’t only want the mix of goods that would be produced by totally unfettered free markets. There are some goods we want that might not be the natural result of free markets. Even libertarians tend to agree with the need for national security (properly circumscribed) and police (ditto), and thus willingly part with some of their productive income to pay for it. We won’t always agree on what other goods are worth paying for (or how much), but the principle is the same.

    Maybe “A” is tighter regulations on industrial waste, “B” is hiring more teachers, and “C” is increased safety standards for automobiles. All 3 would involve some cost, and even if they give back to the economy in some form (such as more teachers training better future workers), there might not be any obvious or measurable direct net gain in production. Some people will decide the cost is worth it, and some will not (or will favor not-A, not-B, and not-C for non-economic reasons). But in any case, people favoring A, B, or C are doing so on economic grounds, and these moves probably wouldn’t be made if gov’t weren’t involved. (Though admittedly, our political system as it currently operates, and large segments of the public not being fully educated on the issues, make it hard to decide issues like these sensibly.)

    And, getting back to the original issue, if gov’t were taken completely out of the business of providing any form of charity (however it’s defined), individual charity wouldn’t come close to filling the gap. These kinds of gov’t programs are public goods. Our debate would be about which programs are good, and how they should be run, and how much money would should spend on them.

    In other words, when any particular public good comes up, we can argue about whether pro or con is the superior view, taking into account both economics and the other things we value. But if you favor a society in which all public goods are ruled out on principle (except for defense and policing), because they involve taxing citizens more than is necessary for defending their lives, property, and liberty, you’re envisioning a society that I think, evidently, most Americans wouldn’t want.

  • Brian Macker

    Jeff Dale,

    We were talking about A, B, and C as restricted to things that were not subject to the free rider problem. Specifically, both health care and insurance are productive goods. As is charity in general. In fact the government via taxation cannot produce charity at all.

  • Jeff Dale

    In fact the government via taxation cannot produce charity at all.

    If I understand the other commenter correctly, he was not so much concerned with whether it should rightly be considered charity, but instead with whether it would produce the same outcomes as charity (i.e., relief of suffering). The definitional question complicates the issue that started this post, but doesn’t complicate gov’t policy. We’ll all have different opinions on whether gov’t should alleviate a given type of suffering, and how much it should spend in doing so, but in that debate it doesn’t matter whether it qualifies as charity.

    both health care and insurance are productive goods

    Yes, but the formation of programs to enable people without those goods to get them is a public good. Such programs are intended to provide a social benefit at a financial cost; they’re not intended to be financially productive. I’m not here to endorse any of the various conceptions of the plans being proposed, but the point I was making is that we live in a society that buys social benefits and taxes us for it, and most Americans evidently want it that way, even as they hold wildly divergent opinions on which social benefits to buy, how much to spend on them, and who and how much to tax for them. You might not want our society to buy so many social benefits and tax you for your share of the cost, and you’re free to speak out and vote accordingly.

    Now, before you polish up your reply, I haven’t missed the fact that the gov’t WAS considering actually producing some of the widgets as part of insurance reform: namely, the erstwhile public option. You’ll argue that for the gov’t to start offering insurance would be a net loss to productivity, and at least in terms of the obvious direct costs, I would have to agree with you: a wholly free insurance market will generally be more productive than the same market after the introduction of the gov’t as a player. It’s even possible that the introduction of the gov’t as a player would have some catastrophic (foreseen or unforeseen) effect on the market as a whole, such as putting most of the other players out of business. That’s a serious consideration. But again, our elected officials weren’t considering a public option because they thought it would be beneficial to productivity, but because of the social benefit they thought the public option would provide.

    And for the record, as you may know, the gov’t already does provide healthcare and health insurance, through the VA and Medicare, respectively. I don’t know much about those programs, but perhaps it’d be better for productivity to end those programs and let the private sector take over. But as long as most Americans value the social goods they see in such programs, our gov’t will continue to fund such programs and tax us for them.

    It’s not theft. The power to tax is in the Constitution, as are the mechanisms for electing the folks who ultimately determine the taxes. A Constitutional amendment limiting gov’t to defense, police, and not much else, would change that. But in the meantime, everyone else is weighing social goods against cost in productivity, or trying to do so and making a hash of it, and forming or advocating policy based on such considerations, so we might as well join the debate.

  • Brian Macker

    ‘Yes, but the formation of programs to enable people without those goods to get them is a public good.’

    No it is not a public good.

    In economics, a public good is a good that is non-rivalrous and non-excludable. This means that consumption of the good by one individual does not reduce availability of the good for consumption by others; and that no one can be effectively excluded from using the good.

    Welfare is both rivalrous and excludable.

    There is absolutely no need for government to get involved in the kinds of things you are advocating. Just because people vote on it doesn’t mean it’s justifiable. We can both have the kind of society we prefer together. You join together with everyone else who wants your ‘social benefits’ and leave me out of it. You can create a friendship society, ‘tax’ your membership, and dole out the benefits. You don’t need me, and there is no way for me to be a free rider. Thus no justification.

    What is and is not theft is not determined by what is written in the Constitution.

  • Jeff Dale

    ‘Yes, but the formation of programs to enable people without those goods to get them is a public good.’

    No it is not a public good.

    Sorry, brevity over clarity on my part. What I meant is, if a program reduces the number of people who don’t have health insurance (for example), that’s a benefit that some people would think is worthwhile, and which the free market isn’t providing. Whether such a program would be successful or cost too much, or cause offsetting harms, are fair questions. But the people who favor such a program are demonstrating that they value expanding the health insurance safety net, if it can be done effectively and at (what they consider to be) a reasonable cost. They can imagine themselves in the position of those people who’ve been unable to get health insurance, and they would want such a program in place for them in that situation.

    There is absolutely no need for government to get involved in the kinds of things you are advocating.

    I think I made it clear that I’m not advocating anything in particular, nor arguing that government needs to get involved in these kinds of things. All I’m saying is, many people [1] would value certain improvements to the conditions in our society, according to what they would think of as improvement, [2] recognize that free markets probably won’t create those improvements, [3] are permitted by law to elect a government that will attempt to create those improvements, and [4] are willing to pay for those improvements through their taxes, if the price tag seems reasonable to them. Now granted, there’s A LOT of misinformation and cognitive dissonance in people’s formulation and debate of these judgments. People want more gov’t programs and less taxes, politicians push for the addition or continuation of programs favorable to their constituents, etc., etc. It’s a big, hyper-partisan, soundbyte-driven mess. Maybe the answer is radical reduction of the scope and power of gov’t (or rather, of the power of the people to elect such a gov’t), but I’m not convinced that it is, and I’m even less convinced that it’s ever going to happen.

    You join together with everyone else who wants your ’social benefits’ and leave me out of it. You can create a friendship society, ‘tax’ your membership, and dole out the benefits.

    I don’t think this would work on anywhere near the scale that most Americans would want. I understand the principle you’re advocating: the people who want a public program should be willing to pay the full cost of it rather than sharing the cost with the people who don’t want the program. Well, maybe things would be better that way. Obviously, that’d mean a lot of the economic safety net, environmental protections, public safety regulations, anti-discrimination laws, etc., would go away. Most people wouldn’t want that. And the free rider argument won’t work on them, because the idea of just watching someone wallow in preventable suffering is intolerable and inhumane, even if the sufferer chose to risk that suffering by opting out of paying for gov’t programs, one of which would’ve saved him. People know that hardship could strike any of us at any time, and they wouldn’t think that anyone should be permitted (don’t shoot the messenger) to leave themselves unnecessarily exposed and at risk. Inevitably, some disaster would strike, and the people who wanted to help would discover that their collective individual charity work isn’t enough, and they’d start saying there ought to be a gov’t program standing ready to help in situations like this.

    Frankly, rather than maintain the status quo OR trash the whole edifice, I’d be tempted by a middle approach. Starting small, but continuing throughout the levels and departments of gov’t, I’d be interested to see what could be done with outsourcing of gov’t activities to independent organizations (nonprofit and/or for-profit) led by entrepreneurs and efficiency experts. Yes, I know there’d have to be some balance between the risk of CEO’s milking the system for unjust enrichment and the gov’t tendency to hyper-regulate, but I don’t see any reason to think the problems would be insurmountable, or worse than the problems we have now. In the long run, we could have a similar mix of gov’t programs at a significantly reduced cost. (Surely, some consultants somewhere have done, or could do, some projections to assess feasibility on a case-by-case basis.) This may seem a farfetched outcome staring out from the swamp of our present circumstances, but I suspect it’d be easier to get people to vote for it than for tearing down the safety net.

  • Brian Macker

    ‘I don’t think this would work on anywhere near the scale that most Americans would want.’
    Well that is just because you are ignorant of the history of friendship societies in this country.

    The free market doesn’t provide a lot of things. For instance, it doesn’t provide for the enforcement of slavery. Just because the majority votes to tax and support something doesn’t make it morally justifiable. Taxing to support slavery as has been done in the past in all countries turns that taxation into a form of theft.

    Taxation is involuntary confiscation of assets and you had better have a very good reason for doing so, and one that does not violate certain criteria, or have some justification.

    One such justification is free riderism.

    If you are going to stick a gun in my face you need some justification other than somebody wants your money. One such justification is that I stole the money.

    All you’ve said is that you don’t like the amount of health care the free market provides, but that could be said of any good whatsoever. Which justifies anything. Which shows it to be an invalid justification.

    Taxation without proper justification is theft.

  • Sarah

    Voting is a notoriously bad way to make decisions, and especially when there are multiple decisions being made. Voting dilutes and distorted the desires of the participants and interferes with plan coordination.

    Welcome to Planet Earth, which doesn’t revolve around your desires and wants.

    That’s why we are a republic not a democracy.

    Wrong. America is a democracy – just not a direct one. Each branch of government gets its power from majority rule or approval, better called a “representative democracy.” This is to prevent mob rule AND to prevent elected officials from ignoring the wants of the public.

    Every four years I am presented with two choices, A) or B) for president. Yet, these two choices are supposed to represent my desires on hundreds of issues that have little to do with organizing society. Most societal organization is done via free markets.

    You can vote for whoever you want, not just the choices presented to you. The government IS the people AND society – it is a reflection of what society has chosen (via voting) for their country. Is it perfect? No, but please find me a better option – something not mixed up with libertarian propaganda and fantasies.

  • Brian Macker

    “Welcome to Planet Earth, which doesn’t revolve around your desires and wants.”

    I don’t want the planet to revolve around my desires. I want to be able to make my own choices in MY life. You are the one who wants to attempt to revolve around you wants and desires via voting. That’s why you end up things like this economic mess. I know you don’t understand the connection but some of us do, and we are sick of the economic idiocy.

    “You can vote for whoever you want, not just the choices presented to you.”

    Yeah, that will accomplish something. Who’s living in a fantasy world?


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