Ezra Klein has a post up over at his blog criticizing the “conservative” view that many “liberal” government programs are misguided efforts to substitute the State in place of private charity. He claims that this is not true and that charity is different from social policy because one is “a way to demonstrate virtue or compassion” while the other is “at least in theory…a way to try and fix a structural problem.” He advances as evidence of this divergence the observation that “very little philanthropy actually goes into the areas that social policy focuses on.”
I see at least two problems with Klein’s views. First, he basically short circuits the entire debate with his casual dismissal of the divergence between the theory and practice of social policy. Regardless of what social policy should do “in theory” it very often ends up functioning as forced charity. What, precisely, are the structural problems meant to be solved by the National Endowment for the Arts? Second, I believe there is something called the “crowding out effect” that might help explain why we don’t observe private individuals contributing vast sums to areas the government has effectively claimed as its own prerogative. Why, after all, should I be donating my money to pay for health care for the elderly when the government is already taking 3% of everything I earn for that purpose?
If Klein’s discussion was meant to clarify and exonerate the “liberal” in contrast to the “conservative” he did a very poor job. The whole of his post consists of question begging and circular argumentation.