Is the answer “taxes”?

Interesting article in the NYT about giving patterns at different income levels. As has been known for a while, the poor give more as a proportion of their income. Lots to dig into in future posts:

  • What really motivates people to give? Maybe the rich don’t give as much because the tax deductibility isn’t as much of an incentive as we think. What would be a better motivation given the “compassion gap” the article talks about?
  • The article is framed in terms of the upcoming debate over extending Bush’s tax cuts for the very wealthy, setting up a dichotomy between charitable giving and taxes. Is the answer to the question framed in the title of this blog, “democratizing philanthropy?,” just…taxes? Do more taxes = more democratized philanthropy, because the decision-making is put in the hands of democratically elected leaders? Is that the right premise? How much of that decision-making is actually in the hands of democratically elected leaders vs. the hands of appointees in what the Brits call “the civil service” who have less (if any) accountability to the public?
  • “Americans pride themselves on their philanthropic tradition,” the article observes, “and on the role of private charity, which is much more developed here than it is in Europe, where the expectation is that the government will care for the poor.” This speaks to varieties of capitalism, a topic I’ve considered at length on this blog. Motivations for giving in each type of system might be an interesting new angle on that topic.

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