For a variety of reasons, I’ve been thinking, recently, about the moral calculations around government’s involvement in charity, whether through welfare programs or grants to private charitable organizations.
My view is that charity isn’t government’s business. When a person gives of his or her own wealth for charitable reasons, he or she has made a moral decision, and the recipient has some degree of accountability to the giver and an imperative to try to become a giver rather than a recipient. When government agents give, it is of other people’s wealth, meaning that it is a confiscation, which creates moral complications for those directing the funds, and it creates a sense of entitlement and dependency in the recipient.
That said, I think other arguments can be made for some government expenditures other than the charitable, and moreover, I wouldn’t find it specious for somebody to make an argument for a “good society’s” use of government for charity. I don’t think I’d find such an argument persuasive, but it can be made sincerely.
In response, I might offer something like Pope Francis’s thoughts on corruption:
Corruption, Francis wrote, in its Italian etymological root, means “a tear, break, decomposition, and disintegration.”
The life of a human being can be understood in the context of his many relationships: with God, with his neighbor, with creation, the Pope said.
“This threefold relationship – in which man’s self-reflection also falls – gives context and sense to his actions and, in general, to his life,” but these are destroyed by corruption.
Nobody can doubt that empowering people to take money from one group to give it to another creates the potential for corruption, not the least in that it interferes with appropriate relationships to each other and God. In this context, when the pope writes that “we must all work together, Christians, non-Christians, people of all faiths and non-believers, to combat this form of blasphemy, this cancer that weighs our lives,” one could see it in part as an exhortation toward personal charity. The more need we can relieve through voluntary action, the less pressure there will be for the corruption of charity through government.