Who Gives, and Why It Matters
by Gary Jason
Arthur Brooks, professor of public administration at Syracuse University, is a rare scholar. He is astonishingly prolific, his research topics are of broad interest in social science, public policy, and philosophy, and he has an exceptional degree of intellectual honesty: while he is inclined towards modern liberalism, he will tell you what his data tell him.
In "Who Really Cares," he surveys the data on American charitable giving, and he has much to report — much, he admits, that surprised him, going against his own cultural prejudices. The facts show that all the common myths about giving are exactly opposite to reality.
Take the perception that Americans are generally indifferent to other people's suffering, a view that St. Jimmy Carter once trumpeted. The reality is that around 75% of American families give to charity annually, to the tune of an average of 3.5% of their household income. Only a third of this largess goes to churches; the rest goes to secular charities. All this giving adds up to $250 billion a year in private giving, a figure that exceeds the GDP of Sweden or Denmark. And more than half of American families give their time as well as their money. This is, please note, over and above the copious amounts of aid (including foreign aid) that the government gives at all levels.
But, Brooks notes, there is a major difference between the charitable and the noncharitable. The majority of Americas, the charitable, the ones who give time and money, give a lot. They also give in other ways, such as donating blood. Moreover, the donors are three times more likely to help strangers than nondoners are, and they are less likely to harbor prejudices against other people. The noncharitable are just the reverse.
By charity, Brooks quite rightly means giving that is consensual, rather than coerced, on both the giving and the receiving end. As he puts it, taxing people to pay for public services, or jailing the criminally insane may be good policy, but in neither case is it charity (7).
Among those who give to charity, the most commonly cited reason (80%) is a sense of duty. The least common is the tax deduction (only 20%). Among those who don't give, the main reason cited is that they don't have the money (roughly 66%). That this is most likely an excuse is indicated by the fact that the working poor give more of their income to charity than do people in the middle class.
While race and ethnicity are not predictors of charity in isolation from the other factors, age and gender are. Older women are more likely than the general population to give to charity, while young males are less likely. Brooks urges that far and away the biggest predictors of charitableness are religious belief, skepticism about powerful government, strength of family, and personal entrepreneurism. The bulk of his book is devoted to an exhaustive analysis of the data demonstrating this. Along the way, he refutes some of his own most deeply held prior beliefs — that the rich want tax cuts because they lack charity, that Americans are less charitable than Europeans, and that American liberals are more compassionate than conservatives. He goes farther, arguing that charity is associated with personal responsibility, prosperity, hap-piness, and even health, so that "the policies, politics and cultural forces that compromise the willingness and ability of people to give charitably induce a personal flaw into citizens that impoverishes them, stunts their opportunities, and has negative repercussions for our communities" (13). Here he strikes a note of virtue economics — the idea that the virtue of charity is tied to other virtues conducive to human flourishing.
Brooks' first chapter debunks the common myth that people who are politically "progressive" are more charitable than others, a myth endlessly promoted by the Left. The data show that at every income level, self-identified conservatives donate more than self-identified liberals, despite the fact that liberals average 6% more income. The difference remains even if we look at registered party affiliation rather than self-identification. And this difference holds for nonmonetary donation, such as donations of blood.
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Interesting. Good on all those lower income earners who were reported to give large amounts. I saw a news report on this, and they asked a low income earner, yet large charity giver why she gave so much and she said "when I was in alot of financial trouble a good friend helped me out" so they understand the importance of chairty; where as better off people take it for granted. As for the liberals being stingy: in their faces! I don't mean to sound so partisan, but I've just read so many posts on other forums, about how everyone who favours welfare reform is "selfish and greedy" and listening to John Sax say that all who oppose foreign aid are "lying" by saying that "the poorest of the poor are our enemies who want to shake us down for every penny". Now the truth comes out.