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Hornberger's Blog is a daily libertarian blog written by Jacob G. Hornberger, founder and president of FFF.
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Government Welfare vs. Private Charity


With Christmas approaching, perhaps this would be a good time to remind ourselves of the moral difference between government welfare and private charity.

Government welfare is based on the force of government. The IRS forces people to send in a portion of their income. If they refuse, the IRS goes after them. It files liens on their house, garnishes their bank account, and attaches their personal property. If people oppose the enforcement of such actions, they are met with an overwhelming amount of force by well-armed and well-trained federal agents.

Once the IRS gets its hands on people’s money, it is made available to the various federal bureaucracies, which then distribute the money to people named by Congress to receive them.

Most everyone involved in this process is supposed to be considered a good person because he’s helped the poor and needy. IRS agents are considered akin to Salvation Army personnel for their fine efforts collecting money for the poor. The members of Congress are praised for allocating the money to the truly needy. The welfare agencies are considered good for making sure the money gets to the right people. American taxpayers are considered saintly for tithing a portion of their income to help the poor. America, as a nation, is considered good because it set up the entire welfare-state system.

But the fundamental flaw in all this is simple to see: The entire process is based on force, which is employed to seize people’s money, which is then distributed to recipients designated by people’s political representatives..

Yet, how can the concept of force be reconciled with genuine charity?

It cannot be. Genuine charity entails voluntarily pulling out your wallet or checkbook and donating the money to a worthy cause.

Does it make any difference when money that has been taken by force is used to fund a worthy cause? Of course not. If I hold you up and take your money but end up donating it to my church, or to a 75-year-old impoverished couple, or to a student that cannot afford to pay for college, or to pay for a poor person’s life-saving heart operation, I remain a thief.

After all, your money belongs to you. It is your right to decide what to do with it. I have the right to ask you to make a donation to help with all those worthy causes. But you have the right to say no. If you say no, I have no right to take the money away from you by force, no how I plan to use the money.

What if a vote is taken in the community or the city council authorizing me to take your money and donate it to a worthy cause? That means I’m no longer considered a thief in the eyes of the law, but has anything changed from a moral perspective? Of course not. A fundamentally immoral act, whether robbery, murder, rape, theft, or whatever, cannot be converted into a moral act simply by majority vote.

Recall the story of when the young rich man approached Jesus, told Him that he was complying with God’s commandments, and asked Christ what else he could do to serve God. Jesus advised the man to sell everything he had and give it away and then to follow Jesus.

The young man couldn’t let go of his wealth and walked away.

Did Jesus and his followers forcibly take the money from the man and donate it to the poor? Did they summon Roman centurions to do the same?

No. Since free will entails the right to say no, Jesus let the man go his way, without initiating any force against him.

As we reflect on Christmas during the holiday season, let us also reflect on how the socialistic welfare state, with its process of forcible taking and redistributing people’s money constitutes a grave violation of the laws of God. Let us also reflect on how the concepts of freedom of choice and free will entail, by necessity, the right the reject one’s neighbor and even to reject God. Finally, let us reflect on the fact that genuine charity toward others is only when the donation comes from the willing heart of the individual, not because of a gun pointed at a person by some government official.

This post was written by:

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation. He was born and raised in Laredo, Texas, and received his B.A. in economics from Virginia Military Institute and his law degree from the University of Texas. He was a trial attorney for twelve years in Texas. He also was an adjunct professor at the University of Dallas, where he taught law and economics. In 1987, Mr. Hornberger left the practice of law to become director of programs at the Foundation for Economic Education. He has advanced freedom and free markets on talk-radio stations all across the country as well as on Fox News’ Neil Cavuto and Greta van Susteren shows and he appeared as a regular commentator on Judge Andrew Napolitano’s show Freedom Watch. View these interviews at LewRockwell.com and from Full Context. Send him email.