You can’t turn on the television these days without an ad for something that’s “free.” From a bonus item for trying the newest miracle thingamawhatchamacallit (that always requires “only” an additional $7.99 for shipping and handling) to medical supplies for diabetes to battery-powered transportation for the elderly or injured, it’s all “free.”

Now, who doesn’t like “free”? I know I do. Then why does it grate on my nerves lately every time I see one of those commercials? Because you know and I know that it’s not really free. In the case of the miracle gadget the shipping and handling is a thinly veiled cover payment. But at least you have the choice. In the latter examples, it’s funds being redistributed from some hard-working son-of-a-gun to someone else.

I know that there are many out there saying, “What’s wrong with providing for those most needy? If it were you, you’d want a helping hand.” I’ll tell you what’s wrong: Charity at gunpoint or by stealth isn’t charity at all—it’s theft. I’m all in favor for helping those that cannot help themselves, to the extent that the better-off are able to do so. When we do it because it’s the right thing, it enriches our hearts and our souls. When nameless bureaucracies take this, the product of your labor, and decide where it should go, and what percentage, they not only make the decision for you, they decrease your power to give on your own. I believe this does irreparable harm to the human spirit. Instead of a generation of true idealists who believe in self-sufficiency, innovation and charity, we create a generation accustomed to being on the dole, one with an expectation of entitlement. A culture of “the government will provide.”

I’m not quite the libertarian—yet. But I believe the government should be charged with providing a certain basic level of infrastructure, especially in areas where only a national approach is feasible, and the rest should come from the levels closest to home—first, the family (sadly deteriorated in our society), then the local community (charities, secular and religious), then local and state governments. Because the closer the money falls to the tree, the fewer scavengers have the opportunity to gobble it up. Besides, who knows better the needs of the community (and the malingerers) than those closest to the problem?

Times may have changed, but the values that made our country great, and could turn it around again, haven’t. The sooner we return to them, the more likely we’ll be able to return the phrase “land of the free” to the meaning out Founding Fathers intended.


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