It’s the season for giving.
This week I’ll donate to the Doe Fund, a charity that helps drug users and ex-cons find purpose in life through work. “Work works!” they say. It sure does. Most Doe Fund workers find more joy in supporting themselves than they ever found in drugs.
I’ll also donate to Student Sponsor Partners, a nonprofit that gives scholarships to at-risk kids so they can escape bad public schools. SSP sends them to Catholic school. I’m not Catholic, but I support SSP because government-run schools are often so bad that Catholic schools do better at half the cost. Thousands of families have broken the cycle of poverty thanks to SSP.
When I was young, I assumed government would lift people out of poverty. “It’s inexcusable that there are so many poor people in this rich country,” my college professors taught. “Government programs will raise skill levels, improve parenting, give a leg up to the poor.”
That’s when the War on Poverty began.
At the time, many Americans were already lifting themselves out of poverty. Year by year, the number of families below the poverty line — defined as earning less than three times what they need to feed themselves — had decreased.
Then came the people from the government with their programs. They spent almost $30 trillion on their “war.”
They made some progress. For about seven years, the poverty rate dropped. But then progress mostly stopped. That’s because many people became dependent on government handouts. Learned helplessness, it’s called.
Government poverty programs created an “underclass,” generations of people who don’t work because they lose benefits if they do.
This passivity was something new, and bad.
That’s why it’s better when charities help people. Charity managers can make judgments about who really needs help and who needs a kick in the butt. Charities can discourage dependence.
But there’s an even better way to help people: capitalism. Not that I’ll convince most people.
When Elon Musk was named Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, Sen. Elizabeth Warren complained that Musk should “pay taxes and stop freeloading off everyone else.”
“I will pay more taxes than any American in history [$11 billion this year],” Musk responded. “Don’t spend it all at once … oh wait you did already.”
Love that answer.
Musk is skeptical about charity, too. The United Nations World Food Programme asked billionaires to donate $6.6 billion.
Musk replied that if the WFB could describe “exactly how $6B will solve world hunger, I will sell Tesla stock right now and do it.”
The WFB already spends more than $6 billion, and the group says “$6B will not solve world hunger” but “will prevent geopolitical instability, mass migration and save 42 million people on the brink of starvation.”
Musk didn’t donate. That may be wise, given how much international food aid already gets wasted.
Musk does give to charities, but he’s called a “cheapskate” for not giving more.
I’m OK with Musk not giving more. It doesn’t make him a bad guy.
Some billionaires do nasty things. Mark Zuckerberg censors truthful reporting. Zuckerberg and Jeff Bezos sneakily lobby for regulations (like a minimum wage) that hurt their competitors.
But I’d still rather they spend their money than give it to some charities.
Zuckerberg invents better ways to connect with people. Bezos makes shopping cheaper and easier. Musk makes satellite internet available to more people.
Businesses do things like that because competition forces them to spend money well. If they don’t, they disappear. Government never disappears, even when it fails.
Warren calls Musk a “freeloader” because he doesn’t pay more taxes, but entrepreneurs like Musk are national treasures.
Capitalists are the people who do the most good for the world. People hate them, but it’s capitalists who create the jobs, lift people out of poverty and feed the world.
I’m a reporter, not an entrepreneur. I’m not likely to invent something new and useful. So today, I’ll give money to charity. It makes me happy.
But the world benefits more from people like Elon Musk, if they just keep inventing things.