Every couple of weeks I get a update about a stranger’s pregnancy in my email. I receive these messages because last year I gave some money to her crowdfunding campaign. Her baby has a congenital heart defect, and they couldn’t afford the costs (on top of health insurance, I believe). So they posted a (successful) campaign to raise money.
I don’t know who this woman is. I think I ran across her story on someone’s Facebook timeline. I think maybe she is a friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend?
This ought to be very exciting for me, or for the libertarian in me at least. At last, we have achieved the pinnacle of free-market charity. For decades, libertarians have championed the virtues of meeting people’s needs through good old-fashioned individual acts of kindness, with no state involvement. But there was always the lurking objection that this system depended on them knowing someone wealthy, or being a member of the right church, or living near the right philanthropically endowed hospital.
No more! Now anyone can get the help they need from a thousand tiny acts of stranger’s kindness. No government nannies required! Hundreds of millions of individual actors, spontaneously coming together to meet needs as they arise.
Every time I see those emailed updates (good news, so far), I wonder:
- What about the expectant mother who didn’t have the savvy to start a crowdfunding campaign, or the internet connection to manage it from?
- What about the mom who didn’t have the writing skills to tell a story in a way that sounded legit to me, in order to pull on my heartstrings? Decades of spam have finely honed my sense of identifying poor grammar and spelling with “probably a scam”.
- What about the mom who kicks off a campaign, but doesn’t quite “speak my language” because she’s part of a very different culture from mine, and therefore doesn’t trigger that unconscious and instant sense of recognition and camaraderie?
- What about the mom who doesn’t have a thousand friends-of-a-friend-of-a-friend with $20 to spare?
- What about the woman who isn’t a mom at all and thus can’t appeal to my need to save all children? The one who can’t afford the tests she needs to find out what that persistent pain in her side even is?
Crowdfunding is the closest we have ever come to the ideal of libertarian charity, and the more I think about it, the more I realize how it completely fails to be evenly distributed.