John Stossel: Want to give back? Start a business
But when you give, do you know your money will help someone?
Social workers say, "Don't give to beggars." Those who do give are "enablers," helping alcoholics and drug users to continue bad habits. It's better to give to charities that help the "homeless." I put "homeless" in quotes because my TV producers have quietly followed a dozen of the more convincing beggars after "work," and all had homes.
Their success, however, means that people who give them money, no matter how good their intentions, are not engaging in real charity. Giving may make you feel better, but it doesn't make the world a better place.
Years ago, Ted Turner was praised for donating a billion dollars to the United Nations. He said he wanted to "guilt" other billionaires into giving more and told me Warren Buffet was "cheap" for giving too little.
But giving it a second thought, I found a fallacy in Turner's argument. The U.N. is a wasteful bureaucracy, leading me to assume it squandered Turner's gift. Buffet, meanwhile, continued to direct his investors' money to growing companies. Based on Buffet's stock-picking success, his investments were probably a more productive use of capital than Turner's. Money went to people making better products, inventing better things, creating more jobs and so on. Maybe Buffet's stock picks are now funding the next Bill Gates.
OK, so people who give away a billion dollars don't want to hear skepticism about their gift. But there's little doubt capitalism helps people more. Even rock star Bono from U2 has come to understand that. He used to call for more government spending on foreign aid. Now he says: "Aid is just a stopgap. Commerce, entrepreneurial capitalism take more people out of poverty."
I applaud those who give to charity, but let's not forget that it's capitalists (honest ones, not those who feed off government) who do the most for the poor. They do more good for the world than politicians — and more even than do-gooders working for charities.
John Stossel is host of "Stossel" on the Fox Business Network, and the author of "No They Can't! Why Government Fails, but Individuals Succeed."