Libertarians, Welfare and Private Charities: Why Haven’t They?

Libertarians, Welfare and Private Charities: Why Haven’t They? July 16, 2012

A still from Major Barbara (1941).

I’ve written a little about the fact that my best friend in my teen years was a libertarian, and I thought I was, too. One of his go-to arguments for abolishing welfare was that private charities and churches would step up to fill the gap. At the time, I rolled my eyes at his naivete but had nothing to say. Now I do (and I’m still rolling my eyes, Sven).

If private charities and churches are standing ready and willing to replace welfare, why haven’t they done it yet?

  • It’s not taxes holding them back. Both charities and churches are tax-exempt.
  • It’s not because no one needs their help. Churchgoers regularly pass homeless people on the street, but the most help they offer is a sandwich and an invitation to meet Jesus.
  • It’s not because the government is standing in their way. There are no laws against charitable giving. There are no laws against taking in and feeding strangers.
  • It’s not because they don’t have the resources. Evangelical mega-churches can pull in more than $5 million annually. And that’s with evangelical Christians tithing only 4% of their income.

So what’s the obstacle?

Libertarians: If you want private charities and churches to step in and save the families you kick off welfare, why haven’t they begun? Why is anyone on welfare at all, if private individuals, churches and charities are waiting with open arms? Why aren’t churchgoers going out into the street and gathering up all the homeless people, offering to pay their rent and medical bills and help them find jobs (or better yet, employ them themselves)?

I suspect it’s because libertarians know that human altruism is never strong enough to eradicate poverty. If it was, we’d have done it already, many times over. When libertarians trot out private charities and churches as the obvious sources of aid for a welfare-free society, what they’re doing is plugging the hole in their sinking argument because it’d be just too crass to say, “Let them eat cake.”

Don’t let them get away with it.

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