Archives For February 2011

What is Charity?

February 28, 2011

I’ve been listening to the audiobook of Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism* by Arthur Brooks. The book came out several years ago but I’m just now taking the time to listen/read it. The purpose of the book was to look at charity (who gives and doesn’t give) in America based entirely on data.

Like many people in America, Brooks originally suspected that liberals were the givers and conservatives were non-givers.

When I started doing research on charity, 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 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.

I confess the prejudices of my past here to emphasize that the findings in this book—many of which may appear conservative and support a religious, hardworking, family-oriented lifestyle—are faithful to the best available evidence, and contrary to my political and cultural roots. Indeed, the irresistible pull of empirical evidence in this book is what changed the way I see the world. It has also guided me in my persoanl search for the truth—not only as a teacher and researcher but also in my private life as a donor and volunteer, as a father, as a skeptical political independent, and even as a Christian.

I quoted the above to build up to this point I found in the book:

The conventional wisdom runs like this: Liberals are charitable because they advocate government redistirbution of money in the name of social justice; conservatives are uncharitable because they opppose these policies. But note the sleight of hand: Government spending, according to this logic, is a form of charity.

Let us be clear: Government spending is not charity. It is not a voluntary sacrifice by individuals. No matter how beneficial or humane it might be, no matter how necessary it is for providing public services, it is still the obligatory redistirbution of tax revenues. Because government spending is not charity, sanctimonious yard signs do not prove that the bearers are charitable or that their opponents are selfish. (On the contrary, a public attack on the integrity of those who don’t share my beliefs might more legitimately constitute evidence that I am the uncharitable one.)

I agree 100% with the above statement. Government spending IS NOT CHARITY! This point hit home to me personally a couple of weeks ago when one of my friends posted something on facebook about the Texas budget and supposed cuts to education. I got into a discussion with one of my friend’s facebook friends who happened to be an administrator at one of the Texas school districts. He mentioned that all our problems would be solved if we just raised property taxes, which would mean a $150 in additional taxes per year on a $150,000 house. When I stated that I was against any rise in taxes, this guy resorted to calling me a Scrooge. In other words, he made the assumption that because I was against tax increases that I was stingy or uncharitable. He had no idea how much my wife and I give to charity or the amounts we donate for teachers’ gifts and the like.

That guy would do well to read this book.

*Affiliate Link

In today’s WSJ:

The Obama administration is trying to push through a settlement over mortgage-servicing breakdowns that could force America’s largest banks to pay for reductions in loan principal worth billions of dollars.

Terms of the administration’s proposal include a commitment from mortgage servicers to reduce the loan balances of troubled borrowers who owe more than their homes are worth, people familiar with the matter said. The cost of those writedowns won’t be borne by investors who purchased mortgage-backed securities, these people said.


So far, most loan modifications have focused on shrinking monthly payments by lowering interest rates and extending loan terms. Banks, as well as mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, have been shy to embrace principal reductions, in part due to concerns that many borrowers who can afford their loans will stop paying in the hope of being rewarded with a smaller loan. But some economists warn that rising numbers of underwater borrowers will drag on housing markets and the economy for years unless more is done to help them.

I know I sound like a broken record but I know a better way. Foreclose. It would clear out the system much quicker than all these “fixes” would.

Source: U.S. Pushes Mortgage Deal

I have been spending some time the last couple of days, looking at the CPI reports. If you’ve never looked at one of these reports, I urge you to do so. They’re pretty interesting.

I still can’t for the life of me figure out why the BLS groups Education and Communications together. Why not give them each their very own category?

I noticed that the CPI began publishing an index for college textbooks in 2003. That index has increased 62.14% since it was first published. To put that in perspective, a textbook that cost you $100 in 2003, cost you $162 in 2010.

Here are the links to PDF files for each year’s report. I put them together here because they aren’t easy to find on the BLS’s website.












I found this link on facebook the other day. Check it out: CPI Categories Since 2000. From what I can tell, they got their numbers for college tuition from the BLS like I did. I’m not sure why their numbers are so much higher than mine are.

I was looking at the CPI numbers this morning and noticed something interesting. For some reason, the CPI puts education and communications together in the same category:

I can think of one good reason to group the two together: to hide the inflation rate of education. To see what I mean, take a look at this graphic I put together that shows the total and average annual rates of inflation for each of the categories:

Wow. Look at the three subcategories for education compared to the subcategories for communications. Then, notice the the numbers for the education and communications category as a whole. No wonder why the BLS puts these two in the same category.

Political “Math”

February 17, 2011

Last week I was part of a rather heated discussion on facebook about Texas’ budget woes and proposed cuts to its education budget. One of the people involved in the discussion was a school adminstrator. I asked him how he would solve the supposed education cuts. He wrote this:

“A .01% increase in taxes would prevent all this. That’s $150 a year on a $150,000 house.”

.01% increase in taxes…

Seems really low, doesn’t it? It’s not. Here is how it translates into taxes:

My house is worth roughly $150,000 on the tax rolls. We paid $3,500 in property taxes last year. If they were to increase another $150, it would represent a 4.3% increase as I show in my math:

150 ÷ 3,500 = .0428 or 4.3%

The reason for the difference is that the .01% increase is PER $100 of value.

Politicians framed this issue in such a way to make it seem like the tax increase isn’t that much when in fact it’s MUCH more than they make it seem.

The guy got rather testy with me when I told him that I would not be willing to fork over another $150 per year. My reasoning is that although it’s “only” $150, it’s a tax increase. Once taxes go up (especially property taxes), they seldom if ever come back down again. Once this particular budget shortfall is cured by a tax increase, they’ll find another place to use the tax increase. Not only that, the $150 is based on property value, which will most likely increase in the future.

John Wooden was one of my favorite leadership examples. I have several books by him and like them all. I was reading Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections on and Off the Court* last night and came across a list of Coach Wooden’s favorite maxims in the back of the book. I chose some of my favorites from the list and posted them here. I actually liked all of them but didn’t want to post them all. By the way, if you want a brief book on John Wooden’s philosophies, this is a great book to start with.

• Happiness begins where selfishness ends.

• Earn the right to be proud and confident.

• Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.

• Ability may get you to the top, but it takes character to keep you there.

• If you do not have the time to do it right, when will you find the time to do it over?

• The smallest good deed is better than the best intention.

• The man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.

• Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.

• Time spent getting even would be better spent trying to get ahead.

• You discipline those under your supervision to correct, to help, to improve—not to punish.

• Consider the rights of others before your own feelings, and the feelings of others before your own rights.

• If I were ever prosecuted for my religion, I truly hope there would be enough evidence to convict me.

• As long as you try your best, you are never a failure. That is, unless you blame others.

• Do not permit what you cannot do to interfere with what you can do.

• Be more concerned with your character than with your reputation. Character is what you really are; reputation is merely what you are perceived to be.

• Be slow to criticize and quick to commend.

• Be more concerned with what you can do for others that what others can do for you. You’ll be surprised at the results.

• You cannot live a perfect day without doing something for another without thought of something in return.

• Forget favors given; remember those received.

• Treat all people with dignity and respect.

*Affiliate Link