Socialism and the Gift Relationship

Socialism and the Gift Relationship

I: Welfare and Philanthropy

A few years ago, the New York Times carried a long article on the decline of philanthropy and volunteer service in the more advanced welfare states of Western Europe. In such countries as Sweden, Denmark, and West Germany, philanthropic organizations of all sorts—orphanages, homes for unwed mothers, legal aid societies, hospital and prison visitors, and so on—were in deep trouble. They had always depended heavily on private contributions and unpaid help. The contributions came not only from the very rich but also from large numbers of ordinary citizens. Now, however, the citizens had decided that welfare was a matter of justice, not charity, the business of the state, not of individuals. They paid their taxes and they were done. The state, they felt, should take what was needed; what it didn’t take belonged to them and could legitimately and without qualms be spent on themselves. The rich undoubtedly thought taxes too high and preferred charitable giving, which they could set at any level they liked; but they too were fully prepared, the tax rate being what it was, to give less to charity.

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Lima