Conservatives and hardcore libertarians heavily dislike taxpayer-funded social programs. They see the initiatives as wasteful spending. However, obviously most of these programs are incredibly beneficial to our society. So what is the “fiscally responsible” answer to the needs of citizens, if not taxes?

Charity. They expect that, if social programs were to be removed, people would give more money to charity. In other words, when there are people in need, people will step up to help by taking out their wallets.

Of course, this does not at all square with reality. (What a surprise, right?) There are many news stories that have been written during this recession that tell of a decline in charitable giving. 2009 less than 2008. 2008 less than 2007. This flies directly in the face of the conservative dream of a nation united by trickle-down charity.

However, the recession has sparked an upswing in one altruistic phenomenon: volunteering. You see, since so many people don’t have jobs, and don’t like sitting around on the couch all day (why I don’t know), they go out and volunteer.

Now, perhaps you’re thinking “I guess those conservatives were right after all.”

Eh, I disagree. I think this is another point for liberal social programs funded by taxpayers. The reason being that people can’t really just go out and volunteer. I mean, you could. You could just grab a bag and start picking up trash.

What works much better, I think, is an organization (funded by taxpayers, because as we have already established charitable donations aren’t cutting it) that is interested in whatever cause it is figuring out what is most urgent to do. These organizations can prioritize volunteering projects and provide resources for volunteers.

That way, instead of picking up the five pieces of trash on your street and thinking you’re doing the best you can do, you can be driven to the local wildlife reserve to clear invasive, non-native vegetation and pick up the trash left by the punk high schoolers from the previous weekend.

In short, not only does charity not make up for the cutting of social programs, but what you might think could pick up the slack only does if you have social programs already in place.

The only exception to this, I think, are churches that do a lot of volunteering. Churches are, if nothing else, a good source of volunteer and charity work.

Two responses to this: First, I still don’t think church work could make up for many social programs we currently have, especially when the social programs require education in things like ecology and forestry. Soup kitchens and brainwashing people, sure, but nothing that requires a group of people with college degrees to organize. Second, the church is going to fade away eventually. More people are nonreligious than ever. So eventually we’re going to need social programs when the church is too busy trying to get new members to do volunteer work anymore.

But, the next time a conservative tells you that charity will fill the gaps, you probably don’t have to waste your time with arguments like these. They probably won’t listen anyway. You can just do what I did the last time someone said that and say “Riiiiight.”

~peace, RR

I welcome comments and suggestions. Comments can go below, suggestions to radiantreason[at]gmail[dot]com 🙂