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Posted on Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 12:05 p.m.

Americans' generosity, traditions of humanity beginning to come off a bit outdated

By Robert Faber

Editor's note: Robert Faber writes occasional columns for about aging, politics and other issues.

Beginning in grade school, we learned that ours is the wisest, most generous, most humane nation in the world. Graduation into old age, however, is making us increasingly aware of the many variables and shortcomings in that inventory.

Our Founders' denial of constitutional liberty for black people, our cruel relocation of the American Indians on The Trail of Tears, the lack of legislative integrity exemplified by the Teapot Dome Scandal among countless other examples, are all painful reminders of realities of our past. Still, on balance we have remained a reasonable example of honorable governance for the rest of the world — until lately.

Unfortunately, our traditions of humanity, while fairly accurate and generally applauded, may be somewhat dated. We are the same nation with the same people, but our silhouette is being adjusted by the performance of a legislative leadership primarily focused on reelection and concentrating more on the tactics of governance than on its goals. The question is who we are now, what are the broad goals of our society and how best — most fairly and effectively — can we achieve them?

In both attitude and performance, Americans tend to be a generous and caring people with a continuing concern for the well-being of their fellows. Whatever its roots, that sense of philanthropy was well articulated in a Constitution that envisioned “a more perfect Union” designed to “establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, ... promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” — an impressively high set of standards for a new nation just beginning its struggle for survival. In recent decades, however, that focus on the well-being of all our people has been narrowed to judging the impact its implementation will have on ourselves — an approach that minimizes meeting the needs of our neighbors.

As one example of many, political and social conservatives may reasonably support cutting taxes for the most affluent on the theory that it will improve economic conditions and inspire the wealthy to invest in new business which then will provide jobs for the poor. An improved economy, they reason, could better carry more productive relief programs for the most needy (also known as “trickle-down”). The idea is reasonable, but if the goal is relief for the poor, a more reasonable approach would be concentration on the mission of relief rather than on the politically self-serving tactics of the game.

There is the complaint of the more financially comfortable that there are limits to what can be done with available funds. Our country’s treasury, they say, already is strained. and our national debt has skyrocketed to record levels. There simply is no way to supply all the humanitarian benefits those liberal dreamers want to provide. We all feel badly for those most in need, after all, and would like to do for them all that is reasonable, but after a point just giving such costly services to everyone is expensive beyond our country’s ability to pay.

And that is not all wrong…but the final determination must be made by the needs addressed, not as an afterthought to how much money is left over after tax cuts for the most advantaged have taken their toll. The argument that our generosity must be reined in is not without validity, but should apply to our broader society, not concentrating on programs designed to aid our nation’s most needy.

Adequate service for our larger society is properly recognized simply as a fact of citizenship, like filling potholes for automobile drivers and accepting police protection and the services of the fire department without a fee. These benefits accrue to every individual simply on the basis of being an American citizen.

Those benefits do not come cheap, of course, and must be borne — and they are — by gasoline taxes and income taxes and various municipal taxes. They are paid for by those who have the means with which to pay them. The question, then, is why should these universally accepted benefits be judged, distributed and funded differently from the most basic of society’s humanitarian services?

This revolutionary idea had become a bit more centrist in 1788 when our revolutionaries saw the need to embed it in the Constitution “in order to form a more perfect union [and] promote the general Welfare.” Concern for the well-being of all our citizens is a basic part of our national identity, an example of who we believe ourselves to be and how we wish to represent ourselves to the world.

Obviously this brief representation vastly oversimplifies the extent and nature of the problem, but the concept remains feasible and fair. And following the path set by our country’s founders, whose wisdom, foresight and idealism have made our nation unique in all the world’s history, these humanitarian principles should be embraced and implemented.

Understanding and shaping the goals of governance requires much analysis and discussion, but the tactics for success must not be allowed to interfere with the humanitarian principles underlying the effort. As a nation — as a people — we are much more than that.

Robert Faber has been a resident of Ann Arbor since 1954. He and his wife, Eunice, owned a fabric store and later a travel agency. He served a couple of terms on the Ann Arbor City Council. He may be reached at



Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:22 p.m.

Without looking it up, how much of our federal budget do you think goes toward "welfare"? a: 5% b: 7% c: 10% d: 12% Now look it up, you may be surprised at the actual %, and wonder why all the fuss. Answer: it's easy to make scapegoats out of stereotypes.


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 5:35 a.m.

so does that % mean that that amount is getting to the people intended? or does that include the administration costs of the departments holding and handing out that money? How many paid positions does it take to feed a poor child?


Wed, Sep 19, 2012 : 1:39 a.m.

By Welfare I mean food stamps and other cash assistance. Medicare and SS are paid for by those that utilize it, for the most part. I would not consider those programs welfare. Unemployment and workers comp are state run programs, not federal.

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 6 p.m.

It depends on what you mean by "welfare". For example, this site from an admittedly conservative blogger, puts "welfare" at 12%, which includes unemployment insurance, workers comp, the earned income credit, and the child tax credit. Are those welfare or not? What about Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security and other "entitlements", which this number does not include. You have to be precise about the meaning of the word "welfare" in order to answer this question.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 12:52 p.m.

We've become a society of governmental enablers, with this current administration this is what they want to promote and victimize to blame the haves against the have nots. This is what the leftist would like to see is that all those that have worked all their lives, saved and been successful in whatever endeavors give to those that failed in life or were too lazy to want to better themselves like the majority. It will not only effect those with the highest incomes but also the middle class that work for a living, the more we give the more they take. WAKE UP!


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:14 p.m.

Do you have any proof to back up such claims? Or is this just what you hear on the radio everyday so you repeat it?


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 10:47 a.m.

You keep referring to the more affluent and the more financially comfortable people. Let's call them the high income earners. From The top 1% of income earners pay 36+% of the total income taxes paid The top 5% of income earners pay 57+% of the total income taxes paid The top 10% of income earners pay 68+% of the total income taxes paid The top 25% of income earners pay 84+% of the total income taxes paid The top 50% of income earners pay 96+% of the total income taxes paid The bottom 50% of income earners pay 3+% of the total income taxes paid What percentage of the total taxes paid do you believe is fair? The top 25% of earners are already paying 84% of the whole income tax burden. The next 25% bracket is paying 12%. We are already heavily taxing the people who earn the most. Both presidential candidates support the notion that the cure for our economic problems is jobs. They differ greatly on how to create the jobs. The key issue in this election is JOBS.

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:46 p.m.

For more information on who pays taxes and who doesn't, look at


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 5:13 p.m.

These stats also exclude all other taxes paid by citizens. It is a canard to include only income taxes when discussing policy.

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 3 p.m.

It depends. What portion of the total income are these "high income earners" earning? According to, the latest data I could find, the top 1% had about 24% of all adjusted gross income and about 27% of all taxable income. (And who knows how much non-taxable income from municipal bonds, etc.) To me asking the people earning 27% of all taxable income to pay 36% of all income taxes doesn't sound terribly unfair. The bottom 50% were those with AGI of less than $30,000. How much should someone making that little pay? Note also that those making less than roughly $110,000 pay 15.3% (or currently 13.3% with the Obama 2% reduction) in Social Security (FICA) taxes. (This calculation includes the portion the employer could pay the employee instead of paying that portion directly to the government). Those making more than $110,000 pay only 2.9% on the amount above $110,000, and only on so-called "earned income", i.e. salary and wages. FICA taxes don't apply to dividends and capital gains, which are a larger portion of the income of high earners. So when you look at total INCOME-BASED taxes paid on total income, you get a very different picture than you do from looking at income taxes alone.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 2:33 p.m.

Meaningless numbers. What percentage of the total income do the top 1% of income earners earn? Is it greater than or less than 36%?

Jared Collins

Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 11:37 p.m.

@John214. When you exclude donations to religious organizations the picture changes dramatically. The more North and East you are the higher the giving level to nonprofit organizations. The West Coast is also as generous as the Northeast. This misinformation by Mr. Brooks is exacerbated by the fact that the numbers are derived from IRS tax returns from individuals that itemize their taxes. Since homeownership is one of the biggest reasons to itemize, a high population density area where there is a higher renter to owner housing situation charitable giving is under represented.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 11:06 p.m.

...and the 15 highest paid CEO's of charitable organizations are all from secular organizations. The list makes me feel sorry for the CEO of the Red Cross for only raking in $501k. Charity and salary of CEO Medical Research Foundation, $806,150 Dana Farber Cancer Institute, $848,802 National Trust for Historic Preservation $861,625 Prostate Cancer Foundation $880,801 Los Angeles Philharmonic $928,232 The Heritage Foundation $947,999 Museum of Science and Industry, $954,827 Lincoln Center for Performing Arts, $970,707 United Way Worldwide, $982,768 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, $1,054,939 JFK Center for the Performing Arts, $1,091,444 Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, $1,716,343 Evans Scholars Foundation, $2,049,976 The NY Museum of Modern Art, $2,447,882 New York Philharmonic, $2,649,540 Again, what difference does it make if the donation goes to a religious group or to a secular organization?

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 2:42 p.m.

@a2citizen: I've been on the finance committee of a couple of local religious institutions, and most of their income goes to pay staff who offer services to their congregation. Only a small portion goes to help the needy who are not part of the congregation.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 2:53 a.m.

Charity is charity. What difference does it make if the donation goes to a religious organization or to a secular organization?

Tom Todd

Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 11:30 p.m.

I believe there is not a lot of fish left in the lake if any at all,yes some folks want someone else to do the fishing,also there are not many jobs left in this country that haven't been shipped out or downgraded by the rich and or jealous folks,yes it's true some people do not want to work.It would be nice if our tax dollars went to supporting our education system and police and fire/roads before we gave away any revenue to other countries who hate us threaten us or use us for there economic gain.

Ed Kimball

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 2:39 p.m.

Q: What percentage of our federal budget goes to other countries? A: About 1% (much, much less than goes to the items you mentioned). Q: Which country gets the largest portion? A: Israel, which gets roughly one-tenth of the total.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 10:47 p.m.

Incidentally, in 2011 the United States was named the most generous country in the world by the Charity Aid Foundation. Times are tough. Don't squeeze blood out of turnips.

Jim Osborn

Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 10:33 p.m.

This author needs to go back to school, his example is flawed. In it he states, "...the lack of legislative integrity exemplified by the Teapot Dome Scandal among countless other examples..." The problem is that the Teapot Dome Scandal involved the Secretary of the Interior under President Harding accepting bribes and then leasing several US Navy oil reserves, including one called Teapot Dome in California. It was the legislature, The senate branch of the US Congress, that discovered this crime and it became the biggest scandal until Watergate.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 10:32 p.m.

"...As one example of many, political and social conservatives..." The obvious warning that what you are reading is just another partisan screed.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 1:30 a.m.

Ultimately, that's what you get with Faber. He is what he is, and his message is consistent, if nothing else.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 8:18 p.m.

Private citizens seem to know where and how their donations are best given, put to use and spent. Certainly the community of Church played a bigger role in caring for those in need more in the past than it has now, even if the government is not better at it, they've certainly decided they should handle the funds. Sadly more money in gov't is spent on "administration" fees than going to care for those it is intended. There are websites where non-profits (including Churches) are "graded" based on how much money is spent where. The gov't would probably earn the lowest score! Americans are more generous than other countries, they've consistanly outgiven more private non-gov't money (tax collected) than all other countries per capita. I don't see how this is "outdated". The US gov't also gives BILLIONS of dollars to other countries, countries that have Caste systems and where the divide among rich and poor are much more distinct that here in the US, where the "middle class" is a smaller portion of the population and the poor are far most the most of the population. Compassion is on both sides of the aisle, however private money will always be put to better use than gov't managed money. Traditionally those that are givers due to religious beliefs give more than a 10% tithe. I for one would rather give money to a Church than the gov't for helping the poor and needy.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 7:23 p.m.

You can pretty clearly see the trend here, folks, and it sounds a lot like "Get off my lawn".


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 7:26 p.m.

It is what it is !!!!


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 6:43 p.m.

The writer makes one essential error. He equates the phrase promote the general welfare with some sort of promise from the government to actually provide sustenance to the public. The constitution makes no such promise. Nor should it. When one speaks of generosity it is in an individual sense and not in the sense that the government is generous. It is not. In order for government to provide "benefits" to one individual it must remove capital from another by confiscation. We pay our taxes at the muzzle of the federal, state, and local gun, and not by any sense of obligation or generosity. This writer agrees that our representatives in government today have a bigger interest in the so called tactics-or reelection-rather than the policies, but it is those very policies that have become so important to those elected representatives. "What can I give to whom to gain their vote?" Rather than focusing on the constitutional requirements-and constraints-placed upon them. The voter-in particular the zero liability voter has become acutely aware that their livlihood depends on their ability to vote themselves benefits, or entitlements. regardless of how they are paid.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 6:16 p.m.

What ever happened to the idea of working for a living? This country is turning into an entitlement majority.


Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 1:30 p.m.

Not quite yet; Mitt says it's only 47 %.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 5:37 p.m.

There's a fine line between being generous, and being taken for a ride. Pumping air into a leaking balloon becomes pointless after a while......


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 5:35 p.m.

I'd love to teach more people to fish, as opposed to giving more people fish. Unfortunately, I believe that the author is just asking for more fish to be distributed by the fishermen.


Mon, Sep 17, 2012 : 4:48 p.m.

Arthur C. Brooks, a professor at Syracuse University, published "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism." Some of the findings might not be known by Mr. Faber. -- Although liberal families' incomes average 6 percent higher than those of conservative families, conservative-headed households give, on average, 30 percent more to charity than the average liberal-headed household ($1,600 per year vs. $1,200 -- People who reject the idea that "government has a responsibility to reduce income inequality" give an average of four times more than people who accept that proposition. America is largely divided between religious givers and secular nongivers, and the former are disproportionately conservative.

Jay Thomas

Thu, Sep 20, 2012 : 6:22 p.m.

@Macabre: It's tax deductible for the same reason that other giving is tax deductible. If you want to get rid of deductions and move to a flat tax... I'm all for it.

Macabre Sunset

Tue, Sep 18, 2012 : 1:28 a.m.

I think you'd find, once you stop congratulating religious people for tithing, that this is not the case. Religious people pay the church for what they consider to be their own salvation. Though for some really odd reason, it's tax-deductible. It's time to eliminate that tax exemption. Everyone should pay his or her fair share, including religious people.