Tuesday, March 31, 2009


Via David Freddoso, an interesting column by Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger and great beneficiary of government funding, attacking the mechanism of private charity. There's a lot to go over in that column, but let's look at this point (emphasis added):

Second, voluntary private charity is a less equitable way to solve community problems. While many people assume that the rich amass their wealth on their own, the truth is that their business interests are almost always aided by public efforts such as roads, bridges and ports through which they ship their goods or public schools that educate their workforces. Given that even the wealthiest benefit greatly from this modern "public commons," it is wrong to give them unilateral power to decide whether their taxpayer-subsidized donations should go to, say, well-heeled operas or lavish care of pets rather than to organizations that meet more pressing communal needs.

It is fashionable these days to say that "the community," not government, should solve social problems. Yet no nonprofit leader, myself included, was elected by the community as a whole. Elected officials, whether we like them or not, are picked by voting citizens. In America, the government is the most legitimate voice of the entire community.

The bolded paragraph seems somewhat befuddling to me. First of all, as I've mentioned before, there can be something rather troubling about the identification of government and the community. Secondly, Berg makes an telling switch into the rhetoric of collectivist voices. It is far from clear to me that we should only view the "community" as a monolithic entity. A "community" is in fact comprised of a huge array of voices and not only voices but bodies, too. Each individual certainly has the right to speak in his or her own voice on his or her own behalf. Our private, individual voices themselves do much good for the community---as loving parents, friends, artists, teachers, builders, and so forth. They do not achieve their legitimacy (in a true sense) from the government. A society in which the only charity and good works are those of the government is one of either tyranny or bloody anarchy. Our daily kindnesses and acts of good will keep our society and government functioning. Our community has many voices; our nation has many communities. To try to nullify this variety, to rest legitimacy only in the majority of votes, is to begin to undo the underpinnings of a free society and to pervert our senses of charity.

UPDATE: Welcome Protein Wisdom readers! You might also be interested in this post on Arnold Schwarzenegger and the role of principles in politics.

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