By JLP | 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.