I have read somewhere that courtesy is the highest form of charity.  Whether or not that is true (I like to think it is), courtesy is certainly charity in its least expensive form.  Which prompts the question of why, in the age of what an anonymous wit a generation or so ago dubbed conspicuous benevolence, it is the rarest form of charity as well.

Conspicuous charity is never cheap.  Like every other form of economic and social ostentation, it is exceedingly expensive.  Yet the gratification the conspicuously benevolent earn from it seems to be worth the price.  Another, much cheaper form of charitable indulgence is the acquiescent pleasure some people claim to take in paying confiscatory taxes: in the redistribution, that is, of their own wealth at the gentle behest of their respective local, state, and national governments.  (Concerning this business of taxation, I intend to have a serious conversation some day with an intellectually and theologically responsible priest regarding the spiritual accounting in respect of forcible charity in a socialist country like our own where the poor, legally entitled to welfare payments tied to the cost of living at subsistence level, should not—theoretically speaking—have need of public charity at all.)  The abundant generosity of the rich, and even the merely affluent, is the more surprising in a materialist society in which nobody becomes rich by being either...

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