Red Dirt Liberty Report: Good Will is Not Charity
I’m probably a little bit of a wet blanket when it comes to the first of January each year. It’s one of the least important holidays to me. The passing of a demarcation in time just doesn’t seem worthy of celebration. It’s mostly just a change in the number on a calendar and an annoying item to remember when I have to write the date and get used to signing an 18 instead of a 17. The best periods of time don’t come as a neat demarcation on the calendar, and self-improvement rarely is motivated by a certain date. A date doesn’t motivate me to slap my hands away from that next donut, but rather it comes at a time when I catch a glimpse of my gut in the mirror and just demand better of myself.
However, with it seeming to be the convention to celebrate a passage of one-time interval to the next, here’s me holding up my glass of champagne in hopes for a bright and shiny new year! And, here’s me, telling 2017, “No, you are not number one. That’s a different finger.”
Now, with that out of the way, I’ll get to the topic of this article.
Since we are just coming out of the more charitable season, I’ll address a discussion regarding charity.
I have a particular disdain for people and businesses I view as deceptive and misleading. The company called Goodwill Industries is one of those. I am not a fan. This business is technically a nonprofit that is made up of over 200 different entities. While enjoying a nonprofit status, these entities actually behave quite a bit more like for profit businesses than they do nonprofit. I don’t make any donations to them, because I believe they should have to purchase their inventory like any for-profit business. If you want to donate your clothing and other times to a business that will likely just sell them for a profit, then by all means – power to you, and power to them for that matter. I just don’t want to contribute.
When I contribute to charitable causes, I prefer to make donations to operations that have a percentage of donations that goes to administration as close to 0% as possible. It’s even better giving directly to a person that needs it. I’d like to recommend Being Libertarian’s sister organization of Voluntarism in Action if you’re interested. To be fair, the parent company of Goodwill Industries reports somewhere around 91% of its money from operations goes to its goals “that further the organization’s purpose of working to enhance the dignity and quality of life of individuals and families by strengthening communities, eliminating barriers to opportunity, and helping people in need reach their full potential through learning and the power of work.” However, that is just the parent company, and these goals are not well defined. It’s flexible enough to mean a wide variety of things.
Another criticism of Goodwill is that a majority of these Goodwill entities employ a number of workers through a loophole in the minimum wage laws, known as the Special Wage Certificate program, which allows an organization to employ people who are disabled at rates below the minimum wage. Many people accuse Goodwill of taking advantage of these people and exploiting them for the purpose of not only looking more nonprofit-like, but also to add profits to the bottom line at the expense of people less able to defend themselves.
Now, before I deride Goodwill completely, and in order to show their leadership this is not an article intended to place them in a bad light, I’d like to speak out of both sides of my mouth. I’d like to defend Goodwill – to an extent. I may believe that they are a bit misleading about their organization, but I support their efforts, nonetheless, insofar as any business or entity should have every right to pursue operations in whatever way they best see fit, so long as it does not involve fraud, theft, or the use of force. There is a difference between being misleading and being fraudulent, and I would not go so far as to accuse Goodwill of fraud. If they are not lying to the public about where the donations go and how funds are used, then they have every right to do as they wish. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to see that Goodwill is more similar to a for-profit than it is to a nonprofit, but that’s up to the public to decide for themselves.
As far as paying lower wages to people with disabilities, the disabled people who are working for these wages are doing so of their own free will or under the oversight and permission of a guardian. If both parties are willing, no one else really has the moral high ground in denying a free transaction of labor. There should be no minimum wage anyway. Any wage a person freely accepts is a fair wage and is dictated both by the labor markets and by individual acceptance. Without these lower wages, it might very well be that these jobs might not be available. I might personally believe that Goodwill would better accomplish the goals of giving a disabled person a real sense of self-worth and dignity by paying better wages, but I’d rather people have work available than not.
I personally do not view Goodwill as a charity, but by every legal status and according to all government agencies, it is an official charity. I believe a charity should operate more like a charity than a business – giving help to people that need it in a more direct way. Maybe I’m just blind, but I have never witnessed Goodwill doing anything but pick up donations and sell them at various retail locations – like any other retailer, except that their cost of goods is essentially $0. However, I cannot fault an organization for operating in whatever fashion it chooses, so long as it is not in injury to others. Retailing goods at $0 cost and with tax exempt status is a bit of an unfair advantage, but maybe we should make all businesses tax exempt. I would discourage people from making donations to Goodwill if your goal is to donate to charity, but you’d have to decide whether Goodwill does a good job of charity for yourself. Maybe someone could show me more evidence of charity work at Goodwill, and I would gladly change my mind. But, in the meantime, let them be, and draw your own conclusions as to what they are.
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