Following weeks of allegations by former employees of the Wounded Warrior Project, the board of the non-profit group fired its CEO and COO. In a statement, the board acknowledged the need to “restore trust in the organization.” At any rate, the charity will continue assisting American vets when there’s no other help available.
Which brings up one simple question: Why does Wounded Warrior Project exist?
As with all “simple” questions, there’s a long and a short answer. The short answer is the federal government does a terrible job of doing anything for veterans after they’ve served. The longer answer is that Wounded Warrior, like many other multimillion or even multibillion dollar charities, exists to perform a public function that the government should be doing, but which does not do for any number of reasons.
Today, we’re conditioned to think that it’s proper to outsource services which should be fully funded by taxes, like caring for veterans. Instead we believe non-profits should be doing this work and they should be funded, voluntarily, by the citizens. This is not in the public interest, and it’s not altruism at work.
When we allow ourselves to be fooled that charitable giving is somehow more noble than paying taxes simply because charity isn’t forced upon us by the government, we also fall into the trap of believing that some people are more worthy of our help than others — in this case wounded servicemen and -women. Instead of larger public policy programs aimed at helping everyone, we get these piecemeal attempts at feel-good, emotional giving that allow the larger problems of late capitalism to fester unabated.
In another example of how the concept of individual choice works against the public good, look at how school choice is gutting school systems. Or look at how the deterioration of the social safety net in this country ties into the rise of the charitable-industrial complex. When we’re allowed to pick and choose who gets the money and the “awareness” and the help, we’re by definition leaving others by the wayside. Moreover, we’re allowing corporations to shunt the burdens they should rightly bear right back onto “we the people,” the very individuals who are feeding them money in the first place.
Corporations and the rich get gigantic tax breaks, while the average working person in America gets solicited every single day to give to charities that are doing the work that tax money should do, and often used to do. So, you can be angry with a couple of bozos who sought to turn a veterans charity into just another trademarked brand-name, or you can properly place the blame on an entire society that has allowed the idea that selling off public sector services to private entities, even nonprofit ones, is a good idea. It isn’t, and the Wounded Warrior scandal is proof of that in many ways.
However, it’s not simply the nonprofits which get flagged for egregious abuses of donor money that are the real problem. They’re merely an example of what happens in any given system, public or private, if a proper level of oversight isn’t maintained. So, this isn’t about whether or not the CEO and COO of Wounded Warrior were crooked. And it isn’t about how “not all charities” are corrupt. It’s more about the culture and industry of nonprofit charities in the first place.
Again, as with my recent piece on Charleston’s homeless charities, my problem is not with the people who run these charities or the people who honestly feel they’re called to tackle certain issues. No one, myself included, believes that all charities are scams or that all charity employees are getting rich off of donations. Most charities are well-intentioned yet ultimately harmful endeavors that prevent immediate and effective changes from taking place in our country.
But wait a minute, you might say, the rich and corporations donate lots of money to charity, don’t they? Well, yes they do, but their reasons for doing so, and the mechanisms that charity enable simply don’t offset the overall cost to society. K.J. Kearney wrote a fantastic piece three weeks ago about his problems with Home Depot’s Retool Your School program, which is little more than a public relations campaign for a multibillion dollar company to help it avoid paying for ad time. You should read the article if you haven’t.
So, for the time being, it seems like this is just how America is going to deal with its ongoing problems. I won’t tell anyone not to donate to a charity if they feel like it, but you should damn well be asking your elected officials why they don’t feel like the government should be lending a hand.