“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?‘ ” ~~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Christmas is fast approaching (it’s fast to me because I’m an old codger) and we see the Salvation Army out with their kettles and bell ringers. It is the time of the year when we think of contributing to charity so that poor children can have at least one happy day in the year.
Contributing to charity can make us feel good in several ways. We can consider it another step toward a heavenly reward. We can consider ourselves to be generous to those less fortunate than ourselves. It makes us feel superior and in charge of our own destiny. It gets those annoying solicitation people off our porch so we can go back to the football game.
But that is now with our POM economy and ability to give money to others. What about in a non-POM economy. Non-POM money cannot be given to others and all it will buy are luxury goods and services. It hardly seems like charity to give someone a luxury. Charity feels like giving food or clothing or a place to live to the destitute. Charity doesn’t feel like giving someone tickets to see the latest rock god gyrate on stage.
So imagine yourself in a non-POM economy. You have extra food which you give to some hungry people. And you get paid for doing so. Well, that sort of takes away the sacrifice on your part. You have clothes that you don’t expect to wear any more now that you have lost that extra 20 pounds so you give them to those who need clothes. And you get paid for doing so. You take care of a child while the child’s mother works. And you get paid for doing so. Where is the charity in doing things that get you paid? Is this the death of charity? Does this mean that those who are kind to their neighbors will lose that feeling of moral superiority? Perhaps they will.
But you can always keep your giving to others secret. I believe that the Bible has something to say about that. Something about not letting your left hand know what your right hand is doing? (Perhaps someone more familiar with the Bible than I am can set me straight.) If you want to feel noble and self sacrificing, you can always hide your good works.
So much for individual charity, what about organized charity? What about organizations like the Salvation Army? I would expect that in the early days of the conversion from a POM to a non-POM the charity organizations would be given quite a bit of food and clothing and (for the medical community) drugs and other medical supplies because there would exist millions of poor who will need such things as they need them now. I would expect that it would take a while to set up the distribution apparatus (stores and such) for the food and clothing that will be made available to the poor. While that is being arranged, the traditional charities will be the backbone of such distribution because they have the knowledge and the organization to get the distributing done. They and those who contribute the food and clothes (probably from the huge agribusinesses and clothing manufacturers) will be paid for their efforts when the poor eat that food and wear those clothes.
Housing is a different matter. Yes there are a few organizations which help arrange for housing for the homeless but owners of housing will be much more likely to want to have more say about who is to use their structures. I would expect the real estate industry to do most of the arranging for people to have whatever constitutes minimum standard housing. I would expect them to keep records as to how those who live in this housing treat the building. Those who "trash the joint" may find themselves homeless again since none would want to let them do that to their structures. I think that some would produce housing which was very difficult to damage or very cheap to replace (or both) to warehouse such difficult "guests."
But we are drifting away from our topic. These organizations which are considered to be "non-profits" would still be non-profit but would also still earn money for those who contribute their time and effort based on the good they do. And that doesn’t look like our traditional view of charity, either.
So in one sense, charity would almost become a thing of the past, something that our descendents might come to wonder about as a strange concept. The need for charity would have ceased to exist. There would be no poverty in the sense of people who did not have access to adequate supplies of the necessities of life. There would simply be no more need for charity. The actions which today are considered noble would be, rather, considered practical and another way to make money.
Christmas will never be the same. That will be a loss. But on the other hand, there will be no more Tiny Tims who will die unless some wealthy person decides to take pity on them and pay for the medical care they so desperately need. There will be no more babies that have to be born in a stable and laid in a manger because there is no room. There will be no more poverty stricken families with children who will get no toys unless those more fortunate than themselves donate. I think it will be better when charity is no longer needed.