For the fourth time, the president has proposed limiting charitable deductions. The proposal has received little notice from the mainstream press, though the nonprofit world continues to object. (See Charitable Deduction Central, provided by the Alliance for Charitable Reform.)
Michael Barone, Washington wiseman and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics, sees a connection between the desire to cut into charitable giving and another presidential desire, namely, raising taxes:
The clearly intended result would be a massive transfer of money from the voluntary sector of society into government.
Fewer citizens’ dollars would flow into either private charities or private investments. Instead, the central government would pick and choose who receives those dollars and for what purposes. It’s “increasingly apparent,” writes Joanne Florino of the Triad Foundation,
that attacks on the charitable deduction are based on the beliefs that the government knows how to spend money better than private citizens, that the public sector can pick winners and losers in the charitable sector, and that monolithic solutions trump diversity and experimentation. If we choose to go down this rocky and treacherous path, we send a clear message to our country that a strong civil society isn’t really that important….
And not only dollars are at stake, Barone adds. The same Government First philosophy also brings America the
mandate that voluntary-sector organizations must buy health insurance that finances procedures their leaders consider deeply immoral. Centralized government will decide what’s moral, and you’ll be forced to pay for it.
Barone warns that
Alexis de Tocqueville in the 1830s identified the voluntary sector as a unique feature of American democracy, one that gave it strength and character. He compared it positively with his own France, where centralized government stifled initiative and innovation.
The country must now choose between those who want “to make this country more like Tocqueville’s France,” and those “who want to keep it more like Tocqueville’s America.”
Tocqueville famously praised our nation in Democracy in America. Less often read are his criticisms of his beloved France, both before and after its bloody Revolution. In The Old Regime and the Revolution, Tocqueville described how a ravenous central government drained the life from civil society and suffocated the charitable impulse:
The government of the old regime had already taken away from the French any possibility, or desire, of helping one another. When the Revolution happened, one would have searched most of France in vain for ten men who had the habit of acting in common….
Contemplating his unbalanced homeland, Tocqueville gave the same warning as Barone:
our quarrel is not about the value of freedom per se, but stems from our opinion of our fellow men ... a man's admiration of absolute government is proportionate to the contempt he feels for those around him
FOOTNOTE: The director of the White House Office of Social Innovation attempted to justify its latest charitable deduction proposal here. Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly has a helpful response; he observes that the director’s justification “doesn’t address why the proposal has failed four times before this, or why the nonprofit sector [whose leaders mostly voted for Obama] seems so adamantly opposed to a tax proposal that he and his White House colleagues believe has such inconsequential impacts on charitable giving.”