Does Charity Breed Poverty?


    Charity breeds poverty, according to most libertarians, if I am reading correctly what many authors of investment news letters say, and what Tea Party-Republican candidates like Rand Paul indicated (before the Republican Establishment muzzled him). Hear what Doug Casey, wealthy investor, said about Gates’ amd Buffets’ well-publicized charities in an interview by Louis James in “Whiskey and Gunpowder” for 15 May 2010: (sorry, no link available)

    “Charities are largely unproductive. Their main beneficiaries are not the intended recipients, but the giver. They get some tax benefits, but mainly get the holy high of do-goodism.  Frankly, the idea of charity itself is corrupting to both parties in the transaction….. they {Bill Gates and Warren Buffet}…. should continue…. accumulating wealth—- as opposed to dissipating it by giving it away.  Giving money away breaks up a capital pool that could have been used productively by those who built it for making new wealth (which increases the amount of wealth that exists in the world).

    Worse, giving money away usually delivers it into the hands of people who don’t deserve it. That sends the wrong moral message…. You deserve things because you earn them….. Endowing groups, or individuals, because they happen to have had some bad luck, or are perpetual losers, is actually immoral.”

    “The wrong moral message?” This puts one in mind of the popular Republican stereotype of the Welfare Queen, and of the implicit corollary to the Republican conflation of God with earthly benefits: the righteous are due wealth (“God wants you to be rich”); it confuses affluence with righteousness. In other words, if you are poor or down and out—- well, you deserve to be. This is the Republican form of entitlements.

    Mr. Casey continues, with an explanation right out of the Republican catechism:

    “When money is given away, it’s almost as bad as government welfare. It makes it unnecessary for the recipient to produce, and that tends to cement him to his current station in life. The very act of making an urgent situation non-urgent takes away the incentive, the urgency, to improve. Morally speaking, charity is not a virtue, it’s a vice.”

    Is this what Jesus would say?  

    Maybe what Jesus might have said does not matter here, in the face of the impeccable internal logic of the conservative Republican doctrine. Here is a perfect example of creating a separate universe for a private reality, and utterly ignoring what have been turned into externalities, no matter how big or how important. Externalities such as what might have caused the existing problem of poverty in the first place, for example: past history, lack of education, a globalization policy which made local farmers unable to compete with imported products, deliberate suppression by another class, so poor they are unable to accumulate a surplus to provide seed capital, cultural inhibitions against today’s ruthless form of capitalism.

    There is no doubt that, in the Republican-libertarian universe described by Mr. Casey, the entire world is divided into those who have the gumption and self-discipline to save and make money, and the lazy unworthy who want to steal the “wealth” of those productive few—- a kind of karma, except such a Christian man as Mr. Casey would probably not believe in reincarnation as a form of pay-back.

    This neat trick of creating a special reality which then conveniently can ignore externalities is a particularly Republican trick for dealing with life. It is how they can promulgate the Free Market theory which turns corporations loose to do whatever they choose to make a short-term profit, with the idea that the hidden hand of the market will resolve any problems, and simultaneously ignores environmental costs and social costs inherent in whatever the corporations are doing.  

    That is how we get oil, coal, or products like steel, for example, whose market price does not include cleaning up toxic waste or rehabilitating a raped landscape; or factory farms, whose market price of their chickens or pork does not cover the cost of cleaning up polluted streams or public health problems related to the factory farm; or industrial fishing which blindly over-fishes the oceans until there are insufficient stocks of food fish left to feed our growing populations, and no way to restore species they have killed off. That is also how, in pursuit of godly profit, we lost much of our industrial base to China, India, Indonesia, or Korea, with devastating effects on American workers, but had absolutely no industrial policy to deal with the devastation. After all, this outsourcing increased bottom line profit for the prudent and affluent, who had no obligation (in Republican theory) to consider externalities like people who had jobs in their factories, and were presumably part of the same society.

    There is nothing in Republican policy, doctrine, or theory that addresses “the next step,” or even asks the question, “after that, then what?” It is all about profit now. It is all about the fortunate ones who have, not the have-nots (who are invisible in Republican theories, except when they are to be used as scapegoats or as inconvenient labor which is paid as little as possible, since they believe that labor contributes nothing to the value of the product, because the product and the job would not exist without the capital investment in the first place).

    This is true: there is nothing wrong with making a profit; there are lazy individuals who have a bad attitude; and badly administered charitable giving can create a “learned dependence.”

    The problem is when these data become the basis or excuse for social and economic policies, like those of the Republicans, which freeze everything in a flash frame, and solidify inequities forever—- there is no vision for a better future, or, indeed, for any kind of improvement for the society as a whole, despite some mumbo-jumbo about the future promise that free market capitalism will raise everyone’s living standards.  It actually becomes a self-fulfilling and self-perpetuating prophecy of a static social system, where the only way to break the rigid mold is through violent revolution.

    Is there an answer to such jungle-based so-called free market capitalism, tied as it is into a frame of sanctified greed which protects the status quo of the currently comfortable affluent (or would-be affluent)? This is an important question as we head into the fall elections, with the Tea Party-Republican and libertarian philosophy appearing to have a death grip on public discourse.

    Unwary Democrats and conservaDems have bought into one or more elements of the Republican frame—– but the fact is, if you accept even one little assumption or data point of that frame, you have inexorably bought into the whole thing, and you can present no better alternative, so voters will naturally ignore the Republican Lite Democrat, and vote for the real deal Republican. And, why not?

    There is an answer, but Democrats have to express it and re-frame the debate on their terms, and do it fast.  Unlike the doom and gloom of Republicans, Democrats have a vision of a society and a system which treats all its components as valuable, protects and defends the whole, observes the Social Contract, creates a level playing field opening up broadly-based opportunity, protects the weaker elements, enforces social and financial accountability even from the rich or powerful, husbands the treasures of the earth for future generations—– in other words:

    “….establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity….”


    Sign up for the Blue Virginia weekly newsletter

    Previous articleRex Simmons, Pete Frisbie: GOP Cancels Convention to Avoid “Rand Paul Moment”
    Next articleFairfax County JJ Dinner: Dick Durbin Jokes About Bob McDonnell, Cooch