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Ron Paul and his libertarian followers have a clear and simple view of the role of government: government’s role is to pay he and his son modest salaries so they can go around talking about how we don’t need government. He and Rand Paul are sort of like prostitutes who take your money and scold you for using their services. One of the key tenets to their “less is more” dogma is that government should dismantle its safety net so people could afford to give generously to their chosen charities so they could take care of these needy individuals. Before big government intruded into caring for the indigent, the coffers of charities were full and all was right with the world. Just one problem. That bit of dogma doesn’t fit history. The Huffington Post explains:

More than perhaps any other presidential candidate, Paul believes that private philanthropy is capable of providing assistance on par with what the federal government provides today, Of course, certain conditions need to be met before private donors will step into these roles. Chief among them, Paul said in 2003 on the House floor, is that the federal government must free the American people “from the excessive tax burden, so they can devote more of their resources to charity.”

In Paul’s opinion, high taxes and inflation deprive Americans of money that they would otherwise give to charity. Programs like Medicare, he says, brought about the demise of “voluntary charities and organizations, such as friendly societies, that devoted themselves to helping those in need” during the early 20th century. These civic groups, he claims, “flourished in the days before the welfare state turned charity into a government function.”

But according to Dr. Leslie Lenkowsky of Indiana University’s Center on Philanthropy, data on decades of American philanthropy squarely contradicts Paul’s opinion. “All things being equal, Americans today give more than twice as much of our GDP to charity than they did in 1930,” he told The Huffington Post. “And Mr. Paul’s notion that private donors could ever wholly replace government social welfare programs? Well, it’s a fantasy.”

Lenkowsky served in three presidential administrations, most recently that of George W. Bush, where he was CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service. “No one, not even Herbert Hoover, ever seriously advocated for the idea that government has no role to play in providing social services,” he added.

// // Like much of his economic libertarianism, Paul’s theory on charity relies on proving a negative, namely that if only the government would cease to aid the poor, then private philanthropy could finally achieve its full potential — something that’s never been proven in the real world. A spokesman for Paul declined to respond to questions from HuffPost.

One Comment

  1. The problem with comparing giving in terms of a percentage of GDP is that it limits production to the US, and an ever increasing chunk of American wealth is made off shore and considerably more than the 1930’s. So unless the professor has some more accurate data I think I’d doubt the validity of the comparison.

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