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It's A Gray Area: Why liberty is so important to us

January 08, 2011|By James P. Gray

Over the years we have taken these stories for granted, and that has led us astray. The problem is that any approach without liberty is inherently self-defeating. For example, for several important reasons, government programs are simply not the same thing as parents or caring private charities. First, they have no flexibility and really cannot discriminate between people who really need a helping hand, and those who are simply lazy or gaming the system. Furthermore, the people administering the government programs really do not have a viable incentive even to make these important distinctions. Why? Because no one really owns the money that the government programs give out; they simply control it.

Private charities are run differently than government programs because they are evaluated by results, not by intentions. Thus in virtually all cases, private charities, which are run by people with liberty, results-oriented flexibility and accountability, yield much better results. One huge example of this is the Orange County Rescue Mission, which is a private organization previously discussed in this column. No government program I am aware of has ever come close.

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Another difference between government and private programs is that people who are receiving assistance from private charities are constantly mindful that the generosity comes from somewhere, and it is not their right to receive it. Thus there are much greater feelings of "please" and "thank you" with a private charity, instead of with government programs, where people continually and self-righteously shout about their "rights."

In a similar fashion, the liberty of free trade allows deals to be struck that benefit both sides. This, in turn, breeds a sense of interdependence and trust, and allows those parties to bypass inefficient, protective and often stodgy government bureaucracies. John Stossel illustrated this fact quite well in one of the chapters when he said: "Once established players capture a licensing board, they tend to use their power to stifle competition and keep newcomers out. Every day businesses are killed by 'consumer protection' regulators."

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