Wednesday, January 17, 2007

more on charity

i just listened to an absolutely wonderful, insightful and nuanced kqed forum on charitable giving (follow the link and you'll find you can listen too!). michael krasny spoke with arthur brooks, an academic who recently wrote "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism." (pdf of wall street journal review)

don't let the title fool you that the book is wrapped up with the fact, borne out by numbers, that conservatives are more charitable than liberals. that's certainly interesting, but there's so much more to learn.

first off, brooks says he defines charity quite broadly, and so this includes not just what's on tax forms, but political action donations, blood donation, volunteer work, etc.. he uses massive amounts of data gathered over many years, both nationally and internationally, and he makes some surprising conclusions.

one of the most surprising conclusions was that young liberals are the worst givers (money and time). some people called in saying that they knew young liberals who do work X, and that work itself is charitable, and did brooks take that into account... brooks answer was quite reasonable, in my mind. how do you judge the "charity" of a particular job? ie, is a teacher doing a "better" thing than someone working at microsoft? he did acknowledge that certain people go into professions where they make far less money than if they went elsewhere, but they take that job for the "good" it will do. however, brooks was quite worried about making that value judgement, and i have to say that i'd have some trouble too, not just because i'm a scaredy cat.

there was lots of discussion about religion. brooks pointed out that religious people give WAY MORE than those who aren't religious. he speculated religious institutions do a very effective job of teaching about charity (there was some discussion about the motive "getting into heaven" if you are charitable). i was thinking that it'd be great if this kind of teaching moved more into the secular world, and that was discussed as well.

finally, people who give more are happier and more successful than those who give less. not sure how he measured those things, but it sounds good. i'm going to get the book and read more. stay tuned :)


bea said...

I don't think it's necessarily fair to consider donations to PACs as charity...most of them don't act in a way that actually benefit those less fortunate, as charity is meant to do.

Also in addition, I don't find that a majority of religious donations to be that much of a charity either---if you look at the actual amount of money spent on actually helping others, not converting them or decking out a church in gold and marble, it's probably not as significant as one might think.

Charity isn't just about spending pure dollars---it's about your philosophy and how you choose to live your life in consideration of others, in my opinion.

There's always going to be a world of have and have-nots, and an attempt to make everyone a "have" by throwing money doesn't help. The best way to help others, is to do something where their life can grow to have as much meaning as yours. So I say if you donate, donate to an organization that helps people who want to make something of themselves, like a Better Chance Foundation, which provides scholarships to inner-city kids who have the potential to go to private schools.

Or better yet, donate close to home and buy me a bakery! ;)

omar said...

bea: i agree that charity isn't just about money. it's about a lot more than that, and the author of this book indeed says that (you should listen to the podcast). however, he can't easily evaluate all those things, but he can get numbers for money and for some non-money things based on surveys.

for the religion comment, i should say that the author noted that even excluding all donations to religious organizations, religious people still come out as giving far more, by a considerable margin.

i think we all have opinions about where the money should go to affect the most change and to align with our philosophies -- and i think we must make judgments concerning what we and others contribute to as being more or less useful. if bringing meaning to someone's life is your goal, then there are likely lots of ways of doing it... however, i'd say that goal is sufficiently vague that most people could apply it across most charities. your more specific point about inner city youth perhaps gives a clearer picture of what you might mean.

on balance i'd say his research is very illuminating and the podcast is worth a listen.