A rare case of sloppy blogging by Greg Mankiw:
If Biden’s below-average charitable giving is typical of those with his political views, why am I surprised by it? Because this man has run for President more than once. He must have known there was a good chance that his tax returns would at some point be made public and undergo public scrutiny. He had a far greater-than-average personal motivation for charitable giving and, nonetheless, chose not to chip in.
The assertion that Biden engages in (suffers from?) “below-average charitable giving” is based on the following Wall Street Journal excerpt:
The amount they gave to charity during this period never exceeded one-half of 1% of their annual income. The Bidens never gave more than $995 to charity in any of the tax years, and usually gave much less.
My first thought, when I read the excerpt by itself at Mankiw’s blog, was: Biden is Catholic. Catholics tend to give at church, in cash, via the infamous collection plate. And given that claiming excessive cash or in-kind charitable donations is an express lane to an audit, maybe Biden was being perfectly rational by choosing not to report it. (Or perhaps he was too busy to keep track of his giving, or maybe he just didn’t care one way or the other — has Mankiw never heard of bounded rationality?)
Stated differently, it is sloppy journalism (and, vicariously, sloppy blogging) to confuse what Biden and his family “gave” and what they reported. Easily two wildly different numbers. An occupational journalist, and a Harvard economist, ought to know better.
Of course, the very next paragraph — which Mankiw either didn’t read or couldn’t be bothered to cite — confirms my suspicion:
Spokesman David Wade said the returns don’t show money given to their church or time the couple has spent volunteering, including on wife Jill Biden’s own breast-cancer-education nonprofit.
Works for me.
(I’m not going to weigh in on the politics of Biden’s release of so many years of tax returns or on the research suggesting that religious conservatives tend to give more than other demographic groups. I’m more interested in the sloppy reporting and blogging. Neither will I comment on whether charitable giving should be tax deductible in the first place, or whether someone who gives generously during their life is “morally superior” to someone who waits until they die to give away their wealth. You, on the other hand, are more than welcome to do so in the comments.)