Ask a conservative how the poor will eat without taxes, and they'll be sure to point you to charities. They exist for just about every circumstance and cause out there - battered women, abused children, blood donation, breast cancer awareness, the list goes on. Volunteers offer their time for construction work and house repairs, disaster relief, passing out food, collecting money, ... - again the list goes on.
On a personal level, I see charity as a good thing. Without personal charity, my journey to Kansas City would have been much different. But, someone was willing to lend me a hand when I needed help up. Examples of that sort of thing are fairly widespread. In the local area, 98.8 (among other radio stations), offers help to random people during Christmas season.
Unfortunately, I believe that charities are also being abused. My employer, as well as many others in the Kansas City area, encourages people to give to the United Way. And wouldn't you know, it's easy. All I have to do is fill out a form, and every paycheck I can donate any amount I'd like. Wow, isn't that Great? Well, ...
No, it isn't.
The reasoning behind giving to United Way? "If it's too hard to figure out a charity you want to give to, give to them and they'll figure it out for you." It rather reminds me of a science fiction classic, where people design robots to worship God for them. A charity like United Way isn't charity to support a cause, a passion, or a belief, it is simply charity for the sake of charity. Or, as I like to call it, guilty giving.
Don't get me wrong, the United Way does some really good work. They write grants to some great organizations! And occasionally they'll even help out and do volunteer work or charitable work directly. When it comes right down to it though, they exist to collect money off of our collective guilt.
Guilt is a powerful thing - a basic human emotion that says something is wrong. And while there are circumstances where guilt is uncalled for but natural, I question the creation of organizations that seek to relieve us of our guilt by simple transfer of wealth.
The level of ease with which charitable giving now happens allows us to live like a drunk driver that goes to AA meetings. We give to charity, therefore our rape of the poor and down trodden is meaningless. We can fill free to litter the streets with our garbage, because we pay for prisoners to pick it up.
Paycheck donations to charity do not require us to examine lifestyle or put forth any effort to consider our value systems. You sign a form, and after a few months, the donation to charity becomes another line item on the paycheck, right beside Social Security tax deductions.
And then, when someone sees your behavior, notes that how privileged you are and that there exist others without the same opportunity? When they pull up the mirror and reveal and show that you have done nothing to benefit the society that has given you the gift of wealth? Why, THEN you can point to a forgotten line item on your paystub and say "Look, I give to charity".