L. Neil Smith's
Number 196, October 28, 2002


Charity, Libertarian Style
by Derek A Benner

Special to TLE

Those of you TLE readers who have perused the Letters to the Editor over the last few issues are familiar with my name, yet you probably don't know much about me. So, as part of this document, I will give you some of my background, as it relates to my topic.

First, I feel the need to explain that I am still working on integrating the Libertarian philosophies with my internal beliefs and my actions. I am a work in progress. So, my views on charity and Libertarianism are just that, my views. They are subject to change through discussion with others, reading books and articles on how charity should work in a Libertarian society, and, life experience as a person trying to receive charity while attempting to follow Libertarian principles. That said, I welcome feedback from all readers.

Now, on to my experiment.

I am currently 44 years old and weigh 560+ pounds. I used to weight 640 pounds back around July of this year, but I have been aggressively pursuing the Atkins diet program and have made some progress. I expect to lose most of my excess weight by around June of 2004, finishing up at a goal weight of 225 pounds. Since I am 6'1", that is a comfortable weight for me. It might take a few months longer to reach my goal weight, but I figure that it took almost twenty years to put on the additional 415 pounds, so I really don't mind if it takes a few extra months to take all the weight off.

However, not only am I one of those people genetically programmed to easily gain weight, I am also one who suffers from Sleep Apnea. Sleep Apnea (SA) is the condition where a person literally stops breathing while asleep. According to my family and ex-girlfriends, I can stop breathing between 60 and 100 times per night. This causes various health problems, including loss of memory, lack of concentration, insomnia (I know, but it's true!), higher blood pressure (as if my B.P. weren't high enough from carrying so much weight!), depression, fatigue and the list goes on. The stress on my heart, alone, will probably shave a year or two off my life if I don't get it corrected.

While SA is exacerbated by my excess body weight, losing the weight will not get rid of my SA. I need to go on a breathing machine at night. Also, every year I continue to suffer from SA while I try to lose weight just increases the chance that I will have a killer heart attack before I can lose down to my goal weight. OK. That just means I've got to get tested to determine what level of breathing assistance I need, right now!

Out here in Sacramento, California, that basically means I must go to a Sleep Lab for an evening and let the good doctors running the lab hook me up and monitor me for the night. Elsewhere, this testing is done at home, but the three medical groups here all have their own sleep labs and expect me to come to the lab, for which I get charged. (Well, it could take all night just to get the monitor readings which mean that I'd have to spend another night there to set the machine's airflow to the proper values. That means I get charged for two nights in the Sleep Lab.) No problem so far, except that the base fee for this test, in the lab, runs to $3,000-$3,500 for the lab and an extra $1,000 for the doctor's diagnosis. If it takes two days, then I'm looking at somewhere between $6,000-$7,000 for the lab plus the $1,000 for the diagnosis. Then, there's the approximately $1,200 for the breathing machine, the hoses, the headstraps, the mask and the nose plugs? This rounds out to between $5,200 (one night, low cost) and $9,200 (two nights, high cost) for the whole process. (Now, I *might* be able to get one of the doctors at one clinic to waive the diagnosis fee because I am unemployed and uninsured. That means I could 'save' $1,000!)

You may notice that I mentioned I am unemployed and uninsured. I last worked on a contract long enough to have insurance in 1999. I last worked on any job in July, 2000. Since then I have run out of all unemployment benefits, including the federal extension, and have also used up my State Disability Insurance. I am totally unemployed at this time. And, considering how difficult it is for employers in this area to make accomodations for me in the workplace, I can understand why I am not being hired. Yes, it is hard and painful for me to work at my current weight. Further, with the fatigue and loss of concentration due to SA, my bosses could only expect about 3 hours per day of real productivity. That is assuming I get a desk job. I cannot even consider a job requiring me to stand as I can only stand still for about 3 - 5 minutes before I must sit down. Also, I have reached a size where only sweat clothes are available. No suits for me. I am, in my present condition, too high maintenance to be worth hiring.

So, I am destitute, and, therefore, I can qualify for SSI. I have also paid enough into Social Security that I can qualify for Disability. Doing so would, in a year, allow me to qualify for Medicare medical coverage. This is, in fact, the exact course of action that my doctor, my mother and my friends have urged me to follow. However, it grates on me to take government-sponsored charity. Sure, I have paid into SS, but we all know that my payments have been going to others already in the system, which means that if I get SSI, SS Disabilty or Medicare, I'll be getting money taken, forcibly, from some other worker's paycheck. I am not going to willingly use money stolen from others.

Well, yesterday, October 22, 2002, I was watching TV and as I was slowly flipping through the channels, I stumbled upon 'The View'. Now normally I don't care for this show as it's just too socialist and anti-gun for me. This time, as I was getting ready to select my next choice, the guest, Penny Hawke, said something about being unwilling to take charity from the government. Wait a minute? Did she say she didn't want government charity? Sure did! Further, she said that she felt that to do so was to increase the tax burden of all other working Americans.

To make a long story short, she had decided that it would be better for her to put up a website and post her story in various Internet forums asking people to come visit the site, and, if they were so inclined, to donate a few dollars to her, even though they couldn't claim the donations for tax purposes. She felt that raising money in this fashion was more honest than getting federal or state money to support her in her efforts to get a divorce and go back to school. Those who were indifferent or who didn't want to get involved could ignore her, those who were curious could check out her site, and those who felt so inclined, could, of their own free will, donate a dollar or more to her.

Something about the whole concept fits my view on charity. To paraphrase L. Neil, 'If the curmudgeon down the street doesn't want to chip in for a new street light (Ahem, for my SA testing), he doesn't have to...', and those who are curious and wish to help, my thanks.

Thus, I have set up some goals that I would like to acheive through donations. These are: raising funds to cover the costs of attending the Sleep Lab and buying the necessary breathing equipment; raising ongoing funds to help defray the food required by the Atkins diet (I am currently not paying anything towards any bill in the house and being able to put money towards my food would be a big relief to my mother.); along the same lines, since I must maintain an active web presence, raising funds to defray the cost of my internet connection and my share of the utility bills for the house; and, finally, to switch from needing donations for the latter two goals, to raise enough money to buy a set of power tools that I might use to make small wood projects and simple furniture that I could sell at the local, weekly, farmer's market. I figure that the last item serves several needs. First, it gets me a chance to build chairs and other items I need that can support a large person. Second, it helps me develop greater stamina through getting out to the garage and using the tools while standing. Third, anything I make that I can sell at the farmer's market will help me to gain a small income which will reduce the need to rely on charity for daily needs. Finally, it gives me a chance to DO something rather than just sit and wait.

Right now, I've got a bare-bones website up at home.attbi.com/~delores.benner/ but I am going to take some ideas given to me by Penny Hawke and rework the site to a larger, multi-page site that contains more information. I hope to have it ready by October 28, 2002, but it might take an extra week. The experiment in Charity, Libertarian Style, begins now!


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