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.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. DaveD says:

    I am very, very concerned about people like Rall. They seem to rely too heavily on misfortune and failure for their most “inspired” rants. The more misery/ destruction/confusion the more endorphins they release. It’s very macabre don’t you think?

  2. leelu says:

    …not to disparage the government’s efforts, but do you think they can work under the 9% overhead charge Rall mentioned for the Red Cross?

    I doubt it.

    I notice he didn’t have any suggestions for what to do with those in “private shelters”. Move them to public shelters, like the Superdome? Did he conveniently forget the Huston Astrodome. Last I heard, it was a gubmint facility. Oh, but not a *Federal* facility. Nevermind.

    He obviously has no clue about disaster relief.

  3. Mark says:


    I do believe Texas will be reimbursed by the Feds for the sheltering of refugees evacuees at the Astrodome and other places. Or am I wrong?

  4. realist says:

    One reason the left has not succeeded in building a base and organizing among the people is that secular leftists donate around a half percent compared to roughly 3 percent for religious conservatives.

    I believe in government institutions, but if it undermines people’s capacity to build and organize for themselves this strengthens conservative arguments. We are destroying the idea of citizen as a contributing member of society.

  5. bryan says:

    Rall apparently believes in Government as Santa Claus. His suggestion that government could somehow provide the hot meals, donated toys for kids, shelter, and empathy that is being provided by private charities – many of whom are not raising funds from this like the RC (think local church groups, Michele Catalano, to name just two) shows a profound lack of grounding in reality (what’s new, right?).

    It leads me to wonder if Rall has ever actually had any dealings with government? Ever sat in an office waiting for unemployment? Ever dealt with social security social workers? Ever stood in line at the DMV?

    This is his solution to ease the pain and suffering of countless thousands?!?

  6. DL says:

    Since you mentioned “private shelters” Leelu, I thought that one way to make this rescue game financially easier would be to restore for the hated “rich” an old fashioned tax shelter ” that consists entirely of insurance and rescue/rebuilding investments. It might take some of the emergency character of these events and soften it. The tax break would be justified in that it would focus the money invested entirely for the common good

  7. Walter E. Wallis says:

    Guys like Rall glory in trashing traditional societal values, ignorant of the fact that it is only societal tolerance that stays the hand of those who would pound his ass for his showing of contempt for those societal values.

  8. ICallMasICM says:

    TR thinks you’re a ‘sucker’ if you donate freely but it’s a good idea if the gov’t extorts your money to do with it as they please. Whatever, Ted……………………

  9. Rickvid in Seattle says:

    Rall and his slime sucking type seem to wake up every day with the mission to trash someone (Bush?) or something (America?). Their lives are oriented toward trashing, thrashing, denigrating, attacking, reviling, hating and destroying. What does that do to a person? If “The Picture of Dorian Grey” were accurate, I’d rather not see Rall’s picture up there in the attic.

  10. odograph says:

    It was kind of shocking to make my small donation and then see the big numbers roll in – a few million here, a few million there, suddenly tens of billions and more to come from the gov.

    I would never tell anyone “don’t give” and I do plan on giving more … but I think it might be useful to look for out of the way places to give, and gaps to fill.

    FWIW, I sometimes give these guys some money (I have no other association with them):


    ‘Small Change: A World of Difference’