All actions of a just society should be principles-based. One of the primary guiding principles of a just society is that coercion is kept at a minimum. That is, people should be free of coercion from others, including the government. Certainly, a case can be made for why there will have to be some coercion — but that has to be reserved for matters that are essential for the functioning of society. For these matters, government coercion is justified for raising revenues required for funding certain activities. Examples of such matters are policing (to maintain law and order) and the provisioning of collective goods such as public access roads or sanitation, etc. Aside from those limited exemptions, coercion is not justified.
Coercion is absolutely verboten in the case of charity. Using force to extract revenues to fund charity leads to the absurd result of the means frustrating the end. What’s worse, it is immoral and unethical.
Of all the things that a bad government does is to coerce people into paying for charity that they would not support had they not been threatened with violence. It is not the job of the government to decide on behalf of the citizens who should pay how much for what charity. When the government arrogates to itself the right which properly belongs to the individual to decide how much to give to whom by way of charity, it robs the individual not just of the money but also of his dignity and freedom of choice.
I came to know that PM Shri Modi has awarded scholarships to some selected children. I am certain that it was very good of him to be generous with his money. It’s his money and he has a right to give it to whomever he wishes. But in case Shri Modi was handing out Indian taxpayers’ money, that is problematic. That decision is not his to make. There are alternate mechanisms. For instance, he could have appealed to Indians that they voluntarily support a fund for the said scholarships. That would not have involved coercion and the threat of violence (imprisonment for non-payment of taxes.)
Perhaps I am over-reaching here, though I don’t think so, but I feel that one of the reasons for India’s disastrous lack of prosperity is that Indian leaders are not all that concerned with principles-based actions. It is shameful.
I have argued the case for why the government should not be involved in charity of any sort in a piece “Whose money is it anyway?” Excerpt:
Of all the pernicious things that a government does, arguably the worst is when the government gets into the business of charity. That’s the kind that Mr Bunce took exception to. If politicians and bureaucrats want to support charity, they should do that with their own money, not the public’s money. They are free to contribute as much as they wish of their own money, and they should extend that freedom to everybody else. Let people decide how much they want to spend and on which charity.
I can honestly claim that I contribute to charity regularly. Why? Because I am moved by empathy and compassion towards my fellow beings. I not only receive the joy of giving without expectations of return, I also derive psychic satisfaction by exercising the freedom of deciding on whom or what I spend my money. I wish I had more money so that I could give more of it away. A favorite quote from Khalil Gibran’s The Prophet goes, “All you have shall some day be given; Therefore give now, that the season of giving may be yours and not your inheritors.”
When the government takes my tax money to spend on what it considers charity, it deprives me of my freedom to give freely, it deprives me of the joy of giving, and takes away a responsibility from me that I treasure. What is worse, when I forced to do something, I resent it even if that something is something that I would have otherwise voluntarily done.
When the government taxes me to do charity, it is to me morally and functionally equivalent to someone putting a gun to my head and robbing me to help a poor person. Regardless of what the money is going to be used for, robbery is immoral and unethical.