At war with oneself over the charitable deduction

From an article in the New York Times whose date the Nonprofiteer neglected to notice:

“It’s admirable when people back their charitable impulses up with donations,” said Scott Klinger, tax policy director of the group Business for Shared Prosperity.  “But the tax code shouldn’t allow the wealthy the kind of loopholes that let them, essentially, force other taxpayers to underwrite donations to their pet causes.”

“The kind of loopholes . . . ”  Is there some other kind?  That is, can we have the tax code encourage individual generosity without delegating to private individuals decisions about what constitutes the public good?  The Nonprofiteer doesn’t see how.  Either you have a tax subsidy—which means by definition that other taxpayers bear a bigger burden—or you don’t. 

Without the subsidy, current donors might give less but the government would have more to give out to public causes (health, education, welfare) now privately supported.  And perhaps without the subsidy, current donors would be replaced by those less-burdened other taxpayers in a burst of their own generosity.  And maybe this would mean fewer snow-globe museums and more attention to human services in the nonprofit sector.

Or maybe it would just mean a reduction in charity and an increase in the government’s resources, which could then be used on public education and public housing.  Or missiles and drones.

This is why the Nonprofiteer remains at war with herself over the charitable deduction.  She wants a thousand flowers to bloom.  She believes any free society requires a counter-balance to whatever the current government has decided about anything.  And she believes this counter-balance requires money.  The whole point of the nonprofit sector is that it permits people to identify and respond to their own needs in their own communities, producing a closer fit between service and community than is possible with centralized programs.

But she also believes that society-wide priorities should be funded society-wide, which means limiting the number of pots of money exempted from inclusion in the public fisc.  And she doesn’t want society-wide priorities to be determined by people who have so much money they can buy entire public school systems and experiment on them.

To quote the great Yul Brenner: Is a puzzlement.

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One Response to “At war with oneself over the charitable deduction”

  1. What Price Democracy? « The Nonprofiteer Says:

    […] Nonprofiteer has often argued that private philanthropy in education (and other areas) is at best a mixed blessing, because it […]

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