Forbes contributor Jerry Bowyer recently interviewed Fr. Robert Sirico about PovertyCure and charity. Bower has split his interview into several parts and you can read the previous post here. In this section, their discussion focuses on “Bad Almsgiving:”

Jerry: “Charity can be selfish, can’t it?”

Fr. Sirico: “Yeah, it can be very self-indulgent.”

Jerry: “Let’s say ‘philanthropy’. I mean, genuine charity is a Christian virtue, but the philanthropy industry can be selfishly structured and selfishly supported.”

Fr. Sirico: “Well, what we look at in PovertyCure in one of the episodes is all of the different elements (especially in international grants and aid) — the NGOs that are involved in the process; we even look at the celebrities and how this comes up every few years where people are saying, “Help us, let’s do this food for Africa,” or the U.N.’s effort to tax all the nations 1% of their GDP, the Millennium Goals project. All of these different things that come up every few years that are part of this whole poverty industry, and how dangerous that is because it distorts all of the incentives and removes the centerpiece of the ladder for the poor to actually climb up out of poverty, because it removes the profit incentive for people to come and invest and train people in a workforce that’s ultimately productive.”

Jerry: “There’s a quote also in that section of PovertyCure, from Sir Bob Geldof: “We need to do something, even if it doesn’t work or help.””

Fr. Sirico: “And then do it over and over again.”

Jerry: “Isn’t that selfishness? ‘I’m trading dollars for smugness.’ If it’s genuinely charity, if it’s genuinely turning out towards someone, and if it’s genuine altruism, then you would look at the effects. Otherwise it’s just incurvatus in se. It’s just another way of building myself up, buying my charity points.”

Fr. Sirico: “And you see this in the Gospel, don’t you? With the Pharisee who gives a tenth of his belongings and does it for everyone to see, and the poor little woman is so embarrassed with the little bit that she can give, and yet she gives everything.”

Read the full interview on Forbes.

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  • John_In_Michigan

    I would add that a government program can never be considered charitable if it is funded with tax dollars. The power to tax carries civil and criminal penalties if the taxpayer doesn’t pay up. That is much closer to extortion than charity.