Thursday, July 06, 2006

Thank You Sir, Can I Have Another

And now, the political commentary smackdown of the week. Coming out swinging against private charity is Jonathan Chait, writing in the LA Times. After an obtuse swipe at estate tax-cutters, we get the most logically-challenged argument I have read, on any topic, in any outlet, in - let's just say - recent memory. Warren Buffett shelled out $31 billion to the Gates Foundation. Chait avers that, to "put that number in perspective," we must - must - understand that "the federal government spends 1000 times as much money every year." That's it. No, really. The whole argument. Look. There you have it. One number is bigger than another number. Which, cryptically, demonstrates to Chait "the limits of private fortune compared with public policy."

Had Chait taken but a minute to read Wilkinson's recent post on the fairly uncomplicated phenomenon of "confirmation bias", he might have saved the "happiness policy" maven the trouble of responding, by pointing out that this is "like sniffing at a $100 million yacht because it costs a mere 3% of a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier."

But still, the public-spiritedness - what about that? You know, because the government is the public sphere. And charity is the private sphere. But for the patient reader, there is an entertainingly ornamental remainder of the article. He goes on to say that "the overarching problem is that American business has become rapacious and narrowly self-interested." This doesn't quite explain what is deleterious about the business class behaving in exactly the opposite manner. Why Chait doesn't at this point come right out and say that he simply prefers coerced, standardized corruption and graft and negligence to the "narrowly self-interested" same I have no idea. But then again, how any public policy argument against voluntary generosity could make its way into a major publication is a complete mystery. Unless we take the premise that public policy is inherently good, and thus more of it is better - which seems to be the implied logical premise of this piece.

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