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TheStreet Open House

When Prosperity Becomes the Enemy of Charity

For Democrats, it's institutional giving, be it the government itself or public and private nonprofits. Take the money out of my taxes, they say, and put it where it does the most good. Let me make an annual pre-tax contribution to one or two nonprofits, according to a plan drawn up by my accountant. The checks go out routinely. The less they have to think about it, the better.

For both, the mistake is obvious: Charity is meted by a labor-saving device. Set the thing in motion, retreat to the den or the walled garden. Others handle the work, permitting us to focus on ourselves. A time of need arrives, and our response is not to rush out to help, but to protect the lifestyle of detachment.

Take a look at this New York Times article last weekend on the current spending spree in specialty art products for the wealthiest. In light of the drop in charitable spending overall, the trend makes those wealthy customers appear unimaginably selfish -- the oblivious Marie Antoinettes of the modern age.

What's happening there is the wealthiest are willing to buy art tailored made for themselves -- the gaudiest, most tasteless Trump Tower art -- as long as it is expensive, boosting their status and addressing a rare type of personal, childish greed that most Americans will never know and our society once roundly condemned.

Meanwhile, established, cherished cultural institutions all over the country are going belly up as donations and subscriptions go over a cliff.

We have forgotten obvious truths: The charitable deduction is not the reason we give to charity. Ownership is not the reason we support the arts.

Your current tax burden does not balance against the needs of the charities you've chosen to give to in the past. Your personal finances are, I'm sure, in a terrible state -- I'm sorry to hear it. So are everyone else's. They need your help now more than ever.

Where are the wealthy donors who will say, I will let my investments, my taxes, take a hit, so that the organizations I support can survive?

When times are hard for everyone, charitable donations should go up.

--Written by Carlton Wilkinson in Asbury Park.

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