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Unvarnished Technocracy

The New York Times editorial board had one of the most jaw-dropping pieces I have read in a long time.  In it, they are absolutely unapologetic in saying that they think the government can spend your money better than you can -- and the larger the government take, the happier we all will be.

The munificence of American corporate titans warms the heart, sort of. The Chronicle of Philanthropy reports that the top 50 donors gave $7.3 billion to charity last year — about $150 million per head....

Yet we’d be so much happier about all the good things America’s moneyed elite pay for if the government made needed public investments.

The flip side of American private largess is the stinginess of the public sector. Philanthropic contributions in the United States — about $300 billion in 2006 — probably exceed those of any other country. By contrast, America’s tax take is nearly the lowest in the industrial world.

Oh my God, does anyone actually believe that Congress does a better job spending your money than you do?  Apparently they do:

Critics of government spending argue that America’s private sector does a better job making socially necessary investments. But it doesn’t. Public spending is allocated democratically among competing demands. Rich benefactors can spend on anything they want, and they tend to spend on projects close to their hearts.

LOLOLOL.  Has anyone looked at the last highway bill?  How many tens of thousands of politically motivated earmarks were there?   

Philanthropic contributions are usually tax-free. They directly reduce the government’s ability to engage in public spending. Perhaps the government should demand a role in charities’ allocation of resources in exchange for the tax deduction. Or maybe the deduction should go altogether. Experts estimate that tax breaks motivate 25 percent to 30 percent of contributions.

At the end of the day, this is not about a better prioritization process for spending -- this is about the NY Times getting a bigger say for itself in said spending.  They know that Warren Buffet couldn't give a rat's behind what the NY Times thinks about how he spends his money, but Congressmen trying to get reelected do care.  The NY Times wields a lot of political, but little private, influence, so they want to see as much spending as possible shift to political hands where the Times wields clout.

Postscript: Boy, here is some quality journalism:

Federal, state and local tax collections amount to just more than 25.5 percent of the nation’s economic output. The Finnish government collects 48.8 percent. As a result, the United States spends less on social programs than virtually every other rich industrial country, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. The Finnish government probably has money to build children’s health clinics.

"Probably has money?"  What does that mean?  Do they have government-funded children's health clinics or not?  The Times couldn't work up enough energy to fact-check that?  And by the way, who, other than the NY Times, declared that the best marginal use of additional public funds is for children's health clinics?

Postscript #2: Many of the very rich have been funding schools that are competitive with government-monopoly schools.  In this and many other cases, wealthy people fund programs that work better and cheaper than government alternatives.  I am sure that not only would the feds be happy to have this money to spend themselves (on some fat earmarks for key donors, most likely) but they would additionally be thrilled to get rid of the competition.

Update:  I must be going senile.  I missed the most obvious logical fallacy of all.  The NY Times says that our democratic government is the best possible mechanism for allocating funds.  But doesn't that also mean its the best possible mechanism for setting spending levels?  How can it complain that our democratic government is doing a bad job in setting total spending levels but does a great job in allocating that spending?

Posted on January 22, 2008 at 06:28 PM | Permalink

Comments

I'm glad someone else noticed that "probably". I was reading this editorial while waiting for one of my classes to start and I gasped so loud when I read the line that people turned around to see what the fuss was about.

Posted by: Matt | Jan 22, 2008 7:29:49 PM

"Public spending is allocated democratically among competing demands."

Typical statist error. They assume that the government would be free from corruption and abuse of power in distributing money.

"Rich benefactors can spend on anything they want, and they tend to spend on projects close to their hearts."

Translation: It's not fair! Some nonprofits get less money than others!

"A study last year of 8,000 gifts of $1 million or more to 4,000 nonprofits found that 44 percent went to higher education, 16 percent to medical institutions and 12 percent to arts and cultural organizations. Only 5 percent were dedicated to social service groups."

The error here is to assume that all nonprofits need the same amount of money. Do the arts need as much funding as higher education, more, or less?

"Philanthropic contributions are usually tax-free. They directly reduce the government’s ability to engage in public spending."

So they've identified the problem (unequal distribution of philanthropic donations) and the culprit (freedom to contribute as you wish). Now on to the solution:

"Perhaps the government should demand a role in charities’ allocation of resources in exchange for the tax deduction."

Translation: Maybe the government should take away some of your freedoms to ensure equality of outcome.

Posted by: Wayne | Jan 22, 2008 7:56:16 PM

Warren Buffet and Bill Gates already voted with their money when they moved it into charitable foundations to avoid death taxes that the NYT's beloved Congress would have used to bribe voters.

Posted by: | Jan 22, 2008 9:22:32 PM

Coyote, Amazingly, the EU seems to be catching on that biofuels are a self-imposed death sentence.

http://www.iht.com/articles/2008/01/14/business/biofuels.php

In a sign of shifting attitudes toward biofuels, European Union officials are proposing to ban imports of certain fuel crops whose production could do more harm than good in fighting climate change, according to a draft law seen Monday.

Oh, wait, I stand corrected... Once again, the only villians here are Third World countries. Protectivism wins the day again!

In its draft, the EU requires that biofuels from crops grown on some kinds of land covered in forest, wetlands and grasslands as of January 2008 should be banned for use in the 27-nation bloc.

At the same time, the EU does not want to abandon biofuels because of the contribution they could still make to increasing Europe's energy independence.

The draft EU rules probably would have the biggest effect on growers of palm oil in countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, according to Matt Drinkwater, a biofuels analyst with New Energy Finance in London.

Posted by: Scott | Jan 22, 2008 10:22:24 PM

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