#105: Forced Philanthropy

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #105, on the subject of Forced Philanthropy.

Somewhere in the archives of Charles Schulz’ wonderful Peanuts comic strip is the one (shown below) in which Linus says, “When I get big, I want to be a great philanthropist!”  Charlie Brown observes, “You have to have a lot of money to be a great philanthropist…”.  After a moment of consideration, Linus clarifies, “I want to be a great philanthropist with someone else’s money!”

We laugh.  It is funny because it is absurd.  There is nothing particularly charitable about giving away money that belongs to someone else, regardless of who benefits.  It is completely absurd.


Yet when politicians say it, for some reason no one laughs.

That’s probably because politicians have demonstrated that they are quite able to do exactly that:  They have the power to take money away from some people and use it to help others.  We have given them that power, and there is a degree to which we are pleased with the outcome, as programs like food stamps and medicaid have reduced poverty in this country to the point that very few Americans are really truly poor.  That is, the kind of poverty we see in Third World countries including India and parts of Africa just does not exist here; we have relatively isolated cases of people “falling through the cracks”, not cities packed with homeless people mobbing the streets and refugee camps bursting at the seams.  We could do more, and we are doing more, but what we have done has been accomplished in significant part because politicians have decided to be philanthropists with our money, and we have approved that.

Yet when Hillary Clinton starts talking about how she would use Donald Trump’s money claimed by the Estate Tax he wants to eliminate, it bothers us.  As Mitch Album (Detroit Free Press) says,

The whole image of the government rubbing its hands as you take your dying breath should creep you out.

We have seen it in Blackadder, as the wealthy nobleman is dying and the King and the Archbishop are drooling over who should get his estates.  Hurry up and die, Donald:  Hillary is already counting the share of your money she is going to give to the less fortunate.

Let’s be clear on this.  It’s one thing for us to agree, however reluctantly, that all of us who are scraping by will sacrifice a little money we could really use for something else, and let the government use it to help those who are not scraping by.  It is entirely different for all of us who have enough to be comfortable to decide to gang up on the few who have more than we do, take their money, and give it to the less fortunate.  The former is almost altruistic, and with bit of stretching can be made to appear as if it is our generosity helping the poor.  The latter is simply criminal–and however much we want to admire Robin Hood, we would have little sympathy for a modern criminal waylaying everyone driving expensive cars and giving the money to farmers who feel their tax burden is too high.

However, somehow politicians have persuaded us that it is a noble idea to rob from the rich and give to the poor, that in doing so they are being charitable.  Like Linus Van Pelt, though, they prove to be philanthropists with someone else’s money.  It is not admirable to take money from the rich and give it to the poor when it is not your money.

I don’t know what Donald Trump has done that counts as charity.  I’m told that Hillary Clinton and her husband own and operate a major charitable fund, and accept contributions from many very wealthy donors.  I gather, too, that they have both personally profited substantially from operating that fund.  She seems to have demonstrated a talent for taking money from other people and making it appear she is a philanthropist.  I suspect she has made more money on her philanthropic activities than she has contributed from her own independent income.

However that is, though, it does appear that she is ready to take money from anyone who has it.  I can only be grateful that I don’t have enough to catch anyone’s attention.

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