April 8, 2010; Washington Examiner | Longtime consumer reporter John Stossel is probably better known nowadays for his truculent libertarianism, usually as a guest on Fox’s O’Reilly Report. In this article, he is absolutely correct that most people haven’t the foggiest idea what a libertarian is (Stossel claims to have turned libertarian after he wised up from his time as a “Kennedy-style ‘liberal’”.

In this piece from the Examiner, Stossel tries to explain libertarian in response to his wife’s initial reaction that libertarianism was “cruel” and led to a “let them starve” attitude to the poor. Stossel responds by explaining the evils of the welfare state, citing the founder of ifeminists.com that “the biggest hindrance to the poor…right now is the government.” He quotes libertarian economist Jeffry Miron who says that “in some cases [a libertarian policy] might be a little cruel, but it means you’re not taking from people who’ve worked hard to earn their income [in order] to give it to people who have not worked hard.”

What’s in Stossel’s argument for charity and philanthropy? He quotes Miron approvingly saying that in eschewing government aid, “the number of people who will suffer is likely to be very small, [but] private charity…will provide support for the vast majority who would be poor in the absence of some kind of support.”

At a minimum, two flaws in the Miron/Stossel argument merit attention: (1) the notion that charity will take care of those in need flies against the entire history of this nation, notwithstanding the charitable generosity of the American donor (abetted, of course, by the non-libertarian scheme of charitable tax deductions); and (2) the nonprofit sector has many more functions than providing services to the poor, including research (like the Manhattan Institute where Stossel’s brother is a senior fellow), advocacy, organizing, culture, journalism, and education—like his own eponymous nonprofit, Stossel in the Classroom.—Rick Cohen