December 01, 2006

The Misers of the American Left?


Arthur Brooks an economist has just written a book, reviewed here (and I should make clear that I have only read the review) which outlines that in general in the United States leftwing people give less to charity than rightwingers. The use of this to bash the left in the United States has already started , it forms a useful counterpoint one might think to the oft repeated theme that blue states are much more orientated towards family values than red states.

Brooks's research though is in my view highly difficult to sustain. What he is really tieing together is religious faith and charity- NOT political views and charity- he finds for instance the worst givers are secular conservatives. Secondly as the review addresses there are difficulties to do with what exactly counts as charitable giving within his model- giving to a church does but it hardly seems fair to chastise an atheist for not giving money to a church. Furthermore there are problems with the way that the data was collected- what we may be seeing is that religious people are more willing to declare their giving than atheists- not that they give more.

There is one factor that I think the review misses though, and perhaps Brooks misses too, and that is the difference between small town America and big city America. It would strike me as intuitive that people in smaller less anonymous communities are more likely to be forced by social pressures to give to charity than people in huge anonymous cities.

Overall despite these doubts, there probably is a link between religion and charitable giving- rather than bashing Liberals or atheists over the head for this- its worthy thinking about charitable giving as one of the positive things that can come out of a profound religious faith. There are downsides to such a faith as well- the willingness to follow leaders of those faiths wherever they lead and the willingness to be as Dave Cole outlines not merely prejudiced but vindictive. Yet this evidence about charity shows how that kind of compulsion, that kind of moral imperative can drive actions which all would accept as good and kind. It is incumbent sometimes upon those of us who are not religious to remember studies like this that suggest religion sometimes provides a road for people to go to perform acts of great altruism and moral courage which aid others in their route through life.

3 comments:

edmund said...

I think your first critim is a good one (of Brook's methods), the second I'm not convined by- a chuch is cleary a charity whgether or not you aprove of it ( after all the devourt arre not goign to give money to the Atheists of America) and your last point on that I find worth making but unlik yto make much difence-why would the religious be more likely to declare? i can think of reason they might be less willing (though it stries me as dodgy) but none why they'd be more willing

small town vs big city I think putis it wrongly-it's about being part of a community rather than being "forced" this is the US not Vicoian england where there was a much healthier sanction in favour of geneority and against miserliness to others (in that note the eldelry go to churhc more, are more suiclay invoeld gernally and give more to charity)

I woudln't overgenalize the conclusion either-it's about America and that might be applibe toh te west and christendom as a whole- (might) but I don't think one can conclude that very diffen rleigons eg much of hindusim with its empasi on the desert of the unfortuante would have the same effect -they may but I think that's a big conclusion form that survey.

I fail to see how there is a greater wilinges to follow "leaders wheere they are willing to be led" see Lenin, Stallin etc among the devout- that semw to me a point aobut s trong leaders and /or peole with convicions-not peculairy about religous ones.


What was vindicative about that particular comment by Paisely-is the freedom of assocation and parental upbrign really such a terrible thing it needs to be ended?

Gracchi said...

On the religion and declaration rate- well noone knows why they might be but it might just be a statistical fluke- the point about declarations in America is that they vary so much- I think the article quoted a study where in one survey 50% of Americans came out as charitable givers, in another 80% came out as charitable givers.

Churches not charities. The argument would be that donations to churches are like a membership fee of a club. Normally those wouldnt' be counted as charitable giving but in this instance they are- evening it up might make them count.

On Paiseley I think Dave's point was that he excluded the homosexuals from the whole bill, he didn't attempt to argue about parts but wanted the whole bill- I'll leave that to Mr Cole to defend on his post more sensibly as its his point.

Community I think is true- I like your point about age and yes maybe I've overplayed the small town but I still think different locations mean that people are different sociologically and I don't know if Brooks corrected for it.

Yes I agree with you about America- and different religions might have different results. It might be that the increased solidarity within a religious community promotes more giving or that religious people are more altruistic- but I'm speculating in the dark here, have no evidence and indeed it could be the other way round.

Yeah the leaders point likewise, all I was saying is that religion as I know you'd agree can't be judged sociologically- there are ways to abuse it as well as for it to be a good thing. Ultimately the real question is about the existance or not of God.

Interesting reply thanks.

edmund said...

good post - on the charity point Idon'[ think this works-this is about donortions not membershp fee's they're separate things (and many charititable style organision do get a lot from mebershp fees that confer beneifts generlaly more material than churhc membership eg Sierra club) and hence vary massivley from mebmer to member according to thier own decisions

on small towns i'm not sure the two would be possible to seprate (ie the stronger chuchs are part of the community feel of small towns and help create it etc) a good test might be small towns wihich are similar but wiht diffent church membershp eg rural michaga and rural wisconsicn

I findi th ard to belive religon (along with tax) isn't t a big reason americans are more generous than brits (and indeed possibly that brits are more generous than the French)