The Corpus Callosum

Conservatives Are More Generous

Expert: Conservatives Are More Generous

By Frank Brieaddy
Religion News Service

SYRACUSE, N.Y. — Syracuse University professor Arthur C. Brooks is
about to become the darling of the religious right in America — and
it’s making him nervous.

The child of academics, raised in a liberal household and educated in
the liberal arts, Brooks has written a book that concludes religious
conservatives donate far more money than secular liberals to all sorts
of charitable activities, irrespective of income.

In the book, he cites extensive data analysis to demonstrate that
values advocated by conservatives — from church attendance and
two-parent families to the Protestant work ethic and a distaste for
government-funded social services — make conservatives more generous
than liberals…

That is one thing.  Here is another:


 “Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before
men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your
Father in heaven.

“So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as
the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored
by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full.

“But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what
your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then
your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”

I have no idea what the specifics are of the findings in Brooks’ study
are.  I do know that not all charity is truly charitable.
 Much is actually coercive, or at least contingent upon
conformity, or given in response to peer pressure, or given as an act
of self-aggrandizement, not compassion.  

So let’s all put our trumpets away for a bit.


  1. #1 natural cynic
    November 18, 2006

    There is a strong emphasis in tithing [giving 10% of your income to the church] in many Protestant religions and the church is the center of social activities, again with some mild to strong coercion to be involved. The author adjusted for several variables, including gender, personal wealth and others, but nothing was said in the article about where the charitable activity and money was going. To really come to his conclusions, he would have to separate non-church from church related charitable activity to eliminate any possible coercive bias.

    A snarkier interpretation [especially in light of Coturnix’s posts on conservative and liberal personalities] is that someone who is conservative is more likely to follow a herd mentality, that is, someone who is more easily suckered into giving because he thinks everyone else is doing the same.

  2. #2 Neil Robertson
    November 18, 2006

    Your quote from Matthew suggests that a less cynical conclusion could be that perhaps the charitable giving might be higher than estimated because Christians are less likely to declare much of their giving.

    I’d be interested to see a source for your claim that “much” charitable giving is “coercive”. Especially how it relates to the study in hand.

  3. #3 quitter
    November 18, 2006

    Without access to the data in the book I can’t rebut these arguments very well. However, based on many previous studies that purport to show the same thing, I do not believe this. This is not a new idea, and also, I think it is BS and bad statistics.

    Here’s a few reasons why conservatives appear to be more charitable.

    1. Giving money to your church is usually considered charity. As someone who knows what a scam the “building fund” is, I don’t think this would be equivalent to, say, giving money to Heifer international, or meals on wheels. Also, many things people think are charities really are not, even if you can deduct contributions. Many so-called charities are little more than scams that have overhead and administrative costs that are as much as 95% of their budget. Churches, while they will do outreach for the poor (often tied to religious observance, the creeps) it is by no means a majority of their budget. You got to feed the building fund, never forget the building fund.

    2. Other groups that do this type of charitable monitoring do it based upon tax returns, not sure but Brooks probably used some of the same data. The amount claimed as charitable deductions by people who identify as conservative. There is a problem here, for one, many people, like myself, do not claim their charitable contributions. I can not say there is a liberal bias to this, but I think it is still a flawed source of data. For instance, Bill Gates and Berkshire Hathaway guy probably doesn’t deduct their multi-billion dollar donations, simply because he doesn’t have an income. Microsoft doesn’t pay Gates more than a token amount, he just owns stock.

    3. Tax return data also ignores the way liberals often donate to the poor, which is in wills and trusts, which do not lead to a claimed deduction (or not for more than one year). If you look at the data on which states have the greatest dispersal of assets after death, it’s always the blue states, by far. I bet a careful analysis about perpetuation of wealth in families will identify a more conservative trend towards trying to keep money in families forever a la Sam Walton and every other robber baron who ever lived. They’re always bitching about the “death tax”. Compassionate conservative indeed.

    4. I’m a liberal, I vote for Democrats and higher taxes dammit. And one of the reasons I do it is to make sure the government takes care of the poor, educates children, subsidizes science, and builds hospitals, roads, etc. What it comes down to are the compassionate conservative asses may be giving 10% of their income to some worthless church building fund, but if they’re voting for Bush they’re screwing the poor, screwing education, screwing science, screwing medical care and screwing the world.

    So, show me tax returns that say conservatives donate more to their churches in tithes, I’ll believe it. But don’t call that charity, and don’t say that their political decisions are any more high-minded and concerned for the poor than liberals, becuase they’re not. Just ask David Kuo.

  4. #4 Cuetio
    November 18, 2006

    I think it is a moot point to discuss WHY conservatives donate. The important thing is that what they are doing, regardless of their motivation, is a good thing for society.

    Any criticism of ‘disingenuous donors’ would only be petty bickering between the ‘haves’, and really does nothing for those receiving aid.

    If being a mindless religious drone actually do make you donate more, then in the overall scheme of things this is positive. A lost of ‘independent thinking’ for the rich in return for much needed material aid for the poor is a good trade.

  5. #5 Joseph j7uy5
    November 18, 2006

    It is not my intent to argue about whether Brooks is correct or not. The book is not out, the data are not available to me, and I am not interested enough in the subject to put in the time of effort to try to do a peer review of his work. It would not be a peer review anyway, since I am not his peer, not having an academic background comparable to his.

    Rather, my point is that it is unseemly to boast about being charitable. It is an opinion of mine, and it is an opinion that is based upon personal values.

    Note that I do not mean to imply criticism of Brooks; I do not perceive him as boastful. My impression is that his study is descriptive. It probably is not intented to make, or even imply, anything about who is better than whom.

    What people do with their own money is their business, so long as they are respectful of the rights of others.

    My concern is that there are posts out there put up by persons who identify themselves as conservatives, who seem to be boasting about the findings of the book.

    I did not link to them, not wanting to get in a flame war about something that boils down to a personal choice of values.

    I am aware that the phrase about “much” charitable giving being coercive, is not supportable with evidence that I am free to cite. I am not going to cite personal communications on the subject. Even if I did, it would not add any persuasive power.

    To clarify, my usage of the term “much” is not intended to be quantitative, or even semi-quantitative. That is, I do not mean to imply that it is over 50%, or close to 50%. I have no idea what percentage it is. What I mean to convey is that coersive giving happens often enough that it bothers me. In my opinion, coercive giving does not count as charity.

    The implication is this: once one starts to break charitable giving down into categories of “true charity” and “fake charity,” then it becomes very difficult to keep score and see who wins. The reason is fairly obvious: it is going to be difficult to get any kind of concensus on which specific gifts go into which category.

    Yes, there is a possibiliy that some Christians might not disclose charitable giving, assuming that most have read Matthew. I tend to assume that would affect liberals and conservatives equally, but there is no way to know that. The uncertaintly advances my point, that it is not meaningful to try to keep score.

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