Monday, February 22, 2010

American Generosity, Part III of III - Threats to American Philanthropy 

The first two posts on American generosity are here and here. This final post will address the serious threats to our freedom to choose where we wish to give. Three kinds of proposals coming from Capitol Hill, the IRS, state governments and sometimes even charities themselves can undermine what has been an incredibly unique, independently driven system never before seen by humanity.

First point: Behemoth governments and agencies with their one-size-fits-all mindset too often create proposals that limit the diversity and independence of the charitable world. When the now jailed Eliot Spitzer was NY's Attorney General [2003], he proposed a prohibition on foundations with less than $20,000,000 in assets because there were too many of them for the government to monitor and police. In 2007, a top IRS official proposed that the IRS evaluate the effectiveness and governance of public charities and foundations. Late 2009, the Congressional Research Service published a report calling for a NEW oversight agency for charities and foundations. [Do we really need more federal employees?]

The second threat is the argument that foundation assets are"public money" and that decisions about grant-making are subject to political control. Democrat Congressman, Savier Becerra of CA, calls the tax-favored treatment of charitable giving a "$32 billion earmark" and wants Congress to ensure that philanthropic assets advance the public good. [Or does he want to tax these charities??????] Charities do have public purposes and state attorneys general do have some power to enforce adherence to respective charitable purposes. BUT, this does not mean charities must serve the same objectives as government or that the government can intrude on their decision making. [Can government agencies perform charitable acts as efficiently as private charities? Highly doubtful. And, how much money do charities save taxpayers? Billions - that's a number followed by a minimum of nine zeroes (000,000,000)].

There is a historic covenant that has governed foundations - they must use their assets for charitable, not personal purposes.

The final threat to the freedom of American philanthropy comes in the form of proposals that would define what kind of giving is charitable. A growing number of them would like to confine charitable deductions to direct help for racial minorities and low-income families and communities, only. The problem with this? Americans of all races, creeds and income levels can benefit from giving to or receiving from religious institutions, colleges and universities, hospitals and medical research, the arts, environment and other causes that fall outside of these proposed, limited restrictions. Government should NOT be picking winners and losers.

American charitable giving is a strong indicator of economic freedom. In turn, economic freedom is an indispensable means toward the achievement of political freedom. [Milton Friedman].

Again, article sourced is the January 2010 Imprimis published by Hillsdale College.

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Thursday, February 18, 2010

American Generosity II of III - Reasons Why Americans are Generous 

There are three basic reasons America is the most charitable country on earth. First, we are the most religious people of any leading modern economy. Secondly, we respect the freedom and ability of individuals and their associations to make a difference. The third reason is that philanthropy is an important part of our nation's business culture.

Regarding the religious aspect: Americans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once a week give three times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. Annually, about $100,000,000,000 goes to religious institutions of all faiths. These same donors also give more to secular charities than those who never or rarely attend religious services. The book, Who Really Cares, by Arthur C. Brooks, thoroughly documents amounts, percentages and types of giving (including blood donations and volunteer hours) to support this concept. A review of the book, here, summarizes many of the key findings.

The freedom angle: Historically, Americans did not wait for the government or the local nobleman to solve problems - we often solved them ourselves. A forthcoming movie, The Little Red Wagon, tells the story of a six-year-old boy in Tampa, named Zach, who wanted to help families who had been left homeless. He took his wagon door-to-door for four months and collected 27 truckloads of supplies. This is a great example but there are also 1000s of examples of Americans helping others in need via churches, community food drives, packages for soldiers, etc. - people just taking action on their own as part of their community. These events happen all the time in America.

American corporations give through their own programs. One local example is the 5% pretax operating profit give-back of Target Corporation. Other companies assist schools, support athletic teams and scout programs. Included also are volunteer fire departments (Bloomington, MN has one of the largest volunteer fire department in the US.) Historically, there is Andrew Carnegie who founded US Steel and took his wealth to establish public libraries all across America. Bill Gates of Microsoft is working to eradicate malaria. The list is endless. Why? Freedom. Americans simply give back, voluntarily, to the society that gave them the opportunity to succeed.

And, an interesting aspect: while many people in the upper quintile of earnings give more money to charity, those in the lowest quintile give the highest percentage to charity. Go here for a summary.

Update - I thought this had been posted; this will address some of the issues raised by commenters on I of III. Janet

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Friday, February 12, 2010

American Generosity - Part I of III 

This post is the first of three discussing the generosity of Americans. This section covers charitable giving in general, the American history of giving and who gives. The second post will describe reasons Americans are generous and the third will discuss the threats to American philanthropy.

The basis of this information is a speech given in Washington, D.C. on January 8, 2010 by Adam Meyerson, President of The Philanthropy Roundtable. My source is Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. (A free publication - go here to register to get your monthly articles.)

In 1859, a professor and preacher named Ransom Dunn started a horseback journey to raise funds for a young institution of higher learning, Hillsdale College, in southern Michigan. 6000 miles later, Dunn had raised $22,000, the equivalent of about $500,000 today. The sources of his success: rural families of the upper Midwest. The largest donation was $200. What does this even show?

Charitable giving in America has never been exclusively limited to the wealthy. Throughout America's history, Americans from all walks of life have given generously. When giving is calculated as a proportion of income, the highest percentage of givers is the working poor. Secondly, Professor Dunn, did not play on guilt, too often the ploy of today's charity solicitors. Dunn appealed to people's ideals, aspirations and religious principles.

This charitable aspect of Americans is central to our free society. Hillsdale was the second American college to grant a four-year liberal arts degree to women. Hillsdale was the first American college to prohibit any discrimination on the basis of race, religion or sex. These unique components would have been difficult, if not impossible to implement if Hillsdale had had to rely on public moneys.

The 19th century was a great age in America for the creation of colleges. Every town in the decentralized America of that time wanted its own college to promote economic opportunity and encourage citizen leadership. (In 1880, Ohio [with 3,000,000 inhabitants] had 37 colleges; England [with 23,000,000 people] had four degree-granting institutions.)

Today Americans give over $30,000,000,000 a year to support higher education. Even state universities depend upon private contributions. In addition, private charity sustains museums, orchestras, hospitals, clinics, churches, synagogues, animal refuges and habitats, youth programs, grass-roots problem solvers, etc. Private charity makes possible great think tanks, left, right or center.

Our awareness of charity is usually low, until there is a disaster. During Hurricane Katrina, Americans gave $6,000,000,000 and in 2009, Americans gave $300,000,000,000 to charities. This final amount is about twice what we spend on electronics equipment, three times what is spent on gambling and 10x as much as spent on professional sports.

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Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Watch what I do, not what I say 

Innovation has been essential to our prosperity in the past, and it will be essential to our prosperity in the future. But it is only by building a new foundation that we will once again harness that incredible generative capacity of the American people. -- Pres. Obama, August 1 2009.


I�m not convinced that there�s going to be another wave of innovation in the offing� to propel growth, leaving the economy facing a �long slog,� said [Nobel laureate Edmund] Phelps, a professor at Columbia University in New York.

Phelps foresees real, or inflation-adjusted, gains in gross domestic product of 2.5 percent in the years following the current slump. That�s weaker than the average expansion rate during any postwar decade except the current one, in which growth has been pulled down by two recessions. (August 3, 2009, Bloomberg News.)


But the mere availability of capital is not sufficient for innovation. Capital must also be mobile and stable (see property rights). Hernando de Soto explains that even in places where entrepreneurship is strong and capital is available, capital cannot serve the needs of potential innovators unless it is in a mobile form that allows various types of wealth to be converted into credit. This mobility includes �property document[s]� such as title deeds, which �represent the invisible potential that is locked up in the assets we accumulate.� Stability of capital is provided by the rule of law, by which the use of coercion in society is made regular and predictable. If investments cannot be insured against expropriation, possessors of capital are less likely to take the risk of investing in an innovation. Nations lacking a stable rule of law, including property rights, tend to be less prosperous and to have less innovation. -- Timothy Sandefur, The Concise Encyclopedia of Economics


Bankruptcies involve dividing a shrunken pie. But not all claims are equal: some lenders provide cheaper funds to firms in return for a more secure claim over the assets should things go wrong. They rank above other stakeholders, including shareholders and employees. This principle is now being trashed. On April 30th, after the failure of negotiations, Chrysler entered Chapter 11. Under the proposed scheme, secured creditors owed some $7 billion will recover 28 cents per dollar. Yet an employee health-care trust, operated at arm�s length by the United Auto Workers union, which ranks lower down the capital structure, will receive 43 cents on its $11 billion-odd of claims, as well as a majority stake in the restructured firm.

The many creditors who have acquiesced include banks that themselves rely on the government�s purse. The objectors have been denounced as �speculators� by Barack Obama. The judge overseeing the case has consented to a quick, �prepackaged� bankruptcy, which seems to give little scope for creditors to argue their case or pursue the alternative of liquidating the company�s assets. In effect Chrysler and the government have overridden the legal pecking order to put workers� health-care benefits above more senior creditors� claims, and then successfully argued in court that the alternative would be so much worse for creditors that it cannot be seriously considered.

In a crisis it is easy to put politics first, but if lenders fear their rights will be abused, other firms will find it more expensive to borrow, especially if they have unionised workforces that are seen to be friendly with the government. -- The Economist, May 7, 2009.

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Monday, May 19, 2008

This has been me for years 

People are running out of their two-year contracts and they're coming into the stores and they want to be able to do Facebook and they want to be able to do instant messaging and they want to be able to do e-mail and they ask for those features thinking that they're going to get another flip phone and they're walking out with a (BlackBerry) Curve or a Pearl because they're the best devices for doing those kinds of activities. And so what is the defining factor? The keyboard.
Source, from the co-chair of RIM. Those of us who have had Treos for years (I'm already past the two year mark on my 700p, after two years with a 600. Though I'm thinking Blackberry next time, particularly this one, so that I can do email from overseas. Unlocked SIM cards, yes!


Monday, March 31, 2008

American Ingenuity 

In spite of 40 years of negative press and educating our children to believe we are the lousiest nation on the planet with a myriad of sins so horrible as to warrant extinction, some manage to escape this educational-institution imposed mind set and then do something extraordinary, really extraordinary.

We Americans, all shades, types and personalities, still possess a uniqueness rare on the planet - we encourage people to think. And, we still have some people who REALLY think well.

DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Project Agency (thank goodness for acronyms), has just contracted with Deka to develop the latest in prosthetic devices. Please, please, please go to this website and watch the film on their latest human arm. It is unbelievable!

When we: tell our kids that we are a rotten nation; refuse to push our children in academic endeavors; ignore the good America has done; teach only one side of history, government, etc.; use Garrison Keillor's Lake Wobegon description that all children are above average; make excuses for not learning; let them believe they are unaccountable for anything; lie to them by keeping truths from them - all this leads to a nation that eventually may not function.

Yet, in spite of the victim-driven, anti-American mantra, we produce thinkers, dreamers, idealists that no other nation produces. The kind of invention you will see in this film occurs NO WHERE ELSE ON EARTH.

Wake up, you negative forces. Just imagine what we could do if we encouraged the positive traits of our people.

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Monday, March 12, 2007

But Troy Williamson would drop it 

The Lord is great, and He works in ways we cannot comprehend.
When John Cornwell graduated from Duke University last year, he landed a job as software engineer in Atlanta but soon found himself longing for his college lifestyle.

So the engineering graduate built himself a contraption to help remind him of campus life: a refrigerator that can toss a can of beer to his couch with the click of a remote control.

...It took the 22-year-old Cornwell about 150 hours and $400 in parts to modify a mini-fridge common to many college dorm rooms into the beer-tossing machine, which can launch 10 cans of beer from its magazine before needing a reload.

With a click of the remote, fashioned from a car's keyless entry device, a small elevator inside the refrigerator lifts a beer can through a hole and loads it into the fridge's catapult arm. A second click fires the device, tossing the beer up to 20 feet -- "far enough to get to the couch," he said.

Is there a foam explosion when the can is opened? Not if the recipient uses "soft hands" to cradle the can when caught, Cornwell said.
I predict a drop in marriage rates; Foot will need a new use for his kid.

h/t: Newmark's Dukie Door

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