The Billings Outpost

Should government or charity help needy? - Charity can’t do it all


Recently state senator Jennifer Fielder wrote an article extolling the virtues of charity over government sponsored programs at curing the world’s ills.

“What if we each did more instead of expecting someone else to do all the good things that need to be done?”… “Charity would become contagious, popular, and ironically, maybe even less necessary.” She wrote.

It’s a noble thought, and even though Fielder does not name any of the things that this effusion of charity would help, the central idea is that you could help the world by giving to charities of your choice, rather than paying taxes to support public programs that you may or may not approve of.

It’s a noble thought, but it’s not a new thought, having been around for some 2,000 years in Christian culture, and those 2000 years are full of examples of lay people and clergy encouraging more giving to help others.

It’s a noble thought, but it has never risen to the level of complete success in making life better for everyone. And that’s why governments the world over have centuries old programs to help the poor, the halt, and the lame. And they have these very programs because the citizens support them.

It is another case of utopian thinking which comes up short because it does not take reality into account.

Many of us no longer have memories of the elderly dying of malnutrition, freezing to death in winter, and suffering horrible illnesses because they had no money for medical care.

That happened in the not too distant past, and it happened more than we would want to think.

But we have no memories of those events because the American people, through their government, created successful public programs to combat hunger and poverty, provide heating assistance in winter, create pensions through social security, and provide medical help through Medicare and Medicaid.

Some programs, like education, we provide for everyone because it is their birthright, some we provide only for those in need of help. While everyone deserves an education, there are some who do not necessarily deserve help intended for those in need, but the fact that some abuse the system is no reason to deny help to those who need it.

Fielder says that it is “fundamentally wrong to take one person’s property [implying taxes] and give it to someone else”, nonetheless she is enrolled in the state health insurance plan which will cost taxpayers $10,644 for her 2015 coverage.

Over a century ago the famous Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes said, “Taxes are the price we pay for civilization.”

We do not, nor should we, get to decide as individuals where our tax dollars are spent. In the 1960s some people refused to pay taxes because some of the money went to support the war — and our fighting men and women — in Vietnam. That was wrong.

We in America decide how our taxes are spent by electing people who reflect our will and our beliefs. We do it as a nation, not as individuals.

We are either all in this together or it is everyone for themselves. We do things as a society that benefit everyone, not just those whom we like. We do that because it makes us strong as a nation, and we have done well because we have done good.

Finally, Fielder says that she contributes more than half her take home pay as a legislator to charity. That is noble. Telling us about it is not. The giving is selfless, taking credit for it is self-serving.

Jim Elliott is a former senator who represented Mineral and Sanders counties and parts of Lincoln and Missoula Counties. He lives in Trout Creek.


Last Updated on Thursday, 05 February 2015 16:22

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