Charity and Theft

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We have an interesting fundraiser underway at work. In a competition between the staff on each floor of my six story building, employees are encouraged to deposit pennies in containers on each floor. Everyone has pennies sitting around, right? To make it interesting, employees can also add "silver" coins into the bins on the other floors, the value of which subtract from others' totals. There's also gift baskets being auctioned, raffles, and other events which provide clear evidence that United Way giving season has arrived.

America is known as a nation of great charity. Whether crises are home or abroad, Americans give when others hurt. Given that, despite the current economic woes, we have been blessed as a society economically, there is a certain "oughtness" that follows that we should choose to help those who are less fortunate. I suspect, in people's hearts, they would like to give even more.

Charity can be defined as (from

1. generous actions or donations to aid the poor, ill, or helpless.
2. something given to a person in need.

The key point implied is that the one acting charitably does so willingly, without coercion.

The opposite of charity would seem to be theft. The evening news quickly reminds us that theft is also prevalent in America, whether it be from someone's home or corporate "opportunism" by those with the keys to the vault.

Let's look at the definition of theft (Webster's Revised Unabridged Dictionary):

1. (Law) The act of stealing; specifically, the felonious taking and removing of personal property, with an intent to deprive the rightful owner of the same; larceny.

Rephrased, theft is the unlawful taking of one person's property for the benefit of another.

We now bring our attention to the Preamble of the Constitution of the United States:

"We the people of the United States, in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

Note, it does not read "provide the general welfare." Yet, taking a look at "entitlement spending" and other transfers of wealth within our tax system, that is exactly what the U.S. taxpaper (or, factually, those who hold U.S. debt) does. As the United Way, churches, and other charitable organizations struggle to gather funds for charitable purposes, I wonder how much people feel the equivalent of "I already gave at the office" via their income tax withholding when asked to give elsewhere.

The Constitutionality of taxes may be debated, but people understand that funds are necessary for the government to operate. How the money is spent, however, would seem to influence the rightness of taxation. Should the government be the principle agent of charity? It certainly seems to cross the line into theft when taxes are used to take the property of one person, and then give that to another person for their own use. Not only does this reduce capital for private charities, but it also marginalizes the work that they do. After all, politicians are more than happy to spend on anything that brings a vote.

It seems that, societally, we're more comfortable with the government handing out goodies than we are trusting individuals to give. This is a gradual transition as people view it government's responsibility to help those in need rather than an optional voluntary action. In short, socialism seems preferred over faith in individuals or groups of individuals to do the right thing. It's taken a very short time for this thinking to evolve.

A couple of interesting quotes from years gone by:

"I cannot undertake to lay my finger on that article of the Constitution which granted a right to Congress of expending, on objects of benevolence, the money of their constituents." - James Madison criticizing an attempt to grant public monies for charitable means, 1794

"As a matter of fact and law, the governing rights of the States are all of those which have not been surrendered to the National Government by the Constitution or its amendments. Wisely or unwisely, people know that under the Eighteenth Amendment Congress has been given the right to legislate on this particular subject1, but this is not the case in the matter of a great number of other vital problems of government, such as the conduct of public utilities, of banks, of insurance, of business, of agriculture, of education, of social welfare and of a dozen other important features. In these, Washington must not be encouraged to interfere." - Franklin Delano Roosevelt, 1930

1 Note: FDR refers to Prohibition of Alcohol, which in 1930 was a legal power of Congress granted by now cancelled Amendment 18 and enacted by the Volstead Act. Speech transcribed in the New York Times, March 3, 1930.

Two years later, Roosevelt would reverse himself and launch the New Deal.

1 comment :

  1. Is it any surprise that today's teenagers have become so spoiled in this age of "gimme, gimme, gimme"? The society has come to expect the "free" hand out, they expect to get more back than they pay in.

    I work in an environment that runs on "government" subsidies. More and more programs are being cut due to lack of funding. Yet the need is still there. Of course it is the same families over and over again coming through wasting money. Sometimes I think it would be better if we just stopped meddling in "families" inner workings or we put in much harsher policies. Here is an example of the process. DCF recieves an abuse call by a concerned neighbor/teacher, depending on the county, they send a CPI (DCF Investigator) or a Deputy Sheriff out to investigate the claim. That is the entry into the home. Now, whether there is substance to the intial call or not, they can "look" for things. Worst case senerio, they pull the kids and put them into foster care or with another relative. The foster parents will recieve money for taking care of the child and even relative care givers can apply for assistance. The parent(s) must go to court and/or programs to determine the validity of the charges as well as work on a "Case Plan" to get their children back. This can take anywhere from weeks to years depending on what the judge rules and how much effort the parent(s) put forth. If the parent doesn't finish their "Case Plan" they risk losing their children permenantly. Then the children are placed up for Adoption. Add the fact that the vast majority of families that adopt kids are given a subsidy for taking them in until they reach the age of 18. Some of the families that we have seen have had anywhere between 10-20 calls over a span of 5 years. Think of all the money that has been poured into the investigation and housing and medical care of these kids. Then there is the fact that these families stay in the system for generations. It is a scary and expensive proposition and the need grows every year.

    In the small rural county that I work in there are 15 Investigators, 3 supervisors, 40 Family Case Managers, 5 Case Manager Supervisors, 3 Adoption Counselors, 1 Adoption Supervisor plus numerous support and Administrative Staff. Add in multiple agencies that work with the CPI's and FCM's each with about 3-7 personnel and you quickly get the picture that alot of tax dollars are spent on just dealing with families with issues. Now multiply that by the 67 counties in Florida. That is a lot of money.

    We recently recieved word that they are cutting $1 million from the budget that is funding our District's programs. (5 counties in our district) So far, no lay offs have been scheduled. Right now it looks like it will just effect the office/resource supply budget and any raises the employees might be expecting next year.

    I recently heard a polital add for a local representative. He said that the governemnt doesn't have a revenue problem, the government has a spending problem. I can't help but agree whole heartedly.