Markets and Miracles

Michael Conroy

In this season of giving, I’ll donate to the Doe Fund, a charity that helps drug abusers and ex-cons find purpose in life through work.

Doe’s approach doesn’t include many handouts. It’s mostly about encouraging people to work.


“Work works!” they say.

It does.

Most Doe Fund workers don’t go back to jail.

I’ll also donate to Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit that gives scholarships to kids from low-income families so they can escape bad public schools. SSP sends them to Catholic schools.

I’m not Catholic, but I donate because government-run schools are often so bad that Catholic schools do better at half the cost. Thanks to SSP, thousands of kids escape poverty.

Yet some on the left say giving time and money to charity is a mistake. Their trust in government leads them to think that government programs are much better at lifting people out of poverty.

“Charity can distract from permanent solutions,” claims an article in the Harvard Political Review. “Time, effort and funding that are funneled into charitable acts could be redirected to actual solutions spearheaded by the government, which has the resources to implement concrete change.”


Yes, government has “resources,” all of which are taken from taxpayers by force. “Concrete” is fitting because government’s “solutions” are rigid and immovable.

But as far as promoting change that’s actually useful, government has a terrible track record.

Before Lyndon Johnson launched his “War on Poverty,” Americans were lifting themselves out of poverty. Every year, the poverty rate dropped.

When welfare checks began, progress continued for about seven years. But then progress stopped! Progress stopped even as America spent $27 trillion on its “war.”


What happened?

Government handouts changed people’s thinking. They taught millions of Americans: You are entitled to a check.

No longer was it individuals’ responsibility to help families, neighbors and ourselves; now it was clearly government’s job.

The result is that people became dependent on handouts. Government rarely teaches people to be self-sufficient; handouts encourage you to be helpless.

Welfare created something never seen before in America: a near-permanent “underclass.”

Welfare told parents: don’t get married; you’ll lose benefits. Don’t work; your check will be reduced. Above all, make sure the father isn’t home when a welfare worker comes. If he is, your check may be reduced or eliminated.

This changed incentives that motivated parents for generations. The result has been ruinous for millions of children.

Charities aren’t perfect, but they are much more efficient and effective than clumsy government.

Charities have the freedom to be selective. They can help people who truly need aid, but also refuse charity to people who need “a kick in the butt.” Government’s one-size-fits-all rules prohibit that.

Charity is not guaranteed forever. People don’t know how long they can expect to receive assistance. They have an incentive to become self-sufficient.

In addition, while charities actually give most of their money to the needy, government doesn’t. America’s constantly growing welfare workforce today is so bloated that 70% of welfare money now goes to the bureaucrats!


As usual, big government is the problem rather than a solution.

Americans are generous. Most of us donate to charities, many of which will provide more permanent help to the needy than government ever will.

Ideally, America would shrink government and lower taxes so more of us would have money to spend how we want. For most, that means giving to those in need.

To help people, we need more rich people.

If only there was a system that made people richer …

Oh, right! There is — capitalism!

Over the past 30 years, more than a billion people climbed out of extreme poverty, thanks to free markets.

As capitalism makes us richer, we each have more opportunity to help others in need.

        Every Tuesday at, Stossel posts a new video about the battle between government and freedom. He is the author of “Give Me a Break: How I Exposed Hucksters, Cheats, and Scam Artists and Became the Scourge of the Liberal Media.”

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