Why Making Altruism Voluntary Can’t End The Entitlement State
For those of you who haven’t heard me speak on entitlements, I’ll give you the 10 second summary: Why does the entitlement state grow? Because no one is willing to challenge the altruistic notion that we are our brother’s keeper. The only way to stop its growth is to reject this notion.
One of the questions I’m often asked when I make this point is, “Isn’t the problem, not altruism, but the idea that we should be forced to behave altruistically by the government? We don’t need to reject the notion that we are our brother’s keeper to end Big Government. We just need to demand that each person voluntarily assume responsibility for his brother.”
It’s a plausible argument for anyone who believes that being moral means personally choosing to do the right thing. Does a person who helps others because the government forces him to really deserve moral credit? But here’s the problem. This argument puts the emphasis on the moral character of the giver rather than the need of the receiver. Altruism, though, says that what matters in life is other people’s need: their need is a god you have to serve regardless of the effect on you—materially or spiritually.
Imagine a society without an entitlement state. Sure, many people would receive aid through voluntary charity. But if the government stepped in then they would receive even more aid, right? Well, if their need is the standard, then on what possible basis could an altruist object? On the grounds that he wants to get moral credit for his sacrifices? How utterly selfish!
Indeed, this is precisely how the debate played out in American history. In the era before the entitlement state, poor Americans received plenty of aid. But the supporters of government intervention merely came along and said: Fine, but why not do more? As the more consistent altruists, they inevitably won.