06 December 2009

The Price of Charity

Charity. It obviously is a good thing, right? Actually I think it is deeply problematic to define public problems as matters to be addressed through private action, through philanthropy or charity rather than through politics. In the U.S. the presumption at present is that virtually every social problem can be remedied via charity. Some things surely can be addressed privately and appropriately so. But the presumption that public problems are not what they are - namely public concerns - undermines the sense that politics is important and that we have shared political obligations. But as a matter of simple dollars and cents, charity is costly too. This story in The New York Times today makes that clear.



Blogger Howard said...

This is an important point.

The elevation of private "charities" to be the sole provider of assistance to the poor, underhoused, underemployed, etc., is a primitive idea that harkens back to the age of edwardian poorhouses and debtor prisons, with the main result that private operators benefit financially and the society washes its hands of responsibility.

It has opened the door to christian prisons and dubious faith-based enterprises of every description, feeding on the trough of public dollars, while stigmatizing the "undeserving" poor.

It also is another gateway for the privatization mania that has taken over far too many public functions from government operation and oversight.

In the 1990's, Theresa Funicello (The Tyranny of Kindness) gave the perfect illustration of what's wrong with developing these parallel, and parasitic, distribution networks, explaining that food pantries in every city in the nation, provisioned by outfits like Second Harvest, serve to give huge write-offs to corporations for outdated merchandise that cannot be sold, giving barely half of that away to the poor in restrictive and difficult conditions, at odd hours and long distances, only to receive provisions that cannot make decent meals. In the meanwhile, a perfectly good food distribution network exists called grocery stores, that require only sufficient income for everyone to use them.

It would cost far less to increase the amount and eligibility for food stamps or, god forbid, raise the wages of the working poor.

07 December, 2009 03:12  

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