Friday, February 01, 2013

Soup Kitchens: What's The Point?

My wife and I like to watch what we call Bad TV - Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. It's a bit of idling time for the brain. Over the last few weeks, there's been an Aleve commercial running about some dude who works at a soup kitchen, but has a bad back. Without the Aleve, he's reduced to crawling on all fours and panting like a dog. With Aleve, he can juggle several 4 gallon soup pots full of Soupe aux Chataignes while fending off a ninja attack.

Or something like that.

Anyway, I have the same reaction to that ad that I do whenever I hear the call to support Catholic Charities or a local homeless shelter. Why? Honestly, what's the point? We're blowing nearly $18K per person in government spending every year and I still need to go work at a soup kitchen? How in the world is a couple of hours of my time going to even make a dent in the problem when $18K per person can't solve it?

Per capita government spending by year. Source.
And therein lies the soul-corroding nature of big government. There is no practical reason to donate time or money to charity, once you understand the magnitude of the government. So you gave $100 to feed the poor. Big freaking deal. Spread over the 1500 people at Father Joe's Village, that changes the per capita spending from $17,129 to $17,129.07. Way to go there, champ. Great job!

It's an old saying - something that is everyone's responsibility is no one's responsibility. If I don't contribute to Father Joe's, nothing actually happens since the government has absolved me of my share of the burden through sheer size.

Richard Epstein has a long and thoughtful piece on the Obama Administration's attempt to reduce charitable deductions. It's ammunition for the crowd who thinks the government is trying to kill off rival institutions*. Looking at my own behavior, however, I don't think the attack is necessary to marginalize the Catholic Church and other groups who preach views heretical to the libertine secularists running the Democratic Party. Ennui has done the job for them.

I still give to Catholic Charities, but I do so without any great enthusiasm. Big government has eliminated any illusions I might have had that I'm actually accomplishing anything of significance**.

* - I'm a member of this crowd.

** - Yes, I know this is defeatist and unworthy of the Feline Theocracy. The solution to the ennui is to become more involved, not less and become familiar with the individual people at Father Joe's or wherever. Salvation is personal, not collective. I was just in a whiny mood when I wrote this. So sue me***.

*** - Please don't sue me.


tom said...

Hi, great post, you should look at my blog! Wait, umm, err.

I just read the Tipping Point, as you know, and one of the more interesting bits was on how people respond to an event if they think others are seeing it too.

Why should you feel obligated to help if everybody else is available. Someone's going to pick up my slack, right?

Maybe that's why I tend to be attracted to lost causes... because I really am the only one who might help ;-)

Jeff Burton said...

There are lots of reasons why Christians should oppose the welfare state, and you've hit on one of them.

K T Cat said...

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Jedi Master Ivyan said...

We still support nonprofits; because as you said, it's the interpersonal contact that can change lives.