Monday, 26 June 2017

What's wrong with charity ?

Image result for ethics and morality and charityAs a response to some deaf bloggers promoting how charities support them, but is it done with deaf people in mind ?  

Or is it self promotion, by promoting 'networking' with charities that 'assist' the deaf, who aren't actually involved in their running or applying funds where deaf want them to be applied ?  

It is perhaps too cynical to suggest some deaf bloggers who promote and encourage charity support do so to enhance own audience viewing figures ! One proudly boasts 36 charities support their output.  Why do I not believe the motives behind all that ? Especially when a few are commercially involved in selling equipment/private and expensive services e.g.  

Are deaf being manipulated by charity ? Should established bloggers take any funding from them and then boast neutrality ? Charities Utilising free advertising options ?  few if any in the UK have a deaf or HoH established membership either.  They are commercial a business in all but taxation terminology.

Most people would say that charity is always good, but not everyone. Some argue that charity is sometimes carried out badly - or less well than it should be - while others think that charity can bring bad results even when it is well implemented. 

Some issues:-

Thinking too small

Charities often target symptoms, not causes.  The accusation is that charity helps the recipient with their problem, but it doesn't do much to deal with the causes of that problem. It certainly is true that some charities do stopgap or 'band-aid' work, either exclusively or some of the time.

Combating cancer is a relatively simple scientific problem, while global poverty requires more than a scientific operation, or finding a better way to manage world resources.

Combating poverty involves slow processes of political, cultural and social change, with many stakeholders, significant opposition and serious issues of self-determination and coercion to be navigated. Long-term campaigns pose another ethical problem: should we spend to make a better world in 10 years' time if that means that people who we could have fed starve to death tomorrow?


Charity may become a substitute for real justice

The idea is that charity is wrong when it's used to patch up the effects of the fundamental injustices that are built into the structure and values of a society.  Charity, from this viewpoint, can sometimes be seen as actually accepting the injustice itself, while trying to mitigate the consequences of the injustice.

Philanthropy combines genuine pity with the display of power and that the latter element explains why the powerful are more inclined to be generous than to grant social justice. Niebuhr thought that a powerful person's donation to charity was a display of his power and an expression of his pity.

His generous impulse freezes within him if his power is challenged or his generosities are accepted without suitable humility. Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society, 1932. His language is not in line with modern racial sensibilities, but the point is still of value.

Failing to change society

Charity may not provide the best solution to a problem. The purpose of giving to charity is to solve particular problems and choose the problem of world poverty. Let's also agree that we want to do the most effective thing to help reduce world poverty.

Charitable giving may not be the most effective way of solving world poverty. Indeed charitable giving may even distract from finding the best solution - which might involve a complex rethink of the way the world organises its economic relationships, and large-scale government initiatives to change people's conditions.

If that is so, then the effort put into charity might be better devoted to pressuring governments to bring about needed change. And governments might be more likely to focus on dealing with poverty if they weren't being helped by charities.

For every act of charity, applied to heal suffering arising from defective arrangements of society, serves to weaken the personal springs of social reform, alike by the 'miraculous' relief it brings to the individual 'case' that is relieved, and by the softening influence it exercises on the hearts and heads of those who witness it.

It substitutes the idea and the desire of individual reform for those of social reform, and so weakens the capacity for collective self-help in society.  Diverting resources away from famine relief may mean that millions will starve in the short-term, even if it brings about a long-term solution that saves many more people. And for most of the needy, a bird in the hand really is a lot better than two (perhaps improbable) birds in the bush.

Charity may benefit the state rather than the needy

Dr Neil Levy argued that charity can be self-defeating if it allows the state to escape some of its responsibilities. Large-scale philanthropy to support 'essential services' is wrong:  Charity to support essential services is bad because it switches provision from government to charity, rather than increasing benefits to the needy.... large-scale philanthropic activity carries with it serious risks of changing the balance of funding from the public to the private sector, thereby exposing those most in need to the vicissitudes of the market. 

The argument goes something like this. If the charity sector increases spending in an area also funded by government then there is a risk that government will choose to spend less in that area with the result that governments save money, and extra benefits provided by the charity spend are reduced. Whether this is true is something that can be empirically tested - it either does happen or it doesn't.

Dr Levy is in favour of redistributing resources from the rich towards the poor; his argument is with the method of doing this. "I do not wish this redistribution of wealth to cease. Instead, I want it to be conducted by government. Rather than have the wealthy donate to charities, income and other taxes should generate the revenue to fund the services in question."

Charities depend on the desires and incomes of unaccountable donors while the work of governments is subject, in many cases, to regular democratic or political review, and is thus more subject to public scrutiny and control.  In many areas of essential services in the developed world, the government is by far the biggest spender, and charity spending is a small share and so won't make a significant difference to government commitments.

Charity may lead to favouritism, not fairness

The interests of all persons ought to count equally, and geographic location and citizenship make no intrinsic difference to the rights and obligations of individuals.  Donors, not unreasonably, choose to give to causes that appeal to them. But these are not necessarily the causes where there is the greatest need.

The relationship between charity and the tax system can do harm

Professor Rob Reich has argued tax incentives for charitable giving can worsen social inequalities, by reducing the revenue that the state has available for social projects.

Discussing the context Prof Reich says that allowing tax deductions for donations to private schools, for instance, can indirectly reduce revenue for public schools and increase disparity. The tax regime for donations doesn't favour socially useful donations.  Another problem arises from granting tax exempt status to charitable organisations, as this too reduces the revenue available for state projects.

Both of these aspects of tax regimes are regarded by some people as a transfer of monies from an area that is politically accountable for its spending to an area where accountability is more variable.

Charitable giving is inefficient

A very closely related downside of the way we give is the way our own preferences reduce the benefits produced by our gifts.

Even the way we choose to dole out cash betrays our true motives. Someone with £100 to give away and a world full of worthy causes should choose the worthiest and write the cheque. We don't. Instead, we give £5 for some bracelet, £25 to Save the Children, another £25 to AIDS research, and so on. But £25 is not going to find a cure for AIDS. 

Either it's the best cause and deserves the entire £100, or it's not and some other cause does. The scattershot approach simply proves that we're more interested in feeling good than doing good. 

Charity Is Selfish

What charities do with their funds ? Charities may not make best use of their funds ?

The issue here is whether the charity we give to devotes a high enough proportion of its funds to the needy. Responsible charities make it very clear what proportion of contributions is spent on administration and fund-raising.

Charities are often accountable to the givers not the receivers

If the purpose of charity is to benefit the recipients, it seems obvious that those best able to say whether they are achieving this end are the recipients. But because the recipients of charity are often unorganised and the charity doesn't know their individual identities, it's often easier for charities to make their performance reports to the givers.

This isn't much of an argument against charity - being accountable to the givers promotes further giving, and the givers are likely to assess charity performance by the impact on the recipients. Charities also take accountability to the recipients seriously and conduct research to tailor their actions more closely to the needs and preferences of their beneficiaries.

Is it ethical to give with strings attached?

Governments and some charities sometimes attach conditions to gifts of aid.

Let us remember that the main purpose of aid is not to help other nations but to help ourselves. Donations sometimes impose obligations that are apparently uncontroversial - perhaps demanding political reforms - and sometimes more controversial - insisting that the institution receiving the gift e.g. stops giving out free condoms or supporting another religion or sect.

The reasons most people give for objecting to conditional charity gifts are:

It interferes with the autonomy of the recipient
It's unethical to interfere in the self-determination of sovereign states
The conditions may be contrary to human rights
The conditions may be politically manipulative

Many people question whether charities are ethical in how they raise money.


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