Tad DeHaven

So should an individual convicted of a horrible crime who has paid his or her dues to society be denied assistance? Some would say yes, others would say no. The left has a case when they argue that denying assistance to an ex-criminal could have the unintended consequence of incentivizing further criminal activity. But the right also has a case that, hey, that’s our hard-earned money being taken from the government and being handed over to people who made awful choices. 

The diversity of opinion points to a fundamental problem with the government trying to act like a charity: the country gets stuck with whatever the politicians conjure up. Contrary to what youngsters are led to believe in school, our elected officials are not altruistic, enlightened beings. In reality, federal efforts to alleviate poverty will always be undermined by the self-serving nature of politics. And even when approached with the noblest of intentions, bureaucratic sclerosis and the undue influence of special interests will ultimately undermine a program’s effectiveness and efficiency.   

Personally, I would have no problem donating to a charity that helps struggling ex-cons who need to put food on the family table. Perhaps other people wouldn’t feel as comfortable and would instead direct their donations toward charities that only serve, say, hungry women and children who were the victims of violent crime. That’s the beauty of choice, which stands in stark contrast to the ugly, coercive alternative of the political system.    

Tad DeHaven

Tad DeHaven is a budget analyst at the Cato Institute. Previously he was a deputy director of the Indiana Office of Management and Budget. DeHaven also worked as a budget policy advisor to Senators Jeff Sessions (R-AL) and Tom Coburn (R-OK).