The Benefit to the Giver

BobN makes an excellent comment:

Libraries were all we had before the Internet. They were the original broad and deep pool of knowledge available to all.
Of course, the original free library as invented by Ben Franklin was funded by private benefactors who subscribed to its capital and operating costs purely as a matter of private philanthropy. The idea that libraries would be owned and funded by government violated the contemporary concept of the role of government in society.
Private philanthropy confers benefits on both donors and recipients. People who supported the libraries and other philanthropic institutions gained status and affection from their fellow citizens and the recognition that they had nobly done good things for their fellow man, while those fellow citizens benefited from the libraries, or fire departments, or hospitals.
When government takes over “good works” it perverts that social bond. Voluntary philanthropy becomes taxes extorted under the law’s threat of force. The government usurps the philanthropist’s social position and takes credit itself for what it did not provide (which is fraud). And the beneficiaries are no longer grateful, but come to see the benefits as “entitlements” to which they have a “right”.
Thus we slide into the Hell of Progressivism. There is nothing compassionate about government being involved in social services. It’s all about making people dependent on politicians and bureaucrats so they can be bribed or threatened to continue voting those politicians into power.

I agree with this argument, for the most part, and the sentiment, wholly. But it’s worth questioning whether advances in transportation and communication technology have changed the equation almost beyond applicability. Wealthy people once had a much greater incentive to pursue “status and affection from their fellow citizens.” For one thing, peer groups were much more local, whereas now, the wealthy see themselves as an international set. Whether the middle-to-upper crusts within the nearest ten miles think well of them is of diminished concern.
Security is also less of an issue. Before phones and automobiles and fancy CSI forensics, angry mobs were an actual risk. A mugging on a dark road could be a more stealthy crime. And a house could burn down with no hope of stopping flames begun in the dead of night.
This is all before one takes into account decreased religiosity (which, of course, is related to the other trends). Frankly, I don’t have a philosophical answer, from a conservative point of view, other than to suggest that the government decision making be pushed as far out toward discrete communities as possible.

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michael
michael
11 years ago

I’d rather pay for my libraries, fire departments and other government services through responsible taxation than wait for some benefactor to grace us with his or her generosity. The very concept is counter conservative.
The same goes for faith based charity. If we as a society cannot find a way to protect those who need it most then democracy and capitolism has failed.
Transforming from a culture of survival of the fittest to one which helps those unfit to survive is what made and continues to make our country and society better than any that has come before us.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

As Margaret Thatcher said once, “There is no such thing as society. There are only people.” When some politician’s or some other self-appointed “elite’s” assertion that he knows better than the people do about how to spend their money, we start down that slippery slope of Statism. The idea that we need government as the vehicle to provide good works is a fallacy promoted by self-serving government interests – politicians, bureaucrats, and those whose ideas are not sufficiently popular to raise enough private money to fund them. And the unaccountable use of other peoples’ money leads to terrible abuses. As one small example, does anyone see a good reason why the CEO of Meeting Street School should be paid over $500K per year? Nobody said a good work has to be funded by a single wealthy individual, or even a small group of them. If it is a good idea to endow and run a charity hospital or a free library, or restore a fountain on Blackstone Blvd., there is no reason that a broad group of citizens can’t organize to make it happen without government. If we aren’t rich, it just takes more of us. There are plenty of examples of ordinary, middle-class citizens contributing to good causes. This is true of cooperative business ventures also. Rhody Fresh Milk, Ocean Spray, and Cabot Cheese are all cooperatives of family farms, created to improve the value of their products and market them more effectively. As to “a culture of survival of the fittest”, that is a straw-man argument. It is human nature for those of us who live together in a community to want to contribute to our improving our common wealth, and it seems to be human nature for us to want to help each other. Neighbors got together… Read more »

michael
michael
11 years ago

Depending on the generosity of others is just that, dependence. We control, or rather, should control our government and how it, or we spend our money. That our money is used in such perverse ways is nobodies fault but our own, not as individuals, rather as the group that has indeed been brainwashed into believing that “taxation and entitlements show compassion.”
I don’t want to wait around for, or try to organize a group of people to fix the proverbial statue that could be maintained by fiscally responsible government of the people, by the people and for the people.
Because we have allowed, and actually encouraged our government to get so out of hand is a direct result of letting others do our hard work for us.

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Great points Michael. But they lead me to ask:
If “letting others to do our hard work for us” is allowing the government to get so out of hand, what is an acceptable alternative?
Once we allow government to assert power by deciding itself to fix that statue without getting the consent of the people, do we not give up a portion of our rights and freedom? How do we object to the next project that the government wants to “sponsor” on our behalf. At what point does the government turn paternalistic and insist on doing things that make us dependent in exchange for all our freedom?
When we lose control over our government, what are willing to do in order to regain it?
Is is possible that the present, government-dominated system has become so entrenched that you see it as the path of least resistance, but if we had maintained the tradition of self-reliance and voluntary organizing the task of doing things privately would be less daunting?
As an analogy, have we become such couch potatoes that even a little exercise of freedom seems too much effort, whereas if we had maintained a high level of civic physical fitness we could easily handle a large amount of private involvement without strain?
As you said, it is “our hard work”. The key to being free is to own up to it.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

As a child growing up in Philadelphia, I noticed that certain houses on our small street had a plaque embedded in the facade. I asked my father about the plaques and he explained to me that they were markers which showed that the house’s fire insurance was covered by a certain company. Some homes were covered by one company, others by another. In case of fire only the insured company’s fire house showed up to put it out. My father explained that that is the reason that we have municipal fire departments, ones that don’t check who insures the house before attempting to douse the fire. Seemed like a good idea then, seems like a good idea now.
OldTimeLefty

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“Depending on the generosity of others” – Well, the whole idea is that you wouldn’t DEPEND on others in the first place, you would try to support yourself, and if you needed help after that effort failed, you could seek it out on an individual basis in a respectable and responsible way. Individuals know who deserves their money far better than some bureaucrat with a stack of blank checks does, and the individuals who receive help from other individuals feel the responsibility and humbleness that that entails rather than filling out a form and getting a check each week in the mail from the government. “As a child growing up in Philadelphia, I noticed that certain houses on our small street had a plaque embedded in the facade. I asked my father about the plaques and he explained to me that they were markers which showed that the house’s fire insurance was covered by a certain company.” A few things have changed since 1780, OldTimeLefty. Houses are far more fire-resistant, communications have improved, there are fire alarms, houses are built farther apart, and firefighting technology is better. Most house fires have little chance of setting an entire block ablaze. There is no reason why such a service could not be provided privately in this modern era. There is also no reason why a modern private system would have to work as inefficiently as the one you describe. I can think of several different ways off of the top of my head that privatized fire departments could easily work, and I’m sure you can too if you think about it for a moment instead of simply throwing up your hands and letting the Almighty Government take over just because the possibility of an externality is present. I certainly wouldn’t be paying… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

Dan,
1. Ever hear of “Move”. The entire block went up in flames. One house was bombed at the orders of Philadelphia mayor, Frank Rizzo. The only known survivors from within the house were a woman and a child. The fire spread to 50 to 60 other houses in and around the 6200 block of Osage Avenue, said the Fire Commissioner, William Richmond. He declared the fire under control about 11:40 P.M. (May 13, 1985)
So much for your statement that, “Most house fires have little chance of setting an entire block ablaze.” The world’s apparently bigger than your neighborhood.
“houses are built farther apart”. Ever been to West Philly, how about South Philly? Think about Chicago’s South Side, most of Queens, Baltimore, just to name a few off the top of my head.
The world’s a lot bigger than your neighborhood.
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Lefty, if a fire department is the only example you can provide of a government service that is best performed through government, you have gone a long way toward proving my point.
There are alternatives. The five existing fire companies in Warren, for example, were each created as independent non-profit corporations. Because of the volunteer spirit that remains traditional in the town, all fire department members are volunteers (except the Chief, and his salary for the hours and effort he puts in makes him a volunteer, too). I would put the response time and outcomes of the WFD up against many career departments. Because it is all-volunteer, the department has a budget of about $500K, less than the cost of manning a single station 24/7 in other towns.
Since manpower was the scarcest resource using 19th-century firefighting technology, it would make sense to pool resources in to a single department. Had the insurance companies thought of it, they might have created a private consortium department, still independent of the government.
Another counter-example is schools. I believe that the abysmal performance of our public schools today is the direct, inevitable result of having them owned and run monopolistically by government.

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

OTL, as usual, picks one of my supporting arguments, throws down an “exception negating the rule” counterargument, and refuses to acknowledge any of my other supporting arguments.
All I have to say at this point is that if you can’t think of a single way to put out house fires in 2010 without resorting to slave labor through coerced taxation, you aren’t thinking very hard. “Let government do it” should be the last resort in solving any problem, not the first.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Police,fire protection,and corrections are best handled by government.
Privatized corrections is a terrible idea.
Privatized police?Are you serious-that is a REALLY bad idea.
However,almost any other government function can be privatized-I’m speaking of the local level here.
I always thought public education made sense,but it is failing badly.I don’t know why.
Maybe the Patrick Crowleys of the world could tell us.I suspect they’d be able to.

David S
David S
11 years ago

Dan,Dan, the libertarian. All of those improvements in fire safety just happened-pixie dust. Ah to be a young libertarian. All the answers and none of the questions. There was a time when young people did not just look to feed their own needs but offered their service, their youth, their strength to others.

Justin Katz
11 years ago

The conversation has moved on from some comments that I’d intended to make, earlier today, but I just can’t let this go without note:

Transforming from a culture of survival of the fittest to one which helps those unfit to survive is what made and continues to make our country and society better than any that has come before us.

“Unfit to survive”? Is that really how you see people who are struggling for one reason or another?
Me, I’m for creating a society in which the maximum number of people are able to work their way to the roles in which they were meant to survive, on their own initiative. As a charitable entity, government undermines that objective.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

BobN You are so far off the wall that it is stunning. 1. I never said or implied or even thought that a fire department is the only example of a government service that is best performed through government. Where did you get that idea? 2. The phrase government service that is best performed by government makes no sense at all. If it’s a government service, then sui generis, it is a government service. 3. I picked up the thread of Dan’s argument and commented on it. Your leap to “my only example…” is beyond reason. You are arguing with yourself as usual. I think that the Tea party you are closest to is the Mad Hatter’s. 4. As to schools check out South County’s public schools and tell me how the word “dismal” applies there. We’ll put S.K.’s schools up against any in Rhode Island and we have the statistics to prove it. Please try to stick to the point or at least try to make one. Dan, The “generosity of others” comment came from Michael, not me. You should address comments relating to it to Michael. I never mentioned it at all. I took exception to your saying that houses are far more fire resistant today by pointing out the Move fiasco in Philadelphia in 1984. If you were arguing parenthetically, what was the point that you were making when you made your statement? You also offered another argument, the houses farther apart argument. I pointed out that row homes predominate in our urban centers, especially in older cities. If you were arguing that parenthetically, what was the point that you were making when you made that statement? If we take away those two statements we are left with two assertions, 1.”I can think of several different ways… Read more »

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

Justin,
Bless your little heart. Charity drips from your every pore. I nominate you as Anchor Rising’s Mother Theresa. God help us all!
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Lefty, I’d bother arguing with you if I believed you wanted to contribute to the discussion, but since all you do is find fault with others or crow your political party line, you just aren’t interesting enough. You bore me.
This is a conversation, not a debate.
Other than nitpick what other people wrote, do you have anything to say?

Pragmatist
Pragmatist
11 years ago

Justin,
You actually agree with this statement: “Thus we slide into the Hell of Progressivism. There is nothing compassionate about government being involved in social services. It’s all about making people dependent on politicians and bureaucrats so they can be bribed or threatened to continue voting those politicians into power.”???
It’s “all” about making people dependent? It has “nothing” to do with compassion?
You support that statement?

Dan
Dan
11 years ago

“There was a time when young people did not just look to feed their own needs but offered their service, their youth, their strength to others.”
Yes David, you are extremely generous with other people’s money. You should be very proud of that.
FYI, I would not benefit from libertarian public policies, quite the contrary. I support them because they are the moral way to treat other human beings – by leaving them alone to make their own choices as long as they aren’t harming anyone else. It never ceases to amaze me how people can ridicule and intellectualize away such a basic concept. The hubris of thinking you know what is best for others is something in which I am proud not to participate. Does it not even give you pause from time to time?

Warrington Faust
Warrington Faust
11 years ago

OTL wrote:
“My father explained that that is the reason that we have municipal fire departments, ones that don’t check who insures the house before attempting to douse the fire.”
I am not sure of the situation in ancient Phildelphia, but in most cities fire fighters were little more than street gangs. They would fight it out in the street to see who “got the fire”, meaning they would pillage the house and contents before concerning themselves with the fire.
Anyone interested in this might glance at “Gangs of New York” (the book, not the movie)
Someone commented that fires rarely spread today, there is a degree of correctness in that. What we know today as “Zoning” is only constitutional under the “police powers”. The original purpose, for which it was declared legitimate. The idea was to create side yards to prevent fire spreading, and lots of sufficient size to contain their own sewerage. Somehow this has come to mean “protecting property values”.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

BobN,
I made 4 points and you resort to name calling as a “reply”. Still waiting for you to answer 1,2,3,4 above.
F.Y.I. I don’t belong to any political party – as proof I submit that I voted for Chafee when he ran as a Republican and then again as an independent. Likewise, I voted for Sosnowski as a Republican, and again as a Democrat. What political party would that be?
Say hello to the Mad Hatter.
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Sorry Lefty, you are on my “Ignore” list for the reasons I set out in my prior post. You have demonstrated a complete inability to engage in a civil conversation.
It’s too bad this forum isn’t a real, in-person discussion. Then I could turn my back to you.

michael
michael
11 years ago

“When we lose control over our government, what are willing to do in order to regain it?
Is is possible that the present, government-dominated system has become so entrenched that you see it as the path of least resistance, but if we had maintained the tradition of self-reliance and voluntary organizing the task of doing things privately would be less daunting?”
Bob, self reliance is the backbone of our society, you and I and a lot of people are aware of that. Sadly, a lot of other people see self-reliance obtainable only through governmental help. If the government failed them they would be at the church, if that fell through, the community center, when that doesn’t happen they will be at our homes, demanding what we have earned. The angry mob is a reality not far removed from our present state.
I have a lot of questions and opinions, some ideas but few answers. Discouraged by our present state is a gross understatement to my view of the progress we have made.
There is a lot to read ind process in this comment thread, I hope I get the time to come back.
Justin, “those unfit to survive” was my overdramatic use of language to make a point, nothing more.

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

OTL-I don’t believe I’ve ever called you a name like I have Rhody,because I don’t think you’re a smartass weasel.I just don’t agree with you for the most part.However,you have frequently ducked answering serious and soberly presented points I’ve thrown your way.It’s not like you’re ignorant or something.Are you always right in your own mind?I am frequently wrong,although I think my failings lie more in personal areas than political ones.
It’s okay to be wrong sometimes(unless you’re a surgeon air traffic controller,etc.).

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

joe,
I’ll try not to disappoint you in the future. What prompted you to write what you did in this blog? I’ll be happy to respond to relevant questions or points. I don’t think you asked or made one in this thread???
Do you think that Dan and BobN answered anything I said here? I don’t. Where Dan is silent, BobN name calls, then says nothing. Perhaps your comments would be better directed at them.
OldTimeLefty

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

I think I was referring to my comment about public vs.private responsibilities.I mentioned the decline of public education.
SK doesn’t have non-English speakers who have never been in school inlarge numbers,do they?
Three of my four grandparents(I never knew the fourth for whom I am named)didn’t ever attend school,but were literate and fluent in three or four languages apiece-they got it by being taught at home between work and chores.
And they all learned English on their own.Just saying this.I’d imagine you could tell me the same.Why suborn excuses for lazy “gimme”a**holes?

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Lefty, I have reviewed this thread and I did not call you a single name. As Joe Wilson said, you lie. For your belligerence, irrelevance, non-sequitur arguments and false accusations I have decided you are not worth arguing with any more. This is the last post I will aim in your direction. Welcome to my (very short) list of trolls.

michael
michael
11 years ago

Hell, I hadn’t even written up a sweat yet and you boys call it quits! If we can’t agree at least we can get along, no?

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Michael, it was our conversation that OTL so rudely interrupted. Please continue.

michael
michael
11 years ago

“When we lose control over our government, what are willing to do in order to regain it?”
So anyway;
How do we regain control of our government? I don’t know. Politics is a rich man’s game now, and probably always was, just not as blatant. Without lobbyists in the State House, or White House peddling their influence things might be a little better. I am not innocent here, my union, th IAFF has a huge lobby in Washington, and a lot of local clout as well. I believe that this is a direct result of us trying to maintain an equal footing at the upper levels of government. Collectively, firefighters are able to contribute money to get some leverage, leverage that would be used by people and institutions with opposing views about things like minimum manning, equipment, training, working conditions and safety.
Get rid of the lobbyists on both sides and begin there. Stop making it so expensive to win an election, but how?
I’m not ignoring any response, I’ll be away from the desk until tommorrow.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

joe,
The way I see it is that South Kingstown comprises a relatively wealthy community. Most children in wealthier communities fare better academically than their less affluent schoolmates. There are a ton of sociological studies bearing this out. I see S.K.’s successful schools in light of Marx’ theories – more affluent people have more time and monetary resources to devote to their children from pre-school on. You know-Head Start.
As to other government functions I certainly would include printing and control of currency, oversight of health (FDA, e.g.)and welfare (social services for the poor) to name a few as legitimate government functions.
Police and fire depts. fall under local government. Corrections are both local and federal as are militias. Over 50% of the federal discretionary budget is devoted to military spending, while 7% is devoted to education. I’d be very inclined to flip or at least even out the ratios, how about you?
OldTimeLefty

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

BobN,
You said that I “crow” a party line, am a “nitwit” and a “bore” and then say that you can’t find any instance of your calling me names.
I hope your ignorance is willful, rather than congenital, then at least it might admit to a cure.
OldTimeLefty

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

“When we lose control over our government, what are willing to do in order to regain it?” Well, this thread has drifted a long way from the original article. Perhaps Justin would start a new article based on your excellent question. It’s a very complex question, but here are some stream-of-consciousness thoughts: 1. In the worst case, a second American Revolution. Not recommended. I think we have the obligation to do everything in our power to avoid going down that path. 2. That’s why it is so important for people to re-learn (or learn, since it isn’t much taught in school any more) American history, and to become politically active. (Is it a Statist conspiracy that public school “health” classes encourage kids to be sexually active to distract them from being politically active?) 3. Politics isn’t necessarily a rich man’s game, if enough people can be mobilized. Sure it takes money – some professionals estimate $10K for a state rep seat, double that for a state senate seat. And at the state level, those local races determine everything because the GA has all the power. You don’t need a state-wide TV or radio buy to run for rep in District 31 – most of that money would be wasted. The right candidates can tap into grassroots-level money and use it effectively in ways that are tightly targeted on their districts. 4. Here’s one way to look at it: if each of the 3500 people at the first Tax Day Tea Party contributes $3, that’s a rep seat budget. 5. The experience of the past year gives me hope that people are seeing through media propaganda, making message more important than money. As voters become more informed and aware, that dynamic will strengthen. The imminent threats to family budgets from unemployment,… Read more »

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

OTL-I’d like to have to spend less on the military,but the facts of life rule that out for the forseeable future.The world is one large bad neighborhood and there’s nothing which can change that.I think we spent less proportionately on education whenyou and I were young,yet got better results.
It’s destructive when the educational system has to absorb children who not only don’t speak the language,but have never been to school,and worst of all,have no home support to learn.
please leave Marx out of it-he couldn’t even pay his own bills-typical radical.
Do you seriously think that if we withdrew our military from around the world Al Qaeda would pack up and go home?No.They would just take advantage of the situation.
If SK schools had to deal with the influx of illegal aliens and their children,I am sure their schools would decline,Marx notwithstanding.

OldTimeLefty
11 years ago

joe
Regarding military expenditures:
The world may be a bad neighborhood, but we are preparing for the wrong fight. We do not need to invest further in atomic weaponry. How many times can we blow up the world? we should also give up the pretense that we face danger from a frontal attack. No country is foolish enough to launch one at us. 9/11 showed us what can be accomplished with box cutters. In short, rapid response force, si. Paying to sustain a defense against a massive frontal attack, no. The threat from a Red Army is gone. Do these things and we can cut our military budget. But neither Republicans nor Democrats will even publicly speak about it.
Your assessment of S.K.’s schools is fairly accurate. Indeed there are few non-native language speakers in the district. This, and economic factors puts S.K school on a more or less equal footing with charter schools and we do at least as well and often better than the charter schools. What lesson do you take from that? To me it says that charter schools can pick, choose and drop students. Those students must be picked up by the public schools and skew test scores. S.K. does not have a great problem, and as a result it scores well. S.K. teachers are unionized and the district does quite well. This tells me that unionization is not the problem. How else to explain?
OldTimeLefty

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Home environment is critical in forming a student’s attitude towards learning in most cases.Money in the home isn’t necessarily that big a factor.Most of my friends who did well as professionals came from homes where their parents had blue collar jobs.Or lower level white collar jobs.
I’m not going to blame teachers or unions for what goes on the kids’ homes.Thhey have no control or reponsibility for that area.
I will say this-there is a serious lack of vocational training-teaching everyone like college is the only answer is counterproductive and may actually contribute to unemployment.
The language barrier is huge in urban areas,the direct result of poor immigration enforcement.The Federal government apparently is unwilling to take the bull by the horns.
Vote out the incumbents!!

BobN
BobN
11 years ago

Joe and others, there is an excellent article out today on American Thinker about how the Progressive movement has perverted our education system by “psychologizing” it and turning it towards social indoctrination. Here is the link:
http://www.americanthinker.com/2010/02/obama_freud_and_the_american_p.html

joe bernstein
joe bernstein
11 years ago

Bob N-I don’t have to be convinced.I know indoctrination,pushed by the NEA is taking place.There still is the home situation and the fact that although “back to basics” sounds simplistic,it was the discipline during the period that the USA rose to greatness.The “progressives”purposefullyoverlook that little factoid.

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