Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Bleeding Heart Tightwads


This holiday season is a time to examine who’s been naughty and who’s been nice, but I’m unhappy with my findings. The problem is this: We liberals are personally stingy.

Liberals show tremendous compassion in pushing for generous government spending to help the neediest people at home and abroad. Yet when it comes to individual contributions to charitable causes, liberals are cheapskates. (link)


This article sites a couple of different sources to show that conservatives are quite a bit more charitable than liberals, about 30% more charitable. Not only are they more charitable with giving money, but they volunteer more often. I am not surprised by this finding.

A few months ago several of my family members were having an email exchange and someone said something about the difference between conservatives and liberals. A very close family member commented that she tells her children that the difference between liberals and conservatives is that liberals are generous and caring and conservatives are greedy. This self-righteous attitude of moral superiority seems to be very common among liberals. It was hard not to respond but I restrained myself and did not. I am better at exercising restraint in an email exchanges than I am in person. We have had enough conflict over politics in my family that I thought it best to let this one slide.

What I wanted to say, but glad I didn't, is that the difference between conservatives and liberals is that conservatives are generous with their own money and liberals are generous with other peoples money. Since the above article was written by a good liberal, there is a chance that this close family member may come across it. I hope so.

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  1. Maybe it's to assuage their guilt over how many people they walked over to get their money in the first place.

  2. It seems as if you are missing a few key points. First, there are many who would question whether Kristof is a good Liberal. Perhaps for people who have very black and white views of politics; everything is liberal or conservative, Democratic or Republican, it is easier to lump Kristof with the Liberals. That, likewise, gets to the issue of some of the research, how do you determine who is conservative or who is liberal, let alone, whether or not they are really meaningful labels.

    Beyond that you need to acknowledge that Kristof, whom your identifying as a Liberal, is overstating his case. Kristof acknowledges it, "This column is a transparent attempt this holiday season to shame liberals into being more charitable"

    So, what are the real issues in charity? Religion:

    "It’s true that religion is the essential reason conservatives give more, and religious liberals are as generous as religious conservatives. Among the stingiest of the stingy are secular conservatives."

    So, instead of driving a wedge between conservatives and liberals, perhaps we would all be better off if we embraced liberals and found ways of helping them find religious communities that would make them feel welcome.

  3. Orient,
    You raise some good points. This article hit a responsive cord in be because of the offensive generalization my close relative made when she said that she instructed her children that difference liberals and a conservatives is that liberals are generous and caring and conservatives are greedy and selfish. Many people would make that same generalization. Conservative may oppose an increase in the minimum wage, not because they want people to be poor but because they think it is counterproductive. Conservatives oppose many social policies advocated by liberals, not because they don’t care about people but because we believe that the policies actually hurt people in the long run. Welfare is the most obvious example. The Johnson-era War on Poverty condemned people to a life of poverty and welfare dependency. The Clinton-era Welfare Reform began reversing that. When welfare reform was first proposed most liberals opposed it, thinking it would hurt poor people. It actually helped poor people. I could make a generalization and say liberals want to keep people poor and dependent on the government and conservatives want a society where people do not have to stay poor.

    Back to your point about the study. Any generalization from a study needs to be taken with a grain of salt and a dose of skepticism. One doesn’t know how scientific the study may have been. Also, correlation does not equal cause. People who carry cigarette lighters more often get lung cancer. Are we to conclude that carrying a cigarette lighter causes lung cancer?

    Maybe the difference in charitable giving is not between liberals and conservative but, as you point out, between secular and religious and more conservatives tend to be religious. In my work, most of the clients I serve are low-income blacks. I know many of them tithe even through they have little disposable income. Sometime I think they would be better off if they did not tithe and used the money to lift themselves out of poverty. There are several large powerful black churches in town supported by members, most of whom have an income well below area median income. It is not their political identity that causes them to give but their religious beliefs.

    Also, charitable giving may be a function of income. While there are many wealthy liberals, I assume that on average conservatives have more disposable income than liberals. Also, not all charitable giving is equal. Giving to support the symphony, or save a forest, or build a large church family life center, or help a low-income family become homeowners, or shelter the homeless are all examples of charitable giving. If the type of charity supported was held constant and the income and religiosity of the giver was held constant, the outcome might be different. But, it might not. Nevertheless, this study at least gives me some comfort. The next time some one says liberals are more generous and giving, I can site this study.

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