(or: why some charities
may be a bad idea in the long run)
Charities. You probably have your favourite one. Protection of birds. Protection of wildlife. Food for hungry children. Recycling. War veterans. Gun victims. For every good cause in the world, there is a charity - an organisation that is happy to take your money to pressure politicians, or to use the cash to take more direct action.
I have started to notice a worrying trend, however: A trend that my aching, naive socialist heart has had trouble identifying, and of which the analysis results is nothing short of painful.
Why charities can cause problems
Imagine the following scenario: You live in a country called Runebjerg. In this country is a mountain called Stikkelsfjell. This mountain is beautiful, and harbours the life of a flower only found on this mountain. However, the flower seems to lose foothold, and seems to have taken the dirt path towards extinction.
The government in Runebjerg is aware of the problem, and has put some scientists on the case. A plan is being formulated, but things are taking time.
You, being a worried citizen, decide to start an Ad Hoc campaign to save the flower. You start a charity, and collect money from people. Suddenly, your organization, which isn't as bogged down in bureaucracy as the government, is a far better candidate for rescuing the flower. The government throws some money your way, and pulls their project.
You save the flower - for now.
However, what has happened now is that the charity is the only defendant this flower has. The government has more pressing issues, and after your charity loses its media coverage, your budget gets cut a little each year, until the charity cannot function anymore. People have moved on to other charities.
Why does this happen?
While offering a genuine interest and attempt at helping, charities inadvertently do another thing as well: They exempt the government of a nation-state of their responsibilities.
Sure, the issue gets addressed, and the charity might be very successful: But isn't the target of each charity to help one particular cause that may help many people? Isn't the work that, say, Greenpeace or Foster Parents Plan or Amnesty International do ultimately something that benefits everybody? In a nation of people - why should only the people who bother to pick up their chequebook pay for doing the world a favour? Why shouldn't most of these honourable efforts be effectively run (at least economically) by the government of the nation-states, or by state-sponsored organisations?
Some people might argue that the chequebook-support of causes is the ultimate form of democracy: you get to choose exactly what your money goes to and how much you choose to pay. The problem, however, is that this model demands that people are intrinsically good, and willing to offer part of their wages to help other people or specific causes. In today's capitalist society, however, these types of people are very few and far between.
The people who do give handsomely to charities do so they feel better about it, or so they can benefit from the publicity. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it saddens me that we are in a society where nobody can give something without expecting to receive in return.
Corporate sponsorship as charity
Corporate sponsorship is, in many ways, an extension of the charity-system described above, except its deviousness is far more evil. With corporate sponsorship, the corporations cannot lose:
Imagine if a company went in and solved the solution above. They buy the entire mountain against the promise that they get to use part of it, and save the flowers on the rest of the mountain. Or they might funnel in a lot of money, against getting to put up commercial banners etc. This practice does not only relieve the government of their responsibilities (What? McDonalds want to save the flowers? Let them – save us some cash), but it does the same to the public, while earning the rights to use the land, or the right to advertise.
A far more sinister thing is currently happening within education. Corporate sponsorships are popping up in schools around the world – particularly in the US. Sponsored educational TV programmes, sponsored school books, Pepsi schools versus Coke schools etc. The sinister bit is that the more the corporations decide to sponsor the schools, the more the government is inclined to think that "Hey, they are shelling out for the schools, which are about to fall apart and have been using books from the mid-70s, so why should we bother?". The more capitalistic a society is (yup, referring to the US of A once more), the more likely it is that this school of thought is utilised, and the more likely it is that the school systems will be branded with corporate logos and (far worse, but ultimately unavoidable), ideas.
Both the examples above – the problems with charities and the problems of corporate sponsorship in community issues – are caused by a terminally ill society, infected with capitalism.
So what could have been different? In an ideal society, the government would take responsibility for everything directly affecting its citizens. That means that schools should be well taken care of. War veterans should be taken care of. Wildlife resources, libraries, recycling, and children from abusive homes should be cared for. By the government.
Every time I see a television advert for a charity covering one of these things, it makes me sick to my stomach. "Every day, an elderly person is subject to abuse. For only X pound a day...". The adverts, while being honourable for trying to make a difference, are effectively transferring the responsibility from the government to whoever is willing to pay, because they feel bad for the elderly.
Personally, as a solution, I am all for higher taxes. And not just for the people on the lower rungs of the money ladder. Let everybody pay a significant part of their wages, and make the government spend the money wisely* on the things that really matter. Okay, so many people will argue about what "really matters". However, I challenge anybody to convince me that issues of general welfare – such as education, health and environmental issues – are worth of charities or corporate sponsorships.
If anybody wants to spend more on the variouse causes, let them. But don't let governments off the hook. If these cases are anybody's responsibility, they are everybody's responsibility.
*) Yes. I said "Let the Government spend the money wisely". And I mean it. I have a strong believe that governments can in fact spend money wisely. That does demand, however, that the government in question is in touch with what the people (the "demos" part of democracy, remember?) want**. That also means that I wouldn't trust a government with strong commercial or corporate interests to be able to pull this off. Which means that in some countries I could think of, charities are the only hope. That, or a decent-sized revolution. Ah. One can never give up hope.
**) What the people want other than lower taxes. Which is altogether utterly ironic, but luckily well outside the scope of this writeup, or we'd be here all week.
All of which isn't to say that the causes I believe most in will be without my donations this year. I just wish the government gave the proverbial flying fuck.