This article is a lengthy examination of the value to society of charitable giving (private aid) versus government social safety nets (public aid).
It makes it abundantly clear that the conservative idea that charity should supplant the government driven social safety net is self serving to the rich and never has and never will be able to meet the needs of the poor.
Both the Great Depression and Recession showed that it is only widespread public relief which works. The author goes over all details exhaustively, but it boils down to the fact that when it is most needed private charitable aid dries up. Furthermore it is selective in who it supports so there are many needy who aren’t served well by private aid. Most importantly though the writer shows that the issue is not really private vs. public, but one in which private aid flourishes when pervasive public aid meets basic needs.
Most important is the idea that the governmental safety nets are not mere handouts. They are the framework which allows people at all levels of the economy to thrive and take the risks which grow our economy.
A public social insurance state gives every individual the security necessary to take risks, which enriches both our economy and our society. And it also establishes a baseline of equality and solidarity among all citizens, so that charity enhances the lives of the less fortunate instead of forcing them to rely on those with money and luck.
But social insurance isn’t just a collection of programs. It’s a reflection of who we are and how we intend to navigate the risks of a modern age. Contrary to the idealized imaginings of conservatives, the Four Horsemen of accident, illness, old age, and joblessness won’t be—and have never been—fended off with purely private means. Only a vigorous public response, rooted in Truman’s vision of charity, can ensure our safe passage into a prosperous future.