Saturday, March 1, 2014

Making the Case for Government Programs

Late last October, I posted to my Facebook page something along these lines:

Food stamp cuts that begin November 1 are equal to the entire amount of food given out by all food shelves in the U.S.
Several liberal friends chimed in about how deplorable it was, and at least one disparaged "so-called Christians" who are in favor of the cuts.

Then one brave conservative guy, a friend from the early years of high school whose life path diverged greatly from mine, spoke up to say Christians like him believe private charities should help the poor and that government is not the way to handle it. If taxes were lower, he said, people would have more money to donate to the needy.

My liberal friends kept trying to say he was unChristian, and he insisted he was not. I wanted everyone to stop harping on the religion angle and for someone to come up with a good argument about why government does have a role, why private charity is not enough.

I made the argument about how all the cute kitties and lovable bears get funded while the homely starve. But here's a fact I wish I'd had ready:
Many activists say that if taxes are reduced, private giving will automatically increase. But history shows that's incorrect. For each of the last 40 years, Americans have given away the same proportion of money without change: roughly 2 percent of GDP. Even after the Bush tax cuts in the early part of the century, the rate of giving didn't rise, experts say.
That quote comes from a story on It also tells us the U.S. government spends $105 billion a year on food programs; $80 billion of that is SNAP. In contrast, "Feeding America, the largest food charity in the United States (and one of the largest charities overall), moves $5 billion of food and funding to hungry people each year."
The total of U.S. philanthropy is currently $300 billion, according to Katherina Rosqueta, founding executive director of the Center for High Impact Philanthropy at Penn, a nonprofit focused on improving the impact of charity.

The amount represents all the money that people give away, most of it to churches and other religious institutions — 32 percent, or nearly $96 billion. A good deal of the rest goes to hospitals, universities, and cultural institutions such as museums, noted Daniel Borochoff, president of CharityWatch, an organization that helps donors make more informed charitable-giving decisions.

Just a small portion of those dollars goes to help the poor...
Another point raised by my conservative friend was that private charities are more efficient than government at delivering services. But as I suspected, that isn't true either, in part because the Wild West of charity organizations leaves donors at the mercy of scammers who only sound like good causes or who rip off the names of legitimate organizations.

As I've noted before, the fraud rate in the SNAP program is about 1 percent, and there are many more people eligible for SNAP than ever even apply for it, so that (in my mind) more than balances out the money lost to misuse.

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