Ask Me To Give, Not Give Back

tumblr_m6wm94et4i1ryf5o3o1_400

This column originally appeared in the Barnes County Independent.

The holiday season is upon us, and one of the things I like best about this time of year is the focus on charity. Whatever your religion or belief system, there is something wonderful about a time of year when our entire nation tries to focus on being thankful for what we have and helping those around us.

There is something irksome in the way we talk about charity this time of year, though. We are inundated with a lot of messages telling us to “give back.” Pitch after pitch for charity tells us to “give something back this holiday season.”

Give something, sure, but why is it that we’re giving something back?

I detest that phrase not because I’m at all opposed to charity – I believe in it wholeheartedly and aspire to live a charitable sort of life – but rather because it supposes that what we have to give came at the expense of somebody else. If I’m to give back then what I’m giving back must have been something I’ve first taken from someone else, right?

I don’t think those who use the phrase do so out of malice. It’s just something that has become ingrained in our lexicon. But the premise behind the phrase is one born of economic illiteracy, and it is important that we not cave to such ignorance, even unwittingly.

There are a lot of people who believe that economics is a zero sum game. They believe that there is only so much wealth to be had, and if one group of people gets more wealthy that means there is less wealth available for others. Thus, they believe that all wealth comes at the expense of others. From this flows a preference for equal economic outcomes achieved through the policies wealth redistribution.

But that’s now how it actually works. Wealth isn’t static. Wealth is created.

Let me give you an example. Suppose I have $100,000 and I want to build a new home. I take that $100,000 and spend in on contractors and supplies and all the other things it takes to build a home. At the end of the building the $100,000 is gone, but I now have a new asset in the form of a brand new home that is worth (assuming I did it right) more than the $100,000 I invested.

That’s a net gain for me, but it doesn’t stop there. The $100,000 I put into building the home went into the pockets of the contractors and suppliers who helped me build the home. They all benefited from this transaction too, selling their skills and labor and supplies to me at a profit.

In the process of building a new home, I not only enriched myself but I enriched a wide group of people around me. The same goes for somebody who builds a business. They supply goods and/or services to the public at large and turn a profit for themselves, but along the way by necessity they create jobs and commerce for other people and businesses.

We often talk about profit, and wealth accumulation, as though these were selfish motives. But I’d posit that it is impossible to turn a profit, or become wealthy, without also creating wealth and prosperity for others. That is the wonderful thing about the free market. Even if you act purely in your own self interest, even if your only goal is profit for yourself, it is impossible to turn that profit without creating jobs, commerce and wealth for others.

The greatest force in the world fighting against poverty isn’t charity but rather the free market system in which free people are allowed to make free decisions in pursuit of their own self interest.

Which brings me back to this whole “give back” thing and the presumption that, by prospering, I’ve somehow taken from society at large and must balance the ledger. That is wrong-headed.

Please, ask me to give. We should all be happy to help our neighbors, not for profit but rather for the simple pleasure that comes with helping someone else. Just don’t ask me to give back.

Rob Port is the editor of SayAnythingBlog.com. In 2011 he was a finalist for the Watch Dog of the Year from the Sam Adams Alliance and winner of the Americans For Prosperity Award for Online Excellence. In 2013 the Washington Post named SAB one of the nation's top state-based political blogs, and named Rob one of the state's best political reporters. He writes a weekly column for several North Dakota newspapers, and also serves as a policy fellow for the North Dakota Policy Council.

Related posts

  • Sherry Gray

    My government check is late, what do I do?

    • sbark

      …..put your entitlement prayer matt out to the East toward DC………and pray to Obama, the Dem’cats Messiah, for deliverance, or you could just go out, drive around and covet other peoples property and steal it……..

      • camsaure

        The lefties have become to lazy to steal most of them demand the govt to do the stealing for them, also helping them with their guilt.

    • Roy_Bean

      It appears like you steal someone’s good name and post mindless drivel on a blog. How’s the weather up in Hazen?

    • guest

      Get a job.

    • banjo kid

      Panic !

    • camsaure

      I don’t know, Call Heidi?

  • Thresherman

    “Give Something Back” has a total different meaning depending on where it comes from. In the private sector, it means the willing donation of a portion of one’s prosperity to those less fortunate. This is the heart of what charity is all about. But when the government says “Give Something Back” they really mean that “We are going to use the force and power of law to take your money from you and do with it as we wish.” This is confiscation and not charity. While I can understand the sentiment expressed in the post, I think rather we should express caution lest we begin to color everything through a political lens.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      That’s true buy not really my point. In the private sector or public, if I’m giving back isn’t the presumption that I took it to begin with?

      • Thresherman

        I think that is putting to fine a point on it and as I said, it tends to give a political meaning to something where one was not intended. Remember, the phrase first started as a way for a donor to explain his donation, usually a financial one, in return for the support of a community during his youth.
        But if we are to follow your meaning, then should we also criticize Pay It Forward as “Pay” means something is owed? We could probably go down the list of chariies and find something to quibble about in how they go about asking for donations, but I that would simply show a jaded view that is at odds with the true intent of the charities.

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          “it tends to give a political meaning to something where one was not intended.”

          Maybe, but words mean things.

  • Sherry Gray

    We need more Community Organizers in politics & government if America is to survive Capitalism corruption. Only government can create wealth & jobs.

  • WOOF

    We are born into this world with nothing,
    we all owe others.

    • two_amber_lamps

      (sigh) Why do you hate yourself so much Comrade Woof?

      • kevindf

        Woof is very guilty about something.

    • guest

      All men are created equal. After that, you’re on your own, you moron.
      But, since you feel that you owe, post your home address so we can all come and collect what you believe you owe us.

      • WOOF

        I remember you, the one I gave to the she wolf to suckle.
        How’s Rome ?

        • guest

          If you had a functional mind you might remember something.
          Rome? You are a very confused little nebish.

        • guest

          So how about your home address so all of us can come and get what you owe?

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      That’s just something people who want other people’s stuff say.

      • WOOF

        No one wants other peoples”stuff” more than business. They want the harbor dredged for boats. They want free land and right away for their railroads. They want a freeway with an exit to their factory. They want dispensation from their taxes. They want forgiveness of their debt and their sin. Limit of their liability. They want the blood of others shed for their protection and promotion.

        • guest

          obama voters want other peoples stuff, that’s why sh*theads like you voted for him. You and the others like you are just useless moochers.

        • mickey_moussaoui

          lol, what a fake POS you are. I suppose you live like a monk

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          I’m add against corporate welfare as much as I’m against other types of welfare, poodle.

        • camsaure

          I guess you are talking about people whom have already got off their butts and accomplished something. That would be something you have never even tried to accomplish yet, but I digress. If you are trying to refer to “crony capitalism” I am against that also, but maybe you should ask your “der leader” about that problem. Are they not paying “blog cloggers” enough to move out of mama’s basement yet? Not to worry, you now have untill, thanks to obuma, untill your 26 to grow up..

    • banjo kid

      the only ones you owe is mother an dad or who ever raised you .

      • mickey_moussaoui

        correction: “whatever” raised him

        • banjo kid

          Toupee !

      • camsaure

        And she was maybe against abortion untill she saw what she helped produce.

        • banjo kid

          What do you guys eat for breakfast ? razor blade soup?

    • mickey_moussaoui

      The real HONEST question for you, mr puppy, is; “If you could choose between world peace or ALL of Bill Gates money…what color of Ferrari would YOU buy” ?

    • camsaure

      Yeah, and you still have nothing and never will if you can’t get off your a$$ and get something for your self. Are you ghetting so nlazy that you need the govt to do your stealing for you?

  • Mel

    I am so with you. All of my customers are out of state. I could live anywhere, but I choose to live in Fargo because it’s a nice little community. I’m not taking anything from this community. In fact, by choosing to live here and spend my money here, I rather think I’m already making a positive contibution.
    Frankly, the left has sucked the joy out of giving for the sake of giving.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      And they also assume that making yourself a success isn’t a form of giving in its own right.

    • kevindf

      All the people on the state payroll won’t like to hear that!

  • Shery Gray

    How can I get my government check bigger?

    • guest

      Bend over more often for the likes of obama.

    • banjo kid

      Have more babies and don’t kill them .

    • camsaure

      Are you any less of a whore if you bend over for the govt?

    • banjo kid

      Ask politely to have your check printed on bigger paper.

    • yy4u2

      Like the stretch marks from your govt master around your mouth and a$$hole? You are a govt whore, Mike.

    • WOOF

      Reading glasses

  • banjo kid

    Yes it is an indication you got what you have by someone giving it to you , who knows I don’t but most people work for what they have , I agree ask to give but not give back . It really has a more sinister connotation than that it is as though you took it and they would like to have some of it back. Work is not in the vocabulary of the left .

  • kevindf

    That’s the justification for the “death tax.” The people who impose it are too cowardly to tax the living.

    • camsaure

      Maybe, Actually I wish that was so, Well sort of anyway. They just want everyone to pay but themselves. Just ask W Buffet.

  • Waski_the_Squirrel

    To give comes from the heart. To give back implies a sort of quid pro quo and does not come from the heart. Giving is noble. Giving back is paying.

    Which one calls us to a higher purpose?

  • $8194357

    I am no longer an orphan, my Family is Royalty….

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tHM9hh1sanU

  • Matthew Hawkins

    its the myth of self reliance. That everything you earned was from your efforts and you had NO assistance from anybody.

    • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

      I’m not surprised that someone who still lives with mom and dad would think that, and certainly I’m not arguing that we don’t all benefit from living in a society. That is, after all, the basis of the free market is people benefiting all of society by bettering themselves.

      That’s what you don’t understand. Prospering doesn’t mean you took from someone else.

      • banjo kid

        I think I might have woof figured out he thinks that if you buy something from someone they owe you . it is like the roofer because he charged to do the roofing job now owes you. LOL what a thought process .

        • http://sayanythingblog.com Rob

          You’re probably not far off the mark.

          This idea of mutually beneficial transactions seems foreign to them.

    • camsaure

      Yeah, and I can already see what you are going to amount to.

  • sbark

    Where oh where are the Democrats of Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country……….
    Where are the Democrats of the days of the 60’s where they’d call a avowed communits like Obama’s mentor Frank Marshal Davis in front of congress for inquiry?
    Now its just a litteral war against our economy and society as a whole.
    Their loyalty has went from the JFK days 100% for the USA……..all the way to where they stand up for the New Black Panthers over voters wanting to get into the precinct.

    • camsaure

      The left would have wanted JFK dead in these times. Curious how far left the country has moved isn’t it?

      • sbark

        Where are the GOP politicians that used to call the radical left wing out ……Allen West, but the GOP basically redistricted him out of Congress.

        Now we sit and watch Boehnor purging Tea Party House members out of key committee assingments………

        Appears the moderate ruling class elite GOP is once again ready and willing to capitulate to the Left.

        A statesman thinks of the next generation – a politician thinks of the next election.

  • Sherry Gray

    Only government creates wealth & happiness. Obama 2016

  • cylde

    Yes, i was on the receiving end of govt. benefits while in grade school and high school, but after that i paid my way or earned it( the GI bill). I paid all that back and more in 40 some years of working and paying taxes plus private giving that i have continued in my retirement. I do not owe anyone a dime, but i am grateful to have been born in this country, for that i can thank my parents.

    • banjo kid

      I have never been on welfare but I did get two vouchers for food once because I ask the VA . At the time I was recouping from open heart surgery and had three children who where hungry, The wife was a tad hungry also , I can last a bit longer but the kids need food now . The idea behind welfare is to give a hand up not a hand out .

Top