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Philanthropy and Charity

"Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary." - Martin Luther King, (1929 - 1968), civil rights leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate

"Charity is a matter of personal attributes, justice a matter of public policy. Charity seeks to alleviate the effects of injustice, justice seeks to eliminate the causes of it. Charity in no way affects the status quo, while justice leads inevitably to political confrontation." — The Rev. William Sloan Coffin

"Justice is not about how individuals treat each other. Justice speaks to all the laws of a community and how those structurally treat everyone, especially the poorest, weakest and the most vulnerable citizens. Justice is a different concept, a separate requirement than beneficence and charity. An 'A+' in beneficence and charity — soup kitchens, charitable giving, volunteer work — important and noble as that is, will not average an "F" in justice to a 'C.' Seeking justice requires taking responsibility for how the laws, customs and standards of our community treat the "least of these" among us. — Susan Pace Hamill

As I listen to the names and taglines of the foundations which underwrite some of my favorite NPR programs, I think to myself "gee, they sound so consistent with the ideals of Georgism. Why aren't they supporting this movement?"

Henry George: How to Help the Unemployed

AN EPIDEMIC of what passes for charity is sweeping over the land. From New York, where the new and massive United Charities Building, the million-dollar gift of one philanthropist, gives stately evidence that the battle against actual starvation has permanently transcended the powers of a municipality that appropriates to it millions annually and of the unorganized giving of greater millions; and from Chicago, where the corridors of the City Hall and the doors of churches have been thrown open for the shelter of those so poor as to welcome such a bed, to Seattle, on Puget Sound, or Tampa, on the Mexican Gulf, -- all who have anything to give are being asked to give. Municipalities, churches, boards of trade, real-estate associations, labor unions and merchants' organizations are giving and asking for charity funds. Officials are surrendering a percentage on their salaries, policemen, railroad operatives, the employees of large business establishments, factory hands, and even day laborers, are docking themselves of part of their pay, and trades dinners being given up to swell charity subscriptions. There are charity balls, charity parties, charity entertainments, and charity funds of all sorts. One great paper in New York is raising an old-clothes fund, and another great paper a bread fund, and in Ashland, Wis., they have made a charity mincepie twenty-two feet in circumference and a quarter of a ton in weight. The politicians are always large givers of alms, politicians of the Tammany type especially; but even Tammany has special relief committees at work. One of the chiefs of New York's "400" calls on each pupil of the public schools for a daily contribution of a cold potato and a slice of bread for the organized feeding of the hungry; and to complete the parallel with the "bread and circuses" of the dying Roman republic, he also asks that the churches be opened and their organs played every afternoon, so that to free food may be added free music!

Yet there has been no disaster of fire or flood, no convulsion of nature, no destruction by public enemies. The seasons have kept their order, we have had the former and the latter rain, and the earth has not refused her increase. Granaries are filled to overflowing, and commodities, even these we have tried to make dear by tariff, were never before so cheap.

The scarcity that is distressing and frightening the whole country is a scarcity of employment. It is the unemployed for whom charity is asked: not those who cannot or will not work, but those able to work and anxious to work, who, through no fault of their own, cannot find work. So clear, indeed, is it that of the great masses who are suffering in this country today, by far the greater part are honest, sober, and industrious, that the pharisees who preach that poverty is due to laziness and thriftlessness, and the fanatics who attribute it to drink, are for the moment silent. read the whole article

Henry George: The Condition of Labor — An Open Letter to Pope Leo XIII in response to Rerum Novarum (1891)

For even the philanthropy which, recognizing the evil of trying to help labor by alms, seeks to help men to help themselves by finding them work, becomes aggressive in the blind and bitter struggle that private property in land entails, and in helping one set of men injures others. Thus, to minimize the bitter complaints of taking work from others and lessening the wages of others in providing their own beneficiaries with work and wages, benevolent societies are forced to devices akin to the digging of holes and filling them up again. Our American societies feel this difficulty, General Booth encounters it in England, and the Catholic societies which your Holiness recommends must find it, when they are formed.

Your Holiness knows of, and I am sure honors, the princely generosity of Baron Hirsch toward his suffering coreligionists. But, as I write, the New York newspapers contain accounts of an immense meeting held in Cooper Union, in this city, on the evening of Friday, September 4, in which a number of Hebrew trades-unions protested in the strongest manner against the loss of work and reduction of wages that are being effected by Baron Hirsch’s generosity in bringing their own countrymen here and teaching them to work. The resolution unanimously adopted at this great meeting thus concludes:

We now demand of Baron Hirsch himself that he release us from his “charity” and take back the millions, which, instead of a blessing, have proved a curse and a source of misery.

Nor does this show that the members of these Hebrew labor-unions — who are themselves immigrants of the same class as those Baron Hirsch is striving to help, for in the next generation they lose with us their distinctiveness — are a whit less generous than other men. ... read the whole letter

Joseph Malins: The Ambulance Down in the Valley

‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant,
But over its terrible edge there had slipped,
A duke and full many a peasant.
So the people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, "Put a fence around the edge of the cliff,"
Some, "An ambulance down in the valley." ...

"Oh he's a fanatic," the others rejoined,
"Dispense with the ambulance? Never!
He'd dispense with all charities, too, if he could;
No! No! We'll support them forever.
Aren't we picking up folks just as fast as they fall?
And shall this man dictate to us? Shall he?
Why should people of sense stop to put up a fence,
While the ambulance works in the valley?"

But the sensible few, who are practical too,
Will not bear with such nonsense much longer;
They believe that prevention is better than cure,
And their party will soon be the stronger.
Encourage them then, with your purse, voice, and pen,
And while other philanthropists dally,
They will scorn all pretense, and put up a stout fence
On the cliff that hangs over the valley.

Better guide well the young than reclaim them when old,
For the voice of true wisdom is calling.
"To rescue the fallen is good, but 'tis best
To prevent other people from falling."
Better close up the source of temptation and crime
Than deliver from dungeon or galley;
Better put a strong fence 'round the top of the cliff
Than an ambulance down in the valley. ... Read the whole poem and commentary

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Wealth and Want
... because democracy alone hasn't yet led to a society in which all can prosper