Rall: Charities are for Suckers
Ted Rall argues that people who donate for hurricane relief are “suckers” because it’s just a scheme for government to shirk its duties.
Hurricane Katrina has prompted Americans to donate more than $700 million to charity, reports the Chronicle of Philanthropy. So many suckers, so little foresight. Government has been shirking its basic responsibilities since the ’80s, when Ronald Reagan sold us his belief that the sick, poor and unlucky should no longer count on “big government” to help them, but should rather live and die at the whim of contributors to private charities. The Katrina disaster, whose total damage estimate has risen from $100 to $125 billion, marks the culmination of Reagan’s privatization of despair.
The American Red Cross leads the post-Katrina sweepstakes, quickly closing in on the $534 million it took in just after 9/11. But Red Cross spokeswoman Sheila Graham told the AP it needs another half billion “to provide emergency relief over the coming weeks for thousands of evacuees who have scattered among 675 of its shelters in 23 states.” Shelley Borysiewicz of Catholic Charities USA, which has raised $7 million thus far, also continues to solicit donations: “We don’t want people to lose sight of the fact that this is going to take years of recovery, and we’re going to be there to help the people who fall through the cracks.”
What “cracks”? Why should New Orleans’ dispossessed have to live in private shelters? We live in the United States, not Mali. There’s only one reason flood victims aren’t getting help from the government: because the government refuses to help them. The Red Cross and its cohorts are letting lazy, incompetent and corrupt politicians off the hook, and so are their donors.
Disaster relief is too important to be left to private fundraisers, with their self-sustaining fundraising expenses, administrative overhead (nine percent for the Red Cross) and their parochial, often religious, agendas. It’s also way too expensive. In the final analysis, after the floodwaters have receded and the poor neighborhoods of New Orleans have been razed under eminent domain, major charities will be lucky if they’ve managed to raise one percent of the total cost of Katrina. Congress, recognizing the reality that only the federal government possesses the means to deal with the calamity, has already allocated $58 billion–over 70 times the amount raised by charities–to flood relief along the Gulf of Mexico. As Bush says, that’s only a “down payment.”
In that last paragraph, Rall rants that private charities can’t do it alone and that the taxpayer–his preferred source of funding–is being soaked for 70 times what private charities are giving. Rather obviously, then, we haven’t abdicated our societal responsibilities here. Private charity is playing an important, but very small, part here.
Why should it be up to the government–i.e., the taxpayers–to shoulder the entire burden? Most of the $100-$125 billion estimate is lost buildings and similar damage to private property. That’s not a public responsibility. Protecting onesself from catastrophic damage is what insurance is for, after all. Of course, if these properties are “razed under eminent domain” then, by constitutional dictate, the taxpayers will be on the hook for the fair market value, presumably pre-Katrina.
Most of the rest of the column is Rall spewing venom at his favorite targets: the war in Iraq and “tax cuts for the rich.” Those are really separate arguments and have little to do with Katrina relief. If the war is worth fighting, then it’s worth fighting regardless of other expenses. And vice versa. Ditto the degree of flatness vice “progressivity” in the tax code.