Charity and the free market

Victor Joecks

David Schwartz has a story in today’s Las Vegas Sun that attempts to tug at your heart strings and make you feel guilty for not supporting tax increases in the next session. He details how eliminating personal-care attendants would negatively impact some disabled Nevadans.

Meanwhile, Hawley, who is paralyzed from the chest down since a 2008 motorcycle accident, is clear about what the loss of his personal-care attendant would mean for him – a nursing home.

He prizes his independence and time he spends on the Internet connected to the outside world, his nightly dinner of rice, beans and exactly 20 bits of meat he portions out from a roast to make it on his budget of food stamps and Social Security. Hawley is excited that his shower was refurbished recently to accommodate a special wheelchair so he no longer has to have his baths in bed, given by his personal-care attendant.

If he ends up in a nursing home, that will cost taxpayers more than twice what it costs now for his attendant, Social Security and food stamps combined. (He pays half his mortgage on the condo he bought with a friend, who pays into it as an investment.)

What’s missing from the piece is balance, i.e. any consideration of what might be the alternative to government redistribution. Schwartz even ends the story with Paul Gowins, chairman of the Nevada Services for Persons With Disabilities Commission, challenging candidates to find waste in the current system.

If only some Nevada organization published a Piglet Book recently detailing millions in government waste or offered tens of millions of dollars in specific budget reductions … but I digress.

The question I want to answer is: How do believers in the free market address the real needs of the disabled?

The short answer is family and charity. Family is the first and most important safety net. And when it comes to charity, conservatives give much more than liberals, highlighted by this astounding fact.

People who reject the idea that “government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality” give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition.

This fact underscores the liberal mindset – the political position of redistribution can eliminate the need for personal charity.

While conservatives tend to regard giving as a personal rather than governmental responsibility, some liberals consider private charity a retrograde phenomenon — a poor palliative for an inadequate welfare state, and a distraction from achieving adequacy by force, by increasing taxes. Ralph Nader, running for president in 2000, said: “A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity.” …

In 2000, brows were furrowed in perplexity because Vice President Al Gore’s charitable contributions, as a percentage of his income, were below the national average: He gave 0.2 percent of his family income, one-seventh of the average for donating households. But Gore “gave at the office.” By using public office to give other peoples’ money to government programs, he was being charitable, as liberals increasingly, and conveniently, understand that word.

And who loses in all of this? The ones liberals claim they want to help.

[Arthur C.] Brooks [a professor at Syracuse University], however, warns: “If support for a policy that does not exist … substitutes for private charity, the needy are left worse off than before. It is one of the bitterest ironies of liberal politics today that political opinions are apparently taking the place of help for others.”

When reading a story that tugs at the heart strings, like the one Schwartz wrote, it’s liberals who should feel guilty.

Conservatives/libertarians are more likely to be off doing something to actually help needy individuals than lobbying for the government to give the disabled more of other people’s money.