This week, we begin a new feature: the day’s most interesting and important story on nonprofits from the world’s media. For a full survey of media coverage of topics relating to nonprofits, philanthropy, volunteering, and civil society, go to the Hauser Center’s news blog, Nonprofit News & Comment.
Today’s featured story from the Washington Post discusses GOP candidate Romney’s assertion that taxes are a form of charitable donation.
“Are taxes and charity equitable?” By Rosalind S. Helderman. Washington Post.
August 18, 2012.
Are taxes a form of charitable donation?
Republican presidential challenger Mitt Romney seemed to suggest that he might think so last week, when he responded to questions about how much he pays in taxes by suggesting that people should take into account his total contributions to the government and charities.
The comment was a quick one — a by-golly insistence that despite paying a relatively low tax rate on his vast income, the millions he has given to charity show that he’s not a greedy guy. But experts who research public attitudes on philanthropy on both sides of the political spectrum said it was an inadvertently revealing moment, a brief window into the deep philosophical differences between how liberals and conservatives view government and society.
“Taxes are a form a of charity,” said Michael Tanner, a scholar at the Cato Institute who has studied philanthropy, explaining the conservative viewpoint. “If we think of the point of taxes, it’s not to be punitive. We tax people because there’s some use, some public good, for which they’re needed.”
He added that one reason a conservative such as Romney aims to push tax rates down is a fundamental belief that individuals make better choices about what society needs than government does: “A conservative might say, ‘I know of something in my local community where my dollars might serve a better purpose.’ ”
The flip side of the argument, the liberal side, is that the point of government is to provide a way for citizens to decide together what society needs and to get those things done.
“This is really the fundamental disagreement,” said Garrett Gruener, the founder of Ask.com, who advocates higher taxes for himself and other ultra-wealthy individuals as part of the group Patriotic Millionaires for Fiscal Strength.
“Democracy is not a charity. It’s an enterprise of all Americans to accomplish things that we democratically decide are important,” he said. “Charity is something I do on my own, and I don’t expect others to have the same priorities I do.”