Questions about the morality of government charity
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12-12-2011, 10:48 PM
Questions about the morality of government charity
I'm trying to understand why government charity is a good thing. I know that a lot of atheists tend to lean socialist/big government/etc. so I presume someone can help me with these questions. If you think that "moral" is not an appropriate word to use below, substitute "ethical" or "good" or "proper" or "right" or whatever term works for you ...

If I go take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?
If I grab one friend and we go take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?
If I grab 20 friends and we go take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?
If I grab 500 people and we go take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?
If I grab a majority of the people in my community and we go take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?
If I grab most of the people in my community and we form a local government, elect representatives, and the representatives vote to take money from my rich neighbor and give it to poor people, is that moral?

If the last one (or last two) are moral activities, and the first five (or four) are not moral activities, please explain to me why that is the case.

If none of them are moral activities, then why is it proper for governments to take money from rich people (generally via taxation at higher rates) and give that money to poor people (generally via welfare programs)?

If all of them are moral activities, then why is that the case? Are property rights immoral?

Thanks for any answers you can provide.
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12-12-2011, 11:20 PM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
I see it this way:

We all pay taxes. Taxes are the government's way of taking from everyone and providing some support to people who are too poor to pay taxes. Because we pay taxes, there is no need for directly taking money from your rich neighbour by you, your friend, your community, etc. Because we live in a "democracy" (I hesitate to use the word in its pure form) your rich neighbour understands that it is a function of government to tax the people to pay for the services we use. Your neighbour has a duty to vote, as do we all, in order to ensure that the representative we find most desirable has the best chance of succeeding and representing us.

That being said, I find no reasonable excuse in a "democracy" for theft on the scales you mention. Now, in medieval times when the poor were not protected by any laws and the only charity they received was from the various churches throughout the land, I might consider it differently. Especially since the churches had the ability to decide who the deserving and undeserving poor were and how they would receive charity. It was purely arbitrary and cruel. Not until the Elizabethan Poor Laws in 1601 did anything remotely like government assistance even start....and it definitely didn't look much like what happens today. We have come a long way, but we can do better.

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13-12-2011, 01:49 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
I tend to follow that what is moral is what does the "most good" for the overall well being of humanity/earth. That tends to make all these scenarios necessary to be judged to the situation. Now I think I could have been brainwashed over time to think this, but I believe "Robin Hooding" is a positive moral good albeit a slight one since the stealing aspect is bad, but the outcome of aid to more than one is greater.

It could become fuzzy if you go to the case where you and 20 of your friends rob this guy who it turned out was about to invest his money into a vast project that would of aided people more than your collective use of the stolen goods.

One matter to why this state system of taxation is respectable because every person who chooses to live and be aided in some way, hard to find anyone other than the ultimate recluse or hermit who isn't, agrees to give up a some of their wealth to sustain that. It can be, and sadly is, used in a hefty amount of questionable ways. If a person didn't want to live in that status, they are free to go somewhere like the Cayman Islands, Gibraltar, or Somalia where I think taxes do not exist.
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13-12-2011, 09:47 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
If you were really interested in morality, society and the role of government, you wouldn't start with undefined, unquantified words like "rich" "poor" "neighbor" and "charity".... let alone the wildly undefined "moral".

Instead, you would look at the structure and purpose of society; what it means to live near, work with and depend on other people; what's involved in creating a nation. How that unit is supposed to work, and for whom, and to what end. How wealth is created, accumulated and distributed. Trace those three threads (political structure, ideology and economy) from the inception of your nation to the present, and the morality of any collective action will become much clearer.

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13-12-2011, 09:56 AM (This post was last modified: 13-12-2011 06:53 PM by Chas.)
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
(13-12-2011 09:47 AM)Peterkin Wrote:  If you were really interested in morality, society and the role of government, you wouldn't start with undefined, unquantified words like "rich" "poor" "neighbor" and "charity".... let alone the wildly undefined "moral".

Instead, you would look at the structure and purpose of society; what it means to live near, work with and depend on other people; what's involved in creating a nation. How that unit is supposed to work, and for whom, and to what end. How wealth is created, accumulated and distributed. Trace those three threads (political structure, ideology and economy) from the inception of your nation to the present, and the morality of any collective action will become much clearer.

In short, we have to collectively define our social contract.
A major difference between conservative and liberal is in the nature of the social contract. To an arch-conservative, it is not moral for government to take money from someone to give to someone else; to a bleeding-heart liberal, it is entirely moral.

To a non-ideological centrist, it is not a question of morality but of utility.

All are seeking peaceful, stable, secure society in which to live, but they differ in the details. And your question is phrased in emotionally-loaded language.

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13-12-2011, 06:25 PM (This post was last modified: 13-12-2011 06:31 PM by Peterkin.)
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
In short, your social contract was defined in your constitution and refined by legislation and high court decisions ever since.
You can't have two different social contracts in effect in the same country. At any given time, either conservatives or liberals are interpreting the same ideology, the same documents, the same laws. The country's past - how the prevailing relationships and circumstance came about - cannot be altered.
Political factions try to alter its future.

Any individual can read the founding documents and the country's history and make up hir own mind about the morality of the present state of affairs and about proposed action to change it. Most individuals don't look back at all: they make judgments based on a set of unexamined givens, as if those circumstances were absolute and correct. They talk about taking and giving money, as if everyone in the country were in possession of the exact quantity of money they are entitled to. Yet money and property, mineral rights and water rights, land and houses, cars and cattle, patents, royalties, fees and wages, obligations and liabilities, costs, receivables and shares are in dispute all the time.

If you were a responsible adult and two children were fighting over a toy, each claiming right of ownership, how would you go about settling the dispute?

PS Which language is loaded with emotion? Oh, you mean the OP? Yes, but that's a standard approach: from the ego outward; from the preferred conclusion backward.

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14-12-2011, 01:27 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
(13-12-2011 09:47 AM)Peterkin Wrote:  If you were really interested in morality, society and the role of government, you wouldn't start with undefined, unquantified words like "rich" "poor" "neighbor" and "charity".... let alone the wildly undefined "moral".

That's right. You start at the beginning. Love. Is unconditional.

Charity is a condition. Simple answer? No. Charity is a business like every other business.

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14-12-2011, 03:50 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
I consider myself a socialist, though not 100% hardcore socialist, but I tend to lean that direction and avoid certain ideas that are conservative.
Is it moral to steal from the rich? Probably not, arguing that higher taxes for some is moral is difficult. But the guvernments priority should be to make sure the mayority including the poor have as good lives as possible, while the individual still retain as many freedoms as possible. That is why I'm for high tax rates, that's why I want tax money to go to free health care for all citizen, free education for everyone who wants to study in a university, among other social programs that will benefit the regular person. It's such a shame our country is moving towards the right more and more, and the left here keeps screwing up and making fools out of themselves.

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14-12-2011, 07:41 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
Everyone has their own assumptions that color their view on this question (and shape their answer); I realize that. That's why I asked the questions, because most person's views here are different than mine.

I ask questions based on my perspective and experiences the same way that any of you ask your questions based on your perspective and experiences. Just because they don't match doesn't mean that my way is wrong and your way is right.

ClydeLee, I want to thank you for providing an actual answer ("most good" for the overall well being of humanity/earth). I would follow up by asking - who determines what the "most good" is and how? What justification (if any) should they use for making their determination?

(13-12-2011 09:47 AM)Peterkin Wrote:  If you were really interested in morality, society and the role of government, you wouldn't start with undefined, unquantified words like "rich" "poor" "neighbor" and "charity".... let alone the wildly undefined "moral".

I'm not sure how you can draw this conclusion. Should I use different words, or not ask these questions?

Quote:Instead, you would look at the structure and purpose of society; what it means to live near, work with and depend on other people; what's involved in creating a nation. How that unit is supposed to work, and for whom, and to what end. How wealth is created, accumulated and distributed. Trace those three threads (political structure, ideology and economy) from the inception of your nation to the present, and the morality of any collective action will become much clearer.

A society exists because many persons are "together" in order to live, work, play, etc. Governments are formed either by the people themselves (who are under that government), or by a group of thugs who have exerted physical force in order to take over; many times in history we have seen the latter.

Governments don't magically exist - some person or group of persons instituted them. They're not some all-powerful organization any more than a god is. They're groups of men and/or women who "run the show."

There are at least three potential answers to any of the questions that I posed above:

Yes, because of <explanation X>
No, because of <explanation Y>
It depends, because of <explanation Z>

If your morality can't answer any of the questions I asked, why not?

(13-12-2011 09:56 AM)Chas Wrote:  In short, we have to collectively define our social contract.
A major difference between conservative and liberal is in the nature of the social contract. To an arch-conservative, it is not moral for government to take money from someone to give to someone else; to a bleeding-heart liberal, it is entirely moral.

I'll disagree slightly (re: your statement about conservatives) but that's not really the issue. More to the point, why does a "bleeding-heart liberal" consider it moral to take money from someone and give it to someone else?

By the way, what makes a conservative an "arch-conservative" anyway?

Quote:To a non-ideological centrist, it is not a question of morality but of utility.

I'll buy that. But if it isn't a question of morality, or ethics, or "pick your favorite word for right & wrong," does that mean that any action taken is acceptable as long as it provides enough utility? If not, then why not?

Quote:All are seeking peaceful, stable, secure society in which to live, but they differ in the details. And your question is phrased in emotionally-loaded language.

Please rephrase my question in un-emotional language and tell me how I should have said it.

My perspective is that many people "take it as given" that there is a government, that it raises lots of money via taxation, that its job is to spend money by giving handouts to poor people, giving loans to students, giving subsidies or tax breaks for businesses, ensuring health care services for all, etc. The questions then start from that point on - how should we give money out? Who should receive it, and how much?

I don't take any of those assumptions as a given. For any government, why does it have more authority than ordinary people? Why can it do things ordinary people have no right to do?

I think that most would agree that everybody has a right to defend themselves from criminals who would do them harm, and therefore it would logically be within one's power to authorize others (incl. a government) to also provide this protection.

If a government has the moral authority to take money from some people and give it to others, why don't I as an individual? If I don't have that authority, why does the government?
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14-12-2011, 09:38 AM
RE: Questions about the morality of government charity
(14-12-2011 07:41 AM)mdak06 Wrote:  I ask questions based on my perspective and experiences the same way that any of you ask your questions based on your perspective and experiences. Just because they don't match doesn't mean that my way is wrong and your way is right.

Not so much a question of right or wrong as of skewed or objective.

Quote:
(13-12-2011 09:47 AM)Peterkin Wrote:  If you were really interested in morality, society and the role of government, you wouldn't start with undefined, unquantified words like "rich" "poor" "neighbor" and "charity".... let alone the wildly undefined "moral".

I'm not sure how you can draw this conclusion. Should I use different words, or not ask these questions?

I draw that conclusion from your use of words that can be understood only by people exactly like you. See bold. What range of income constitutes poverty or wealth in what region of the world? What is meant by "charity" in your parlance? (Dic. def. would have it as a voluntary donation from one who has to one in need, and there may be organizations for the purpose of collecting and distributing such offerings. Usually not bands of highwaymen. Government, on the other hand, normally has the mandate of ensuring the welfare and regulating the financial transactions of citizens.)

By which moral code do you wish to abide? There are many, and you have not named or described the one according to which you want a judgment on this question. Communication is difficult in ambiguous language.

Quote:Governments don't magically exist - some person or group of persons instituted them. They're not some all-powerful organization any more than a god is. They're groups of men and/or women who "run the show."

I am aware of this. That's why i suggested you look to the founding documents of your particular governing structure for the philosophical and legal foundation of the means and method whereby that particular government carries out its mandate.

Quote: If your morality can't answer any of the questions I asked, why not?

My morality can certainly answer those questions, but i would have to translate the questions into a form that fits some specific setting. I would have to know what the legal structure in that country was, what the economy and trade regulations and tax-base were; how people come by wealth and how people are rendered poor.
There is no single correct answer for Finland, Brazil and Somalia.

Quote: For any government, why does it have more authority than ordinary people? Why can it do things ordinary people have no right to do?

Because that's the definition of govern - ment. It has the power, the authority and the responsibility to make decisions the average citizen has no right to make - as long as it has the support of either a majority of 'ordinary' people or a superior armed force to impose its will.

Quote:I think that most would agree that everybody has a right to defend themselves from criminals who would do them harm, and therefore it would logically be within one's power to authorize others (incl. a government) to also provide this protection.

Yes. It's called a police force. Supported by.... taxation!

Quote: If a government has the moral authority to take money from some people and give it to others, why don't I as an individual? If I don't have that authority, why does the government?

Again, because it is the government and you are not. Once you get elected king of your own island, you'll have the authority and they won't. The government also creates, underwrites and regulates the money supply (Without government, nobody would have any money to begin with!) Government regulates the terms and conditions under which a citizen makes money or loses money - the very processes by which two naked, penniless babies coming into the world grow up to be rich man and poor man.

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