"Let the churches handle it" is a pretty common refrain amongst armchair Libertarians looking for a way to shift the costs of society off taxpayers and on to a private entity. But how would it really work? Is there any country on Earth that would be a model for this behavior?
Yes, yes there is. Haiti
Haiti should not be the model for America’s future
What would it mean to do what they’re suggesting? What would it look like if we took government out of the picture, “liberating” health care, education and assistance for the poor from the hands of government and leaving it entirely up to the free market and to churches and private charities?
As it happens, this is not a hypothetical question. We know precisely what this would look like because we have a model of precisely this kind of society: Haiti.
Haiti, one year after the earthquake. Photo by Mario Tama via Bag News Notes. (Click for link.)
Haiti is exactly the kind of society these folks are clamoring for. It’s a picture of just exactly what they want for America’s future.
Haiti is, in a sense, an even purer form of this model. Here in America, after all, the private sector and private charities are still bound by government rules and regulations, so even if America’s government retreated from health, education and welfare, it would still “interfere” by enforcing all those rules about fraud, safety, liability, etc. There’s little such government interference in Haiti, where the private sector and private charities compete in freewheeling freedom. (“The Haitian government doesn’t even know how many NGOs are operating within its borders,” report Kathie Klarreich and Linda Polman. “No one does.”)
American government also interferes by instituting all kinds of infrastructure and by artificially enforcing legal order through its police function. Those forms of government interference are far less intrusive in Haitian society.
Haiti is also a sterling example of what it looks like when the binary notion of undifferentiated, exclusive public/private responsibility is put into practice. It settles our ongoing “debate” over the relationship between government and civil society. Some say government support is essential for the institutions of civil society — schools, businesses, hospitals, clinics, voluntary associations, families, clubs, libraries, etc. — to thrive. Others say the government is only interfering — that it should just get out of the way and “let the churches do it” or “let the private sector and the free market” deal with it. Haiti shows us what the latter idea looks like in practice.