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

56 responses to What is Charity?

  1. I disagree, BG. In FY2010, we had $3,106.14B of total government spending (in 2005 dollars), with a $1162.48B deficit. That means we had $1943.66B in revenue to the US government. We last say that level of spending in 1998. So, what does the feral government do for us now that it did not do then? We survived without it then, and we can do so now.

  2. Jack) Oh I agree that spending can (and should) be cut. I’m just saying that you aren’t going to cut enough spending and still be able to afford the tax-breaks of the past decade and fight two wars.

    Spending must be cut, and taxes must go up if we are to have any realistic chance of balancing the budget.

    2011 is estimated to have a $1.65 trillion deficit — just for the year alone. Congress is squabbling over $60 billion in spending cuts — that $60b cut isn’t even 4% of the expected DEFICIT. It is less than 2% of total spending.

    And don’t try to claim that ‘not cutting enough’ is the democrats fault. I was on a town-hall conference call with my Republican US Senator, along with a bunch of tea-party people screaming for more cuts. All we heard from him were excuses why more couldn’t be cut. His reasons were because the economy would collapse (and he’s probably right).

    He also said that since he is in the Senate, he has no control — which is pure BS, because the law is that the bill must _originate_ in the House, not that the Senate cant modify it and throw it back over the wall.

    I guess I have another letter to write to my congress critters…

    “So, what does the feral government do for us now that it did not do then? ”

    The reasons why the budget is in the RED since 1998 are: Two wars, TSA, Medicare Part-D, massive income tax cuts, Payroll Tax Holiday, and two recessions. Those are the big ones anyhow.

  3. I do not consider the two wars particularly big. The total spending on both wars is less than one year’s deficit. In fact, our entire defense budget is less than the deficit.

    Still, I’m with you that the war spending can be reduced. TSA can go, as can Medicare Part D. We finally seem to be coming out of the recession, and if we get real democracy in the Middle East, instead of a bunch of Islamic republics, oil prices should come back down.

  4. It is also worth noting that his research uncovered that conservatives also spent more TIME on charitable activity — such as scouts, Salvation Army, Little League, etc. — that liberals did. Also, conservatives even gave more blood than liberals did.

  5. There is an article on CNBC today, titled “For Millionaires, $7 Million Still Not Enough to Be Rich”.

    I guarantee that these poverty-stricken millionaires are paying less taxes than most “middle-class” people (relative to their wealth of course).

  6. @Jack (46): You said “That’s fine, but that is NOT where the majority of our tax money goes. Most of it goes to welfare programs of one sort or another — none of which the FEDERAL government has the Constitutional authority to do.”

    I assume by “most” and “majority” you mean more than 50%. What do you define as welfare programs? Have you actually checked how much money goes to welfare programs? I seriously doubt it is that high.