John on December 26, 2005 at 3:03 pm
Recently I wrote a post for the God or Not carnival about how atheism hampers the charitable efforts of atheists. It got a fair amount of reader response, nearly all of which was reasoned and respectful. One of the responses argued that for atheists government had supplanted the church as the locus of charitable activity.
I think there may be some truth to this claim. However as a former employee for the Social Security Administration, I am deeply skeptical of government’s ability to manage “charity” efficiently. I am suspicious for the same reasons I am suspicious of the government’s ability to run any large, important enterprise, i.e. the Post Office. It seems abundantly evident to me that private groups do a better job. Although the motivation for charitable work is different, I believe this only tends to makes the motivation of the group more important, not less.
In that regard I note this story [HT: Drudge] which states that as much as 1/3 of the tsunami aid collected by the U.N. was spent on “overhead.” I think everyone should be able to agree this is not very good. The salvation army’s numbers for the tsunami do not appear to be available yet, but in 2003 $0.84 of every dollar went to services. In other words, it spent about half as much on overhead as the UN. That’s not a slight difference.
Since this isn’t just about making a point using the Salvation Army’s name (as Athana has correctly pointed out), I’ve made a donation today. For anyone interested in doing the same, click here.