Friday, May 7, 2010

The politics of giving

There’s a new film out called "Please Give." I haven’t seen it yet, but the title itself is plenty provocative and controversial these days of program slashing and fomenting tea-partiers.

I was struck by two recent letters to the editor. One appeared in my hometown paper, the Claremont Courier, thanking those who attended and contributed to a fund-raiser for a local public elementary school. The other, appearing in the Los Angeles Times, had to do with a large donation by Hugh Hefner which will enable land next to the iconic Hollywood sign to be purchased, so that builders can’t develop it. The letter read, in part, "We have more homeless, unemployment is rising, education is suffering and our police and fire departments lack funding - and yet we have money for a sign. Yes, the sign is a monument of Hollywood, but so are the people of L.A. How about taking care of them?"

Maybe Mr. Hefner doesn’t care about the homeless and thinks the unemployed should fend for themselves. Maybe he rather save the Hollywood sign. Or maybe he already donates to the homeless, the unemployed, the schools, etc. After all, he has enough cash to spread around far and wide.

At about the same time that these two letters appeared, there was a massive free health clinic going on in a sports arena in Los Angeles. Thousands attended and got treatment, and while not as many were turned away as when the clinic was in L.A for the first time last year, some people did have to be turned away. Why? Because there still weren’t enough doctors and dentists volunteering during the week-long clinic.

Were there doctors and dentists who didn’t care or who didn’t want to take time off from their lucrative practices and work for free? On the other hand, there were doctors and dentists from other states wanted to come and volunteer and were frustrated that there are laws requiring a state’s license to work in a state.

The bottom line is that charity and volunteering are great and well worth cheering, but they can’t be relied upon. People are likely to give to a museum but probably not to the police or the sewer works. Or they may give to one school and not others. As if public schools should have to beg and rely on donations.

One argument that I heard constantly in the furor over healthcare insurance reform was, "I pay for my health insurance, thank you very much. Why should I pay for others’?" There are also thorny issues like some people not wanting to contribute to the public funding of abortion and others not wanting to fund war or the death penalty.

Putting these questions aside - if that’s possible - I have a question: I always hear people complaining about politicians who "tax and spend." Forgive me if I’m being naive, but why is it so wrong for government to "tax and spend?" I thought this is the purpose of government - to collect money from its citizens and then spend it where it is needed. Yes, there is abuse, which needs to be taken care of, but why would there be a government if it couldn’t tax, and why wouldn’t it spend the tax money?

1 comment:

  1. I know what you mean, when money is tight and there are restrictions to giving, which is why there is a campaign finance reform bill circulating, making it harder for people with big coorporate finances to limit the funding for prospective candidates. The aurgument goes, it's there money, so why can't they feel free to spend it as they wish. This aurgument would go unheeded if the cliche would be true that the masses are more powerful than the dollar, but it seems we as the low income status have to pay our bills, and few want to recognize the real issues of today, the ones that rock the boat.
    We have the democratic people who outnumber the conservatives by one third and the up and coming independents who want to have a viable third party, and the republicans, who, with all of their belief and "family values", would like to think they are the ones who are saving the Republic, have to rethink what they know is a job killer, corrupt money. My own philosophy says, let the America I know prosper with hard work and stop blaming segments, catagories, groups, and isolated people trying to survive, when the real issue is the corruption we witness on a daily basis. And don't get me started on BP.