Some Massachusetts state legislators, committing two of the seven deadly sins, are angry because tax revenues do not match their ambitions, and envious of Harvard. They suggest raising more than $1 billion annually with a 2.5 percent assessment on the nine colleges and universities in the state that have endowments of more than $1 billion.
California legislators, disguising a third sin, avarice, as concern for "diversity," want to require large California foundations to report the race, gender and sexual orientation of their trustees, staff and grant recipients. Other state legislatures will emulate this step toward government control of the flow of philanthropy.
So it goes. The almost erotic pleasure of spending money that others have earned and saved is one reason people put up with the tiresome aspects of political life. And now the government's response to the financial crisis, including the semi-nationalization of nine major banks, has blurred
-- indeed, almost erased -- the distinction between public and private sectors.
Hundreds of billions of dollars that the political class would have liked to direct for its own social and political purposes have been otherwise allocated. That allocation, by government fiat rather than by market forces, must reduce the efficiency of the nation's stock of capital.
Which in turn will reduce economic growth, and government revenues, just as the welfare state -- primarily pensions and medical care for the elderly -- becomes burdened by the retirement of 78 million baby boomers.
As government searches with increasing desperation for money with which it can work its will, Willie Sutton Moments will multiply. Government has an incentive to weaken the belief that the nation needs a vigorous and clearly demarcated sector of private educational and philanthropic institutions exercising discretion over their own resources.
So the frequently cited $700 billion sum is but a small fraction of the cost, over coming decades, of today's financial crisis. The desire of governments to extend their control over endowments and foundations is a manifestation of the metastasizing statism driven by the crisis. For now, its costs, monetary and moral, are, strictly speaking, incalculable.