Giving Liberally? Or Conservatively?

by | Dec 29, 2006 | Weekly Column

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Until recently, I was convinced that Ebenezer Scrooge was a conservative, at least before his transformation. His refusal to give to the poor at Christmas time personified our perception of a conservative as cold-hearted, stingy, and even miserly. I would also have given you high odds that his loyal clerk, Bob Cratchit, was a liberal.

Now I am not so sure.

In late November, John Stossel’s ABC special 20/20 report, “Cheap in America,” changed that probability 180 degrees. Indeed, the preponderance of the evidence suggests the stingy-hearted Scrooge was most likely a liberal and Cratchit a conservative.

Let me explain. Stossel’s report centered on Arthur C. Brooks’ new book, Who Really Cares. The book examines our societal myths around giving and then reveals the facts. The focus of the report was on what and how much Americans give. It caused me to pause and consider a few of my own unconscious beliefs around giving.

One of those was a belief that “liberals” give more than “conservatives.” I’ve always assumed that those who are philosophically identified as champions for the poor and downtrodden would give more to those in need than would conservatives. Conservatives, after all, philosophically embrace individual responsibility and capitalism, both attitudes having less “heart” than a more liberal philosophy, right?

Not true. According to Brooks, of the top 25 states where people give the greatest amount of money in relation to their income, 24 are “red” states. In fact, conservatives give 30% more than liberals and actually make less. This turns my stereotyped money scripts on their noses. There must be some mistake. Why are the people identified more with championing the issues of the poor apparently champions in word only and not in their actions? That almost sounds hypocritical.

Stossel suggests that at the core of progressive philosophy is a belief in large government, as well as a belief that it is the government’s responsibility to aid and support the poor through the redistribution of wealth. People who believe it is the government’s job to make incomes more equal are naturally less disposed to giving.

Another predictor of a person’s generosity is whether the person is religious. Religious individuals give four times more to charity than the non-religious, and interestingly enough, not just to their churches. They give more to other charities, to the homeless, and even more blood to local blood banks.

I found it interesting, however, that Stossel suggests the best thing for billionaires to do is not to give away their money at all. He contends that the wealthy, through investing their money, create more jobs than government or charities. According to him, “Creating jobs is a better way of helping people than giving money away.”

Maybe tight-fisted rich liberals who don’t give to charities aren’t as selfish and “Scroogish” as Brooks’ findings would seem to indicate. By keeping their money working to create more money, via creating jobs, they may actually be doing more for the poor. To me, this sounds like what I’ve always thought of as classic conservative thinking and behavior. Now we know it is just the opposite, since conservatives are givers and liberals are hoarders and even the real “job creators.”

Could it be that the conservatives who give are really the liberals, and the liberals who keep their money are really the conservatives? I suspect that once this information is disseminated, there are going to be a lot of very unhappy liberals who find out they are really conservatives.

That shock may be greater than the shock Ebenezer Scrooge felt when he saw his ghostly visitors. But who knows? The experience may be equally life-changing.

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