4.2.4.6 Private Charity as an Alternative to the State

Individualists don’t necessarily dispute what people need, but they argue against these needs being agreed as publicly-funded socio-economic rights; they argue that individuals should be responsible for themselves where possible.  If necessary, private charity would step in.  This belief, which is widely held in America for example, can be supported by several arguments:

  • Civil society is likely to be more responsive to people’s needs than a comprehensive service provided by the State (3.5.3.2).
  • Benefit payments might lead to idleness and dependency.
  • Public provision ‘lets people off the hook’. It can be argued that people who choose not to pay for health insurance don’t deserve to be helped.
  • Mutual dependence strengthens families but reliance on the State weakens them.
  • Private charity is voluntary, and can be given as an act of caritas (a form of love), whereas taxation can be regarded as a coercive infringement of personal liberty – as Milton Friedman pointed out in an interview entitled Living Beyond Our Means. People don’t feel as good about helping others if they are doing so through compulsory taxation, rather than as a voluntary act of goodwill.

The choice between public funding and private charity is therefore contested: it is part of the fundamental conflict between individualists and collectivists, so negotiation is needed.  There is greater security in co-ordinated provision, and there are benefits in the wider choice and spontaneous giving which are associated with private action, so it is appropriate to have a combination of the two approaches.

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