More Than Money
Issue #20

How Much to Give?

Table of Contents

“Tax Savings--Or A Community Loss?”

Financial advisors generally assume that wealthy people, no matter what their political persuasion, share the goal of giving as little money as possible to the government. While all of us can cite examples of government waste and stupidity, I see things quite differently, and urge my friends and colleagues not to passively accept this mentality. I do not base my giving on how much the government allows me to deduct, and I am proud to support vital government services with my tax dollars.

While I value private philanthropy, I know that the charitable sector also has its own inefficiencies and bureaucracy, and is among the least democratically accountable sectors of society. I also know that philanthropy can never, by itself, create the kind of society I want: with universal health insurance, affordable higher education, decent public schooling, a cleaner natural environment, well-funded public parks, full employment, and expanded loan programs to first-time homeowners. Nor are privately-funded efforts likely to reign in unreasonable corporate power and other excesses of unbridled capitalism. A well-functioning society requires a government supported by fair taxes and guided by elected officials who are accountable to the entire populace, not just the wealthiest contributors and lobbyists.

One of the saddest trends of the last twenty years has been the withdrawal of wealthy households from the commonweal. Instead of supporting public transportation, public policing, and public parks, many of us in the wealthiest 10 percent (who own and control 70% of the nation's private wealth) have privatized our security and recreation needs. We no longer have a stake in the institutions that most people rely upon.

Our withdrawal furthers a cycle of decline. As we disinvest from the commonwealth, the quality of public institutions decline, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy. We who can afford to opt out of public schools, public transportation, and urban areas, do so, creating a "rush to the door" effect. The result is a polarizing society of rich and poor, where two of the biggest growth industries are prison construction and gated communities.

During the summer of 1997, Congress passed a package of $85 billion in tax cuts that furthered this withdrawal from the commonweal. Touted as "middle-class tax relief," over 45 percent of the tax cuts went to the wealthiest five percent of taxpayers. The bottom 50 percent of taxpayers got cuts averaging just $6, or enough to buy half a pizza.

In protest, last April I joined with other members of the organization called Responsible Wealth and pledged to give away a portion of our savings from these new tax cuts to support groups organizing for a fairer economic system and a more progressive tax code. Together, 125 of us contributed 1.2 million dollars.

The bottom line is, that for all its undeniable shortcomings, government remains the only "trust fund" for 80 percent of the population, the institution that people fall back on in the event of catastrophe, infirmity, and old age. We should not withdraw our financial support from the government, but work to make it better.

- anonymous author  

© 1990-2005, More Than Money, All rights reserved