This year's charitable donations are expected to total more than $200 billion, a record. But a big portion of this impressive sum -- especially from the wealthy, who have the most to donate -- is going to culture palaces: to the operas, art museums, symphonies and theaters where the wealthy spend much of their leisure time. It's also being donated to the universities they attended and expect their children to attend, perhaps with the added inducement of knowing that these schools often practice a kind of affirmative action for "legacies."
I'm all in favor of supporting the arts and our universities, but let's face it: These aren't really charitable contributions. They're often investments in the lifestyles the wealthy already enjoy and want their children to have too. They're also investments in prestige -- especially if they result in the family name being engraved on the new wing of an art museum or symphony hall.
It's their business how they donate their money, of course. But not entirely. Charitable donations to just about any not-for-profit are deductible from income taxes. This year, for instance, the U.S. Treasury will be receiving about $40 billion less than it would if the tax code didn't allow for charitable deductions. (That's about the same amount the government now spends on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which is what remains of welfare.) Like all tax deductions, this gap has to be filled by other tax revenues or by spending cuts, or else it just adds to the deficit.