This is not to dismiss the likes of Bill Gates: he has been very public with his donations, but in some cases (notably celebrity) notoriety in your donations may create a multiplier effect as it encourages others to do likewise. Even so, I think this is still on a lower-rung, philanthropy-wise, than Feeney's approach.
Nonetheless, we're sitting here praising someone who reduced himself from billions to $2M, but we must remind ourselves that this is unimpressive compared to the poor person who donates $25 to others while starving herself. The value of money is nonlinear. I'm sure that Feeney would say this as well: he no doubt sees himself as saddled with the burden of billions of dollars rather than someone doing something amazing.
I wonder if I ever will have the strength to do what he has done.
On an ascending level, they are as follows:
8. When donations are given grudgingly.
7. When one gives less than he should, but does so cheerfully.
6. When one gives directly to the poor upon being asked.
5. When one gives directly to the poor without being asked.
4. Donations when the recipient is aware of the donor's identity, but the donor still doesn't know the specific identity of the recipient.
3. Donations when the donor is aware to whom the charity is being given, but the recipient is unaware of the source.
2. Giving assistance in such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown to each other. Communal funds, administered by responsible people are also in this category.
1. The highest form of charity is to help sustain a person before they become impoverished by offering a substantial gift in a dignified manner, or by extending a suitable loan, or by helping them find employment or establish themselves in business so as to make it unnecessary for them to become dependent on others.
Now come on, downvote me to hell.
On the other hand, I have a firm policy of always downvoting comments on HN that say things like "I know I'm going to get downvoted for posting this", because I think doing that should be strongly disincentivized.
I'm compromising by neither upvoting nor downvoting and leaving this reply.
Apologies for the bile, I‘ll engage in a more civil discussion tone going forward.
Taxes aren't voluntary.
You don't choose how much you owe.
Not all taxes go towards improving people's lives- in the US, many safety nets only kick in once you are impoverished, and can disincentivise work. As an example, the recent coronavirus add-on payments to unemployment often meant people at the lowest levels of opportunity would make more by staying home than if they got a job.
This isnt to say tax funded social nets are bad; most aren't. They certainly shouldn't be confused with charity, though.
Considering how low the Coronavirus add-on payments are, doesn't your point really mean that those at the bottom of the scale, where minimum rates have barely budged in the US - are vastly underpaid on a normal basis?
In fact, the NYT broke this down on a state-by-state basis:
Aside from whether or not the minimum wage should be increased, it does seem to demonstrate easily enough that the stimulus is a perverse incentive.
Bringing this back to the original point I was replying to, it utterly fails the definition of the top level of charity by encouraging people to become dependent on the largess of others.
That's not to say it is therefore a bad thing, but it certainly isn't a reason to call paying taxes the highest level of charity.
Don't give fish. Give fishing rod, fishing right and fishing classes to people who need it.
Only morons think they are better off in society full of poor oppressed people. In a was a social net system is ultimate selfish move as it lowers crime increases productivity and so on. Instead of living in permanent danger akin to current Rep of South Africa.
Concretely, you can help a lot more people with the same amount of money if you focus your giving on the global poor (ex. Africa), rather than those in the US. One way to do this is https://www.givedirectly.org/
In this light the lower levels also make sense, each progressive level allows the recipient to feel less guilty (the donor is not annoyed that they have to help, or doesn't even need to be asked, etc). The really interesting bit here is that the levels are not about how much the donor sacrifices but how good the recipient feels.
My guess would be that when these levels developed, most giving was within a close knit community.
As far as I understand - by donating X amount of money, the most you can possibly get, is an X deduction from your taxes. But the total amount of money spent at the end is still X. You haven't saved anything anywhere. You have sort of re-routed your taxes from the government to someone else.
The only way I can see fraud in this is when people set up a charity owned by themselves, then donate money to it and simultaneously have it as a tax deduction - that's just fraud. But I still don't see what's wrong with simply getting a tax break for donating - it doesn't save you anything, in fact, it's an added hassle at your tax return time(if you live somewhere where you have to do those at all).
For example donating money to keep your local church running is paying for a service without paying taxes for it.
Another thing you can do is donate earmarked money that they will use to buy your products. For example Google donating chromebooks to schools. That is marketing dollars.
There's definitely an argument to be made about whether or not it's better for an individual to choose how to spend their tax dollars rather than a countries people to decide. It's definitely less democratic (I can't see how you can debate this), but I'm not sure the good of it is clear cut... That being said, as the class gap increases, individuals choosing how to spend a large portion of their taxes contributes to a concentration of power in the upper caste.
Some people believe that taxes are the primary way to implement solidarity among citizens of a state. I believe that they are correct. Charity comes only second, and should in no way impact taxes. Charity, although a beautiful thing, is fundamentally in-egalitarian: it is not benefiting the Republic as a whole, but only a fraction of people who are in need, and typically fulfill certain criteria (e.g., being Christian, living in a given area, etc.). In most cases, charity targets very specific needs and people that are seen by the wealthy as being worthy of their help. It has a fundamental flaw insofar it keeps the power of wealth allocation to the wealthy.
Notwithstanding corruption and aggressive lobbyism, taxes are much more egalitarian and democratic.
What if the "favor in return" is a reward after death? For a lot of people of faith, their motivation to donate is often post-resurrection reward... (The Bible is fairly against this attitude though. As Jesus for instance says "But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing" -- https://www.bible.com/bible/59/MAT.6.3.ESV ; and the general message seems to be that everything you have is a gift from God, so you're actually only just giving away what you've been gifted.)
If Bob Johnson donates $20M to a hospital to create the Johnson Cancer Wing, he is in benefiting himself: he is buying his name on a building.
If Bob donates $20M to a local symphony orchestra that he attends, he is benefiting himself by buying better music for him to listen to.
If Bob donates $20M to a candidate for office whose policies would ultimately benefit Bob, well...
I wouldn't call these bribes. But they're less like donations and more like purchases.
Thanks for the clarification.
Even though I disagree with the candidate for office. It may be legal and technically not a bribe, but it does have a really bad stench and is arguably one of the reasons why US politics are so fucked up.
They're taxes, period. There's no moral benefit to paying them in the same way there's no moral benefit to obeying traffic laws. It's not a charity as it's not voluntary. It's the cost of playing the game.
Historically, most societies considered maintaining social order as a moral obligation. Guest Rights and Obligations etc seem to disappear as society and governments became more effective. That’s somehow translated into the idea that not paying taxes is somehow perfectly ok. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospitium
Adam Smith, Wealth of Nations.
That’s not right. I think more of people who pay their fair share. Feels like a moral issue for me.
Except that's not true at all. Vast majority of taxes come from the richest. They might pay less percentage wise than me and you, but they pay the most in absolute terms.
>>I think more of people who pay their fair share.
I think more of people who pay more tax, not of those who pay more percentage wise. Ie - someone who makes a million dollars and pays 100k in tax seems to be contributing far more to the system than someone who makes 20k and pays 4k in taxes - even though the second person paid more percentage wise. Which one of these is "a fair share"? Why is one person literally paying 25x as much in taxes? Do they use the roads and hospitals and prisons and the police 25x as much?
I mean, I can see both sides of this argument - but I do dislike when people just go "oh us suckers down here are paying all the taxes" - like, no, we just don't.
Further, the often quoted top 1% is hardly the rich in the US, if you compare the income vs taxes paid of the top 0.01% their paying a lower percentage of their income than the average programmer in federal taxes. State taxes have a similar breakdown with property taxes, fuel taxes, etc representing a vastly lower burden for the 0.01% of income earners.
This is further compounded when you consider tax free wealth accumulation of capital gains where taxing in sale mean zero tax on possibly decades of income, or possibly ever. You don’t deduct charitable donations from social security taxes.
PS: As to what the rich receive in taxes. They receive a functioning society which is economically worth far more to themselves than lower income earners.
> They receive a functioning society which is economically worth far more to themselves than lower income earners.
This is not obvious. Historically, the lower classes have very little rights and are subjected to oppressive behaviors from the kings and nobles and other well to do.
Similarly, lumping everyone in the top 40% with the Rich completely hides how little the rich pay by lumping them in with the highest effective tax rate groups.
PS: It gets even crazier than that when you consider Trump for example qualified as having zero income for multiple years.
By use do you mean "physically interact with" or "reap the social benefits of?" Because for one of those it's a clear yes.
Isn't income tax higher for those that earn more?
In a huge oversimplification, let's say you're in UK and make £100k/year. If you take that as salary, you'll pay 20% tax on around £40k of it, then 40% tax on £50k, with the remaining £10k being tax free. On the other hand, if you open a limited company that makes £100k, well, you're only paying 10% corporation tax on any profits - but of course the way to play this game is to expense everything imaginable under the sun, so ideally you have close to zero profit at the end of the tax year. Yes, the money isn't "yours", it belongs to the company, but you can expense things like your rent, gas, electricity, "work meals" etc. Then take £10k salary from your own company which is within the tax-free allowance. Voila, in the eyes of someone external, you've made £100k but through "clever tricks" paid less than 10% tax on all of it. Of course most people don't realize that isn't not that simple, but things like this lead to very quick judgement.
Being poor in Latin America is an exponentially worse experience than being poor in France.
Adding more money wont solve anything.
Though probably it is possible to do both. I suspect there are many modern charities that help people become self sufficient where neither the donors not the recipients know who each other are.
Disclaimer: IANAR (I am not a Rabbi)
Jewish law prohibits lending with interest. There are many ways around that but Maimonides here is referring to a basic non-interest loan
(btw, I made that description up to try and describe the kinds of states I'm referring to. e.g. the USA once was in that category and no longer is in my view, while many European countries probably are in that category).
EDIT: I'd like to point out, I'm assuming no/little corruption. i.e. the theoretical view of such a state.
Personally, I live in such a state (not the US), that has a safety net, and am happy to contribute via taxation. Not all my fellow citizens are happy to contribute and I accept that. I earn a decent wage and don't jump through hoops to minimise my tax. At the end of the day, people vote for governments that are more or less taxing.
This is also pretty much one of the ways a certain Shi'a Islam community, Dawoodi Bohra, administers loans which they call Qardan Hasana (the diginifed loan).
a) teaching a man to fish is better than giving a man a fish
b) the former is also more dignified for the person receiving help
This applies whether a person is going to become impoverished or is currently poor. And this idea of dignity is strong enough that it outweighs other considerations, such as anonymity on either side (of course, there's the question of whether giving someone a job anonymously is better than doing it with one or both parties' knowledge... and I don't know what Maimonides would have said).
It is like results matter most (less than the process; big corps will disagree on that)
Why would anything following that actually be better?
If you need to do this over and over again, and we're talking about just that, it seems like giving to the poor is a pretty good algorithm.
Here's a simple example. A mine closes down. You can start giving the ex-miners money on an ongoing basis to let them keep paying their bills, maybe. Or you could fund training for them to learn a new career.
How do you know they will become poor if you don't fund the training? You don't. Maybe they would have managed to change careers anyway. But chances are you are in fact helping people avoid poverty.
> If you need to do this over and over again, and we're talking about just that,
Ah, maybe this is the disconnect. No, we are precisely _not_ talking about doing this over and over again for any given person.
Or put another way, this is the "give a man a fish vs teach a man to fish" thing. The latter, if it's an option, seems evidently better to me.
This idea is behind a the success of the Earned Income Tax Credit in the USA. Giving people in need a substantial capital injection at a single point in time is a very impactful to people without the means to save.
But also, this is about the fact that if you provide help when a person just starts needing it, it might not take much to get them back to financial stability. If you instead wait until they have been out of the workforce for a while, lost their house, and maybe ended up with a substance-abuse problem as a coping mechanism, a much larger investment will be needed to get back to "normal". And that's not even counting the suffering involved in the interim in the second option.
Actually the Prophet Muhammad said a similar thing to what Feeney has said here about wanting to give charity while alive rather than after his death:
> A man came to the Prophet and asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Which charity is the most superior in reward?" He replied, "The charity which you practice while you are healthy, niggardly and afraid of poverty and wish to become wealthy. Do not delay it to the time of approaching death and then say, 'Give so much to such and such, and so much to such and such.' And it has already belonged to such and such (as it is too late)."
Is it? This is a very Christian way of looking at donations: personal sacrifice / self-deprivation is what matters. 
However, utilitarians – notably Effective Altruists  – would make the opposite argument: what matters is the impact that you make with the dollars you donate (both in amount and allocation).
It is great that money is going to charity, it is great that money previously belonging to Gates' is going to charity, but I would be far more impressed by you if you donated $100/year to the Internet Archive than I am if Bill Gates donated $100 million.
In other words, I don't think anyone claims that $100 will help more than $100 million, but there is no great personal moral achievement in giving away something you don't need and can't use.
(a) I believe that the government will use its money to impact the world in a better way than billionaires do, or
(b) I concede that (a) is false, but I don't care. It's not about the impact we make with the money, it's about dragging billionaires down.
Personally, I'm interested in impact. I have little faith that paying taxes to the US Government is a more effective way to generate positive impact in the world than personal charitable donations.
If I could pay my taxes to Bill Gates I would – my tax dollars would be used to eradicate polio or malaria, rather than on bureaucracy and starting wars.
I'm not saying I have a better idea, I don't, but democracy has been the driving force behind some pretty heinous stuff over the centuries (most obviously the resistance to equality of race, gay rights and universal suffrage). It's just less terrible than the alternatives that exist in the world today (e.g. dictatorship).
At least in giving your money to a Buffett, a Gates or a Feeney you have some evidence that they intend to put it to good use.
Only insofar as you're getting into a debate about how morally right it is _compared to billionaires and/or corporations spending the same money_.
(c) I believe in direct wealth distribution (e.g. via a basic income) and that you believe 100m people with $10 will spend that money in a better way than 1 person with $1bn.
I feel like the very existence of billionaires demonstrates that they are a self-selecting pool of abusers and/or criminals running exploits that place their interests above the system they're in. Even the idea of 'the wealthy allocate money better' is ridiculous. Towards what, themselves? It's like saying cancer allocates body resources better, because cancer can get into a position where it conclusively 'wins'.
If you live in a real democratic country, then you have no excuse. YOU* chose that government.
* obviously a generalization, but in the end enough people chose that outcome.
That means that billionaires also act against the interests of the donor class as a matter of course. If they were not the very definition of unaccountable power, you wouldn't see anybody defending them or their typical behaviors.
It is so benignly restricted since it excludes the possibility of charity and government funding can have a positive impact. Instead it is some fight against good and evil.
I don't know what it has to do with Christianity, but you are free to visit a church, maybe they can tell you something about the gospel you linked.
In that regard, perhaps it’s good to have social intervention performed by a mixture of democratic and individualistic entities. Perhaps one will address things that the other might miss.
> Two of the billionaires whose philanthropy I most respect, Dustin Moskovitz and Cari Tuna, have done a lot of work on criminal justice reform. The organizations they fund determined that many innocent people are languishing in jail for months because they don’t have enough money to pay bail; others are pleading guilty to crimes they didn’t commit because they have to get out of jail in time to get to work or care for their children, even if it gives them a criminal record. They funded a short-term effort to help these people afford bail, and a long-term effort to reform the bail system. One of the charities they donate to, The Bronx Freedom Fund, found that 92% of suspects without bail assistance will plead guilty and get a criminal record. But if given enough bail assistance to make it to trial, over half would have all charges dropped. This is exactly the kind of fighting-mass-incarceration and stopping-the-cycle-of-poverty work everyone says we need, and it works really well.
> If Moskovitz and Tuna’s money instead flowed to the government, would it accomplish the same goal in some kind of more democratic, more publically-guided way? No. It would go to locking these people up, paying for more prosecutors to trick them into pleading guilty, more prison guards to abuse and harass them. The government already spends $100 billion – seven times Tuna and Moskovitz’s combined fortunes – on maintaining the carceral state each year. This utterly dwarfs any trickle of money it spends on undoing the harms of the carceral state, even supposing such a trickle exists.
Many other examples are provided.
I don't think it's what matters necessarily, but I do think that this is why he is receiving praise here and elsewhere. That's a problem, because if we're going to praise him for his sacrifice, we should remind ourselves that his sacrifice is minor compared to other donations due to the nonlinear effect of money.
Now Feeney certainly has had more of an impact, and that's great, but he had that impact because he was fortunate enough to have billions of dollars to give away in the first place. Being lucky is not a valid reason to be praised, I think.
Indeed I don't think Feeney wants to be praised: he just wants to be rid of his wealth in a meaningful way.
Maximizing positive impact should be the goal.
Perhaps someone with 25 to their name better serves the community by keeping it?
We have to assume that in the given scenario the other person needed it more and nobody else was stepping up.
> Why praise sacrifice at all?
You don't even have to praise the concept of sacrificing in general to praise caring enough to help those less fortunate even when helping has a cost. The alternative is for nobody to help except those for whom money no longer has any meaning, ie billionaires, and I don't see Jeff Bezos building homes for the homeless.
> Personal suffering/sacrifice adds no value to the community, and in fact reduces it. Maximizing positive impact should be the goal.
The first sentence is false. Donation is zero-sum in absolute dollar terms, no money is gained or lost, but money _does_ have diminishing utility to the individual, so the raised person can gain more than the lowered person loses. So a person can sacrifice AND maximize positive impact.
For what it's worth, I think the right approach is to eat the billionaires instead of waiting for the person with $25 to sacrifice even further for the person with $5. Clearly eating all of the billionaires would maximize positive impact.
Giving to help someone worse-off than you—ideally—engenders a feeling of gratitude and humility that makes our society a better place. Experiencing a greater sense of gratitude can help more than just money: gratitude helps one keep a positive mental outlook and can carry one through difficult times.
As a man of faith myself, I believe in divine blessings—both during and after this life—for sacrifice and generosity. That’s not my motivation for doing good, but I do believe that sacrifice does make a better community and a happier individual.
Now, as for the limit case of being utterly destitute (e.g. $25 to their name), a wise man once said “it is not requisite that you run faster than you have strength”—looking after yourself is noble, provided you continue to do what you can.
Sacrifice can be a demonstration of love and caring, but is the latter that is important. Sacrifice is just evidence. Would you agree?
A fire code inspector might save more lives than a fire fighter, but nobody sells calendars of sexy fire code inspectors, or hands out medals for bravely insisting that tower block's staircase have a sprinkler system fitted.
Of course, an Effective Altruist / utilitarian would say who cares about feelings and medals? After all, altruism by definition isn't seeking medals.
Sacrifice exposes what is important to a person—both to external observers as well as the individual in question. A marital relationship—for example—requires immense sacrifice on both spouses’ sides for it to work out. Without sacrifice, affection wanes.
I don’t think sacrifice necessarily equals suffering. Sometimes it can. But based on my experience, when the sacrifice is made willingly and for a good cause, it serves more as a source of joy that I can get outside myself and aid someone in need.
Now, waisted or senseless sacrifice—yes, that doesn’t make much sense. I see a distinction between the two, but that could just be me. Does that make sense?
What? How? If you see this extremely locally, like the community being, your country, sure, but I don't think that's apply when you consider the community has being the whole world.
> Perhaps someone with 25 to their name better serves the community by keeping it?
Does it though? We see this as a first world country, where even for the one starving a bit, still get a life much better than a good proportion of the world. That means that keeping that 25$ will help you surely, but would serve much better a few others, if given correctly.
I guess HN is probably a place where disproportionate ego exist in a higher percentage than anywhere else, that many believe that they are the 10x programmer which is worth more than everyone else, but I'm a firm believer that given the same opportunity as me, anyone else could have done the same as me, thus helping many reach the same opportunities as me, will help more than helping myself.
Sadly I'm still a bit selfish and still want a better life for myself. I still do self sacrifice, but it's extremely local.
The forces on a wealthy person giving up almost all of his wealth are also pretty great, but in a different way, when compared to a poor person doing the same.
As #1 in the original list implies, it may be most important to be lifted out of poverty as this is what creates fulfilling civilisation. So one might argue that the poor person should invest what little money they have into their own future first, in a way which will improve their lot, as this will give them the opportunity to help many others (like Feeney did).
Time whitewashes everything. Bill Gates has spent many years doing good work as a philanthropist. I'm not sure this undoes the fact that much of his gain was from blatant cloning, ruthless abuse of monopoly, and substandard products.
But it says a whole lot about Forbes that having at least $2M -- and I'm betting maybe a small apartment and a modest car and possibly even health insurance -- counts as "officially broke" in America.
As long as you convince yourself that the returns to compound interest are higher than the returns to charity at any one point, it's easy to justify just pushing off your donation time to sometime arbitrarily far in the future, and high luxuries can be justified as "self-care" that enhance your own productivity or whatever. Utilitarianism can too easily become perverted to just being self-serving.
Oh come on. He's 89 years old and has millions of dollars still. How long do you expect him to live? "Sustainably generating" a median household income in perpetuity is an interesting bar to set. You're aware that most of the country doesn't have any savings at all, yeah? That the current median _at_retirement_age_ savings for the US is around 150K? That he's still getting an actual income from social security payments because why not?
That he's getting payments from Social Security after a lifetime of contributions to Social Security is also of no concern to me (I view it as the overwhelming default and entirely proper).
Tamas - given at wrong place/time, to wrong (unworthy) person, without respect/decency, with contempt.
Rajas - given with reluctance, expecting return (either from recipient, or praise)
Sattva - given at right time/place, to right (worthy) person, with humility, without expectation of return.
Note that while others religions mainly dwell on not expecting return and anonymity, Hinduism stresses not expecting return but does not stress anonymity as much as it stresses finding the right patra (bowl) i.e. right recipient.
Donating $100 to a poor person, who also happens to be wicked, and/or will definitely spend it on vices, is actually a bad donation, because it causes more harm to the recipient and society, than good.
Also, timing - a litre of blood donated to a save a life in urgent time, is worth more than a litre of blood spilled in war to gain territory.
Also, place - a donation done in holy land or temple is worth more than a donation from a local philanthropy club.
Also, the reward for donation is gaining goodwill in the heart of Bhagavan (God). And He dishes out goodwill proportional to the 'effort' rather than 'amount' - a $100 wage earner donating $10 is judged the same as $100 million donated by a billionaire.
Source : Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 17, verses 20,21,22
Try imagining Larry Ellison doing this.
an 80% loss of that $2M cash leaves him with a paltry $400K which, assuming a rate of return == inflation, is 10 years of $40K/yr spending, to say nothing of 2x SS income.
people's idea of "being broke" is just ridiculous.
So of course his billionnaires friends will bail him out in the highly improbable event he should really need the money. The level of networking he reached means he doesn't need to spend a dollar until his last breath if he so wished.
Aren't you forgetting that that he already "lost" the vast majority of his wealth? If he actually cared about the money he would have given it to his children. If he loses his last $2 million on healthcare he probably wouldn't care.
Won’t pay for personal in-home nurses either.
But 2 million should buy him plenty of elder care. I would have kept 10 million just in case.
There are other perspectives on this. Often, the very poor person does not hope he will ever get out of poverty, and that makes it much easier to have a sharing/charitable mindset. Keeping the $25 will help him for a few days, after which he'll be broke again and no better off. Giving it away will have the same end result, albeit a few days earlier - but it will be a charitable act he'll feel good about for life, and may also make a friend.
The person for whom it is most difficult to give is usually the one at the edge of poverty. If he keeps the money, he has a chance he'll escape the cycle of poverty. If he gives it away, he'll never change his station in life. For this somewhat wealthier person, that $25 has a lot more value (As an aside, I'm not sure I would respect him much if he gave it away).
To paraphrase from a popular movie: Put people in a pit with no hope of escape and what you get is fairly boring. But give them a glimmer of hope that they can escape, and then watch how they will destroy one another in their attempts to get out. Charity is generally cheap for those who have nothing: They know they are not losing much when they give it away.
>this is unimpressive compared to the poor person who donates $25 to others while starving herself
I absolutely agree and think of this often when I see the philanthropy figures published each year when the top Billionaires have donated <0.2% of their wealth where as there are individuals like this gentleman who donates 80% of his earnings from road side tea stall to educate underprivileged children.
I'm not trying to downplay him in anyway. I'm just saying that $2M in the bank is still an extremely comfortable life so there is not much hardship to be had in giving up everything over that.
Also, as for donating anonymously vs non-anonymously I do it non-anonymously as trying to add social proof that you should donate. The more it appears normal to donate the more people will donate, or so I believe. If I could do that anonymously I would but people read me (my blog or other things), they don't read anon's blog/tweets, whatever.
And He looked up and saw the rich putting their gifts into the treasury, and He saw also a certain poor widow putting in two mites. So He said, “Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had.”
If we had taxed him at the rate we have taxed people in the 40's and 50's maybe there would not be such a need for all these "philanthropists" to give "their" money away.
And give me a break, he is NOT broke. I live on 20K a year and I do not even think I am broke. When he is living like St. Francis of Assisi let me know.
While it is truly selfless, I'm not sure what is __really__ harder; for a person living a multi-billion-dollar lifestyle to change to a million-dollar lifestyle, or someone who is used to living on the penny, to give away most of what they have....
"This is an anglicized form of an Olde Gaelic name O Fiannaidh - composed of the elements 'O' meaning a 'grandson (of)' or 'male descendant' and 'Fianna' - a 'soldier'. The main O Fiannaidh clan was located in the parish of Easkey, Co. Sligo."
On the idea of sacrifice as virtuous.
Sacrifice is only compatible with selfishness. This is because for an action to be a sacrifice, there is two criteria in which it must meet.
The first criteria are that the individual must love themselves.
She who has no value of her own life, cannot sacrifice it, just as she could not sacrifice a rock found in a cave. Vice versa, an individual which holds her own life as immensely valuable, is able to sacrifice it for an ideal, however this leads to the second criterion.
The second criteria are that the individual must hold no value in the ideal or cause in which they contribute towards.
This is because if you hold something as valuable, and you give it up for something of equal or greater value, you are not sacrificing, but rather trading.
Each trade has its own currency, and what that is I leave to the reader to investigate, but sacrifice is only possible for the woman that loves herself and does not hold any value in the ideal in which she sacrifices herself for.
Thus, if you do see virtue in sacrifice, it is only possible because of selfishness, and this is problematic.
Every rational choice is made based on some personal values. A person with unselfish personal values can take action on those values. Do you think their action occurs because of their selfishness?
Are all rational actions selfish?
I think that is not a useful way to think.
I disagree, and I pointed out the contradiction of praising sacrifice while disparaging self-interest, when the two are not possible without each other. If you disagree with that, I would be interested in hearing why.
Trades are not all selfish.
I never made the point that trades are inherently selfish, only that in some trades monetary gain is not the only form of currency.
Yes. You state in your second paragraph that "Every rational choice is made based on some personal values". I agree. If you act on your own personal values, this is selfish. And as all rational choice must be in service of personal values, then all rational action is selfish.
I'm very open to the idea that I'm wrong on all of this, but I can not see how, so I thank you for engaging with my comment.
To whom it may concern:
Spend your money on riotous living – no tax; leave your money to your children – the tax collector gets paid first. That is the message sent by the estate tax. It is a bad message and the estate tax is a bad tax.
The basic argument against the estate tax is moral. It taxes virtue – living frugally and accumulating wealth. It discourages saving and asset accumulation and encourages wasteful spending. It wastes the talent of able people, both those engaged in enforcing the tax and the probably even greater number engaged in devising arrangements to escape the tax.
The income used to accumulate the assets left at death was taxed when it was received; the earnings on the assets were taxed year after year; so, the estate tax is a second or third layer of taxation on the same assets.
The tax raises little direct revenue- partly because the estate planners have been so successful in devising ways to escape the tax. Costs of collection and compliance are high, perhaps of the same order as direct tax receipts. The encouragement of spending reduces national wealth and thereby the flow of aggregate taxable income. These indirect effects mean that eliminating the tax is likely to increase rather than decrease the net revenue yield to the federal government.
The estate tax is justified as a means of reducing the concentration of wealth. However, the truly wealthy and their estate planners avoid the tax. The low yield of the tax is a testament to the ineffectiveness of the tax as a force for reshaping the distribution of wealth.
The primary defense made for the estate tax is that it encourages charity. If so, there are better and less costly ways to encourage charity. Eliminating the estate tax will lead to higher economic growth, which is the most important variable in determining the level of charitable giving.
Death should not be a taxable event. The estate tax should be repealed.
Only insofar as you believe taxation to be a moral commentary. If one thinks taxation is punishment for a decision, then I can see why one might see it this way.
I don't agree, though. Taxation is reinvestment into the society that makes the usage of that tool–money–possible in the first place. I think it's morally wrong to sequester a social tool in the hands of a few people who never made the investment to get that return in the first place, i.e. children of wealthy parents. I think it's morally wrong for anyone to get to pick and choose who will start out having already won the race. This is different from me being a bad business owner and people choosing not to do business with me.
Should parents be able to spend their earned money on their childrens' upbringing? Of course. If a wealthy parent dies should they be able to leave money behind for their children to have a decent shot at life? Absolutely. Does that require millions or billions of dollars to be hoarded, unused, passed from hand to hand, contributing to a skewed money supply that forces the fed to print more, play with interest rates etc to try to keep the system stable? No, I think there's a reasonable amount that the government can request returned.
Now, the _amount_ of tax is certainly debatable. But to take the extremist position of repealing the tax altogether is absurd IMO.
I would actually argue the government has a pretty bad track record when it comes to creating good incentives and "good" disincentives, so usually a better approach would be to try hard and avoid creating incentives or disincentives at all. Proponents of things like VAT, or other very broad, general, and hard to avoid taxes usually see it in those terms.
Moral or not it is a deterrent
I think you got cause and effect mixed up. Every dollar that the fed is printing is being hoarded because the fed decided to only give dollars to people that hoard money.
Is there something virtuous about hoarding wealth?
There's something virtuous about living beneath your means and ensuring that you can be self-sufficient in your retirement.
There's something virtuous about living beneath your means and ensuring that, at a minimum, you are not a burden to your family, but that ideally you provide them support rather than siphoning support from them. In order to do that, it's almost a given that you will die with money left over. (The alternative being feeding the bloodsuckers who sell annuities.)
One person's "hoarding of wealth" is another person's "natural outcome of frugal living and appropriate planning".
My understanding is that the point would be to not tax someone leaving a much less significant amount to their children, in the case of either an untimely or expected death, and rather using more targeted methods to prevent the accumulation of billions, like taxing those who accumulate billions.
As long as taxes are paid, it's nobody's business what I do with my money, as long as what I do is not illegal.
Obviously many poor people will decide that few rich people must pay more.
FWIW, it's not "obvious" that many poor people would decide that rich much pay a lot. That's not the case in US, for example. Sure, there're people who want to "make rich pay", but in general US system is already fair enough  (page links to multiple bipartisan sources).
I fail to see the problem, if you have more money than you could possibly use in a lifetime, why shouldn't that be redistributed through programs that benefit all of society, instead of whatever pet projects the rich person favors.
That person/family has shown some evidence that they're capable of investing money to generate an outsized return on that investment. I would tend to think they might be able to repeat that effect with the way they choose to reinvest the money, be it for societal value or charitable endeavors. I don't see evidence in balance sheets that governments have that same track record.
Society has made murder, theft, and rape illegal largely because of a fairly broad-based agreement that those are immoral.
Where there isn’t broad agreement on morality, I would prefer to avoid passing laws to regulate behavior and allow choice. (Roe v Wade/abortion being just one crystal clear case of this tension which I believe is generally best resolved in favor of individual freedom. I am free to follow my own morals where they are stricter than the law; I do not force others to follow them.)
Who decides that? The great and scholarly politicians we elect?
(I agree with your point if they are upper middle class or even have 10-50 million dollars of wealth). But when you are part of the top 0.1% of the population, there is no way you are living beneat your means to be self sufficient in retirement.
Well it's hard to argue that anyone who has positive wealth is living beyond their means.
I like Milton Friedman too, he had a cool show on PBS, but history isn't going to be good for that guy.
They invest in companies and expect a return! If money was directly redistributed, then the people running and working for those companies might able to keep that value that they have created.
Suddenly 99% of the world is no longer discouraged from being fiscally responsible. Do I really care if a billionaire is fiscally irresponsible? Maybe for a single generation. After that, we're good.
"As a result, only about 2,000 estates per year in the US are currently liable for federal estate tax." 
The argument that it "discourages living frugally" is just complete nonsense.
What you linked is an Estate Tax (aka death/inheritance tax) which only applies when someone passes wealth on after death. If they decide to give all their money away to charity or otherwise spend it while they're alive it does not apply.
Also, there's nothing uniquely American about considering greed virtuous.
I'm not sure where I stand on a wealth tax, but I would always be hesitant to tax money that in theory was already taxed when earned. I could certainly see the idea becoming more acceptable if the importance of community and a traditional, tight-knit family structure continues to erode.
Hopefully we can strike a balance between leaving only your direct descendants better off and leaving everyone in the next generation better off.
> I would always be hesitant to tax money that in theory was already taxed when earned
This is incompatible with having an income tax and any other tax. Although, income tax isn't exactly well loved by economists, so maybe there is something to that.
You're thinking that taxing the wealth of a billionaire is guaranteed upon death. Therefore from your perspective there are two options: taxing the wealth or not taxing the wealth. Except taxation is the exception, not the rule.
If you know your wealth will disappear then you will try to get rid of it before it can disappear.
With the estate tax there is a strong incentive to just hand over your wealth to your children before you die or by spending it all on donations so the government can't take it.
Someone who has a lot of stored up value has given lots to society without receipt of anything but some electronic digits (yet). Plus if the government's rules were working they'd also have paid at least some taxes on all that stored wealth, leading to additional societal value.
in rational free markets sone does not need to give twice because the contribution to society is in the provision of things people want.
IMO most of the debate is missing that America doesnt have free markets and keeps trying to duct tape around it without fixing the actual bug.
People used to argue that saving (investing) is better for the economy than spending (consumption). That's an argument for a lower capital gains tax. But you could argue the US has gone too far in favor of investors, at the expense of consumption. Presumably more $ in the hands of the 1% = more investment, more $ in the hands of the lower 50% = more consumption.
Per https://www.forbes.com/sites/tommybeer/2020/05/21/the-net-wo... the combined net worth of every US billionaire was 3.4 trillion in May of this year. Per https://www.pbs.org/newshour/nation/3-ways-that-the-u-s-popu... there were 331 million Americans in January of this year.
Dividing that out: $10,271.90 per person. Not enough to live on the passive income even in the cheapest parts of the globe.
Probably because it sounds like utopian nonsense.
Why do you think that is the right metric? 3.4T is obviously a vast amount of money.
Assuming you're American I believe you still have people in gov that got rich because of their family starting a pyramid scheme. I wouldn't call that a benefit to society.
Remember those guys in the 90's tanking company stocks and reputations then buying em up under the guise of saving them only to dismantle em and make their profit on the sale of the scraps? yeah they made money removing jobs.
The list goes on and on.
It's not sitting around collecting dust.
Anything else is either an affront to democracy, or at best is is morally neutral. E.g. what this guy did is morally neutral, and only good relative to the Carnegie knockoffs trying to launder their reputation.
With a better system, we shouldn't have to introduce one-off taxes for "special events" like death because extreme concentrations of wealth should already be heavily and unavoidably taxed--passing wealth to one's children (or anyone else... in any other country) shouldn't make a difference one way or the other.
Estate taxes stir up an irrelevant debate about the morality of inheritance, and puts the government in the role of deciding this moral question for everyone, when that debate isn't necessary and doesn't really matter.
All that really matters is 1 - how much we need to fund the prerequisites for a modern and decent civilization (which includes things like basic income, healthcare for all, housing for all, education for all, etc., imho), and 2 - what is the most progressive, efficient, and sustainable way to raise this money.
I highly doubt the answer to #2 is an estate tax.
Unfortunately, government is already the most extreme concentration of wealth in the history of mankind, spending $8 trillion dollars a year in the USA alone, of which $1 trillion (that's 1,000 billionaire fortunes, or bankrupting Jeff Bezos 5x over, every year) goes straight to the military.
And it's why I want government to use its monopoly on violence to stick to keeping the peace, and create an environment where actual companies can compete without violence.
Because when the men with bombs also own the means of production, they do whatever they want, and you get mountains of skulls.
Local roads, for example. You can have companies compete for contracts to perform the work, but ultimately the asset needs to be owned by the people, otherwise you inevitably get rent-seeking behaviour—which effectively replaces an elected Government with dozens of smaller unelected ones. Same goes for water, sewerage, and electricity distribution.
Public healthcare service delivery is another example. You can have companies compete for invention, manufacturing and certain boutique services, but for dealing with measles and broken arms, the profit motive does a hilariously poor job. Wealthy people get the absolute best service on this planet; poor people seem to get the most expensive service on this planet. (Yes, that's after factoring in the "cost" paid through taxes.)
Society works best when we all have healthy bodies, clean water and a decent education. Whether we all make good use of these resources is entirely up to the individual—Governments shouldn't mandate equality of outcome—but a functioning society is one where everyone has the opportunity to get a good education and not be a walking disease vector.
A view toward growing the economy would prefer the riotous living, because it moves more money around. Note that in almost any other context, Friedman is concerned with impediments to economic activity. Yet here, we are led to believe that high levels of economic activity are bad or immoral for some reason?
And of course "riotous living" throws off all sorts of tax revenue in addition to revenue and profits. And since such tax revenue is realized earlier than the death tax, it is more efficient.
The irony of this letter is that Friedman gets it right--the death tax exists to encourage the expenditure of wealth during life--but somehow thinks that is a bad thing.
This is an ad hominem argument.
This wealth would be more efficiently allocated by the innovators of new generations. It is true that the economy isn't a zero sum game, but we can't pretend that so much new pie is created each generation that dynasties hogging the majority doesn't preclude new, more innovative money, from establishing the positions they might otherwise we allowed to, for the benefit of all participants in the economy. The velocity of money matters, and allowing dynasties to guard their wealth indefinitely is bad for everyone.
This also pretends that capital confers no significant power. The reality is that the inheritors of the ultra rich will also inherit their ability to influence society. While not ideal that the ultra rich themselves have this ability to the extent that they do, to be able confer it on an almost arbitrary set of individuals is additionally hazardous, as they have not set themselves apart from other individuals on any meritorious basis.
Wasteful spending should also be taxed. There is no dichotomy. Yes please, put tax on carbon, on plastic, on all the other things that are bad for society. Ideally the most wasteful spenders should be taxed the most - the ten-millionth dollar someone spends on a carbon-emitting activity should be taxed at 90%.
The letter is BS with the first line. It makes it sound like the options are giving money to your kids or getting drunk. But that makes no sense for the range of money we’re talking about.
Jeff Bezos could throw a $10 million party every night for a year and his net worth would go down 2%.
“If I leave this hundred billion dollars to my kids, the government will take a portion. Better to spend it on hookers and blow instead!”
That makes about zero sense, so I don’t at all believe that’s the message the estate tax is sending or it would even matter if it was. The thing that keeps billionaires from partying isn’t the price tag.
> "As a result, only about 2,000 estates per year in the US are currently liable for federal estate tax." 
Ah, yes, such a shame that the only way to spend a fortune is on caviar and jetskis.
This is a purposefully obtuse take. We have specific tax structures to incentivize charitable giving, building businesses, creating things to benefit others.
At the wealth levels at which the estate tax applies, a fair amount of luck has to factor in. Having been in the right place at the right time. That has little to do with morality because many other people had the same behaviors but never got lucky. The estate tax is more a tax on luck than it is on hard work and frugality.
The primary way inheritances concentrate wealth is through the "firstborn son rule" where the first son simply receives all of the wealth. If you were to split the wealth among the children it would disappear within a few generations. So simplify the whole ordeal by codifying that no single person may inherit more than 50% of the wealth of the deceased. If son and daughter receive half the wealth of their parents they are unlikely to collaborate for the sake of maintaining generational wealth. Even if the son kills the daughter he will only receive 75% of the wealth of his father.
No liquidation is necessary and therefore it is easy to implement. Paying taxes on inheriting a family business is far more difficult than simply splitting ownership among the living who are still working in that business.
If a person lives on a million a year, but accumulates a billion, do they become more virtuous if they accumulate a second billion?
If everyone lived virtuously, then society wouldn't need laws or taxes. Unfortunately, humans are inconsistently virtuous, so we use laws and taxes to help our society function well.
His argument is hilarious:
"We're going to try and avoid it anyway, so you might as well not try to collect it."
I'm sorry, but I'm not necessarily going to trust someone who has a vested interest in the removal of something that its existence was pointless in the first place. If it truly is meaningless, then why bother?
Another good question is why should a person's accumulated wealth go to that person's heirs upon their death? Those people did nothing themselves to earn that wealth. It is only through the accident of birth they were selected. They completely ignore that. It is assumed that passing their wealth down is natural and right and that any other outcome needs defense.
If that money changed hands via employment or purchase of goods and services, it would have been taxed, even if the exchange was between parent and child. Why is an exchange upon death special?
The idea that you think needs to be defended - inheritance - lies near the root of Western mores. It is fine to question it, but it is the sort of thing that one cannot refute without a very, very strong argument.
I have private property rights over my money and house during my life and it’s my choice to consume during my life or live more frugally and pass that property to people I love. When I give my kids money for school or give them dinner, that value is not taxed additionally because it benefits them and not just me.
I found the problem.
Positing it as an unalloyed good to be frugal and accumulate wealth (especially at massive scale) is extremely murky at best.
However saving can hurt growth by reducing consumption.
Savings can be thought of as a steady state rate of saving that the economy has adjusted for. Saving is a higher order effect that causes an increase in the savings rate, temporarily depriving the economy of the level of consumption it expects.
If I buy $1mil of MSFT, I didn't contribute a cent to their payroll. I didn't create jobs, or grow anything. I just transferred $1mil to another investor, who will probably use that money to invest in AAPL.
Seems to me a huge portion of investment is just moving money around a relatively closed system akin to sports betting.
If you have the means, there’s nothing moral about living frugally. Spending money creates jobs and strengthens the economy.
Very arguable claims there - more “trickle down” economics I guess.
The main argument against the estate tax made by this letter is not “moral” as it claims, it is that few actually pay the estate tax - so how about we close those loopholes?
The same objective (or subjective, take your pick) morality that discourages robbery-murder can effortlessly extend to the distribution of wealth in society. An objective moralist once said: "Render unto Caesar...". A subjective moralist could say: "whatever minimizes human suffering and maximizes human opportunities" which leaves policy-makers with a broad canvas.
Personally I don't think this is a particularly moral issue, except near the extremes; but even if it were, the answer isn't what you're hoping for.
How do you go from "it's no ones business how much wealth I accumulate or give to my children" to "anarchy"?
That's not what the OP said at all.
If we live in a free society then we should be free to do what we want to do, because otherwise we wouldn't live in a free society.
Any argument that justifies itself merely with "because freedom" can be used to argue for complete anarchy. After all, "rule" of any sort inherently implies restrictions on freedom. And if restrictions on freedom are inherently bad, then "rule" of any sort must be bad by definition.
> That or we stop pretending we live in a free society.
This is exactly what we should do. There is no such thing as complete freedom. All freedoms come at the price of restricting some other freedom.
yes, let's do that. we don't - there has never been such thing as a free society, and we don't live in one now. all society has rules - without rules, it's not a society anymore. Let's once and for all take away this absurd escape-hatch where one can avoid defending an idea on it's merits by claiming it restricts their freedom.
If we truly lived in a free society, we wouldn't have estate law at all - wheover kills you should simply claim all your property.
What about amassing as much stuff as possible selling controlled substances and brokering crime?
If you want society completely out of your business, you're going to have a hard time.
They are treated fundamentally different in law, economics, and philosophy.
And taxation is also not the only parallel one could draw. For example, limits on the usage of you property is also highly regulated in various ways. Usage and ownership are very closely related.
There are tons of people who want exactly what you find so abhorrent.
For all you know I am a libertarian making the argument for a libertarian paradise.
Plenty of countries don't have an inheritance tax and aren't libertarian in the least.
The problem for me is not even that people amass such large amounts of money (do I think we should have some higher tax brackets on capital gains, sure) but that generational wealth creates power and economic structures which hurt the rest of us and ultimately impinges many more peoples’ freedom
The government is there, supposedly, for the benefit of a healthy society, not to enforce some capitalists' idea of what they think is fair. It is the same reason why the rules change for a company when it becomes a monopoly (there is that word again).
"I want society out of my business."
This sounds like the libertarian mindset that takes for granted all the benefits that come from being a business operating in a healthy society.
Although worker productivity has gone up tremendously over the past 40 years, nearly all of the incremental gains in wealth has accrued to a small fraction of the population. Yet that form of unfairness doesn't ruffle the people who think taxation is theft.
And as for the US being a “failed state”, there sure is a big line to get in there!
I don't know what the solution is, but it seems to me that the estate tax system is overly complex, too open to abuse, and needs to be simplified. It is unfortunately intertwined with Trust laws, Probate laws, Income tax laws, international tax treaties, etc. As far as I can tell, the estate tax exists only because of the "stepped up cost basis" feature in the US tax code, where all capital gains is zeroed out upon death by increasing the cost basis of the asset to the current market value. (Does any other country have this?)
I think it would be simpler to eliminate Stepped Up Cost Basis, and replace the estate tax with something like a "deemed disposition" tax, where the capital gains tax is paid upon death (above a certain exemption amount, say $5M/couple), or paid upon transfer to another non-pass-through legal entity (e.g. an irrevocable trust). Oh, we should also eliminate the long-term capital gains tax rate, and all capital gains should be taxed at the same rate as earned income. I think this would eliminate the "carried interest" loophole. Oh, and we should eliminate Dynasty Trusts, which can last as long as 365 years. It's hard to see how allowing a Trust to last 365 years is good public policy. Oh, and so many other loopholes need to be closed.
Unfortunately, I don't think there is much political will to tackle these issues. Estate tax law is a very obscure part of the tax code. Very few people care, except for the small number of ultra wealthy people and their lawyers who are taking full advantage of the current system.
This is the kind of concern that isn't a problem right now, but will be one day. And it will happen in the blink of an eye.
I'm curious what the statistics are for a family remaining wealth over a long period of time.
Even with wealth evenly split between each generations kids, given a growth of just 4% it might end up with each generation getting a greater amount of wealth still.
In the past large familes prevented this, but if the average extremely wealthy person only averages 2 kids. The dilution through children just doesn't occur.
I don't have statistics, but a fun factoid is that the Grosvenor family, who own many properties in the west end of London, were originally granted those properties because the grantee was the grand-nephew of William the Conqueror. So wealth can last a long time. For those families who are luckiest and canniest, the only major threat is social breakdown as a result of revolution or being conquered.
> Even with wealth evenly split between each generations kids
This is why primogeniture and entailments were invented. They were necessary to maintain dynastic wealth. In cultures where partible inheritance is more common, such as the US, dynastic wealth has a much shorter half-life.
The author shows numerous examples but one of the most striking for English-speakers is that the Norman conquerors of 1086 are still, 31 generations later, over-represented at places like Oxford and Cambridge admissions and upper class probate court records.
Really? You have no problem one person owning so much money? That's around 30$ for _every_ person on the planet, can you even wrap your head around that? There's no reason why a single person should ever own this sort of wealth, none at all.
They would have to give up their US citizenship. Financial implications aside, few are willing to go that far. The financial implications are also large. You have to pay an exit tax, which would be substantial. And giving up US citizenship to avoid taxes is illegal, so there's that too...
What I find sickening is people trying to meddle in other people's pockets.
On the other hand, Bezos, a single person, has control of a $1.58T company and you are totally okay with it?
But you can also flip that around: Let's say your dad opened a Facebook, but then dies, why should you get $98 billion? You didn't do anything. Why is that now yours in the first place?
Because we live in a system which rewards good genes, and that is a very good thing. By instituting a generational wealth tax you will be killing the human desire for wealth on a generational timescale.
Where does the money go? To other people i assume, you have now created a system where the evolutionary incentive is to leech from the system contributing as little as you can get away with. We live in such a system today but at-least there are some benefits to contributing more, those benefits are inherently that you can turn wealth into more children and transfer that wealth to them.
I agree we should strive for a system which incentivises empathy, compassion, generosity and contentment.
Billionares do not have more kids but wealthy people have the capacity to have more healthy offspring, irregardless if they actually do.
I have said nothing about poisoning the gene pool, i am not a eugenicist and far from it. But every system has free-riders (leeches) as game theory predicts, we should try to counteract this behaviour not reward it.
Also, is this really your main motivation if you're Jeff Bezos? To make even more money? Doesn't the money stop mattering after the first 100 million and you're simply staying at Amazon because that's what you actually like doing? (Including having influence, shaping the future of commerce, etc etc)
I'ts not that simple, we are talking about evolutionary timescales here. It's very easy to see that if we live in a universe where accumulating wealth will not benefit your descendants, then accumulating wealth is an energy and time sink which will be selected against.
As for the second point i have no idea what Bezoz's motivations are.