Charitable Foundations and the Scourge of Income Inequality

John D. Rockefeller hands out money to children.

John D. Rockefeller hands out money to children.

Liberals have swooned over Thomas Piketty, the French economist whose latest book, Capital in the Twenty-First Century, in their view, offers the most compelling discourse on income equality since the Occupy Wall Street “movement.”

Here’s how VOX DOT COM editor Matt Yglesias explains Piketty’s thesis:

  • The ratio of wealth to income is rising in all developed countries.
  • Absent extraordinary interventions, we should expect that trend to continue.
  • If it continues, the future will look like the 19th century, where economic elites have predominantly inherited their wealth rather than working for it.
  • The best solution would be a globally coordinated effort to tax wealth.

Piketty’s scholarship, writes Paul Krugman, proves that we are living in a “new Gilded Age,” in which “the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties.” In other words, there are too many super rich people, and not enough of them are Nobel Prize winners like Paul Krugman.(Context: Paul Krugman is paid more than $200,000 a year to be concerned about income inequality).

Not only are these new one-percenters undeserving of their wealth, they aren’t giving nearly enough of it to the federal government. Indeed, we are still living with many of the disastrous consequences of the original Gilded Age—organizations such as the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation ($5.6 billion in assets), the John D. Rockefeller Foundation ($3.7 billion in assets), the Carnegie Corporation of New York ($2.8 billion in assets), the Duke Endowment ($2.9 billion in assets), Duke University, Carnegie Mellon University, Stanford University, Vanderbilt University, the J.P. Morgan Library and Art Museum, among others.

These are all very fashionable organizations that most elite liberals are proud to be affiliated with. But on the other hand, think of all the social justice that could’ve been achieved if government officials had been allowed to spend that money instead.

The super rich of the 20th century and their heirs have behaved just as irresponsibly, pouring money into tax shelters such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation ($37.1 billion in assets), the Ford Foundation ($11.2 billion in assets), the J. Paul Getty Trust ($10.5 billion in assets), the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation ($7.7 billion in assets), the David and Lucile Packard Foundation ($6.3 billion in assets), the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation ($6 billion in assets), Bloomberg Philanthropies ($4.2 billion in assets), George Soros’s Open Society Foundations ($2.7 billion in assets), the Walton Family Foundation ($2 billion in assets) and so on and so forth.

And, of course, there are the nefarious Koch brothers, who have donated hundreds of millions of dollars to science, education, the arts, and environmental stewardship. Liberals are right to be outraged. Not only do the Kochs not give enough of their money to the federal government, they don’t even contribute to the numerous left-wing causes favored by many of the aforementioned foundations. Just think of all the good Harry Reid could have done with that money—at the eagles he could have murdered with green energy, all the grandchildren he could have subsidized.

It’s not a surprise that President Obama has consistently supported a tax policy that would limit the deduction for charitable giving, in order to raise more money for government experts to spend on making the world a better place.