In Cahoots: Government Pollutes Charity

One of the first lines of argument against a stateless society is that the existence of “social safety nets” is just too important to leave to the private sector. The usual counter-arguments from anarchists, and even limited governmentarians, are:

  • That private charity is more efficient than coercive redistribution (i.e. a higher percentage of a donated dollar than a tax dollar actually gets to those in need of the “safety net”);
  • That people are generous (more than $300 billion dollars in charitable donations circa 2008) and would be even more generous if they weren’t taxed so heavily; and
  • That a reliable “safety net” produces a culture of dependence and is therefore undesirable in any case.

One counter-argument not made often enough is this: Government involvement in “social safety net” programs pollutes those programs. It corrupts their personnel. It changes their purposes and practices. Over time, “charities” become less and less about helping people per se and more and more about integrating themselves — and their “clients,” at gunpoint if necessary — into the state’s apparatus.

While I don’t agree that freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose (sing it, Janis!), there was a time when having nothing left to lose was liberating in one particular sense: Being destitute meant being at liberty to shift as best possible for yourself, to make your situation bearable, to do whatever you could think of to improve it.

These days, some “charity” functionaries are quite up front about the fact that they’re less concerned with helping people make their own way and more concerned with being the middlemen who funnel taxpayer money to “clients” whether or not those “clients” are particularly interested in that money, or in the strings attached to it.

Here in St. Louis, a group of homeless people have formed a community of sorts in an old tunnel under a collapsing street. The city government’s getting ready to close the tunnel and drive them out of it as a prelude to street repairs.

Now, just to be clear, so far I’m not complaining. Since I don’t support the existence of government, I obviously don’t support the existence of government property, but that’s not what I’m getting at. Driving (alleged) squatters off (allegedly government) property isn’t my topic. Neither is the propriety of the city’s officials looking for “solutions” to the homeless people’s “problems.” I could hold forth on either subject, but let’s stick to my real point. Here’s a local news story on the subject:


Note this line from the story: “Sometimes for the chronically homeless people the best thing that can happen to them is that they are forced into making some choices and decisions.” That’s Dan Buck, CEO of St. Patrick Center.

What “choices” does Buck want to “force” them into making?

He wants to force them to accept money or services his organization provides. I guess that sounds charitable, until you know where the money comes from: A $550,000 government grant to place “clients” in “green jobs.” Some portion of an $11.1 million HUD grant to put “clients” into housing. Grants to help veterans. Grants to help former inmates of the state’s prisons.

According to its annual report, the single largest chunk — 42% — of St. Patrick’s $11.7 million in revenues was “government funding.” I suspect that’s not counting the impact of tax benefits reaped by donors, or government money that works its way to the organization indirectly.

And that money only comes in if there are “clients” to “serve” with it. From his perspective anyone who can qualify for his organization’s programs should be enrolled in them. If you’re homeless and don’t think you need Dan Buck, well, too bad — Dan Buck needs you and he’s right up front with the oxymoronic notion of government “forcing you to choose” to meet his need on the pretext that he’s the one meeting yours.

The sad thing about this is that St. Patrick Center has a reputation as one of the finest charities in the St. Louis area … and would almost certainly have that reputation and then some if there was no government “safety net” — or involuntary financing of same — and it was really able to operate as an actual charity. Government doesn’t solve problems, it creates them. And its use of “public-private partnerships” prolongs and exacerbates them in the name of solving them while simultaneously corrupting the organizations that should be addressing them.

Anarchy and Democracy
Fighting Fascism
Markets Not Capitalism
The Anatomy of Escape
Organization Theory