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Government Shutdown: Did Private Charity Make Up the Difference?

One libertarian response to the cry “heartless!” is to reassure a sentimental critic that they need not worry. Government spending, they say, has “crowded out” private charity. Once government spending on behalf of the poor and suffering is cut back, private charitable contributions will surge to take its place.


I think public spending crowds out private spending. End government spending and private will increase to make up the difference…. I would expect private giving to go up as public funding subsides…. Private spending will take care of the hungry as well as public has in the past.

Gary Chartier:

Just because forcible redistribution by the state is problematic for multiple reasons doesn’t mean bleeding-heart libertarians should be anything but enthusiastic about wise acts of solidaristic redistribution—choices, that is, by people to share their resources benevolently with others. (Benevolence isn’t just the province of statists: among libertarians, it’s been defended even by neo-Objectivists like David Kelley and Tibor Machan.) When people give without compulsion by the state, their giving needn’t dampen their productivity. And they can ensure that it’s more effective than redistribution by the state, too. Solidaristic redistribution can be very effective as a response to accident, disaster, and ill fortune.

Libertarian Party:

We should eliminate the entire social welfare system. This includes eliminating food stamps, subsidized housing, and all the rest. Individuals who are unable to fully support themselves and their families through the job market must, once again, learn to rely on supportive family, church, community, or private charity to bridge the gap.

Well, now we have a historical test of this proposition. The shutdown of the United States government from October 1 to October 17 2013 led to the revocation of a number pieces of government spending for the social good, according to a report by the Office of Management and the Budget. A few examples:

  • Head Start preschool intervention services were shut down for the nation’s poorest children for nine days;
  • “Over 10,000 stop work orders for contracts and numerous temporary layoffs among the federal contractor community” reduced or eliminated many Americans’ income for a period;
  • A legal venue for the review of employment discrimination claims, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, was shut down, leaving more than 3,000 claims of workplace discrimination uninvestigated;
  • Monitoring of epidemics in diseases like the flue was sharply curtailed;
  • Services for military veterans were delayed, cut back, or halted;

All of these programs protect Americans, and many of them help those Americans who are least able to help themselves. Government spending in services on behalf of Americans was directly reduced by an estimated $3.1 Billion.

According to The Atlas of Giving’s latest report drawing from available public data, charitable giving by Americans went up from $35.13 Billion in September 2013 to $35.64 Billion in October 2013, an increase of $510 Million. That private charity increase is approximately one-sixth of the direct loss on government services spending. Private charity did not bridge the gap.

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Psst... what kind of person doesn't support pacifism?

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