Believe me, I am major flattered to have NBC News care a whit about my opinion. And I know well that only a few seconds of any interview will make it into a story. But I do think the billionaires got off easy.

If you saw the story Monday night, you know it was a report taking off on Ted Turner’s comments about rich people’s giving. He had said they’re all competitive about their place on the Forbes 400, and that if there were some list of the most charitable, then the really rich would compete to climb that.

So now Slate has compiled the first of what may be many such lists, and the NBC story was playing off that. My two seconds of fame were nondescript at best, and the real issue was how many chins I appeared to have. But I thought I’d mention at least one point a longer story would have covered:

The really interesting thing is that, as I’ve noted before, at all income levels, Americans seem to give about 3% to charity. Which means that the rich are much more generous than the rest of us — 3% of a $5 million annual income is a heck of a lot more than 3% of a $35,000 annual income — at the same time as they are strikingly less so.

My thinking here: 3% is a big chunk of discretionary income when your total pre-tax, pre-rent, pre-food, is $35,000, whereas it bites less deep into a millionaire’s pocket. Naturally. But because the $35,000-a-year family doesn’t itemize deductions, that 3% is really 3%, whereas for a New Yorker or Californian, it is more like 1.6% after-tax. And the $35,000 family probably gives cash, whereas the millionaire gives appreciated securities (stock that’s gone up, held more than a year), which provides yet more of a tax benefit. So you might say that, on a strict after-tax percentage basis, the rich give only about a third as much as the rest of us. And that as a percentage of disposable income, they give almost nothing at all.

Tomorrow: How to Get the Best Tax Break for YOUR Gift Buck


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