Poorest Americans give much more to charity than rich


Americans aren’t so sure about rich people.

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For every revered Steve Jobs, there’s a reviled Bernie Madoff; for every folksy Warren Buffett, there’s a tone-deaf Mitt Romney. The pursuit of happiness is patriotic, but the pursuit of riches can come off as greedy. This ambivalence toward the wealthy is embedded in American democracy, and no one knows how to yank it out.

Even Alexis de Tocqueville agreed — a good thing, too, because discussing democracy in America without quoting “Democracy in America” is forbidden. “Men are there seen on a greater equality in point of fortune . . . than in any other country in the world, or in any age of which history has preserved the remembrance,” Tocqueville wrote of his travels in the United States. But then, the dagger: “I do not mean that there is any lack of wealthy individuals in the United States. I know of no country, indeed, where the love of money has taken stronger hold.”

So Americans dislike inequality but crave wealth — and this paradox propels our mixed feelings about the rich. Oppressors or job creators? Ambitious go-getters or rapacious 1 percenters?

Robert F. Dalzell, a historian at Williams College, believes he has an answer. America has a long-standing deal with the rich, he explains, one that allows the country to “forge an accommodation between wealth and democracy.” It’s simple: Yes, rich people, you can exploit workers and natural resources and lord your wealth over everyone if you like, and we’ll resent you for it. But if, along the way, you give a chunk of your fortune to charity, all will be forgiven, old sport. History won’t judge you as a capitalist; it will hail you as a philanthropist.

This uneasy bargain is the premise of Dalzell’s “The Good Rich and What They Cost Us,” which chronicles the deal from before the revolution through the recent financial crisis. Of course, just because the deal has lasted this long doesn’t mean that it will endure. Or that it is a particularly good one. Or that the rich aren’t constantly trying to rewrite the terms.

Early on, the wealthy waited until their deaths to strike the deal. Dalzell writes of Robert Keayne, a prominent 17th-century Boston merchant who sought to cleanse his price-gouging reputation by devoting his posthumous riches to college scholarships, improvements in his city’s water supply and defense, and construction of a town hall where important men like him could discuss weighty things. His will became a unilateral contract with town leaders; if anyone tried to sue his estate for past misdeeds, Keayne stipulated, all his giving would “utterly cease and become void.” Boston took the deal.

John D. Rockefeller saw no reason to wait. His Standard Oil empire — whose ruthless business tactics Ida Tarbell exposed and whose interlocking parts the Supreme Court split up — became the basis for the greatest philanthropic enterprise the world had ever seen. From major financial commitments to Spellman College and the University of Chicago, to support for medical research that developed the yellow-fever vaccine, to the financing of the Cloisters museum in Upper Manhattan and the restoration of Colonial Williamsburg, to list just a few initiatives, Rockefeller and his descendants set the model for modern, large-scale philanthropy. And they did so in a way that preserved the family’s influence and wealth over multiple generations.

“There was something Medici-like about the whole effort,” Dalzell writes, “for within the soul of that great Renaissance family there lay an urge to combine what many might have thought uncombinable — vast wealth and dedicated public service.”

But he also sees a more prosaic motivation: Billionaires want to polish their reputations for posterity. Wealth does not dull their sensitivity to what we think of them; it heightens it. Dalzell thinks it is no coincidence, for example, that the Giving Pledge — a public commitment by the world’s richest individuals, led by Buffett and Bill Gates, to donate most of their fortunes — coincided with the Great Recession’s backlash against the wealthy.

So, the rich just want to be loved. Is that so wrong? If more than 100 of the planet’s wealthiest families and individuals are promising to give away unfathomable amounts of money, why quibble?

Well, there’s at least one reason: The deal gets worse as the price paid for the rich’s charity — the inequality between the affluent and the rest — keeps rising. From 1979 to 2007, the real, after-tax income of the top 1 percent of the U.S. population grew by 275 percent, compared with 18 percent for the bottom fifth, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Social mobility has become more stunted in the United States than in Europe. And Americans see themselves falling further behind: A Washington Post-ABC News polllast year found that 57 percent of registered voters believed that the gap between the rich and rest was larger than it had been historically; only 5 percent thought it was smaller.

The deal will get even worse if efforts to push laws and policies that benefit wealthier Americans succeed. In “Rich People’s Movements,” Isaac William Martin, a sociologist at the University of California at San Diego, says today’s tea party is just the latest manifestation of another American tradition: the mobilization of wealthy and middle-class citizens in an effort to cut their taxes and contributions to the state.

Before the tea party, Martin tells us, there were tax clubs — groups of bankers throughout the South that agitated for tax cuts and helped bring about the Revenue Act of 1926, which “cut the tax rates on the richest Americans more deeply than any other tax law in history.” Before we hadGrover Norquist and Americans for Tax Reform, we had J.A. Arnold and the American Taxpayers’ League, and Vivien Kellems and the Liberty Belles, a 1950s women’s movement that campaigned to repeal the income tax. And before Arthur Laffer and supply-side economics, there was Andrew Mellon, the banker, philanthropist and Treasury secretary whose 1924 book,“Taxation: The People’s Business,” argued that cutting income tax rates would create more revenue through greater economic growth.

Rich people’s movements respond to perceived threats, such as the New Deal, President Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to cap incomes during World War II (because “all excess income should go to win the war,” FDR explained) or, now, the policies of the Obama administration. But these movements sell their efforts not as benefiting the rich alone — that would be too transparent, too tacky. Instead, they claim to protect freedom, promote growth, safeguard the Constitution or fend off an ever-more-intrusive government. Martin calls this “strategic policy crafting,” and it brings more allies to the fight.

In fact, it is not just the wealthy, but often the middle class or the slightly-richer-than-average who have campaigned for lower taxes on affluent Americans. “People need not be dupes in order to protest on behalf of others who are richer than they are,” Martin argues. “The activists and supporters of rich people’s movements were defending their own real interests, as they saw them. A tax increase on the richest 1 percent may be perceived by many upper-middle-income property owners as the first step in a broader assault on property rights.” In other words, there’s nothing the matter with Kansas.

Shortly before the Republican National Convention gathered last year to nominate a man who could have become one of the richest presidents in U.S. history, the Pew Research Center conducted a survey on American attitudes toward the wealthy. The chronic ambivalence was there: Forty-three percent of respondents said rich people are more likely than the average American to be intelligent, and 42 percent believed that the rich worked harder than everyone else. The good rich! But 55 percent said wealthy people were more likely to be greedy, and 34 percent thought they were less likely to be honest. The bad rich.

Can “giving pledges” and foundation grants sustain America’s deal with the wealthy in a time of increasing inequality and falling social mobility? In his conclusion, Dalzell worries that the belief in the generosity of the good rich leads us to “tolerate, even celebrate, the violation of some of our most cherished ideals” of fairness and egalitarianism.

Perhaps the dilemma of extreme wealth and disparities in a democracy is that noblesse oblige becomes necessary. These two books show that the wealthy give much with one hand but seek to contribute far less with the other. That makes the giving they choose to do all the more critical but all the less accountable.

And that doesn’t sound like such a good deal.

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By Carlos Lozada, Washington Post, November 27, 2013

Turning a blind eye. Giving someone the cold shoulder. Looking down on people. Seeing right through them.

These metaphors for condescending or dismissive behavior are more than just descriptive. They suggest, to a surprisingly accurate extent, the social distance between those with greater power and those with less — a distance that goes beyond the realm of interpersonal interactions and may exacerbate the soaring inequality in the United States.

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A growing body of recent research shows that people with the most social power pay scant attention to those with little such power. This tuning out has been observed, for instance, with strangers in a mere five-minute get-acquainted session, where the more powerful person shows fewer signals of paying attention, like nodding or laughing. Higher-status people are also more likely to express disregard, through facial expressions, and are more likely to take over the conversation and interrupt or look past the other speaker.

Bringing the micropolitics of interpersonal attention to the understanding of social power, researchers are suggesting, has implications for public policy.

Of course, in any society, social power is relative; any of us may be higher or lower in a given interaction, and the research shows the effect still prevails. Though the more powerful pay less attention to us than we do to them, in other situations we are relatively higher on the totem pole of status — and we, too, tend to pay less attention to those a rung or two down.

A prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain. In 2008, social psychologists from the University of Amsterdam and the University of California, Berkeley, studied pairs of strangers telling one another about difficulties they had been through, like a divorce or death of a loved one. The researchers found that the differential expressed itself in the playing down of suffering. The more powerful were less compassionate toward the hardships described by the less powerful.

Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at Berkeley, and Michael W. Kraus, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, have done much of the research on social power and the attention deficit.

Mr. Keltner suggests that, in general, we focus the most on those we value most. While the wealthy can hire help, those with few material assets are more likely to value their social assets: like the neighbor who will keep an eye on your child from the time she gets home from school until the time you get home from work. The financial difference ends up creating a behavioral difference. Poor people are better attuned to interpersonal relations — with those of the same strata, and the more powerful — than the rich are, because they have to be.

While Mr. Keltner’s research finds that the poor, compared with the wealthy, have keenly attuned interpersonal attention in all directions, in general, those with the most power in society seem to pay particularly little attention to those with the least power. To be sure, high-status people do attend to those of equal rank — but not as well as those low of status do.

This has profound implications for societal behavior and government policy. Tuning in to the needs and feelings of another person is a prerequisite to empathy, which in turn can lead to understanding, concern and, if the circumstances are right, compassionate action.

In politics, readily dismissing inconvenient people can easily extend to dismissing inconvenient truths about them. The insistence by some House Republicans in Congress on cutting financing for food stamps and impeding the implementation of Obamacare, which would allow patients, including those with pre-existing health conditions, to obtain and pay for insurance coverage, may stem in part from the empathy gap. As political scientists have noted, redistricting and gerrymandering have led to the creation of more and more safe districts, in which elected officials don’t even have to encounter many voters from the rival party, much less empathize with them.

Social distance makes it all the easier to focus on small differences between groups and to put a negative spin on the ways of others and a positive spin on our own.

Freud called this “the narcissism of minor differences,” a theme repeated by Vamik D. Volkan, an emeritus professor of psychiatry at the University of Virginia, who was born in Cyprus to Turkish parents. Dr. Volkan remembers hearing as a small boy awful things about the hated Greek Cypriots — who, he points out, actually share many similarities with Turkish Cypriots. Yet for decades their modest-size island has been politically divided, which exacerbates the problem by letting prejudicial myths flourish.

In contrast, extensive interpersonal contact counteracts biases by letting people from hostile groups get to know one another as individuals and even friends. Thomas F. Pettigrew, a research professor of social psychology at the University of California, Santa Cruz, analyzed more than 500 studies on intergroup contact. Mr. Pettigrew, who was born in Virginia in 1931 and lived there until going to Harvard for graduate school, told me in an e-mail that it was the “the rampant racism in the Virginia of my childhood” that led him to study prejudice.

In his research, he found that even in areas where ethnic groups were in conflict and viewed one another through lenses of negative stereotypes, individuals who had close friends within the other group exhibited little or no such prejudice. They seemed to realize the many ways those demonized “others” were “just like me.” Whether such friendly social contact would overcome the divide between those with more and less social and economic power was not studied, but I suspect it would help.

Since the 1970s, the gap between the rich and everyone else has skyrocketed. Income inequality is at its highest level in a century. This widening gulf between the haves and have-less troubles me, but not for the obvious reasons. Apart from the financial inequities, I fear the expansion of an entirely different gap, caused by the inability to see oneself in a less advantaged person’s shoes. Reducing the economic gap may be impossible without also addressing the gap in empathy.

 

* Text By  Daniel Goleman (NYT, Oct. 5, 2013)

If we do not make the difference between people who earn more than those who earn less, be reasonable. Then the economic world, businesses or jobs will be chaos, for most people, where injustice, selfishness, greed and arrogance is something considered normal executive.

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There should be a limit on earnings regardless one has several professional degrees or doctorates at Harvard.

 

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We pay fair wages to all workers, without exception, according to the cost of living in the country, where human dignity is quantified.

In this way we will have a better world, a more just and where justice, peace and social solidarity is normal.

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Also make sure that the domestic market is positive. Be Sure that most people will have some money left over to use it to make purchases of various products or services. Otherwise only a small group will do it and many companies or businesses will have to close its doors.

See You.

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When Mort Zuckerman, the New York City real-estate and media mogul, lavished $200 million on Columbia University in December to endow the Mortimer B. Zuckerman Mind Brain Behavior Institute, he did so with fanfare suitable to the occasion: the press conference was attended by two Nobel laureates, the president of the university, the mayor, and journalists from some of New York’s major media outlets.

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Many of the 12 other individual charitable gifts that topped $100 million in the U.S. last year were showered with similar attention: $150 million from Carl Icahn to the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, $125 million from Phil Knight to the Oregon Health & Science University, and $300 million from Paul Allen to the Allen Institute for Brain Science in Seattle, among them. If you scanned the press releases, or drove past the many university buildings, symphony halls, institutes, and stadiums named for their benefactors, or for that matter read the histories of grand giving by the Rockefellers, Carnegies, Stanfords, and Dukes, you would be forgiven for thinking that the story of charity in this country is a story of epic generosity on the part of the American rich.

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It is not. One of the most surprising, and perhaps confounding, facts of charity in America is that the people who can least afford to give are the ones who donate the greatest percentage of their income. In 2011, the wealthiest Americans—those with earnings in the top 20 percent—contributed on average 1.3 percent of their income to charity. By comparison, Americans at the base of the income pyramid—those in the bottom 20 percent—donated 3.2 percent of their income. The relative generosity of lower-income Americans is accentuated by the fact that, unlike middle-class and wealthy donors, most of them cannot take advantage of the charitable tax deduction, because they do not itemize deductions on their income-tax returns.

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But why? Lower-income Americans are presumably no more intrinsically generous (or “prosocial,” as the sociologists say) than anyone else. However, some experts have speculated that the wealthy may be less generous—that the personal drive to accumulate wealth may be inconsistent with the idea of communal support. Last year, Paul Piff, a psychologist at UC Berkeley, published research that correlated wealth with an increase in unethical behavior: “While having money doesn’t necessarily make anybody anything,” Piff later told New York magazine, “the rich are way more likely to prioritize their own self-interests above the interests of other people.” They are, he continued, “more likely to exhibit characteristics that we would stereotypically associate with, say, assholes.” Colorful statements aside, Piff’s research on the giving habits of different social classes—while not directly refuting the asshole theory—suggests that other, more complex factors are at work. In a series of controlled experiments, lower-income people and people who identified themselves as being on a relatively low social rung were consistently more generous with limited goods than upper-class participants were. Notably, though, when both groups were exposed to a sympathy-eliciting video on child poverty, the compassion of the wealthier group began to rise, and the groups’ willingness to help others became almost identical.

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Last year, not one of the top 50 individual charitable gifts went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed.

If Piff’s research suggests that exposure to need drives generous behavior, could it be that the isolation of wealthy Americans from those in need is a cause of their relative stinginess? Patrick Rooney, the associate dean at the Indiana University School of Philanthropy, told me that greater exposure to and identification with the challenges of meeting basic needs may create “higher empathy” among lower-income donors. His view is supported by a recent study by The Chronicle of Philanthropy, in which researchers analyzed giving habits across all American ZIP codes. Consistent with previous studies, they found that less affluent ZIP codes gave relatively more. Around Washington, D.C., for instance, middle- and lower-income neighborhoods, such as Suitland and Capitol Heights in Prince George’s County, Maryland, gave proportionally more than the tony neighborhoods of Bethesda, Maryland, and McLean, Virginia. But the researchers also found something else: differences in behavior among wealthy households, depending on the type of neighborhood they lived in. Wealthy people who lived in homogeneously affluent areas—areas where more than 40 percent of households earned at least $200,000 a year—were less generous than comparably wealthy people who lived in more socioeconomically diverse surroundings. It seems that insulation from people in need may dampen the charitable impulse.

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Wealth affects not only how much money is given but to whom it is given. The poor tend to give to religious organizations and social-service charities, while the wealthy prefer to support colleges and universities, arts organizations, and museums. Of the 50 largest individual gifts to public charities in 2012, 34 went to educational institutions, the vast majority of them colleges and universities, like Harvard, Columbia, and Berkeley, that cater to the nation’s and the world’s elite. Museums and arts organizations such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art received nine of these major gifts, with the remaining donations spread among medical facilities and fashionable charities like the Central Park Conservancy. Not a single one of them went to a social-service organization or to a charity that principally serves the poor and the dispossessed. More gifts in this group went to elite prep schools (one, to the Hackley School in Tarrytown, New York) than to any of our nation’s largest social-service organizations, including United Way, the Salvation Army, and Feeding America (which got, among them, zero).

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Underlying our charity system—and our tax code—is the premise that individuals will make better decisions regarding social investments than will our representative government. Other developed countries have a very different arrangement, with significantly higher individual tax rates and stronger social safety nets, and significantly lower charitable-contribution rates. We have always made a virtue of individual philanthropy, and Americans tend to see our large, independent charitable sector as crucial to our country’s public spirit. There is much to admire in our approach to charity, such as the social capital that is built by individual participation and volunteerism. But our charity system is also fundamentally regressive, and works in favor of the institutions of the elite. The pity is, most people still likely believe that, as Michael Bloomberg once said, “there’s a connection between being generous and being successful.” There is a connection, but probably not the one we have supposed.

 

By Ken Stern’s book, With Charity for All: Why Charities Are Failing and a Better Way to Give, was published in February 2013