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Week of: March 11, 2001

Give Generously, But Not Idiotically

by F.R. Duplantier

Giving is a virtuous act, provided you give the right thing to the right people.

Suspension of judgment is not part of the philanthropic process. I was accosted on the street once by a healthy-looking fellow who gave me a sob story about how he'd come to town for a job interview, lost his wallet, and found himself bereft of the few dollars he needed to buy a bus ticket back home. He wouldn't be begging, he assured me, if he didn't have to. It was an emergency, don't you see? I'd heard this story before, and had made up my mind to nail the next slacker who pulled it on me. "You got change for a twenty?" I asked. The stranded wayfarer reached down into his pocket -- then froze. That much cash didn't jibe with his hard-luck story.

The hard-luck stories of big businesses don't jibe either. Corporate welfare may be justified as a means of offsetting the deleterious effects of exorbitant corporate tax rates, but wouldn't it make more sense just to reduce those rates, or to reduce the onerous levels of federal regulation? Reducing regulation would increase the competitiveness and profitability of American businesses, thereby increasing federal tax revenues and allowing for the lowering of the corporate tax rate. It's so simple. Everyone would benefit -- investors, executives, employees, consumers -- everyone, that is, but the power brokers in Washington, who, you can be sure, will manage to keep things just the way they are, while pretending to institute reform.

The ample coffers of the Public Broadcasting System tend to undermine their hard-luck stories as well. And the dire forecasts of a culture diminished by the demise of public television ring increasingly hollow. No more Lawrence Welk Show? No more reruns of Aerobic Irish Clogging and Fat Latin Trio Sings Opera in Tails? No more Prissy Purple Dinosaur Cult? No more hectoring fund drives and auction marathons? Hey, the death of public broadcasting is starting to sound pretty good, isn't it? Maybe we can survive without our daily mix of hauteur and schmaltz. After all, the meager offerings of PBS are outclassed all over the airwaves. And you know what? There's another amazing invention that predates radio and television and is far more educational and entertaining than either. It's called the printed word. You'll find it in books, magazines, newspapers, and on the Internet. Public broadcasting was never necessary, and it surely isn't now.

We Americans are indisputably the most generous people that have ever lived. Why, then, must we be treated like skinflints? Why must we be fleeced as taxpayers in support of causes favored by some poltical or cultural elite? Why must our children be compelled as students to "volunteer" for public services selected by preening, left-leaning educators? Most Americans are as generous as they can be with their time and money. The problem is, Uncle Sam and his relatives at the state and local levels don't leave us a whole lot of either. Just think what an explosion of charity there would be in this country if the federal tax-bite were drastically reduced! Some of you just snickered, didn't you? Well, now we know who the real skinflints are.


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