i keep seeing the u.s. navy commercial on t.v. where they talk about the tsunami of 2005 and how the navy came to save the day. doesn't that sound wonderful?!
as with any government expenditure you have to ask "where did the money come from?". because the government does nothing productive, or, in other words, it creates no wealth for anyone through its actions, every dollar it has came from one or more of three sources: 1) borrowing on behalf of non consenting parties, 2) printing dollars, effectively robbing dollar users of value, or 3) outright theft, also known as taxation. these are the means by which the state does anything, including so-called charitable acts.
many points have been made elsewhere about the high costs of such activities and the openness to corruption and the political distribution of such funds and the strings that are so often attached. what i'd like to address is the opportunity cost of such behavior to the individuals who unwillingly supply the means to the state's actions.
in the market, charities must compete for each dollar they secure and are only able to do so voluntarily, meaning that they can't force anyone to contribute. hence, anyone who wants to contribute may search charitable organizations and make a decision on how their money is distributed. if a family has a member with cancer, they may contribute to cancer charities. if a person wants to help find homes for the homeless, they may contribute to charities if they so choose. if someone is interested in contributing to groups searching for a cure for feline leukemia, or whatever - they can. or, they can choose not to, or even to compete finding no attractive alternatives.
the state, on the other hand, doesn't care what you want. they're going to take the money that you may have contributed to your charity or cause of choice and distribute it as they see fit. so, if there is a group out there doing critical research on a rare disease that's killing a loved one, too bad! the money you want to donate is going to be confiscated by the state and used to research the migratory patterns of desert moths, while your loved one suffers. remember, this is just a group of people who claims to have rights over your person and property and they are determined to stick the government gun in your face and force you to fund things that don't matter to you, without a second thought as to what you would have done with that money that is of critical importance to you.
i have a friend who is so proud of her agitating for state funding for breast cancer research. she has a teacher who was recently a victim of the disease (a person i knew well), but instead of trying to convince you civilly to donate to a cause she believes in, she wants to have the state stick a gun in your face and divert the funds that you wanted to use to help cure your father's rare blood disease in order to finance her own interests. she couldn't care less about what it means to you. she hasn't given a second thought to what's important to others as long as she can take the easy way out and have the state ruin other people's lives in order serve her own interests. it's downright vile.
so the next time you think about the "good" the charitable welfare state is doing, consider the trail of broken dreams left behind. imagine how many people will not get to fund initiatives that are so important to them and their families.
good people often contribute charitably. never confuse that drive of empathy with the cold, bony fingers of state redistribution.