Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts. Founded by Mark Kleiman (1951-2019)
Puncturing the Charity Myth
The invaluable Ezra Klein has a typically excellent post today, skewering Cato’s David Boaz for–once again–suggesting that if only liberals would stop progressive taxation, then conservatives and the wealthy would make up the difference through private charity.
This is one of those conservative zombies: it just won’t die, no matter how many times you try to drive stakes through it with facts. Klein does about as good a job as you can with a short post.
I can add, however, a thought experiment: remember Hands Across America? That was the big, nationwide movement for people all over America to, well, hold hands to remember the homeless. On May 25, 1986, five million people held hands over more than 4,000 miles, and they contributed money to homelessness and hunger organizations as part of the effort. Think of it as a standing walk-a-thon. It was quite a big deal: it was built up in the media for weeks. People had parties in their houses. Corporations donated millions. And in all, it was an amazing take, for one day: $20 million dollars.
Now imagine if we did Hands Across America every day of the year, every year. Impossible? Of course, but we’re in Cato fantasyland here. If we replicated this extraordinary civic effort every day, including holidays, weekends and Super Bowl Sunday, then it would raise annually somewhere around $7.3 billion.
In other words, it would raise less than half of the annual federal budget for the TANF program (what replaced AFDC), which itself was always tiny. It wouldn’t come close to matching Head Start, job training, Food Stamps, WIC, child care, child welfare, affordable housing, and of course Medicaid. It wouldn’t even be close to a drop in the bucket. And that’s making the heroic assumption that we could even do it.
So consider me skeptical that the private sector will make up the difference. It’s an appealing soundbite, a distant cousin of “cutting taxes will allow us to grow out of the deficit.” There is such a thing as adult libertarianism–a philosophy that candidly acknowledges the severe deprivation that will occur in the severe diminution of government, and advocates it nevertheless. The charity myth isn’t it.
Author: Jonathan Zasloff
Jonathan Zasloff teaches Torts, Land Use, Environmental Law, Comparative Urban Planning Law, Legal History, and Public Policy Clinic - Land Use, the Environment and Local Government. He grew up and still lives in the San Fernando Valley, about which he remains immensely proud (to the mystification of his friends and colleagues). After graduating from Yale Law School, and while clerking for a federal appeals court judge in Boston, he decided to return to Los Angeles shortly after the January 1994 Northridge earthquake, reasoning that he would gladly risk tremors in order to avoid the average New England wind chill temperature of negative 55 degrees.
Professor Zasloff has a keen interest in world politics; he holds a PhD in the history of American foreign policy from Harvard and an M.Phil. in International Relations from Cambridge University. Much of his recent work concerns the influence of lawyers and legalism in US external relations, and has published articles on these subjects in the New York University Law Review and the Yale Law Journal. More generally, his recent interests focus on the response of public institutions to social problems, and the role of ideology in framing policy responses.
Professor Zasloff has long been active in state and local politics and policy. He recently co-authored an article discussing the relationship of Proposition 13 (California's landmark tax limitation initiative) and school finance reform, and served for several years as a senior policy advisor to the Speaker of California Assembly. His practice background reflects these interests: for two years, he represented welfare recipients attempting to obtain child care benefits and microbusinesses in low income areas. He then practiced for two more years at one of Los Angeles' leading public interest environmental and land use firms, challenging poorly planned development and working to expand the network of the city's urban park system. He currently serves as a member of the boards of the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy (a state agency charged with purchasing and protecting open space), the Los Angeles Center for Law and Justice (the leading legal service firm for low-income clients in east Los Angeles), and Friends of Israel's Environment. Professor Zasloff's other major activity consists in explaining the Triangle Offense to his very patient wife, Kathy.
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