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Saturday, February 16 , 2019, 2:25 am | Fair 50º


Harris Sherline: The Politics Behind Charity in America

Professor examines giving among liberals and conservatives, secular and religious

Americans are the most charitable people on Earth. 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 to 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 give 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 doesn’t 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 doesn’t 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. 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 great 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 GivingUSA 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 about $1,000 for every man, woman and child in America.

» Charitable giving was 2.2 percent of the nation’s Gross Domestic Product.

» 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 are 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, Opinionfest.com.

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