Wrath and pride are the sins of great (but not good) men. Envy is the affliction of the insignificant. It is the small man’s sin.
Which brings us to Robert Reich, who, having practically made a cult of envy, has taken to abusing the well-off for their acts of charity. Professor Reich, a ward of the taxpayers of California (at $246,199.84 per annum) and a federal ward before that, is persistently unhappy about how other people use their money, and he scoffs that America’s rich philanthropists are phony and self-serving, investing too much in opera and ballet and fancy colleges, and too little in feeding the hungry and housing the homeless. He particularly resents the fact that our tax code encourages such giving, with deductions that reduced federal revenue by some $39 billion last year — federal revenue that could have gone toward employing men such as Robert Reich.
Beyond stealing altar offerings from the almighty god of revenue, our philanthropists offend Professor Reich’s sensibilities in another way: They don’t give to the sort of enterprises he wants them to give to. “A large portion of the charitable deductions now claimed by America’s wealthy are for donations to culture palaces — operas, art museums, symphonies, and theaters — where they spend their leisure time hobnobbing with other wealthy benefactors. . . . These aren’t really charities as most people understand the term. They’re often investments in the life-styles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have as well. Increasingly, being rich in America means not having to come across anyone who’s not.” Unsurprisingly, Progressive America’s favorite non-economist-who-plays-an-economist-on-TV does not bother to document what he means by “a large share.” Giving to art-and-culture organizations amounted to just over $14 billion in 2012, or about 4.5 percent of charitable contributions, far less than was given to health, human-services, or public-benefit organizations. There are a fair number of single organizations that run into the billions per year, including YMCA ($6.24 billion), Goodwill Industries ($5 billion), Catholic Charities ($4.4 billion), and the Red Cross ($3.12 billion).
A question, though: If spending on art, music, and culture is self-serving when private citizens do it, what is it when government does it? Essential, necessary, crucial — of course. The New York City Department of Cultural Affairs by itself spends some $150 million a year on precisely that sort of thing. The state spends dozens of millions more. A good deal of that money goes to subsidizing theater, including big-ticket theater. In my role as a theater critic, I am constantly surprised by how many shows selling tickets for north of $100 are publicly subsidized. It isn’t huge money — without public support for the Manhattan Theater Club, that $120 ticket to see Laurie Metcalf in The Other Place (excellent, be sorry if you missed it) might have been $125 instead. But it adds up: a few dozen millions from the state, a hundred million from the city, a billion and a half from Washington.
But envy poisons whatever good intentions they have, which is how men such as Professor Reich come to write resentful indictments of people who are, remember, giving away billions of dollars of their own money. He’d prefer their money be given away by him, or by bureaucracies under the tutelage of men such as himself.
Megan McArdle once observed that in our public discourse, “very rich” is defined as “just above the level a top-notch journalist in a two-earner couple could be expected to pull down.” There is no envy like the envy of a $250,000 man in a world of $250 million men, as Robert Duvall’s crusty newspaper editor explains to a financially frustrated employee in The Paper: “The people we cover — we move in their world, but it is their world. We don’t get the money — never have, never will.” But being in that world, they learn to covet, which helps explain why Professor Reich’s old boss, Bill Clinton, ended up with $50-odd million in the bank after a lifetime of public service.
Americans gave away $316 billion in 2012, and will give away as much or more this year, and Professor Reich composed 731 words to explain the problems related to that. He should have composed two words, especially relevant to this season:
A true liberal should be embarrassed about such moral supremacist posturing. In the world where private income are capped by the fairness fascists, there would be no money for the rich to give to charities nor revenues to fund the government’s chosen elites…. such as Robert Reich