Is Harvard a Charity?

The title of this op-ed in today’s Los Angeles Times suggests that Robert Reich, Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Labor, is criticizing philanthropy directed toward Harvard and other institutions that he calls “culture palaces.” Charity should help the poor, not Ivy League colleges, art museums and symphonies, appears to be his argument. 

In fact, Reich’s piece is another journalistic attack on the charitable tax deduction, which he considers a subsidy for the rich that takes government revenue from the poor.  He writes, “Like all tax deductions, this gap has to be filled by other tax revenues or by spending cuts, or else it just adds to the deficit.” This is the same argument that appears in David Nasaw’s Washington Post 9/23 op-ed and Stephanie Strom’s 9/6 New York Times story, both cited below.

It will be interesting to see if there is a liberal backlash against efforts to undermine individual giving to elite and largely liberal institutions like universities and foundations–and whether conservatives support or oppose these efforts.

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