Charity cannot be our long-term solution

Xavier Golden, Columnist

Poverty is one of those issues that feels very apolitical. People, I think we all agree, shouldn’t go hungry or be homeless. And our solutions to this problem seem equally uncontroversial; we raise funds, we donate and we volunteer. 

Most of the time, we don’t really think too hard about it. I mean, it’s charity. Why would we have to think twice about charity? 

We have to seriously consider the ideas behind charity, because it is not a solution. Charity won’t end poverty. Communities can’t rely on the goodwill of the privileged to aid the unprivileged and this has been proven time and time again. 

Any attempt to combat food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare or homelessness that is heavily reliant on individuals choosing to give their time, money or resources will inevitably fail to address the root of the problem. However, oftentimes, we find that charity is our only option for helping those in need. Because our institutions have failed us. 

It’s not hard to find examples of our reliance on charity: the GoFundMe pages for sick children, the cutthroat competitions for scholarship money, thrift stores, nonprofit rescue missions and the list goes on and on. Millions of people in this country rely on private citizens and organizations in order to have access to basic necessities. 

We’ve always been dependent on the kindness of fellow human beings, but there’s definitely something that has sustained our dependence on charity in the current age of (relative) stability and national governments. And that something is Ronald Reagan. 

Reaganomics, or trickle-down economics, is essentially one big loan. We (via the government) let big businesses and the wealthy off the hook when it comes to taxes and regulations and later, in return, they’ll put some of the money that they’ve made off of our leniency back into the economy by raising wages, improving their products and maybe even donating to charity. But those big businesses have the option to not pay back their loan; not paying back the loan benefits their bottom line, which is their goal. 

I think our reliance on charity comes from our institutions’ trust in the wealthy. If the belief that these corporations will eventually pay us back with charity is part of the foundations of our modern-day institutions, then there’s nothing guaranteeing that those institutions will feel like they have to help those people in need. 

And so, the responsibility falls on the people; the private citizens who have the desire and the resources to be charitable. This means that millions are entirely dependent on voluntary compassion, which is tremendously worrying for me. 

I don’t know if you know this, but human beings can be pretty terrible sometimes. Expecting us to be consistently selfless and empathic is like expecting a chimpanzee to seamlessly integrate into society. They might, and it’d be really cool if they did, but I wouldn’t bet the well-being of millions of people on it.