This post is a product of a couple of comments on the Patch blog. One asked something along the lines of “don’t I care for the poor.” The other “that he’d be happy to pay more taxes if it meant the safety net would be wider.”
The right often jumps back with a response along the lines of the safety net is big enough and of course I care for the poor. Republicans contribute more overall than Democrats to charity.
We can take Vice President Joe Biden as an example. His tax returns are notorious for documenting little in the way of charitable giving. In 2011 Biden had close to $400,000 in income and $5,350 in donations. By the way, if you want to see how you might rank there are tables at the bottom of this 2011 article you can use to compare your contributions against the others who file taxes in our country.
It dawned on me, as intuitive as it is to push back on the usual rhetoric with a standard reply, that we need to have a different discussion. It seems the left and the right have a fundamental difference in our approach to what constitutes generousity. Biden must represent the side of the argument which says as long as he’s paying taxes, “it’s in there.” He’s paying his version of a United Way donation with that tax bill. He doesn’t have to contribute anything more.
Think of it like I was taught to consider tithing. Theoretically if I pop 10% of my income for the church, I shouldn’t have to worry about being nickled and dimed. (Such a lost concept by the way. Now they just assume I can afford it and always come for more.) The plan was to offer a biblical share and then assume the church would manage the donation for the greater good.
Others, though, prefer to direct a donation to a group most likely to provide good works in the manner of one’s own priorities. I’d say that’s what all those generous Republicans are doing. Why trust the government to distribute funds in the cause of the greater good when government constantly makes decisions contrary to my own goals?
So what we’re fighting about here is the same reason we always argue. We battle over who gets to choose the winners and losers. Under our current method of the government assuming the responsibility for a safety net, our tithes end up in Caeser’s hands along with the taxes collected to build roads.
In my experience every time taxes are used to benefit society’s neediest there are hurdles in place for the organizations who want to gain access to that money. Want federal funds to provide health care to a community? You need to provide birth control and abortions. Want great highways with federal money? You have to set a speed limit within federal guidelines.
What if we all bowed to the concept of raising taxes but stopped giving to churches who support the poor and to homeless shelters and to NGOs who build libraries in Guatemala. What hurdles would go up for those organizations to get access to government funding? How many new layers of expensive bureaucracy would be required to support the new method of distribution and chip away at those bottom lines and the amount actually used to benefit the needy? Right now there are strict guidelines as to what amount of total revenue must make its way to the service line in order to stay a legitimate 501(c)3 organization. Those requirements don’t exist for government.
Plus, the one comment was almost chiding me for being stingy because I didn’t want to pay more in taxes. I replied that he was allowing himself to feel glorified by his magnanimity. It is as though he wouldn’t support the poor unless he was made to do so by law. Of course that didn’t go over well, but what I’d like to continue in the argument is that he’s actually abdicating his personal responsibility to the poor by assigning that to the government. Jesus said, “the poor will always be with you.” I can’t imagine that will change because the government picks up more tax money and redistributes it.
Between supporting extended family members, charitable contributions like United Way, church, and taxes including various fees and property taxes, more than 60% of our family income goes out already. Now it’s a generous income, and I’m certainly well fed (oh, gosh, and I know I just opened myself to the comment I played above regarding magnaminity) but please consider my question: How much am I supposed to give before it’s considered my fair share?
In the end this argument is over whether or not I’m a lioness free to roam the savanna or if I will be locked in a cage. Whether I’m able to determine by my own priorities in how my money will be spent or if I must abdicate that responsibility to what one might perceive as a benevolent government when in fact it is always choosing winners and losers.
And yes. I’ll fight for that.