On Charity (and SSOs)

An inherent concept in the tradition of charity is that the amount given is to be determined by preferences of the giver rather than the needs of the recipient. Charitable contributions are unequally made and inefficiently utilized. It shall therefore be the stated Goal of The People to eliminate the need for charity by out-competing traditional charity organizations with government operations or by funding Social Service Organizations (SSOs).

Libertarians and fiscal conservatives frequently profess that if government welfare programs are shut down or never created, individuals and private organizations will step in to make up the difference. Unfortunately this argument is completely bereft of any experimental support, and thousands of years of starvation and poverty render it an illogical (and of course heartless) proposal. Even in times when the Church had the power to coerce tithing there was never enough to even feed all of The People, let alone provide them with a safe and dignified standard of living. The US welfare system budget is nearly 10 times that of charitable giving for social welfare, and although much of that government funding is undoubtedly inefficiently utilized it is also the case that the US welfare system currently provides far less for the poor than is required for them to live that safe and dignified existence. There is no practical way to increase the level of charitable giving by the order of magnitude or more required to achieve the proper goal in this area.

The primary cause of this problem is that, although (most of) our hearts may be in the right places, we no longer have access to the kinds of information that our Pleistocene ancestors used to govern their band. Back then, in our band of thirty or so, we could clearly see who needed assistance. We also knew that every member of our band was making equitable contributions to provide that assistance. If they weren’t, we would collectively take action to remedy these problems.

Today, however, we lack first-hand information on both of these things: 20 million children in the US are living below the poverty level, most of whom know what it’s like to have trouble sleeping because they’ve had to go bed hungry, yet few of us know any of them as individuals making it very difficult for us to take specific action to fix this problem. From the opposite end, our insistence on privacy, particularly with respect to our financial situation, renders it impossible for us to impose the kind of social pressures that would ensure that the other members of our band contribute equitably to the welfare of those who need it. Indeed, being able to hide our own financial situation and contributions enables each of us to shirk on our responsibilities without fear of reprisal: In that sense, our insistence on privacy enables our own immoral and unnatural behavior.

But even in cases where sufficient information is available, counting on altruism to ensure adequate income for charities is also hopeless because human beings lack an an “altruism” replism, and every proposed example of this kind of altruism can dismissed as having failed to account for the effects of the long arm of reciprocity (i.e., each is really an example of reciprocal altruism, which is not altruism at all but merely a delayed-payment barter system). For example:

  1. No anonymous donor can reliably predict that they’ll never be discovered.
  2. Humans that risks their lives to save a dog that has fallen through the ice don’t expect to be rewarded by the dog, they instinctively know that their benefit will come from other humans who hear the tale of heroism.
  3. Even if no other humans find out, most humans believe that some “higher power” will be there to provide the ultimate reward, whether it be a place in heaven, a better situation in the next life, or perhaps benefiting from a Karmic intervention in this one (i.e., it is logically impossible for any human that believes in god, or indeed even in any supernatural force that has even a hint of morality, to perform an altruistic act).

Unfortunately even reciprocal altruism is apparently not a sufficiently strong force in most people to ensure adequate funding for charity, and the conditioning or other social engineering required to make it so would come with formidable costs. One could make the argument that matchism is compatible with the idea that guilt is a useful replism that should be put to use to address these issues. For example, we could reduce privacy to expose free-riders, and increase donations by increasing exposure to the need (e.g., lots more of those ads with pictures of starving children and abused animals). The problem is the distribution of this replism, which like SDAP characteristics is not an equal-strength component in every individual: No amount of loss of privacy or exposure to heart-rending advertising will cause a psychopath or high SDO to contribute their fair share.

Charity is also by its very nature unfair because people who can be made to feel guilty end up contributing far more, both in absolute numbers and as a percentage of their income, than those who are resistant to this type of manipulation and so are able to free-ride. Libertarians would argue that the great benefit of these types of contributions is that they are made “by choice” and so not coercive, but this logic only displays a stunning ignorance of human nature, where social pressures can be a far more powerful force than any government could muster short of threatening violence. At least on some people.

Such charity is frequently unfair on the receiving end as well, with people who are more closely aligned with the giver’s “tribe” (i.e., church, political affiliation, race, locality of residence, etc.) gaining preferential treatment over those who differ. A charity-based welfare system also fails to guarantee adequate care for the recipients, which is ultimately the purpose of charity: By making charity about the psychological benefits for the givers rather than about the actual needs of the recipients, a charity-based welfare system perpetuates the misconception that care for the poor or disabled is an optional practice. This misconception in turn allows those who give to charity a justification for calling for reduced government spending on welfare, turning what should be a selfless act into an immoral attack on those who need, indeed by our replisms actually deserve, our assistance.

Charity as a means to achieve social welfare is also very inefficient when compared with proposals in matchism such as the Standard Income. Although third-party assessments of charities/non-profits/NGOs do generally claim that they are 80-90% efficient on average (i.e., the claim being that charities only waste 10-20% of their income on fundraising and management overhead), these measures ignore the most fundamental inefficiencies in charities which arise from the fact that there are minimal incentives to ensure maximal efficiency of workers or utilization of other resources. Indeed there is apparently not even any objective measure for these things. A capitalist system, on the other hand, ensures that maximal efficiency will be achieved from each dollar spent because companies that mismanage their resources will be out-competed and driven out of business by those who can more efficiently manage them. If a non-profit hires too many workers or does not competitively shop for operating space or other needed resources, there are no consequences until the level of inefficiency reaches an egregious level that can be seen from outside the organization and then someone undertakes a separate “altruistic” act to try to do something about it. Corporations do not have that luxury, and will ensure that every dollar paid into the system through the Standard Income Supplement or other funding will be utilized with maximal efficiency (e.g., even if they’re only paying 10% of the salary of a 90% disabled employee, they’re going to make sure that even that 10% is well spent and if they don’t some other more efficiently-managed company will come along and put them out of business).

These effectiveness ratings for charities also don’t account for the significant government subsidies many of these charities also receive. From lower property tax rates to direct government grants, in the US more than 1/3 of non-profit funding comes directly from the government. Charities are not only not held to any efficiency standard or constraints, they receive massive amounts of funding from The People without any direct supervision of this process by The People. And of course charities are important customers of lobbyists, perpetuating and expanding that abuse of the Will of The People.

Finally, when compared with commercial organizations, charities are relatively unimaginative in their approaches, and may not even be working on the right problems or trying to solve them the right way. While surely most managers and employees of charities want to be efficient, there’s a big difference between wanting to be efficient and needing to be efficient like a corporation working in a competitive environment would have to be.

So a matchist system must avoid this systemic inequality and these ineffective and in many cases even delusional practices by explicitly making support for all The People (and the environment, and animals, and everything else charities currently support) the responsibility of all of The People. The People will collectively decide what percentage of tax income to contribute to these projects, then allocate those funds among the proposed projects as they see fit.

The SI is the best competing program for social-welfare charities, and increased funding for basic Research and Development should be sufficient to displace charity income for the second-largest class of charities (those targeting dread diseases). The allocation of funds to SSOs will be managed by The System in a manner similar to crowdfunding where specific projects will be funded and then monitored by The People rather than having these decisions made by politicians, government bureaucrats, or the governing boards of private charities or NGOs.

For example, rather than having the Humane Society be a part of the government or funded through “blank check” donations from individuals (or indeed from the government), the organization would submit a proposal to the budgeting component of The System saying they need X dollars to rescue Y dogs, spay/neuter and adopt out Z percent of them, and maintain conditions in their facility to some specified standard. It will then be possible to evaluate the competitiveness of that proposal by comparing it with that organizations results from previous years and with comparable organizations in other Localities. If some other organization, especially one with a track record in a neighboring Locality, can improve on these numbers they would submit a competing proposal. The People will then choose which organization to fund, just as if they were hiring a contractor to build or repair their home or for any other service they require.

To effectively manage their government The People need access to information. They therefore will subsidize the collection and publication of that information.

One of the primary new types of SSOs will be independent journalism and scientific journal publishers. The budgeting component of The System will support direct subsidies of publishers as The People see fit. Those publishers can be be any legal entity (for profit, non-profit, charity, etc.), can accept advertising or not, can do fundraising or not, may charge for subscriptions or not, at their discretion. The People will evaluate their performance and efficiency and value received and adjust the level of funding we collectively provide them accordingly. Organizations like CPB (PBS, NPR) and Consumer Reports may continue to be leaders in their field and even be able to eliminate their fundraising divisions, or may simply be replaced by for-profit organizations that operate more efficiently.

Next: Matchish