“When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.” – Leviticus 19:9-10
My father always told me that when you go on a job interview, never answer the question, “so, how much would it take to get you to come to work here?” The rationale was simple. The potential employer has a number in his head. If you come in low, he’ll pay you less that he otherwise would have. If you come in high, he won’t hire you. It’s a no win situation. What are the chances you could guess exactly right? (Of course, it’s OK to take less than the maximum he would pay you – and it’s OK to make more than the minimum you would accept – this is why we have negotiation. Even still, it is good for each party to know what his “number” is.)
Yesterday we talked about fraud in the California welfare system. I’ve never really liked welfare. Getting something for nothing is one thing, but getting something for nothing without the consent of the giver is awfully close to theft. (What Bastiat would call “legal plunder.”)
At various times I’ve had discussions about the subject with more progressive-minded friends of mine. Quite often they will revert to an argument of “I don’t mind if some of my tax dollars go to help those who are less fortunate.” I think this argument deserves a little unraveling.
First, let us consider the general theory of government-funded entitlement programs to help the less fortunate. What is the right number? What is the right amount of government funding for these programs ? (Note that we don’t need to get so deep into “policy land” as to consider the actual funding structures of every program under the sun – just a general notion of how much is the right amount.)
Surely there is some number of government subsidy that would be seen as too much. Only the ardent communists believe in 100% redistribution. Then there is also a number that is too little. Only the radical libertarians (and myself) believe it should be zero. So what is the right number?
The reason I pose this question is simple. I suspect that there is absolutely no way that we are at exactly the right number, by just about anybody’s definition. Some want more, some want less, but I doubt anybody thinks the current number is perfection. What are the chances?
So then, I return to my “I don’t mind” friends and ask the same. If the current number is too much, then they should be upset about the overage. If it is too little, well, then we have a rather nasty moral conundrum.
You see, we are still free people (mostly). If the government is spending 7% of your income on entitlement programs, and you feel it should be 10%, then you are free to take the extra 3% and give it away to the needy. Nobody is stopping you. Figure out the number and make sure that that number is going to somebody less fortunate. The math really isn’t that hard.
If you feel the number should be 15% or 20% or 37%, then subtract the current rate and give the extra away. If you want, you can give it to the government and have them administer it; but that would be inefficient as they would also use it for non-entitlement programs. So, I suspect you’re better off giving it to a charitable organization, or just giving it directly to folks who need it. I’m sure they can be found.
I’m going to lay out a guess here that the “I don’t minders” aren’t doing that. They balk when the system needs to be cut back for fiscal sanity, but they aren’t putting any additional cabbage of their own into the pot.
Let me offer that this clearly indicates that they did not tell the whole story when they said “I don’t mind.” What they really meant is “I don’t mind if some of my tax dollars go to help the needy – as long as everybody else is made to contribute too.” That’s right, they don’t mind charitable giving as long as everybody has to. (Hey guys, if you have to it’s not charity any more.)
For those with kids you will recognize this immediately. “Go downstairs and clean up” is so often followed by “you’re not making [my brother or sister] clean up too!! [pout, whine, grouse]” This really grates on the sense of justice and fairness of a child. (By the way, children are, pretty much by definition, very self-centered … it’s not their fault, they just don’t have the cognitive capacity to put themselves in the other person’s shoes.)
Now, that a communist, or socialist, or dare I say simply an atheist, should hold this view isn’t all that bothersome. They feel there is some moral or social good from a helping hand, and their sense of justice dictates that if all of society is going to benefit from this good, then all of society should chip in. It’s only fair, right?
The issue is when the Christian takes this view. We answer to a higher authority. We believe in the power of God. We believe that our service is to Him, our allegiance is to Him. We can give away our possessions with impunity, never fearing for the implications of social justice that we funded by ourselves. We simply want to be the children of God. We want to care about the things He cares about. We want to act with reckless abandon and courage in pursuit of the things He says are important. This includes caring for the poor, the widow, the fatherless.
We don’t need to make sure that our neighbors are doing their share to help is in combating social injustice. It is enough for us to know that we are doing our Father’s will. He will sort out the rest.
For the record, I don’t mind either. I don’t mind that my resources go to help those in need. I do mind when it’s compulsory by fiat of the government (or, more precisely, by fiat of my neighbors – we still are a government of, by, and for the people). I particularly mind when the programs that are propped up are utter failures and producing good outcomes. But I do NOT balk at my resources exiting my bank account and entering the lives of those in need … and thus the service of the Lord.