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PhD Student, Working Class; White; Male; Gay; Left-Wing; Dyslexic; Atheist; British, Psychologist

Monday, 25 July 2016

The Evils of Charity

Most of us think that giving to charity is a good thing. At most we will criticises organised charities, stating that they do not really help people because the executives’ salaries are too high or they are simply run by paper-pushing bearcats. However, even this analysis presupposes that charity is a good thing but it is being blocked by organisation principles. We rarely question whether charitable giving is actually a virtue. This is a discussion about the evils of charity.

Before we begin, I suppose I better tell you what I think charity is. A charity is a non-governmental organisation (NGO) which provides a service to society. Examples include foodbanks, homeless shelters, and research organisation. They primarily operate using voluntary donations from the public that result from countless campaigning strategies, such as tipping ice cold water over your head, running a marathon etc. The most important aspect about charity is that giving time or money is not compulsory. This is in contrast to taxation, which is compulsory to pay and funds government run services, such as national health service and welfare system. So now that I have defined what charity is and isn’t, let us begin.

The first reason to dislike charity is because charitable giving promotes immoral behaviour.

As counterintuitive as it may seem, there is a lot of work on something called “moral licencing”. This is the effect in which doing something good now gives people licence to do bad later. While it is not the giving to charity per se that causes the immoral actions but it is feeling sanctimonious instead. Nonetheless, since charitable giving is intertwined with self-righteousness it is subject to the same criticism.

However, there is an alternative effect called moral cleansing. This effect occurs when you do something bad, it motivates you to do something good, like give to charity. Some could argue that charity serves a role of rehabilitating those who have already done wrong. While this is true, it is not necessary. There are better and more effective means of rehabilitation. Charity is not unique in changing those who have already perpetrated. Since it has the side effect of corrupting others, perhaps it is best avoided.

The second reason to dislike charity is that it is affected by the biases of individuals.

We all hold some unconscious biases and it should be said that these are helpful because they help speed up decision making. However, these biases have a dark side which include the ability to have an automatic dislike of black people, LGBT people, and women. If we lived by the charitable philosophy of giving £10 to a homeless person, it wouldn’t surprise me if a disproportionate amount of funding went to white straight men.

Some could argue one way to overcome this bias would be to have organised charities, which would then distribute services irrespective of race, gender, sexuality or religion. However, the problem with this model is that individuals are still deciding which organisations to fund. These biases will creep into organisations by overfunding those that disproportionately help straight white men and underfunding those charities used mainly by minorities. Nonetheless, this shows that individuals are biased, and the seeps into their charitable decision making.

The third reason to dislike charity is because it relies on an ineffective and unaccountable system of funding allocation.

The current funding mechanism is through the market. Individuals chose to give their money to some areas and not to others. The logic of the argument is when there is no need for the service, then it will not be funded. When there is a need, people will fund it. The market ensures that money goes where it is needed. Therefore, the market represents the aggregate of individual’s funding decisions. However, there have been cases in which a specific charity is overfunded and others which are clearly underfunded. If we are to rely entirely on logic of market economies, then this problem doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as over- or under-funding.  

Since the market represents the aggregate of individuals, it makes it difficult to hold someone to account for their decisions that resulted in systemic failure. This is unlike the government, who receives taxation and therefore is able to distribute the funding proportionately. If a government fails, we can hold it to account so that it can adjust faulty funding arrangements. Therefore, charity relies on market economies, which is an ineffective and unaccountable means of funding allocation.

The fourth reason to dislike charity is because it goes against democracy.

In the recent referendum, Britain voted in favour of democracy so it is clearly something we value. Democracy is essentially majority rule. All individuals are given the same amount of influence, one vote, regardless whether they are an aristocrat or pauper. The market provides the allusion of democracy, because it gives the illusion of collective participation. Everyone can choose where to spend their money.

However, instead of being given one vote each, people’s ability to influence services depend on how much money they donate. Since we live in a society in which wealth and income is stratified, the affluent can have greater influence. If we rely on charities within society, then it is a plutocracy we live in and not a democracy.  

Conclusion and Disclaimers.

Here I have presented a negative thesis. I have deconstructed charity without effectively presenting a viable alternative. Although providing services funded by taxation is an alternative approach that requires a positive thesis. I encourage readers to think about this. Instead of considering charitable giving as a virtue of individuals, we should consider a symptom of a failed state. Perhaps in the future, I will write this.

I suppose I need to end with a disclaimer. Charity is a means of funding essential services. Here I am not arguing for the abolition of the services. To say otherwise would be a perverse misunderstanding. Instead I present the idea for them to be funded in a different way, through taxation. We do this with some services, such as the NHS and welfare state. 

In conclusion, if you want to promote moral behaviour, if you thinking funding allocation should be effective, unbiased against minorities, and accountable, and if you value democracy, then you can’t support charity. Charity is infused with the idea of sanctimony and free-markets, without any form of irony.