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Wit and Wisdom

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Charity & Taxes

Posted on December 26, 2011 at 6:51 PM
Suggesting voluntary contributions to the Treasury are a viable alternative to a more equitable tax system reveals an ignorance of the difference between charity and taxes, between individual and communal action. Charity and taxation, though both indispensable components of a civilized society, nonetheless represent very different principles and scales of action. A cynical conflation of the two does an injustice to them both.
 
Charity is good for the world and good for the soul.  It springs from personal conviction and can achieve great ends, especially from the power of example.  But charity by its very nature is capricious.  Certain favored causes gain, while others equally or more deserving languish.
 
In a democratic republic such as ours, taxation and the pubic investment it funds represent, however imperfectly, the collective decision of the populace.  As in a family, club or organization, once a course of action is agreed upon, every member is expected to contribute to its success according to individual ability, not individual choice.
 
Moreover, the capacity of the two processes—charity, and tax-supported public spending—are of entirely different magnitudes.  The assets of the world’s largest charity, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation—the entire assets, mind you, not the merely the annual income they produce—would fund the federal government for a grand total of three days.  Achieving big and important things requires public investment; the tax system that pays for it is only stable and reliable if it is fair.
 
Wealthy people who advocate for higher taxes on themselves and people like them, but abstain from making voluntary contributions to help retire the federal debt, are being perfectly consistent. Their aim is an improved system of taxation in which everyone takes an appropriate part, not haphazard, insufficient acts of charity that fall entirely to the most generous.  It is the critics who know better but pretend not to understand the difference between taxes and charity who are the hypocrites.  

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