Dead 8

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During
the Jacksonian era, a distinguished Naval Officer had passed away
and a bill was introduced in Congress to give money to his widow.
A number of moving speeches were given on her behalf, and the bill
seemed destined to pass unanimously. Then a congressman from Tennessee
named Davey Crockett gave an alternate suggestion. Instead of taking
tax dollars from the public to give to the widow, he offered to
give one week's pay out of his own pocket to the widow and suggested
the rest of the members of Congress do the same. Crockett believed
that "we have the right as individuals, to give away as much
of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress
we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money."
After hearing the speech, almost all of the members of the House
reversed their intended vote and the bill was soundly defeated.
Crockett and the rest of Congress back then understood that there
is absolutely nothing charitable or compassionate about taking taxpayers
money and giving it to the needy. It is easy to be generous with
other people's money, but true charity is voluntary.

This
lesson obviously escaped the organizers of Live 8, a series of ten
free concerts around the world that featured many of the biggest
names in rock and pop like U2, Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jay- Z,
Sting, and Elton John. All of these rock stars could have given
millions of dollars of their own money to charity. Instead, the
concerts were designed solely to convince the G8 nations to forgive
debt to Third World countries, or in other words, to coerce the
taxpayers of the developed world to give money to poorer countries.

This
is especially unfortunate, because many of the founders of Live
8 were also involved in Live Aid twenty years ago. Live Aid was
two charitable concerts that embodied the Crockett style of compassion.
British musicians Bob Geldof and Midge Ure conceived the concerts
in 1985. They planned a benefit to help famine struck Ethiopia and
hoped to raise one million pounds. The dual concerts that occurred
in both Philadelphia and London ended up raising over 150 million
pounds for famine relief from record and ticket sales and television
rights. The giving did not end there. Live Aid also inspired Hearing
Aid, a group of heavy metal artists who raised money for similar
causes, and Farm Aid, a now annual concert of rock and country artists
who raise money for family farmers in America. Live Aid showed the
power of voluntary initiatives, and the generosity of the West when
people have the opportunity to give.

Some
criticized Live Aid as an example of self-important celebrities
exploiting poor Africans to sell their own records. The left wing
punk band Chumbawumba named an album "Pictures of Starving
Children Sell Records" to mock the bands. In a sense they
were right. The concert helped boost the career for many of the
acts who played there. But this is not a bad thing. It demonstrates
how capitalism and compassion are compatible. Not everyone is Mother
Teresa, and most people are more likely to do good if they feel
that they may get something in return. The starving children who
were fed because of Live Aid didn't care if the food they got helped
boost The Who's record sales.

Instead
of asking for money like Live Aid, Live 8 tries to create a political
movement. The concerts that could have raised tens or even hundreds
of millions of dollars for the needy were free. The organizers even
banned charitable organizations from soliciting donations at the
shows. It's website proclaimed, “We don’t want your money – we
want you!" This slogan is misleading, as they do want your
money. They just don't want you to give it to them; they want your
government to take it from you.

The
international outpouring of support after the Tsunami this past
winter shows that the people of the world, particularly Americans,
are more than willing to open up their hearts and their pocketbooks
to those less fortunate. However, Americans do not like having politicians
or celebrities forcing them to give to the poor. Polls consistently
show that foreign aid has always been one of the least popular government
programs.

The
G8 nations ended up forgiving forty billion dollars in debt to eighteen
poor countries. Many analysts in the West and the Third World question
whether these measures will actually help. Kenyan economist James
Shikwati told the German newspaper Spiegel that because of
Western aid to Africa, "Huge bureaucracies are financed (with
the aid money), corruption and complacency are promoted, [and] Africans
are taught to be beggars and not to be independent. In addition,
development aid weakens the local markets everywhere and dampens
the spirit of entrepreneurship that we so desperately need."
Regardless of whether the money ends up going to the truly needy
or to the dictators and bureaucrats, for all the self-congratulatory
talk from the politicians and rock stars, they are simply applauding
themselves for what Davey Crockett called, "giving what was
not yours to give."

July
18, 2005

Marcus Epstein
[send him mail] is
a recent graduate of the College of William and Mary. He is currently
pursuing freelance journalism in Charleston, SC. A
selection of his articles can be seen here
.

Marcus
Epstein
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