This goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway. These are my views. They do not represent libertarians as a whole.
One of the common arguments against libertarianism I hear is that the libertarian philosophy is a philosophy that “tosses the poor into the street”, and that by advocating a libertarian philosophy, I’m advocating “social darwinism.” While I can see where someone might get that impression, it’s just not true.
What one must understand, here, is that a libertarian (or rather, this libertarian, as I hardly speak for everyone) isn’t saying that all charity should stop. The average libertarian is saying that government should not be in the business of charity because the government isn’t particularly good at it, but more importantly, because the Constitution does not grant the federal government the right to redistribute the wealth of its citizens for charitable purposes. We don’t want to let someone freeze to death any more than you do… we just believe that WE should be the ones to choose where to spend that money. We’re not particularly keen on programs that seem to reward those who simply do not try at the expense of those who are victims of circumstance. When we choose where to spend our money, we can avoid giving to organizations that waste money on the small minority of leeches.
An argument against voluntary charity is that “everyone is not generous, so we need to force them to give.” That argument is right as far as everyone not being generous goes. There will be people in a free society that just do not want to give to charity. The second bit is wrong, though, because those of us that do give are more than capable of counterbalancing the selfishness of a few. It also ignores the angle of social censure, by which selfish individuals will be labeled as such by their peers and will suffer the lost opportunities that go along with their refusal to participate in their community. I suppose I could be wrong about the basic nature of humanity (I believe that we are basically good, if a bit lazy), but I don’t think I am.Another argument is that a federal government run charity will have a superior infrastructure and thus, an improved efficiency and result. Think about that for a moment. The government that brought us the idea of Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, welfare… that is who we want in charge of our charitable organizations? Let’s face facts… the federal government is staffed by people that are overworked, often underpaid, and most importantly, unaccountable to their clients, the citizens of the United States. Failing a huge scandal, you’ll be fighting an uphill battle if you have a problem with the federal government’s management of our mandated charity. The mantra is usually “contact your representative”, which will net you a nifty form letter and not much else. To add insult to injury, the federal government need not make their charities efficient. Should they experience a shortfall, well, additional funds are only a tax hike away. Contrast all of that with a private charity, which must make sure that its donations cover the cost of operation AND allow for ample charity to make the donors happy. Should they not make the donors happy, the donors are free to go elsewhere. Even discounting the Constitutional angle, a private charity seems like a vastly superior option.
As I’ve specified federal government charity, I’ll touch briefly on the idea of state and local charity. The arguments against a federal charity are also valid on the state and local level, but the Constitutional angle does not always apply if one allows for States’ Rights. It seems to come down to a determination of whether or not that particular state Constitution allows for it. Philosophically, I am opposed to the state run charity to a lesser degree, and the local charity I have arguments against… but were I forced to choose, the local charity would be the least objectionable of the bunch. In a perfect world, though, I’d hope that local citizens would take care of their fellow citizens without the need for a city or county run charity.
The final argument I hear is “if you want charity anyway, why not just elect people who will give it to you?” If I set aside the arguments against a government run charity, I’m still left with the simple fact that here, in the United States, that mentality does not fit with what the Founders envisioned. If I set that aside, I’m left with my own personal objection to using government to manage these things. Even if government were 100% effective at charitable work, I’d object to it because let’s face it… having to humble yourself to a private organization or an individual and admit that you need help is many times harder than getting a check from a faceless agency. Having to take that step to actually ask for help requires you to take ownership of your situation. It requires you to act like an adult. Most importantly? It helps to build the character necessary to pull yourself out of the bad situation.
I hope that dispels the myth of libertarians being heartless social darwinists. Comments and questions are welcome as always.