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ICYMI: The Folly of Philanthropy

February 1, 2013 by Amity Shlaes

This book review of The Good Rich and What They Cost Us originally appeared in the Wall Street Journal on January 16, 2013.

As higher earners tot up the damage of the budget deal, many of them can draw consolation from one bit of news. The 2013 deal doesn't eliminate the charitable deduction. But maybe that particular break for plutocrats should go as well. That is the take-away from "The Good Rich and What They Cost Us," a series of profiles of our rich countrymen down the centuries and their efforts to burnish their reputations with philanthropy or other gestures of ethical concern. "The Good Rich" starts out like a tour through a portrait gallery, describing rather than judging. For much of his narrative, Mr. Dalzell refrains from giving his own opinion explicitly and reports merely that the rich have often blamed themselves for their lapses or oversize good fortune, or that their peers did. But there is another sort of giving that Mr. Dalzell doesn't consider. Charity is a sideshow: What matters about the rich, if we are considering the public good, isn't their charity but their investments—their ideas about what to do with "slimey petroleum" and microchips—and the jobs and activity they create.

Read the full review here.

This post was written by Amity Shlaes, Director of the 4% Growth Project at the George W. Bush Institute. Find her on Twitter @AmityShlaes.

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