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Why I don't do charity

by Jerome a Paris Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:51:25 AM EST

Let me tell you something ugly about myself today.

Let me explain why I'm lazy, selfish and uncaring by trying to justify why I don't help charities.


I consider that organised support for the poor, the hungry or the sick should not be the responsibility of individuals, but rather that of public authorities, duly enpowered to do so and duly funded to do so.

I consider that the only way to take care in a durable, fair and consistent way of such tasks is if the State, or at least regional authorities, do it. Thus, I consider that I have no moral duty to go and participate myself personally to such soliarity.

Let me explain why.

Who decides what we care about?

Help needs to be provided in ways that address the most pressing problems, as identified by as objective a process as possible or, barring that, with as much collective (i.e. democratic) legitimacy as possible. Charity will always focus on the issues that the people which provide it care about, and may completely ignore other issues. This is even more true today with charities increasingly run by billionaires who call all the shots and decide to allocate funds according to criteria which they solely determine. Solidarity should not be subject to the whims of a few persons or private organisations. It should focus on the issues deemed most important by the public as a whole, not by self-appointed volunteers.

Congratulating Bill Gates and Warren Buffett because they are putting upwards of $60 bn in the Gates Foundation, as the press has been doing in recent motnhs with abandon, is incredibly shortsighted.

Such massive amounts on any given topic will inevitably lead to reductions in public funding of the same, and transfer decision making on major public policy issues to people whom we may admire but who represent no one but themselves. Worse, once public money is gone, it is unlikely to come back, and policy will end up being decided by entities with no requirement to continue to provide their services, no accountability beyond what they are willing to give, and no coherence with other public policy objectives.

nd whey they are on their own, you can be sure that they will start asking for public money to fulfill a "vital" role. Taxpayers will end up footing the bill but with much less effective oversight. Meanwhile, spending will have been funneled toward the topic of the billionaire's choosing.

Who is eligible for help?

Letting the private sector in charge of major planks of our social policy or of our healthcare policy brings about the risk that it will provide a selective service, i.e. will choose who is "worthy" of help, and what conditions they must fulfill to benefit from such help.

Imagine food banks that (explicitly or not, discreetly or not) refuse to give anything to unmarried women; imagine shelters that do not have room for coloured people; imagine health care centers that ask you to join a prayer group before you're treated. Or worse. The temptations of those that help to indulge in social engineering or proselyting are just too strogn to be ignored.

It's private help. Why wouldn't they put conditions to providing it? After all, they are under no obligation to provide that help to anyone. It's their money, and they should be free to choose how it's spend (or, in this case, on whom).

And charity moguls pride themselves on their effectiveness. Will they let ungrateful losers reduce the "efficiency" of their charity? No, they will reform their ways or they will not be helped. It's a good deal for them, after all.

Maybe it can be regulated and the most egregious exclusions made illegal, but will government ever be able to enforce it? And why use public money on enforcement that could be better spent on actually providing the same service in a fair and consistent way?

When, where and how is help provided?

Will help be provided where and when it is most needed? Can volunteers know how to focus their efforts in the most relevant way, without forgetting anyone that needs it? Will there be enough of them, in the right place, and with the right support? What happens if they stop for any reason (lack of availability, loss of motivation, or any other personal obstacle)?

:: ::

Solidarity should not be subject to the whims, prejudices and availability of individuals, however well intentioned and generous. This is not to say that charity should not happen, of course, but that the basic level of solidarity that a society wishes to see for its weaker or unlucky members should be provided to all that need it, all the time, and everywhere, in an organised, consistent and fair way, and not subject to the random decisions of individuals. That help is provided in addition is great, it is always useful, but it should not be needed.

When I see the glorification of large private donors, who are bringing their business acumen and hardheadedness to the charity world, I worry that we are on in incredibly slippery slope, because it further decredibilises government, by suggesting that such tasks are better done by the private sector, and this therefore threatens the long term ability of democratically elected (and therefore legitimate) public authorities to determine what the common good should be, what the goals of public policy, and what tools should be used to that effect. In effect, authority and responsibility seeps from our representatives to the rich.

Do not believe that those that provide such charitable services will not eventually make demands on the body politic. They will get power, but will not provide accountability. After all, they are giving out money, why on earth would anyone have the right to say anything about how they choose to spend it?

Large scale charity is feudalism, pure and simple. It's a primitive form of government, based on the cult of the individual, the lack of formal rules, and the might-is-right mindset.

I'd rather have my government do it.

I'd rather pay more taxes so that decent public policies can be put in place.

I will always congratulate individuals that help others privately, on a local basis, or work for causes they believe in, but I will always be hostile to such generosity being counted on a macro level and claims about the solidarity of a society being determined by the accumulation of private generosity. The privatisation of solidarity, on a large scale, is a sign of failure, not of success.

I don't do charity. I pay taxes.

Display:
http://www.dailykos.com/story/2006/11/24/93417/180

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes
by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:52:01 AM EST
<covers head in fear>
by Colman (colman at eurotrib.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:53:00 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What struck me in the dKos comments (besides the insults, which have the redeeming value of being entertaining) is the lack of any intellectual frame of reference in the American left (ok, I generalize).

Jerome's point was not about morality (who's a good guy, who's a jerk?) but about the meaning of government.

Libertarians or paleorepubs like Bill Buckley would disagree with his view, but (as much as I hate to say it) they would do so from a reasoned perspective.
The American right has intellectual coherence (at least the old kind). But the so-called left is mental jello.

It's impossible to argue, agree, or disagree because there's nothing to argue, agree, or disagree about. There is no there there among the American left.
Left of course means left of Ann Coulter, which is a wide open space. But still...

Liberals (in the American sense) try to be good, kind, reasonable, tolerant, tactical, and determined. That's the full extent of their ideology. It's a set of attitudes: it's not a set of beliefs.

There was this saying in France when I grew up: France has the dumbest political right wing in the world.

I fear America has the dumbest political left in the world.

by Bernard Chazelle (Bernard Chazelle) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 09:29:35 PM EST
[ Parent ]
This diary Jerome posted up, and especially the responses to it, are truly telling.

The American "Left" (if we really can refer to it as "left" in all honesty) emotes; it does not think. Fronted by the party which putatively represents it, it has no governing ideology, no guiding principles, no core beliefs. I hesitate to say it (the Democratic party) is led by poorly trained mid-level technocrats alack of imagination, for this would perhaps be an insult to poorly-trained unimaginative mid-level technocrats in other parts of the world. Unsurprisingly, it fails to inspire, and has consequently been out of power, in increasing fashion, for the better part of three decades.

Such well-wishing "liberals" have no enemies of course, for in this world, we've gotten beyond enemies. Class does not exist. And it's true that it is hard to make enemies when you've not poked your head out from your comfortable, ideology-free paradise in those couple of decades.

Meanwhile the other side are setting up. They are sharpening their knives, gutting the socially normative arms of the state, building up the security apparatus, and building armaments for endless war, endless imperial war.

Unsurprisingly, the opposition is silent.

Because the opposition is clueless.  

It'd be funny if itweren't so sad, given the potential for the US to wreak great harm in the world, and this for the foreseeable future, if but militarily.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 09:55:39 PM EST
[ Parent ]
That thread has left me quite depressed, as I did not expect that level of insults. There was quite a bit of argumented disagreement, thankfully, but the overall tone was pretty dismissive.

But I wrote it, I'm a callous bastard, i don't do charity!

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:43:51 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I never ever give out troll ratings in such threads. It only creates bad blood and increasingly bitter debates, as you've surely seen.

People take the writing on the screen (whether diaries or comments) very personally, even when it's not their words, and it's better to switch back to polite and try to explain what you meant rather than going with the abrasive comment (well, I do do diaries that can be considered abrasive, but I do avoid that in the comments)

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:47:26 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Yeah, I probably shouldn't have done that. Please accepot my excuses. I have a hard time with some of these people who pretend to be progressives and "liberals" and yet quite dismissively hawk their hard neo-lib point of view and denigrate the role of government.

First in line for offensiveness are those who know what they are doing. Second in line for offensiveness are those who cluelessly assume that if the former are respectful in tone, the content of their objections cannot possibly be noxious.

In a word, if you patently do not believe in the public good or in the productive role of the state in society, why the hell would you bother militating in the party on the putative left? And yet, and yet....

Which is precisely why Mr Chazelle's quote is quite apt. How can they possibly find fault with a polite enemy, when they themselves have no fundamental core values to give rise to the possibility of an adversary?

Raising the tone never convinces anybody though, this is true, and perhaps even some might have been convinced with a different tone. Calling you an asshole and impugning your personal integrity though, as some did - that was out of line under any circumstance. Personally, I think that was your best diary over there ever, polemical in structure, thought provoking, impeccably logical, and ambiguous enough of wording to suscitate a heated debate on values.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:04:54 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Well, I thank you for fighting it out. It was a tough crowd - one of the hardest and some of the nastiest words hurled at me.

I guess people reacted intensely to the "I don't do charity" bit. I could have written "We should not have to rely on charity for basic services" rather than the more abrupt "I don't do charity" but the point of my diary stands even if I am the evil, callous, heartless bastard so many of you have seen in my diary, which is precisely why I put it this way. But as you wrote, this went over many people's heads - which also meant that they did not understand your vigor in supporting me, and in turn reacted angrily to you.

That point from you and Bernard Chazelle about the lack of values (beyond the "we're nice") - I need to ponder.

In the long run, we're all dead. John Maynard Keynes

by Jerome a Paris (etg@eurotrib.com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:14:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I am sorry to have to agree with your post, and redstar's comments below.  Obviously there are strong coherent platforms to be put up on the left in America both socially, economically and foreign policy (many of them eloquently and rightly argued here for the EU), but the putative leaders of the American left, the Democrats, do not present that case. At least not in any coherent, continuing, and logical format.
by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:18:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I can see the merit of your position with respect to conventional brute-force charity: feeding, clothing, housing, and healing people who can't do this for themselves. What your position seems to neglect is the value of competition and diversity in doing what is new. Scientific research is an obvious example (and far from the brute-force end of the spectrum) but "social entrepreneurs" have also found innovative ways to help the disadvantaged.

I would be much happier with your approach if it included broad reforms in research funding agencies -- reforms that would pour a modest fraction of their funds into channels with different performance criteria. Today, most agencies act under incentives that punish surprising failures, with no effective way to offset these by surprising successes. The result is extreme risk aversion precisely where risk can best be tolerated -- by agencies kept afloat by a sea of tax money, and managing a vast, diversified portfolio of research investments.

What I'd like to see is the use of metrics that try to measure the difference between research that produces one unit of benefit and research that produces a million units. I'd then want policies that judge agencies not by their (ideally, many) failures but by the sum of these and their (potentially enormous) successes.

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:32:54 AM EST
[ Parent ]
What your position seems to neglect is the value of competition and diversity in doing what is new.

This is the only upside of wealth inequality, that sometimes a part of the immense wealth accumulated at the top is used for patronage of the arts, of science, or for building something lasting.

So, actually, philantropists like the Gatess foundation could pour money into vaccine research, or into orphan diseases, as we know Big Pharma is only interested in treatment, not prevention.

The sad part is that, in more "socialist" times, a worldwide push to eradicate smallpox was successful, and the likelyhood of anything like that being initiated in our neoliberal international climate is next to zero.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides

by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 07:15:20 AM EST
[ Parent ]
This is the only upside of wealth inequality

But if not for the wealthy, who would buy expensive new high-tech junk that doesn't work well -- thereby creating a market that drives design improvement and cost reduction until the masses can buy low-cost working tech-junk?

Words and ideas I offer here may be used freely and without attribution.

by technopolitical on Mon Nov 27th, 2006 at 12:33:40 AM EST
[ Parent ]
How did it go? I really don't want to look ;-P

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 10:14:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Great job, stirring up the shit with the Kossacks.

They need a little shaking up sometimes...

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:59:12 AM EST
TeHe.

Hope Santa's sleigh has a Confederate flag flying on it when it delivers Christmas presents.

"When the abyss stares at me, it wets its pants." Brian Hopkins

by EricC on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 03:02:28 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I mean no offense by this, Jerome, but I think you're putting far too much faith in the state to do the right thing.  That's the fallacy people fall into: Recognizing all of the bad things about the private sector and comparing those with something resembling, or even something that is, an ideal of state intervention.  The state wasn't worth the powder to blow to hell during Katrina.  Charities couldn't handle that enormous burden, obviously, because of the enormous scale of the devastation, but at least they stepped up to the degree that it was possible.

Will help be provided where and when it is most needed? Can volunteers know how to focus their efforts in the most relevant way, without forgetting anyone that needs it? Will there be enough of them, in the right place, and with the right support? What happens if they stop for any reason (lack of availability, loss of motivation, or any other personal obstacle)?

Again, I hate to use another example from the US, given the current incompetent leadership, but these questions could all be asked of the public sector, as well, except that lack of motivation should be replaced by a perceived ability to do away with programs since the public won't be paying attention.  It happens all the time, and it is not limited to America.  You can't work with the assumption that the state can answer these questions in all, or even most, cases.

Personally, I'll pay my taxes and support charities I trust to do work I bellieve in.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:03:15 PM EST
As an economist, how do you reconcile the emphasis of charity as aid to the poor and disadvantaged, and the free rider problem such an approach necessarily leads to?

Via the state, and progressive taxation, the free rider problem is eliminated, as is, if done correctly, administrative redundancy, another economic ineffiency of the charity approach.

In any event, using the US as an example is basically at best a red herring. Just because the Americans don't know how to do public administration (nor, often, public anything) doesn't mean it cannot be done.

It simply means it cannot be done (and this is essentially for political reasons) in America...
 

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:11:46 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Quite the contrary, Americans, depending on the program we look at, are damned good with bureaucracy.  (If you want to see serious incompetence, come to Britain.  America looks like a dream-come-true by comparison.)  Medicare is apparently a great example.  Others on this site will presumably -- having done so in the past -- point to the US Postal Service, although, here, they lose me, as someone who has endured a near-endless number of nightmares with the absolute morons at the USPS and will, consequently, always use FedEx when it is available.

I'm not arguing for privately- or publicly-run welfare.  I'm arguing that Jerome is wrong to assume that the state will cover all the bases.

The free rider problem is a good point, of course, but is it not an even greater problem to have citizens voting for politicians who will increase the budget while cutting their taxes?  Now we've moved into an intergenerational free-rider problem, except that, in this case, kids -- whose federal credit is maxed out by their brainless, spoiled Boomer parents -- have no say in the decision.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:47:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I'm afraid you've nailed the principal fiscal problem with America by your very last statement.

And you are also of course right to hold that the state will not cover all the bases. But it should cover most, and this is the point I think he's trying to make. There will always be places for philanthropy, but philanthropy is not a policy.

I reckon that Jerome is experiencing something very personal in this regard, and I can tell you that I went through the same thing in America, and instead of getting support for my wife staying at home to care for my son, I burned through savings and ultimately went into debt. (And let's not even get into the hospital bills which, despite my supposedly excellent insurance, piled up.) In America, getting out from under severe misfortune is left to charity (eg, American Children's Cancer Society, United Way, et c.)  This is as criminal as it is inefficient.

This being said, citizens may think they are voting for a simultaneous increase in the budget and decrease in taxes, but this is simply what the fools are led to believe. There'll be taxes to pay for it, one way or another, inflation being one such tax in all likelihood. A nation of rubes when it comes to governance is what it comes down to.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:09:26 PM EST
[ Parent ]
All good points, and I, too, reckon that it is something of a personal issue to Jerome, and understandably so.  His recent diary on his son was spot on.  The health care system in America, like the K-12 education system, is a joke.  What I would argue is that governments should focus on the critical components of an intelligent welfare state -- that is, health care, unemployment insurance, funding for the sort of medical research that might eventually cure Jerome's son, and other issues of this general nature.

My essential point is that nobody should expect the private sector or the public sector to accomplish everything.  They're complements, not substitutes.  Where one falls short, the other should pick up the slack.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:27:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
the free rider problem is eliminated
what is the free rider program?
by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 02:27:38 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Let's say -- I am, for the record, stealing this from Wikipedia -- you live on a block that is suffering from a lot of breaking and entering.  Your neighbor suggests everyone on the block pitch in to buy a CCTV system.  It would cost £2500, or £100/person.  Everyone else might agree to this, but you might not, since you know that the syystem will protect you regardless of your decision on whether or not to throw in that £100.

In that case, you have a free-rider problem -- you, of course, being the free rider in this example.  In the case of a charity, people who refuse to donate, but still enjoy the benefits (often positive externalities), are free riders.

Be nice to America. Or we'll bring democracy to your country.

by Drew J Jones (pedobear@pennstatefootball.com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:22:03 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Note that in France for most charities you can deduce 66% of your donation from your taxes (with a limit up to 20% of your taxable income, and report for up to three years).

This year I donated 22500 euros to FSF France, this will cost me only 7650 euros.

What are the conditions in the USA?

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:39:33 PM EST
[ Parent ]
In the US, for qualified charities, you can deduct the full gift from your taxable income, not from your taxes.  So as an example, say you are a "fat cat" making $100,000, and to simplify the example, you have no other taxable deductions.  You pay a 10% tax rate on your first $40,000 of income, and $35% on everything over that amount (simplifying for the example, there are more levels of tax rates).  So your tax bill is 10% of $40,000=$4000 plus 35% of $60,000=$21,000,,,,,a total Federal tax bill of $25,000.  So your income after tax is $75,000.

If you gave $10,000 to a charity such as the American Red Cross, that $10,000 would be deducted from your income for the tax calculation,,,so your income for the calculation is $90,000.  So your tax bill is 10% of $40,000=$4000 plus 35% of $50,000=$17,500,,,,,a total Federal tax bill of $21,500.  So your income after tax is $68,500.

The effect of this is that the charity gets your $10,000 contribution, but since you get a $3500 tax savings, the government effectively pays $3500 of your $10,000 donation--and your after tax income is only lower by $6,500, rather than by lower by the full $10,000.

There are limitations to how much you can deduct each year, but the excess deduction carries over to future years, and I don't think there is a limit on how many years it takes you to use up your deduction.

An important distinction is that the deduction is not against your tax bill in the US, but instead against your tax income--as shown in the example.  I think some other systems do their calculations from your tax payment.

by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:05:14 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks!

Looks like France has one of the more generous tax code for donation to charities, but it looks like the media aren't aware of this :).

by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 05:16:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
You seem to assume there's no correlation between the size of the state relative to the economy and the quality of services provided by the state in a functionning democracy.

It seems obvious to me that in countries where the "state is evil" mantra has led to a reduction of the state share, people care less about what the state does and so the state becomes really incompetent at about everything it does (and corrupted).

Look at voter participation rates.

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:52:48 PM EST
[ Parent ]
First, congrats for this excellent and thought provoking diary.
Second, my own blunt answer : because you pay enough taxes that end up misused not to want the same happen with additional money ? Just trying to guess before I read your diary ;-) Let's see now whether I was really off the mark.
Still struggling to keep pace with what has been written over the last 12 hours.

When through hell, just keep going. W. Churchill
by Agnes a Paris on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:03:21 PM EST
I'm sure you've read about misadministered charity money as well.

Maladministration is not a public/private things. Insisting it is confined solely to the public is a political statement, not a statement of fact.

The Hun is always either at your throat or at your feet. Winston Churchill

by r------ on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:13:09 PM EST
[ Parent ]
A clsoe memeber of my family ahs exactly the same anrrative..e xactly the same.. usign the same words... i wonder if they both come form the same place.

I am particualrly neutral to this narrative, nothing blips.. so I guess your point of view would basically be mine for those that do make contributions..

I have always liked more the idea of.. what do NGo need more.. time or money???

I am still wondering.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 01:07:44 PM EST
[ Parent ]
My father also says "I don't do charity, I pay taxes", and he's adamant about it.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 01:10:47 PM EST
[ Parent ]
They need more both.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:53:08 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I wrote an essay similar to this:

Abolish Philanthropy

I separate charity (an individual giving a small amount for a specific purpose) and philanthropy (a wealthy individual giving a large amount to affect social policy).

Charity may be good for the soul. Philanthropy is anti-democratic.

Policies not Politics
---- Daily Landscape

by rdf (robert.feinman@gmail.com) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 12:51:36 PM EST
I rarely do any charity for similar reasons. I pay enough in taxes, totally willing to do so, and I just wish the 1/2 of my tax money went to uplift people rather than buy arms and maintain troops and intelligence across the globe.

Share. Share resources, share delight, share burdens, share the healing. If we only could realize that sharing will bring us back from mass suicide.
by Isis on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 04:54:25 PM EST
Jerome's post is positively brilliant.

Me, I give to charity, but that's because I am inconsistent in my thinking.  I see it as the two highest attributes of government to: (A) monopolise force in order to protect the governed and their freedom; and (B) provide a safety net (re. food, housing, health, education).

Most of the comments on dKOS miss the point. Whether government does a good job or not is crucial but irrelevant. Or then should we argue that because the US military is out of its depth in Iraq, it should be replaced by private armies?  

That was for the philosophical part. Now a pet peeve.

Of all charities, nothing grates on me more than cancer research.  That's gangsterism pure and simple.

Cancer research in the US costs citizens $5 billion a year. That's 2 weeks in Iraq. Charity in a drop in the bucket. Except for the big bosses who run those organizations, who couldn't afford their yachts without it.

If people want to raise half an hour of cancer research (in Iraq war units) with private donations, they're conceding the government's proposition that that extra half hour fought in Iraq is worth more than the extra hope they can buy by contributing to a cancer charity. If so, I just yawn and move on.  If not, then I'd advise people to stop the charity crap and convince their government to add an extra half hour to the pot.

Not to mention that it's not really charity, since people hope to be the beneficiaries, and it's gullibility exploitation on a grand scale, since it's premised on the naive hope that medical progress is slow because of a lack of funding and not because we, humans, are just not that smart.

Finally there's the unctuous self-satisfaction of the good person like me who feels so good giving money to charity. I understand this is not germane to Jerome's point, but I believe that, for most people, giving to charity provides them with the highest ratio of self-satisfaction to cost. What's neat about paying taxes is that we all hate it! We don't feel better human beings for it. That's what I hate about charity.

by Bernard Chazelle (Bernard Chazelle) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:06:37 PM EST
Happy to see you posting here :).

Your description of government's role is very close to mine, I'd just add (C) do what the private sector does obviously badly in our current society framework (like most infrastructure, energy, ..., long term stuff, where competition does not work).

Given your list of publication, I hope you'll write a diary about one of those topic here!

by Laurent GUERBY on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:34:56 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Thanks.

Agreed on (C).

Unfortunately, I have no special expertise to offer about these topics. I am no economist/sociologist even if sometimes I like to pretend otherwise.

by Bernard Chazelle (Bernard Chazelle) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 09:11:29 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I was talking about the geek topics (computer science and related math) where you're obviously an expert :).
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 05:17:46 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Although, I can see Jerome's excellent points, I would ask, do we really want the "state" to have a lock on charity. We say "charity begins at home", but if only governments could provide charity it might end there as well. Who provides for the impoverished areas of the world where governments are too poor to provide charity. Having watched the political do nothings, at work in Bosnia, Sudan, Ruwanda, and countless other places around the world, I'm very happy that all charity is not in the hands of government.  

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:51:49 PM EST
We don't want the state to have a lock  on charity. The point is that charity and philantropy should not be an excuse to neglect social policy, nor should they be our social policy. I suppose charity is ok to a point, as it represents civil society organising itself to provide services that the state doesn't. But philantropy is the social policy of feudalism and advanced democracies should be able to do better.

Those whom the Gods wish to destroy They first make mad. -- Euripides
by Migeru (migeru at eurotrib dot com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 07:07:07 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Do we take care of people through the state, or through private charitable contributions?  Yes!  

Clearly we can do both, if we choose, as individuals.

Do not believe that those that provide such charitable services will not eventually make demands on the body politic.
I don't accept this premise.

If an individual wants to fund scholarships for people that might need them, I say good for him/her.  If he wants to provide more funding for a disease that he has special interest in, good for him.  

Life is about choices.  If I want to help people in some way, rather than, for example, buying  a 3rd car or 2nd home, I'll do it.  I might feel the government is totally ignoring some need--if so, I can donate my time to the need, I can raise money for the need, or I can directly contribute to it.  

I don't do charity. I pay taxes.
I choose to do both.

Large scale charity is feudalism, pure and simple. It's a primitive form of government, based on the cult of the individual, the lack of formal rules, and the might-is-right mindset.
You're free to think that,,,I think it's rubbish.
by wchurchill on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 05:54:51 PM EST
Congratulating Bill Gates and Warren Buffett because they are putting upwards of $60 bn in the Gates Foundation, as the press has been doing in recent motnhs with abandon, is incredibly shortsighted.

Such massive amounts on any given topic will inevitably lead to reductions in public funding of the same, and transfer decision making on major public policy issues to people whom we may admire but who represent no one but themselves.

I don't think I've heard an argument on this basis in the US before. It's always the basic free market "private industry can allocate funds better."

I don't have a problem with the Gates foundation or similar foundations. If the human desire for immortality gets expressed in the form of donating money to cause X, I'm fine with that - to me it looks like swords to plowshares. Philanthropy is also the biggest reason the US university system is the best in the world. That is worth a good debate on its own, I think.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 06:08:31 PM EST
I do have a problem with the Gates and the Buffets. I have a problem with them because I would like to live in a world that does not encourage or celebrate the immense amassment of wealth in the hands of a few individuals. The fact that they have been so successful in gathering so much for themselves points to a rather large failure of what I would consider proper taxation. That some of them now feel like they want to give away some of that wealth to pet causes is perhaps preferable to them deciding on larger expenditures on luxuries for themselves, but in no  way mitigates the problem of their amassment of resources in the first place. Jerome's argument about feudalism is right on here.
by someone (s0me1smail(a)gmail(d)com) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 05:28:28 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would like to live in a world that does not encourage or celebrate the immense amassment of wealth in the hands of a few individuals

You'll get no argument from me, but this desire is a pipedream in our world today. I'm looking at the world as it stands. Out of all the ways for Gates to spend his money, the route he has chosen is one of the best possible.

you are the media you consume.

by MillMan (millguy at gmail) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 02:53:11 PM EST
[ Parent ]
While you have a point about social policy within our own countries, can we rely on our governments to have a policy for overseas disasters? Indeed would our electorates even want this?
After the tsunami charity was able to collect donations and target it into affected areas relatively quickly while governments made initially small pledges and then tries to outdo each other as the scale of the private donations was revealed. Pledges from governments as with all relief were slow in actually being realised if they were at all.
Governmental aid of all types is also so often tied to ridiculous and inefficient conditions such as insisting on donor country companies being used when they cost magnitudes more than local companies.
If we want to direct money abroad for any relief, health, social reasons we have little choice other than to do it through charity.
by observer393 on Fri Nov 24th, 2006 at 11:01:57 PM EST
A government might feel a moral mandate to help unfortunate countries -- or it might not. Constitutionally it's hard to imagine why it would.
But rich countries typically will help in humanitarian crises. It's good policitcs and it's the right thing to do. That said, I support organizations like Doctors without borders or Unicef or the Red Cross for all the obvious reasons.
I do not support Live-Aid and other aging celeb nonsense.
Starving African children were not put on earth to revive the fading careers of geriatric rock stars. Listening to Bono in Hyde Park probably hurts Africa more than it helps it. But that's a different thread.
by Bernard Chazelle (Bernard Chazelle) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:04:25 AM EST
[ Parent ]
The NRA, with a budget of $50 million (not that much), manages to turn its asinine views (fit for the clinically paranoid) into the law of the land.

If people who give to the United Way truly cared about the poor, shouldn't they direct their money and effort toward lobbying the government and pressuring candidates for political office to build a safety net, instead?

And to those who will argue that after Katrina it's impossible to put one's faith in the government, I say: Are you willing to call your nation a banana republic and leave it at that? (Which is what you're doing by giving up on your government on account of Katrina.)

by Bernard Chazelle (Bernard Chazelle) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:41:10 AM EST
you probably know this, but just to clarify for others who may not,,,,,groups like the NRA are not classified as charitable organizations.  So contributions to them are not tax deductible, as are charitiable deductions to organizations such as the Red Cross, United Way, Katrina or the tsunami fund raising programs, etc.  The NRA is a political advocacy group, and just like all political donations, not tax deductible.

If people who give to the United Way truly cared about the poor, shouldn't they direct their money and effort toward lobbying the government and pressuring candidates for political office to build a safety net, instead?
Personally I give to both charitable groups and political groups and parties pushing an agenda.  In my case 90% to charitable causes I believe in and 10% to political efforts.  But it seems to me this is a matter of choice.  I check out the charities I give to to find out how much of the money goes to their served cause as opposed to administrative costs, marketing costs, etc.(they are required to provide those documents, and audited on the veracity of the documents--not suggesting it's perfect, but just good).  It seems to me that both advocacy and charity are worthwhile efforts for all of us, but individually we should just make our own choices as to how much money and time we want to, and can afford to, put into these efforts.
by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:36:45 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In France donations to political parties are also deducible from taxes at 66% level up to 20% of income. The only limit is maximum 7500 euros per party (for a real cost of 2500 euros if you pay enough taxes) for an individual (I don't believe corporation can donate), but you can give to multiple parties.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 05:52:52 AM EST
[ Parent ]
In Canada donations to political parties are tax deductible, I believe at a higher rate than for charities.

When it comes to charities, Canada has a matching grant system called CIDA. I really don't know that much about it,


 Have in-house skills in at least one of the priority activity sectors of the IHA (International Humanitarian Aid - sic) program, and more specifically, in the priority sectors needed to respond to the Asia disaster.
 Have three years of work experience in the delivery of humanitarian assistance in at least three different countries.
 Be active before the disaster in the affected countries.
 Have experience and proven capacity to achieve results directly relevant to humanitarian-assistance objectives.
 Be able to submit credible reports showing a track record of achieving relevant results.
 Be committed to networking, partnership, and coordination through strong existing relationships with local NGOs in developing countries and through experience in cooperation with UN organizations and local governments.
http://www.cccc.org/contents.php?area=a&id=6510&nid=30

except that it monitors charities and provides matching Canadian government money to private donations for some charities. Effectively for every dollar you give two dollars are donated and you can receive money back on your taxes.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 10:23:37 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Thank you for this diary. I haven't yet looked at KOS - I am kind of afraid to. In the US I think that there is a much larger social expectation of giving money than Canada. I don't know if that would be true for Europe as well. Part of that may be the difference in taxes paid. (Also has a lot on US/Canadian charitable donations http://www.fraserinstitute.ca/admin/books/files/generos(v8).pdf)

When I first started reading your post I immediately thought - foodbanks, and yup - you got to them. Here they have become a way of life, and a way for the government to avoid its responsibilities.
A pamphlet our church has talks about the charitable situation in Pre WWII Germany. The example given was a Jew who married a Catholic and converted, and then sought charitable assistance. They would be ineligible for aid from the Catholics because they weren't Catholic enough, and ineligible for aid from Jewish charities because they weren't Jewish enough. This is the direction I feel the US is headed.

While I will disagree with your stand, I want to make it clear that I believe you have a strong, excellent, important point that you have made.

I suspect that it is actually a conflict of interest for business to engage in charity. The issue of profit vs donations is such a possible problem.

Let me disagree with your stance for the following reasons:

  1. I don't feel that big government is capable of dealing with all the needs of people. It is like big business. One size doesn't fit all. The government can't do everything. While walking the Camino de Santiago I talked with a woman who was a lay-preacher for the Catholic Church. She provided small sums of money to people - not necessarily Catholics - (up to about 50 euros) based on her personal judgement. She felt that she was often, if not routinely taken advantage of, but sometimes such small amounts made real differences to the lives of people. For her it was worth the wasted money to manage to help those who really needed it. Such types of charity are almost certainly outside the size bounds, and even the ethics bounds of Government.

  2. The government does not have enough money. I tried finding a dollar value for charitable work in Canada but could not. Even so, I believe that the government can not afford to cover the charitable giving that is done. For example, while I try to more or less tithe to charity, the value of my personal time given (1/2 day a week to pre-kindergarten children who are PDD/Downs/etc) would exceed my tithing. My work is with a recognised (non-denominational) charity. My mother has a close friend who has Alzheimer's. She regularly goes to the nursing home to feed this friend, and while there helps feed other people in the nursing home. This activity falls outside the bounds of recognised charitable work, but it is still charitable work.

  3. One does not play politics with the lives of people. This goes back to the issue of food banks. It is a horrible situation to allow people to go hungry to prove a political point. Yes, it is the government's responsibility, and yes, they probably would eventually pick up doing something if everyone boycotted food banks. Unfortunately, I don't have the stomach for it. I can't let people go hungry.

  4. Sometimes charities do it better than governments. Before walking the Camino de Santiago I arranged to get Hep B vaccine. My doctor thought I was being a bit silly, as Spain is a first world country. In general the refugios were, for someone with asthma, better than even 4 star hotels. I was quite pleased with the way volunteers managed to help keep (or completely keep) them running. In Galacia there were a series of refugios that were government run. The worst refugio we stayed at was one of the government run refugios - the place were I became glad I had got the vaccine.

Our church was asked by the UN to assist the Palestinian people in 1948. What were we to do? The answer was, even though we did not have the experience, nor the infrastructure, even though there must have been a number of governments who could have done it better; we did what we could do. One out of four Palestinian refugees from this time period were helped by our demotion. Ultimately that is what charity is - helping others because you can, and because they need help. Whether it is helping an old lady across the street, holding a stranger as they cry, sheltering a US soldier who decides he is no longer able to kill, helping a neighbour sort their garbage because they haven't got the hang of what is recyclable, or as Matthew put it

for I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.

What good is a government that does not do what it can and leaves a second-class charity to its citizens to pick up? Still, there is always room to help others, no matter how much good the government does. "Am I my brother's keeper?" Yes. There is always room for charity.


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 11:57:27 AM EST
a number of good and interesting points, and I agree with all of your 4 points.

I have always read Mathews comment as being to each of us as individuals.  And in fact was a very personal comment, and not directed at the government.  I'm responding to "What good is a government that does not do what it can and leaves a second-class charity to its citizens to pick up? "  we as individuals don't have a lot of control over how the government spends its money (except through advocacy, and one vote counts).  But I've never taken my tax bill and computed how much is going to helping my brother--maybe I should.  And Mathew was talking about each of us doing this from the heart--when we do it through tax policy, we force some of the people who are paying taxes to give,,,,and it may not come from their heart at all.  I don't mean to argue on the other hand that the government shouldn't do this--it's effective and needed in many areas.  It's just the linkage of the reason for this scripture somehow doesn't fit with government spending for me.  Sorry to ramble--I probably need to think about this more.

by wchurchill on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 01:02:18 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I've been mulling over your response a bit. I would agree that Matthew was thinking on personal terms. I suspect that in Matthew time a government that engaged in extensive charitable activities (such as Sweden, Norway, Luxembourg, Netherlands, and Denmark -ODA > .7% GNI) as part of a national identity (?) was unknown.

I like the idea that one of the responsibilities of government is charity, or to remove it from charity entirely and say this is basic to our society. We don't do food banks because everyone in society has enough to eat. It isn't charity; it is because this is what civilised people do. (I wish.) Ya - I'm going beyond Matthew.

In Canada various conservative governments have tried to court the popular vote by promising to lower taxes. It doesn't work very well. Maybe on some level we really are giving - at least some of our taxes - from the heart. At least enough of us to keep the taxes going. If it isn't from the heart, I guess it isn't charity, but government policy and taxes. I don't think that this would make it wrong though.

Instead of calling what we do at the governmental level charity, maybe we should call it human dignity. Ours and theirs. (Just as torture states degrade themselves as they degrade their victims, so to - we degrade ourselves when we allow others to be degraded poverty and hunger.)


aspiring to genteel poverty

by edwin (eeeeeeee222222rrrrreeeeeaaaaadddddd@@@@yyyyaaaaaaa) on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 03:02:50 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Interesting post. A few counter-arguments:

  1. In France the government "charity" flows from multiple programs, like minimal income, etc... Most of the administration is purely local (my mother works at a "Centre Communal d'Action Sociale" - city social help, in a team of around 20 people). Even the minimu income administration is now per county ("departement"). This avoids the "big government effect".

  2. government charity does not forbid personal involvment, and there is lots of it in France. The government encourage it with very generous tax rebates (2$ in tax deduction for 1$ personal, nobody shown a country where the system is so incitative).

  3. Most government-paid workers in those institutions are catholic and I trust the government to be far less corrupted than the catholic church management (so happy that lots of tempting money is just not there for them).

  4. Government help will suffer much less for what is currently fashionable "trends" in help. Will churches help the seropositive gays? Most won't.

  5. Government managed healthcare is essential. If you take the "poor" in France, they still have zero cost access to the very best health-care with no delay and no question asked, compare with other countries with "private" healthcare.
by Laurent GUERBY on Sun Nov 26th, 2006 at 06:19:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I don't do general monetary charity for the reasons that J describes. What I do try to do is to help out locally in the 'charity begins at home' model. It begins from being nice, polite and helpful wherever and whenever I can (and I still open doors for ladies and older people) to helping out at the youth club and many local events.

It's not much, but it is according to SOS principles.

You can't be me, I'm taken

by Sven Triloqvist on Sat Nov 25th, 2006 at 04:43:25 PM EST


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