Compassionate Fallacies

By Andrew Canfield

The numerous myths bought into by the modern American liberal are among the most difficult misconceptions to dispel. This is not due to insufficient evidence of the welfare state’s failures. After all, a cursory glance at America’s inner cities provides a devastating appraisal of FDR and Johnson-era policies. It does not even lie with an inability to contrast the efficiency of public and private sector operations; often times they are not within shouting distance of one another when it comes to meeting consumer needs.

What makes it such an uphill task to confront the left’s narrative is the well-meaning nature of those who put it forth. Leaving aside right wing accusations of evil motives, many rank and file liberals are genuine in their propositions, earnestly believing federal dollars allocated for a vaguely defined “general welfare” actually accomplish that objective.

The left’s attraction to the benevolent social welfare pitch is little more than a manifestation of what they have been told from day one in school, namely that the state’s motives in helping the poor are beyond question.

A commitment to assist the downtrodden via government transfer programs has even gained traction among several Christian denominations. Considering one of the New Testament’s central messages was charity and the uplifting of the disadvantaged, one with no qualms about expanding government power might naturally wed the notion of Christian compassion with government assistance.

But never considered is the fact that using the public Treasury for assisting the poor means the state must use threat of force to confiscate one’s income—i.e. private property—to distribute in a manner deemed fit by the bureaucracy. This process tends to favor the politically well-connected, substituting the sterile apparatus of the state for the gospel’s message of compassionate individuals helping the destitute through individual charity work. The fulfillment that comes from neighbor helping neighbor is replaced by resentment, class-based tension, and less emphasis on results.

That tax dollars that ostensibly go to the poor might actually be sending the wrong social incentives is a step below blasphemy to liberal conventional wisdom. Proposing that these programs be greatly reduced or eliminated to free up capital for private charities is the last step to achieving full-blown blasphemy status.

The notion that truly makes America exceptional, i.e. the freedom its citizens enjoy to pool their resources without governmental coercion, has been the one most damaged by government involvement in charity. The moral hazard created by welfare state policies has fostered a mentality of “Well, someone else is taking care of them” instead of one which asks, “How can their needs be met?”

The thought of a federal agency taking the place of private philanthropic organizations would have been abhorrent to the founders of the republic, remaining alien to the American experiment for the first century and a half of its existence.   As Alexis de Tocqueville noted, the voluntary nature of America’s institutions was a trait that distinguished it from other nation-states. Consequently, the waning empathy seen in twenty-first century America can be reversed by returning care for the needy to churches, families, and fraternal organizations. Many liberals who have turned to government for purposes of benevolence might just be surprised at the more compassionate and solvent nation that emerges when charity is returned to the caring citizenry of the United States.


Andrew Canfield is a recent graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington and a resident of Bossier City, Louisiana. He is the community relations director at a property management company and enjoys writing for the local newspaper and fitness web sites in his spare time.

Andrew is a fan of outdoor activities, and loves running and cycling in his spare time. His favorite economic author is F.A. Hayek, and he considers himself a libertarian Republican.

All opinions expressed on USDR are those of the author and not necessarily those of US Daily Review.

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