Sunday, December 16, 2012

Classroom Debate Topic: Should We Keep the Charitable Deduction or Scrap It?

Here's a great topic for a debate that will fit in either your micro class (altruism, poverty, preferences) or your macro class (tax reform, fiscal cliff): What should we do about the charitable deduction? Keep it or scrap it?

Yale University's Robert J. Shiller has just weighed in with a New York Times op-ed titled "Please Don't Mess with the Charitable Deduction." He defends the deduction as an essential part of the great American tradition of giving.

Earlier this year I took the opposite position in a pair of posts. (Part 1 and Part 2). I argued that the popularity of the charitable deduction rests on a set of false premises. In reality, the deduction is best viewed not as a tax expenditure, and that not more than a third of the giving that qualifies for the deduction goes to truly charitable purposes. Furthermore, warnings that the nonprofit sector would face collapse without the charitable deduction are greatly exaggerated, if not altogether baseless.

What do your students think? Using these opposing pieces as a starting point, put them to work doing their own research and then let them try out their debating skills.

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