On Friday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) announced that her private charity effort to help people amid the coronavirus pandemic had raised more than $1 million “in direct aid to people — all from small dollar, grassroots donations.” She wasn’t exactly celebrating, however. Rather, she insisted that private charity would not be necessary “in a just society” because the government would provide relief.
“As [the] federal response continues to be insufficient, our supporters have been stepping up to help families ourselves. I’m proud to announce that #TeamAOC has raised over *$1 million* in direct aid to people – all from small dollar, grassroots donations,” AOC tweeted. She is directing the money to food distribution and “helping immigrant families.”
Then came a truly perplexing statement: “In a just society, none of this would be necessary. But we’ll do everything we can until we get there.”
In context, AOC was lamenting the fact that Democrats in Congress have proven unable to reach a deal with the president to launch yet another round of coronavirus stimulus. Democrats have insisted on at least $2 trillion for the most recent bill, with $1 trillion going to state and local governments. President Donald Trump and Senate Republicans were willing to compromise on many issues, including extending extra unemployment payments that are wreaking havoc on the economy, but Democrats have proven themselves unwilling to compromise.
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The federal government has already shoveled money at the economy, providing crucial relief amid coronavirus lockdowns. While the lockdowns began as an attempt to “flatten the curve” and to keep hospitals from becoming overwhelmed, many are advocating continued lockdown until a viable vaccine becomes available. Yet continued lockdowns and continued stimulus payments are not a viable solution. The government does not have an unlimited supply of money to shovel at Americans to preserve a continuous state of economic limbo.
While another coronavirus stimulus payment may be necessary, at some point, the tap must be turned off and the economy must be allowed to recover.
AOC’s tweet suggested it is unjust for the government to stop spending trillions to keep things going in limbo. Even after the congresswoman has successfully raised $1 million to help people struggling during this pandemic, she suggested that the government should take over for private charity efforts like hers.
AOC seems to think that “in a just society” private charity would not be “necessary” because the government would take care of people’s needs. While the government arguably has a duty to help amid a nationwide government-encouraged or government-mandated lockdown, as it did in March and April, this relief cannot meet all the needs of every citizen. There is still a tremendous amount of room for private charity efforts to help those who are struggling — and these voluntary acts of charity are important, not just for meeting needs but for bringing society together.
Interestingly, AOC herself has praised voluntary mutual aid networks in the past. She noted that people can band together to help one another in a crisis, which provides relief without having to “for Congress to pass a bill, or the President to do something.” Ironically, she acted as though this was a completely new idea, rather than a feature of American life going back centuries.
The congresswoman’s recent tweet arguably represents her true position on the issue, however. After all, Ocasio-Cortez is leading a “progressive” movement that aims to insert the federal government into every economic — and sometimes, every social — interaction in the name of justice, equality, and saving the environment. While “Democratic Socialists” like AOC act as though this movement is powerless, progressivism has expanded government at the cost of voluntary associations for over a century, from Woodrow Wilson’s War Socialism to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal to Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society to Barack Obama’s “Affordable Care Act.”
Her vision of a “just society” involves the government replacing private charity, turning benefits that are freely given by individuals into a dole that the government hands out as each recipients’ rightful due.
This is a recipe for disaster, and not just because the government — designed to enforce the law — cannot meet the concrete needs of individual people as well as small mutual aid societies and charities like churches can.
This model flips the basic nature of charity on its head. Private charity involves people banding together to voluntarily help the less fortunate, personally giving of their time, talents, and treasure to help other people. When the government takes over, the donations are no longer voluntary but demanded in taxes. When the government takes over, the people who interact with the recipients are no longer volunteers but social workers collecting a paycheck. When the government takes over, the recipients are no longer gracious beneficiaries but demanding dependents, insisting on what they regard as nothing less than their due.
This kind of government charity crowds out private charity, turning aid into a forced political transaction and removing the positive moral benefits of voluntary association and giving.
This change also has a religious aspect. Jesus demanded that His followers give of themselves to help the less fortunate. He did not tell Christians to take over the government and raise more in taxes so they could send government benefits to the less fortunate.
Mutual aid and voluntary association empower people to help one another, while government charity makes a large section of the population dependent on the government. In fact, some may look to the government in a somewhat religious light.
AOC herself once said that Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (I-Vt.) socialism made her recognize her true worth. “It wasn’t until I heard of a man by the name of Bernie Sanders that I began to question and assert and recognize my inherent value as a human being that deserves health care, housing, education, and a living wage,” she explained.
Americans must never look to the government as the source of their “inherent value.” The Declaration of Independence itself depends on the idea that “all men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights.” Yet when the government takes over the role of private charity, it edges out the institutions that also provide meaning — churches, synagogues, mosques, civic associations, charities like Samaritan’s Purse, and fraternal organizations like the Knights of Columbus or even the deteriorating Boy Scouts of America.
AOC’s terrifying pseudo-reverence for the government arguably drives her insistence that “justice” requires the government to take over the functions of private charity. This is what socialism means, and it is extremely dangerous.
Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.