Monday, September 1, 2008

A Humble Reply to My Beautiful Wife's Post "Commence tarring and feathering: now!"

Dear Love of My Life,

Your recent blog post argues that although the government is not the best organization to care for the poor, sick, and otherwise needy, the rest of us responsible citizens are obviously doing a crappy job, and therefore it will be best for society as a whole for the government to do so.

I deeply respect your wisdom generally and your compassion for the needy. I also respect your ability and will to field conversation as a means to intimacy and the refining of your view. I have seen you change your mind before, and I have also had my mind changed on account of your input.

Therefore permit me to blog in response to your blog.

Obviously both the United States government and her citizens are currently caring for the poor in some capacity. So I assume that you mean that neither is doing a satisfactory job, and that your current push is for increased governmental aid (domestic? foreign?).

I am not quite convinced that the reason you gave in this particular post is a great one to push for increased governmental care for the needy.

Here's why:

Suppose there are 2 entities who are generally capable of caring for the poor, sick, and otherwise needy.

Now suppose that neither entity is currently doing so in a satisfactory manner.

Now suppose that entity A is the one responsible for doing so, and is capable of doing so more efficiently. And that entity B is only capable of doing so in a manner that violates the right to property and should be dis-preferred for other reasons as well.

If you had a chance to urge one of these entities to begin to do so, which should it be?

I argue that it should be entity A, if it is entity A's responsibility, entity A is capable of doing so more efficiently, and entity B can't do so without violating the right to property and causing other damage as well (such as the fact that governmental aid almost always comes with all kinds of political strings attached. Also cf. Neocolonialism and Dependency Theory, although these theories are not categorically opposed to governmental aid).

The fact that entity A isn't currently doing so is no reason to suddenly urge entity B to do so.

So under these circumstances, why waste time trying to enhance governmental care for the poor, sick, and otherwise needy when you could spend your efforts trying to enhance private care for them? You may get more bang for your buck.

Things change however, if you DO think that the government is the best organization to care for the needy, or if you disagree that it is the responsibility of individuals and private organizations to do so and that they could do so more efficiently.

But if this is the case, then the argument should center on such matters; the mere failure of individuals and private organizations to sufficiently care for the needy is no reason in and of itself to support governmental care for them.

That is, unless you have lost hope in individuals and private organizations altogether. Perhaps you feel that it is futile to attempt to urge more individual and privately organized charity, and so in your desperation to see someone take care of those who need help you are turning to the government.

If this is the case, I urge you to reconsider for two reasons.

First, the government is constituted by individuals. If you cannot trust individuals, you can trust the government even less.

Second, the landscape of charitable movements may be more hopeful than you think, both in regards to its current state, and in regards to its potential.

Take heart:
The United States is by far the largest source of private aid giving... giving in the United States, both domestic and international, is estimated at $295 billion in 2006...

Private sector financial flows have transformed the development landscape. Already, private flows like foreign direct investment, private portfolio capital, private bank credits, bond issuances, and remittances are much larger than official flows to developing countries...

Estimates for the United States suggest a fourfold increase in international giving in the 1990s, and, after a dip in 2002 following the stock market crash, US international giving has grown healthily again. In the 2000s, US foundation giving to international causes outpaced all other sectors. More remarkable is that this growth is being seen at all levels: at the top, giving from huge philanthropies like the Gates Foundation is growing but small foundations’ giving is growing even faster (a 35 percent growth in giving between 2002 and 2004). In the United States, some 65 percent of all individual giving is estimated to come from households with annual incomes of less than $100,000. Over the next decade, this trend will likely continue—a considerable share will be buttressed by Warren Buffett’s promise of adding $31 billion in to the mix. Record stock market valuations are fuelling healthy growth in private giving.

(Homi Kharas, 2007)
Personally I am not categorically opposed to governmental aid. I believe that since it is the responsibility of humans to take care of the needy, and the government is constituted by humans, it is fair game as a vehicle for caring for the needy. I am not certain about the truth to various theories concerning human rights (especially the right to property), but I do generally hold that the government is rarely (albeit sometimes) "efficient", much less the MOST efficient or appropriate vehicle for a given task. Governmental aid is notorious for failing to actually reach those who need it, and like I said, it usually comes with plenty of political strings attached.

But I do see a potential time and place (and method) for governmental and/or intergovernmental aid, and I think that the organizational nature of the government is fundamentally distinct from that of private organizations. And so their ideal roles in aid and development will no doubt also be distinct.

I am interested in what you have to say and I look forward to future dialogue, online or off.

Your husband Louis

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