Posts Tagged ‘charity’

THE CURSE OF LIBERTY

September 18, 2020

In science, we’re always talking about sensitivity and specificity. As an example, consider the COVID-19 test: the more sensitive it is for detecting the disease, the more likely it will over-call it in some individuals; it’s a yin and yang thing. Now, as the tests improve, both sensitivity and specificity can too, but there’s always a trade-off. Liberty is something like that.

Everyone, including politicians, plays lip service to fealty to freedom. It seems a no-brainer. Then why, time after time, do people vote away their freedom? We’ve seen the Palestinians do it for Hamas, and the Venezuelans for socialism. These are just two of the dozens of examples that could be cited. It’s because the ying to freedom’s yang is law and order, or more broadly, security. It’s not that freedom is incompatible with law and order; we’ve admirably demonstrated this for over a couple of hundred years and have had remarkably peaceful transitions of power. It’s just that it takes constant effort and sacrifice. And the people have to decide if it’s worth the price.

The sacrifice is obvious in obtaining liberty; it’s usually a war with casualties and death and a tremendous outlay of resources. Maintaining it is another matter. Liberty naturally fades, even in (one might say especially in) a democracy. Over time, in a successful society, people become acclimated to security. A free society, with equal access to opportunity, naturally favors those with greater talent who exhibit greater effort; those who have high levels of competence and conscientiousness, in the words of Jordan Peterson. This results in disparity of outcome. It does not mean that a rising tide doesn’t raise all boats, just that some boats are much larger and more opulent than others. Every good society with a conscience strives to help the small boats in danger of capsizing; this charity, or welfare, is a good thing. The problems begin when the people in the small boats begin to think those in the large boats are bad, and that the government needs to fix it. Then the charity moves to sanctioned theft. The argument about the point at which this occurs is the basis for politics and ideology. The bottom line is that democracy inevitably deteriorates into socialism which more quickly devolves into poverty and fascism. History proves this. Unequivocally. So the founders tried to create a democratic republic with checks and balances to slow the deterioration, recognizing that it could serve only a moral people.

As government and the welfare state has grown and crony capitalism inevitably along with it, the family has shrunk. Charity is slowly being replaced by government largess. One or two generations ago a check from the government was seen as failure and often shunned. Now it’s more common to see it as an entitlement and something to be sought after. Being taken care of is slowly becoming more important than liberty.

With liberty comes free speech with the downside of allowing “hate” speech. Law and order with the downside of more rogue agents misusing it with criminal intent. More reliance on self, family and friends, and the Church, and less on government. Clearly, some societies favor less freedom and more security.

The coming election is so important because it will demonstrate the net vector of America in terms of this preference. It will serve as a bellwether as to how much time remains in our current system of government, founded on the values of the Declaration of Independence and implemented in the Constitution. History tells us this. Unequivocally.

The curse of liberty is that it has in its seed the very essence of its own destruction.

A TAXING SUBJECT

January 27, 2014

Some say taxes are our civic responsibility. Some say it’s institutionalized theft. Both are right.

Our obligation to the governments extends to the limits of the services they provide to us. This includes public defense (military, police, intelligence), infrastructure development and maintenance (roads, bridges), security (borders, passports and the like) and safety (regulating air, water, food production, etc.). You may be able to find a few other niches  such as education (which I believe should be at the lower levels of government), but the idea is to pay for what public services are needed for the public welfare and a reasonably ordered existence.

More recently in our history, the governments have increasingly taken on the responsibility of providing for those least able to help themselves, on the surface a laudable goal. In the past, this was termed charity, and the institutions that provided it were, from the bottom up, family and friends, secular and religious community organizations, and local, county/state and federal governments. With the greater institutionalization of charity, it began to move further and further away from the recipient and, I posit, becomes less and less “charity” at all. Charity, by definition, comes from the heart, not at the end of a shotgun barrel.

The liberal view, which hinges on the tenets of larger government and more structured “giving” (necessarily requiring “taking”) implies a belief that, of their own volition, people would not provide enough for the needy. One might conclude that, therefore, the progressive ideology is linked to a more pessimistic assessment to human nature, but that is beyond the scope of the present discussion. More pertinent is one of the fundamental differences between conservatives and progressives: where the line is drawn. In other words, determining the definitions of “enough” and “needy.”

So where should the safety net be placed? Those on the left like to characterize the right’s reluctance to redistribute wealth with callousness, minimizing the well-documented unintended consequences of overdoing welfare that has historically caused empires to implode. They cite the maldistribution of wealth inherent in a capitalist economy, emphasizing the widely publicized malfeasance and distortion of the free market by private entities that will always be present, to bolter their arguments. Corruption of the system by the government through crony capitalism often gets less play on both sides of the divide.

The bottom line, for me, is that the further you stray from the social structure closest to those in need, the greater the risk of corruption and incompetence and funds being disbursed inappropriately. And the larger the group we define as needy, the more we rob the population of the incentive to produce and the incentive to give.

The next time congress convenes to legislate the newest tax hike it behooves them to remember one fundamental imperative:  Taxing hardens the heart; charity enriches it.

FALL AND RISE

November 14, 2011

When we think of the rise and fall of empires, Rome comes first to mind, but others have come before and since. The parallels between Rome and the U.S. are best known to me from my studies, and some of the features of Rome’s decline, specifically the overspending and overpromising of the government and the shift of the culture of the people from a state of self-sufficiency to institutional dependence, are strikingly similar to our own. For better or worse, in this digital era of instant communication, change occurs far more swiftly than in the era of chariots. So we have much less time to right the course of this gargantuan ocean liner we call the U.S.A., as the sea of time has become more a lake.

The only encouraging sign I’ve seen is the emergence of a large, vocal segment of society now clamoring for change. Some are calling for the radical realignment we need, and are trying to work through the system, one that has become progressively more divisive and ineffectual. Others have taken a more unfocused and unproductive route, squatting and parading and decrying a corrupt segment of the system without any clear sense of the totality of the problem, or any cogent ideas how to fix it. In any case, a sense of alarm has belatedly surfaced. Whether it’s a case of “too little, too late” remains to be seen through the perfect lens of history’s hindsight, but a best case scenario, in my mind, is five to ten years of recession, or even depression. A worst case scenario is system collapse and social unrest. The veneer of civilization can be thin and the supply lines in our digitalized, electrified and mechanized society even thinner, so the potential for catastrophe is dire. But there is hope.

Out of the ashes of each great civilization something new has arisen. If we don’t have the will, or are simply beyond the point, of being able to take the difficult steps necessary to repair our broken system, no doubt there will be much pain and many lives forfeit. But on the other side of the tunnel is the bright light of rediscovery of the human values that made this nation so exceptional: Morality, frugality, self-sufficiency and a resurgence of the family will be reborn to fill the void artificially occupied by a massive, progressively corrupt central government. When there is no infrastructure of nursing homes and day care, family and friends will need to rely once again on each other. Where there is no government subsidy, charity will need to rise up in its place. On the decimated field of an erstwhile stable currency, fledgling, vibrant local currencies and barter will sprout.

The cycle of rise and fall and rise again will likely continue until we as people change fundamentally, and I don’t see that happening soon. The writer and philosopher George Santayana famously said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”  We do remember; we just can’t overcome our human nature enough to change it.

Until that day comes, keep moving toward the light. If you squint, you can see it. It’s just beyond the end of the tunnel.

LAND OF THE FREE

July 10, 2011

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.

THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS

January 16, 2011

One of the stated goals in the preamble to the Constitution is “to promote the general welfare.” Proponents of social justice will maintain that the burgeoning infrastructure of the federal government is crafted to do just that. It should be remembered, however, that the spirit behind the secession movement that birthed our nation is, as stated in the Declaration of Independence, the inalienable right of  “the pursuit of happiness.” The sister rights, as I’m sure you recall, are life and liberty. Our forefathers were smart. Nowhere is equality of wealth, power, or even the elusive-to-define happiness addressed—and for good reason: it is unattainable and, I contend, not desirable.

People are diverse. They have different personalities, aspirations, work ethics, intellects—the list goes on and on. While every right-thinking citizen would wish no one to suffer the misfortunes of ill health, poverty or starvation, and would agree that a safety net or hand up is a hallmark of a compassionate society for those that fall on hard times through no fault of their own, I see the liberal and conservative elements of our society differing significantly on matters of degree. Liberals, by dint of a philosophical viewpoint that appears to feel that the financial inequities in the world, and our country in particular, are so great (and much of it “ill-gotten”), desire a large redistribution of this wealth through an aggressive implementation of taxation and social programs. I’ve addressed in part the outcome of such a paradigm in my prior rant. Conservatives largely feel government has grown too large and intrusive and is interfering with the economy and accumulation of wealth, also known as productivity, and encouraging a climate of dependency and entitlement.

As with most dichotomies, the truth lies somewhere in the middle, although that middle can be vast, and the means of reaching the “truth,” nebulous. So I can only address the issue by exposing the values that turned me from young, idealistic liberal to pragmatic conservative. In the transition, however, I haven’t lost my idealism; far from it, I feel it is strengthened. It’s just assumed a different form. It has morphed from a concern for the individual to a concern for his or her values.

The founders built a wildly successful nation on an experiment in meritocracy that has had no equal in the history of mankind. Its ascent has been astoundingly fast, and, I’m afraid, its descent may be as rapid. It was based on values of liberty, a belief in a higher power, and a philosophy of hard work and self-sufficiency. It was sustained by a desire to help one’s neighbor, also known as charity, and an equally strong aversion to receiving it which was seen as failure. Look around the world now. In Greece, the government said it’s running out of money and must reduce salaries. Did the people say, “Oh, I guess we’ve taken too much from the till; we must work harder”? No, riots occurred. In France, the government said the workers could no longer retire at 60—the age was raised to 62. Did the people say, “Oh, perhaps a guarantee of such early retirement was too exorbitant a gift to expect relative to our productivity”? No, they rioted. Here in California, as the state teeters on the brink of bankruptcy, the voters have re-elected the same people whose policies have brought us to the edge. It is noteworthy that large segments of the population are on the government payroll or dole, and unions remain a powerful lobby. One may argue that a substantial part of the failure of this system is due to government waste and corruption but, if anything, it only reinforces my argument.

Granted, there have been some dramatic and welcome social gains in the centuries since out forefathers’ time. I’m not recommending a return to the evils of slavery, institutionalized racism, and second-class citizenship for our women. But “throwing the baby out with the bath water” isn’t the way to perpetuate the success of the greatest social experiment the world has known. To do this, we have to re-examine our values, and our family structure. I believe that, fundamentally, we have to “down-size.”

I’m not sure if we have it in us. I hope and pray that we do.

Next: On family and “down-sizing”

GETTING NOTHING FOR SOMETHING

January 10, 2011

Since there must be balance in nature, if someone gets something for nothing, someone else must get nothing for something. “Yes, Virginia, there’s no free lunch.” All right, I’m mixing quotations or aphorisms, or whatever. When the top 5% of taxpayers pay almost 60% of the tax burden, it’s clear they aren’t getting what they’ve paid for; somebody else is. For supporters of social justice, this is just that. Why shouldn’t those that have so much help those that have so little? I can think of several reasons.

First, someone or something must define what too much is and to whom and in what amounts this “excess” should go. When the decider is the earner, it’s called charity. When it’s the government, it’s known as taxation. When we rely on the latter, a disturbing amount of this redistribution, undertaken both by men and women of good intentions and by others with personal and less than savory agendas, translates into billions of dollars funneled into the pork bin. Hardly a week goes by that we don’t hear about millions of our hard-won dollars funding one or another absurd program. And these “representatives” do the job with such exuberance that they have to borrow more than all the earners make.

Second, it’s almost impossible to get a large bureaucratic organization to surgically implant the funds where they need to go. I often wonder how many people are paid to do little or nothing so they can continue their slothful existence and self-centered behaviors uninterrupted, for every truly needy person who’s either disabled or fallen on hard times and needs a leg up so they can again become productive citizens. Does the government really have the ability to make this determination?

Third, and most important, when the government takes your money, they are taking away a piece of you that hardly anyone, if anyone at all, talks about: your charity. For every dollar they take and decide to give to someone they consider more needy, you lose the ability to give that dollar of your own volition, and the attendant blessings that come with it. Your soul, if you believe in it, is cheapened. “Oh,” but the preachers of social justice will say,”if the government didn’t redistribute it, what’s to guarantee that the ‘rich’ wouldn’t keep it all?” And perhaps they are right. But I don’t believe it. I’d rather give the good people a chance to step up to the plate than give ever larger sums through a program of burgeoning taxation to people who don’t need or deserve the “excess.” Who’s to say where the greater evil lies, in the uncharitable earners who aren’t giving their fair share, or the greedy receivers, who aren’t producing their fair share? At least the former aren’t taking what isn’t theirs.

And both will have their sentences decreed in a court much higher than the federal.

Next: Societal values and bringing things closer to home