Virtues of Charity – Vices of Entitlement

Plato

JUM6C67H88G4 The pursuit of moral perfection, excellence more less, is generally consider an act of virtue.  Naturally the diametric is a vice, or a vicious act.  The philosophical study of virtue, along with the lack thereof, as consumed much effort and angst.  It has been theorized and scrutinized by some of the greatest human minds to have walked this earth.  One of the canonical discussion on the subject took place in ancient Greece between Socrates and Plato, known as Plato’s Meno.  Essentially the dialogue concluded that acts of virtue can be taught; these teachings would represent acts of universal truths.  It rejects the famous notion of “Man is the measure of all things” by claiming if that be the truth then why believe one thing over another and why take the effort to teach any of it!  This lends to the notion that there is A measure of things and it is Man’s pursuit to find that measurement and understand its proper place.  Consequently, the appreciation of Divine providence would conclude that us humans will fall short of this pursuit with no exception.  I would argue that if the tenets of virtue can be instructed so too can the tenets of vicious conduct.  As such I would like to explore those behaviors in the form of charity and entitlement.

Charity…

By definition charity is the “voluntary giving of help, typically in the form of money” and likewise entitlement is “the fact of having a right to something”.  Arguable these two social acts are opposite whether you are the “giving” or “receiving” side of the coin.  Which is virtuous and which is vicious?  That is what I seek to discover in the following series of discussion points.  There are obviously two schools of thought as to the social needs of each of these.

Entitlement …

The weak back-boned among us would say there should be a mixture, evenly of course, between charity and entitlement.  I will make the claim that charity should be championed several fold more times than entitlement; that is to say as a percentage – charity should provide ~80% and entitlement ~20% of the need.  So where is the place for government in all of this?  What is the universal true, the virtuous, measure between the two?

First off, let us elaborate what government is at the very basic level.  Government is nothing more than the intermediary between other countries and its own citizens.  It intervenes, where prudent, in the matters of civil, legal, and social.  Of course this definition is how government theoretically is to operate.  Today our government intervenes in matters never deemed necessary.  It intervenes on almost all aspect of daily life – just look at the National manifest of laws and regulations – unfortunately commonly referred to as the Code of Federal Regulations – which as of 2011 was 169,301 pages long.  Today it has no boundaries – cultural, moral, religious, economic, social, legal, civic, and on.  What is the justification; to whom do we delegate the authority to decide?

Perhaps looking into motive would be prudent to understand the gauge of reason used to make these determinations.  Again, motive is defined as “a reason for doing something, esp. one that is hidden or not obvious”.  The government as a whole is a collection of citizens given the credentials to “represent” the public at large.  Does the government have a motive?  Logically, yes it does; a group of people do not loose motive as they would otherwise have in of themselves.  Okay then what is it?  Is the motive virtuous or is it vicious?  I would also like to remind you, in the quote below, of a prudent observation one of our “out-dated” Colonial Patriots made about the static facets of human nature.

“A wise and frugal government … shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned.  This is the sum of good government.”

-Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, 4 Mar 1801

If faction is sown in the nature man, as Thomas Jefferson also stated; is it not also sown into the seeds of MEN?  Even of men credentialed as government representatives and stewards?  If not then what makes this notion not applicable?

Further expanding on the dichotomy of charity and entitlement; how are each amassed and executed?  Entitlement generally is collected from a large pool of participates.  In modern times, this is usually in the form of taxes and collected at various levels of government for the “justified” and “legal” purposes.  Charity generally is collected from a pool of participates, however it tends to be a much smaller pool.  More frequently charity is carried out by a single individual.  Rarely are entitlements enacted that way – it simply isn’t within its nature.  What is the motive of the collective?  What is the motive of the individual?  Are either virtuous or vicious?  Perhaps a scenario will aid your considerations?  Consider two unique houses in a suburban setting, they can be next to each other or in the same subdivision it does not matter.  Unique families live in each of the houses – call them Family A and Family B.  Both families are in need of help, say one spouse has lost their job.  Available to them are both charity and entitlement.  The former coming from a church or non-profit and the latter available through the state or federal government.  Each family has the option of either.  Which one is more virtuous?  I claim that charity is, and here is why.  With charity there is a personal connection – a sit down meeting or a conversation that touches on the needs of the family whilst the benefactor has a vested motive in helping those in the community, being that is its nature.  Conversely, with entitlement there is a meeting but it is impersonal; the government wants to help but they are constructed in a manner that they have no real ties with the community.  Who will be held more accountable to use the help respectfully?  Where is the moral virtue on the part of the family receiving help?  Say Family A takes the entitlement(s) available to them by the government whom has justified a need for social programs seemingly indeterminate in number.  Family B chooses charity by asking their fellow church members to help with food and expenses.  Family C in the same neighborhood notices no difference between the two; each on the surface are living seemingly sufficient and happy lives.

Which family will be more likely to return to true sufficient and dignified lives sooner?  Family A who receives a check from a far off government capital or Family B who sees those fellow church members weekly at minimum?  The answer is obvious; Family B is more likely to utilize the help more efficiently and correct their needs to discontinue the need for help altogether.  Certainly asking for help and pulling up to the church parking lot in a new car or observing the service with the help of a new iPad would draw suspicion.  Now perhaps say Family A goes to the same church as Family B.  Say they too purchased a new vehicle and have personal electronic devices for each member of the family.  Who other than themselves or the distance government bureaucrat will know that their purchases were made possible by the aid of entitlements?  No one – that is the point – entitlements are hidden and so is their motive.  Which system allows for more abuse and negligence?  It is remote that Family A would remove themselves from receiving their entitlement until their removed by term expiration or by force.  All the while subject to changes in government policy and dependent upon the benefits dolled out; instead of returning to the independent status and providing for themselves and participating in local charities to truly give back to the community instead of seeking receipt from it.

If conduct such as entitlements are hidden and not disclosed then how can anyone know about the expansion in entitlements?  The unavoidable truth is that the government has no resources except what it takes from the private sector and individuals themselves.  Governmental statistics or more recently third-party research groups provide the historical data along with the personal pain associated with higher taxes and more intrusive fees and control to ascertain Government’s expansion.  Government grows because it has to in order to keep with the demand of a non-virtuous people who wish to remain anonymous as the beneficiary of government entitlements.  As this continues, those who are living the self-sufficient life become more acutely aware of the growing size and scope of government aid to their fellow citizens.  The burden of providing for those who remain on entitlement increases.  This changes the nature of those providing and for those being provided for.  The provider become cynical that they are paying for “everyone’s” vacation or luxury while they struggle to make ends meet while wishing for a better future for their own family.  The providee becomes dependent upon the entitlement; they have structure their lifestyle around that monetary contribution.  Change to them triggers an automatic defense of that entitlement – not a recognition of what they are receiving.  On top of that, they expect the same time value of money adjustments as the private sector funds have built in – without the risk.  I will argue that this process erodes charity because those who are self-sufficient more commonly whom give to charity.  They are less likely to sacrifice more on both the force contributions (taxes) and the willing contributions (charity) to society.  Furthermore, recent discussion at the federal level has surfaced to remove the charitable deductibility from individual income tax returns.  This, I would argue, is done to attempt to squash charity and promote entitlement as the monopoly provide for everyone’s needs.  This furthers the desire to centrally command individual’s lives – what better way that to make them beholden for their goodies.  Returning to the scenario, even if Family A donates to charity; the universal truth is that their conduct is vicious in that their allocation of money should be use to offset the need for entitlements first.  That is the morally virtuous requirement of charity.  Otherwise it is even more vicious of an attempt to cover up the truth by pretending your priorities are squared away.

Charity is one of the most essential links that chain together a local community.  It is what makes good neighbors and builds strong relationships with those in need.  It further builds stronger and more accountable personal behavior and conduct lending to more and more virtuous behavior.  Entitlement is opaque, the funding for entitlements are sourced across the jurisdiction indiscriminately to those on the receiving end – meaning they do not care where the money came from.  It could be their neighbors or it could be a family/individual living a 1000 miles away – in the case of federal entitlement.  This make the recipient unaccountable.  The fact remains you cannot discount that the funds providing Family A’s entitlement did not come from Family C’s tax liabilities.  It is just as sound to argue that possibility or any other distant source – that is the toxic nature of entitlements – it allows for the diffusion of the local community.  Community is not needed to provide for those in need – just a ever powerful government system.  It allows for people to become selfish and complacent.  Shared sacrifice and equal misery is all that is needed to provide Family A with all of their needs.

Local community was the bedrock institution of Federalism, meaning the sovereign levels of government (federal, state, city, county, local).  Previous generations did not always have entitlements to solve their every need and today want.  Civic activism elevated their need to the appropriate level – in many case it was just their neighbor or church.  It kept people honest and gave them a sense of integrity.  Often the rare forms of entitlement that existed were sincerely appreciated and taken with great resolve to not be abused.  It many cases they were paid back into the government in which granted them – that would be considered absurd today.  But is it truly?  Where is the virtue in knowing you have settled your obligations and stand alone?  That virtue resides in the spirit and honor of the individual or family.  It is THE measurement of things – the moral objectivity that comes with virtuous conduct.

Likewise,  Federalism is the basis for a civil society.  This system of governance creates and sustains the development and nurture of virtuous citizens.  It incentivizes noble and honorable behavior and looks down upon behavior that contributes to the absolution of local community.  The expansion of entitlements remove the need for sovereign levels of government and replaces it with two levels.  It essentially creates a form of Feudalism – a collection for the sake of the collectors.  It should follow that this is not the sum of good government.  It is more the notion of egalitarianism – equal outcomes.  The redistribution of wealth to those victims of ill-gotten gains and society’s abuses; of which are typically used to provide justification for additional entitlements in the first place.  Further, the original vision of our government is well defined by the following:

“The government of the United States is a definite government, confined to specified objects.  It is not like the state governments, whose powers are more general.  Charity is no part of the legislative duty of the government.”

-James Madison

It can be concluded that his notion of charity vis-à-vis the government is our modern definition of entitlement.  Numerous other permutations could be contrived to describe these scenarios.  Perhaps the best way to look as this presented scenario is the positives and negatives created by each when expanded to a societal scale.  Which creates more virtuous people?  Which creates division and faction between citizens?  What promotes good government and what extinguishes it?  Which brings civil society together, keeps it together; what tears it apart?

As always – your thoughts!!

– MLP

Advertisements