This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.
Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates.
See, I was always reared on the, "To whom much is given, much is required," theology/philosophy, even though we didn't have money growing up. The idea was that, as bad as things may have been in my household (though I never wanted for any necessities, at least as far as I was aware), there was always the sense that others needed help more. Both of my parents were definitely liberal, and definitely Democrats. Hence my surprise:
Arthur Brooks, the author of a book on donors to charity, “Who Really Cares,” cites data that households headed by conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than households headed by liberals. A study by Google found an even greater disproportion: average annual contributions reported by conservatives were almost double those of liberals.
Other research has reached similar conclusions. The “generosity index” from the Catalogue for Philanthropy typically finds that red states are the most likely to give to nonprofits, while Northeastern states are least likely to do so.
The upshot is that Democrats, who speak passionately about the hungry and homeless, personally fork over less money to charity than Republicans — the ones who try to cut health insurance for children.
“When I started doing research on charity,” Mr. Brooks wrote, “I expected to find that political liberals — who, I believed, genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did — would turn out to be the most privately charitable people. So when my early findings led me to the opposite conclusion, I assumed I had made some sort of technical error. I re-ran analyses. I got new data. Nothing worked. In the end, I had no option but to change my views.”
Wow. I admit, I have always been in the camp of both giving personally, and having our government help people. I figured our government was an extension of the people who elected them, but that what the government did was not intended to REPLACE what individuals did.
We are always hearing that Americans are the most generous people. Turns out it is yes and no:
Something similar is true internationally. European countries seem to show more compassion than America in providing safety nets for the poor, and they give far more humanitarian foreign aid per capita than the United States does. But as individuals, Europeans are far less charitable than Americans.
Americans give sums to charity equivalent to 1.67 percent of G.N.P., according to a terrific new book, “Philanthrocapitalism,” by Matthew Bishop and Michael Green. The British are second, with 0.73 percent, while the stingiest people on the list are the French, at 0.14 percent.
And then there is this revelation:
(Looking away from politics, there’s evidence that one of the most generous groups in America is gays. Researchers believe that is because they are less likely to have rapacious heirs pushing to keep wealth in the family.)
So, we gay people are only generous because we don't have HEIRS?? Well, here's a little newsflash - many gay people DO have heirs! As in actual children, living, breathing children in their families. Kinda blows that crapola explanation out of the water.
How about we are generally open-hearted, compassionate people who know what it is like to be in need, or to suffer, whether it be from oppressive religions or government, or homophobia from families or friends, we know how hard life can be, as well as how joyous it often is. So we like to help. I'm just sayin'...
Ahem. The article continues:
When liberals see the data on giving, they tend to protest that conservatives look good only because they shower dollars on churches — that a fair amount of that money isn’t helping the poor, but simply constructing lavish spires.
It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives.
According to Google’s figures, if donations to all religious organizations are excluded, liberals give slightly more to charity than conservatives do. But Mr. Brooks says that if measuring by the percentage of income given, conservatives are more generous than liberals even to secular causes.
In any case, if conservative donations often end up building extravagant churches, liberal donations frequently sustain art museums, symphonies, schools and universities that cater to the well-off. (It’s great to support the arts and education, but they’re not the same as charity for the needy. And some research suggests that donations to education actually increase inequality because they go mostly to elite institutions attended by the wealthy.)
Conservatives also appear to be more generous than liberals in nonfinancial ways. People in red states are considerably more likely to volunteer for good causes, and conservatives give blood more often. If liberals and moderates gave blood as often as conservatives, Mr. Brooks said, the American blood supply would increase by 45 percent.
Again, wow. That is STAGGERING about the blood supply, isn't it? FORTY-FIVE percent?? Holy cow!! And, I have to say, while it is disappointing that liberals do not do more, I am not surprised to learn that conservatives do more hands on type work (yes, often through their churches, like Habitat for Humanity).
So, you’ve guessed it! This column is a transparent attempt this holiday season to shame liberals into being more charitable. Since I often scold Republicans for being callous in their policies toward the needy, it seems only fair to reproach Democrats for being cheap in their private donations. What I want for Christmas is a healthy competition between left and right to see who actually does more for the neediest.
Of course, given the economic pinch these days, charity isn’t on the top of anyone’s agenda. Yet the financial ability to contribute to charity, and the willingness to do so, are strikingly unrelated. Amazingly, the working poor, who have the least resources, somehow manage to be more generous as a percentage of income than the middle class.
So, even in tough times, there are ways to help. Come on liberals, redeem yourselves, and put your wallets where your hearts are.
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I am not surprised that those who have less financially give more to charity than those who have more by percentages. Again, those who have suffered know what it is like to be in need, and can empathize with others.
I agree with Kristof's call to action, though it is because we ARE In tough economic times that those of us who are able have been trying to give more. But liberal or conservative, independent or socialist, reaching out to others as best we can was always the American way, so yes - regardless of your political persuasion, if you are able to help, please consider donating of your time or money to a cause important to your heart (and time DOES count as giving - many organizations need volunteers, not just money).
I hope that, amidst the hustle and bustle that often accompanies Christmas Eve, you can take a moment to stop, breathe, relax, and reflect upon the season...I hope the following piece will help you move to that place - one of the greatest classical guitarists, Christopher Parkening, and one of my all-time favorite opera singers, Kathleen Battle: