If you took to heart the recent media chatter about Obamacare, you might easily conclude that The United States is a heartless nation. Thrown out of your job recently? Lose your benefits? Grocery bill got you down? Tough luck, Buddy! You’re on your own! This is the Land of The Free, and The Home of The Brave. So if you want to be free, you better make darned sure you’re brave.
Can this be? Are we really that selfish a country?
While the official figures list this country fairly low among developed countries for socialized medicine, The Huffington Post reports a 2012 study by the Charity Aid Foundation that named the US as number five amongst the top 10 “giving” nations of the world. We have exhibited “strong” philanthropic qualities, according to three measured criteria — helping strangers, donating money and volunteering. In 2012, the United States improved its charitable giving by $212 billion, or three percentage points.
The US is number five amongst the top 10 “giving” nations of the world.
The question then is not whether the United States is a generous nation. The question is how that generosity manifests itself. Also tied up in this issue is the question of whether subsidy and entitlement are true measures of “giving.”
The debate has surfaced many times throughout our history: how can government “by the people” be considered “for the people?” The great conservative economist Milton Friedman once observed that if the government were put in charge of the Sahara Desert, we’d be out of sand in two weeks.
It’s not government to which we should look to gauge a nation’s largess, but to its charitable foundations. Take the Ford Foundation, for instance. One of the nation’s largest, the Ford Foundation has its hand in the arts, human rights, education and the economic development in Third World nations. Or the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation — pledged to diminish poverty throughout the world and enhance information technology education in The United States.
Once government provides a basic safety net for its deprived citizens, its ability to develop and improve the lot of its citizenry falls into third gear. Throwing tax money at the problem will only reach a point of diminishing returns. A recent 60 Minutes broadcast with Steve Kroft on waste and fraud in the Social Security Disability System is a case in point. Contributions channeled to nonprofits offer a much more effective use of tax dollars (through write-offs) for a carefully managed approach to helping the poor, developing energy resources, or funding the arts.
In thinking about how our money can help those less fortunate, Aristotle still remains our best guide:
“To give away money is an easy matter, and in any man’s power. But to decide to whom to give it, and how large and when, and for what purpose and how, is neither in every man’s power-nor an easy matter.”
If the Greek philosopher were alive today, and he had to choose between the government and a private foundation for his tax dollars, to whom do you think he’d turn?