Is the opera really a charity?

John F. read yesterday’s post about charitable giving and shared this great Robert Reich column with me (in Salon):

 According to the Congressional Budget Office, $33 billion of last year’s $39 billion in total charitable deductions went to the richest 20 percent of Americans, of whom the richest 1 percent reaped the lion’s share…

But a large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces – operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters – where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors.

Another portion is for contributions to the elite prep schools and universities they once attended or want their children to attend. (Such institutions typically give preference in admissions, a kind of affirmative action, to applicants and “legacies” whose parents have been notably generous.)

Harvard, Yale, Princeton, and the rest of the Ivy League are worthy institutions, to be sure, but they’re not known for educating large numbers of poor young people…

I’m all in favor of supporting fancy museums and elite schools, but face it: These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term…

In economic terms, a tax deduction is exactly the same as government spending. Which means the government will, in effect, hand out $40 billion this year for “charity” that’s going largely to wealthy people who use much of it to enhance their lifestyles.

To put this in perspective, $40 billion is more than the federal government will spend this year on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (what’s left of welfare), school lunches for poor kids, and Head Start, put together…

At a time in our nation’s history when the number of poor Americans continues to rise, when government doesn’t have the money to do what’s needed, and when America’s very rich are richer than ever, this doesn’t seem right.

If Congress ever gets around to revising the tax code, it might consider limiting the charitable deduction to real charities.

Amen.  The likelihood of revising our tax code this way?  Pretty close to zero.  Safe to say those rich people– who have maybe just a slightly disproportionate influence in politics– aren’t about to give up this deduction.

[Since when do I blog so much on a Sunday?  Since it’s Christmas vacation and my kids are more interested in spending time with the grandparents and aunt & uncle than me.  I’ll take it.]

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Map of the day

Football vs. Soccer in one map.  Via Knowmore:

Who calls it “football” and who calls it “soccer”, in one map

The new school math

Nope, not the crazy way they teach kids to do multiplication these days (all these weird, pointless, boxes and stuff), but what budget cuts have done to education.  Excellent piece in the Times today:

Across the country, public schools employ about 250,000 fewer people than before the recession, according to figures from the Labor Department. Enrollment in public schools, meanwhile, has increased by more than 800,000 students. To maintain prerecession staffing ratios, public school employment should have actually grown by about 132,000 jobs in the past four years, in addition to replacing those that were lost, said Heidi Shierholz, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute in Washington.

Ugh.  And, of course, it’s not like these cuts are evenly distributed.  Those least able to lose school resources have lost the most.  Welcome to American education (not to suggest we’re horrible like the doom and gloomers, but our funding model is nuts).

Photo of the day

From Telegraph’s Animal Photos of the week gallery:

Polar bears appear to dance on the island of Svalbard in the Arctic circle off the north coast of Norway.
Polar bears appear to dance on the island of Svalbard in the Arctic circle off the north coast of Norway.Picture: Andrew Schoeman/National Pictures

It’s not immoral to be poor

Unless you are of the contemporary Republican mindset.  Great column from Tim Egan:

The rich, my mother explained, were lucky. The poor were unfortunate.

Dissenting voices rose from the back seat. But didn’t the poor deserve their fate? Didn’t they make bad decisions? Weren’t some of them just moochers? And lazy? Well, yes, in many cases, my mother said, lighting one of her L&M cigarettes, which she bought by the carton at the Indian reservation. But neither rich nor poor had the moral high ground.

As the year ends, this argument is playing out in two of the most meanspirited actions left on the table by the least-productive Congress in modern history. The House, refuge of the shrunken-heart caucus, has passed a measure to eliminate food aid for four million Americans, starting next year. Many who would remain on the old food stamp program may have to pass a drug test to get their groceries. At the same time, Congress has let unemployment benefits expire for 1.3 million people, beginning just a few days after Christmas.

These actions have nothing to do with bringing federal spending into line, and everything to do with a view that poor people are morally inferior. Here’s a sample of this line of thought:

“The explosion of food stamps in this country is not just a fiscal issue for me,” said Representative Steve Southerland, Republican from Florida, chief crusader for cutting assistance to the poor. “This is a defining moral issue of our time.”

It would be a “disservice” to further extend unemployment assistance to those who’ve been out of work for some time, said Senator Rand Paul, Republican of Kentucky. It encourages them to sit at home and do nothing.

“People who are perfectly capable of working are buying things like beer,” said Senator James Inhofe, Republican of Oklahoma, on those getting food assistance in his state.

No doubt, poor people drink beer, watch too much television and have bad morals. But so do rich people [emphasis mine]…

Luck is the residue of design, as the saying has it. But the most careful lives can be derailed — by cancer, a huge medical bill, a freak slap of weather, a massive failure of the potato crop. Virtue cannot prevent a “bad hand” from being dealt. And making the poor out to be lazy, or dependent, or stupid, does not make them less poor. It only makes the person saying such a thing feel superior.

Yep, yep, yep.  Not to mention, it is cognitively demanding to be poor.  And even if you are convinced that you came from a rough background and worked your way out, you almost surely had some lucky breaks that those still mired in poverty did not have (from the genetic lottery, to your parents’ parenting skills, to a caring teacher, etc.).  The moral superiority with which so many Republicans judge the poor is morally disgusting.

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