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Charity Never Faileth

Many people associate the word “charity” with classic Christian teachings about love and kindness. The apostle Paul said “Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, and have not charity, I am become as sounding brass, or a tinkling cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Jesus encouraged his disciples to love their neighbors and help the poor. Charity is clearly an important part of Christian teaching and living. However, many well-intentioned people confuse the charity and goodness that Christianity teaches with the welfare programs of the government.

This is an easy mistake to make. After all, doesn’t the government help people that are in need? And the money for that comes from taxes, so we shouldn’t complain about paying taxes, right? Many people who learn about voluntaryism and similar philosophies are impressed by the emphasis on individual liberty, but are concerned with what they perceive as a lack of compassion. A research scientist named Dr. Mary Ruwart phrased it this way in her essay “Arriving at Libertarianism”: “Raised as a Catholic, I could not reconcile the concept of ending tax-supported welfare with Christ’s admonition to love our neighbors” (I Chose Liberty p. 502).

Dr. Ruwart’s dilemma is one that is shared by many people. But once you realize that government action means force—violence—the situation becomes much clearer.

"If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it."

“In considering this dilemma, I suddenly became aware of the pivotal point: although refusing to help others might not be very loving, pointing guns at our neighbors to force them to help those in need was even less so. Honoring our neighbor’s choice was more loving than the forcible alternative. If people needed helping, I should expend my energy to offer help, rather than forcing others to provide it” (ibid).

Dr. Ruwart realized the key difference, something that we at Voluntaryism in Action are passionate about: the voluntary nature of the giving. When you give to a needy person because you want to, not only is the needy person helped, but you are uplifted. In Christian terms, you come closer to God—and in anyone’s terms, you become a kinder, better person. Sometimes people say that government welfare and taxation just makes it easier to help the poor—but that’s why VIA is here! We and organizations like us exist to make it easier for you to give voluntarily. To us, it’s just another manifestation of how voluntaryism is a philosophy that really works. Or, as the Apostle Paul put it, that “Charity never faileth” (1 Corinthians 13:8).

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Superstore Voluntarily Feeds Needy Families

Winter can be a hard time of year for anyone, but just because it’s cold outside doesn’t mean that people’s hearts are cold. Pam Smallman, manager of the Superstore in Summerside, Prince Edward Island, Canada, is proof of that.

The CBC reports that every Saturday from noon to 1PM, the Superstore offers a free lunch to anybody who wants to come. “Whether it be that they’re hungry or whether it be that they’re lonely, and they just want to come in and have a bite to eat, then we want to do that,” said Smallman. Her new initiative was prompted by a phone call she received several weeks ago—from a man who had no money to buy food for his family, but didn’t get paid until the next week.

“He reached out to me for some help and it really stopped me dead in my tracks. And it’s been on my mind ever since because I just thought ‘my God, this man had to call and ask me to help him because he couldn’t feed his family’ and it was just a heart-stopping moment.”

The lunches will be simple, says Pam Smallman: soup and sandwich, or maybe chili and rolls.

The lunches will be prepared by staff with food donated from the Superstore. Smallman doesn’t know how many people will take advantage of her offer, but she wants to create a worm and welcoming space for them.

“Winter is a tough time for a lot of people for a lot of different reasons,” said Smallman. “I live here. These are my family, these are my friends, these are my neighbours, and I know from growing up here and I know from being here that there’s a lot of people that struggle.”

Meeting bills for groceries or utilities between paychecks is a common need—it’s one of the things we’re most frequently asked about at VIA. Smallman is a perfect example that people can deeply empathize with their fellows—and from that empathy, voluntarily help them.

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Charity Creates Companion Robot For Sick Children

Few things can be more isolating than a prolonged illness. While bad enough for adults, this is worse for children, who can be more emotionally and psychologically sensitive than adults. Just ask Ethan Hayes: after being diagnosed with brain cancer, his four surgeries, 30 sessions of radiation radiation therapy, and seven months of chemotherapy, he’s been separated from his school friends for over a year. But Ethan now has an unexpectedly welcome companion who can tell jokes, answer questions, and play games—a robot named Zenbo.

Ethan Hayes, age 7, and his sister Chloe, age 8, are the first to test Chai Lifeline Canada's new therapeutic robot, Zenbo. Image credit: JULIANNA PERKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

The Globe and Mail reports that a team from the University of Ontario Institute of Technology had been developing an interactive companion robot for five years. They were approached by the Toronto-based charity Chai Lifeline Canada, who wanted to take the project in an unusual direction: keeping sick children company. “One of the things that we’re hoping to do with the robot is to have a child be able to connect with somebody, almost like a little buddy who can be there for him,” said Mordechai Rothman, executive director of Chai Lifeline Canada.

This pilot project is set to last six months, and to work with several families besides Ethan’s. The Zenbo robot is more versatile and interactive than an iPad or similar device, featuring motion sensors, a touchscreen, facial recognition, and more. Such interaction can provide invaluable mental and emotional support for children, even if it’s from a robot. Thanks to the charitable efforts of Chai Lifeline Canada, this powerful resource that has helped Ethan could be available to many more people in the future.

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Government Steals $600 Million From Detroit Homeowners

In a spectacular display of callous unconcern, the City of Detroit has overtaxed its homeowners by over $600 million during the past 10 years.

According to investigative reporting by The Detroit News, Wayne county tax assessors simply stopped reassessing homes as market prices fell. Anna Bolden bought a lovely brick bungalow at a tax foreclosure auction for $4,800. When her tax bill came in, she found out why the house had been foreclosed: the city was charging taxes on a house worth $57,000. “I went down [to city and county offices] to ask questions, but it’s like everybody is giving you the runaround,” she said. “It makes you feel like they are cheating you…but what can you do?”

Anna Bolden (Photo: Robin Buckson, The Detroit News)

Although some homeowners managed to pay their inflated tax bills, at least 59,000 homes still have tax debts totaling $153 million dollars—including interest and fees on their fraudulent debts. There is a process to appeal the tax bills, but it’s a long and complicated process, and many don’t even know it exists. About 28,000 people have already lost their homes to the government over the excessive taxes. The ACLU of Michigan and the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund sued to stop the tax foreclosure auction in 2016, but a judge ruled that the Michigan Tax Tribunal had oversight rather than the court—essentially claiming that this injustice was not his problem.

Despite low-interest repayment programs put into place by the government, many citizens feel that more should be done. However, city officials report that they are not allowed to simply eliminate the tax debt—even when the amount people were overcharged is more than the debt the currently owe. Nor are they allowed to retroactively apply poverty tax credits that people qualified for but were not aware of in previous years.

Anna Bolden's home in Detroit. (Photo: Robin Buckson, The Detroit News)

Of course, simply forgiving the tax debt that should never have been levied in the first place is out of the question for the government. City and county officials have argued that forgiving overtaxed residents who have not paid their taxes would be “unfair” to those who have paid. Naturally, the same officials have made no effort to address the unfairness faced by those who have lost their homes due to the overtaxing. However, the former Chair of the State Tax Commission Doug Roberts admitted that “Nobody paid as much attention as we should have. We should have [intervened] sooner.” Roberts also stated that the Detroit News’ findings are a “compelling case” and the government should “resolve the issues as equitably as possible.”

“That’s what government exists for,” Roberts said. Whether the government exists to belatedly correct a problem that it created and then ignored for years while tens of thousands of people suffered, you can judge for yourself.

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Government Welfare vs Voluntary Charity

At first, the prospect of government giving welfare to people might seem like a net good. “What heartless person could oppose these poor people receiving aid?” one might think. However, if the process of government welfare is examined, its surprisingly sinister nature becomes apparent.

In the first place, the money that the government spends is not its own—the money has been taken from other people via taxation. There are many different ideas on the morality of taxation—everything from it being a necessary part of society to it being outright theft. No matter your opinion of taxation, the fact remains that the tax money can no longer be spent as the tax payer wishes, but is now disposed of at the discretion of the government. Not only that, but since taxes are mandatory collections as part of a cold bureaucratic system, the taxpayer exercises no volition in the matter and cannot claim to have done a good thing—in fact, he cannot claim to have done anything at all. As Nobel laureate economist Friedrich A. Hayek wrote in The Road to Serfdom, “We are neither entitled to be unselfish at someone else’s expense nor is there any merit in being unselfish if we have no choice. The members of a society who are in all respects made to do the good thing have no title to praise.”

“Very well,” one might say. “I can’t be praised for something that I had no say in, but isn’t the welfare recipient still better off, and all society better off by extension?” Not necessarily. For when the welfare system is examined, we see that people are given money if they earn below a certain income, or work less than a certain number of hours. The intent, presumably, is to help make up for their small income—as some people say, they don’t get a “living wage.” But if we look at it at a slightly different angle, it’s plain to see that the welfare recipient is in fact being paid to earn less than a certain amount! For illustration, let’s say the cutoff for government welfare is $20,000; everyone who makes $20,000 or less receives $5,000 from the government. A person who makes $20,000 per year but could get a harder job that pays $25,000 per year will be discouraged from getting the higher paying job! Why should he work harder when he can change nothing and still get paid? Of course, not every welfare recipient thinks like this—some genuinely only want a little help getting back on their feet. But what the government welfare amounts to is a subsidy of under- and unemployment. That can’t be said to really help the welfare recipients—or anyone else in society.

Well, almost anyone else. There is one class of people who are helped by people being on welfare: politicians and government bureaucrats. The politicians, by having a false appearance of charity (how sincere is the charity when you’re giving away other people’s money?) can get more votes. The government’s “humanitarian” bureaucrats keep their jobs as long as people are on welfare—their good requires that other people be in want. Isabel Paterson put it this way in The God of the Machine: “What kind of world does the humanitarian contemplate as affording him full scope? It could only be a world filled with breadlines and hospitals, in which nobody retained the natural power of a human being to help himself or to resist having things done to him.”

Waiting on government welfare during the Great Depression.

How does this frightful picture compare with voluntary charity? For one thing, nobody is forced to give to anyone unless they want to—and nobody is forced to accept charity unless they really want and need it. Because of this, charitable people are able to choose who they give to—and in what way. It can be on a local level, either personally or in small groups, or through larger charities like VIA. This personal approach is almost always more effective than politicians dispensing welfare funds through a rigid bureaucratic structure designed to benefit whomever can lobby most effectively.

Voluntary charity also differs in that it’s aimed toward the long-term prosperity of everyone involved. The givers receive nothing in exchange for helping those less fortunate except a feeling of satisfaction—either from obedience to religious doctrines or just plain human kindness—at having helped their fellows. Like in any other voluntary transaction, the spender is anxious to get the most out of their money—in this case, they will want it to do the most good it can. And the most good it can do is to get people to a point where they no longer need charity! Therefore, the giver of voluntary charity has an incentive to maximize the well-being of the receiver of the charity—he has no reason to keep poor people poor, as does the politician.

The recipient of voluntary charity is also in a better position. Faced with people who are genuinely interested in their long-term success, the recipient is able to ask for whatever help he needs as opposed to having to meet the unyielding requirements of the government welfare system to receive a one-size-fits-all benefit. The recipient also has an additional incentive to make an effort towards financial recovery, because with a plan to follow and goals to achieve—thereby showing the giver the good their gift will do—he’s more likely to receive donations than someone simply asking for a handout.

For all the reasons above and more, we at VIA believe that voluntary charity is vastly superior to government welfare—for the giver, the recipient, and society at large. We believe it so much that we’re here doing it now, every day, with all our hearts—and we invite you to join us, voluntarily. After all, as Murray Rothbard said, “No action can be virtuous unless it is freely chosen.”

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Historic Blizzard Inspires Voluntaryism

Even in the cold of winter, the spirit of voluntaryism burns bright. And not just any winter, but the worst winter ever! Over the weekend, residents of the City of St. John’s in Newfoundland, Canada were blasted with a blizzard that left a record 76.2 centimeters (that’s 30 inches!) of snow.

With that kind of weather, it may have been tempting to huddle inside and let someone else handle the snow removal. But volunteer shovel brigades rallied to clear sidewalks, and snowblower teams swept the town. The community pulled together online too, as inspirational stories were shared with the hashtag “snowmageddon2020.”

These great Canadians are more proof that if left to their own devices, people will voluntarily take care of each other. Even in the depths of winter, the human spirit glows with the desire to help others—and that’s what Voluntaryism in Action is all about!

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Andrew Vaughan