False Compassion: Not Compassionate at All

Much has been said about the difference in death tolls in the Haitian and Chilean earthquakes:  Though the quake in Chile has considerably stronger, tens or possibly hundreds of thousands fewer people died.  While some of this is due to physical factors such as the distance of the quakes from the surface and from large cities, many have also drawn connections between the types of economies in each country and their ability to deal with these tragedies (Chile has a much stronger free market).

But regardless of whether that connection is causation or simply correlation, any time is a good time to pause and consider the effectiveness of our charity.  A new article at Civil Society Trust argues from a Christian — though in this case probably universally applicable — perspective that a necessary component of true compassion is effectiveness:

At the end of the day, most of the programs and policies of government initiated in the name of helping people amount to rounding up resources from the private sector and redistributing them to others.   And there are plenty of people who argue we need to do more of that.  But if these programs and policies are in fact not working, or perhaps even making things worse, and yet we continue to do them, I would suggest that we are ignoring the original goal of helping others and instead focusing on how these programs make us feel instead….

To whatever extent we ignore the efficacy of the government-led “solutions” to our society’s ills, all done with the best intentions in the name of compassion, I would suggest that we are engaging in a false compassion.

And false compassion truly helps no one, least of all those in desperate need of real aid. 

Many academic studies (like this one, for instance) have found evidence that government “charity” does comparatively little to help people, while private compassion performs considerably better.  In short, there is real reason to believe that government aid is not the best way to help the poor and suffering — and if we really care for those we claim to assist, then it is our responsibility to evaluate the effectiveness (and morality) of our compassion and make whatever changes are needed.

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