All Commentary
Wednesday, March 1, 2017

True Charity and Bureaucracy Don’t Mix

It takes a village, not a bureaucracy.

“A bureaucracy never dismantles itself.”—Daniel Hannan, British MP

When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, over $2.5 billion was donated to the Red Cross by private donors. It was a record-breaking relief response, but not the only notable example of humanity to take place.

Along with all of the people who wrote a check or made an online donation, there were countless others who helped on a more human level. 

Spontaneous Charity 

People opened their homes to complete strangers who now found themselves homeless. Others loaded up trucks with water and groceries and drove to the outskirts of the devastation to directly contribute to those in need.

These spontaneous outpourings of goodness were a bright spot in the darkness of the time, particularly so when compared to the grim results provided by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and other government agencies.

In a community, a person is an individual; in a bureaucracy, a person is a number

Those who possess a mindset of freedom have a horrible reputation with social progressives when it comes to matters of compassion. “A voluntary society would never work!” they exclaim. “What about the poor, the weak, the sick, the disadvantaged?” They then proceed to describe a dystopian society where all but the smartest and strongest languish in abject poverty, misery, and enslavement–think, Dickens, meets Lord of the Flies, meets Pinocchio’s Paradise Island.

This wasteland of a society is where we would certainly all find ourselves if not for the “benevolent” hand of government—which reaches out to pamper and protect our most vulnerable. 

This melodramatic way of looking at liberty is uninformed, to say the least. I would go as far as to suggest that not only could a voluntary society care for its needy, but that it would, in fact, do a much better job than our current government-run system.

Community Service 

In a community, a person in need is an individual; in a bureaucracy, a person in need is a number

A community recognizes the needs of its members without investigation. There is no need to fill out forms or sign paperwork that threatens incarceration should any of the facts not fall within the rigid parameters required for eligibility.

The rules within a community are flexible and take into account the changing circumstances of those in need. Everyone knows when Mr. Jones is back on his feet again and no longer needs his grass cut or when Mrs. Smith has gone back to work and no longer needs casseroles.

The current system, good intentions or not, has done nothing but create a caste system of societal outcasts and relieved individuals of any feeling of responsibility for their fellow man.

Most people want to give and need to give.

Families are ripped out of what should be economically diverse communities and herded into “housing projects.” The residents of these “projects” then tend to view themselves as disadvantaged, rather than as an essential part of a broader community.

This creates an atmosphere of “us” versus “them,” rather than an atmosphere of community and mutual cooperation.

The situation is worsened by the fact that any efforts to improve oneself through meaningful work or by building a more stable family structure are punished by losing the housing upon which one has now come to depend. 

Lack of meaningful work can lead to frustration, anger, and depression which, in turn, can lead to violence. Lack of a stable family structure deprives those individuals of much-needed support.

The current system damages those outside of the “projects” as well. These individuals no longer feel a responsibility to personally reach out to the needy as now there are “programs for that.”

In the same way that the residents have lives empty of meaningful work, the non-residents have lives empty of meaningful altruism. Most people want to give and need to give. The very people who advocate for this type of system in the name of humanity are robbing our society of humanity.

When elderly school bus monitor Karen Klein was bullied by four middle school boys, the viral video which captured it inspired gifts of over $700,000.00 to send her on vacation. She, in turn, used a portion of that money to start an anti-bullying foundation. If people would come together in this way for her, I hardly believe they wouldn’t come together to help other people in need.

There are so many examples of this kind of generosity. Animal shelters are left entire estates by generous benefactors. Certainly, people would come through for their fellow human beings as well were there not the perception that government was already meeting those needs.

“But this is so random and spontaneous!” the naysayers cry. “Wouldn’t people fall through the cracks?” Of course they would, just as they do now. One need only walk down a downtown sidewalk or peek under an interstate bridge to find countless examples of those who have “fallen through the cracks.” Such is the quality of life—bad things will always happen and there will always be suffering in the world.

Neighbors used to look out for one another and work out problems among themselves.

Perhaps if we did not have this bureaucracy, churches would get back to the business of caring for the poor and downtrodden, rather than building mega-churches. 

There was a time when there was an extensive network of Catholic hospitals that turned no one away regardless of their religious affiliation, or lack of one. Mutual aid societies created a safety net within communities and a traveler who belonged to an organization could find assistance among members in other towns and cities, should they find themselves in need.

Won’t You Be My Neighbor?

Last, but most important, was that building block of society known as “the neighborhood” where neighbors looked out for one another and worked out problems among themselves. A helping hand from a neighbor was not considered charity but part of a cycle of caring for others or being cared for.

The beauty of the community is that one does not have to change anything politically to make it viable. Anyone can go knock on the doors of their neighbors and get to know them. No one needs government permission to mentor a student that needs help but can’t afford it. A group of citizens can start a community garden to provide fresh produce in the midst of a food desert.

Do you have rental property? Any rental property owner who is concerned with fair and affordable housing can offer fair and affordable rent. Any physician who is concerned with equal access to quality health care can opt out of bureaucratic insurance plans and start charging a simple, reasonable fee. The money saved in paperwork filing would certainly help to make up the difference.

If we want to change the culture of our society to one which truly cares for all of its members, we can all start doing it today. There is no need to tear down the cold and uncaring bureaucracy that currently holds sway. A bureaucracy cannot remain if there is no one there to use it. By strengthening the village (the true village, not the government-constructed one) the bureaucracy might crumble and cease to exist.