Sunday, March 30, 2014

Private charity

The analysis in this article is flawed on multiple levels:

1.) Quote: 'Compared with government relief, private charity is supposed to be more responsive to individual need and less bureaucratic; more of a helping hand and less of an initiative-suppressing "hammock," the term Ryan uses to deride the effects of government programs.

Having acknowledge this point (and the related point that private charity builds cross-class social capital and alleviates social inequality), the article proceeds to ignore it, measuring private charity vs. government programs purely in terms of money spent. The goal isn't to spend the most money possible, it's to get the largest effect possible with the money you can afford to spend.

2.) Quote: 'As charitable giving is structured in the United States today, it too often plays out not as the rich helping out the poor, but as the rich increasing the gap between themselves and the poor. A 2007 study by Indiana University's Center on Philanthropy found that only 30% of individual giving in the benchmark year of 2005 was aimed at the needs of the poor — including contributions for basic needs, donations to healthcare institutions, for scholarships and allocations from religious groups. (The study was commissioned by Google.) The smallest allocation of philanthropic giving to basic needs of the poor was made by the wealthiest donors, those with income of $1 million of more, who directed 3.8% of their giving directly to the poor. For the $100,000-$200,000 income group, that allocation was 12.4%.

If you're trying to explore a counterfactual universe wherein private charity, not government aid, is responsible for the poor, why would you choose 2005 as your benchmark, a time when government aid is already supporting the poor? The only conclusion the 2005 data supports is that the wealthiest givers feel that the marginal value of giving to the poor is low--whether that's because they see the poor as overserved or because they don't care about the poor under any circumstances is impossible to tell. The article is perfectly willing to use Great Depression-era data when it supports the author's beliefs--why not examine the proportion of individual giving to the poor back in the Great Depression when the poor were certainly underserved and starving to death?

Probably because measuring individual charity is hard. See point #3.

3.) Quote: 'The largest single recipient of philanthropy is religion — 32% of the total, according to Giving USA. But only a small portion of that goes to outreach to the needy; more than three-quarters of donations to religious organizations is spent on "congregational operations," including facilities upkeep, the Indiana University study found.'

This confuses "private charity" with "charitable organizations"--probably because tax-deductible donations to charitable organizations are easily and conveniently measured when you want to write an article. But it's utterly missing the point. While I am more than willing to grant that "congregational operations" are not germane to relief for the poor and should be excluded from the discussion in the same way that support for the arts is--despite that, I also observe that many things that we do within the Church to help each other WOULD NOT SHOW UP in this money-oriented discussion. When Bishop Gordon introduces an out-of-work neighbor to his old colleagues at Microsoft, when he and Dave Koon fix up an old truck to loan to someone so he can restart his business, when you let a friend in need come over and ransack your cupboards for groceries that he needs, when you mentor a young person or an older gentleman who needs to update his skills so he can get a better job--all of that is private charity, and yet it will never show up on the analysis of tax-deductible contributions to charitable organizations because it doesn't fit the standard money-oriented mold. And yet it can change lives.

Conclusion: does this mean that private charity CAN replace government aid? Not necessarily, and IMHO probably not completely, given how socially-disconnected our society is. Eliminating federal aid would probably result in those who have no friends or family starving, or turning to crime--a bad result. But a society which relies on government programs instead of the civic virtue of real people will spend more and more money to achieve less and less. It is inferior in all ways to a society built on individuals who live the gospel of Jesus Christ in their dealings with each other--even if those dealings don't show up in neat statistical analyses of IRS deductions.

Deck thyself now with majesty and excellency; and array thyself with glory and beauty.
Cast abroad the rage of thy wrath: and behold every one that is proud, and abase him.
Look on every one that is proud, and bring him low; and tread down the wicked in their place.
Hide them in the dust together; and bind their faces in secret.
Then will I also confess unto thee that thine own right hand can save thee.

I could not love thee, dear, so much,
Loved I not Honor more.

No comments: