Government programs can never replicate the value of voluntary charity

Published December 24, 2020

By Ray Nothstine

One of the biggest political and cultural shifts over 90 or so years is the clamoring for the government to do more in just about every area of society. One of the most comical occurrences we often see today is celebrities or the super-rich figures who write op-eds or get on TV imploring for higher taxes so they are forced to give up more of their money. After all, is anybody stopping them from giving voluntarily?

I recently published a piece over at the Carolina Journal titled, “Christmas reminds us that voluntary charity is superior to government coercion.”  It’s a reminder that the government is no match for voluntary giving. There are liberties and a deeply moral component to free association. There is freedom in picking and choosing how you give. This can’t be replicated by government coercion to merely tax and spend in order to expand a bureaucratic welfare state. It’s disappointing to see so many conflate the government spending more with compassion or virtue. Here is an essential line from the Carolina Journal piece:

The ancient theologian and philosopher Augustine noted that “Human society is knit together by transactions of giving and receiving.” This is an important point and something the government hasn’t proven it can replicate. Ultimately, the government has little capacity to meet deeper needs or restore goodness to society. The long list of failures of the federal war on poverty undoubtedly provides the starkest example.
One good example comes from my 3-year-old son this Christmas season. My wife picked up an Angel Tree kid to sponsor for Christmas at the courthouse. Our child in need is a foster child and about the same age as our son. They have similar interests in toys like Paw Patrol. We explained to him what we were doing and wanted our son to be a part of picking out gifts for this child. He understood at a pretty deep level and asked a lot of questions. And then suddenly, without asking, he ran to get his piggy bank because he wanted to buy presents for the little boy. I teared up a little. Of course, we paid but if you knew how my son is a little obsessive about all the coins he has in his piggy bank, you’d know how much sweeter his actions really were. He saw and understood a need and wanted to meet it. It’s great how children often teach us to give and be generous in ways we are often incapable or hesitant to do.

The government can never replicate compassion like that. It can do some things well, but it can’t provide for all our needs or wants and was never intended to do anything like that. It’s amazing how many people can’t see this simple truth today. Christmas remains a great reminder that the government has limits.

Don’t be one of those citizens who merely clamor for the government to do more when it comes to assisting others. Don’t ever think that bureaucracy and programs can ever replace compassion or meet the deeper needs of the human person. If you have the opportunity, be a generous giver this Christmas and not because you are compelled by laws. Rather, always be a person motivated to give from the heart.