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John Stossel Explores "Cheap In America," Wed. 11/29

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Sometime Reason contributor, self-confessed welfare queen, and ABC News heavyweight John Stossel has a new special that airs on Wednesday, November 29, at 10P.M. ET as a special edition of 20/20. Titled Cheap in America, Stossel explores the giving patterns of the poor and the wealthy, and everyone in between. From a press release about the show:

Stossel wonders about the charitable behavior of the "filthy rich." It turns out that the working poor give away a higher percentage of their salary to charity than the rich. So does that mean the richest Americans are cheap? He asks some of the Forbes 400 billionaires about that. Four, to date, have agreed to talk to him, and their reasons for giving, and not giving, are different and sometimes unbelievable:

  • Ted Turner, who is worth 1.9 billion dollars, tells Stossel: "I'm doing all I can. And still keep enough, for, you know, make sure that my grandchildren make it, can get through college." When Stossel suggests that 1.9 billion should be enough, Turner answers: "It's not enough. Not in the way inflation… I was worth ten billion, about four, five years ago, at the very height. And I lost eight of it. So you know, the other two could evaporate overnight…the banks can close. They're not safe either, just like the United States government, behind social security."
  • Dan Duncan, who is worth 7.5 billion dollars, is on Business Week's list of the most generous philanthropists. Still, he has only given away two percent of his net worth, which Stossel says "sounds cheap." Duncan answers, "If that was all that I ever wanted to give away, I would agree 100%, [but] if you're one of the gifted people that can actually make more money, people receiving it are better off if you keep it to get a lot more later on."
  • Eli Broad, who is worth 5.8 billion dollars, and who has given away almost two billion dollars, 33% of his net worth, says he has so much money that he can't yet give it away effectively. "Who do you give it to? You could write checks. Everyone will take your money," he tells Stossel. "And I know people in decades gone by giving away a lot of money and you look back a decade later and say what happened to it? Did it make a difference?"
  • James Goodnight, who is worth 4.5 billion dollars but is not on the list of generous philanthopists, just tells Stossel: "I think I give enough."

And true to form, Stossel has set up some great stunts-cum-experiments such as this one:

To illustrate what distinguishes those who give from those who don't, "20/20" went to two parts of the county that have two very different populations: Sioux Falls, South Dakota and San Francisco, California. "20/20" asked the Salvation Army to set up buckets at their busiest locations in both cities – Macy's in San Francisco and Walmart in Sioux Falls. Which bucket gets more money? Sioux Falls is rural and religious, more than half of the population go to church every week. People in San Francisco make much more money, are more liberal, and just 14% of people in San Francisco attend church every week. Liberals are said to care more about helping the poor; so will people in San Francisco give more?

More details here.

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  1. To be fair to the SFians, I am loathe to give to any religious charity, unless I can’t find a private, secular equivalent. I have given a pittance to my alma mater, which is religious, but mostly because it is private.

    Kevin

  2. That fucking attention whore and his media gimmicks.

  3. Wow, Ted Turner is skinflint, a cheap, selfish bastard who throws nickels around like they’re manhole covers! Who’d a thunk it.
    Re: Salvation Army gimmick. Liberals want to donate your tax dollars to charity, not their own.

  4. Newsflash for John Stossel – You are aware that there is an invention called the Computer ? And on this invention you can access Charity websites & give without ever going to Macy’s or Wal-Mart ? It’s even rumoured that the internet is popular in the San Francisco Bay Area. Just sayin’.

  5. People in the city will give less, they become numb. I live in a city, whenever friends from the suburbs visit, they give money to all the bums – which I think is crazy (never mind that if I gave money to every bum I saw – I would be bum). You just get used to people asking for money and ignore them. A secondary point would be bankcards, I rarely carry money anymore – don’t need to.

  6. similar to what kevrob said- set up an “Atheist Giving Center” in both places and see if you get the same results.

  7. John Stossel is a “heavyweight”?

    That guy is one of the bigger idiots on the idiot box.

    Even in his own press release, Stossel seems unable to comprehend that somebody who wants to give away billions of dollars might also want to make sure his donations are put to the most effective use.

  8. This has been documented many times previously. It isn’t news.

    Just how do you think the rich became rich?

  9. “the Salvation Army to set up buckets at their busiest locations in both cities – Macy’s in San Francisco and Walmart in Sioux Falls. Which bucket gets more money?”

    Trick Question. Neither bucket gets money.

    The ACLU shuts down the Salvation Army in California for being religiously based and Fred Phelps protestors chase everyone away from the bucket in Sioux Falls.

  10. They don’t use the Internet in rural locations?

  11. Come to think of it, you could just as easily say that since taxes are lower in Sioux Falls than San Francisco, that’s proof that Sioux Fallsians are the cheaper bunch.

  12. Come to think of it, you could just as easily say that since taxes are lower in Sioux Falls than San Francisco, that’s proof that Sioux Fallsians are the cheaper bunch.

    Read my previous post.

  13. I take it you mean:

    Liberals want to donate your tax dollars to charity, not their own.

    That’s funny, I’ve never heard of anybody expressing this sentiment.

  14. “They don’t use the Internet in rural locations?”

    They don’t even have ‘lectricity.

  15. Um, what’s stossel’s point? The first question should be: Is it wrong to keep the money you make and not give at all? Also, 2% of a billionaire’s income is a HUGE amount of cash. 2% of MY income, however, not so much. Personally, I would be inclined to donate to non-religious charities if the gov. wasn’t already forcing my money away from me to give to welfare recipients, etc… I have wanted to give money to bums once in a while, but all of their signs have “god bless” on them. lol

  16. The Salvation Army has/had this thing about anti-gay something or other…. Sorry so vague, working: http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/1113-06.htm I’m not saying that San Francisco is all gay people, but wondering how that would affect the donations in SF.

  17. I think the whole thing is vacuous. In the first place, the rich aren’t spend ALL their money on whores and coke. They live pretty good, by all accounts, but they don’t actually spend more than a tiny fraction of their wealth on themselves.

    The majority of their wealth is in investments. Granted, the investment community is dysfunctional, but in a properly ordered world, this means money devoted to the expansion of production, which means more jobs and prosperity for everyone. They aren’t really using the money for anything except economic growth. In theory, they are entitled to decide which economic growth to fund because they have made wise investments previously, which is how they got all their money.

    Yet Stossel and plenty of other people assert that they don’t really “need” that money. Which is probably true. But the businesses they are expanding, the homebuyers they are financing, the workers they are employing, they certainly do. Guys like this don’t really “have” money so much as they manage it.

    Eli Broad makes a good point: if a charity finds itself completely dependent on you for its funding, then you’re no longer a donor but a patron. You own the charity. But well-funded charities are often sloppy and spend their money poorly. Giving money blindly is foolish. You might as well leave it in paper bags along the highway.

    There was a recent case in the Twin Cities when a man died and left his fortune in a charitable trust managed by reliable ex-employees. The ex-employees began to get old and the subject came up as to whether or not to appoint new trustees. They made the unusual decision to fold up the trust, giving the principal away to the causes they had been funding, because they didn’t believe the old man would want the money given away to just anyone; that is, they felt that he would want the money donated by people who had known him and his beliefs. The trust just wasn’t meant to linger indefinitely under generations of managers far removed from the man’s influence.

    This is the counterpoint to Stossel’s argument. Spraying money around like a drunken rock star isn’t the point of charitable giving, nor is it very Christian to keep score. The objective is to give money to a cause you believe in, in a manner that will be helpful. Comparing people’s donations is almost sublimely crude and contemptible.

  18. This show sounds LAME!

    Stossel “says” rich people are cheap asses, but it sounds more like poor people are fools who easily part with their money.

    And it sounds like typical ABC that there is no mention that poor people also wind up paying a higher percentage of their worth in taxes (income tax, sales tax, government user fees, tax preparation, etc.) than the rich.

  19. “Comparing people’s donations is almost sublimely crude and contemptible.” True. It’s really no one’s business how a person spends their money anyway. Now, taxation WOULD be an interesting/important program, but of course that’s “risky” journalism today.

  20. Three observations I’ve not seen above. While the billionaires may not need the money, so too the charity may not need it. Several charities are quite wealthy too, and only use donations to increase their endowment. (I know Reason lives hand to mouth, and I will remember you next month!)

    The second observation is that many charities are not deserving. It would take a strange individual to give to both Birthright and Planned Parenthood.

    Third, I think the enormous number of charities out there show what a growing business charity is. Many charities are providing services for fee that look like business to me. We have a local YMCA that competes with the local gym. One is tax exempt, the other taxed. I can’t wait for the government to tax charities like the businesses they compete against.

  21. Still, the core point remains: Why is everyone even considering an argument framed on NEED. Tres Commie, oui?

  22. set up an “Atheist Giving Center” in both places and see if you get the same results.

    Coffee out nose moment.

  23. I sent my old ski boots to Indonesia after the tsunami.

    I’m very charitable.

  24. Also, you have to look at “charity as charity” vs. “charity as marketing ploy”. This applies to both the super rich and large businesses who donate $500k to some charity and then spend $1.5m bragging about it as well as the church “fabric collection” for the needy in Africa where Mrs. Smith tries to outdo Mrs. Jones by donating 50yds of dollar bin fabric just to gloat on how much she donated. If the charity is nothing more than advertising redux, is it really charity?

    What about people like George Soros and Peter Lewis who donate large sums to the DPA? While the DPA isn’t exactly a “charity” it is trying to help the poor of America by keeping them out of jail for using drugs, a noble endevor if you ask me.

  25. They only presented a few responses of the very rich but I found how they handled the question more interesting than how they handled their spare cash.

  26. So…what does it mean that Reason is based out of the People’s Republic of California and not Sioux Falls or a similar small-government paradise?

  27. Is it just me, or does this article conflate net worth and income? Even billionaires don’t make a billion dollars a year, that I know of.

  28. That fucking attention whore and his media gimmicks.

    I think we can probably conclude that Walmart peeps gave more. And someone’s pissed about it.

  29. Is it just me, or does this article conflate net worth and income? Even billionaires don’t make a billion dollars a year, that I know of.

    It probably does, which opens up all kinds of cans-o-worms…

    People worth billions (with a ‘b’) do tend to have high incomes, and frankly, a lot of resources at their disposal. However, much to the chagrin of many a liberal, net worth does NOT equate to income– which would blow away arguments when they point to ‘rich people’ not paying their fair share.

    My mother will pass one day. I will inherit much of her estate. Most of her estate is in real property and other tangible items– not cash. When she goes, I’m going to have to liquidate most of it just to pay the taxes. Thank god she’s not going to pass me a thriving business, otherwise, the pink slips ‘d be going out very soon.

  30. I’ve been to both towns, and I would be in a mood to give more money to charity in Sioux Falls. The cost of living there is dirt cheap, which would leave me with more disposable income. And if you don’t live to be 110 years-old in Sioux Falls, at least it will feel like you did.

  31. Most of her estate is in real property and other tangible items– not cash. When she goes, I’m going to have to liquidate most of it just to pay the taxes.

    Tell her to will it all to me, I would have no problem paying taxes on free wealth.

  32. I have on many occasions noticed that the largest contributions to a particular project, charity, etc. are listed as “anonymous.” Not everybody wants their name etched in a marble facade to show future generations what great humanitarians they were.

  33. Sioux Falls! That’s right near my hometown! Aww.

  34. Ellie,

    I bet you had a well developed imagination as a teenager. When you shut your eyes in that town, I bet you could imagine every detail of your escape. Or maybe I’m just describing my past.

  35. So…what does it mean that Reason is based out of the People’s Republic of California

    Reason is based in Southern California, which leans conservative. It’s Northern California that leans liberal. Together, the two halves make for a perpetually-confused Push-Me-Pull-You of a state.

  36. The Salvation Army got in trouble a few years ago for refusing to rescind its policy of discriminating against gay people in its hiring and employment practices.

    And Stossel just happens to pick San Francisco. And he just happens to pick the Salvation Army.

    Pretty much par to the course for that hack.

  37. Sioux Falls is my hometown; while it’s not San Francisco, it’s a much more… “purple” city than “red” city… it’s basically a prosperous suburb of Minneapolis that somehow managed to find itself 240 miles southwest of where it should have been.

    And yes, the cost of living is jack and shit.

    Unfortunately, unless you’re a doctor or a computer programmer, your earning potential is also jack and shit. We have a lot of call centers.

    And, if you’re under 40 and/or don’t care for golf, there’s just about jack and shit to do in the town.

    So yeah, go San Fran.

    And frankly, I’m sick of hearing about people hounding the rich for not “giving enough”. If I were a multi-billionaire, I wouldn’t give SHIT to charity- I’d build private armies and conquer small third-world countries for the fun of it. Or start my own private space program. Or both.

    (Hell, when bums come up and ask me for change, I usually tell them to go die in a gutter. Unless they’re bigger than me. But that’s because I’m a total prick.)

  38. non-scientific I know, but based on tax returns I prepare I have observed in my little corner of the universe that:

    1. Poor people give much more as a percentage of their income than the middle or upper classes.

    2. Liberals are cheap bastards that contribute 100.00 over the course of a year and break their arms patting themselves on the back for being extremely generous. Yes, there are exceptions.

    3. Republicans are fairly generous in their giving.

    4. Rich people are either generous or cheapskates.

    5. Lots of people you would presume to be skinflints are not. They are taking care of family or friends instead of contributing to legit charities or churches, so the charitable deducts are minimal.

    6. Fundies are generous but they’re giving the money to their church and nowhere else. Sometimes they are insane, giving away tens of thousands of dollars while falling behind on their mortgages.

    7. Catholics think 10.00 per week is plenty.

    8. Old people give more than young.

  39. Poor people give much more as a percentage of their income than the middle or upper classes.

    Of course they do. After all, many of them live by the maxim “What goes around, comes around”.

    The suckers.

  40. “””John Stossel is a “heavyweight”?

    That guy is one of the bigger idiots on the idiot box. “””

    I agree.

    But more to the issue I must ask. Is America so cheap that we will fund the weapons of a potential enemy just to buy cheaper products at a store?

  41. Mostly this whole thing is a big “So what?” but man, Ted Turner is sure a paranoid nutcase, isn’t he?

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