The French Charity Law

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The French government declares that no supermarket can legally throw out food that could go to charity, and you applaud. I won’t deny that it is novel, but can it ever be moral?

How closely would you support an armed do-gooder psychopath who walked into a supermarket and demanded that they start putting their remaining food in a bin to be donated? You might say his heart is more or less in the right place, but could you bring yourself to approve of his methods? Why or why not?

You might say it’s a different case because most people will be traumatised by an armed psychopath, but they will not be traumatised by the threat of force from a government. And so, you might argue, the choice is purely pragmatic, and the end justifies the means. The charity justifies force. Yet, does it? How can you possibly know, if you haven’t yet attempted to initiate this project peacefully?

You might argue it’s pragmatic because starting a charity to buy the food from the supermarket costs money, and using the threat of force from government costs nothing. And you would be very, very wrong. Forcing the supermarkets to comply with this legislation means that the French government must employ hundreds of bureaucrats, and likewise the supermarkets must hire compliance officers. The supermarkets will hire extra hands to sort the food, load it into vehicles, and perhaps they will need to purchase these vehicles and hire drivers to deliver the food. Then the government must pay for the judges’ time to enforce the law, and perhaps the prisons to jail the violators of this legislation. How free is force really? How costly is violence?

The final cost is perhaps the most expensive – the moral cost. If you attempt to control people, to force people to do something for the greater good – without first attempting a peaceful method, and without first considering the real cost – saying that the end justifies the means … where does it end? Is there any use of force that you could not justify?