Tuesday, December 27, 2011

America the Generous ... Better to Give Aid Directly or Through the Politicians? ... MOM or OPM?

The generosity of individual Americans acting as private citizens still leads the world. By a long shot.

We really are different. Exceptional, in fact.

For giving, the Europeans primarily look to the state. We look to individuals in the private sector.

That's an essential difference between the European typical social-democratic model and our U.S. democracy.

E pluribus unum, Latin for "Out of many, one," was adopted in 1782 as the nation's de facto motto and appears on the Seal of the United States. The Latin phrase speaks directly to the ongoing tension which accompanies the American goals of balancing (1) the individual citizen's liberties with (2) the overall general welfare of our society.

Since the mainstream media doesn't spend much time these days extolling or proclaiming our unique American brand of generosity, this philanthropy will serve as our truth telling story for today.

America the Generous summarizes a recent global survey revealing once again that U.S. citizens are by far the most generous people on planet Earth. Here's a sample from the article:

"After the Britain-based Charities Aid Foundation released a survey this week that ranked the U.S. first in giving, I contacted Adam Meyerson of the Philanthropy Roundtable for a reaction. Given the economic hardships of so many Americans in recent years, was he surprised by the results?

"Not at all," said Mr. Meyerson. "This study is consistent with many other studies showing that America is by far the most charitable country on Earth. We give about 2% of our national income to charity; most other countries give 1% or much less."

The report is based on more than 150,000 interviews conducted in 153 countries. People were asked about their behavior in the previous month, including whether they had donated money to charity, volunteered time to an organization or helped a stranger. Sixty-five percent of respondents in the U.S. said that they had given money; 43% had volunteered; and 75% had helped someone they didn't know. The top-ranked U.S. was followed by Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Britain.

Mr. Meyerson said that American largess stems in part from the can-do spirit that free societies nurture. "As Tocqueville observed back in the 1830s, unlike in Europe, in America people don't wait for the government or local noblemen to solve problems. We step up and solve them ourselves," he said. Also, "philanthropy and charity have always been part of American business culture—from Ben Franklin, who started the first volunteer fire department, to Andrew Carnegie, who brought public libraries to communities all across the country, to Bill Gates, who's trying to eliminate malaria."

Mr. Meyerson added that charitable giving also helps the U.S. maintain a thriving civil society. It's the "life-blood" of our public discourse, he said. "Name a great issue that we're wrestling with today—the role of government in our health care, pensions, retirement security, same-sex unions, school choice, all these issues. It's charitable giving that has made possible a vigorous debate on both sides."

Now let's turn to the media. America the Generous? Not According to the Media blasts what it calls the American liberal media's bias:

"But American generosity is rarely acknowledged by the media. Instead, America is usually attacked by the media as not being generous enough, and American donations of time, money, and effort to countries are ignored or even scorned by liberal journalists.

On May 22, 2011, former New York Times economic reporter Eduardo Porter complained in a New York Times editorial that America was the "least generous" of industrial nations - by which he meant Americans were not being taxed enough to fund extensive government social programs. The networks refused to cover the extensive contributions of private faith-based charities when a tsunami devastated Japan in March 2011, and similarly ignored coverage of corporate donations when a destructive earthquake struck Haiti in Jan 2010.

This is because for the mainstream media, government social programs, fueled by taxation, are the only form of effective charity. At times, the media has even attacked private charity, because money given to private charity is not given to government programs. (This attack on private charity might be rooted in the fact that conservatives tend to be far more generous with their time and money than liberals.)

The New York Times' Stephanie Strom bizarrely blasted private charity in 2007 because it took money away from the government, declaring that "The rich are giving more to charity than ever, but people like Mr. Broad are not the only ones footing the bill for such generosity. For every three dollars they give away, the federal government typically gives up a dollar or more in tax revenue, because of the charitable tax deduction and by not collecting estate taxes."

In Nov. 2010, the Washington Post's Ezra Klein advocated giving to politically active think tanks as more effective than traditional gifts to charity.

Apparently, the "forced charity" of government social programs, fueled by higher taxes, is the only worthwhile form of charity, according to liberals. This is one explanation for the consistent media gripe that Americans are not generous, despite the mountain of evidence that suggests otherwise.""

So there we have two opposing views of American generosity.

To some generosity means the voluntary private actions of individuals while to others it means the collective actions of government programs.

In much of the rest of the world, generosity is deemed to be within the purview of government officials and bureaucrats. In America, we still rely on private giving to a large extent.

For those who believe that government giving is preferable to direct voluntary individual donations by individuals, they arrive at a very wrong conclusion. That wrong conclusion is that if government takes from some individuals in order to redistribute to others that which it took, it will result in a more compassionate society. That's simply untrue.

In other words, either one or both of two wrongheaded beliefs is held by those believing in having the government serve in the role of chief giver: (1) as individuals we can't be trusted to give directly and voluntarily to those in need, and/or (2) the government will know better how to spend our money than we will. That's the mistaken OPM prescription for bureaucratic "generous giving."

Americans are much more generous and compassionate than are citizens of other countries. And the above referenced survey confirms that very fact.

The bigger the government's role is, the smaller the role will be for individuals to play. And purposely providing a smaller role for individuals with respect to philanthropic giving will serve to the detriment of the larger society.

So let's acknowledge that MOM giving and caring is the proven and clear winner over government every time.

And while we're on this subject, let's begin to emphasize a MOM based retirement and medicare funding/"giving" mindset as well. Approaches encouraging MOM based spending for nursing home care and MOM paying for education would be helpful as well.

Finally, we should encourage MOM based investing during our working years, so we can make a serious effort to be able to take care of our own financial needs during retirement.

Then after a good faith effort at self reliance, if that amount of self provided funding when combined with voluntarily donated money isn't enough to help all those who still need help when they enter old age, we can tax ourselves in order to to make up the remaining shortfall, if any.

We'd feel better, but that's not all.

Then there would also be widespread clarity and understanding concerning the proper role of government as well as the real source of funds. It's the people.

It's helpful to be reminded from time to time that government can only spend on some people that which it first takes from other people. That's how redistributionism works.

Government has only OPM to spend.

Accordingly, the only question is whether help or generosity will come directly and voluntarily from individuals or indirectly through redistributionist "public servants."

I know which path I prefer. The direct, straight and honest one.

Thanks. Bob.

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