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America the Generous


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American Spectator:

By Daniel Oliver on 8.11.10 @ 6:09AM

Forty billionaires have just pledged to give away at least half their wealth to charity, concerning which a few observations.
Scripture says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of Heaven (capitalized because, as Ralph de Toledano pointed out, it's a place -- you know, like Scarsdale). We could note in passing, but will not, that there is no suggestion that a rich woman would be similarly challenged.
Viewed from Scripture's vantage point, the forty billionaires may simply be taking the necessary steps to make the needle's eye larger or the camel, and their riches, smaller.
Is it fair -- is it accurate -- to say that these people who are giving away billions are being generous?
During the 1968 presidential campaign, William F. Buckley Jr. remarked that the Democratic candidate, Hubert Humphrey, had already promised the American people everything and that, since beyond everything there is only nothing, Humphrey was now promising the people exactly: nothing.
There's a bit of that here too. If we assume that even half a billion dollars is more than enough to live on, indeed more than enough to satisfy the dreams of avarice, then any additional wealth can mean to him that possesses it only nothing; in which case what these generous people are giving away is also: nothing.
At least nothing that means anything to them. Which again raises the question: What is generosity?
But perhaps that's just being churlish. How is a rich man supposed to be generous? What can he do? Is it possible for him to sacrifice? Perhaps it is best just to understand that that's his business.
There are other miscellaneous points. One of them is that the donors will get tax deductions for their gifts, the meaning of which is unclear since they have so much money that taxes have no impact on their lives -- which, not incidentally, tends to diminish their resistance to high taxes, which is not good for the rest of us.
Another point is that it is almost certain that the country would be better served if these billionaires kept their money and continued to invest it. Investing is an activity at which they have proved to be exceptionally skilled, and their investments would be far more likely to produce jobs and products -- real benefits -- than anything any charitable institution could possibly do with the funds.
A third point is the curious collectivity of the operation. Why did they get together to make a joint announcement? Why not just make their decisions in the privacy of their privy chambers? Were they looking for glory (which would suggest that having billions is not satisfying), or setting an example (for whom?)?
There is at least one potential significant benefit of the gifts: the funds will be deployed by private people, not government, which would surely waste it. But this is only a potential benefit: most of the donors are liberals, and it is possible, even likely -- perhaps certain -- that the money will go to the usual left-wing causes. With good luck, it will be wholly wasted; with bad luck it will do significant damage to limited constitutional government (the only real hope of the poor). The relevance of either scenario to generosity being -- what?
Still, the gifts do focus on one aspect of modern democratic life that the big-government types like to avoid. The donors are private people who will be fulfilling their own obligations to the poor.
It is part of liberal dogma that "we must look after the poor," by which, of course, liberal politicians mean they will take our money by force and deploy in ways they see fit.
Joe Biden, Exhibit A, spoke in 1988 of "changing the attitude of Americans about what their responsibilities are to the poor, about what their responsibilities are to other people."
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Good article. Reminds me of the parable of the Widow's Mite. The rich men made a big show of their "generous" giving...but it was the poor woman who gave the tiny bit that was the truly generous one.

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