All Commentary
Thursday, July 1, 1982

How Socialism Affects Charity

Mr. Pearson is recently retired after many years of writing and teaching at Brigham Young University and the Church Education System of Latter Day Saints.

The economic consequences of socialism pale into insignificance alongside the moral consequences. It is infinitely more tragic that our government has presided over the moral decay of America than over its growing poverty. Of course, morality has not completely disappeared and total, abject poverty has not arrived. (We owe that to the remnants of a past that enjoyed a greater freedom.) But every government program based on redistribution of the wealth for social or economic improvement carries the seeds of moral and economic death.

One of the ways socialism (the use of government to solve social problems) adversely affects morality is in its destruction of the urge and ability to privately care for loved ones and neighbors. It can destroy this urge and ability by reducing the loftiness of soul which characterizes great people. That is, by relegating all its efforts to the satisfaction of the belly instead of to the freeing of the mind and soul, the government can lead a people downward instead of upward—down into selfish gratification of the body instead of upward into selfless gratification of spiritual needs.

A people which is blessed with many persons of lofty soul seem to obtain material prosperity as a sort of by-product of their pursuit of spiritual ends; whereas a people whose government has led them into a system which attempts, by political manipulation, to gratify all their material needs succeeds in so completely crushing the qualities on which prosperity is sustained that poverty persists and grows. Alexis de Tocqueville saw this:

Whatever elevates, enlarges, and expands the soul, renders it more capable of succeeding in those very undertakings which concern it not. Whatever, on the other hand, enervates or lowers it, weakens it for all purposes, the chiefest as well as the least, and threatens to render it almost equally impotent for the one and for the other. Hence the soul must remain great and strong, though it were only to devote its strength and greatness from time to time to the service of the body. If men were ever to content themselves with material objects, it is probable that they would lose by degrees the art of producing them; and they would enjoy them in the end, like the brutes, without discernment and without improvement. (Democracy in America, Translated by Henry Reeve (New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House) Volume Two, Second Book, p. 157)

A specific example of how the government adversely affects spiritual qualities is in the difficulties it imposes on private charity through the IRS. Within certain limits a person may deduct donations to institutions that have been approved as legitimate charities; but the grim- faced bureaucrats who arbitrate deductions make it difficult for anyone who wants to help a destitute neighbor or relative. The regulations are many and difficult to surmount. The inevitable effects on souls are a deviousness that quenches honesty and a callousness that turns faces away from suffering. (After all, aren’t the poor the responsibility of the government?) Those who run the IRS and the politicians who gave them their power seem to feel that they have a duty to siphon off most of our capability to practice private charity and then set up rules that will discourage the “wasting” (as they seem to see it) of funds on the truly needy whose shoulders we rub daily.

I am personally and painfully acquainted with a man who has carried a heavy family burden of this sort for years. He has a son who is marvelously gifted with musical talent. This son also was afflicted at age fifteen with an eye disease which was curable only by corneal transplants. Special contact lenses were the prescribed treatment for, hopefully, the first fifteen to twenty years. Then the only alternative to a lifetime of blindness was corneal transplants. Only the transplants became necessary much earlier than expected. The boy was in college, married and supporting himself. Then several years of economic and personal disaster ensued.

It is not my purpose to relate the bitter details, but only to recite some of the government policies involved. Suffice it to say that the father put out over $50,000 in doctor bills, hospital bills and family support during the times his son was incapacitated. Following is a partial list of adversities he encountered that directly or indirectly involve government interference in social and economic matters that should be none of government’s business:

1. He got most of the money for his son by selling stock in a public company. (Of course, he had to sell more than $50,000 worth of stock because of the tax bite.) Due to various activities of the Securities and Exchange Commission, this stock was in a slump when he sold it. So he got one-tenth as much as he could have a few months after he sold it. (He also could have done much better earlier than the time he sold it. The point is that the roller-coaster the stock had been on was caused, in this case, by SEC activities. The market activities had nothing to do with the value of the stock company. That didn’t change. The honesty or dishonesty of the management didn’t change. But the promotion of the company’s stock by stock brokers changed as their perception of the SEC’s approval changed.)

2. The son checked out all of the government agencies that were supposed to help in his type of personal and economic tragedy. He found that none would help him unless he lied to them in some way. Maybe others lie. But he places a high price on integrity. The father, on principle, did not seriously consider government help.

3. Due to IRS rules about capital gains taxes, the father had to pay capital gains on the entire proceeds from his stock sales. He did have a legal base in the stock; but it was his accountant’s considered opinion that his records were not structured to prove it if a challenge ensued. So he reported the full proceeds without any deductions and paid the applicable tax.

4. During most of the years of his son’s trials, the father could not claim the level of deductions he could have claimed if his son could have continued his college education. Once the schooling stopped, the only deduction the father could claim was the dependent exemptions for his son’s wife and children, which was only a fraction of what they were costing him.

5. Except for that short period when his son was in school, the father could not claim any deductions for the huge hospital and doctor bills. This was because he could not claim his son as a dependent. His son had to file a separate tax return and his earnings were too low to take full advantage of the medical expenses.

6. The son never qualified for unemployment compensation at any time because his eye problem made him unavailable for employment. At the times he could see well enough to work, he earned too much through piano tunings and other employment that he picked up himself.

7. The father retired during all this. The stock money had run out; but he had various other sources of income. However, they all counted against the amount he could earn without having his social security check diminished. The result was that those benevolent bureaucrats that sit over retirement regulations have deducted sums from his social security checks and are about to dip even deeper. They got him coming and going because the money for which they are deducting penalties was money he spent on his son and his son’s family. So, even though he did not have that extra income to live on himself, Social Security treated it that way.

But don’t waste any tears on this man. He does not believe in public charity anyway. He will find a way to go on supporting himself honestly and legally.

The foregoing partial listing of how government agencies and policies adversely affected one man’s life was meant to show how socialism tends to worsen social conditions by destroying self-reliance and the property base people must be able to create if they are to be self-reliant. The majority of American people have been taught by a humanistic state-supported and state- sponsored public religion (in the guise of democracy) that no end of economic benefits deserve the title of civil rights. They overlook the fact that all of these pseudo civil rights require the redistribution of private property by a system of public robbery.

This public robbery is a form of violence as real as that employed by those wicked persons who break into our homes increasingly these days—and it is far more extensive both in quantity of goods stolen and psychological effect. Violence begets violence, no matter what name you give it. Thus government sponsors the deterioration of moral values in human souls. That, in turn, kills the human qualities and aspirations on which all forms of wealth, spiritual or temporal, are based.

If politicians and bureaucrats of a socialist bent were to get hold of this kind of problem and see that there is an illness that needs curing (a very unlikely probability), the medicine they would prescribe would be new tax regulations designed to give relief to honestly charitable people. (Imagine the confusion that would bring into our tax laws.) But that is not the cure. The cure is a stronger medicine: the withdrawal of past medicines and drugs that have put America into a spiritual coma. Eventually we must get back to where moral values are more prized than the full belly and the warm back. When we do—and I, for one, am convinced that we will—the full bellies and the warm backs will be a blessed by-product, not the main thrust of life.

How can the government encourage the development of loftiness of spirit? Not so much by what it does, unless it be the restoration of the feeling that justice can be expected. It mostly can exalt the souls of men by what it does not do. We must go back to the limited government originally provided by the Constitution.