The Compassion of Free Market Poverty Solutions

By Ryan Everson

Conservatives are often accused of being uncompassionate because we promote free market and private charity poverty solutions over large welfare programs. While liberals and progressives champion “Medicare for All,” large welfare programs and high minimum wages, conservative opposition makes us appear uncharitable to many people. But free markets and private charities have lifted millions from poverty worldwide while promoting human dignity and opportunity. So why aren’t our solutions seen as compassionate?  It could be that we often fail to effectively communicate that free markets and private charity are more effective than massive government programs that cannot be held accountable. 

Private charity’s superiority to government charity is not an explicitly conservative idea – it’s a universal one. Liberal and progressive politicians may say government programs are more effective than private charity, and they may even vote accordingly. But in private, nobody actually believes this. Do people hold their Facebook birthday fundraiser for the IRS? Of course not – they hold it for an organization they trust and support, such as St. Jude’s Hospital or Red Cross. People across the political spectrum would rather donate to private organizations than give money to a large and unaccountable government hoping the money is spent responsibly. 

Furthermore, as it pertains to helping the poor, private charity is more effective than government welfare. The government spends approximately 70% of welfare spending on bureaucratic management roles, leaving only 30% of the money for the poor people who actually need it. Private charities, on the other hand, operate very efficiently. A study from Charity Navigator found that most private charities spend approximately 75% of their money on the programs they exist to provide. 

Conservatives need to communicate this more effectively. Our messaging must clarify that our support for free market and private charity solutions is based in a deep commitment to eliminating poverty. We oppose massive government welfare because we want to support alternative solutions that actually provide more aid to those in need. 

When we advocate for free market policies, we must speak about helping the poor as primary, rather than just a nice side effect. For example, a $15 minimum wage would hurt the poor by increasing unemployment. It would also make it harder for low-skilled workers to find employment by raising the skill level required for entry level jobs. 

Rather than simply speaking about how a high minimum wage would harm business owners (which are a small percentage of the population that many do not empathize with), we should emphasize how high minimum wages hurt much of the working class (a larger percentage of the population that many do empathize with). Yes, this is a savvy political move, but it’s much more than that. It’s a more accurate and comprehensive reflection of how free market values increase upward mobility and make the pursuit of happiness more available to all.

Also, we must share stories.  The story of one person lifted from poverty by free enterprise and private charity can be far more compelling than a statistic. Take Michael, a young man who was raised in a broken home and spent five years in prison before he was even 21 years old. Despite Michael’s incredibly rough childhood, he was able to create a better life for himself with the help of The Doe Fund, a private organization that helps former inmates create a new life for themselves through its “Willing and Able,” program, which gives these individuals the attention, care, and skills they need to succeed in the workforce.

It’s easy to be upset when much of the public is unconvinced that free markets and private charity benefit the working class, but at the end of the day, we need to take responsibility for the messaging of our own ideas. Politicians who advocate for big government speak to the poor as if they sincerely care about them, even if their policies aren’t the most effective. As a Movement, we already have effective policy on our side. If we can improve our messaging, our ideas will spread like wildfire, and America see increased human dignity, opportunity and prosperity. 

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Ryan Everson is currently a pro-life policy intern for the Equal Rights Institute and a political journalism intern for the Washington Examiner. He is also an editor for Lone Conservative and a contributor to Live Action News, The College Fix, and The Catholic Sun.