Jacob Sullum is up in arms that some guy suggested donating money to clean-water charities in the third world instead of drinking expensive bottled water. Now, Sullum’s a smart guy, and I like a lot of what he writes. But I think he’s getting into libertarian knee-jerk territory here.
Just as hardcore progressives run the risk of attributing every possible negative circumstance on the cynical machinations of The Man, libertarians have a tendency, if they are not careful, to start reaching protectively for their wallets and yelling “keep your filthy socialist hands off my-” whenever they hear someone talking about charity. And there is good reason for this; we are fed up with hearing well-meaning philanthropic initiatives proposed without any consideration of economic realities, the rights of the potential contributors, or whether it will actually benefit the recipients in the long term. And then being castigated as selfish grasping jerks when we try to bring these concerns up.
But not all charity is anti-liberty. Frankly, I think we should be singing the praises of voluntary charity every chance we get. In that mythical libertarian utopia, that would be the only kind of charity that remained; it behooves us to prove that it can be effective. (I’m not talking to the Objectivists here; I understand they take a different view of charity, although I could be mistaken).
My response to the post was this:
Sure, it could have been anything. But why not water? It’s a nice memory-jogger: see a bottle of water, think about lack of safe water in Africa, toss some money in the poor-box instead.
I agree that it’s silly to guilt us for paying for fancy bottled water when someone, somewhere in the world is thirsty; but come on. Maybe if libertarians didn’t reflexively pooh-pooh every philanthropic scheme that comes along, we wouldn’t have such a reputation as miserly dog-eat-dog bastards.
As a matter of fact, why doesn’t some enterprising young freedom-lover start a bottled-water company which sends part of the profits to third-world water development? Hip, overpriced refreshment and liberal guilt-abatement in one convenient capitalist package. It would be a hit! And it would certainly be more constructive than yelling “OMG ch4r1ty i5 4 st00p1d l4m3rs” whenever someone suggests an idea for VOLUNTARILY helping the poor.