The Obama attack on charity is underway, with the Senate discussing ways to reduce charitable tax deductions and thus give Washington more money to spend.
Conservatives (largely because many are Christian) donate more than liberals do, according to detailed studies by Arthur Brooks, who heads the American Enterprise Institute. Conservatives sometimes use that fact as an attack dog, saying liberals who express concern about social needs won’t put their money where their mouths are, but that’s unfair. The left is consistent in wanting government to deal with problems by spending more and insisting that individuals should love their neighbors by happily paying taxes.
Charity is an obstacle to big government in three ways. First, donors reduce their tax bills, so every dollar to charity is a chunk of a dollar lost to Washington. Second, charitable efforts that successfully deal with problems (usually more effectively than government) show we don’t need centralization to get things done. Third, nonprofit groups are alternative power centers and may reflect alternative ways of thinking, thus irritating those who want every knee to bow to them.
A column in The New York Times on Friday by Peter Buffett shows he is a chip off the old blockheadness of his dad, master investor/Obama fan/abortion backer Warren Buffett. Son Buffett complains about “Philanthropic Colonialism,” people who think they can solve problems without grasping their complexity. He attacks “conscience laundering,” which he calls “feeling better about accumulating more than any one person could possibly need to live on by sprinkling around a little as an act of charity.”
Buffett could be describing a typical Washington mindset, with legislators and top officials tithing to themselves on every public dollar they spend, but he’s not: His enemy is private accumulations of wealth, not governmental ones. The problem with private giving, he argues, is that it “keeps the existing structure of inequality in place.” The solution: “a new operating system. Not a 2.0 or a 3.0, but something built from the ground up. New Code … a functioning society that truly creates greater prosperity for all (and I don’t mean more people getting to have more stuff).” What does he mean? He doesn’t say, but his elitism comes through with his sneers at “Wi-Fi on every street corner.”
I agree with Buffett that many foundations could do better—but attacking “the charitable-industrial complex” without zeroing in on the center of that system, governmental social planning that enlists charities as its sidekicks, is missing the target. We need more centers of thought and resources that exist independently of government: President Obama and his supporters are pushing us toward more centralization, and that’s the wrong direction.