Thomas Sowell‘s latest column analyzes a New York Times writer’s criticism of longtime Apple CEO Steve Jobs for his record of charitable donations.

Americans in general — whether rich, poor or in between — have one of the most remarkable records for donating not only money but time to all sorts of charitable endeavors. Privately financed hospitals, colleges and innumerable other institutions abound in the United States, while they are rare to non-existent in many other countries, where such things are usually left to government or to religious organizations.

However, with charity as with everything else, it cannot simply be assumed that more is always better. A “safety net” can easily become a hammock. “Social justice” can easily become class warfare that polarizes a nation, while leading those at the bottom into the blind alley of resentments, no matter how many broad avenues of achievement may be available to them.

Judging businesses or their owners by how much wealth they give away — rather than by how much wealth they create — is putting the cart before the horse. Wealth is ultimately the only thing that can reduce poverty. The most dramatic reductions in poverty, in countries around the world, have come from increasing the amount of wealth, rather than from a redistribution of existing wealth.

What kind of world do we want — one in which everyone works to increase wealth to whatever extent they can, or a world in which everyone will be supported by either government handouts or private philanthropy, whether they work or don’t work?