12 Mar 2010

Holier Than Thou

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Kevin Salwen’s daughter Hannah didn’t think her parents were doing enough for the poor. So she persuaded them to sell their $1.6 million house and give half the proceeds to a village in Ghana.

I expect she also persuaded them to write a book about what they did, and tell the New Yorker all about it, too.

One day in 2006, Kevin and Hannah pulled up at a stoplight. To their left was a homeless man, to their right a guy in a Mercedes coupé. Hannah said, “Dad, if that man didn’t have such a nice car, then that homeless man could have a meal.” Kevin said, “Yes, but if we didn’t have such a nice car that man could have a meal.” This sank in rather more deeply than he’d intended. By dinnertime, Hannah was all worked up. She didn’t want to be a family that just talked about doing good, she said. She wanted to be a family that actually did something. Kevin and Joan explained that they did a lot: they volunteered at the food bank; they wrote big checks to charities; after Hurricane Katrina, they let a family of refugees stay in their basement. Hannah rolled her eyes. That was annoying, so Joan said, “What do you want to do, sell the house?” And Hannah said, “Yeah! That is exactly what I want to do.”

“We don’t expect anyone else to sell their house,” Hannah assured the Marymount girls, whose parents might not have appreciated a demand by their offspring to donate eight hundred thousand dollars (half the value of the Salwens’ house) to charity. “We know that’s a ridiculous thing to do. But everyone has something they can afford to give away. If you watch six hours of TV a week, maybe you cut that down to three hours and spend three with your family volunteering at a homeless shelter.”

A girl with a ponytail raised her hand. “Have you ever regretted selling your house?” she asked.

“There are some things that I miss,” Hannah said. “We had an elevator that led up to my room, and it was really cool, because nobody else had an elevator in their room. My friends would say, ‘Let’s ride in the elevator!’ But it really doesn’t matter.”

Now, there is a Oneupsmanship line that Stephen Potter might envy.

Publisher’s Weekly:

In this well-meaning but self-congratulatory memoir, the Salwen family decides to sell their gorgeous Atlanta mansion, move to a home half the size, and commit half the proceeds to the needy. … The authors tend to gush over their efforts while discounting the privileged position that allows them to make them (“we think everyone can give one of the three T’s: time, talent or treasure”); their unflagging optimism, buttressed by clear self-regard, can also be tiring.

2 Feedbacks on "Holier Than Thou"

Wayang Kulit

One hesitates to discount individual acts of charity, but the self-confessed motivation here is a zero sum assumption. We should all rail as loudly as possible against that sort of thing.
If the economy as a whole operates that way, the best thing is banditry.

g.e. Taylor

President Obama comments on “The Power of Half”:

Obviously unjust!

If we leave such simple common sense contributions to merely voluntary whim, not only will our collective society be that much poorer, but the selfish, and the uncharitable freeloaders, who do not participate will enjoy the benefits of living in a more “socially just” society without making the socially just contribution to it.

Indeed, the Congressional Budget Office has absolutely certified that by establishing the Socially Just Society Surtax on all individual and corporate wealth and/or income over $250,000 for only ten years, not only will the federal government be able to bring its own budget into surplus for the next seventy-five years and eliminate all of the crushing national debt accumulated by both Bush administrations, but it will (through revenue sharing) be able to balance the budgets of all state and municipal budgets as well!

At the close of the ten year period, our society will be poised to replicate the benefits that the well regulated American free market system has produced in the past. We can then re-evaluate whether the generous benefits of the Socially Just Society Surtax should be made permanent or might be gradually phased out.

As legislative negotiations begin on establishing the Socially Just Society Surtax, many will seek to increase the surtax by 10 or 15 per cent, or to include income and wealth below the $250,000 level that I have proposed. While I realize there are robust discussions ahead and that some compromises will inevitably have to be made, I am firmly committed to targeting only the wealth and incomes in excess of $250,000 for the Socially Just Society Surtax.

In closing, I would like to point out that tonight, all over America, many well deserving beggars have empty bowls and are homeless. We ourselves may join them unless we impose the humanity to enact this very simple solution to the economic disparities that plague us and make our society poorer everyday.

I pray for the strength and courage that our country will need to do so.


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