I founded LTP because I’m passionate about living life and seek to inspire and empower others to do the same. But unfortunately, some people are not in positions to pursue their passions because they are in need of help. They struggle to feed themselves and their families, overcome addictions, or deal with any number of other serious life problems. And while there’s much debate in our society about how to help people in need, there’s no debate about the fact that there are people who need our help.
I don’t care where you fall in the political spectrum: nobody wants to see desperate people dying in the streets from hunger, lack of access to quality health care, or for any other reason. Agreeing on that much is easy. But then come tough questions: How should we help those in need? How much help should we offer? How can we deliver help efficiently and effectively? What’s the right balance between “giving a man a fish” and “teaching a man to fish”? And how do we avoid enabling destructive behavior?
Debates over questions like these will never cease, but as we hash out potential answers to those difficult questions, it’s important for us to engage in informed social debate. It seems that We 21st Century Americans are largely ignorant about the fact that there are multiple options available to us when it comes to helping people in need: Government is an option. But so is private charity.
Playing With Fire
Many in our nation immediately run to government anytime there’s trouble. “Someone is poor! Someone is hungry! Someone needs healthcare! Help government, HELP!” Of course, sometimes government is best positioned to help people in need – say, for example, in cases when the National Guard is mobilized to rescue people after a natural disaster. But our collective knee-jerk response to turn first to government anytime there’s any trouble reflects our collective civic ignorance, because – as George Washington (supposedly) said – “government is not reason, it is not eloquence – it is force! Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.” In our ignorance, we fail to consider the dangers of playing with government fire. But thankfully, there is an extraordinarily effective way to help other people in need that doesn’t pose a burn risk – and that’s the institution of private charity.
By its very nature, private charity rocks because it empowers We the People to help others in need without putting our liberties at risk; we can, in fact, help improve the lives of others without playing with government fire.Private charity empowers us to help others in need without putting our liberties at risk. Click To Tweet
But Wait, There’s More!
But the benefits of private charity don’t stop there. Private charity additionally enjoys four significant advantages over the institution of government when it comes to helping people in need. I first discussed these ideas with philanthropist Eric Hovde in Episode 7 of The Do Your Thing Podcast. I bring them now to LTP’s readers to further promote literacy in American culture about the power of private charity. Because the better we understand the nature of government and the nature of private charity, the better We the People will be able to determine wise answers to difficult questions like those posed above.
Four Advantages Private Charity Enjoys Over Government
Advantage #1: Private Charity is Free from Government Bureaucracy
When it comes to helping people in need, it’s not the thought that counts. It’s action. And while dictators can quickly move government into action on nothing more than a whim, America is a republic. The separation of our government’s powers is good for the preservation of our liberties, but it’s bad for helping people in need.
What if a new need arises? What if an old need becomes obsolete? America’s republican form of government is not designed to make quick decisions. Its inherently bureaucratic nature is incapable of quickly reacting to changing needs in the marketplace. Private charity, on the other hand, can and does respond quickly to changing needs in the marketplace because it is free from government bureaucracy.
When children living at the Hovde Home in Mexico City were in need of a new bus to get to school, the home director got on the phone. As Eric Hovde describes, his foundation’s response to the new need was “immediate.” All it took was that phone call. As Eric recalls, “the discussion was had. The need was important [because] it affected all these children’s education. Okay, we’ll cut the check! It’s done… It doesn’t sit around for months and go through how many different levels of bureaucracy to make one allocation.”
By its nature, private charity has the power to swiftly react to changing needs in the marketplace. And it exercises that power regularly because – as we’ll see in Advantage #2 – it needs to exercise it in order to survive.
Advantage #2: Private Charity Depends on Effectiveness and Efficiency to Survive
Private charity isn’t entitled to anybody’s dollars. It has no power to tax. Rather, private charity depends entirely on the generosity of its donors – and (to borrow a line from Ghostbusters, my favorite movie of all time) private sector donors “expect results.”
What measurable, positive impacts does a charity make? How many cents out of every dollar donated actually go towards charitable relief? What efforts are made to minimize operating costs? When donors are satisfied with a charity’s answers to questions like these, they’ll continue to support the charity by making donations. But if at any time – and for any reason – a donor is disappointed with a charity’s performance, he or she can stop donating their dollars to the charity immediately. What results is a system of real accountability.
As Eric Hovde explains, “it’s not like you have perfection in private charities. You don’t. But it’s obviously a hell of a lot more efficient than how a government would operate” because “there is accountability. Once that accountability kicks in, there are big repercussions.” It’s simple. When a charity is performing poorly in the eyes of its donors, it faces two options:
- Make massive changes to how it operates, produce positive results, and win back the support of its donors.
- Go out of business.
Accountability works, and people in need of help win as a result. If an inefficient charity gets back on the right track, awesome! But even if the poorly performing charity goes out of business, people in need still come out ahead – because donors’ charitable dollars can be redirected to other, more efficient charities who are actually producing positive results.
Yet we tax payers don’t have the right to cut funding from our poorly performing government – unless we’re willing to endure jail time, of course. (Remember that bit about “government is force”?)
Advantage #3: Private Charity isn’t Subject to Political Games
We are blessed with political liberty in America, so we have the opportunity to choose our leaders every few years. But importantly, the work of private charity continues regardless of which party controls Congress or who is sitting in the White House. It’s private charity. By its very nature, it doesn’t depend on government funding. Accordingly, there’s no need for private charity to get wrapped up in political games. Rather, private charity can remain keenly focused on its mission: helping people in need.
Also important, as Eric Hovde points out, is the fact that “private sector charities are removed from a lot of nonsense.” Thanks to their separation from politics, private sector charities can carry out their missions with integrity. Private charities don’t have political agendas. Private charities don’t seek to build dependency. Private charities have no votes to capture from the people they help. Private charities have no special interests to pay back. Private charities help people simply because people need help. Their work is genuinely good – no strings attached.
Advantage #4: Private Charity Assigns Responsibility to Care for One Another to You and Me
If you look around LTP, you’ll quickly discover that I’m a capitalist. Look around long enough and you’ll also discover that I’m a Christian. These two aspects of my identity go hand-in-hand. Now, this isn’t an evangelical website, but so many of my fellow Christians have their wires crossed when it comes to faith and government – so hear me out: My faith in Jesus Christ leads me to believe that it’s my responsibility to care for my neighbors in need. Tell me if I missed something – seriously, there’s a comment section below – but I cannot find one instance in the Bible where Christ commands His followers to offload their responsibilities to love and care for one another to Rome. Christ’s commandment in John 15:12 does not say “Love each other as I have loved you: Elect the right politicians and ignore the needs of your neighbor.” Quite the opposite is true. Christ personally cared for others, and He commanded his disciples – who would become the church (a private institution) – to do the same. As a capitalist Christian, I take the second part of Christ’s John 15:12 commandment (“as I have loved you”) as seriously as I do the first (“Love each other”).
Yet assuming responsibility as private individuals to care for one another brings benefits that go beyond religious beliefs. Real people freely helping real people is a beautiful thing. It changes lives – not only those of the recipients, but also of the givers. It makes us all better human beings. As Eric Hovde describes, “Once you start going down the path into the charitable world of giving, [you] quickly realize you’re getting as much back out of it as the people [you’re helping]… It’s what makes us people… When we’re seeing our efforts helping another human being, how that lifts one’s spirits!… It has huge impacts on you as the person on the giving end, as much as the person on the receiving end.”
There’s a certain feeling you get when you give to charity. You know it’s going to a good cause. You know it’s going to help someone in need in meaningful ways. I’ve never once had that feeling when I pay my taxes.There's a certain feeling you get when you give to charity. I've never once had that feeling when I pay my taxes. Click To Tweet
Clearing Up Confusion
We Americans are generous people. We do want to help people in need. We might not always agree on how to help others, but don’t be confused: Just because some of us – myself included – promote the idea of limited government in our nation, it’s not that we don’t care about others. Quite the opposite is true. I, for one, want to help people get on their feet so that they can do their thing and live their life. And for the reasons listed above, I observe that private charity is often best positioned to help people do exactly that.
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What are your favorite charities? Why do you support them? What other advantages do private sector charities enjoy over government? On the other hand, what advantages might government enjoy over private charities?