People who favor social welfare programs seem to think that they’re acting out of altruistic impulses, and that those who don’t support these programs are uncharitable. There’s a fundamental difference between altruism and redistribution of wealth by the government. Altruism is characterized by an individual acting of his own free will in the interests of others. No matter how magnanimous your intentions, it isn’t altruistic to give away somebody else’s money. Especially when it’s counter-productive.
Philanthropy is intinsically rewarding because being able to help someone in a meaningful way makes people feel good about themselves. That’s human nature. And that positive reinforcement motivates people to increase their generosity. But having something taken from you is not the same as giving. If, instead of being freely given, the same money is appropriated by the government and allocated indiscriminately to people who may or may not be deserving, rather than making the donor feel good, it makes them feel resentful. That, too, is human nature.
Unlike government agencies, individuals exercise judgement in their philanthropy, whether the recipient is a person, a family, or a charitable organization. Even the most altruistic individual doesn’t head down to the nearest skid row and start handing out money to every junkie and bum on the street who’s “less fortunate” than they are. An individual always wants to see a return on their investment. — Not necessarily a return to themselves, but they want the sense of gratification that comes from knowing their “investment” has effected a positive change, rather than subsidizing the status quo.
When one keeps giving money to someone, and they just keep asking for more, eventually one feels like one is flushing money down the pipe, and stops the cash flow. That’s the right thing to do. People are remarkably resourceful, when they need to be. But, for some people, mitigating that need results in prolonging their dependency. Some people are viscerally motivated by the shame of having to accept charity, and feel compelled to prove they’re worthy by striving to better themselves. Others see it as a way to sustain their current level of subsistence without having to make the effort to change.
When charity rests in the hands of individuals, or private organizations that are not legally bound to treat every applicant the same, the way a recipient deals with the assistance they receive effects a kind of natural selection. People who use it to good advantage are apt to receive more. Those who don’t are not.
However, when the government extracts money from us and gives it to whoever signs up for it, as long as they can prove they aren’t gainfully employed, the principle of natural selection is turned on its head. Those who use it to sustain their status quo keep receiving more, while those who use it to pull themselves up and get ahead get less. The insidious aspect of this is the Pavlovian implication it has. – Government social welfare programs reward the very behavior that natural selection (even benevolent natural selection) would rule against.