Sunday, January 02, 2011

When doing nothing is illegal

My last post got me thinking about how to rejigger things to encourage more donations to private charities.

Maybe we should mandate donations to private charities. Instead of raising taxes on the rich, require that they give X% of their income to the 501(c)3 charities of their choice.

I think that would definitely be better than sending the money through the Washington DC (or Beacon Hill) tax-money-sausage-factory... but would it be constitutional?

Libertarians and conservatives are arguing that the Individual Mandate in Obamacare is unconstitutional. That you can't claim that doing nothing (not buying health insurance) is illegal.

There is at least one thing you're legally required to do in the United States, even if you do absolutely nothing besides being an 18-year-old male. I was legally required to register for the draft; the Supreme Court decided that the constitutional power to "raise and support armies" makes that OK.

I can't think of any other laws that apply if you do absolutely nothing-- are there any? You have to pay income tax, but only if you earn income (which is doing something-- and besides, imposing a national income tax required a constitutional amendment). Requiring that rich people donate to charity is logically just another form of income tax... but legally? I dunno.

To keep the lawyers happy we'd probably have to jack up the tax rates on the rich and then give a tax credit for charitable donations. Which would make the whole scheme complicated enough you'd get the right complaining about high tax rates and the left complaining about rich people using tax deductions to get out of paying their fair share.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Charity and diversity

Sam Harris over at the Huffington Post has a "New Year's Resolution for the Rich."

Re-reading it, I'm a little confused as to what he's proposing-- he wants rich people to create "a mechanism that bypassed the current dysfunction of government, earmarking the money for unambiguously worthy projects..."

I'm confused because I thought that is exactly what private charities do-- you give money to charities that you think are worthy. He seems to want a charity that everybody agrees is worthy, but I don't think such a thing exists. He might think more education for already-wealthy Americans and alternative energy research are unambiguously worthy, and I agree that those are worthy charities.

But I'm more sympathetic to the priorities of the Gates Foundation-- I think saving children overseas from dying of malaria is a better use of charity dollars than making college free to all the kids who are lucky enough to be born in the U.S.A.

Why are people on the left generally so fond of one-size-fits-all solutions? Why do they talk so much about celebrating diversity, but are so anti-diversity when somebody suggests decentralized solutions to problems like saving for retirement (private accounts for Social Security) or public education (vouchers)?