Thursday, July 8, 2010

Welfare versus Charity

We as a society don't want anyone to go hungry. It is a shame that there are homeless without a roof over their head. Looking at all members of society combined, we have enough resources (material goods, food, knowledge, mental wit, time and labor) to provide all with the privilege of food, shelter and healthcare. Nobody will doubt that it is a worthy and ethical aspiration to provide these privileges to all. Yet, how do we do it?

Through welfare or through charity? Through statism or through private empathy? Or a mix thereof? Here is an article entitled "Replacing Welfare" arguing against statist welfare. Here is an article with similar arguments in Spanish entitled "What would happen to the poor?".

Several mixed modes come to my mind: Mixed mode 1: How about an environment with alternatives? In short, competing solutions. Have statist welfare coexist with private charity and let the poor chose one or the other. According to the published articles private charity promises a higher probability for the poor to leave poverty, find a job and be treated in a dignified manner. Statist welfare is wasteful with some 70% of the money not going to the poor but to the apparatus (paper shufflers and paper work). If offered the choice between statist welfare or private charity, which poor would chose the possibly lower but more or less guaranteed welfare check? Which poor would chose the probably better and more individualized service of the private charity with the drawback of it being less guaranteed?

Mixed mode 2: How about a set-up where the state/government hands over all welfare money to private non-profit charity organizations? This would eliminate the bureaucracy (or shall I spell it bureaucrazy?), the overhead, and the government waste. It would probably create or elevate other risks and temptations of misuse of funding, etc. However, it would be an attempt to get the best of both sides: efficient private charity services to the poor and guaranteed funding of these private organizations.

So, besides the pure modes exist some mixed modes. One first articles asks in the summary: "If you had $10,000 available that you wanted to use to help the poor, would you give it to the government to help fund welfare or would you donate it to the private charity of your choice?" I would give some to the homeless I see every day in the park, i.e. act locally. The rest I would distribute over a handful of private charities to reduce risk.

There are 2 sides to the coin of poverty. What are we as the donors willing to do? Which solution would the donors prefer? For the other side of the coin, I would also raise the question: What do the poor want? Which solution would the poor chose? Would the poor chose the right to an arguably fair (equal to all, but customized/individualized to none) system of state-guaranteed low welfare or the privilege of individualized assistance of well-meaning private beings with a human touch driven by empathy without any guarantees and without any waste?

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