Like swallows returning to Capistrano, they're back. The bell ringers, change boxes, mailers, callers and all the other scavengers out competing with the regular, year round panhandlers for your spare change and mine, looking to make the best of the enhanced spirit of generosity presumed to infuse the public mood at this time of year. When I pass those collecting for the Salvation Army, or Toys for Tots, or even for the food pantry or children's cancer research, I get mad as hell and have to choke back little bile.
It's not that I don't give to charity. I do. Nor do I hate the homeless, the hungry the sick and the child denied a holiday gift by his family's crushing poverty. My heart bleeds for all of them and it is not they who are making me mad.
Follow me out into the tall grass and I will explain.
The ones making me mad are the ones who think that the way to address the terrible problems of society's victims is to solicit and dispense charitable giving, because charities are less a part of the solution than a part of the problem.
My spirit of charity informs both my heart and my intellect that the proper and sensible way for society to address the shortcomings in our collective ability to adequately provide for so many persons' basic necessities of life, from food and shelter and clean water, to work and health, is to act, all together, as a society, pooling our resources to address these basic problems afflicting too many of our fellow Americans. The only institution in existence designed to enable all of us to act together as a nation to address national needs and provide for the general welfare is the federal government.
Yet, too often, the same individuals who are volunteering to raise a few dollars for their favorite philanthropy, and particularly our plutocratic masters who include, as part of their regular tax planning, what to you and I would be massive amounts charitable giving, will spend much time and energy obstructing, fighting and trying dismantle the already starved and neglected ability of our government to truly service society's needs. Hence, a right wing rag like the Daily Caller will tout how generously Mitt Romney donates to charity, while continuing to shill for Republican plans to take food away from hungry children.
The federal government knows where the needs are and federal agencies know that the scraps of housing, nutrition and other safety net programs left to them service only a fraction of the need. The nation knows how much to spend on safety net problems, but we lack, as a nation, the political will to do what should be done, or, perhaps, lack the ability to wield that will against the wishes of the plutocrats who really call the shots.
In the meantime, some charities fill some chinks and gaps, some of the time, only through the time and money of millions of Americans who think they just want to help a little, to relieve someone's suffering, so they give, or they collect, or they volunteer and they feel better about themselves. This is not only ineffective. It is wasteful.
Charities are typically much less efficient than the government at getting the help needed to those in need. According to a study of the main federal safety net programs by the Center for Budget Priorities and Policies, direct delivery of programs, goods and services to those in need received "more than 90 percent of spending on Medicaid, SNAP, housing vouchers, Supplemental Security Income, school meals and the Earned Income Tax Credit". By contrast, the American Cancer Society spends only 71.2% of its funds to actually deliver programs and services. Christian Relief Services Charity does a bit better at 83.8%. Habitat for Humanity International does the same, at 83.8%.
A few charities match or even exceed federal government efficiency in delivering programs and services, like the American Red Cross and the food bank alliance, Feeding America. But the general fact is that by acting together as a society through the instrumentalities of government, we can better provide for the general welfare of our fellow Americans in need, without arbitrary strings, more reliably, more justly and much more efficiently.
At this time of year, when charitable solicitors are in my face more than at any other time, with their ringing and their dinging and their calling and their clamor, I am once again angered that my country cannot get its forward end out of its hind end and really face up to the problems of our people that we the people, as a nation, should be addressing nationally, comprehensively, reliably, effectively, efficiently, and not through the fickle, and sometimes biased, hand of private charity.