Don’t Like the Welfare State? Take Responsibility

No welfare state doesn't mean no charity, as J.J. Watt and many others demonstrate.
June 13, 2018 Updated: June 15, 2018

In the wake of a tragic shooting at a Santa Fe school, NFL star J.J. Watt offered to pay for the funerals of the victims. Football fans will not be surprised by this gesture. Watt is even more prolific at helping those in need, from large donations and fundraising campaigns to spending time with children in hospitals, than he is at intimidating opposing offenses from his place on the Houston Texans’ defensive line.

I’ll confess that in the past, I’ve scoffed at Watt’s seemingly unending community involvement, though my reaction was more to what I saw as the media using his good acts to tug at peoples’ heartstrings. Either way, I was wrong.

I believe that if we want less government than we have now, we as individuals must learn to be more generous and more connected in our communities, and that can only happen through cultural change. Watt’s work, and even the media buzz that follows in its wake, exemplifies all of these things. Watt is a model for how society can care for itself, privately and voluntarily.

A simple Google search will quickly show Watt’s generosity, but let me touch on some highlights. After Hurricane Harvey, Watt helped raise a staggering $37 million for flood victims in his adopted hometown of Houston through a viral funding campaign on the site YouCaring. His Justin J. Watt Foundation has made hundreds of smaller donations, usually a few thousand dollars, to after-school athletic programs.

He’s also extremely generous with his time: The internet abounds with stories of Watt spending time with young fans, many of whom are suffering. We can’t all give what Watt can, especially monetarily, but we can all give something.

Watt doesn’t just throw money at problems; he understands the role of personal connection. He touches lives through those meetings with fans. He didn’t just donate to Harvey flood relief; he started a sweeping campaign that got other people and businesses involved. And much of Watt’s giving is focused on his own community, where he best understands needs and how to meet them.

How about cultural change? That’s where the media comes in. I’ve come to realize that all those stories I didn’t want to watch on ESPN serve a much greater purpose than just tugging on heartstrings. All those kids who idolize Watt, one of the great players of his generation, are seeing that a hero does a lot more than win football games.

It’s funny: When I write about all of Watt’s good work, I end up sounding just as fawning as the media coverage at which I used to roll my eyes. It’s hard not to. And I’m aware of no political agenda on Watt’s part, but that’s exactly the point. Private and voluntary giving and connecting can function outside the realm of our political debate, and show how government programs aren’t necessary for a caring society.

Max Gulker is a senior research fellow at the American Institute for Economic Research. Gulker holds a doctorate in economics from Stanford University and a bachelor’s in economics from the University of Michigan.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.