Helping the Poor

It seems as if the proponents of an expansive social-welfare state routinely get away with making the implicit claim that only the government can properly address the problems of the poor. Seldom is any mention made of the considerable extent of private-sector charity, nor its potential for being superior to the government in terms of cost-effectiveness and quality. And almost never does anyone mention the benefits of charitable activity that accrue to those who give, despite the clear evidence that people feel good about their charitable acts in ways that differ fundamentally from paying their taxes.

For all those reasons, I want to call attention to something that went on this past Friday and Saturday somewhere near Atlanta*. Thousands of people received free dental care from volunteers organized by the Georgia Dental Association, in collaboration with the First Baptist Church of Woodstock. And by “free dental care,” I don’t simply mean routine checkups:

there were 100 dental chairs set up at the church and more than 1,600 volunteers, including 300 dentists. “We’ve got hygienists we’ve got dental assistants working, there’s oral surgeons extracting teeth, we have endodontists doing root canals …

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*This is apparently an activity that has been organized in 17 other states previously, but the Georgia event is the most recent and was featured prominently in the news, so it’s the one I’m writing about.

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The benefits of this program to the thousands of people receiving treatment are clear enough. But listen to how a donor described the experience:

Dr. Michael Vernon of Augusta said he was moved by the patients’ response to the massive effort.

“Two the first three patients that I saw actually sat in the chair and cried because they were so appreciative of what we’re doing here and it just made me feel good about being here,” he said.

One of the main reasons I’m a libertarian-conservative is my belief that voluntary contributions of money and–more importantly, effort–benefit the givers as well as the receivers. We are ennobled in ways that can never be matched by simply doing our duty by paying taxes to hire people to perform these tasks as their jobs. Moreover, the recipients of private charity are keenly aware of who their benefactors are, and so are far less likely to feel alienated from or ignored by the society at large. And they are surely treated with no less dignity than they would be shown at a state-run facility.

I don’t know why welfare-statists do not seem to understand these aspects of altruism. Perhaps it is because the activity is apparently alien to them.

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