Category: Critique

The poverty of charity

I think this world/society fetishises charity. I won’t deny that charity is good for people, that it has stopped people from death, hunger, and disease, and that it helps funds some good causes like cancer research and redevelopment projects in disaster-stricken countries. What does worry me is that as a society we rely too much on charity to fix our social problems, and here’s why I think that’s bad.

To quote a friend of mine: ‘charity is the privatisation of what government should do.’ It appeals to the right because it apparently showcases the goodness of the human spirit when given freedom and how choice can lead to good outcomes. It also means lower taxes. This is why in debates people loving bringing up examples of, say, rich people giving $billions to charity or churches being amongst the most charitable in the country.

And while good outcomes do occur, it is far too dangerous to rely on charity to fix social problems. This is because it is basically relying on the whims of the rich and those with free time. And because a propensity to give charity only exists in times of wealth and prosperity, it means that the economy/society is not designed to give people financial security during the bad times. So when things go awry, charity stops. This is why a lot of activists, social democrats, and socialists etc. aren’t seen helping out with charities or promoting them. Instead, they believe that we should build a society where we don’t need to rely on the goodwill of the rich, that society should be structured around dignity, security, and welfare.

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