December 14, 2020


Live Your Principles By Giving

By: Peter Lipsett

You can probably rattle off several good reasons why giving to charity is important. It makes you feel good. It helps others. Maybe it saves some on taxes or helps you connect to your community in new ways.

Those are all fine reasons to give away your hard-earned dollars. Here’s another reason that may be a little less obvious: It’s who you are.

At least, it is who you and I say we are.

My guess, as a reader of the America’s Future blog, is that you believe government should be small and people’s freedoms should be big. I’m with you. When we engage in philanthropy, we support that idea with our actions.

In other words, when we give, we put our values into practice.

On a recent AF member event, we discussed charitable giving and how to engage wisely in philanthropy. One member from Tennessee mentioned his frustration at getting others (of all political persuasions) to see this idea of how small-government folks need to engage in philanthropy.

I hear this too. The problem stems from a misunderstanding of our own rugged individualism. Believing that government shouldn’t solve problems doesn’t mean the problems disappear on their own! We have to complete the circle – if we don’t want the state to leap in to help people in need or to drive medical innovation or educate people, then we have to do that ourselves. And by “ourselves” I don’t mean each on his or her own. We need community bonds.

In a recent Reason piece also making the case for charity, John Stossel asks us to, “Consider three ways to help people: government, charity, and capitalism.” That pretty well sums it up.

Business can and does play a role in solving some of society’s problems – a fact our more liberal friends like to overlook. But where business doesn’t want to or can’t jump in, it comes down to the state or the non-profit sector.

I’ll take the non-profit sector almost every time.

Is Bigger Better?

But what about scale? One person in our philanthropy conversation brought up the common objection that government is so much bigger, which many people believe makes it better equipped to solve big problems.

Government’s greatest tool when it comes to “philanthropy” is not its scale so much as its ability to use force. Yet top-down, force-driven solutions have a terrific knack for missing real human needs.

On the other hand, smaller charities can create the one-on-one connection needed to solve the most systemic problems. Yes, that is man-hour intensive. No one said solving big issues would be easy. However, the point is to solve them, not make a show of being in the act of solving them.

Take the Harlem Children’s Zone in New York. Geoffrey Canada started that amazing program in a single apartment building. He had a goal of helping the kids take steps toward a better life. The program expanded from there, block by block, until it covered a massive area of Harlem and changed hundreds of lives.

During the Obama years, the federal government threw a lot of money at replicating this program in other urban cores across the country. The project failed, and eventually Geoffrey Canada asked for it to be shut down.

Why? Because the magic wasn’t in the plan on paper. The magic came from Mr. Canada and the network of staff and volunteers he slowly, methodically built. It came from local donors who truly connected to the mission. It came from real people engaging to solve real problems.

What Should You Do?

Charitable giving speaks to another aspect of a libertarian/conservative world view – the idea of comparative advantage. Just because you or I really care about ending homelessness or fighting for criminal justice reform doesn’t mean we are the ones who should actually be getting our hands dirty solving the problem.

We can, however, support these ideas financially. Our charitable gifts to support these causes makes us part of the solution even as we go about our lives doing the things we are good at.

Gandhi said to be the change you want to see. Jesus told us not to hide our light under a bushel. From a libertarian perspective, that means if we want government to do less of something, we need to take the lead in doing more of it. The thriving private charitable community leverages the power of real people to bring about real change – without having to wait for Big Brother to tell us what to fix and how to do it.

In this season of giving, be a part of that. Find a great cause to support – here are a few ideas to get you started.

Don’t do it just for the warm glow. Do it because it’s who you are.