Compassion in Government

We like to help each other
America is a compassionate society. There is a common inclination to have government reflect our compassion. But in doing so, there is a real risk of conflating society with government.

Government is not society. There are many things that society should address but that government should not. Objecting to government involvement in an issue is not tantamount to saying an issue should not be addressed at all.

Among the social issues that need to be addressed and that we often ask government to get involved in are caring for the poor, humanitarian assistance, protecting the environment, protecting minorities, healthcare choices and ensuring a certain level of education for our children.

Pessimistic View of Humanity

The impulse to have government prescribe solutions for social issues concedes a pessimistic view of humanity. It assumes that people won't or can't do compassionate things without coercion. It starts with the premise that if the government has the power to help, it must act.

Lots of organizations do good things
But is government the only actor in society?

There is no lack of effective actors, both locally and globally, showing compassion and influencing public opinion. Religious groups, non-profit organizations, charities, private businesses, informal groups of concerned citizens, neighbors and the family all address these issues.

When many groups seek to solve these problems it leads to innovation and experimentation. It could be described as a laboratory, working out the most effective and efficient solutions.

Government Charity = Monopoly

When government becomes a charity itself, it has a monopoly effect. It effectively limits the ability of society's other actors to play a meaningful role. It does this in three ways.

Government charity creates a monopoly
First, it acts by fiat and shuts out dissent. Any actor trying to address an issue in a different way gets restrained, often by law.

Second, it creates the impression that an issue is being fully addressed and therefore other actors are redundant. Their ability to influence public opinion diminishes. People become less likely to donate to or volunteer for them. It weakens people's natural impulses to help people around them.

Third, it siphons money away from other groups. Because government funds its charitable initiatives through taxation, it takes from the discretionary funds people have to donate to their preferred groups. This includes very wealthy people who try to fund their own charitable enterprises, like the Gates Foundation.

Lack of Compassion, Punishable by Fine

Government-mandated compassion
It's noteworthy that among all of society's actors government is the only one that acts by coercion. Other actors operate by persuasion, but government turns a lack of compassion into a crime. Regardless of your feelings about an issue or the government's approach to addressing it, you are forced to pay for it and sometimes to actively support it. Participation is mandatory.

Once the government is committed, influencing public opinion to try a different approach is subversive. Tolerance and compassion can literally become required by law.

Society Is Bigger Than Government

Government involvement in social issues is counterproductive. If there is an inequity to address or an important issue to respond to, selfless people must take the initiative. The responsibility for improving society rests with the people in society. People shape public opinion, which changes people's behaviors. Government can force actions, but people inspire change.

1 comment:

  1. Very interesting and persuasive argument. It makes one wonder just how people survived without government charitable programs. We often see the economic hardship of the great depression portrayed in the movies. In one story I recall Government assistance during that time being protrayed as a life saving necessity, I wonder how accurate those portrails are/were? I don't recall the main characters leaning on their church or family members . . . . . hmmmmmmmmmm