I part company with libertarians who think we can get government out of the charity business. Advocates often seem so infatuated with the free market that they believe it applies everywhere, which is silly; there's no equilibriating mechanism I can see to ensure that the demand for charity equals the supply. So, given that most of us feel a genuine obligation to help the genuinely needy -- those whose physical or intellectual endowments are insufficient for them to earn a decent living -- the government will, at the very least, have to be the charity provider of last resort.I don't think anyone thoughtful is going to claim that supply of welfare will, should, or can meet demand. Welfare is, by definition, not earned on the market. The supply of any good must be rationed. Free goods cannot be rationed by price, so they must be rationed by means other than price. Supply of any free good will always be less than demand.
Ultra-libertarians are on the wrong side of the question of whether a decent society lets the helpless fend for themselves. Conservatives in general may be too optimistic about the possibilities of private charity.
The argument against welfare does not stand upon the question of whether or not "enough" welfare would be generated by a free society. Clearly human wants are unlimited; and so there is never enough free goods.
What we "ultralibertarians" don't like about welfare is not giving out money, per se. Any money or goods a government, or any other corporation has which it is entitled to, it surely has the right to dispense with however it may decide. That's private property, which essentially everyone agrees on. And although trying to do good via handouts is difficult, it is surely possible. What libertarians protest is the means of funding of said handouts - taxes. Involuntary taking. Theft, if done privately, or if performed without the intellectual rationalization of the elite. It's morally wrong.
Until you understand the moral argument against taxation, you will not be able to understand the moral argument against (public) welfare.
Letting the helpless fend for themselves is, agreed, morally problematic. However, it is not morally wrong; we can infer this from the fact that right now, someone else is starving to death who you might easily and at low cost save, by an small contribution to Oxfam or other such charity. Practically everyone reading this has plenty of ability to voluntarity donate more to charity. That you don't is either moral blight (if you truly believe a good person should), moral cowardice, or self-deception -- or else, quite clear evidence that you understand that inaction is, morally, categorically different than action.
Anyone living above the poverty line in the West reveals this morality, by his or her inaction.
Taxation is an action. Only by force, constantly threatened and applied, can a regime of forced wealth extraction persist.
Non-helping is inaction. It's the default state of humanity.
If you believe in working towards a moral society, and you believe that theft is a worse moral evil than inaction in the face of suffering, and you believe that taxation is theft - then you will be compelled by logic to the libertarian position.
I also want to take issue with the idea that a free society will not generate "enough" welfare.
Even if it cannot, then that's still not a sufficent argument to say that we should not seek a free society. I believe the converse, as I argue above. But it does dim the attractiveness of a free society for a lot of people; apparently Ms Galt among them.
How much does America currently spend on welfare? Governments spend about a $400 billion per year. Americans also give on the order of $100b/year to private charity.
Would 1/5 of the current spending on charity be enough? I tend to think so, but then I am the sort of person that think the Great Society a fairly unmitigated failure. Others may believe that much more money is necessary for "adequate" charity.
(Of course, if we abolished public charity, there would be at least somewhat more money given privately simply because people's incomes would be higher. But people would hardly give the full $400b.)
We don't know how much money there would be in a free society for welfare. The data we have are from our current society, and from a much freer, but also much poorer historical America.
Recently Ted Turner gave a billion to the U.N.. Bill Gates gave $20B to his foundation, which does various things. Many other rich men have left foundations, organized to do various things. The total assets controlled by charitable foundations in America must be on the order of hundreds of billions; these should generate on the order of several percentage points in interest that could serve as an ongoing source of welfare.
Of course, currently those revenue streams do not serve as welfare. Rather they are channeled in other ways. But that is because the government already does welfare; there is no point in trying to compete monitarily with a government. When cash-transfer is monopolized by the deep pockets, charitable givers think of other things to do with their fortunes.
100 years ago, Carnegie's money was used to do something he viewed as directly helpful to the (deserving) poor: to endow libraries where you did not have to subscribe to rent books, but where anyone could check them out for free.
These days, Bill Gates' money is "dedicated to improving people's lives by sharing advances in health and learning with the global community". This does not directly help America's poor; I would argue that if there had been no welfare when Gates made the endowment, he might have considered making his foundation's mission something more directly helpful to the American poor. But there was welfare. Overmuch, I would say; but certainly well-covered, by the US federal and state governments. So Gates did something else with his money.
How much capital ownership do you think it would take, earning dividends and interest tax-free, to "adequately" endow enough organizations to provide all necessary charity for the poor, completely privately?
Do you think that America can generate enough money to do that?
If so, then you believe that America could handle welfare completely privately. Without taxation. Morally.