Voluntary vs. Mandatory Charity
by Jacob G. Hornberger
As everyone knows, one of the major differences between statists and libertarians is over the issue of charity. Libertarians believe that charity should be voluntary. Statists believe it should be mandatory.
In analyzing this fundamental difference in perspective, there is one indisputable fact: The more wealth there is in a society, the greater the amount of charity that can be provided to others.
Now, I know what a statist would immediately say: “Jacob, people are just no darned good — well, except for me of course. They have to be forced to give their money to others.”
That’s a separate and distinct issue, one that I’ll address momentarily. For now, I just want to make the point that statists cannot deny: A society in which people hold $10 million in total wealth is capable of helping others more than a society in which people have a total wealth of $10,000.
For example, let’s say that people want to use cash to construct a church that is going to cost $1 million. If the total amount of wealth in that society is $100,000, that church is not going to be built. If the total amount of wealth is $10 million, then there is at least the possibility that the church will be constructed.
Such being the case, if we want to help others, doesn’t it behoove us to figure out ways to increase the total amount of wealth in society?
As a matter of fact, there are ways to increase the total amount of wealth in a society. Here are some of them:
Abolish all income taxation and leave people free to keep everything they earn.
Totally separate economy and the state by prohibiting (preferably through a constitutional provision) the government from regulating or controlling commerce.
Totally end (preferably through constitutional provision) all welfare and subsidies.
Establish a free-market monetary system with no central bank.
Open borders to the free movement of people, goods, and services.
Dismantle the government’s standing army and its entire national-security complex.
If any country in the world adopts these principles, it will see an enormous increase in the amount of total wealth in society. That increase, once again, provides the possibility of greater voluntary assistance to others.
So, that raises the issue that statists raise: that people are no darned good (except for the statist who makes the point) and, therefore, must be forced to be good.
What does the statist do to force people to be good? He has the government impose income taxes on those who are accumulating wealth and then has the government give the money to others. The statist is convinced that this mandatory process makes everyone in society a better person.
But guess what happens when the government does that. The taxation and the welfare — both of which inevitably continue to increase – begin shrinking the total amount of wealth in society. As the total amount of wealth continues to shrink, the possibility of helping people at higher levels obviously diminishes.
We libertarians hold that regardless of whether people are no darned good or not, the concept of individual freedom necessarily entails the right to decide for one’s self whether to help out others. If people are forced to help out other people, then they cannot genuinely be considered free.
Moreover, what good does it do to force people to care for others? Does it really make them better people? Doesn’t the natural process of freedom of choice and the exercise of conscience have a better chance of making someone a better person?
Moreover, since the process of forcing people to help others inevitably diminishes the total amount of wealth in society, what good does mandatory charity do for those who need assistance over the long term?
I personally have absolutely no doubts that a genuinely free society — one in which wealth is being massively accumulated in ever-increasing amounts — will be a society in which the amount of voluntary giving would boggle the mind.
After all, let’s not forget that that’s the way America’s churches, museums, hospitals, schools, opera houses, soup kitchens, and so much more got constructed in America’s 125-year era of no income taxation, no welfare-warfare state, no immigration controls, no public schooling, no Federal Reserve and fiat money, and few economic regulations. When people were free to accumulate wealth and decide for themselves what to do with it, among the greatest beneficiaries were those who were the recipients of massive amounts of voluntary charity.
As our American ancestors understood, a genuinely free society is one in which people are free to keep everything they earn and to decide for themselves what to do with it. It’s also a society in which the poor and others who rely on voluntary assistance have the greatest possibility of surviving and prospering. Sure, there is always the chance that everyone will be no darned good (except for statist critics), but I say that’s a risk worth taking. The potential benefits of liberty, especially for those in need, are enormous while the consequences of mandatory charity are horrendous.