Sunday, February 10, 2008

"the surprising truth about compassionate conservatism"

That's one of the subtitle from Arthur Brooks' relatively famous book, Who Really Cares? America's Charity Divide: Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters

I'm not a big fan of such labels-- or "compassionate conservatism" in particular, since it is correlated with many sins of commission and omission in the economic realm of public policy.

But more broadly, as an assessment of the non-government activity of its adherents, Brooks' results are pleasant, if not a surprise.

From Jon Shields' review in Books & Culture...

The belief that religious conservatives are less charitable and more hard-hearted than secular liberals has seemed so obviously true as to require little empirical investigation. In fact, conservatives themselves have helped fortify this view by accusing liberals of possessing "bleeding hearts" and by amending conservatism with "compassionate."...

Arthur C. Brooks [reaches] a starkly different conclusion. Drawing on some ten data sets, Brooks finds that religiosity is among the best predictors of charitable giving. Religious Americans are not only much more likely to give money and volunteer their time to religious and secular institutions, they are also more likely to provide aid to family members, return incorrect change, help a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, despite expecting to find just the opposite, Brooks concluded: "I have never found a measurable way in which secularists are more charitable than religious people."

Consider some examples. Religious citizens who make $49,000 gave away about 3.5 times as much money as secular citizens with the same income. They also volunteered twice as often, are 57 percent more likely to help homeless persons, and two-thirds more likely to give blood at their workplace. Meanwhile, those who insist that "beliefs don't matter as long as you're a good person" are not as good as those who do think beliefs matter. The former group gave and volunteered at much lower rates.

Yet even these findings tend to obscure the impact of religion on charity. This is because some of the survey respondents that Brooks classified as secular are indirectly affected by religion if they were raised in a religious household. Consider two secular Americans, identical in education, income, and other such measures, only one of whom was raised in a religious household. The secular citizen with a religious upbringing is nearly twice as likely to give to charity.

Because religious and secular citizens tend to cluster in different communities, some parts of the country are far more charitable than others....Overall, conservative-leaning states are much more charitable than liberal-leaning states....

But religiosity is not the only influence that tends to make conservatives more charitable than liberals. Citizens are also more charitable when they oppose greater income redistribution and less charitable when they support it. Opponents of income redistribution are about ten percent more likely to give to charity even after controlling for socio-economic variables such as income, religion, and education. They are also more likely to return change to a cashier, give food or money to a homeless person, and donate blood. In fact, the blood supply would decline by about 30 percent if we were a nation of government aid advocates.

But how can this be? After all, presumably those who support income redistribution care more about the plight of the poor. The answer seems to be that many advocates of redistribution use this position as a substitute for making personal sacrifices—that is, they think they are already being charitable by taking a particular political position. Those who oppose income redistribution may feel more obliged to make personal sacrifices on behalf of the poor.

Two other factors influence giving—personal entrepreneurship and being married with children....

Keep in mind that this is not about theology (at least directly), but about political persuasion...

Brooks finds that there is nothing distinctive about evangelicals. Thus, religious evangelicals are no more charitable than religious Catholics or Jews. What seems to matter is religiosity rather than the content of one's faith....

Shields' wrap-up...

However one interprets these findings, one conclusion is indisputable: religious conservatives not only bear little resemblance to the stereotypes liberal élites ascribe to them, they also compare favorably to other Americans....Of course, dogmas are often immune to empirical research. But if secular élites continue to cling to their stereotypes of evangelicals and ignore social science, then they will embrace the very intolerance and anti-intellectualism they accuse religious believers of possessing. To be so uncharitable toward millions of decent Americans would also be a sad vindication of Brooks' argument.


At February 17, 2008 at 12:36 PM , Blogger Bryce Raley said...

A couple points here would be obvious to me immediately.

First: If you are the center of your own universe (secular humanistic thinking of many liberals- not all), then most of your focus would tend to be on youself. This may lead to less time for volunteering, fewer children (viewed as more of a burden then blessing), more mental issues due to inward reflection and focus instead of outward focus on other peoples problems. Many things would point to non- religious people giving less time and money than religious people.

Secondly, those who favor income redistribution do tend to substitute their activism or representation of the poor for charitable giving.

To me the Libarary tax that failed in Louisville this past November was a microcosm of my second point. Their were lots of advocates for the new library tax, but when the tax was revealed to be tax on everyone (not just a redistribution) people walked into the polls and say no thanks not me. I believe many of the proponents and activists voted this down themselves.


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