Do Private Schools Serve The Public Interest?

1384954600_483e7e4698.jpgFelix Salmon and Matt Yglesias are both upset that all private schools are considered charities for tax purposes. And rightly so. Not only is it questionable whether some of them contribute to the public good, they might (as Matt says) actually detract from it by drawing "parents with resources and social capital out of the public school system and contributing to its neglect."

The one thing I would add is this: If you agree with the Yglesias/Salmon logic (as I do), there is no reason to halt that logic at the doors of the private schoolhouse. There is, for example, my favorite hobby horse: The tax deduction governing charitable contributions, which can be claimed for donations to a ludicrously broad variety of organizations. I've said this before, but the relevant portion of the tax code let's you claim it for donating to a...

corporation, trust, or community chest, fund, or foundation [...] organized and operated exclusively for religious, charitable, scientific, literary, or educational purposes, or to foster national or international amateur sports competition (but only if no part of its activities involve the provision of athletic facilities or equipment), or for the prevention of cruelty to children or animals.

Which, to understate matter, covers a lot of organizations -- international amateur sports leagues? -- of questionable public value. (Now if only there were some powerful elected official interested in changing the rules governing charitable deductions...)

Anyway, the big questions here are "what is the public interest?" and "who gets to define it?" -- and they are both fairly intractable questions. What can be said? I'm of the opinion that a narrower definition would be a better expression of the public interest than the law that is currently on the books, and I think most people, when confronted with the current law, would agree. Or at least I hope so.
 


(Photo: Flickr User woodleywonderworks)
Presented by

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. More

Conor Clarke is the editor, with Michael Kinsley, of Creative Capitalism, an economics blog that was recently published in book form by Simon and Schuster. He was previously a fellow at The Atlantic and an editor at The Guardian. He is also on Twitter.

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

The Case for Napping at Work

Most Americans don't get enough sleep. More and more employers are trying to help address that.

Video

A Four-Dimensional Tour of Boston

In this groundbreaking video, time moves at multiple speeds within a single frame.

Video

Who Made Pop Music So Repetitive? You Did.

If pop music is too homogenous, that's because listeners want it that way.

Video

Playing An Actual Keyboard Cat

A music video transforms food, pets, and objects into extraordinary instruments.

Video

Stunning GoPro Footage of a Wildfire

In the field with America’s elite Native American firefighting crew

Video

The Man Who Built a Forest Larger Than Central Park

Since 1979, he has planted more than 1,300 acres of trees.

More in Politics

Just In