Why Government Charity is a Bad Idea

Fox News is reporting that some hurricane victims appear to be auctioning off MRE’s on Ebay. This is supposed to be a terrible thing for them to be doing.

But if my roof had been torn off and I had been unable to work for quite a while, cash might come at a higher premium than food. Maybe I have enough food, but need to reshingle my roof. Why is it immoral for me to sell the MRE’s?

If you think it was inefficient for the government to give food to people who don’t need it, you’re right. But this is why the government shouldn’t be in the charity business. If you think that the MRE’s should be given to someone else who needs them, you’re assuming that the sellers haven’t already helped a lot, and that’s a big assumption. You’re assuming that there are people very close to these people, that they’re aware of, who need the food. What are people supposed to do, drive around a three-state area looking for people who need the MRE’s?

Why is it supposed to be moral for people to use the charity for exactly what it’s intended for, but wrong to divert it to another need that they think is more pressing? Why is that a problem?

The root of this is that too many people think profit is inherently bad. It’s an anticapitalist attitude that assumes that anyone making money must be a bad guy. But there’s absolutely no reason I can think of why this should be condemned.

There was some talk in the article that it might be illegal to resell MRE’s like this although there was some uncertainty on this point. If it was illegal, then they shouldn’t do it, but I take this position only out of respect for the law, not because of the intrinsic moral nature of the act.

This is definitely inefficient, but that’s just an argument for private charity, who is always in a much better position to determine real needs, and not waste everyone’s time and money giving people things they don’t need.

Whenever governments arrogate rightfully private functions to itself, it always seeks to restrict the choices of individuals regarding those functions in order to maintain their power monopoly. That’s why they’re upset about this, because people are proving that the market is always a more efficient way to meet these kinds of needs than the government will ever be.

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