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Government Charity in Sedgwick County

At the July 25, 2006 Sedgwick County Commission meeting, during the public hearing on the proposed 2007 Sedgwick County budget, a speaker said this in support of funding for mental health services: “I agree with the previous presenter and I’d be willing to forego a few cheeseburgers this year so that if I need to pay more taxes to help provide services, I’m willing to do that.”

It hardly seems necessary to remind this speaker that she may give whatever she wants of her time and money to any organization she wants. She doesn’t need the Sedgwick County Commission to do it for her.

This speaker may be thinking that if she agrees to pay a little more in taxes to support her cause, then everyone else will have to pay more, too. In this way, her small additional sacrifice is leveraged by the additional taxes everyone else must pay.

In fact, many people think this way. Everyone has their own ideas of what the government should do, and if by paying just a little more in taxes myself I can get the government to tax everyone else, why, that’s quite a good deal for me and my pet project!

The problem is that this government activity is wrong. The economist Walter E. Williams makes the case succinctly:

Can a moral case be made for taking the rightful property of one American and giving it to another to whom it does not belong? I think not. That’s why socialism is evil. It uses evil means (coercion) to achieve what are seen as good ends (helping people). We might also note that an act that is inherently evil does not become moral simply because there’s a majority consensus.

It doesn’t matter how noble the cause. To take from one and give to another is wrong, even if it is to provide food or medical services to truly needy people.

Furthermore, this government “charity” deprives us of our ability to give true charity ourselves, and in the process, makes us less happy than we could be. Arthur C. Brooks, associate professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Public Affairs, in a commentary in the December 8, 2005 Wall Street Journal titled “Money Buys Happiness” tells us this:

In fact there is another explanation for unchanging happiness levels over time which is rather less supportive of income redistribution. As incomes rise, so generally do levels of government revenues and spending, and there is evidence that these forces work against personal income on the overall level of happiness. For example, a $1,000 increase in per capita income is associated with a one-point decrease in the percentage of Americans saying they are “not too happy.” At the same time, a $1,000 increase in government revenues per capita is associated with a two-point rise in the percentage of Americans saying they are not too happy. In other words, not only can money buy happiness, but it may be that the government can tax it away as well.

Mr. Brooks also tells us that donating money and time — that is, the giving of charity — illustrates the link between money and happiness: “Givers of charity earn substantial mental and physical health rewards, even more than do the recipients of charity — empirical evidence that it is indeed more blessed to give than to receive.”

The operative idea is “to give.” When government takes by taxation, it is not giving.

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