May 07, 2005

...we call government.

Rick has asked for help in ending his maiden entry. So, for my initial foray into the SRS world, I will try to offer a commentary, if not a conclusion. It may be very possible that such an entry can never be completed - after all, I don't see an end to poverty, sin and suffering anytime soon.

How best should we assist the poor? Should it come from generous hearts through private giving, or from the cold hand of the state? In a perfect world, I'd say that it would best come from private organizations. Then again, in a perfect world what need would there be for a government? Still, 'we' are called to assist those less fortunate. As Rick points out,
I thought that, in a democracy, “us” is the “government”.

He's right. What we choose to do together we call government.

Are there more efficient ways distributing aid to the needy? Possibly. A volunteer based organization like the Knights of Columbus has a lot lower overhead. One hundred percent of every dollar they raise for charity (at the local level - they do have a Supreme headquarters with paid staff) can go directly to the needy. With volunteers they don't need to pay salaries or provide health insurance, or pay for expensive office buildings like the government does.

Then again, private organizations don't have nearly the amount of money that the government does. They depend on voluntary contributions and do not have the option of assessing taxes. The Knights donated $130,000,000 to charity in 2003. Now, compare that with the $170,000,000,000 the United States has spent in Iraq alone so far. The United States government has the means and the ability to provide far more in aid to needy individuals than all private philanthropic organizations combined.

Perhaps the answer is to take the money we spend on government programs like food stamps and Aid for Families with Dependant Children and give it to private charitable organizations in the form of grants. Let them use their volunteers instead of our paid government employees. If the ultimate goal is to assist the poor then our money should be spent so that as much as possible gets to them. If a private group can do that better than the government, they should. If for whatever reason no private charitable group is able to take on that task (healthcare comes to mind), then perhaps the government is the best way to distribute it.

The fact remains that we need the government to at least raise the money needed for distribution to the poor. Maybe it would be better if we just gave directly to the poor, or directly to charitable organizations. Then again, I have to pay my taxes. I don't have to give to charity.

If our tax dollars are being spent prudently and wisely, there is no reason using the democratic process can't be an act of genuine Christian caritas. Its not a cheap substitute. It is choosing to collectively help the poor and calling it government.