Political extortion as humanitarian assistance should have no place in our politics.
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The state, a coercive and inefficient institution, always should be a last resort. It has basic responsibility for preserving public security and maintaining public facilities. Otherwise, disaster relief should be principally a matter for civil, not political, society.
So, too, compensation for victims of terrorism and their families. Even stranger than the relief bill for Hurricane Sandy was the one approved after 9/11. The terrorist attacks were monstrous and murderous. But the taxpayers should not have been stuck with the bill for personal losses.
Middle class Americans ended up compensating families for the earning potential of investment bankers who died. (In return, families weren’t supposed to sue the airlines. However, that shouldn’t have been the taxpayers’ responsibility either.) The legislation later expanded coverage to provide compensation for victims and even first responders who fell ill as a result of the attacks, including from toxins released from the building’s collapse. More than $11 billion was paid out.
Americans organize every day to help each other, and usually outside of politics. Indeed, the U.S. always has been distinguished by the readiness of its people to respond to crisis. Frenchman Alexis de Tocqueville remarked upon the phenomenon nearly two centuries ago when he visited America. Americans continue to form “little platoons” and give hundreds of billions of dollars every year to help meet society’s deepest needs.
Private assistance is better than government welfare for several reasons. First, genuine compassion is not compulsory. Giving away other people’s money is not being generous. Choosing whether to give and thinking seriously about how much to give to whom are important moral decisions. Placing responsibility for making such decisions on individuals is a form of character development. Said Benjamin Franklin: “When you are good to others, you are best to yourself.”
Charity also strengthens the sinews of community. As Marvin Olasky famously explained, compassion originally meant to “suffer with.” It was relational. People met each other. They learned about and from each other. They helped each other.
Over time compassion has turned into writing checks. That is important, even essential, but does not build human relationships. Now politicians act as if making others write checks is the highest form of compassion. Yet that actually undermines society: responsibility for the care of others is transferred to the state and beneficiaries become dependent on government. The only real winners are vote-seeking politicians like Rep. King.
For decades politicians have steadily substituted state welfare for private charity. It will take time to reverse direction, transferring responsibility for aiding those in need back to individuals from governments.
That won’t be easy. But Americans have to start saying no. No more turning government “aid” into political pork. No more ramming “aid” bills through with no thought or debate. No more draping political extortion with compassionate rhetoric.
People should help those who suffer all manner of misfortune, including natural disasters, such as Hurricane Sandy. But that doesn’t mean creating more government boondoggles just because they have been labeled as disaster aid.
A man of faith in a godless age is hitting Americans where it hurts.
Mr. and Mrs. American Spectator Reader, let P.J. O’Rourke talk sense to your kids.
In Britain, defending your property can get you life.
The debacle of this president’s administration is both a cause and a symptom of the decline of American values. Unless Congress impeaches him, that decline will go on unchecked. An eminent jurist surveys the damage and assesses the chances for the recovery of our culture.
It won’t take long for conservatives to scratch this presidential wannabe off their 2008 scorecard.
The American Christmas, like the songs that celebrate it, makes room for everybody under the rainbow. Is that why so many people seem to be hostile to it?
Was the President done in by the economy, or by the politics of the economy?