"The reason to believe in liberty is actually benevolent, humble, and rooted in love: we believe in the possibilities of humanity." — Jeffrey A. Tucker
I’ve believed this (the status embedded above) about libertarianism as long as I’ve understood it. Before that I thought governments should use their power and money to help the less fortunate. I didn’t understand then that much of the money collected is used to pay the people who hand it out, and that once charity gets beyond the personal level, many people receive it who don’t truly need it.
They believe they can do nothing else. We say, “You’re right.”
Years ago, as I paid attention to people I knew or observed that were receiving help from government programs and organized charities, I began to see that they were not usually the least fortunate people I knew. Almost without exception, they were able-bodied and smart enough that they themselves could have and should have been responsible for their own well being. Having sidestepped that charge, they were able to do whatever else they chose, significantly less encumbered by the trade-offs, sacrifices or consequences others contend with when raising children, attending college, partying too late, spending too much, etc.
Granted, my first-hand knowledge of aid recipients’ lives is limited to perhaps a few dozen. Second-hand knowledge adds dozens more. But that is enough to see a pattern – one that is frequently confirmed when I read hard data.
The few people I knew who moved beyond welfare mostly did so long after peers experiencing similar struggles had moved on. Most were denied assistance at one point or another because they made a little too much one month, or didn’t fill out a form quickly enough. Most requalified and seemed happy about it, even though it amounted to someone else pronouncing judgment on their need and telling them what help they’d be allotted.
Part-time job, little chance for advancement
I also learned of the immense bureaucracy that aid recipients willingly expended an unreasonable amount of time and energy dealign with. While that bureaucracy was in place to regulate who received help, it favored those who learned to work the system over the long term rather than people in dire immediate need and/or those unwilling or unable to contend with the time and travel required of recipients. I feel sure that the system both supports and excludes people that most of us would want to treat differently.
It’s much easier to tell someone where the welfare office is than to make them dinner, isn’t it? And it’s harder, when you’re making a lot of bad choices, to get people who personally know you to continually pick up the pieces of your irresponsibility (co-dependency notwithstanding).
People that know you know that you need to pick yourself up and stop acting like a fool. Financial or other help that keeps you from dealing with the consequences of a poor choice wouldn’t be truly loving or kind. Someone who cares for your well-being would rather see you resolve your problem instead of just helping you delay your day of reckoning with your foolishness. When someone who doesn’t know you is evaluating the situation, looking on paper like you need help is comparatively easy.
Real kindness involves actually helping someone – not expecting them to go apply for aid. Also not kind: Assuming you personally don’t need to do anything to help because you believe the fraction of your tax dollar that’s left after paying the salaries of the bureaucrats who administer it will actually help this person.
DFACS won’t spend time with a teenage single mother, teaching her things she never learned from her dysfunctional mother. No organized charity or government program can help a young man missing a dad deployed to Afghanistan like a family member or neighbor who provides a frequent, positive presence. What agency will cut the grass or bring by groceries for a family dealing with the terminal illness of a parent? When we are personally involved with others we can see their needs and provide actual, loving help like no bureaucracy can.
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I believe liberty – even to the extent that it resulted in nothing being taken from the unwilling – would be the kindest driving force a society could choose. I’m not kidding myself, however, about how easily our pervasive bureaucratic dependency could be dismantled to make way for liberty, nor the speed at which the belief that libertarianism is self-centered hedonism is dying. But what I advocate doing now and always is contributing in ways that are benevolent, humble and loving – and personal.