Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Who Really Cares, Book Review

Book Review, Who Really Cares, America's Charity Divide, Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters by Arthur C. Brooks, 183pp plus appendix and notes. Basic Books, 2006

Arthur C. Brooks, professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, has written what I regard as a very important book. This book reports his researches into charitable giving, especially in the U.S. He admits that he was surprised at the results.

Brooks' studies used voluntary giving as the primary measurement but also looked at things like blood donations, volunteering time, returning the extra when a cashier gives too much change, and even being willing to give directions to a stranger. With monetary and time donations he looked at both the fraction of each group donating and how much each group donated per person. Results were quite consistent, a group that donated more money was also more likely to donate time and blood, return too much change, etc.

Contrary to popular perceptions, “conservatives” are more generous than “liberals.” However the real key is not political belief but religion. After controlling for religion he found that conservatives were only slightly more generous than liberals. However religious people, and even those who are not now religious but were raised in religious homes, are much more generous than the non-religious. Nor does this apply only to donations to churches. The religious contribute significantly more to secular causes as well. While political conservatives are significantly more charitable than are liberals, that is mostly due to the fact that conservatives are more likely to be religious.

While religion is the biggest key to giving, there are other factors as well. Surprisingly the class that gives the highest percentage of their income to charity is the working poor. Percentage-wise they donate more than the middle class and even than the wealthy. The poor who receive welfare, on the other hand, are the least charitable.

Marriage and family also make a big difference. Married people, especially those with children, are more likely to be charitable than the unmarried or childless. Brooks speculates that the reason is that having children is itself a charitable act (except for those on welfare who get money for each child).

Charity is negatively correlated with welfare and with the belief that government should re-distribute income or care for people's needs. As the availability of government welfare increases, voluntary giving declines. Even in the absence of increased welfare, people who believe government should provide such welfare or re-distribute income are much less likely to voluntarily donate money or time, to give directions to a stranger, or return too much change. There seems to be a sense among those people that “it's not my job to do what government should do.” On the other hand, those who oppose easy welfare and income re-distribution tend to be generous, voluntarily donating to causes they support.

Throughout the book are comparisons between the U.S. and other countries. Other countries have more welfare and believe that is the way to go. Hence their people leave it to the government and do not voluntarily donate very much. The U.S. is, by a wide margin, the home of the charitable. Our citizens lead the world in voluntary giving. Others, particularly the Europeans often accuse us of selfishness because our government does not give as much to disaster recovery as their governments do. However when we add in voluntary donations we are actually more generous than they. That does not faze the Europeans who want to count only government largesse.

The author also spends considerable ink on why charity matters. He points out that the charitable tend to be healthier, happier, and more likely to improve their own lot in life. In fact one chapter is entitled, “Charity Makes You Healthy, Happy, and Rich.” He attributes this to the fact that the charitable are likely to have more social connections and to feel better about themselves. Personally I believe there is also another factor: the charitable are taking action, being proactive. That is the sort of thing that leads to success in the workplace, and to better mental and physical health.

Not only does charity have individual benefits, but countries with more voluntary giving tend to have the advantage over those with less charity. This is partly the result of individuals being healthier, happier, and richer. It is also the result of the good works done by the charitable. However the biggest factor may be that the charitable tend to be involved not only in charity but in the community and politics.

The author includes suggestions for how to teach children to be charitable and to increase voluntary giving generally. Then the appendix covers the author's sources, how he did his calculations etc. Here he gets into some of the gory detail that would make the book less readable if included in the body.

Charity benefits the recipient, the giver and the country. As a result, I think this is a book that can make a big difference in our country if only people will read and apply it. Any book that points the way to more civic involvement, better health and happiness, and the other benefits Brooks here describes, deserves our attention.

1 comment:

Bobkatt said...

"Very important book." I doubt it because you can bet it won't get any play from the people that could benefit from it the most. Rather than being debated it will simply be ignored. It emphasizes two main stumbling blocks in the liberal agenda-personal responsibility and the value of religion. Hard to overcome.

The more a society surrenders it's responsibility to the government the less it values personal responsibility.
We used to have many more local charities, many of them religious, even mutual aid societies that catered to select groups of immigrants and causes. Many of these have been forced out by the creeping government intervention.

I heard an interview yesterday with this author and he made another interesting point. That was that poverty is best treated by giving people a chance to improve their own situation through economic development. In other words someone such as Bill Gates would have a more positive effect on the poor by continuing to use his entrepreneurial ability to create businesses and jobs than by simply giving away large amounts of money.
Makes sense to me. Before you can redistribute the wealth it must first be created.