Question: What is the Objectivist position on charity for the poor, children who are poor, and the disabled?
Answer: Objectivism holds that there is nothing wrong with charity, so long as one is pursuing one's own values in providing it. As Ayn Rand said, charity is a marginal issue: it is not especially noble to engage in it, but if pursued prudently and seriously, and not at the cost of other important values, it can be a source of good for one's society and ultimately one's self. Objectivists tend to view their donations to causes as investments in some kind of improvement: a better culture, a better city, etc. But like investments, these require attention to make sure they are paying off.
The Objectivist view of charity is very different from most traditional moralities, such as Christian ethics or secular altruism. These ethics esteem self-sacrifice. They are contemptuous of wealth and are suspicious of individuals who seek achievement and happiness for the sake of their own well-being here on earth. These ethics see greed as a major vice and charity as a major virtue. Many ethicists and religious leaders today believe that those who are successful have an obligation to support those who are not. They see incompetence as having a claim on competence, and they seem to think wealth is created by making other people poor.
Objectivism rejects the altruist premise of self-sacrifice. It holds that what is most morally admirable is achievement, productivity, and rationality, all in the service of one's own life and happiness. This doesn't mean that we should crush others underfoot; we benefit from benevolent relations with others. This can include generous support of causes and individuals we think deserve extra support. (You can read more about the Objectivist view of benevolence in David Kelley's monograph Unrugged Individualism .)
Objectivism sees benevolent generosity as the complement of justice, not its antithesis.
Objectivism sees benevolent generosity as the complement of justice, not its antithesis. One reason we don't have blanket obligations to support “the poor,” for example, is because many poor people are poor because of their own choices and congenital vices. You mention poor children, on the other hand, and here at least we may see opportunities to invest in people and see results, since children can be taught better ways of living. But mere charity is not necessarily helpful even in the case of children, as generations of government welfare programs and decades of ever-rising public school spending have proved.
Indeed, even to some degree in the case of children, Objectivism holds that the best we can do for others is grant them benevolent independence, an open field for achievement in a free society. This will encourage virtues of independence and productivity in parents, and allow diligent and talented children to experience the rewards of these traits. The ethics of self-sacrifice holds that the poor should envy the rich, and the rich should feel guilt. Rather than making envy the standard of social obligation, Objectivism seeks to make individualism and mutual respect the hallmarks of our society. If we can achieve this, this may help untie the knot of social pathologies that gets so much attention from today's social planners and would-be social improvers.
Ultimately, each of us is responsible for our own lives. This must lie at the heart of any moral system based on the facts of human nature. Objectivism recognizes this, and the Objectivist view of charity as morally marginal is a consequence. If you want to help strangers, go ahead. But don’t feel any prouder of yourself than if you had bought a Porsche.