Not meriting the description of democracy…

I thought this piece on charity – a sector so beloved of our government – by Tom Serpell, from Sussex Bylines was very powerfully written (I thought of my own recent piece on the same subject and thought ‘must do better’):

… if filling in the holes in the needs of the people is left to kindness, who will ensure that all such holes are filled? Left to the whim of philanthropists or charities, no matter how sincere, the safety net not being supplied by government will in all likelihood be a threadbare postcode lottery. Some will benefit; many will not.

He sums up my sentiments when he says:

A polity in which wealth and its disposal are left in the hands of those fortunate enough to have it is one which cannot merit the description of democracy. Only governments have the strategic overview of risk, capacity to resource and duty to ensure that nobody is left out of protective embrace. Let kindness come on top of necessity, as is often the case at community level, not instead of it.

…Every time government encourages philanthropy or decorates a donor it should shrivel in shame at its own lack of kindness, at its own failure to provide.

As I say I thought this powerful stuff – and even more so when, unlike Mr Serpell, who thinks that we need to tax and spend, you realise that government spends money into existence.

And in spending it into the existence of those who desperately need it – like say, food bank attendees – it actually improves economic prosperity as, happily for the economy, if often sadly for them, none of its recipients are likely to have, for the moment at least, much capacity to save.


  1. B. Gray -

    The lack of comprehensive social safety nets and government entitlements in the UK, and particularly in the US which lacks public health care, seems to be a feature of neoliberalism not a flaw. The effect is the creation of an economically desperate population, whose labor can then be exploited as necessary to maximize corporate profits and indebtedness to the financial sector.

    This is being played out in real time in the U.S. over COVID relief funding. The Republicans in the Senate have been reluctant to provide the necessary unemployment benefits for fear it would create a disincentive for people to return to work, which would ultimately drive wages up and corporate profits down. 12 million Americans will lose unemployment benefits the day after Christmas and 5 million face eviction after the first of the year. How’s that for economic desperation?

    Unfortunately, charitable giving among the wealthy and corporations is often more self-serving than altruistic. Many promote government austerity on one hand, while on the other make big public pronouncements on their charitable donations to burnish their public image. Philanthropy also comes with many perks, including tax write-offs, public recognition, and privileged access, as well as lasting monuments to their narcissism in the form of named foundations and buildings.

    1. Peter May -

      The US is a complete disaster area. In all probability so is China. Europe is the only hope. And Britain is in the bottom of the European league.

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