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Charity or Philanthro-Feudalism?

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29 million unemployed or looking for work, that's the latest estimate, and you'd think it'd concentrate the mind in Washington. 29 million, or over 16 percent of us, need jobs and services and help to stay afloat, and to pay mortgages and grocery bills and – sigh – private health insurers.

With an election coming up, the pundit-class are brow-beating politicians to look the other way. The panic in their voice is all about -- you got it -- deficits. And while they're famously unworried about the condition of the unemployed, they won't tolerate any talk of new taxes to solve that problem. The unemployed get lazy when you give them extended benefits; the rich give back, they say. Except they don't, or they haven't. As we've commented before. This so-called recovery's been accompanied by tremendous hoarding.

Paul Krugman wrote this week, "In effect, a large part of our political class is showing its priorities: given the choice between asking the richest 2 percent or so of Americans to go back to paying the tax rates they paid during the Clinton-era boom, or allowing the nation’s foundations to crumble — literally...— they’re choosing the latter."

And just when you might begin think ill of billionaires, headlines trumpet 40 of them are taking a pledge from Warren Buffett to give half their wealth to charity. The Oracle of Omaha's getting plaudits from the investor-invested media, but his timing couldn't be more deadly.

What's the message of Buffett’s "greatest givers" plan? Massive wealth's alright, as long as those who have it share some. Some even have a word for it: philanthro-capitalism. But it's a face-saver, not a state-saver.

The wealthiest Americans have seen incomes skyrocket since the 90s, growing 409% between 1992 and 2007, while their effective tax rate fell to just 16% -- less than yours and mine. That's part of the problem.

In New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who's sitting on an $18 billion fortune gives to charity, but the transit system is still hiking fares and public schools are crumbling and segregated. We saw what T. Boone Pickens' idea of giving was back when he bankrolled the swiftboaters against John Kerry.

If we're going to depend on the goodwill of 40 rich guys to pick who gets help, we ought to declare Philanthro-Feudalism and stop wasting money on elections.

Let's not forget, money donated to charity is tax-free, so giving to charities actually deprives the government of revenue. Long-term change will require government, the people's representatives, not the profiteers' action, growing an economic system that works for more of us. Instead of urging a pledge to give to charity, world's billionaires could do some good. Buffett's joined the good fight for higher taxes on his income. Now he needs to get real about higher taxes on corporations. We need government which has the might and the revenues to run a state. Not rich guys with whims and PR dollars.

The F Word is a regular commentary by Laura Flanders, the host of GRITtv which broadcasts weekdays on satellite TV (Dish Network Ch. 9415 Free Speech TV) on cable, and online at GRITtv.org and TheNation.com. Support us by signing up for our podcast, and follow GRITtv or GRITlaura on Twitter.com.