10.14.05

The new charity

Posted in Liberty at 16:06 by RjZ

My gut response when I heard that President Bush had pledged over $200 billion in relief for Katrina victims was something on the order of ‘well, I guess I don’t need to give to Katrina victims because President Bush has decided to do so for me.’ The actual bill being considered by congress is a “$250 billion Hurricane Katrina aid bill—in addition to the $62 billion in taxpayer funds already allotted to relief efforts.” It’s a lot of money. That’s $1,055 for each man, woman and child in the U.S. of A. (population of the US is 295,734,134) That’s more than 5% of the yearly income for family of four at poverty level in the US ($19,350) so, like I said, it’s a lot of money!

I don’t personally have a problem with donating a thousand dollars to Katrina victims but you can see how I might feel it’s worth considering whether or not I want to give more than that. But this isn’t really my problem. My problem is that President Bush essentially gets to take the credit for my magnanimity. Politicians on both sides of the aisle get to pander for votes, claiming they give to the victims. They are citizens, so they aregiving to the victims–an average of $1,055 per politician; except that you’re giving too, whether you asked to do so or not. If the administration decides to distribute that money through no-bid contracts or faith-based initiatives, you donated $1,055 to no-bid contracts and faith-based initiatives. And politicians are highly motivated to do this. Spending money always makes somebody happy, but not spending money will definitely make plenty of people unhappy.

For me, troubling thing is that this is what the voters want. One of the biggest sources of outrage in the aftermath of Katrina were “where is the government?” “what are they doing to help people?” People seem to look to the central government as the primary national charity. Of course many, many people gave to a wide range of charities after Katrina, but many more considered it the government’s responsibility to help these people first. Earlier in this blog I used the example of Herbert Hoover going to the people, hat in hand to encourage giving. Somehow, things were different then because he was successful. I don’t know if the same strategy would be successful today, but I know that no one is asking.

I think real leadership would be shown if, instead of pledging “to put the full might and money of the federal government behind the reconstruction,” that is, pledging your money and mine; it’s our federal government after all, our leaders would give a speech that went something like this.

My fellow Americans, we can see the horrors or this disaster, but we can also see the opportunity to show our true patriotism for our great country by helping each other in this time of need as we hope they would do were it to come that we are in need. I ask you, my fellow Americans, to give and give generously to Katrina victims. Give as much as you can directly to your friends and family in the region or to the many charities who have served us so well in times of need. And give quickly because we in the government need to be assured that our citizens are being protected for that is what you have elected us to do.

What you have not elected us to do, however, is to take your money out of your pockets and decide how to spend it for you. That is why I am not asking Congress to raise taxes but I am also not asking congress at this time for more money for the region than is already earmarked for disaster relief through FEMA [which, in this case we can see needs new management and organization.] By asking you directly I know that we can avoid the inefficiency of government and that you can decide where and how much you can afford. I hope and trust that there will be no need to ever ask congress to take more wealth from the people and that this nation of patriots will show their true colors, now, by supporting each other.

A great leader might go on to announce just how much she is giving, out of her pocket, and what she is doing to help victims of this tragedy. But, alas, this isn’t going to happen. Our leaders today get more mileage out of pandering to people who rely on them to be the first charity and this vicious cycle has created a nation where this pandering is rewarded and necessary and where the individual has be enervated of the will to give himself.

It is the individual who, one by one, has come to expect this of our politicians, it is only through the painstaking efforts of many individuals that we can affect change. We must select representatives who share our view that we have a personal responsibility for this nation and, painful as it sometimes is for the government not to give, we must not punish them when they leave this responsibility to us. We must stand up and demonstrate how much more powerful it can be when we help each other without the state telling us how to do so.

I think that writing this entry has shown me at least one thing. I will contribute to the relief effort directly. Because even though $1,000 will be stolen from me by my government and likely spent only marginally in ways I approve, I can still demonstrate to future leaders that I am one of those proud Americans who can not only take care of himself, but also support his neighbors if the need arises. I may not give as much as I ought to and my tiny action will surely be hallow, but it is through 259 million little actions that we can really get things done! Now, where is the best place to give and get something really done?

3 Comments »

  1. tim rohrer said,

    October 18, 2005 at 19:30

    Ron,

    I can’t agree with substantial portions of your rhetoric and your arguments again. Your money is being “stolen” from you just because the government is spending money collected from you in ways you don’t approve? Namely on Katrina victims? (Though perhaps somewhat diverted to faith-based idiocy and Hallibacon & the like is a more legit concern…) But are you really saying that should the federal government not be involved in disaster management at all? And why is taxation “stealing”? Do you mean that in general or just in this case of disaster relief?

    I don’t like many of the ways that this administration & congress spends our money either, but the word “stolen” is just absurd here. Our tax monies aren’t stolen from individuals, even though it is required that we each pay a share of it. In principle, government is necessary and everyone should pay their fair share to support the common goods it brings. Though we can reasonably argue about whether our current tax system is fairly applied and justly designed, calling taxation in general “stealing” just makes your arguments seem shallow, selfish and egoistic.

    If you are arguing that it is just stealing in this case (Katrina relief), then I think your argument is even weaker. As you note, our fellow citizens are hurting in New Orleans and surrounds; we ought to help them. But of all the things that are dislikeable about the way they are now spending our monies, Katrina is one of the last among them. I think our occupation of Iraq, our continuing occupation of Afghanistan, corporate welfare programs, tax cuts primarily for the rich resulting in debt payments and so on are much more awful uses of our governmental money–but those we can debate. However, in my view if we weren’t doing many of those things, perhaps we would have more money to do important work like disaster management, relief coordination and the like. Our government and our federal tax dollars built the levees, harbors, power lines, many of the roads and other infrastructure in the affected area–it is only right that we all reinvest and share some of the cost of rebuilding them.

    Perhaps you meant to use the word “stolen” more to describe your being upset that Bush and Congress are “stealing” the credit from you when it is our tax money being used for relief. I can see some logic in that part of your argument, but not in the notion that “$1000″ of your money is being “stolen.” I really don’t feel that way about the “$1000″ of my tax money that is going that way.

    Lastly, your figure of “$1000″ seems mathematically challenged in the same ways that some of the current anti-tax rhetoric about Referenda C and D are. While it is true that if we divide $259 billion by 259 million citizens you get $1000, about 25% of our federal tax monies comes from corporate income taxes (and a dwindling and far too low percentage of the gross if you ask me). That’s just one reason why your math is challenged here; there are others. Note that it was this same sort of sloppy math that landed Caldara and others in hot water for claiming that passing C and D this fall would lead to the state not giving a $3000 TABOR refund per family, when the actual average TABOR refund for a family four is about $178. (Like you, they omitted mentioning how much would go to corporations.)

    But do you really want to wake up next to Jon Caldara and the Independence Institute? Because I think those are the sort of bedfellows your anti-tax rhetoric is likely to find.

    I am glad, however, that you managed to write yourself into giving something. Habitat for Humanity might be one charity to consider. Oxfam is another. http://www.give.org has excellent charity info, including the pct of monies which are actually distributed versus administration and fundraising expenditures.

    tim

  2. RjZ said,

    October 19, 2005 at 7:51

    Tim,

    I can’t blame you if my writing isn’t clear but I will try to make a bit of it more lucid here. Essentially, I think we agree more than we disagree.

    First, like you I agree that government money is well spent on infrastructure. We have to think twice before we go willy nilly rebuilding every thing that government has built heretofore, but for the most part, levees and dams, water rights and military bases are exactly some examples of what the central government should do. Indeed, unlike most libertarians, I think you’ll find me willing to let government get involved in a whole lot of things that I consider “infrastructure.” Emergency management and relief is infrastructure related and I said as much in my post.

    I too question our involvement in Iraq and to a lesser extent Afghanistan and I dislike corporate welfare even more than personal welfare. So we agree that there are places where it makes sense for the central government to spend my money (and yours!) and places where it should not.

    Where I don’t think I’ve made my point however, the whole point of my post, so clearly I’ve got a lot to learn about writing, is that we U.S. Americans have grown accustom to assuming the government will just take care of things. We seem to think that the government is a big charity and well, we’re already giving to that charity so, our consciences are clear. Worse still is that our elected officials are glad we feel this way for they can take credit for how they spend our money and they have more power as well.

    Instead of taking a leadership role, demonstrating what we as patriotic U.S. Americans could be doing for each other, they take credit for what they demand we do, whether we support their chosen solution or not. In this way they are stealing not only my money but also credit and even motivation from individuals in the U.S.A.

    I don’t know exactly what about that you disagree with. You don’t agree with my characterization as stealing, fair enough. [Side note: I do see taxation as stealing and it is illegal according to the constitution but that too is another discussion] We do agree that government money should be used for relief, but it’s likely we differ on the extent to which it should be used. I support relief, but not all rebuilding. The government can rebuild the infrastructure it built in the first place (if it/we deem it appropriate to do so) but not the beach-front property and casinos. We’ll leave that to the owners of those properties. I doubt you are being so disingenuous as to confuse relief, which I am supporting, with rebuilding, which Bush is supporting, perhaps because he wants to show how magnanimous he and his republican party are.

    Oh, and regarding my calculation. First, thanks for pointing out corporate taxes but I will defend my point by stating that I said average. Absolutely some are paying much more than others (I certainly hope so!) but if the money comes out of the economy it comes out of your pocket. Just because that big ol’ evil corporation had to pay some of it (good, you say, those raping bastards who provide products and services I consume deserve it!) doesn’t mean you aren’t paying. I am confident you see what I mean. On average that’s what it costs citizens. Fortunately some of the pain is taken in larger share by those who can more afford it.

  3. tim rohrer said,

    October 19, 2005 at 14:05

    While we probably do agree on that many of the budget priorities of the current administration are foolishly misplaced, I think we disagree about taxation being stealing in principle, for one; and about it being unconstitutional for another. I’d love to see you make those arguments in a future column.

    As for Katrina, I think we probably would agree that some parts of infrastructure rebuilding are necessary and some are pure govt pork, and we might even be likely to agree about which are which. But your article, especially with its emphasis on the $1000 you are out of pocket/have had stolen from you, doesn’t make it clear that you support any more gov’t money for Katrina relief; in fact, your hypothetical speech says that only the already allocated FEMA funds should be used. (FEMA itself has requested more money though.) That’s why I think your outrage conveyed to me the idea that the victims don’t deserve any more federal money.

    On the calculation matter, I don’t think all corporations are big and evil. But many corporations are nonnative entities with the profits flowing offshore (or out of state when considering Referenda C and D), so I find the counterargument that it raises prices for all of us to be also mathematically challenged–even with your stipulation that that number is just an average. My objection about the dwindling share of the corporate tax contribution to the Treasury stems both my concern that many of their profits are leaving here untaxed without benefitting us, and from my suspicion that the Republicans have cynically shifted the tax burden from corporations and onto individuals in order to make political hay out of the pain we all feel at tax time.

    Your writing is fine, and we probably do agree more than we disagree on specifics. Your reasoning here, however, is what I enjoy disagreeing with. Not that you don’t occasionally convince me.

    tim

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