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Posts Tagged ‘charity

“If you’re a lobbyist who never gave us money, I didn’t talk to you. If you’re a lobbyist who gave us money, I might talk to you”*…

 

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Everyone always talks about how much money there is in politics. This is the wrong framing. The right framing is Ansolabehere et al’s: why is there so little money in politics? But Ansolabehere focuses on elections, and the mystery is wider than that.

Sure, during the 2018 election, candidates, parties, PACs, and outsiders combined spent about $5 billion – $2.5 billion on Democrats, $2 billion on Republicans, and $0.5 billion on third parties. And although that sounds like a lot of money to you or me, on the national scale, it’s puny. The US almond industry earns $12 billion per year. Americans spent about 2.5x as much on almonds as on candidates last year.

But also, what about lobbying? Open Secrets reports $3.5 billion in lobbying spending in 2018. Again, sounds like a lot. But when we add $3.5 billion in lobbying to the $5 billion in election spending, we only get $8.5 billion – still less than almonds.

What about think tanks? Based on numbers discussed in this post, I estimate that the budget for all US think tanks, liberal and conservative combined, is probably around $500 million per year. Again, an amount of money that I wish I had. But add it to the total, and we’re only at $9 billion. Still less than almonds!

What about political activist organizations? The National Rifle Association, the two-ton gorilla of advocacy groups, has a yearly budget of $400 million. The ACLU is a little smaller, at $234 million. AIPAC is $80 million. The NAACP is $24 million. None of them are anywhere close to the first-person shooter video game “Overwatch”, which made $1 billion last year. And when we add them all to the total, we’re still less than almonds.

Add up all US spending on candidates, PACs, lobbying, think tanks, and advocacy organizations – liberal and conservative combined – and we’re still $2 billion short of what we spend on almonds each year. In fact, we’re still less than Elon Musk’s personal fortune; Musk could personally fund the entire US political ecosystem on both sides for a whole two-year election cycle…

[A consideration of the factors that limit political giving/spending]

I don’t want more money in politics. But the same factors that keep money out of politics keep it out of charity too.

The politics case is interesting because it’s so obvious. Nobody’s going to cynically declare “Oh, people don’t really care who wins the election, they just pretend to.” It’s coordination problems! It has to be!

So when I hear stories like that Americans could end homelessness by redirecting the money they spend on Christmas decorations, I don’t think that’s because they’re evil or hypocritical or don’t really care about the issue. I think they would if they could but the coordination problem gets in the way.

This is one reason I’m so gung ho about people pledging to donate 10% of their income to charity. It mows through these kinds of problems. I may not be a great person. But I spend more each year on the things I consider most important than I do on almonds, and this is the kind of thing that doesn’t happen naturally. It’s the kind of thing where I have to force myself to ignore the feeling of “just a drop in the ocean”, ignore whether I feel like other people are free-riding on me, and just do it. Pledging to donate money (and then figuring out what to do with it later) ensures I will take that effort, and not end up with revealed preferences that seem ridiculous in light of my values.

Scott Alexander with a counter-intuitive– and provocative– take on politics and money: “Too much dark money in almonds.”

[Image above: source]

* Mick Mulvaney, Director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), as well as acting White House Chief of Staff, in 2018, while serving as interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

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As we take the pledge, we might recall that it was on this date in 1957 that the words “In God We Trust” first appeared on U.S. paper currency– when the updated one-dollar silver certificate entered circulation that day.

Though it had only been adopted by Congress as the official motto of the U.S. the prior year, the phrase had appeared occasionally (as had variations on the theme) on coinage since Civil War times; regularly– despite Theodore Roosevelt’s conviction that it was sacrilegious– from 1908.

220px-1in_god_we_trust source

 

Written by LW

October 1, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We only have what we give”*…

 

Charity

 

Total charitable giving rose 0.7% measured in current dollars over the revised total of $424.74 billion contributed in 2017. Adjusted for inflation, total giving declined 1.7%…

“After reaching record-breaking levels of giving in 2017, American individuals and organizations continued their generous support of charitable institutions in 2018,” said Rick Dunham, chair of Giving USA Foundation and CEO of Dunham + Company. “However, the environment for giving in 2018 was far more complex than most years, with shifts in tax policy and the volatility of the stock market. This is particularly true for the wide range of households that comprise individual giving and provide over two-thirds of all giving.”

A number of competing factors in the economic and public policy environments may have affected donors’ decisions in 2018, shifting some previous giving patterns. Many economic variables that shape giving, such as personal income, had relatively strong growth, while the stock market decline in late 2018 may have had a dampening effect. The policy environment also likely influenced some donors’ behavior. One important shift in the 2018 giving landscape is the drop in the number of individuals and households who itemize various types of deductions on their tax returns. This shift came in response to the federal tax policy change that doubled the standard deduction. More than 45 million households itemized deductions in 2016. Numerous studies suggest that number may have dropped to approximately 16 to 20 million households in 2018, reducing an incentive for charitable giving…

More detail from Giving USA at “Americans gave $427.71 billion to charity in 2018 amid complex year for charitable giving.”

* Isabel Allende

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As we reach more deeply, we might recall that it was on this date in 1862 that President Abraham Lincoln signed the (preliminary) Emancipation Proclamation, announcing that if the rebel states did not end the fighting and rejoin the Union by January 1, 1863, all slaves in those states would be free.  No Confederate state capitulated, and on the first day of 1863, President Lincoln issued the Proclamation declaring “that all persons held as slaves” within the rebellious states “are, and henceforward shall be free.”

Despite it’s expansive wording, the Emancipation Proclamation was limited in many ways. It applied only to states that had seceded from the Union, leaving slavery untouched in the loyal border states. It also expressly exempted parts of the Confederacy that had already come under Northern control. Most important, of course, the freedom it promised depended upon Union military victory.

Still, it captured the hearts and imagination of millions of Americans and fundamentally transformed the character of the war.  After January 1, 1863, every advance of federal troops expanded the domain of freedom.  Moreover, the Proclamation announced the acceptance of black men into the Union Army and Navy, enabling the liberated to become liberators.  By the end of the war, almost 200,000 black soldiers and sailors had fought for the Union and freedom.

“First Reading of the Emancipation Proclamation of President Lincoln,” by Francis Bicknell Carpenter

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Written by LW

September 22, 2019 at 1:01 am

“We only have what we give”*…

 

There’s a great deal of concern over whether or not the new tax bill will decrease charitable giving in the U.S.; as noted below, it’s painfully well grounded.  But there may be another threat to not-for-profits on the immediate horizon: competition from politics…

In very late 2016, following the election, and continuing into 2017, there was a surge in donations to not-for-profits like the ACLU, public broadcasting stations, Human Rights Watch, and the Sierra Club– organizations that addressed concerns that donors worried would be given shorter shrift in the new administration.  Patrick Rooney (Director of the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy at the University of Indiana) recounts:

American individuals, estates, corporations and foundations donated a record US$390 billion to charitable causes in 2016. [It is too early to know the tabulation for 2017.] Total giving grew 1.4 percent, adjusted for inflation. Donations from individuals amounted to nearly three-quarters of all giving and grew more than giving by foundations, corporations or bequests with a 2.6 percent gain to $282 billion…

We have, however, witnessed a shift in giving to groups devoted to animal welfare and environmental issues, as well as international affairs. These categories were so small that we couldn’t track them until 1987.

While they still draw less support than others – religious groups, at $123 billion, and educational institutions and organizations, at nearly $60 billion, still top the list – animal welfare and environment groups and international affairs organizations made big strides in 2016…

But as a result of the new tax bill, Dr. Rooney suggests, there will be roughly $21 billion less per year to charity.  That’s almost four times the amount of growth in the sector last year.  So, if Dr. Rooney is right, the not-for-profits that have lately had the wind at their backs may find themselves sailing into it starting in 2018.  

But that may not be the whole story.  Even as charitable contributions are under pressure, political contributions look poised to rise.  They were already astronomical: 2016 contributions to presidential campaigns were over $2 billion; congressional (Senate and House) races brought in over $4 billion; and state-wide races, over $1,5 billion (all, new highs, and all not counting an unmeasured amount of soft/dark spending).

2018 will, of course, be an election year– one for which interest and momentum are already building.  It’s not a presidential year, of course; still, it promises to be a big one. There’s every indication that Democrats are readying to field a record number candidates at every level in the mid-terms, and to fund them at record levels.  At the same time, it seems clear that Republicans are preparing to match their efforts.  Which is to say:  while there remain concerns about voter engagement, there’s every indication that there will again be an increased level of contributions to the campaigns.

So, the new tax bill is likely to reduce funding to not-for-profits, at the same time that political concerns are likely to make a greater demand on the “giving budget” of Americans.

Research conducted on the 2012 election (pdf), suggest that a donor’s political contributions do not decrease his/her charitable giving.  And with luck, that will hold true through 2018.  But the amounts in question, on both the charitable and the political fronts, continue to rise dramatically… and at some point, there is a limit to the amount that an individual can or will give– especially if that individual is not a member of the 1%… Those not-for-profits that experienced a “Trump Bump” in their funding in late 2016 and 2017 might find that, with the double-whammy of the new tax bill and “competition” from politics, they are facing head-winds in 2018.

I am a scenario planner by trade; I’ve learned the wisdom of contemplating all of the scenarios– the plausible futures– that we might face in order to be ready for any of them.  We certainly hope that there’ll be no hit to charitable contributions; but if this dark scenario unfolds, what do we do?

For the smaller donors who were the backbone of the Clinton and (before that, the Sanders and Obama campaigns), many of whom re-directed their support to charities after the 2016 election, there may come a set of choices:  First, for the many who will no longer itemize, do I continue to contribute though now I can no longer deduct the gift?  And second, for all, a Hobson’s Choice:  do I give to support the non-government organizations stepping in to try to fill needs (services, advocacy) from which government is retreating, or do I support an effort to reconfigure the government so that it pre-empt/address those needs?  The obvious right answers are “yes” and “both,” which may well require all of us to stretch to, if not beyond, the limits of our capacity to give.

For not-for-profits, this a moment to be cautious.  Dr. Rooney’s warning notwithstanding, it may be that Americans have the capacity to sustain their increased contributions at the same time that they increase their political giving.  But the strategically-robust position is to assume that they cannot, and to make plans– if only contingency plans– for level, even reduced contribution income.

Hope for the best; prepare for the worst.

* Isabel Allende

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As we dig deeper, we might celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on this day marked in his honor.  The holiday was established in 1983 when President Ronald Reagan signed the bill creating this federal holiday.  Reagan had opposed the holiday, citing its cost, joining southern Republicans like Jesse Helms, who were more naked in their reasoning; but the enabling legislation had passed by a veto-proof margin.

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“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog”*…

 

Savior Barbie stands in front of a chalkboard in a run-down classroom somewhere in Africa. “It’s so sad that they don’t have enough trained teachers here. I’m not trained either, but I’m from the West,” the caption on the photo reads. In another, the plastic figurine poses in front shacks made from scrap metal and sticks: “Just taking a slumfie… Feeling so blessed.”

In the satirical Instagram account for Savior Barbie, Barbie is in Africa running an NGO that provides drinking water to locals. “Harnessing broken white hearts to provide water to those in Africa, one tear at a time,” the tagline for her organization reads. The account, started a month ago by two 20-something white women who have worked in East Africa, now has over 18,000 followers…

Savior Barbie also highlights the point that advocates and experts working on the continent have been observing for years—well-intentioned but naive volunteerism—or “voluntourism“—is at best ineffectual and at worst harmful to the developing countries it’s meant to serve. It drives an industry that sees 1.6 million people do volunteer work while on vacation every year, spending as much as $2 billion in the process. Nigerian-American author Teju Cole once dubbed this impulse the White Savior Industrial Complex

More at “Instagram’s White Savior Barbie neatly captures what’s wrong with “voluntourism” in Africa.” Pair with “The Smug Style in American Liberalism“– bracing stuff.

[TotH to EWW]

* Jack London

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As we rethink relief, we might send forbearing birthday wishes to Marcus Aurelius Antoninus Augustus; he was born on this date in 121.  The last of the Five Good Emperors, Marcus Aurelius is also considered one of the most important Stoic philosophers; his Meditations, written on campaign before he became emperor, is still a central text on the philosophy of service and duty.

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Written by LW

April 26, 2016 at 1:01 am

I choose… me!

People in Western countries drown in choice. Want a T-shirt? Thousands of alternatives await you. Want some toothpaste? Sit down, we could be here a while. Many people see these options as a good thing – they’re a sign of our independence, our freedom, our mastery over our own destinies. But these apparent positives have a dark side.

Krishna Savani from Columbia University has found that when Americans think about the concept of choice, they’re less concerned about the public good and less empathic towards disadvantaged people. His work supports the idea that endless arrays of choice focus our attention on individual control and, by doing so, they send a message that people’s fates are their own concerns. Their lives are not the business of the state or public institutions, and if they fail, it is their own fault. With choices at hand, Americans are more likely to choose themselves.

Savani’s experiments and their results make for pretty bracing reading.  Still, he notes, not all cultures react the same way.  And as for Americans,

… Savani points out that the US is one of the world’s most charitable countries. He writes, “If Americans believe that they are choosing to help other people out of their free will, or if they can affirm their selves through making choices for other people, they may be even more charitable.” The problem lies more with “choice for choice’s sake.”

Read the whole story in Discover.

As we resolve to simplify, we might recall that it was on this date in 1718 that London lawyer, writer, and inventor, James Puckle patented  a multi-shot gun mounted on a stand capable of firing up to nine rounds per minute– the first machine gun.

Puckle’s innovation was as formative in the realm of intellectual property as it was in the martial arena:  Quoth to the Patent Office of the United Kingdom,”In the reign of Queen Anne of Great Britain, the law officers of the Crown established as a condition of patent that the inventor must in writing describe the invention and the manner in which it works.” Puckle’s machine gun patent was among the first to provide such a description.

source and larger view, with transcription

What goes around…

George Packer described in the New York Times what happens to the clothes that one drops with charity…

If you’ve ever left a bag of clothes outside the Salvation Army or given to a local church drive, chances are that you’ve dressed an African. All over Africa, people are wearing what Americans once wore and no longer want. Visit the continent and you’ll find faded remnants of secondhand clothing in the strangest of places. The ”Let’s Help Make Philadelphia the Fashion Capital of the World” T-shirt on a Malawian laborer. The white bathrobe on a Liberian rebel boy with his wig and automatic rifle. And the muddy orange sweatshirt on the skeleton of a small child, lying on its side in a Rwandan classroom that has become a genocide memorial. A long chain of charity and commerce binds the world’s richest and poorest people in accidental intimacy. It’s a curious feature of the global age that hardly anyone on either end knows it.

Mother Jones and the International Reporting Project collected a stunning gallery that helps those on this end of the chain better appreciate the other.

The circumstantially-ironic commentary of the photos is just a bonus…

"Iowa: Nothing to do since 1772" shirt worn by University of Liberia student

More wonderful pix– all shot in November, 2010 in Liberia, West Africa, “where former warlords tend rice paddies and American t-shirts are sold in heaps under the hot African sun”– at Mother Jones‘ “Where Do Goodwill Clothes Go?

 

As we appreciate the long reach of the global market, we might recall that it was on this date in 1954 that Walt Disney announced plans for Disneyland in Anaheim, California.  Construction was begun on July 21st of that year, and the park opened a year-and-a-day later.

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