A little while back, I was buying groceries. In front of me in line was a lady with her three very young kids. She had some WIC checks for her food, and because each one of the checks had to be processed specific to the kind of food it covered, it took a long time for her to check out. The cashier was not being very kind about the delay, and seemed noticeably curt and hurried. The woman started to look very embarassed. I remember her eyes meeting mine for a moment. It was heart-breaking the shame that was in them.
I came very close to asking her if she would give me her WIC checks if I would just pay for her groceries myself. But I knew that would be even more embarassing for her, and taxpayers had already paid for the checks, so then we would be paying twice. I wondered why the civil government didn’t just give her a pre-paid card or something so it wouldn’t be so obvious she was receiving government aid.
But maybe it was good that she felt embarassed. Maybe that would be an incentive for her to stop receiving government checks. I felt bad for thinking that. She might be in real need.
Then it hit me. The civil government is really, really bad at dispensing charity. For every person out there who is legitimately in need, there is another or four who could easily find and keep work if they had to. I remember hearing recently that welfare recipients strongly resisted a measure that would require them to have drug tests periodically before they could get their welfare checks. They said this was an invasion of privacy.
See, most welfare recipients don’t want to look you, the taxpayer, in the eye. You may wonder why these welfare exploiters have no self-respect. No dignity. But that’s just another way of asking why they have no shame. And that’s just it. The civil government is far away. Social workers are kind-eyed strangers. Many welfare recipients might be very unwilling to receive help directly from the hand of someone they know or from someone who knows them. And that’s just one reason why civil government charity is so ineffective and so regularly abused. Neither the civil government nor the welfare recipients are really accountable to anyone.
And most importantly, civil government charity eats at the heart of personal and church charity. When I saw that woman in the store, I should have pitied her condition. But, I’m ashamed to say, I judged her in my heart. I didn’t know her, but my hard-earned money was being used to support her and her family, and I had no idea whether her need was legitimate. If government charity were removed, that woman might come to my church to ask for help. They would try to help her materially and spiritually. I might get to know her. To know the sound of her laugh and the names of her children. I would be happy to help, and she might have some chance of escaping her condition. But, as it is now, millions of people are operating as parasites in a system that creates resentment, envy, and, strangely enough, more poverty.
A “gracious” government contributes to a graceless society. So I want a merciless government. The civil government should be interested in one thing, and one thing only—justice. Not social justice. Not equality. Just plain old blind criminal justice. Execute the law. Because their charity programs not only discourage the poor from working, they also discourage the rich from giving. And we all need all the incentives we can get to do the right thing.