Private Charity v. Public Welfare

As a rule, I don’t like it when people say “this video will make you cry.” So when someone sent me this link with those words, I determined not to cry. It didn’t work. But this video also got me thinking about politics and differing points of view, and how our beliefs influence how we perceive things like this.

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Here in the U.S., far too many people call what happened in this video enabling dependency or giving people something for nothing. A man who spends his life giving to every homeless or hungry person he sees to the extent that he doesn’t save enough money to have something set aside for a medical disaster is often called foolish or irresponsible. After all, why give money to people who would rather beg than get an honest job? And, hunger is a good motivator (yes, that’s something I’ve actually heard said). But there is something else entirely in the politicized way we view things like this.

Here are how some of the commenters over at The Blaze responded:

Liberalism is the reason not more of this goes on. Charity used to be all over, not everyone was helped but many were. No one starved, “everyone got the medical attention they needed.”

Look closely at that commercial. Thanks to the socialist Obama…..America will one day be that desperate and that day is coming closer. This commercial had a happy ending but I don’t think our ending will be happy. We are being ruined and the communist/libs are trying to control our very lives with the takeover of our medical system.

I cried because I am sure somewhere in Obama-care these acts of kindness are probably against the law.

Let us not forget, those were emotions, actions, generosities by individuals, giving of themselves and not by those of the all-powerful government that will determine what happens to all of the characters in this vignette.

I’m unsure how these commenters can’t see that if we had a system of universal healthcare the kindly man in the video wouldn’t have been in dire straights in the first place, because he wouldn’t have found himself faced with a medical bill he couldn’t pay. I’m also seriously confused as to how one of them can actually think that in the past no one starved and everyone got the medical attention they needed. Do they not teach history in schools? I mean, seriously!

One commenter differentiates between individuals giving and social safety net programs run by the government. Yet I personally see the government as the way we as a people come together to work toward the good of everyone in our society. Also, there’s something that’s been bothering me lately about private charity. I saw a video about a wealthy man who went to a poor area at Christmas time and passed out $100 bills. It was clear that he enjoyed seeing people’s reactions, and while I understand that, it still rubbed me the wrong way.

The poor should not have to beg and plead and grovel for the basic necessities of life—food, clothes, housing, medical care—that everyone ought to have, rich or poor, “deserving” or not. And you know what else they shouldn’t have to do? They shouldn’t have to express the appropriate thanks needed to boost the ego and self-centeredness of those who give. Yes I went there. Look, when the wealthy give to the poor, they reinforce a certain social hierarchy in a way that I find very bothersome.

I wrote last year about being on Medicaid. Well, things have gone amazingly for my family in the last year, and we’re not only no longer on Medicaid but we also have money to spare. One thing I want to do is give some gift cards to some of the women who work at my children’s daycare. I know that many of them, some more than others, struggle much more than I do. But I don’t plan to stand there and hand them each a $100 bill and wait while they praise me up and down for being so magnanimous. Hell no. Instead I plan to purchase gift cards and give them to the daycare’s director in labeled envelopes, so that she can give them to their intended recipients anonymously. I may even just slip them into her mailbox, without saying anything to her. That won’t entirely fix the problem, but it’ll help.

I’m not suggesting that the kindly man in the commercial was giving out of a desire to feel good about himself or to boost his social standing in the community. I don’t think he was. What I am suggesting is that those who insist that charity must be private and and without government involvement reinforces the social hierarchy and undermines the idea that every person should have food, clothing, shelter, and proper medical care, not because they did anything to deserve them but rather because they are human.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.


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