Higgins: Feeling UncharitableWritten by Tim Higgins | | firstname.lastname@example.org
As the deadline for solving the political impasse over increasing debt limit that this nation can carry fast approaches, the president and lawmakers are looking at anything and everything to attempt to find an agreement that allows them to maintain the ‘full faith and credit of the United States’. Democrats however, appear adamantly opposed to any significant decrease spending without a corresponding increase in revenue (code words for higher taxes). For their part, Republicans are equally opposed to increasing taxes; taking the position that the nation faces a ‘spending’ problem, not a ‘revenue’ one. While I tend to agree with the latter rather than the former, any compromise will probably have to be achieved by nibbling around the edges of the debate and calling both sides a winner.
In attempts by both parties to appease their base, discussion turns to attempts to close ‘loopholes’ in the tax system to realize an increase in revenue without appearing to do so. Subsidies for ‘evil corporations’ are seen as potential targets, as are tax credits and accelerated depreciations granted to businesses for capital expenditures. Tax loopholes are not the only object in the crosshairs however, nor are discussions limited to corporate concerns.
Also under consideration is elimination of tax deductions for mortgage interest and charitable contributions. While the former certainly promises a setback to an already depressed housing market, the latter should be of far greater concern.
Such concern is not over the potential revenue realized; but over the concept that in trying financial times, government would discourage the charity of its citizens. We can certainly agree that such deductions will benefit those with more than with less. After all, they not only have more money to donate to charity; but based on the taxes they pay, more reason to seek such deductions. Certainly the result of such contributions has far more benefit for those less fortunate that it does for those with a fortune to give.
Likewise, few if any can argue that there are plenty of worthy charities out there to donate to. United Way, the Salvation Army and the Red Cross quickly come to mind as groups worthy of potential contribution for the commendable work they perform. Donating to a charity funding research seeking a cure to disease are similarly both worthy in effort and far too numerous to count.
But perhaps the attempt to close this loophole is not about the revenue however, but about removing the competition. After all, government is playing an increasing role in the distribution of donations to those in need; and they are not one to suffer contestation of situational primacy calmly. (If you don’t believe me, try delivering letters from door to door and see how far you get.) In fact, government is the only entity allowed to operate as a monopoly in this country. As such, they often look with far more than disdain at those choosing to dare to compete in their ‘reindeer games’.
Of course the other difference that we must take notice of in such discussions is that donations that the government hands out come from taxes, which are anything but voluntary. What the government lacks in altruism however, they more than make up for in the sheer volume of what they hand out. Welfare, Food Stamps, Subsidized Housing, and Unemployment Insurance could all be considered a form of government-sponsored charity; and their budgets are increasing every year.
Now we could argue endlessly (and perhaps pointlessly) over the responsibility that government has to ‘care’ for its citizens. While we were doing so however, we would likewise need to review the rampant waste and fraud that seems to follow every government program wherever it leads. We might also want to talk about the high administrative costs of programs administered under the auspices of well-paid government bureaucrats versus those of private charities.
What cannot and should not be disputed however is that a time of great need in this country, government is potentially seeking to remove encouragement from voluntary participation in charity. And while there is little doubt that the government-enforced variety will continue (and probably grow), such thinking is liable to leave many feeling uncharitable.