Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Those giving less want you to give more

Do stingy people compensate for their tightfistedness by didactically demanding others give more? Apparently those who give more on their own are the people who want the government to take less:

Consider two groups in the population: One that believes the government should improve living standards for the poor, and the other which believes that people should take care of themselves, without government help. Those protesting the president's current budget [cuts] would label the first group as "compassionate" and the second group as "uncompassionate." But how do they compare in their private giving behaviors? According to the General Social Survey in 2002, the proponents of government spending are six percentage points less likely to give money to charity each year than the opponents, and a third less likely to give money away each month.
The op/ed's author, Arthur Brooks, anticipates the protestation that money alone is not an accurate barometer of generosity. Indeed that is a legitimate point--the US was criticized for being parsimonious following the Asian Tsunami, yet the US took the lead early on in coordinating the relief effort (along with help from Japan and Australia). The logistics involved and the use of the US military was a gracious act of magnanimity that cost the US tremendously but was not counted towards the total tally (even without this expense being factored in the US still came out on top, almost doubling the aid of the next closest donor, Australia).

Brooks then uses blood donation as a rough control for non-cash generosity:
So let's look at a less problematic type of charity: blood donations. We have blood in more or less equal abundance, you can't give it to your church, and a pint of blood is not even tax deductible. These gifts exemplify unselfish compassion -- they benefit anonymous recipients, including the poorest in society and victims of disasters. So who exhibits greater compassion by donating more blood?

Once again, it is those opposed to government aid. These supposedly uncompassionate folks are 25% of the population, but donate more than 30% of the blood each year. Meanwhile, supporters of government spending to the poor are 28% of the population, but donate just 20% of the blood. If the whole population gave blood like opponents of social spending do, the blood supply would increase by more than a quarter. But if everyone in the population gave like government aid advocates, the supply would drop by about 30%.
Brooks' presentation of the numbers actually leaves one with a better impression of the 'compassionate' types than is deserved. Breaking the numbers down comparitively, the 'uncompassionate' folks give about 70% more than the putatively bleeding heart types.

These findings are not surprising. It would be interesting to see the rates of generosity correlated with religiosity. My guess is that a positive correlation exists. There is a woman at a facility where I do grunt work that is a dull and unwed mother of several who lives in the urban core and makes no more than $10 an hour. She tithes nonetheless. I find this extraordinarily admirable and virtually impossible without the 'dogmatic' command that Christians do so.

Those who despise religion (and Christianity in particular) for being dogmatic, paternalistic, absolutist, and so forth are generally not interested in the pragmatic benefits it bestows. They see it as an ideological roadblock standing in the way of socially liberal policies like same-sex marriage, drug legalization, and abortion-on-demand (I do believe religion gets in the way of potentially beneficial progressive causes like euthanasia as well as some views on the empirical right like serious immigration reform). Note the disdain in the non-sports entertainment world for Christianity. Yet the most selfless and indefatigable celebrity who does so much more than pay empty lip service to helping the poor and taxing the rich while enjoying a plush mansion in Bel Air--Bono--points to his faith as a reason for his noble (if quixotic) efforts. Religion can have a tremendously positive influence on people, especially the less endowed who have a more difficult time thinking critically and therefore need 'paternalistic' guidance.

Blacks and Hispanics in the Congregationalist, Baptist South, for example, are among the least criminally prone in the country (see map graphic) compared to blacks and Hispanics, respectively, in other parts of the US. These groups struggle more than whites and Asians and are, on average, less cognitively endowed. Consequently, they are going to be more likely to uncritically internalize what's presented to them. Not surprisingly, going to service with mama in Biloxi on Sunday morning does a kid more good than staying out all night in Brooklyn living the 50-Cent lifestyle.

Tragically, this encouraging information about our disadvantaged minorities is muted by the egalitarian myth. Instead of comparing blacks in Georgia to blacks in Delaware and whites in Georgia to whites in Delaware, the states are always compared in their demographic entirety. Thus, the South always looks bad because it has more blacks than any other area of the country. Even though blacks in the South are better behaved than blacks in other regions of America, their sheer numbers overwhelm this and pull the state down (keep in mind that blacks commit between seven and nine times--depending on the type of crime in question--as much crime as whites do). On a global scale this same kind of flawed comparison leads to condemnation of religiosity in the US as compared to other developed nations that are less spiritual, when the obvious cause is not due to ideological differences but instead to ethnic ones. I get so frustrated by people's obsession over what you believe at the expense of the equally pertinent, if not more so, question of who you are.

It would also be interesting to see how people compare based on party affiliation. Recent data was spun to show that red states are more generous, but after adjusting for a methodology that skewed generosity in favor of impoverished states, I could not detect any meaningful relationship between rates of charity and political preference. Presumably Republicans give more due to the simple fact that they make more. And certainly they are more likely to be in Brooks' 'uncompassionate' category than Dems are. Still, it's hardly definitive.

If nothing else, be weary of those who lecture you on how taxes should be higher to fund more social programs. It's a free country--if you want to invest your discretionary income in that way, more power to you. But maybe you should hop out of that Mercedes and into the free market loving business owner's Corolla (yeah, he could definitely afford twenty of your Mercedes but he chooses not to). That way you'll have more money leftover to give (ask him if you don't believe me)!

(Politics and Religion)

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