The idea that philanthropy is an illegitimate enterprise because it lets private persons rather than government decide who gets the benefits of the donor’s contribution was restated on yesterday’s Washington Post op-ed page. David Nasaw, a biographer of Andrew Carnegie, writes, “For every $3 the wealthy give away, the federal government adds the fourth that would have been collected in taxes had charitable deductions not been permitted. In effect,
Washington is contributing $40 billion to institutions and causes selected for funding by foundations and individuals who earn enough to justify itemizing their deductions.”
Nasaw reiterates the view of New York Times philanthropy correspondent Stephanie Strom who reported on September 6, “[T]he United States is one of a handful of countries to allow givers a tax deduction. In essence, the public is letting private individuals decide how to allocate money on their behalf.” In Nasaw’s view, philanthropy shortchanges democracy when donors can make decisions that should be the prerogative of government policymakers. He seems troubled by the idea that individuals should be able to independently create the public benefits of living in a civil society.