Sixty years ago this September, 100 young conservatives launched Young Americans for Freedom at William F. Buckley’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. There they wrote the Sharon Statement, the new organization’s founding document, which has been described by the New York Times as the “seminal document” of the Conservative Movement. The principles that it puts forth still ring true 60 years later. Today, the Sharon Statement serves as the foundational document for more than 500 YAF chapters nationwide.

In this series, “We As Young Conservatives Believe”, we will break down the Sharon Statement and look more closely at how it continues to speak to young Americans today.

Clause #8:

“We as young conservatives believe…”

“That when government interferes with the work of the market economy, it tends to reduce the moral and physical strength of the nation; that when it takes from one man to bestow on another, it diminishes the incentive of the first, the integrity of the second, and the moral autonomy of both;”

“Suppose I see an elderly lady sleeping on the great downtown Washington. It’s the dead of winter. She’s cold, she’s hungry, she needs shelter, she needs some medical attention. Suppose I walk up to one of you with a gun in my hand, and I say, ‘Give me your two hundred dollars.’ Now having gotten your two hundred dollars, I go downtown and buy the lady some medical attention and some food and some shelter. Would you find me guilty of a crime? You should find me guilty of a crime. You should find me guilty of theft.”

When Dr. Walter Williams spoke at Young America’s Foundation’s 41st annual National Conservative Student Conference, he posed that scenario to the hundreds of students in attendance. He wanted to emphasize that the act of charity does not change the fact that a crime was committed.

When people want to use government money for a cause, they take the place of the individual with a gun in the above scenario. They just use the government as a proxy by which to take their fellow citizens’ money by the threat of force. If anyone doubts that the government relies on the threat of force, imagine what would happen if someone refused to pay their taxes. It would not take much time for the IRS agents to show up at their house!

Dr. Williams is not saying that we should not want to help our fellow citizens, he most certainly thinks we should! When answering a student’s question following his speech, he noted that “When I talk about government playing a very limited role, it does not mean that I don’t think we should help our fellow man in need. But I think that helping our fellow man in need by reaching into one’s own pockets to do so is praiseworthy and laudable. Helping our fellow many by reaching into somebody else’s pockets to do so is worthy of condemnation.”

And that is the key distinction. Too many people, especially politicians, are perfectly happy to be generous with other people’s money. But this creates moral hazards. Rather than helping their fellow citizens in their community themselves, those who insist on doing their charity through the government instead contract it out to some bureaucrat. This enables people to have a feeling of moral superiority while avoiding having to actually do anything themselves to help people.

All of this also ignores government’s inefficiency. When future President Ronald Reagan delivered his A Time for Choosing speech, he noted just how inefficient the government’s aid to the poor was. “We’re spending 45 billion dollars on welfare. Now do a little arithmetic, and you’ll find that if we divided the 45 billion dollars up equally among those 9 million poor families, we’d be able to give each family 4,600 dollars a year. And this added to their present income should eliminate poverty. Direct aid to the poor, however, is only running only about 600 dollars per family. It would seem that someplace there must be some overhead.” Unfortunately, the same problems exist today. It’s not as if the government has gotten any more efficient since then.

It is our responsibility to help our fellow citizens in need. When people instead try to use the government, they are trying to unload that responsibility onto the government. Not only is the government a poor substitute for help, but relying on it removes our personal moral responsibility to each other.

To read the previous post in this series, click here.

To read the next post in this series, click here.


Karl Stahlfeld is the associate director of YAF’s Center for Entrepreneurship & Free Enterprise.