Unfortunately, private charity doesn't always have the same priorities as public policy. In the UK, the most popular causes are children, animals, cancer and lifeboats. Overseas causes, for relief of famine, disease or effects of natural disasters, tend to do well, helped by celebrity endorsements and fundraising concerts. Mental illness and disability, ex-offenders and unqualified school leavers are less likely to arouse our compassion. Again, volunteering tends to be most common in areas that need it least. It doesn't help that the coalition's standard narrative is that anyone on benefits probably lives in a Mayfair apartment and anyone claiming to be disabled is most likely faking it.
...Let Maude, David Cameron and their fellow millionaires go ahead with their big society, encouraging individual good works. But let them not imagine that it can substitute for a society big enough to accept collective responsibility for the welfare of all its citizens.
Read the whole thing. Every paragraph sparkles with what I regard as madness.
I would agree with Wilby that individuals give charity in part for narcissistic reasons. And many contributions go to causes I do not share--alumni contributions to universities, for example.
But do those criticisms not apply to government? How much government spending goes to feed narcissism, of politicians or their supporters? How much government spending goes for dubious causes?
It would be lovely if "society" allocated charity based on some wise, omniscient plan. Back in the real world, the question is whether, at the margin, we should want more dollars allocated by politicians or more dollars allocated by individual donors. I prefer individual donors. They will make a lot of choices that will disappoint me, but they will be more motivated to correct their mistakes.