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.