Is the answer “taxes”? (part 2)

Previously, I wondered in the wake of objections to the Giving Pledge if the answer to my question, “what does it mean to democratize philanthropy?” is simply “taxes.” The idea, voiced here and here, is that billionaires setting aside the majority of their wealth for philanthropic activity circumvents the democratic process; that if those funds were taxed, the government revenue would be allocated by democratically elected representatives.

But why not circumvent the representatives, and the appointed civil service that would allocate the funds in practice, and go straight to the people? What if Gates, Buffett, et al. opened their philanthropic giving directly to democratic decision-making? Or made it available in a similar fashion to supplement state budgets, which have been devastated by the recession and are resulting in huge cuts to local services? Now, as is well known, philanthropy can’t make up for shortfalls in government revenue, and it’s unfair and wrong to ask it to try. (Projected shortfall in state budgets this year: $120 billion; annual increase in philanthropy if all billionaires sign the Giving Pledge: $30 billion.) But a few billion sure would help safety-net programs, not to mention arts and cultural programs, at the state level.

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