Paul L. Caron

Monday, December 31, 2012

If You're Young, Don’t Give To Charity

If You’re Young, Don’t Give To Charity:

Several people I know, all under 30, want to do good. They want to do so much good, in fact, that they donate a large fraction of their income to charity.

This is almost always a bad idea. It’s admirable, but it’s the wrong decision. If you’re under 30, don’t give away large amounts of money, and send this blog post to anyone who does. The reason is simple:

Wealth almost entirely belongs to the old. The median 60-year-old has 45 times (yes, forty-five times) the net worth of the median 30-year-old. 99% – not 80%, not even 95%, but ninety-nine percent – of American billionaires are over 40.

Old people, of course, have more time to accumulate wealth. They’ve also had more time to learn skills, make friends, earn degrees, gain experiences… everything that gives someone higher earning potential. They also have almost all the political power. There are a hundred US Senators, and not a single one is under 40. You can’t even be President until you’re 35. It’s not surprising, then, that old people utterly dominate lists of the wealthy.

What does that imply? Any money a 25-year-old can give – even if they donate half their income – is chump change. It’s a single drop in a large bucket, compared to what they can donate later in life, when they’re older and much much richer. It doesn’t matter. At all. It means nothing.

(Hat Tip: Glenn Reynolds.)

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I'm not sure about the hard-to-follow Marxist prophecies of some previous posters. Rather, I'm content simply to point out what a horrible piece of writing this article is.

As far as I can tell, the author relies on two considerations to support his conclusion that young people shouldn't give. First, he generalizes that young people have fewer financial resources than old people, and that people with fewer financial resources cannot possibly do as much good as wealthy people. I find many weaknesses in this line of reasoning, but I will simply point out that, taken to its logical conclusion, it provides an excuse not to donate money for everyone who is not the richest man alive. Every other person cannot make as much difference as that person.

Second, the author's apparent love of the time value of money has apparently tainted his entire view of the universe. Don't give now, because you can invest your donation, and it will be larger in forty years. No shit. By this logic, young people shouldn't spend money recreationally, go to restaurants, or buy Christmas presents and they should clothe and feed their children as sparsely as possible. (Or maybe they should not have children altogether!)

On a side note, your article has very, very little to do with tax.

Posted by: Nick | Jan 2, 2013 8:39:04 AM

It seems that, for this author, the only purpose for one's actions should be selfishness, and the only measuring stick, money.

Posted by: daniel | Dec 31, 2012 5:53:00 PM

"And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, 'Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.'"

Posted by: anon | Dec 31, 2012 4:16:57 PM

Agree with comment above. Well before I was 30, I gave to charitable causes, and, on one occasion, organized a benefit concert for charity. Call it Woodstock in a horse pasture. Despite 32 stitches in my head, suffered when a vagabond tried to steal the cash box, I managed to raise about $1,000 for Jerry's Kids at 5 bucks a pop for entry.

The notion stated above that young people should not give to charity, because older people have managed to save more over the years and should bear the burden, raises at least two questions.

(1) If young folk should be so atavistic about the politics of intergenerational wealth distribution, why should they vote for politicians who promise to preserve Social Security, as it exists today, at all costs even though the actuarial projections spell inescapable doom?

(2) Do these young folk understand their views emulate Marx, who begat Lenin, who begat Stalin, and, as a result, tens of millions of human beings killed in the 20th century for the sake of redistributionism?

(3) Are these young folk so naive as to believe they will be behind the guns, not before them, if their redistributionist fantasies come to pass?

Bah. The whole notion is living proof of the failure of American education.

Posted by: Jake | Dec 31, 2012 1:49:50 PM

That is a horribly cramped view of what it means to be a good person.

Posted by: Yo Gabba Gabba | Dec 31, 2012 11:53:16 AM