Treasury Donations Make Up Less Than One Forty-Thousandth of Voluntary Giving

April 15, 2014

Did you know that you can donate to the treasury voluntarily? The website takes checking accounts, credit cards, and debit cards. You can also donate on your tax forms, which are due today.

Obviously, not many people choose to do this. It’s not reasonable to expect people to voluntarily part with money, even if they would prefer higher tax levels all around. The highest level of voluntary donations ever recorded was $7.75 million, in 2012. It’s perfectly fair to think of government as solving collective action problems, allowing us to do good things with diffuse benefits that otherwise wouldn’t be done without compulsory payment. For example, Jonathan Cohn at The New Republic argues today that taxes are a good cause.

But it is worth mentioning that there are a lot of good causes, and a lot of things that solve collective action problems, and they do great things that otherwise wouldn’t be done - and they receive many voluntary donations. Americans donated over $316 billion to charities in 2012 – over forty thousand times what they donated voluntarily to the government.

When Americans are willing to donate a little extra in order to help solve problems, some of them choose to donate to our own government. But for every dollar that goes to Uncle Sam, forty thousand dollars go elsewhere. Our government is empowered with all sorts of legal abilities that the United Way and the Salvation Army don’t have, and it should be able to accomplish many things that the private charities cannot. However, when Americans are given a choice, they send their money to the United Way.

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