Put your money where your mouth is


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There is a sense among many in our culture that the wealthier you are, the greedier you are, and the wealthy don’t pay “their fair share.”

“The system is rigged,” said U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.

People line the streets to protest the 1 percent and their corrupting ways. People such as Michael Moore — a member of the 1 percent — shout the idea through megaphones that the wealth must be redistributed from top to bottom. What interests me, however, is whether these people put their own money where their mouths are.

It hardly is a secret the political left are the ones calling for the redistribution of wealth, while those to the right typically advocate free markets and self-reliance. Based on these two views of the world, would one not expect the left to contribute a greater share of their income to charity? And wouldn’t one expect those on the right to be just a little stingier and to contribute less to those in need?

This, interestingly enough, is not the case. According to data provided by The Chronicle of Philanthropy — a newspaper focusing on events surrounding philanthropic enterprise — the eight most charitable states in the U.S. are red states: Utah, Mississippi, Alabama, Tennessee, South Carolina, Idaho, Georgia and Arkansas. Furthermore, they found the seven least charitable states voted democrat: New Hampshire, Maine, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Wisconsin. In fact, 11 of the 12 least charitable states were victories claimed by President Barack Obama.

There are other examples of notable politicians whose tax returns show a shocking lack of generosity. For instance, according to abcnews.go.com, former Vice President Al Gore came under criticism when his 1997 tax return showed he donated just $353 to charity. In the two years following that news story, he turned that problem around and donated 7 percent of his income to charity. But Al … $353?

Vice President Joe Biden also opened himself up to critics when his 2011 tax return showed he only donated 1.46 percent of his income to charity. Before running for president, but while a U.S. Senator, John Kerry gave nada, zippo, nothing to charity during several years. He later married the heiress to the Heinz Ketchup fortune and turned that little problem around. When he was a U.S. Senator in 2004, Obama donated just 1.2 percent of his income.

To the contrary, rich, greedy conservatives, like George W. Bush and Mitt Romney, were known for their generosity and gave very substantial portions of their income to those less fortunate.

To be fair, religious donations should be taken into account. Notice that the most generous states listed above have strong religious convictions and are located in the southern Bible Belt.

At the same time, most of the least charitable states are associated with less religious states located in the Northeast. It is likely a significant part of the discrepancy can be traced to conservatives contributing to their own churches, while liberals contribute to secular causes.

But my point remains the same. Everyone wants to help the poor and those in need, but if you preach day in and day out for the equal distribution of wealth through taxes, shouldn’t you put your money where your mouth is?

Let’s take a closer look at those greedy, rich people as well as the Scrooge McDucks of the world.
The average American donates 4.7 percent of their discretionary income to charity. Discretionary income is the money left over after you spend on necessities, and can be used for things like savings, investing, vacation, a new TV, etc.

However, people who make more than $200,000 donate only 4.2 percent of their discretionary income to charity.

It might also be worth noting that the average person who makes more than $200,000 has $339,323 in discretionary income. That means they are donating an average of $14,088.

It gets worse. It also makes a difference where the wealthy live. When people making $200,000 or more comprise at least 40 percent of a given zip code, the average percentage of discretionary income contributed to charity drops to a more miserly 2.8 percent. This brings to mind gated communities of aristocrats sheltered from the everyday problems of “little people.”

We should at least hope, however, that these are not the same people harping for the forced redistribution of wealth. Before liberals and the Washington left demand the wealthy pay “their fair share,” let’s see that they put their own money on the table first.

Alex Brooks is a guest columnist at The State News and an economics senior. Reach him at brook194@msu.edu.

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