The social corrosion brought on by the growth of government, and from advocates of greater government dominance, has many symptoms, but hostility to private giving and charitable work is one of its ugliest manifestations. There is a notion among leftists that almost any charitable gift could better serve its intended purpose were it simply turned over to a government agency tasked with an “appropriate” role. The attitude is partly explained by a fallacy of central planning, that charitable efforts scale so readily that the state should always be in charge, and indeed, a fallacy that the state has better information, is more effective at guiding outcomes, and could accomplish more were it not for obstacles created by pesky private efforts.
Even worse, private gifts and charitable efforts are often characterized as buy-offs to excuse evils perpetrated elsewhere by givers. That’s one of the themes I covered in “You’re Welcome: Charitable Gifts Prompt Statist Ire“. Karl Zinsmeister of Philanthropy magazine bemoans the extent to which private good works are condemned in “No Giver Is Safe: How the Left Is Poisoning Philanthropy“:
“Names are being pried off of college buildings, museums are getting picketed, companies are facing boycotts. No giver is safe. Long-time tax protections for charitable giving, churches, and charities are being attacked and proposed for repeal. Activists demand that government be given the right to appoint board members at nonprofits. Privacy protections for donors and charities are being eroded.
The deep odium for personal wealth and private problem-solving nursed by fashionable chatterers today often surges into view when businesspeople take up philanthropy. Jeff Bezos donates a million Australian dollars to fire recovery and the plute-smashers swing their axes. David Rubenstein offers to renovate the Jefferson Memorial and other historical landmarks and gets attacked for being a private-equity villain. For crusading against malaria, Bill Gates is portrayed as a vainglorious megalomaniac.”
The income tax deduction for charitable giving is presumed by critics to benefit mainly the wealthy. But without the deduction, our system of income taxation would make it more difficult for all Americans to carve charitable donations from their household budgets. And as Zinsmeister notes, most charitable giving does not come from the wealthy. In fact, he says 36% is given by those earning less than $100,000 annually.
Antipathy for the wealthy is nothing new, and the haters never give a thought to how wealth is created: by producing things of value that otherwise would be unavailable, and that we purchase willingly. That goes for “big wealth” and “little wealth” alike. The attack on philanthropy is merely another front in the effort to delegitimize private wealth and ultimately its confiscation. That is both evil and short-sighted. Private charity is more efficient and cost effective than government aid (and see here and here), and it is an act of true virtue no matter how small, something that can’t be said for those who pretend that confiscating the wealth of others is an of caring.
A shout out to Dixon Diaz and thefederalistpapers.org for the great cartoon!