The principality of profit

So Time names the hyperrich and megagenerous as its people of the year and that’s a fine and and due honor. But occurs to me that this is one more indication how we are reentering an age of leadership by the very rich: Bloomberg of New York, Corzine of New Jersey, Bush of the White House, Gates and Bono for charity. Of course, the people do band together to give generously — should the millions who gave billions after the tsunami have been the cover subjects, perhaps? And I blather endlessly about the democratic power of this medium you’re touching at the moment. But thanks to many factors — campaign-finance laws, corporate scandal and regulation, the never-ending rise of the power of celebrity — the rich get not only richer but also more powerful. As long as they use that power for good, helping society through service and giving, it’s a good.

  • Jeff, the gap between the richest and the poorest has been growing for 30 years in this country. In fact it grew the most during the Clinton years when there were no “tax cuts for the rich”.

    Simpleton Socialists like to point to the gap, assert its depravity, and use it to indict the “inequities” of capitalism.


    Countries with smaller “gaps” all have higher unemployment, more social unrest, and LOWER standards of living.

    The existence of very rich people and more importantly the incentives that made them, are a linchpin of our prosperity.

  • Philanthropy always suffers from the whims of the giver. Who is to say what a “good” cause is? If the super-rich were taxed at a proper rate the money would end up in the treasury where redistributing it would be subject to the forces of democracy.

    For every Bill Gates there is a Coors or a Scaife using their wealth to undermine the democratic institutions.
    Try this link, for example:

  • daudder


  • I like it. It’s putting emphasis on good works, something that is a timely reminder that power doesn’t necessarily corrupt.

  • The Chronicle of Philanthropy ran an article a few years ago comparing the giving of the rich and middle-class and poor. Turns out that, as a percentage of income and wealth, the rich give far less than the poor. In terms of who is more generous, it would appear that the rich are the least generous.

    This from a 8/10/2000 article (behind a paywall, unfortunatley) saying this:

    “As previous I.R.S. data have shown, people in the lowest income bracket gave the highest percentage to charity. Among returns of taxpayers with adjusted gross incomes of less than $20,000 a year, those who itemized donated an average of nearly 11 percent.

    “Among Americans with the highest incomes — those earning $200,000 or more — the average charitable deduction was 3.5 percent of their earnings (virtually unchanged from the year before).”

    There are some problems with the data because some people don’t itemize, so it’s hard to know how much they gave.

    There’s also a ranking of states in terms of how much residents gave to charity in relation to their HH income.

    These 10 states have residents making more than $200K who give the largest proportion of their income to charity:

    Utah, Arkansas, Montana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Alabama, District of Columbia, Mississippi, Idaho, and Maine.

    These 10 states have residents making more than $200K who give the smallest proportion of their income to charity:

    Massachusetts, Michigan, Maryland, Rhode Island, Arizona, West Virginia, California, Illinois, Connecticut, and in last place, New Jersey.

  • New 2LT

    Nice thoughts Jeff. Robert, please realize that a proper rate is in the eye of the beholder.

  • ThomasD

    “For every Bill Gates there is a Coors, Scaife, or Soros using their wealth to undermine the democratic institutions.”

    I fixed you quote for you.

  • ThomasD

    er, your quote…

  • 000

    I, for one, welcome our benevolent overlords and our social betters. But really, couldn’t Time have fit in Angelina Jolie?

  • “For every Bill Gates there is a Coors or a Scaife using their wealth to undermine the democratic institutions.”

    ThomasD tried to fix it, but there is no fixing it. As far as Mr. Feinman is concerned, conservatives are properly voiceless. I checked out his site and it’s a litany of social control, silence-those-who-oppose-us tracts. Someone like Scaife is labeled “undemocratic”, but it’s Feinman who wants to take choice out of individuals’ daily lives.

  • David R. Block

    If we’re going to include Coors and Scaife, then Soros, Kennedy, Kerry and Corzine all belong, too.

  • Giving an honor like this to the super-rich for doing good… I’m reminded of the Chris Rock gag about fathers who brag about how they take care of their kids: You’re SUPPOSED TO!!! What do you want, a COOKIE???

    This is a great big cookie to some rich celebrities whose distinction is that they are not the selfish blowhards that most other rich celebrities are, rich celebrities whose primary contribution to society is to rail at regular citizens for not doing enough. I’d like to see Bono-like behavior *encouraged* — but is this stunt really an incentive for the super-rich to do good works?

    The measure of charity shouldn’t be how much money you can afford to comfortably part with; the measure of charity should be how much you sacrifice when the sacrifice means tightening your own belt. A woman whose family is on a budget and yet still puts change in a Salvation Army kettle, or gives to her church, or helps her elderly neighbor, deserves far more praise than — at least — Melinda Gates!

    It doesn’t matter, though. Times’ person/persons/inanimate object/strongman thug of the year has been nothing but an irrelevant joke for a long time.

  • JennyD,

    The richest 1% pay 34% of all taxes which mostly get redistributed to lower income people. And the top 50% pay 96% of taxes.

    Care to include that in your summation of generosity?

    So perhaps a reduction of the rich’s tax burden could get their other charitable donations up to a satisfactory level?

    No. That is not going to happen because the class warfare advocates would just find a new metric wth which to bash the rich.

    People that sit around and judge or worry about how others spend their own money are abject losers.

  • CapriousNut, you read me wrong. I agree with you in terms of taxes. But let’s also figure that after one has bought a house, a car, food, insurances, etc. then what’s left is discretionary income. You can do what you please with it.

    No doubt, the rich have more discretionary income than the poor. And they should. They earned it (mostly, some inherited it). And even after shouldering that enormous tax burden, the rich still have more discretionary income.

    So, what percentage of the discretionary part do the rich and poor give to charity? Clearly, the rich give a smaller portion. Much smaller. This isn’t about taxes; it’s whether people deserve to be on the cover of Time magazine for their good deeds, which in fact they might not even notice in terms of the quality and quantity of their daily lives. When a poor person drops a dollar in a Salvation Army bucket it might have a bigger impact on the giver than Bill Gates writing a $1 million check to the same charity.

  • Santiago

    Yes and what does that have to do with the objective value of the giving? Is the value in giving that the person who gave suffered or that some good was done (supposedly)? The idea that a poor person should get more kudos for dropping a dollar in the katrina aid box than Gates for dropping a hundred thousand is absolute absurdity. Are we valuing what gets done, or who suffers most?

    Robert Feinman said:

    “Philanthropy always suffers from the whims of the giver. Who is to say what a “good” cause is? If the super-rich were taxed at a proper rate the money would end up in the treasury where redistributing it would be subject to the forces of democracy.”

    You know, you make your own case against yourself pretty well. Indeed, who is to say what a “good” cause is, especially with money that I (myself) earned and work quite hard for? Who better, then, than me?

    If I submitted that a loud, obnoxious minority (which is really who runs things in this day and age of voter apathy) has more right to my money than I do, well, so does any robber-gang. Worse – at least the robber-gang doesn’t demand I also sanction their actions as moral!


  • Santiago

    As an amusing side note, I’d like to observe that there is hardly a thing more whimsical than politics, which Robert claims is a “cure” for the supposed evil of the “whim of the giver.” Yes, lets set money free from the “whims” (i.e., the judgement of what is worth their money) of the givers, and give it to the objective, rational process of politicking!


  • JennyD thinks the poor kid in Africa cherishes the single bowl of rice from a “low income” American as much as the vaccines and infrastructure actuated by evil rich donors.

    I can see the starving kids now cursing Bill Gates for not giving a greater percentage of his income and concurrently marvelling at the “suffering” of “dollar” givers.

    Charitable donations are not about scoring points in some phony compassion board-game or getting your face on Time magazine and they certainly aren’t measured by the “suffering” of the donor.

    JennyD also wants to inform everyone that ,

    “the rich still have more discretionary income.”

    Wow. Thanks for clarifying that. I had previously been under the impression that the “poor” had all of the income.

    You can file that under Tautological Bovine Excrement.

  • HA

    Robert Feinman,

    Philanthropy always suffers from the whims of the giver. Who is to say what a “good” cause is? If the super-rich were taxed at a proper rate the money would end up in the treasury where redistributing it would be subject to the forces of democracy.

    What a great idea! If we raised taxes on the “super-rich” to the “proper rate” we could spend the bonanza on a good cause.

    I, for one, would support a massive military buildup.

    1000 ship navy? Check.
    Missile defense? Check.
    Better international cargo inspections? Check.
    Better intelligence? Check.
    Moat along the Mexican border? Check.
    Double the size of the Army? Check.
    Better pay for troops? Check.
    Better benefits for veterans? Check.

    Unfortunately, after funding all these good causes, I doubt we would have much left for other “good causes” like socialist, coercive, government income redistribution according to the whims of corrupt, self-dealing politicians and their powerful cronies.

  • HA


    If Bill Gates wants to do something altruistic, maybe he could have Microsoft write a better operating system because Windows really sucks. That would alleviate more suffering worldwide than spreading around his billions to the parasitic NGO jet-set.

    And if he really feels alleviate suffering, maybe he can promote the ideas of Hernando de Soto. Because redistribution will not alleviate suffering. Capitalism and private property will.

  • ICallMasICM

    ”If the super-rich were taxed at a proper rate the money would end up in the treasury where redistributing it would be subject to the forces of democracy.’

    Wow – there’s so much wrong with this the only question is where to start. The super-rich will avoid paying higher taxes and any increased revenues would nly add to the current gov’t inefficiency. What do you want 2 bridges to nowhere? More Katrina pork?

  • I’ll pile on, since it seems to be in fasion.

    If the super-rich were taxed at a proper rate the money would end up in the treasury where redistributing it would be subject to the forces of democracy

    Or else the super-rich would just move somewhere else, like John Lennon and so many other rich Brits did when they moved to the US in the ’70s to avoid the usury of the State.

  • Reading elsewhere, I was reminded that while we love Bono and admire the work he’s doing, the jury’s still out on whether efforts like G8 have really made any measurable difference. Some charity work just sucks money down a hole. Is it really more admirable to suck a million dollars down a hole, or to give ten dollars to a person you know is in trouble?

    Contrast the celebrity trio to the scores of people who opened their hearts, homes, and wallets for Katrina victims, charity that was direct and made a real impact on the lives of the people in need. Ask any normal American what charity they remember in 2005, those are the people *they* would immediately talk about, not celebrities.

    But journalists more and more are in that bubble that they believe that Bush and the rest of us are in. They move in elite circles and have little regard for the real lives of yokels. So, of course, elites naturally credit the charity of Bill Gates, predatory software villain, and his wife, whose prime achievement in life is marrying a rich nerd, over the natural generosity of people who give what they can.

  • IN today’s NYTimes”

    Study Shows the Superrich Are Not the Most Generous

    Working-age Americans who make $50,000 to $100,000 a year are two to six times more generous in the share of their investment assets that they give to charity than those Americans who make more than $10 million, a pioneering study of federal tax data shows.

  • JennyD,

    You shouldn’t link directly to the NYTimes.

    Leave a smidgen of doubt about where you get your agitprop.

  • Of course there’s that little thing called progressive taxation JennyD. Even if there was a flat tax the rich would give more to the government which then gives it out as charity in the form of grants, subsidized education, etc. That said, making Bill Gates person of the year strikes me as odd considering the tactics he employed to amass his fortune.

  • I noticed that a lot of people took exception to my posting in this thread, above. I’d be happy to debate those who disagree with my positions, but I don’t think Jeff’s blog is the right venue. If anyone would like to suggest a site where one could start threads as well as comment I’d be willing to participate.

    I have several suggestions, if there are none forthcoming:

    They both require simple registrations. The first seems to get a balanced group of posters, the second is aimed at liberals, but there are some very strong conservative (and libertarian) contributors as well. I think the debate would only be enhanced by getting others to participate.
    Any takers?