Every so often in the news or in debates, we inevitably hear about how this or that ultra wealthy (sometimes sociopathic) CEO or investment banker donates to charity and what a generally swell person that makes them. Mitt Romney would often cite his charitable donations during his failed 2012 campaign for President and even now, millionaires and billionaires continue to use the “I give to charity” line in defense of character assaults that will often come as a result of their profiting from worker exploitation, crooked investment schemes or other predatory business practices.
But just where does all this charity go? For all the tax exemptions sought and received for their donations to non-profit organizations and cultural institutions, just how many of these millions actually go to helping those in need? After all, helping the less fortunate is typically what one thinks of the point of charity being.
Yet despite this, a recent study has shown that in addition to the tax breaks offered to the wealthy for their charitable giving, less than half actually ends up helping those in real need. In fact, the lion’s share of the charitable donations by the top 1% (approximately two-thirds) usually end up going right back to that same 1%.
Opera houses, fine art museums and cultural facilities for ivy league schools rank among some of the most common recipients of wealthy donor’s charitable giving. A far cry from the Head Start or Meals On Wheels types of programs most think of when pondering the nature of charity.
And while the promotion of fine art and culture is both a fine and necessary aspect to the advancement of society, the honors as well as the dedication plaques and titles the donors receive in exchange for their tax-deductible support of things which typically serve more to enhance their own lifestyles as opposed to the population at large, do give one pause and reason to wonder if the “charity” is not in fact merely more self-serving, than truly philanthropic. And of course, the elements of wealth self-interest go further than mere tax incentives or personal image.
A recent fund-raising gala held at New York City’s famous Lincoln Center, brought a number of the questions regarding the altruism of modern wealthy giving to the forefront of the debate. With ultra-wealthy hedge fund managers arriving to rub shoulders with other corporate titans and money changers, many observed that the charitable aspects of the event seemed in ways, to be overshadowed by the eagerness of high society to appear at a high society event.
As the divide between rich and poor continues to grow wider by the day, the need for those at the top of our economic food chain to paint themselves as being “for the people,” grows steadily alongside the simmering discontent of the struggling underclass. And while so much of their “charity” is quietly sidelined simply to enhance their own lifestyles and standing within their own ranks, many are beginning to call for a reformation of the tax benefit packages they are offered in exchange for doing so.