Editor's Notes

No amount of volunteerism will lift huge masses out of poverty


Jane Reilly, a candidate for supervisor in District Two, came in to talk to us last week, and before we got around to interrogating her about tax policy, she told us a bit about her background. And while she was describing all of her (considerable) qualifications for the job, she noted that she's done a lot of good work in the community and is "passionate about volunteerism."

Reilly's a nice person, and (like a lot of wealthy people) she means well, so I didn't get all Marxist on her and say that volunteerism is a bourgeois concept. And I know, poor people volunteer too, and it's a wonderful thing that so many people do so much for so many, thousands of points of light and all that. It's great, I really mean it.

But I'm also getting fucking sick of volunteerism and charity.

Because it's not only an incomplete solution to our worst social problems — it also diverts attention from the full solutions.

Warren Buffett, the multibillionaire, is getting a lot of press attention and lavish praise for his pledge to give half of his fortune to charity. He's got Larry Ellison and David Rockefeller and Ted Turner and a bunch of others to join him. How grand.

Meanwhile, most of these people have been paying a fraction of the tax burden that falls on the middle class (what's left of it) and getting more and more wealthy from Reagan-, Bush-, Clinton-, and Bush II–era tax breaks.

The richest 5,000 Americans now own more than the poorest 160 million, combined. Millions are out of work while the nation's infrastructure crumbles. The connection between those problems is clear and direct: since 1980, the U.S. government has stopped trying to redistribute the wealth of the superrich in ways that create jobs and economic opportunities for everyone else.

No amount of charity will change that (especially since "charity" includes gifts to extrawealthy institutions like Harvard University and the Getty Museum). No amount of volunteerism will lift huge masses out of poverty. There's only one institution that can do that — government — and one effective way to make it work: progressive and redistributive taxation.

My new hero is a woman named Jill Heavenrich, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The New York Times published a letter from her on Sept. 20, which reads:

I'm 81. I don't have to worry about losing my home. I know I'll never go hungry.

I can help my grandchildren go to college. I can give to causes I believe in.

Why am I not being taxed more? Why was I told to go out and shop after 9/11? Why wasn't I asked to help pay for two wars in which brave young men and women are dying? The question remains for me: 'It's my country. I love it. Where is my responsibility to help the only way I can with my taxes?'

That's not charity. That's reality.


Tim, I enjoy reading your editors notes each week I don't agree with your politics, but it's entertaining. I'm not wealthy I actually am considered "low income" in San Francisco because I make between $35,496-$55,700 and I don't think the rich or anybody else should be taxed more. My parents moved to the States from Asia in hopes of opportunities with a lot of hard work and dedication they are very successful today and are considered wealthy. I would like to attain the same success and fulfill the "American Dream." My parents give back to the community by raising money for different causes and I grew up being told to volunteer in the community. The biggest complaint they have is being taxed and not seeing any improvements. In theory when government has control and has more money to spend more people can be helped. It obviously doesn't work my parents left China for a reason and the US has been fighting communism for a long time. The Buffett's, and Ellison's of the world employ so many people without them we'd have more unemployed people on the streets. They contribute so much to our economy we don't need more taxes we need more jobs as a solution to get people off the streets. Taxes is just a band aid. Okay so we tax the rich get more money from them...now what? In the end will that really be a solution?

Posted by Richard on Sep. 29, 2010 @ 10:07 am

According to this editorial, we've had tax cuts for 30 years, not to mention Prop 13 in 1978. No wonder we're in a mess! And to expect Obama to roll back four successive presidential cuts (and perhaps other state cuts) and rebuild the infrastructure during the first half of his first (and perhaps only) term is probably expecting a bit too much.

And who are the Buffetts and Ellisons hiring? The latter, especially, hired/hires a lot of H1Bs, and that revenue gets spent offshore!

I think the end of the American empire started about three decades ago, and there's no turning back, especially if politicians continue to guide the US onto its death track. Maybe it's a good idea for hipsters' future kids and their kids to talk in Mandarin.

Posted by jellyfish on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 11:27 am

No amount of volunteerism will lift huge masses out of poverty. There's only one institution that can do that — government — and one effective way to make it work: progressive and redistributive taxation.


So your position is that trying something that has yet to work will work if you try it some more?

See Lyndon Johnson and how that worked out in the long run.

The interesting thing is that the Tim Redmond's of the world try and insure that we have a steady influx of millions of poor people into the USA from elsewhere every year, while complaining that we have too many poor people in the USA.

The Tim Redmond's help drive down wages, they insure that there is plenty of people who make careers out of entry level jobs, they insure that there are plenty of scabs for business to hire... to solve all these and many more problems that the Tim Redmond's abet, there needs to be more taxes.

Posted by matlock on Sep. 30, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

I feel sorry for this woman. I'm choosing to believe that she has forgotten or never knew that she can give any amount of extra money she wants to the Govt. She can even do it while she's alive. The ravages of aging are terrible sometimes, and I hope she's not going through what our family did. May God bless her.

Posted by Tim R on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 6:53 pm

The "woman" happens to be my mother! She's as sharp as a blinking tack! Don't kid yourself.

Posted by Guest on Aug. 11, 2011 @ 5:26 am

Citation? : "the richest 5,000 Americans now own more than the poorest 160 million, combined."

Posted by Guest on Oct. 01, 2010 @ 7:14 pm