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The Inevitable Failure of Private Charity

It doesn’t take long in discussions of dismantling social safety-nets before you butt up against the conservative position that private charity will fill in the gaps left by removing social welfare. It’s not at all clear that this is true –or even plausible–, but even if we grant that it is absolutely the case that a Dollar-for-Dollar uptick in private charity will offset social welfare expenditure in the short-term, it is still a certain failure as a policy. Why? There’s an interplay of what are commonly known as the “free-rider problem” and the “tragedy of the commons.” Reliance on private charity ensures that only sociopaths retain advantage in society and will create an ever diminishing pool of wealth that will be diverted to charity.

Unless one can disprove the premise, “Wealth is a comparative advantage.” then the what logically follows is:

• Giving up your comparative advantage for the needs of someone else is an act of compassion, empathy, and/or altruism.

• It also dilutes your comparative advantage relative to someone else who didn’t give up any of their wealth for the needs of someone else.

• This moves the person who was selfish and/or callous ahead that person who was not, because they did not dilute the advantages of their wealth by sharing it.

The result is socially problematic for two reasons. First, over time those most likely to give are the ones least capable of doing so, because they’ve shared their wealth into comparative irrelevance. Private charity will be unable to find donors, because all the people with money to donate are not people with an inclination to do so. Second, bestowing the overwhelming majority of advantage on only those who are most averse or incapable of being a competent member of society will result in society disintegrating as they skew the rules and norms to be evermore antithetical to cooperation, coexistence, and cohesion.

This is the fundamental basis for socializing welfare. It ensures that everybody gives, so that not only sociopaths get ahead. Advocating for reliance on private charity is congruent with advocating for organizing society around the inclinations of sociopaths.

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Nathan Aschbacher

Nathan Aschbacher

I'm a business owner in the fields of IT and business strategy, and have a strong interest in solutions-based policy built on empirical evidence, and validated through logical analysis. I am neither right, nor left. I am a functional ideas advocate.