The Super-rich and Philanthropy
Apart from the nauseating smugness of some of the CEO's interviewed for the New York Times' sprawling article on the trend toward increasing concentration of wealth, the article was most upsetting because of what it documented - a mere 15,000 people share fully 5% of the money in our country.
Hmm, that doesn't sound fair.
The article discusses the importance of philanthropy to the super-rich, and quotes Sanford Weill, of Citigroup, saying that we should not rely on the government to provide all the services society needs. There is a big problem with this theory. The philanthropic giving of the super-rich is voluntary and arbitrary - it depends entirely on the whims of the super-rich themselves. They are not particularly well-positioned to perceive the greatest needs in our society. For example, Mr. Weill's generous support of Carnegie Hall may be important, but it would be hard to say that it is more important than school lunches for hundreds of thousands of New York City schoolchildren, or improved trash collection or train service in neighborhoods where Mr. Weill has never ventured.
Taxing wealth enables the government to make merit-based decisions about where to spend our collective resources. Also, ideally, the government in a democratic society is more accountable to the general public than are CEOs and retired CEOs.
We pay a tremendous price for the concentration of wealth in America. We lose the opportunity to use all of the money that is concentrated in the hands of so few for the common good.