It’s Christmas morning and my thoughts are on giving. And about who gives and who doesn’t.
It might surprise you — though it doesn’t surprise me — to learn that those who are loudest in trumpeting their compassion toward their fellow-man, namely liberals, “progressives”, social democrats or whatever you want to call them, turn out to be regular Scrooges in their personal giving to charity. Conservatives who, liberals claim, want to give tax cuts to the rich and care nothing about the poor and disadvantaged, give far more per capita than liberals, both absolutely and as a percentage of income.
This is actually old news, but I was reminded of it by Arthur C. Brooks’ op-ed in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal. Brooks was the author of a 2006 study relating people’s giving habits to their ideologies. In his op-ed, he reports,
The most recent year that a large, nonpartisan survey asked people about both redistributive beliefs and charitable giving was 1996. That year, the General Social Survey (GSS) found that those who were against higher levels of government redistribution privately gave four times as much money, on average, as people who were in favor of redistribution. This is not all church-related giving; they also gave about 3.5 times as much to nonreligious causes. Anti-redistributionists gave more even after correcting for differences in income, age, religion and education.
And it goes beyond just giving money. Brooks reports that the 2002 GSS found that anti-redistributionists were more likely to give blood, and also “to give someone directions on the street, return change mistakenly handed them by a cashier, and give food (or money) to a homeless person”.
Brooks’ study isn’t the only one to notice this giving disparity. For example, a generosity index maintained by the Catalogue for Philanthropy reveals that the so-called red (Republican) states give more to charity than the blue states. “The upshot,” writes Nicholas Kristoph, “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 confronted with this data, liberals like to counter that conservatives only appear to be more charitable because they are more religious and their giving to churches and other religious organizations skews the data.
Actually, as Brooks has shown, conservatives also beat liberals in secular giving. Still, it is worth considering the liberals’ claim that giving to religious organizations is somehow less charitable than secular giving. First of all, much of what is given to churches goes to support their missionaries in the field. Most church mission work is aimed directly at helping the poor and disadvantaged, both at home and abroad. Second, most para-church ministries, organizations like the Salvation Army and World Vision — right on down to local homeless shelters and crisis pregnancy centers — are focused directly on helping the poor. In contrast, as pointed out by Ann Coulter, much secular liberal giving is to “‘charities’ that that give them a direct benefit, such as the ballet or their children’s elite private schools.”
Other liberals and leftists dismiss the data on charitable giving as irrelevant. Of course people on the Left don’t give to charity, they say. That’s because they believe things like people’s basic needs — food, shelter, housing, health care — should be a matter of right, not charity.
By making this argument they are unwittingly revealing what their real game is: power. Liberals and other leftists are arrogant elitists who believe themselves to be morally and intellectually superior to ordinary people. Liberal “compassion” really means controlling other peoples’ lives and redistributing other peoples’ wealth. I suppose they think that by doing this they will eliminate poverty. The fact is — as history has shown over and over again — all they will succeed in doing is spreading the poverty.
The Left’s “compassion” is fundamentally a fraud, a cover for their drive for total control over people’s lives. The late libertarian economist Murray Rothbard, in a somewhat different context, developed a concept he called “demonstrated preference”. He defined it thusly:
The concept of demonstrated preference is simply this: that actual choice reveals, or demonstrates, a man’s preferences; that is, that his preferences are deducible from what he has chosen in action. Thus, if a man chooses to spend an hour at a concert rather than a movie, we deduce that the former was preferred, or ranked higher on his value scale. Similarly, if a man spends five dollars on a shirt we deduce that he preferred purchasing the shirt to any other uses he could have found for the money. This concept of preference, rooted in real choices, forms the keystone of the logical structure of economic analysis, and particularly of utility and welfare analysis.
Some 2,000 years ago, the one who taught us what charity is really about said pretty much the same thing, only more succinctly:
For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21)
So, if liberals give less to the poor and disadvantaged than conservatives, what does that say about where their heart is?