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Column: Government should leave the helping up to the professionals

Marcus Bowen

Dec. 2, 2008

In her diary, Anne Frank remarked, "No one has ever become poor from giving!" As we enter a great season of consuming, I thought it would be appropriate to start out this time of year with a few words about giving.

This time of year, I've grown accustomed to hearing ringing bells and seeing the red Christmas kettles of the Salvation Army. These red kettles have become one of the most recognizable symbols of the Christmas season. This year, I've noticed that most of the red kettles have slogans like "Doing the most good" or "Sharing is caring." These brightly colored kettles and their friendly volunteer attendants remind us that prosperity comes with responsibility. The greater we earn, the more we owe.

Ranked as the world's most charitable nation, about 1.7 percent of our gross domestic product goes to charitable organizations. The United Kingdom comes in second with only .67 percent of their GDP going to charitable causes. Last year, Americans gave more than $267 billion to charity. The average American gives about 2 percent of their paycheck to charities. Many Europeans give less than .5 percent of their earnings to charities; most of their money ends up in government coffers. The U.S. has one of the world's lowest income tax rates. Our financial freedom enables us to give.

In the U.S., a mass of private charities competes for a limited amount of donations. Charities often bend over backwards to prove their organization's financial accountability to the Better Business Bureau's Give.org. This consumer group meticulously pours over financial statements from thousands of charities, looking for efficiently run, financially accountable, fiscally responsible organizations. In the marketplace of giving, charitable organizations know that money spent unwisely could spell an end to future donations. Private charities work tirelessly to spend every dollar wisely and make every program count.

In America, there are two types of charities: private charities and government charities. Normally we talk only about the private charities, the ones to which we freely give. Government charities usually do not receive such a positive response.

In 2005, government charities tried to "save" people from a hurricane by locking them in a stadium without food or water. Government charities issue billions of dollars in food stamps every year, only to have many food stamps' recipients gouged with 16 percent higher food prices than normal consumers. Americans aren't disgusted with government charities because they don't like giving, but because government charities lack accountability and efficiency. Over the past election cycle, we heard a lot about what the government could do to help the needy. We've seen the government "help" enough. Our government needs to get out of the "helping" business and leave the work to private charities that have proven themselves to be accountable and reliable. Let's get the government out of the way and leave helping up to the professionals.

Last year, Americans helped the Salvation Army raise $118 million through the annual red kettle campaign. Our pennies funded relief for disaster victims, food for the hungry, assistance for the disabled, outreach to the elderly and ill, clothing and shelter to the homeless, opportunities for underprivileged children and rehabilitation services for substance abusers. They touched the homes of more than 35 million Americans in need. When I walk past the kettle this year, I am going to try to drop a dollar, not just a quarter. Will you join me?

Marcus Bowen is a former vice president of the MU College Republicans and serves with the Jackson County Republican Party. He can be reached at mbowen@themaneater.com

 

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