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January 30, 2012


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Seeing that the average credit card debt is way more than the average annual charitable contribution is what I can see why we don't give more.

I would love to see the methodology used to come up with these numbers. They appear to be using the charitable deduction on taxes as a proxy for charitable giving. While that's probably fine for people who itemize their deductions, it doesn't necessarily make sense for those who take the standard deduction.

I'd guess that is less the 'lack of generosity' as the lack of willpower/budgeting/margin to have any amount of money leftover to give. From what I've seen of 'average' retirement accounts reported, people may be giving as much or more than they are saving for themselves (especially for that lower range). Just about everything made gets automatically spent.

This may be a bit off topic, but I always find it interesting to see the 1040s of politicians release. Many of them are much stingier than the averages shown in the article. For me, it says something about their character.

On Federal returns, we don't donate enough to itemize, so our stats wouldn't be in there, but we still donate far more than that average. Last year we donated 14% of our income (53K) to charity, but that amount doesn't exceed the standard deduction. These stats would seem to leave out a huge number of middle class people like our family, so they're probably pretty misleading. That said, among the wealthier groups, those are some appalling numbers, and they're more likely to be accurate.

I think it would be helpful to know the median deduction as well.

Couldn't agree with you more, Paul. BTW, I think Joe Biden set the record for the all time low - $995 donation on $319K. That is pathetic!

Well you can beat me up all you like, it won't bother me at all. I'm in the top 1% by income and I don't give anything at all to charities. As I have said before, we stepped off the boat in 1956 with $400 and have saved hard our whole life. My wife is the giver in the family and this month gave $10,000 to each of our children after receiving a six figure bequest from her uncle's will - the first bequest either of us have ever received.

While I agree it would be nice if everyone could and would donate more to charity or non-profits, I think the numbers here only paint part of the picture. You have to consider location and family situation (i.e., number of dependents).

@Old Limey -
I hope that this doesn't fall under the category of beating you up, but I daresay that you'd be a much richer man if you gave to charities that were meaningful to you.


I don't put too much stock in these kinds of metrics.

When we compare rich person A's 1% of income contribution to treat or prevent disease with another wealthy person B's 10% of income contribution raise Awareness of a disease we need to be aware that they are not the same thing. Contrast these two with wealthy person C's non-contributions to charity, whereby C pays the maximum in taxes and spends or invests the remainder of their net in businesses that employee people. Who is doing the most good in the world?

Not all charities are created equal. Some charities and foundations exist to enrich their management, sequester funds from the tax man or perpetuate their own existence. Some benefactors intend only to get their name on buildings, get invitations to parties or place a relative on an influential board to further other business interests. This isn't to say they don't also do some good in the world. I only want to make clear that More $$$ to charity is not always better.

Charitable giving has steadily declined since the introduction of the income tax, and the subsequent erection of the welfare state. There are two reasons why this has affected eleemosynary activity:

1. A pretty obvious one, people have less to give. It's not just the rich who get hosed with taxes. An average middle class family can expect to pay 15% in Federal income tax + ~7% for FICA (Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid) taxes + at least 6% in state income tax + at least 5% of sales tax on everything you buy + Property taxes on your house, car, etc. Add to that the 4% or so per year that the dollar loses in purchasing power and the hidden taxes reflected in higher costs for things that are heavily regulated and taxes (like healthcare) and you can see why people have very little left over to give.

2. Not so obvious, but there is a psychological effect on giving when the Government attempts charitable distribution. People tend to think that, since the Government spends billions fighting poverty, no one should go without. It makes us lethargic. Just look at the charitable giving in the 1800s, when there was no government spending on the poor. Never before in history (or since) has there every been so much charitable activity in the US.

So we can boo-hoo over the lack of charity in the US all we want ... but blame the politicians, not the people.

Yeah this data doesn't seem right.

Here's another source on the topic...

Every single one of us has benefited greatly from the many great doctors and scientists that pioneered great discoveries and procedures such as Dr. Joseph Lister, pioneer of antiseptic surgeries, Drs. Louis Pasteur and Jonas Salk for their development of vaccines, Dr. Alexander Fleming, discoverer of the first antibiotic, and the great surgeons that pioneered procedures such as organ replacement, open heart surgery, and the separation of conjoined twins etc. etc. I also applaud generous men such as Bill Gates, Warren Buffet, and Bill Clinton that, through their foundations, are spending millions in the battle against disease in 3rd. world countries.

Where I have a problem is with some of the charitable efforts that are being extended to some of the poorest parts of Africa where the natural resources such as soil, climate, and rainfall are inadequate to produce sufficient food and clean water for even a meager population, and yet the males show no regard whatsoever for conrolling the population by fathering fewer babies and taking steps to control the spread of STDs. It seems like a complete lost cause to me especially when you also include the effects of serious insect and bacterial diseases that are endemic to the areas. A young woman that is a friend of ours (that we did help to support) spent several years in the Peace Corps in such a country in W. Africa, and one of her tasks was trying to disseminate information about birth control as well as distributing free condoms to the young men that attended her clincs. She eventually became very disenchanted with the corruption going on by local officials siphoning out money for their own use and was very frustrated by the whole effort when her tour ended and she returned to the States.


Old Limey,

So is your solution to the problems in Africa to "starve the beast" by letting populations die out? Or just suffer through truly meager existences with no hope for improvement? This seems particularly cold...

There are many, many reputable organizations that do good work in Africa and other poor nations. My family is heavily involved with one such organization, and has traveled extensively to see the work they do firsthand. The organization focuses on helping children, both providing for their physical and spiritual needs as well as educating and training them to live a different kind of life than their parents' generations. Once you see firsthand the impact you can have on a child's life, you would never ever consider such help to be toward a "lost cause."

"where the natural resources such as soil, climate, and rainfall are inadequate to produce sufficient food and clean water for even a meager population"

Like Las Vegas?

You're quite right, however the African countries that I am refering to lack any semblance of the infrastructure that exists in the USA. We are also blessed with the lion's share of the finest arable land in the world as well as the capability of moving water where it is needed the most. Our farmers are also wealthy enough to afford all of the fertilizers, pesticides and mechanization required to generate a food supply that is second to none.

I know it's a cold, heartless choice but I just don't see the benefit of pouring money into completely hopeless situations. I believe in the principle of "Getting the most bang for your buck". There have been so many horrific stories coming out of Africa for many years, genocide with one tribe killing another tribe, food shipments that rot in the ports because of the lack of transportation to where it's needed, corruption at the highest levels of government etc. etc.

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