Charity begins with...Obama?

Crossposted at The Rockefeller Republican

Most, if not all, of the world’s religions promote charity as a very important moral value. Hinduism, Jainism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Judaism, and Sikhism place particular emphasis on altruistic morality. Here in the U.S. we have always been known as a charitable country. The United States is “a land of charity,” says Arthur Brooks, an expert on philanthropy and a professor at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School, who sees charitable giving and volunteerism as the signal characteristic of Americans. Total American donations for 2006 amounted to almost $300 billion, and individuals accounted for 75.6% of that. In terms of the percentage of GDP given to charity the U.S. more than doubles the second place country, Britain. The U.S. ranked first at 1.7%, Britain was second with 0.73%, while France gave at only a 0.14% rate. Why is this important? Because according to the Obama administration the government could be doing a better job than we are.

The administration’s proposed budget will cut tax deductions on charitable donations by those earning over $250,000 a year. These donations directly fund programs that feed, clothe, and house the poor, deliver after-school programs to disadvantaged children, build new facilities for colleges and other schools, and generally enrich most citizen’s lives. President Obama is saying that the federal government is better able than private citizens and the charities they endorse to decide how these donation dollars should be distributed.

A study by the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University shows that if the provision had been in place in 2006, charities would have lost nearly $4 billion. As incomes plummet and taxes go up, it’s hard to see how limiting the deduction will not have a negative impact on charities. True the government will have more revenue in taxes over the short term to support its many initiatives, such as socializing health care, education and the banking industry. But what will the long-term damage be?

Let’s put aside for the moment the fact that this administration, which had appeared somewhat moderate at its inception, is turning us into a European-style socialist state. Forget for a second that just last week President Obama said he “didn’t believe in bigger government,” and then went on to submit a $3.6 trillion budget. Don’t fret over the fact that the democratically controlled Senate resoundingly defeated a McCain amendment on Tuesday that would have cut 9,000 earmarks worth $7.7 billion from the omnibus-spending bill. It seems clear at this point that the Democrats with Obama at the helm are (in the words of David Brooks) “a party swept up in its own revolutionary fervor — caught up in the self-flattering belief that history has called upon it to solve all problems at once.” Put all of that out of your mind for the moment.

There is something even more troubling about all of this. Part of the call and duty of being a member of the human race is to look lout for each other. No matter how they say it, all religions and secular philosophies promote altruism, which is simply an extension of the Golden Rule. We are supposed to be charitable; we need to be charitable. If the government takes away the means and opportunity to do so we will be less of a people. It is popular right now in conservative circles to criticize France, and I normally shy from such generalizations, but in this case it is apt. France has a socialist style democracy of the kind President Obama seems to be looking to emulate. What do we see in terms of their charitable giving as a nation: 0.14% of GDP as opposed to our 1.7%. Does this mean the French are fundamentally a less generous people? Maybe, maybe not. What it does say is that they have grown so used to the government jumping in to “save the day” that they have lost their sense of self sufficiency, and more importantly the sense that they are called upon, by the very reality of their own humanity to help their fellow man.

Is this the future we really want?