There is nothing in our world today that is not regulated, legislated, or otherwise controlled by the government in some way. It is no wonder we are constantly told that American capitalism has failed; the Invisible Hand has so much control over so many areas of our lives that it's almost a wonder private citizens are able to function at all.
But there are consequences of government interventionism that go far beyond private sector capitalism and the ability of private citizens to conduct business. More and more, the puppet-masters in governments from towns to cities to states, and all the way up to the federal government increasingly have a negative impact on the efforts of private charities to have a positive impact on cities and communities across America.
When you get right down to it, there are two ways the government tends to interfere in private charities: directly and indirectly.
It's hard enough for charities to keep sufficient income coming in during tough economic times; organizations that depend on charitable giving in order to stay afloat can find keeping the doors open to be extra challenging when people have less money to give. But when you add in a high level of economic uncertainty, it becomes even more difficult for charitable organizations to solicit donations or convince even some of the most charitable people to make financial commitments to those organizations dedicated to serving those in need.
Throw in higher taxes, more regulations - just the kinds of things that make businesses afraid to expand, that make the wealthy afraid to invest - these are the same kinds of factors that make it easier for people to hold on to their money. High gas prices, a shrinking economy, a constant push by the government to displace charitable organizations through welfare and food stamps.
When it comes to charity, the government is one of the worst possible choices. One of the measures people tend to use when they want to give to a charity is a measure of how much of each dollar given actually makes it to the people being helped - many people are reluctant to give to charities that have high administrative costs because the entire goal of giving to charity is to help people, not to put money into the pockets of bureaucrats.
But with government, we have no options. Money is not given, it is coerced. You either give, or you go to jail. They even came up with a nice scheme where they take money directly out of people's paychecks before they ever see it, in an attempt to keep people from complaining.
When it comes to government charity, however, we never really get to know how much of every dollar actually makes it to the people those programs are designed to help. Each and every time I hear some politician talk about per-student spending for public education, it makes me wonder how many of those dollars actually make it into the classroom - especially when I see that our schools are constantly sending children out for this fundraiser or that fundraiser, while every year it is harder for teachers to get the supplies they need for the classroom.
And with programs like welfare, food stamps, Medicare, and so on, we don't even know how much of our tax dollars end up wasted on the government bureaucracy, and how much actually goes toward helping people. The government is a charity that no one would ever choose, which is why they must compel people to give day after day, week after week, year after year.
Then you have to consider direct regulations that hamper the ability of charities to help people. Just a couple of months ago, it was reported that a man who collected left-over food from restaurants in New York City to give to the homeless was told by the city that he must cease and desist. Apparently, it is illegal to hand out food to the homeless in New York City unless you are licensed by the government...because the city of New York wants to have the ability to track the calorie and fat intake of their homeless community.
Here in Bakersfield, CA, where I live, we have a local group that gets together every year at a local park on Thanksgiving Day and makes burritos to hand out to the city's homeless. But last Thanksgiving, they almost had to cancel the event thanks to interference from the local government. One of the local TV news stations had run a story highlighting the event, and apparently a local bureaucrat, instead of seeing the story and appreciating what members of the community were doing for one another, thought to herself, "I wonder if they have the right permit."
The event was put on by a group of citizens - they were not a registered charity that took tax-exempt donations, they were just members of the community that got together to do something positive. And as it turned out, they could not afford the $1,000 permit for the event, so they opted for a much less expensive picnic permit. Since they could not afford the proper permit, the city shut them down. It was only through the generosity of a local business, which lent them the use of their property, that the event was able to proceed.
Whether they realize it or not, whether it is intentional or accidental, regardless of whether or even how much they care, proponents of big government are killing private charity in America. It is a slow death, to be sure, but as long as the government keeps getting larger, it will continue to crowd out the private charities that make a real difference in our nation and around the world.