Heritage Foundation Pretends To Stand Up For The Poor

March 29, 2011 5:17 pm ET — Walid Zafar

Any increase in the marginal tax rate will have drastic consequences on the poor; that's the analysis that Heritage Foundation fellow Ryan Messmore offers up in a post at the Foundry, the conservative think tank's blog. Messmore argument is as simple as it is shameless: if millionaires and billionaires face slightly higher tax rates, it could possibly discourage them from giving to charity. The best way to help the poor, then, is to help the rich. It's trickle-down economics on steroids.

Messmore writes:

Obama's plan, which the Senate Finance Committee will discuss at a hearing this Wednesday, would likely dampen charitable giving in the years ahead. The plan would not only weaken one of the incentives for those most able to donate large gifts but would further shift perceived responsibility for social welfare from individual donors to the state.

Specifically, Obama calls for raising the tax rate for families making more than $250,000 per year from 35 percent to 39.6 percent, beginning January 1, 2013. Obama also proposes reducing the rate at which these taxpayers can take itemized deductions from the current rate of 35 percent down to 28 percent, beginning January 1, 2012.

He concludes:

Perhaps most importantly, Obama's proposal sends the message that federal bureaucracy can deploy the resources of the wealthy more effectively than civil society can. Raising taxes while decreasing an incentive for charitable giving implies that the state should assume responsibility for people's needs even at the expense of vital nonprofit organizations. Churches, ministries, and other community-based institutions, however, are often better equipped to serve people in need. And they often do so at reduced costs.

It should go without saying, but any analysis that Heritage offers on the issue of poverty should be approached with a grain of salt. After all, these at the same people who have traditionally downplayed poverty in America by pointing out, for example, that many of those who fall below the federal poverty line in fact own microwaves and televisions.

Heritage is also behind an effort by congressional Republicans to make participation in the food stamp program conditional on having a job, a tough requirement given that there are more than six job seekers for every job opening. Food stamps, of course, are one of the most efficient anti-poverty programs on the books. More generally, Heritage opposes almost all government-led initiatives aimed at tackling poverty and unemployment.

This isn't the first time that Messmore has made the "don't support a policy conservatives oppose because it would hurt the poor" argument. During debate over the District's same-sex marriage bill, Messmore wrote that Catholic Charities, one of the area's largest social service providers, might be forced to shut down its operation if the bill was adopted. The group itself reacted to the law by closing two small programs, but still operates its anti-poverty programs.