Taxpayer-funded social safety nets should be a non-partisan issue, but unfortunately that idea has split along partisan lines in the USA. The Republican resistance to social safety nets correlates with White Christian Nationalist beliefs, which are at odds with mainstream Christianity.
The comments to a December 2022 post at BCC about tithing eventually touched on the topic of taxpayer-funded social safety nets. A commenter replied to the issue in a way I thought accurately summarized the Christian nationalist beliefs with a twist of LDS teachings added:
Third point: You wish for higher taxes to fund “social safety nets” so that the need for charity will be eliminated severely tramples on personal agency in trying to make charity compulsory. It is equally as evil to make charity compulsory as it is to make church attendance compulsory or the Word of Wisdom compulsory. Compulsory charity, as practiced in the modern welfare state, does not contribute to our progress in learning celestial living. No one gets “celestial credits” for anything done due to compulsion (such as paying taxes except, perhaps, for personal honestly in their computation), so burdening our customary lives by governmental action makes it that much more challenging to find acts of charity to perform. Furthermore, there is some character defect in wishing for the government to perform the duties that we should perform for ourselves. Wishing that the government should perform our charitable duties for us is similar to wishing that the government do our repenting for us, our gospel study for us, and all other celestializing activities for us. The biggest problem with this is that we cannot learn to be celestialized beings without actually going through the learning experiences and practice of the commandments ourselves (called “obedience” in the scriptures) any more than one can become a concert musician or a champion athlete without the relevant practice.
The ideas in this comment are:
- The social safety net is a bad idea because it might interfere with the commenter’s opportunities to be charitable and thus qualify for celestial glory.
- A social safety net is compulsory charity and we should only have voluntary charity.
- A social safety net makes it harder to find opportunities to be charitable.
- There’s an implication that charity is enough to meet everyone’s needs – that if the government didn’t take care of the poor, individuals could step up and do it.
A recent survey conducted by the PRRI [fn 1] asked what Americans thought about the Bible’s injunction to care for the poor and then separated the survey results based on the respondent’s views of White Christian Nationalism. Two-thirds of WCNs believe that biblical obligations to the poor are more about charitable acts by individuals rather than the task of a just society. Americans as a whole are divided; 54% say biblical injunctions to care for the poor are about charitable acts by individuals, compared with 47% who believe they are primarily talking about our obligation to create a just society. See also the Salt Lake Tribune report on the survey.
White Christian Nationalists generally believe that the laws of the United States should be based on Christian values, so many of the people opposing taxpayer-funded social safety nets oppose it based on their religious principles. In my opinion, this demonstrates the danger of basing laws that govern all of society on religious beliefs held only by a minority. (The PRRI survey estimated that only 10% of America’s population hold WCN beliefs and another 20% hold views that are sympathetic to WCN beliefs. This is just under one-third of the population. About 70% of Americans disagree with WCN beliefs.)
I am not a White Christian Nationalist and I don’t believe our laws should be based on Christian beliefs. I believe our laws should be based on secular and multi-cultural beliefs about the dignity and autonomy of every person. I also believe that the government has the ability and duty to spread resources to meet the basic needs of people who cannot meet their own needs. This isn’t charity; it’s just basic human decency and fairness. No, you don’t get “celestial credits” for supporting food stamps and homeless shelters because those are just basic decency, not anything extraordinary that qualifies you for the celestial kingdom. The idea that needs should be met by individual charity increases the suffering of the poor and needy and weakens American society.
The Actual Needs of the Needy
The comment that I quoted above doesn’t focus at all on the needs of the needy. Instead, the comment is focused on the giver’s need to qualify for the Celestial Kingdom. It’s a selfish and self-centered view of the reason someone gives charity. Helping someone in need should be about meeting their needs, not about earning “celestial credits” for yourself.
The social safety net is designed for the big ticket items – food, housing and health care. The social safety net also helps with childcare and children’s education. Individual charity can’t meet those needs. Even if you want to, one person usually doesn’t have the financial resources or the time. That’s why non-governmental charities spend so much of their time soliciting donations and have to pay a salary to someone to run the charity. Caring for the poor and needy has to be a group effort if it’s going to be effective. Churches can run some charities, but even churches have limited resources and a limited area in which they can help.
I wish the survey could have asked White Christian Nationalists how much individual charity they were actually giving. Were they housing a homeless person? Were they feeding someone meals on a regular basis? Are they paying someone’s medical bills? The point is that most people don’t have the resources to meet someone else’s big-ticket basic needs. I’m not criticizing the BCC commenter for not being able to meet someone’s big-ticket basic needs, I’m criticizing the BCC commenter for arguing that the government shouldn’t use tax funds to do anything about those big-ticket basic needs.
Another advantage to social safety nets is they can be standardized and non-judgmental. Life can create some very tricky situations with complex emotional challenges that stand in the way of helping someone you know, especially when mental illness and trauma are involved. A general purpose shelter can be better at providing help because it doesn’t come with all the baggage of family relationships.
Individual charity is a wonderful thing and I encourage everyone to do what they can. However, individual charitable efforts are typically small and limited by time and resources, which leads directly into the next point.
The Social Safety Net Does Not Interfere with Your Charity
Even if the government spends tax money on homeless shelters, transitional housing for the homeless, Medicaid, free preschool and food stamps, there is still plenty of opportunity for individual charity. Social safety net programs don’t usually help with temporary needs. If a family breadwinner lost their job, be their Secret Santa and drop off loads of Christmas gifts on their porch. If someone on food stamps has to have surgery, take in a meal. The fact that they have food stamps doesn’t mean that someone is there to cook for them while they recover from surgery. Offer to watch your neighbor’s children while she looks for a job, then when she finds a job, subsidized daycare can take over so you don’t have to provide full-time free childcare to your neighbor (unless you want to). Go volunteer at a school to help children practice reading.
Charity is a one-off, feel-good gift. That’s great. Go for it. I’ve certainly given charity. But I don’t want someone relying on me for their house payment, for their monthly food bill, or to pay for their doctor. I doubt there are many people out there who are rich enough and charitable enough to simply take over a poor person’s living expenses. If WCNs are doing this, I would like to hear about it.
The Independence and Dignity of the Needy
Being reliant on others is either humbling or humiliating, depending. Imagine needing to rely on the commenter who wrote the comment I quoted at the beginning of this post. Do you get the sense he sees needy-you as an equal? Or as a prop to help him on his way back to the celestial kingdom?
Government programs can be faceless and unfeeling, and sometimes that’s exactly what a needy person needs. Medicaid pays a medical bill without sending someone to lecture the sick person about how it’s their fault they’ve got a chronic illness and can’t work. Free preschool doesn’t come with a judgmental parent condemning a single mother for having gotten pregnant out of wedlock. A standardized government program can meet needs without judging the person who has those needs.
The idea that we should rely on our families for our basic needs is either wonderful or horrible, depending on your family. If you’re financially dependent on someone, they control you. Assuming families always want what’s best for you is terribly misguided. Imagine a father refusing to pay for his daughter’s mental health treatment because he believes she just needs to snap out of it. I know a woman who called her sister to ask for money to buy food for herself and her children until their next paycheck, and her sister responded with a lecture about money management and didn’t give her sister any money. What if a son tells his mother he won’t pay her heating bill unless she agrees to vote the way he wants her to vote?
A government-run social safety net has to be impartial. Family politics, especially when money is involved, can easily turn into oppression and manipulation.
Have you ever been on the receiving end of someone’s Christlike charity? I have, and it’s a mixed blessing. You have to perform gratitude and joy so that the giver feels good about giving you help, because you know you’ll need more help later. You can’t criticize the help you received, or make suggestions about what you actually need. You know the charitable person is going to tell this story in a testimony meeting or a lesson at some point, and you hope you’re not there to hear it.
I remember one charitable gift – all of my children came home with new shoes from school. A store had donated new shoes to an elementary school in a low-income area and we got shoes even though no one asked if we needed shoes. The shoes had shoelaces, and were so cheaply made that they were obviously going to fall apart within a few weeks. My kids couldn’t tie shoelaces at the time, and I had learned that Walmart’s velcro shoes that cost $11 lasted longer than $35 shoes from a fancier shoe store, like the store making the donation.
The store got a tax write-off and a feel-good story reported in the media at Christmastime. We got three pairs of unusable and unneeded shoes. (I left them under the Christmas giving tree in the ward foyer and hoped someone who needed them would take them.)
Contrast the charity shoes to the social safety net of food stamps. Food stamps can be used for a wide variety of food, so the poor person can get food their family will actually eat and that they actually need. We weren’t on food stamps, but we had friends who were. Food stamps (a social safety net thing) are better than charity for the needy person because you get what you actually need.
Another charitable thought that people frequently directed our way was to buy my children toys at Christmas. It was really sweet of them, and I appreciated the thought. I also gushed and thanked them profusely. Everyone wants to buy children toys at Christmastime. I counted one memorable Christmas in which we got 12 train sets with 17 trains (several sets of families each separately selected us for their charitable giving project for the season and everything was a surprise, meaning I couldn’t communicate our actual needs). Meanwhile, I struggled to buy diapers. My children were thrilled beyond belief. I would have been happier with 4 train sets and a case of diapers.
Just after Hurricane Katrina, I was on the other end of charitable efforts to help the victims. Relief agencies were going to start flying some hurricane refugees to other areas of the country, and my city was going to get a planeful of people who had lost everything. I volunteered to help sort donated clothing. A department store had donated a literal ton of clothing – it filled three rooms. Donated brand-new clothing sounded great! We knew our city was getting single men. I assumed we’d be sorting jeans, tennis shoes, and knit shirts. Nope. The store donated what it couldn’t sell. I had never seen so much plus-size lingerie in my life; the store must have donated the excess for every store within three states. The clothing that wasn’t lycra and spandex undies was mostly women’s clothing in chiffon and gauze fabrics – the summer clearance items donated in November.
Charity isn’t always usable, and it isn’t always what you actually need.
The other reason charity is hard on the receiver is because it’s unpredictable and subject to somebody’s need for a warm fuzzy feeling. It is stressful beyond belief to be financially struggling. A surprise charitable gift doesn’t do anything for that stress. What alleviates stress is knowing that you can buy food every month. The social safety net is predictable. The poor person knows they will get a certain amount in food stamps every month. The poor person knows they will get a housing voucher every month. The poor person knows their child can get free preschool services, and their other children get free school lunch. It’s stressful enough being poor and unemployed without having to grovel for someone’s charity.
The social safety net is designed to meet the poor’s real needs in a reliable way. It doesn’t always work, but it’s better than hoping your neighbor will include the receipt for the train set so you can return it and buy diapers instead.
There is nothing about a social safety net that prevents an individual from being charitable. You can earn all the “celestial credits” you need even if the social safety net helps people with food, housing and health care. Government laws and programs should be based on respect for all people, even those who can’t provide for their own needs. If that’s no longer a Christian value, then so be it. Secularism is much kinder to the poor and needy than White Christian Nationalism.
- Have you ever been on the receiving end of charity from an individual or church? What was it like?
- Have you ever needed a social safety net program like food stamps or a housing voucher? What was it like?
- Should the focus of charity be on meeting the actual needs of the needy person or on the giver’s “celestial credits”?
- Do you want individual generosity to be the only source of help for the poor and needy? Why or why not?
[fn 1] PRRI (Public Religion Research Institute) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to conducting independent research at the intersection of religion, culture, and public policy. I came across the survey after reading the Salt Lake Tribune’s story reporting that LDS faithful are more likely to sympathize with white Christian nationalist beliefs than the general US population.
THE TRUE MEASURE OF ANY SOCIETY CAN BE FOUND IN HOW IT TREATS ITS MOST VULNERABLE MEMBERS
I know that I’m not exactly answering your questions but….I find LDS members to have a slightly distorted view of charity. I blame the Church and the IRS. Most of us have taken deductions on our taxes every year (if we itemize) based on our tithing payments and we tell ourselves that we have made a charitable contribution. No, we paid a membership fee to a large corporation. Additionally, we pat ourselves on the back for “serving” in our callings. Nothing wrong with serving in callings unless we tell ourselves that we are engaging in Christian service. No, we are contributing to a large social organization that we are part of.
For years I convinced myself that I did not need to volunteer my time or contribute financially to charitable organizations because I had that covered via callings and tithing. Sad. I’m sure many LDS are better than me this way but many are just like me.
An example from Utah politics: It is apparently okay to support students at private religious schools with taxpayer dollars at a rate higher per student than funding used to support public school students, but it is not okay to feed the hungry and clothe the naked and provide healthcare for the poor.
I find the conservative argument against social safety nets because they are “compulsory charity” tragically ironic. The LDS Church practices the most blatant form of compulsory charity by demanding 10% of a member’s income for life, with the threat of cutting off members from their families in the eternities, as well as dividing families here on earth (inability to attend family weddings, social ostracism, etc.) if one fails to pay. If you think high taxes are a form of government-sanctioned extortion, I would argue that the Church’s version is far worse. At least high taxes come with public input/oversight, representation (unless you live in D.C.), transparency and the possibility of expanded and improved public services. The Church can only make nebulous, non-specific promises of “blessings” as a reward for paying tithing, which aren’t really promises at all. And the money goes into a black hole, where members have no say in how it gets spent, and local communities never receive any direct benefit from it.
Church members love to watch Les Miserables yet so many seem to completely miss the story’s message when they vote.
The story was referenced in general conference back in the 90’s and made its way into numerous talks and lessons at church. Yet members continued to vote increasingly for politicians committed to ending and minimizing safety nets.
The irony is difficult for me to comprehend. I suppose members find ways to justify their voting but it leaves me puzzled.
It goes without saying that Charity is good and desirable. Any man who would not feed a hungry child deserves to be buried under a thousand empty slurpee cups. But that is not the question. The question is whether the government is better at providing Charity than others are. The irrefutable fact is that it is not.
The Founding Fathers established this Country on the principle that the government is beholden to the people and that it has no other source of power except the people. The great question of our time is whether we will stay true to this principle. Will we believe in our capacity for self-government, or will we abandon the American Revolution and accept the claim that a tiny group of intellectuals in a far off capital can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves?
That is the problem with the socialist ideology. It teaches that the public is far better off if it lets its life course be determined by pointy headed elites in a far off capital. That is nonsense.
So let us all give, and give generously. But let us not place our faith in the federal government to somehow succeed in providing Charity when it has failed at nearly everything else.
Growing up, my family benefited from the social safety net here in the UK. My father was fortunate always to be employed, but was not particularly well paid when I was small. My mother cared for us at home (I am the eldest of 7 children) as per church teachings at the time. During the 70s inflation was very high. Then during the 80s mortgage interest rates rocketed. Available to all was free health care, courtesy of the nhs.. my father was in hospital twice, free dental care, optometry and prescriptions for children and pensioners, and a nominal charge for working adults, and universal Child Benefit, paid to the mother of the children. Additionally all children received 1/3 pint of milk at morning break in school.
As a family we additionally qualified for vouchers for milk and vitamins, and free school meals for quite a few years.
The four eldest of us also took advantage of free musical instrument tuition in school, during the years that was available. My mother began working part time once my youngest brother was in school. Nevertheless, I qualified for full grant for university tuition and living expenses, the last cohort this was available before the government started the move to student loans. I was able to study at a top university, where I met my husband. All these things I count as blessings which have greatly enriched my life and the life of my children.
My family have also been recipients of personal acts of charity mainly in the form of bags of clothing from extended family and church members whose children had outgrown. My mother had taught me to use a sewing machine, and as a teenager I would sometimes remake these things, to be more in keeping with current fashion. Removing collars and shortening sleeves of shirts, turning a pair of cord jeans into a skirt, and the most drastic completely remodelling a winter coat passed down from a cousin. Sometimes I was embarrassed about this. But I also learned skills. I am grateful for that too. Though I tried not to wear clothes from church at church, as it was a bit toecurling to have an older girl comment that that used to be her dress.
Yes, your right JCS, that damn government! Why I have running water, a sewer system, trash pick up and lots of freeways. What an abject failure the government is.
We particularly owe it to the elderly, upon who’s backs we have ALL stood, to make sure they are taken care of when they can no longer work. Our SOCIETY owes them that. It has nothing to do with religion.
I’ll also add that the value of a free public lending library throughout my life has been enormous
My children attend a school with free breakfast and lunch for all. Because of their free lunches, we’ve also received PEBT (pandemic food stamps) without any application on our part. I understand that we receive benefits because it is cheaper for us to receive benefits than for the government to employ people to determine which minority of households in our community do not need benefits. I appreciate and benefit from a decision to err on the side of feeding “too many” children.
On the individual level, I’ve received meals and hand-me-down clothes. I’ve given meals, hand-me-down clothes, cash, and Christmas gifts. There is a burden of gratitude that isn’t there for the school’s free lunches.
I’m in favor of government social safety nets. The economy of scale allows for greater service than a single congregation can provide. I support the raising of my taxes to better support the needy and raise school teacher pay.
I love the idea of a social safety net, and I’m not sure I have a better solution than the government provided social safety net provided by most Western governments. That said, I do have have issues with the execution of government provided social safety nets and wonder if there is a better way.
Suppose we had Christ here on earth with us right now, and He is in charge of the world’s social safety net. He’s Christ, so presumably He could:
1. Perfectly assess the needs of each individual in the world.
2. Perfectly assess the amount that each individual ought to/is able to contribute to the social safety net.
3. Make up for any difference there might be between contributions to the social safety net and distributions of the social safety net because, well, loaves and fishes.
4. Ensure that the collection/distribution system for the social safety net has no waste/corruption and that no one is able to “game the system”.
However, Christ isn’t here, so we have issues:
1. It is very difficult to determine what each individual needs and how long they need it. Many people are going to try to game the system to get more than they really need which is a burden on those contributing to the social safety net.
2. It is very difficult to determine how much each individual is really able to/ought to pay into the social safety net. While I don’t agree with many of the points the BCC commenter made, it is true that a government mandated social safety net is forcing people who don’t agree with it to pay for it anyway. When you don’t agree with the Church, you can stop paying tithing, walk away, etc. When you refuse to pay into the government mandated social safety net, you go to jail.
3. It is very difficult to determine how much a country is able to/ought to fund a social safety net. Unlike Christ, who can create resources out of thin air, society has to live within the constraints of real resource limitations. A large chunk of the federal budget is going to social programs now, but we keep increasing the debt ceiling such that 20 cents of every dollar we pay in federal taxes is now going to debt payments instead of social programs (and other government expenditures), and at our currently trajectory that number is forecast to rise very quickly. We may need to carefully pare down the social safety net and/or increase the amount people are paying into it in order to avoid burdening the next generation with massive government debt payments, but should we cut back on programs or tax people more (or both)? It’s a value judgment, and some people are not going to get their way. They are going to feel like they are being compelled to participate in a program they don’t really support.
4. I don’t have numbers, but given all of the reports, it feels like corruption and abuse in the US social safety net is widespread. My spouse worked for WIC a number of years ago (Women, Infants and Children) which is part of the US government’s social safety net. There were a number of new mothers would drive up to the WIC office in brand new Mercedes cars, lie to the WIC representative about why they needed some sort of very expensive, special baby formula, and then drive off and sell it on the open market to make quite a bit of money. Both sides knew a scam was going on, but there was absolutely nothing the WIC employees could do about it. Waste and abuse of the system reduces people’s desire to contribute to the social safety net.
Like I said, I’m not sure that there is a better solution than a single government-mandated social safety net, so I’m mostly in support of it. The stories of individuals/families who really needed the social safety net, who didn’t abuse it, and who were saved from terrible circumstances are very heart warming. I’m glad it was there for those people, and I’m proud that I helped fund it for them. That said, I remain concerned about all of the issues I listed above. It would be wonderful if some of those issues could be addressed somehow (but I know that some of them are very difficult to address).
I believe in Christian charity. I am also supportive of social safety nets. But I do not want to conflate the two. Jesus asked individuals to be charitable, and never made demands on government policy. When I support social safety nets, I do so as a citizen within the society rather than as a Christian.
Conservatives have often labeled the social safety net in our country as “forced charity.” Well, you have the option to vote against such measures and those who support them. And, you have the choice as to how you view such programs. Social safety nets need not prevent one from charitable works—both here and abroad.
Frankly, it is a no-brainer for me when I look around the world and compare countries with social safety nets for their citizens and those that don’t where I would prefer to live.
For a few years I was involved in helping a woman in her 20’s who had multiple sclerosis and was in a wheelchair. Where would she be had she not had the social safety nets—subsidized housing, disability, medical care etc?
Lastly, people can work 40+ hrs/wk and not be able to make ends meet. $7.25 is not a living wage for most people. The importance of one’s contribution to society is often not reflected in how much one earns. ( I would say those harvesting our food are more essential than those running a football down the field).
The idea that we have to hoard charitable opportunities rather than trying to put our collective heads together through good government is the easiest way to preserve the illusion of a meritocracy. It’s easy to imagine ourselves as the charitable benefactors, earning good boy points toward salvation for giving someone what they don’t need most, seeing them as churlish and ungrateful if they don’t perform thanks enough, and seeing ourselves as the real victims because of their demands. Charity preserves our self-image as the one giving it. We deserve more. We are better.
Nothing irritates me more than hearing about the anti-abortion WCNs who do diaper and bottle drives so that those poor, unfortunate souls, the mothers who were forced to give birth, can have their charitable help. The anti-abortion crowd can feel so noble because they imagine they are helping those unwanted babies to thrive, but once the baby is past the age of bottles, past the diaper phase, they will happily see those same less-cute babies remain in poverty. Twenty years later, they will gladly over-police those same poor people and put those once-cute babies in their for-profit prisons and never once make any connection to the original forced pregnancy because they, those “charitable” WCNs, gave a poor woman who knew better that she didn’t have the wherewithal to bring a(nother) child into her situation, some bottles and diapers.
We don’t want to give poor people the dignity of life choices; those are a perk of having money.
“The poor are poor. One is sorry for them, but there it is.” (the wealthy Mr. Wilcox whose bad financial advice ruins Leonard Bast in Howard’s End)
Thank you for your thoughtful post, Janey. Your examples were illuminating and moving.
I am embarrassed about some of the thoughts I had on the poor in my younger years, maybe not WCN style, but I still had a perspective that I knew best and government was not the answer.
josh h and Jack Hughes – thanks for those comments about the difference between providing for the poor and paying tithing. We get taught those are both charitable donations, but only one helps someone in need (with the caveat that fast offerings are used by the Church to help the poor).
John Charity Spring – the talking point that the government is useless at helping people ignores many programs that actually do help people. Food stamps give food to poor people. Subsidized housing gives people somewhere to live. Medicaid and Medicare provide health care. Do I think individuals could do a better job at distributing resources to the poor? Nope. Even the Church, when it helps out with fast offerings, eventually refers people to government social safety net programs. Also, I wouldn’t describe our elected representatives as a “tiny group of intellectuals.”
Hedgehog – thanks for sharing your experiences from the UK. That was just a great illustration of my point! The social safety net took care of the big-ticket needs, and your family was still able to help out with clothing donations, which taught you the valuable life skill of sewing. I grew up wearing my cousins’ hand-me-downs too, but didn’t learn how to alter them.
HokieKate – Great point about whether or not it’s worth it to investigate to find out if someone REALLY needs help. “I understand that we receive benefits because it is cheaper for us to receive benefits than for the government to employ people to determine which minority of households in our community do not need benefits.” I mean, would we rather err on the side of giving someone something they don’t need, or in denying help to someone who is truly in need? I know which side of that question I come down on. And, as you point out, it’s actually cheaper to err on the side of giving too much because it costs so much to pay salaries and admin costs for investigating peoples’ finances.
Mountainclimber – I’ve heard stories of people gaming the system too, but I’ve also heard stories of people completely debunking, for example, the myth of the welfare queen. (https://www.amazon.com/Myth-Welfare-Queen-Prize-Winning-Journalists/dp/0684840065). If gaming the system means someone gets an extra $50 in food stamps, I’m not too concerned.
I’m a bit skeptical of the WIC moms making a lot of money selling expensive baby formula. Presumably, the WIC mom had to feed a baby, and WIC only provided enough formula for one baby. Maybe she was occasionally selling a can of expensive baby formula once in a while? She wouldn’t be able to sell it for more than the stores sold it, though, so that doesn’t seem like a way to get rich.
Also, the argument that people are forced to pay into the social safety net if they don’t agree with it can be made for any government expenditure. I must pay into the US military budget whether I agree with it or not.
My bigger concern about people scamming the system is high-income and high-wealth individuals cheating on their taxes. Welfare benefit fraud (while deplorable) usually operates in the realms of hundreds of dollars, maybe a few thousand or tens of thousands, per individual. Billionaires and millionaires are avoiding tax bills of hundreds of thousands, up to millions, of dollars. https://www.nbcnews.com/business/taxes/richest-americans-pay-almost-no-income-taxes-report-finds-n1270069. I consider that much more concerning.
ji – that’s an excellent distinction. Christ encouraged individual charity. He said nothing about social safety nets. All I know about the government of Judea during Christ’s time is that the Judeans paid taxes (render unto Ceasar …) that probably paid for a Roman garrison and military occupation. Those in need begged in the streets. A social safety net reduces the number of beggars in the streets, which I see as a good thing, regardless of how Judea’s government handled the needy 2000 years ago.
Lois – a second thumbs up for this line: “The importance of one’s contribution to society is often not reflected in how much one earns.”
Angela C – the meritocracy argument keeps so many people from getting the help they need. I completely agree that charity gets to be self-congratulatory rather than effectively solving problems.
East Coast Guy – I am right there with you. I was raised with the prosperity gospel and thought anyone could work their way up. I’ve seen enough of life now that my opinions have changed too. Let’s help people.
I too believe in, and perform, Christain charity, and I am also in favor of the state establishing social safety nets. They are not the same thing. Muslim, Hindu, and Athiest societies can, and should, establish social safety nets. Jesus never commanded the state to do anything. He also strongly supported a woman who did not want to give something valuable to feed the poor, telling her accusers “Let her alone; why trouble ye her.” He then told the detractors: “For ye have the poor with you always, and whensoever ye will ye may do them good.” So anyone, including the most faithful, may do charity whenever they feel like it, but they should not do (if I read Jesus’ words correctly) is tell other people what they should do with their property. But that’s the whole gospel message, isn’t it? Repent yourself, do good yourself, don’t worry about the mote in your neighbor’s eye until you’ve taken care of the beam in your own. Jesus’ teachings were for the individual more than for the group. I try to do my part to help others, and I support state efforts to provide relief.
My dad contracted viral spinal meningitis when my mom was pregnant with me. Due to periodic seizures my dad’s driver’s license was revoked which essentially made him unable to work. Lucky my mom was a high school teacher and she taught every night class she could for extra money. My dad, in between seizures and hospital stays, managed to get me and my older siblings off to school in one piece. Were it not been for social security disability, our family would have been in trouble. We would never have expected our local ward to provide decades of support, for example. I truly appreciate the American taxpayer for looking after my family my dad’s entire life and not condemning our family due to circumstances outside our control. So I for one am extremely grateful for government assistance and am proud of it.
Charity is truly a funny thing. My dad would get so upset if anyone mentioned how social security disability blessed our lives. He would go on a rant about how he paid into that system before he got sick more than he took out of it once he got ill, which is simply not true if you do the math and well as the fact that we didn’t care. We didn’t judge him for being sick. But he had his pride I suppose.
As for the notion that government safety nets get abused, I’ve got news for you: in my calling as a church auditor I can attest that the church’s fast offering program gets “abused” just the same. No one is immune.
Thank you Janey and to most commenters for your support of these programs. Who I am today is in large part to a social safety net.
“Throughout history, the Lord has measured societies and individuals by how well they cared for the poor.” Elder D. Todd Christofferson, October 2008 General Conference, “Come to Zion”.
So yeah, I think I should do my part to care for the poor, but I also think we as a society should care for the poor. I believe that’s what the Lord would want us to do, relieve the suffering by all possible means.
Excellent topic !! This is also a very sensitive topic to which a simple statement of truth can be misinterpreted very quickly, if differing from another’s view point. In regards to “public assistance” both sides of the conversation have valid points. However, when the pendulum swings too far from our own, then we can entrench our viewpoint and say the other side is “wrong” and ask for the pendulum to swing back. For the betterment of society, we want to practice charity.
Is charity an obligation?
Which system or organizational distribution is better and helps the most? Government, religious, individuals or a combination of all 3?
I hope the we can all comment from our personal experiences, without giving/taking offense. I am going to share some of my thoughts from both points of view and I apologize if I misspeak or poorly explain my thoughts/experiences.
I believe we all have an obligation to practice charity. However, charity does not always equal money. It can be sharing time, knowledge, love, etc; to which many in society lack. However, charity should not be expected or obligatory.
In regards to financial charity, many in the world now expect it, more than are grateful.
I just came back from Cuba. Talk about a society lacking in material resources. Some people are working and struggle and are giving their best effort to acquire necessary goods to sustain life, and others just walk up and demand money. You got it and I deserve it. But Cuba has a social net, though it is not unlivable one. China uses their social net to control dissidents.
I work in the inner city here in USA. Some people are grateful for the government/church/individual assistance/charity, while others expect it and complain, even once it is received. Some people work, some do not, even when capable. I understand it is hard to be poor. But with exception of the truly disabled and the Elderly, passive handouts alone are not the answer. People need to be engaged and need a plan for self-improvement. I understand it is more complicated than pull yourself up by your bootstraps, but always having pity and no effort does not change the equation. People need to work. Even in Cuba there is work, it may not pay well, but there is something to do (as JCS would say not being in honky tonks/Dairy queen/basement/video games) I personally see the abuse of the system every day and it is fatiguing. Some individuals put more effort into not working, then they would working. It is easy to lecture others (middle/upper class) and state they need to help. However, you can not help someone unless they want to help themselves. I have experienced that some people truly do not want to give the effort. Some people have figured out how to make passive money both legally and illegally. Some people are self independent by making YouTube/TikToc videos, but they are doing something as opposed to living solely on the dole. I do not want to be misunderstood, I am compassionate toward those who need the public assistance, however I call a spade a spade to those who are corrupting the system.
I see clients who get their food stamps and eat better that first week of the month than most of us do. They consume lobster, crab and high end products. The local inner city grocery stores stock up the first week on these items. By the last week, these are the same people who state they do not have enough food. I see people who need help and do not get the help, because they do not understand the system. I see others who know how to manipulate the system and do they manipulate it. Then we pass more rules, and it affects the innocents and elderly, and the manipulators do what they always do, not work. Unfortunately, many of us see homeless people in our communities, those are not the people I am referring to. They deserve a dignity of life and a better social net. This whole conversation is complicated with mental illness, drug abuse, etc and it is not black and white.But placing more $$ into the system without a solid plan is only for the politicians ad campaigns.
Some in the upper class can abuse the system the same way by cheating on taxes/programs and not contributing toward society. There needs to be a balance. Where is that ? We have failed to find it for thousands of years. Christ said the poor you will always have with you. It does not mean we do not help the poor. But the truly poor are not getting the assistance, it is the manipulators. No one wants to be poor, but not everyone wants to work.
Nevertheless, I would rather be poor in 2023, than poor in 1783 or 893 AD/CE. I would rather be poor in the USA than many other countries of the world. I would rather live in a greedy capitalist society than a socialist state. But, I would rather be poor in the UAE, than be poor in the USA.
Meanwhile, I am a proponent of Bountiful Children’s foundation https://bountifulchildren.org/. However, the LDS hierarchy refuses to support it because “they do not want the recipients to become dependent on the system” I disagree completely with the Q15. Shame on them with their $BN’s of OUR own donations and stating how tithing helps the poor, but in reality it does not. How can a child, who is malnourished abuse a system for basic food supplements. Even if the mother is abusing the system, for a malnourished child, let her. However, when the abuse is an able bodied adult, living off the backs of others working 40-70 hour weeks, that is also not right.
We never know when any of us may need to rely on the social safety net. Estimates, show 60% of Americans will live below the economic poverty line for at least 1 year of their life. Many of us were poor students. However, I propose it should be only a temporary net that catches someone when falling and then you get back to climbing up the wrungs of life. The net is not for taking a long leisurely nap of the backs of others’ labour. Society can not sustain its’ self when the few are supporting the social programs and the balance tips to be a broken net.
@Janey–I should have been clearer on the WIC story. I wasn’t claiming that these women were buying luxury cars from scamming expensive baby formula alone. The understanding was that at least some of these women were also gaming other parts of the social safety net at the same time. This was way back in the 90s in the deep South, so hopefully some of this fraud has been cleaned up by now. That said, according to WIC, this is still an issue today: https://www.wicstrong.com/fraud/. There was some sort of special formula that was several times more expensive than regular formula that the scammers all knew about (all they had to do was claim their baby had a certain condition to get it). It really frustrated the WIC employees because the scammers would take all of this formula that their babies didn’t need, so the babies that actually needed it often couldn’t get it.
The misuse of social safety net funds in covid relief programs is a much better example of abuse of the social safety net: https://www.nbcnews.com/politics/justice-department/biggest-fraud-generation-looting-covid-relief-program-known-ppp-n1279664. I realize this is probably a huge outlier in the scope of the abuse because it happened during an emergency situation, but it illustrates why it’s important to remain vigilant in eliminating fraud with the social safety net.
You said, “I also believe that the government has the ability and duty to spread resources to meet the basic needs of people who cannot meet their own needs. This isn’t charity; it’s just basic human decency and fairness.” I agree with everything you’ve said there except for the “this isn’t charity” part. I think it is charity, and I guess that means I disagree with the title of this post–it seems to me like that the social safety net is precisely “compulsory charity”. I don’t mean to be pedantic, but I just looked up charity in the dictionary and found this, “the voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.” If that’s charity, then would seem to follow that “compulsory charity” would be “the compulsory giving of help, typically in the form of money, to those in need.” And that seems like that’s exactly what the social safety net is practice–the compulsory giving of help to those in need.
You rightly pointed out that taxpayers are forced to pay for other government services like national defense. It is really impossible to provide these services except through the federal government. I feel like opponents of the social safety net–economic conservatives, small government people, they all aren’t wacko WCNs–make a pretty strong case that the social safety net is not something that a national government ought to be involved in. Government should remain small and limited to just the things that only it can do. Big government naturally leads to problems and loss of freedom. They argue that the government shouldn’t provide a social safety net because individuals are free to voluntarily fund a social safety net; therefore, compelling people to pay for charity should be outside the scope of government. I personally have a lot of sympathy for this line of thinking myself. It’s only because I believe that voluntary giving would only generate a small fraction of the money needed to cover all the needs–“to provide some basic human decency and kindness”–that I am able to support the government mandated social safety net. So, for me it’s not an ideal solution, but I (reluctantly) support the social safety net because I believe the needs of the public good outweigh the rights of the taxpayers in this case, and I see no way for it to happen voluntarily. Because of my distaste for compulsory charity, though, I am very concerned about confining the social safety net to its required size, rooting out corruption, and yes, making sure that everyone pays their fair share by catching wealthy tax dodgers and making them pay up.
We, as a nation, have difficult choices to make in the near future. The size of the social safety net is over 50% of the federal budget and continues to grow. It was well-known that the baby boomers would eventually get old and need to collect social security and Medicare payments, yet our government has been slow to prepare for this. Instead of a wonderfully stable social safety net, we’re going to leave our children and grandchildren with massive debt payments to make if we don’t get our spending in check soon. We are currently funding the social safety net with a lot of debt. We either need to raise taxes to pay for it, or we need to reduce benefits (or both), and we need to do it soon. And yet, some people behave as if there is no problem at all, and are continually pushing to increase the size and scope of the social safety net (sometimes with massive increases) when we don’t even have a plan or the ability to properly fund the one we have now.
mountainclimber479-I keep seeing conflicting statistics on how much is being spent on social safety nets.
I live in the supposed “Welfare Queen” capitol state of California. Unemployment? It’s based on how much you earned in the past 2 years, and, it cuts off after 6 months, unless the Federal Gov’t. step in. If you have worked outside the state, that is not counted as earnings, so you get nothing. Get fired for bad conduct? You get nothing. Newly arrived immigrants? You get nothing from unemployment. Food stamps? There’s a maximum limit of how much you can make and still get them, it was $36,000 a year, and it does not factor in your rent & other necessary bills, like utilities. Non-citizens can’t get food stamps. Subsidized housing? It varies all over the map. California Medicaid? We looked at that, how much it charges looks only at your income, not your expenses.
There’s still a lot of Federal tax dollars being thrown at subsidies for fossil fuels & corporate agribusiness. One oil refinery was pleading for Federal help to build a seawall around their refinery, despite the irony of that.
Angela C – The meritocracy argument has overlooked that several of the widely publicized “self made Billionaires” in the US have had nepotism help them in their rise to fortune.
@Mike H. That site breaks things down into 4 categories:
Social Security and Medicare: 38%
Welfare including Medicaid: 15%
The site also breaks things down into 2 definitions of the social safety net (https://federalsafetynet.com/social-safety-net/): “The term social safety net is used in a broad sense to mean any government program that benefits individuals or families. This broad definition includes Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, Unemployment, and Welfare Programs in the U.S. The term is used in a narrower sense to refer only to programs that protect low-income or homeless citizens.”
I was including Social Security and Medicare costs in my discussion of how much the US Government is spending on the social safety net. That’s why I said the federal government spends over 50% of its budget on the social safety net.
I feel like Social Security makes sense to include in the social safety net since there are some people who are fortunate enough to be in a position where they would be able to collect much more money if they had been able to invest their social security contributions in an stock market index fund instead. On the other hand, some people who didn’t earn as much in their lifetime will be able to collect much more from social security than they put into it because of the extra contributions of the higher earners. Since we have the higher earners being compelled to contribute to something that is known to produce suboptimal returns for them in order to benefit lower earners, Social Security feels like a social safety net item to me. My understanding is that Social Security and Medicare costs are at the crux of the federal budget problem.
I am not poor. My wife and I live on the old age pension ($800/ week) which we suppliment.
We have a holiday booked to Japan in March. We presently drive a 5 year old Mercedes which will be replaced with a Tesla x shortly.
A daughter owns a rental property which has a government subsidy. It rents for 60% of usual rent to people who fill in a form to show they have less than $60,000 income for a couple. The daughter gets $15,000 from the government for allowing her property to be used by people who would otherwise struggle to afford good housing.
This right wing American idea that private sector bureaucrats are so much more efficient than public sector bureaucrats is a myth. For example Australia has universal healthcare which costs $4700 / person and healthcare is 9.6% of GDP, compared to the US costing $9892 / person and 17.2% of GDP. If you insurance companies were more efficient than our government your health system should be cheaper, not twice as much.
I had a phone call from my local public hospital during the week saying I was entitled to an endoscopy, and asking if I wanted to make an apointment. I asked if they would call back next year please. I can expect to live productively 5 years longer than a US citizen on average, because of our healthcare system. Rectocolon cancer is the third most popular killer of old folk in the US.
We still have charities.
I commented in November that my wife and I had driven our mercedes to the tip of Cape York in October, and had to get off the cape, with its dirt roads, before the wet season. The wet season is now in full swing, and the roads are closed. Since November there has been over 6 feet of rain, with 10 inches in some 24 hour periods. Utah on average 11 inches a year. Nothing to do with the Government. Just interest in how different our lives can be.
In the OT and in the NT, charity is described as a nation’s responsibility:
25 Your iniquities have turned away these things, and your sins have withholden good things from you.
26 For among my people are found wicked men: they lay wait, as he that setteth snares; they set a trap, they catch men.
27 As a cage is full of birds, so are their houses full of deceit: therefore they are become great, and waxen rich.
28 They are waxen fat, they shine: yea, they overpass the deeds of the wicked: they judge not the cause, the cause of the fatherless, yet they prosper; and the right of the needy do they not judge.
29 Shall I not visit for these things? saith the Lord: shall not my soul be avenged on such a nation as this?
Christ’s great parable of the sheep and the goats, Matt 25:31-36
31 When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory:
32 And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats:
33 And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left.
34 Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
35 For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
36 Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Similarly, Ezekiel (ch. 16) states that the sin of Gomorrah is:
49 Behold, this was the iniquity of thy sister Sodom, pride, fulness of bread, and abundance of idleness was in her and in her daughters, neither did she strengthen the hand of the poor and needy.
50 And they were haughty, and committed abomination before me: therefore I took them away as I saw good.
In the comments about taxes, I did not notice concern about tax cuts for very wealthy individuals and for corporations.
Nor comments about if they abuse the system.
Wealth disparity and income inequality are increasing exponentially. This is particularly so since 1980.
Not only is minimum wage insufficient to support oneself (and a family) on, the income level that falls under that guideline is rising. There are a lot of jobs that contribute to society that have low pay.
Corporations have largely discontinued pensions. So, compared to pre-1980, those of us who work for a living (most of us!) not only have a more difficult time paying our day-to-day living expenses, our older years could be bleak.
This is a big part of my laundry list of concerns, but not comprehensive.
I think this article is pertinent to the discussion:
First read it last November, and dug it out. Lots of food for thought..
Moses ben Maimon, alias Maimonides, had some thoughts about charity. He posited seven levels of charity, with the lowest having the giver and receiver known to each other The highest is something that we wouldn’t recognize as charity: giving a loan to someone so he could support himself in a business.
He didn’t say anything about 12th Century Spain’s obligations to its poor.
Not meaning to thread-jack here, but I do want to give a shout-out to Geoff-Aus for his (your) continued input re the Aussie way of living. So interesting. Please feel free to continue adding in.
mountainclimber – WIC fraud does sound frustrating to deal with, and I also hope that they’ve found a way to address it in the past 30 years or so. At my job, we have to verify eligibility for help, and with everything online now, it’s pretty easy to spot scammers just because everything online is tracked. You and I both agree that eliminating fraud in the social safety net is an important goal. I think our point of disagreement is how widespread WIC fraud is, for example, and whether people who say they need help should be trusted until proven otherwise, or made to prove their needs up front. I tend to trust people who say they need help. Yes, that’s come back to bite me on occasion, but it’s also been the right approach on more occasions. Most of the people who say they need help, really do need help. Our office has some small corner of Covid-aid fraud to investigate too. What I’ve seen is that handing out stimulus checks to individuals and increasing the child tax credit worked great. Most of the fraud came in the loans to businesses. The covid relief worked, by and large, as evidenced by the drastic drop in individual bankruptcy filings. Yes, prosecute the fraud to the fullest extent of the law, but the covid relief overall did what it was supposed to do.
I suppose my main concern about discussing the fraud so much is that some people react to that by saying we should cut benefits because it’s all getting scammed anyway. And that isn’t true. Most of the covid money helped people pay bills. I’m willing to bet that most of WIC is spent on food that people need.
You said this: “a pretty strong case that the social safety net is not something that a national government ought to be involved in.” and then later said this: “It’s only because I believe that voluntary giving would only generate a small fraction of the money needed to cover all the needs.” It seems like you’re wishing an ideal situation existed in which people would give voluntarily, which would make it unnecessary for the govt to step in. I understand that. I’ve got the opposite view, and I’m very relieved that the national government has stepped in. Both because voluntary contributions wouldn’t be enough, and also to standardize resources over a larger area. Small local govts and/or charities in low-income areas wouldn’t be able to access the resources of richer areas. The social safety net needs nationwide funding.
I was raised to think big government was a bad thing, then I got involved in small local government and that changed my thinking pretty quick! Small local govt was excruciating, and there were different opportunities for fraud and scam. I’m now in the wishy-washy middle ground of thinking there are both good and bad things about both big and small government and thinking one form or the other would solve problems is ‘the grass is always greener’ thinking.
I’m in favor of funding/increasing the social safety net by hiring hundreds more auditors at the IRS who will spend all their time auditing the tax returns of every billion-dollar company and every billionaire in the USA. We don’t need to amend the tax code; we need to enforce the one we already have on the people rich enough to game the system. Like, the people/companies who can set up private banks in the Cayman Islands to hide their wealth need to be audited, every single year. That would pay for the social safety net.
Oh! Here’s a fun problem with private charitable giving. When a corporation or billionaire gives tons of money to a charity, sometimes they’re giving it to a private charitable foundation. It “counts” as a charitable donation for tax purposes and so the donor can brag about it in the media, but the private charity doesn’t have to actually pay any money out in charitable grants. Does that sound like Ensign Peak Advisors and the Church’s billion dollar fund? Why yes, it certainly does. Charitable donations don’t have to be spent on charity; they can just be hoarded, and it isn’t just the Church that does this. Anyway. Charity ought to be measured by what actually reaches people in need.
Hedgehog, that Medium article was fascinating. Thanks for linking it.
Any payments to the Salt Lake Tribune and Public radio are also charitable. I don’t see the Trib or NPR helping the poor very much.
Education and knowledge are of great value in bringing people up.
I’m getting a bit off-topic from the original post, but I want to talk for a minute about other ways the government could ensure that resources are spread around fairly WITHOUT using the social safety net, or even anything that could be defined as charity. Mountainclimber looked up the definition of charity, and sure enough, the govt social safety net could fit in that definition.
First, a story in which I changed my ideas about charity. I was involved in giving some international leaders a tour of the Church’s humanitarian headquarters. We had several gentlemen who were Cabinet-equivalent leaders from various African nations, nations that the Church frequently sent humanitarian supplies and funds to. I was very excited about the Church’s charity, as I walked through the warehouse with them and listened to the Church service missionary point out all the donated wheelchairs and donated this, that and the other. Several of the men were not looking grateful and impressed. Instead, they were get more and more stony-faced. At last, someone asked why. They expressed anger that our nation had so much that even their cast-offs were more than anyone in their nation had. They weren’t seeing American based charity as kind and generous; they were seeing it as the USA hogging resources and exploiting African nations and then expecting to be thanked for giving some of that stolen wealth back to them.
It made me think. Let’s talk about rich CEOs. Greedy CEO pays his employees as little as possible, offers cruddy health insurance, and understaffs his business. His employees live paycheck to paycheck, have lots of medical debt, and are stressed and overworked because they’re doing the work of two people. Greedy CEO posts huge profits. After decades of this, Greedy CEO is a multi-billionaire and begins donating his wealth to charities. Wow! What a kind and generous person he his! Some of his employees need help from charities, despite having worked hard their whole lives.
Okay, now we’ve got Fair CEO. Fair CEO pays out year-end bonuses to his employees when they make good profits. He has good health insurance. He staff his business adequately so that his employees don’t have to meet punishing quotas and they can take their paid vacation days. His employees are able to save for retirement, their medical expenses are paid for, and they’ve got enough energy to pursue some hobbies and create good friendships and relationships with others. In fact, these employees are able to help their neighbors and do some charity of their own. Fair CEO’s company posts modest profits. Fair CEO retires wealthy, but not a billionaire. He donates less to charities. But his employees don’t need help from charities themselves.
See the idea here? Instead of allowing one individual to accumulate a lot of wealth and then arguing about how much charity his employees need, we spread the resources out more fairly at the start. The govt could reduce the need for private charity by: (1) mandating a living wage minimum wage; (2) requiring adequate staff; and (3) putting the maximum wage back in place.
The minimum wage is pretty well understood, so I’ll skip that one.
Let’s talk about requiring adequate staff. The most contentious issue that the railway workers wanted when they were threatening to strike last December was sick days. Railway workers don’t get sick days. They get personal days that can be used when they’re sick, or that’s the idea anyway. From what I read, what happens is that a railway worker says, “I’m sick,” and the supervisor says, “you can’t take a personal day because we don’t have anyone to cover your shift.” So the railway worker has to go to work sick or risk losing his job. By understaffing and not offering sick days, the railways can be run with a skeleton staff, even if the person on shift has 102 degrees of fever. Reduced payroll means more profits for the owners. This is so important to the owners that they flat refused to make sick days part of the union contract.
Warren Buffett is a billionaire who has pledged to give away most of his fortune to charity; he’s also a huge investor in railroads. Given the choice between reducing his fortune by increasing the railroad’s personnel costs, and keeping personnel costs low so he makes more profits, he clearly wasn’t publicly supporting sick days and more staff. So let’s just get rid of the idea that capitalism and the free market will persuade railway owners to treat their workers fairly in this situation. If the government issues regulations that require more railroad staff so people can take time off when they’re sick, that would mean less profits for the rich owners, and a better standard of living for the employees.
About the maximum wage. Back in 1954 (the nostalgic perfect time), the top individual tax rate was 91% for income over $400,000. Meaning there was no point to a corporation paying its CEO more than $400,000. (I’m simplifying for discussion.) A company had no incentive to short-staff its workforce to pad its CEO’s salary. Tax planning for a company worked out better to hire a lot of people and pay them decently. When the top individual income tax rates were slashed down to 37%(ish), CEO pay packages started booming.
My point is that there are actions the government could take that would spread resources more fairly WITHOUT charity. And fewer people would need charity because wages would be higher and people would be less stressed and overworked by all the shortstaffing that lines CEO pockets.
There’s a lot that can be said on that topic, but this is just a blog comment.
People who are opposed to government mandated charity ought to support worker rights and high taxes on high income, because those policies will lead to workers who can earn enough to support themselves. Fewer people will need charity if the resources are spread more evenly to begin with. Is it really charity if the reason Greedy CEO has so much wealth to donate is because he hogged all the resources?
Fantastic comment Janey. Here in the UK many of those receiving government benefits are in full time employment, because they aren’t paid enough to live on. I have several times said in discussion that if a business’s employees need those benefits then effectively that is the government subsidising the business.
Mormons, including Apostles and Prophets, love to draw the distinction between government taxes and church tithing this way. “Taxes are compulsory and tithing is a free-will offering”. I’m going to call BS on that.
If you refuse to pay taxes you go to jail for a set length of time.
If you refuse to pay tithing you are not allowed to enter a temple to be endowed, and therefore cannot go to the celestial kingdom and are essentially in “prison” for eternity.
Thanks, Janey, for the well written explanation. I learned something new: I care about this stuff – and I didn’t make the connection that a 91% top tax rate disincentivizes wealth concentration.
I think (hope) many people who were raised seeing things a certain way will find some value in other perspectives.
A few people here expressed concern about the large portion of the U.S. budget that is spent on the federal safety nets.
There is similar concern for increasing the national debt.
That concern seems to ignore a huge third contributing factor: decreasing tax revenue. This has many contributing factors itself, particularly:
-low taxes on capital gains
-tax cuts (veritably exclusively for corporations and ultra wealthy individuals)
-tax loopholes found by accountants for their well-heeled clients
-decreasing the I.R.S. budget, which decreases tax enforcement.
How many people have noticed that there is only concern about debt when the other party is in power? When they have a majority, they are more than willing to cut taxes for the wealthiest class.
The U.S. is a very wealthy nation. Very.
The problem is, the wealth is concentrated among very few people who support policies and politicians that maintain and expand their privilege. They seem to have an insatiable appetite for more wealth, and a chronic lack of caring about how that affects others.
As a nation, we’ve been through this before. More than once.