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'Nanny State' not the answer

Published: Sun, December 18, 2011 @ 12:01 a.m.

When it comes to charity, is it the responsibility of the state or private enterprise? The Christmas season is overflowing with the needs of those less fortunate throughout America and historically our fellow citizens have aided those in need. In 1767 Boston, 20 homes went up in flames at the beginning of winter. John Hancock personally added 100 guineas to the funds provided by the Crown for rebuilding, feeding, and sheltering the homeless.

Today we can visit the Rescue Mission of the Mahoning Valley and find many seeking food, clothing and shelter. You would be surprised to learn that many in line for a tray of hot food are single parents with small children. Similarly we see volunteers working at Second Harvest food banks helping those down on their luck. These facilities and others like them work year round helping those desperate for help.

Fiscal constraint

In today’s climate of severe fiscal constraint it is particularly prudent for us to remember there are two types of help — private charity and government welfare i.e. the “Nanny State.” They are quite different and yield different results.

The basic principle of any charity is that it is voluntary. Government assistance is not voluntary. We pay taxes in support of government programs under the threat of a jail sentence for tax evasion. It is legal coercion and the spirit of compassion and caring is tarnished. Forced morality isn’t moral by any stretch of the imagination when the donor has no control over how much is given, when it is given, or to whom it is given. The result is donor resentment.

The recipients of voluntary private charity realize that benevolence is the result of goodness and caring of individuals without providing a sense of entitlement. Government welfare often becomes a “right”, with handouts becoming a way of life for some. The result is resentment because aid doesn’t come from the heart but rather government coercion.

Those who donate to private charity have control and if a charity is rife with fraud or waste, the donor can withdraw support and bring legal action. Government programs are often replete with fraud and mismanagement and politicians can always throw more money at a program with few constraints. It is documented that administrative cost for any government program is at least twice that of private enterprise. Lastly, it usually takes an act of Congress to stop any government subsidy, which is political suicide for any politician up for reelection.

We should acknowledge that governments often fund parts of private charity programs on a bid basis, with the caveat that no proselytizing will occur. Statistically, most charitable funds in America are expended equally from local/state/federal agencies, private foundations, and churches. Recently Catholic Charities was criticized because their 10 percent administrative fee was considered too low to be successful; a 25 percent minimum was expected. The Rescue Mission receives no government support and expenses are routinely less than 10 percent. Their provisions go to those who need it and such efficiency should be applauded.


The Christmas season again provides the opportunity and warmth of giving. Private benevolence promotes responsibility on the part of donors, charities, and the recipients alike. Government transfers responsibility to a bureaucracy. Whatever the source of aid, the milk of America’s human kindness shall prevail.

Bill Johnson, a safety consultant and active Republican, writes on behalf of the Mahoning County Republican Party.

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