Can Doing Good Become the New Mercedes?

Allison Silberberg
December 8, 2010

Washington, DC – In all the news coverage of the tax-cut compromise, two items in particular risk getting lost: Wall Street has had a banner year, so good in fact that this year’s round of bonuses is expected to top $144 billion. That’s a lot of moolah.

At the same time, the lame-duck Congress managed to pass a critical child nutrition bill, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act -- which is good news -- but it had to build in cuts to food stamps to pay for it. And that’s not good news.

Which brings me back to Wall Street. Those who are about to receive large bonuses are entitled to do whatever they wish with their money: travel, buy jewelry, get a snazzy new Mercedes.

Or here's a (not-so-revolutionary) idea. They could individually and collectively take a stand on issues facing Congress and do something very bold – and frankly very American: they could be philanthropic and invest not in themselves but in their nation.

It’s useful to look at the struggle that went into passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids bill. 

In brief: it began with President Obama proposing $10 billion over 10 years for the Child Nutrition Reauthorization bill, enough to provide over 30 million hungry American children with nutrition at school. Last summer, the Senate passed a version allotting $4.5 billion over 10 years. Why the lower funds? Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) was only able to muster that amount because he had to have 60 votes for cloture.

On December 2, 2010, a week after most Members of Congress enjoyed a Thanksgiving feast, the House passed the bill with the same $4.5 billion over 10 years – which included a $2.2 billion shift in funds from the food stamp program to offset costs.

It is ironic that many in Congress insisted on cutting food stamps at the same time they demanded that we make permanent the tax cuts for the top earners.

Historically, feeding needy children was less contentious and more bipartisan. But then, politicians on both sides used to be friends with each other. What happened to doing what was in the best interest of the country?

A nation’s values can be seen in its budget priorities and in what it does for its most vulnerable. The numbers speak for themselves: extending the Bush tax cut for the top 2 percent of earners will cost an estimated $700 billion over 10 years, or $70 billion per year for 10 years, and the child nutrition bill is funded at $4.5 billion total over 10 years. Let those numbers wash over you for a moment.

Consider, too, the long-term impact of our choices. In order for this nation to be able to grow its economy in the future, we need a capable workforce. That effort begins with education and nutrition for the nation’s children.

Show me a lawmaker who can eat breakfast or lunch and then not eat anything until the next morning. For millions of American schoolchildren, this is their reality. One in four American children is hungry or at risk of hunger each day and night. For many, school is their most reliable source of healthy food. For these kids, hunger can turn a snow day into something less than a cause to cheer.

The numbers are shameful. Congress should have invested the full amount of $1 billion per year for 10 years and provided good nutrition for our nation’s hungry children so they can study and achieve.

This brings me to my holiday wish: may those who are blessed with Wall Street-level riches take a page from Warren Buffet’s book and call for the end of the tax cuts for the top 2 percent. Let’s make doing good more appealing than a new Mercedes.

And if anyone wants to make a difference, I know many remarkable, innovative, highly effective nonprofits that could use some support. You’re going to need a tax write-off anyway!

Allison Silberberg is a writer/public speaker who has extensive experience as a grantmaker. She is the author of “Visionaries In Our Midst: Ordinary People who are Changing our World,” and can be reached at

Allison Silberberg, 2010. All Rights Reserved.


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