The conquest of poverty (to borrow the title of Henry Hazlitt's classic) requires just two weapons: wealth and compassion. So the only real question is: Who can better provide these – civil society ("the market") or the political state?
The answer as it regards wealth has now been settled: "[C]apitalism has won," conceded left-aligned economic historian Robert Heilbroner in 1989. "Socialism," conversely, "has been a great tragedy this century."
Paul Samuelson's famous textbook a few years later deemed state production the "failed model." It is a society of free people, not coercive government, that produces wealth. And yet, most bizarrely, liberals still believe it is government, not people, that possesses the compassion necessary to redistribute some of that wealth to those who find themselves in need of aid (a percentage of any population). Society will starve the poor, but the State won't.
How did it come to that? Mostly from the premise If government doesn't do it, it doesn't get done. But if we followed that consistently, we'd wind up right back with the "failed model" of socialist state planning of production and everything else, e.g., Stalin and Ceausescu's prohibition of abortion or the Chinese Communists' imposition of (even late-term) abortion. It is a premise refuted by an insight from an American Founder. We know Madison and his politics of limited government, we know Jefferson and his morality of individual rights, but we often forget Paine and his philosophy of the primacy of society over the State:
A great part of that order which reigns among mankind is not the effect of government. It had its origin in the principles of society and the natural constitution of man. It existed prior to government, and would exist if the formality of government was abolished. The mutual dependence and reciprocal interest which man has upon man, and all parts of a civilized community upon each other, create that great chain of connection which holds it together. The landholder, the farmer, the manufacturer, the merchant, the tradesman, and every occupation, prospers by the aid which each receives from the other, and from the whole. Common interest regulates their concerns, and forms their laws; and the laws which common usage ordains, have a greater influence than the laws of government. In fine, society performs for itself almost every thing which is ascribed to government.
We don't need state charities for the same reason we don't need state churches, state families, or state anything else, i.e., we don't need state socialism because we already have civil society. Government, organized armed force, exists only to provide governance -- basically, defense against the violent criminal element (domestic and foreign, e.g., bin Laden). Condemning limited government for not performing the functions of the charity, the church, the family, the firm, the school, and the other organs of the body politic is like condemning the skeleton for not performing the functions of the brain, the heart, the stomach, the liver, the lungs, and the other organs of the body proper. Freedom is the framework that secures all other virtues.
Ironically, the widely expressed fear that people won't voluntarily help those who can't help themselves -- the foremost objection to the free market -- is self-refuting. If everyone is concerned about the poor primarily, then what's the problem? Religionists and secularists of virtually all stripes proclaim identical sentiments when it comes to aiding the less fortunate. And yet we have this theater-of-the-absurd chorus with each member wailing that he alone cares about his fellow man.