Thursday, October 8 , 2015, 11:43 pm | Fair 73º

Harris Sherline: Charity vs. Welfare and the Role of Government

Americans continue to lead the world in philanthropy, but who gives how much — and to whom?

By Harris Sherline, Noozhawk Columnist |

No matter how you slice it, Americans are still the most charitable people on Earth.

In a recent article, “Charity vs. Welfare, Two Different Things,” Hadley Heath, a senior policy analyst for the Independent Women’s Forum, made the following observations, among others:

» “It’s the season for giving. As we approach the holidays, Americans offer special gifts to people we love, and charitable gifts to people in need. About half of all private charitable contributions are made between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.”

» “Although Americans are generous compared to other nations and have created a robust network of private charities, government still offers a substantial, taxpayer-supported social safety net. Today, there are more than 70 federal means-tested welfare programs, which cost more than $900 billion in 2011, including state spending.”

» “Still, we haven’t solved the problem. Forty-nine million Americans are currently considered impoverished. Our nation’s political rhetoric sounds increasingly like class warfare, as the public debates how to address our economy, and hardship faced by millions of out-of-work Americans.”

Advocates of expanding the welfare state equate bigger government with humanitarianism, or charity. But many programs do more harm than good by creating counter-productive incentives and reducing economic growth and opportunity, which, sadly, keeps today’s poor people poor.

“Americans are the most charitable people on earth,” Heath wrote. “This is not just some self-serving assessment. It has been repeatedly demonstrated over time, not only by our response to the many disasters that occur in other parts of the world, but also by the extent of charitable giving by both individual Americans and institutions alike.”

Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks examined charitable giving in America and found, among other things, that conservatives give 30 percent more to charity than liberals do, despite the fact that liberals have higher incomes than conservatives.

In his book Who Really Cares?, Brooks compares the charitable donations of religious conservatives, secular liberals, secular conservatives and “religious” liberals, and reached the following conclusions, among others:

Religious groups, at about 20 percent of the population, gave the most to charity: $2,367 per year, compared with $1,347 for the nation at large.

Even when compared with purely secular charities, religious conservatives give more than other Americans, which is surprising because liberals tend to support “charities” that give them a direct benefit, such as the ballet classes or elite private schools for their children.

Brooks also found that conservatives donate more in time, services and even more blood than other Americans, noting that if liberals and moderates gave as much blood as conservatives do, the blood supply would increase by about 45 percent.

On average, a person who attends religious services and does not believe in the redistribution of income will give away 100 times more to religious charities and 50 times more to secular charities than a person who does not attend religious services and strongly believes in the redistribution of income.

Secular liberals, the second-largest group, with about 10 percent of the population, were the whitest and richest of the four groups. These “bleeding-heart tightwads,” as New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof calls them, were the second stingiest, just behind secular conservatives, who are mostly young, poor, cranky white guys.

Despite their wealth and advantages, secular liberals give to charity at a rate that is 9 percent less than the total of all Americans and 19 percent less than religious conservatives. They were also “significantly less likely than the population average to return excess change mistakenly given to them by a cashier.”

However, secular liberals are 90 percent more likely to give sanctimonious Senate speeches demanding the forced redistribution of income (up from 7 percent last year).

Needless to say, “religious liberals” made up the smallest group, at just 6.4 percent of the population.

“Interestingly, religious liberals were also ‘most confused’ of all the groups,” Brooks wrote. “Comprised mostly of blacks and Unitarians, religious liberals made nearly as many charitable donations as religious conservatives, but presumably, the Unitarians brought down their numbers, making them second in charitable giving.”

Brooks also commented that he was shocked by his conclusions because he believed liberals “genuinely cared more about others than conservatives did” (probably because liberals are always telling us that).

Every other study on the subject has produced similar results, and a Google study of philanthropy found an even greater disparity, with conservatives giving 50 percent more than liberals. Google also found that liberals gave more to secular causes overall, but that conservatives still gave more as a percentage of their incomes.

Finally, the Catalogue for Philanthropy analyzed a decade of state and federal tax returns and found that the red states were far more generous than the blue states, with the highest percentage of tightwads living in the liberal Northeast.

The reason liberals love having the government redistribute money is that it allows them to skip the part of charity that involves forking over their own money. Repeated studies have found that they invariably prefer government largesse to making personal contributions to charities.

The Giving USA Foundation provides further information about charitable giving in America:

In 2008, for the second year in a row, charitable giving in the United States exceeded $300 billion, or roughly $1,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

Charitable giving was 2.2 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP).

In 2008, 54 percent of human services charities saw a need for an increase in their services, while more than half (54 percent) of those organizations working to meet peoples’ basic needs, such as food, shelter and clothing, said they were underfunded or severely underfunded for 2009.

Individual giving, which has always been the largest component of charitable contributions, amounted to $222.28 billion, or 75 percent of the total, in 2008.

Charitable bequests were estimated to be $22.66 billion in 2008, or 7 percent of total giving, including $14.5 billion in corporate giving, which represented 5 percent of all charitable giving.

Foundation grants were a total of $41.21 billion, or 13 percent of total giving, in 2008.

Donations to health organizations in 2008 were estimated to be $21.64 billion, or 7 percent of total estimated giving.

America and Americans continue to lead the world in charitable giving. We consistently give more than any other society to help others, both at home and abroad, without seeking any special recognition or advantage.

— Harris R. Sherline is a retired CPA and former chairman and CEO of Santa Ynez Valley Hospital who as lived in Santa Barbara County for more than 30 years. He stays active writing opinion columns and his blog,

comments powered by Disqus

» on 10.08.12 @ 03:58 PM

Interesting reconsideration of old articles, from a typical Sherlinean perspective.

Most “conservative” charitable giving goes to religious institutions, and parochial
education designed to further it.

Charitable giving for the arts is about equally divided.

Very large “naming” gifts to higher education tend to come from “conservatives”
who have more money. Smaller, annual gifts to support all education tend to be
equally divided.

Although “liberals” tend to give less to charity, per capita, that consists of more in almost every other charitable category.

Finally, there’s little clear data about whether family charitable giving is driven
primarily by political affiliation, individual ideology, tax deduction availability,
family tradition, or some combination of the above, etc.

Should Mitt Romney be elected, his intention along with Paul Ryan to consider
eliminating tax deductions for charitable deductions, and mortage payment
deductions, could yield interesting, wide-ranging new data, if they can push
those through Congress.

» on 10.09.12 @ 02:57 PM

It just goes to show you that if you really care, put your own money where your mouth is. Compassion is not demanding others give, but giving your self with no reciprocation expected.

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