Monday, April 21, 2008

A Word On Charity and Altruism

A few weeks ago, I was on a rant regarding my disbelief in true "altruism" as a motivator for charitable giving.  A few readers legitimately took me to task for suggesting that conservatives give more than liberals because they have more to feel guilty about or that giving is ultimately a self-serving act, regardless of one's political leanings.  One reader stereotypically assume me to be a liberal merely because I dared take a jab a conservatives (as if conservative never criticize each other).  But if you want to see a real rant, check out The Cactus Tax Proposal, Part 2:  Eliminate the Tax Deductions for CharityHere is a snippett:

Additionally . . . acts of charity are not truly acts of charity. If I donate money to an organization, and in exchange, they slap my name on the side of a building, and have a dinner in my honor, is it really charity? Or is such behavior merely seeking adulation, and an opportunity to attend yet another event on the social season schedule?

I still think true altruism has nothing to do with charitable donations -- at least not when the giver claims a deduction at the end of the year -- but I would not eliminate the deduction.  The "Angry Bear" (the author of the linked opinion) and others view the world through economic lenses and so the argument goes thusly:  (1) there is no real altruism, (2) altruistic acts are therefore undersupplied by the market, (3) altruistic acts generate public goods, (4) it makes sense, therefore to subsidize -- though not necessarily via the tax code -- altruism that is insufficiently found in the market place that so many law and economic types dictate our daily behavior.  That is, the argument that there is no altruism ultimately proves the need for government subsidy and a deduction is one such subsidy.  The argument against the existence of true altruism does not prove that the charitable contribution deduction should be eliminated.


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