I had dinner with a group of friends last night, and in typical fashion, much of the conversation was political. One friend put forth a surprising (to me) assertion: that it was a proper function of government to provide health care to everyone. He called it a “right.”

Naturally, I rejected the use of that word in that context, and brought up that doing so required either forcibly taking people’s money to pay for it or forcing doctors et al to work at the government’s whim. Then I took the Milton Friedman “where do you find these angels to organize society for us” angle, and asked who decides. Since his assertion evolved from a previous discussion about public education and school choice, I was looking to make the point that presuming government running stuff is “better,” or even “good,” is a bridge too far. We veered onto other matters at that point, again in typical fashion (our dinner conversations, whether they be two or seven people, tend to be about three or four topics at once).

I recalled that tidbit when I was gob-smacked this morning by an op-ed in The Guardian, titled “We don’t want billionaires’ charity. We want them to pay their taxes.”

Unsure as to whether this was satire (certainly a possibility, albeit a remote one), I read on. The subtitle,

Rather than philanthropy, the super-wealthy should give their money to governments that know better how to spend it,

could easily have been a headline at the satirical website The Babylon Bee.

I laughed, loudly, at the back end of that sentence.

Then I read the article. The author, Owen Jones, was serious.

He started by trotting out a quote attributed to former British PM Clement Attlee, from 1920, that “charity is a cold, grey loveless thing. If a rich man wants to help the poor, he should pay his taxes gladly, not dole out money at a whim.” The cited date is important – it’s within the “Progressive Era,” when the premise of the Best-and-Brightest running society for us did not have the horrific lessons of 20th century socialism standing in stark rebuttal.

Jones then goes on to decry income inequality, condemn efforts at what a Wharton MBA I once met called “tax efficiency,” and blather on about how tax “losses” from companies shifting profits and using “tax havens” hurts the poor.

This is the enormous conceit of big-government types. It is breathtaking in its arrogance, stunning in its lack of self-awareness, and buries its deep dishonesty in high rhetoric.

Some schmuck who convinces enough people to vote him into public office is not magically bestowed with wisdom upon winning an election. He has no basis whatsoever to assert that he “knows better” than the guy whose money he wants to spend. He may know what the voters who put him into office want him to spend it on, but they aren’t selfless and Solomonic-wise, either, and it’s a certainty that people are less careful with efficiently using Other People’s Money than they are with their own.

Government’s infinite capacity for wasting money dwarfs all the billionaires’ charitable giving. Medicare/aid alone loses $60B a year to waste and fraud. The DoD is such a mess, nearly half a billion and 20 years spent auditing itself ended in fruitless frustration. The government spends $300B a year on programs that are no longer authorized to exist. This morning, I read a story of a woman who briefly went on public assistance, but continued to receive it even after repeatedly notifying the government that she was working again and no longer eligible. Governments around the world are really good at two things: utter carelessness with the money they collect from earners (at the point of a gun, let’s not forget), and selfish motives. People may want to embrace the fantasy that public servants are selfless, prudent, and wiser than people who use their own money to help others, but it’s starkly clear that this is not and never has been the case.  If government wants to assert that it is the best manager of money for public good, it should show us that it can do better with the money it already collects.

Yet, despite all this evidence to the contrary, Jones claims that Big Government is going to do a better job with a billionaire’s charity money than the billionaire himself? Let’s tell the truth. This folderol is a mask for the reality: The author and his ilk pretend to higher purpose when they are merely eager to be the ones to spend it.

Bernie Sanders, when mayor of Vermont, shocked a New York Times reporter by voicing opposition to private charity, apparently because it was money whose spending the government didn’t control. I can at least understand how people of Attlee’s era might come up with such idiocy. They were ‘elites’ in a time where societal classes were still a thing, where there was a presumption of noblesse oblige – that the masses were incapable of knowing what was good for them, and where we did not have the lessons of the Soviet Union, Red China, and countless smaller communist/socialist/fascist states to warn us off. Bernie had no excuse then, and Jones has no excuse now. Their assertion is petulant, arrogant envy blended with a lust for power and control of the fruit of others’ labors.

Everyone wants to believe that he is smarter than the riff-raff. That’s fine, and it may even be true. But, that doesn’t make him correct in his opinions and ideas. Some of the smartest people in the world have been breathtakingly wrong.

The assertion that government “knows better” isn’t just limited to billionaires’ charity. It is at the heart of every regulation and restriction imposed on us by the government, either for our own good or for some favored other’s good. Its rejection is at the core of libertarianism, as reflected upon by Penn Jillette.

Pride, envy, greed – all sins, and all at the core of “we know better” governance.

Prudence, humility, charity, kindness – all virtues, and all at the core of being a good person. Billionaires’ charity, even selfish charity, fits the framework of these virtues. That arrogant scolds like Jones reject this tells me on whose side we should be.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


Like this post?