Creative Destruction

November 17, 2006

Conservatives Generous and Full of Love, Liberals Grasping and Cold, Says Author

Filed under: Economics,Ethics — Robert @ 2:50 pm

OK, I’m just kidding about the headline. But Syracuse University professor Arthur Brooks (the guy who opined that the liberal-conservative birth divide was going to doom liberalism) has a book coming out that argues conservatives (specifically, religiously-believing, nuclear-family-dwelling, welfare-state-disliking conservatives) are the most generous Americans, in terms of charitable giving, volunteerism, and blood donation.

I’ve written before about this (but am not going to dig for the link, because I’m just going to say the same thing again) – assuming the professor’s analysis is correct, I suspect that the reason has to do with the differing view of human nature espoused by liberals and conservatives. Oversimplifying for the sake of pithiness (and if we can’t oversimplify for pithiness, what can we oversimplify for?), liberals believe that people are basically good and will take care of one another. Conservatives believe that people are basically heartless bastards who will kill orphans to harvest their organs if they have the opportunity.

So why the heck would that result in conservatives being more generous? Easy peasy: the psychology of the individual. A decent liberal sees a problem and thinks that society should do something, and further, assumes that someone will help (people are good), so “I don’t need to get personally involved”. A decent conservative sees a problem and thinks that the other callous pricks who comprise society will point and laugh, and so if anyone is going to help, “it’s gotta be me. ” Result: conservative check, liberal raincheck.

That’s my theory. What’s yours?

37 Comments »

  1. Two big factors, I suspect.

    First, the figures are relative to income, and people in “red states” tend to be less affluent, so similar amounts of giving look more generous.

    Second, giving to a church is generally going to be counted as a charitable gift. Religious people tend to give a lot more to churches than less religious, usually liberal people do. The trouble is, only a tiny share of church giving goes to the poor — the bulk of it instead going to make a nice “private club” for the parishioners, paying the heat and maintenance, the office staff, mailings, and the pastor’s salary who mostly devotes his time to serving members of the congregation. Wealthy conservatives, meanwhile also give lots to institutions that do little to help the needs like their alma matter and the opera.

    Comment by ohwilleke — November 17, 2006 @ 6:55 pm | Reply

  2. Then again, maybe not. A shorter version of what he says in his book can be found here.

    Comment by ohwilleke — November 17, 2006 @ 7:00 pm | Reply

  3. Interesting. He knocks down my theory, too – it’s religiosity, not conservatism per se, that accounts for the difference. (There’s just so many more religious conservatives than religious liberals, the conservative side looks better.)

    Well, we don’t know shit. Maybe someone should start a charity to educate us.

    Comment by bobhayes — November 17, 2006 @ 7:27 pm | Reply

  4. ohwilleke Says: First, the figures are relative to income, and people in “red states” tend to be less affluent, so similar amounts of giving look more generous.

    For instance if you have $1 and I have $5 and we both give $.20 wouldn’t that make you a more generous person? Similar amounts of giving by people who make less money is more generous.

    Second, giving to a church is generally going to be counted as a charitable gift.

    This is a red-herring.

    …..liberals give less than conservatives in every way imaginable, including volunteer hours and donated blood.

    What does any of that have to do with the parishioners at the church?

    I agree with Robert; liberals like to give money only when everyone else is force to give money to the same causes while conservatives give because they want to give and aren’t too concerned about what everyone else is doing.

    For all of the liberal complaints we hear about government intervention it seems liberals stop complaining when the government is intervening to force people to support the causes they want supported.

    *Note: When I use the term “liberal” I am referring to the pseudo-liberals of today and not the classical liberals.

    Comment by SmartBlkWoman — November 17, 2006 @ 9:14 pm | Reply

  5. SmartBlkWoman wrote:

    I agree with Robert; liberals like to give money only when everyone else is force to give money to the same causes while conservatives give because they want to give and aren’t too concerned about what everyone else is doing.

    Robert threw out a theory to explain something that may or may not be true. I’ve no problem with that as it’s properly labeled. But to offer a blanket statement “liberals are …” or “conservatives are …” reads as just plain dumb to me. Perhaps it’s just another theory being trotted out, but even then it’s rather pointless. Liberals = herd animals and consevatives = independent thinkers just doesn’t hold up.

    Comment by Brutus — November 18, 2006 @ 12:06 am | Reply

  6. I personally think its all crap. Just like I think John Dean’s new book Conservatives Without Conscience is self serving. Judge people by their deeds and leave the pyschobabble alone.

    Conservative, Liberal, Red, Blue, are all labels. We know good when we see it, and we can smell crap. Both sides have their share of both.

    Comment by QA Wagstaff — November 18, 2006 @ 1:47 am | Reply

  7. From owilleke’s cite.

    From these data, I have constructed two measures of religious participation. First, the group I refer to as “religious” are the respondents that report attending religious services every week or more often. This is 33 percent of the sample. Second, the group I call “secular” report attending religious services less than a few times per year or explicitly say they have no religion.

    Take a sample of people chosen randomly from the population. Divide into two groups, according to whether the individual believes or does not believe in some deity or other. From the first group, the believers, select only the most socially active, as evidenced by their participation in church activities. Call them “religious”. To the second group, add the idle slackers from the first group, and call them “secular”.

    These results stand for no more than the unsurprising proposition that people who are socially active in one field are more likely to be socially active in other fields.

    Comment by Daran — November 18, 2006 @ 1:57 am | Reply

  8. But to offer a blanket statement “liberals are …” or “conservatives are …” reads as just plain dumb to me.

    Whenever someone calls something “just plain dumb” without using any qualitative reasoning as to to why, then I consider their statement just plain dumb also. Liberals do tend to do certain things and reason in ways that conservatives do not; I don’t see any reason to bring up every exception to the rule whenever someone uses the term “liberal” or “conservative”.

    Liberals = herd animals and consevatives = independent thinkers just doesn’t hold up.

    That wasn’t what I said and you know it. Liberals ( not all of them, of course) want universal healthcare, higher taxes for the rich to pay for massive welfare programs for the poor and elderly, and to continue to force people to pay into the social security system that is set to go bankrupt. Like I said, liberals like using the government to force people to do things.

    The conservative way says let people take their own money and help the people they want to help with it.

    None of that has to do with independent thinking or saying liberals act like herd animals.

    Comment by SmartBlkWoman — November 18, 2006 @ 3:47 am | Reply

  9. Robert:

    So why the heck would that result in conservatives being more generous? Easy peasy: the psychology of the individual. A decent liberal sees a problem and thinks that society should do something, and further, assumes that someone will help (people are good),

    This doesn’t quite follow…

    SBW:

    liberals like to give money only when everyone else is force to give money to the same causes while conservatives give because they want to give and aren’t too concerned about what everyone else is doing.

    For all of the liberal complaints we hear about government intervention it seems liberals stop complaining when the government is intervening to force people to support the causes they want supported.

    If liberals really believed that people are good, they would trust that charity would accomplish the same results as coercive government action. If conservatives believe the opposite, then it would seem that conservatives believe that people are good and thus would help even without being forced to, and set the example personally.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 18, 2006 @ 12:57 pm | Reply

  10. Meaning that Roberts’ comment does not follow. I agree with SBW.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 18, 2006 @ 12:58 pm | Reply

  11. SmartBlkWoman wrote:

    Whenever someone calls something “just plain dumb” without using any qualitative reasoning as to to why, then I consider their statement just plain dumb also.

    Um, touche? You got me? Don’t think so. I don’t need a reason for my opinion. It’s an opinion, freely given. Maybe it is dumb of me to think your comment was dumb to use liberal/conservative labels recklessly, but you haven’t shown it by throwing it back in my face.

    Liberals do tend to do certain things and reason in ways that conservatives do not; I don’t see any reason to bring up every exception to the rule whenever someone uses the term “liberal” or “conservative”.

    If you use those terms to refer to policies and opinions, which are the way we define those terms, that’s fine. If you use those terms to refer to blanket behavioral or cognitive characteristics, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    That wasn’t what I said and you know it.

    No? Here’s what you wrote, again: liberals like to give money only when everyone else is force[d] to give money to the same causes while conservatives give because they want to give and aren’t too concerned about what everyone else is doing. The statement about liberals indicates your contention that they are willing to jump on charity bandwagons or follow the herd. You give liberals no consideration as a class for being charitable out of conscience, altruism, or for the general welfare of their brethren. OTOH, according to you, conservatives aren’t concerned about what others’ charitable behaviors may be and act independently. How exactly did I mistake your meaning when it’s right there in what you wrote?

    You can stick to what you wrote, in which case I still think it’s dumb, or you can restate what you meant, which is a pretty normal thing to do when the first attempt didn’t quite hit the mark. Are there other worthwhile options?

    Comment by Brutus — November 18, 2006 @ 4:16 pm | Reply

  12. The statement about liberals indicates your contention that they are willing to jump on charity bandwagons or follow the herd.

    The disconnect here is due to the fact that SBW as a classical liberal does not consider government welfare charity at all, bandwagon or herd withstanding. (Am I right?)

    Generalizations are generalizations, of course, but IMHO they are often useful. I suppose one could just automatically is insert “on the average…” and/or “in my opinion…” to all such generalizations.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 18, 2006 @ 4:55 pm | Reply

  13. Brutus Says: Um, touche? You got me? Don’t think so. I don’t need a reason for my opinion.

    You do need a reason for your opinion. If you don’t know why your opinion is your opinion then wouldn’t that make your opinion “just plain dumb”?

    It’s an opinion, freely given. Maybe it is dumb of me to think your comment was dumb to use liberal/conservative labels recklessly, but you haven’t shown it by throwing it back in my face.

    The only point I was trying to make was that calling my opinion “just plain dumb” without giving any reasong was unfair; if I was being dumb the least I would ask is that you prove to me how I was being that way.

    If you use those terms to refer to policies and opinions, which are the way we define those terms, that’s fine. If you use those terms to refer to blanket behavioral or cognitive characteristics, I think you’re barking up the wrong tree.

    I think our views on public policy are a function of our behavioral characteristics. I don’t think you can separate the way that someone looks at life from the policies that they espouse because they are both coming from the same reasoning.

    It’s just like high religiousity ( which starts off as an internal state) is reflected in going to church regularly, praying regularly etc. and on the other hand a belief in liberalism ( or conservatism) also starts off as an internal process of the way that we view the world and ends up being reflected in the government policies that we favor.

    The statement about liberals indicates your contention that they are willing to jump on charity bandwagons or follow the herd.

    My meaning was to say that they are willing to force everyone else to jump on charity bandwagons, which is exactly what a redistribution of wealth scheme is-forcing everyone to jump on the charity bandwagon.

    The conservative viewpoint is not so much about ” I am an independent thinker and you aren’t” but about “I’m not going to force you to do what I consider to be the right thing, even if we both agree on what the right thing to do is”.

    The difference between the two is not about who is a herd follower vs who thinks independently but about who is willing to use force to make people do the right thing vs who isn’t.

    [Removed a quote from Brutus that SBW chose not to respond to and the comment following it explaining this. Man, I love my god-powers of editing -Tuomas]

    Comment by SmartBlkWoman — November 18, 2006 @ 4:56 pm | Reply

  14. Tuomas said: The disconnect here is due to the fact that SBW as a classical liberal does not consider government welfare charity at all, bandwagon or herd withstanding. (Am I right?)

    You’re right. Charity is when people give as they want to give, not when the government takes money out of your paycheck before you ever see it and gives it for you.

    The point I was trying to make was not about who is right or who is wrong, who is following the herd or who isn’t, but about who is willing to use the government to force everyone to do a certain thing and who isn’t.

    Comment by SmartBlkWoman — November 18, 2006 @ 5:03 pm | Reply

  15. but about who is willing to use the government to force everyone to do a certain thing and who isn’t.

    Anyone who isn’t a stinking faux-liberal (=socialist in denial) got it. ;)

    Hope you don’t mind my edits, btw.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 18, 2006 @ 5:08 pm | Reply

  16. Btw, I don’t like using the government to force people to pay for things I like, or government force in general, which I find problematic.

    I just think it is sometimes pragmatic to do so, altough it is hardly “social justice”.

    In a way, I suppose I should stop pretending that I am either a classical liberal or a modern one (as I disagree with them on so many issues), but actually more of (gasp) a conservative.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 18, 2006 @ 5:18 pm | Reply

  17. SmartBlkWoman wrote:

    The point I was trying to make was not about who is right or who is wrong, who is following the herd or who isn’t, but about who is willing to use the government to force everyone to do a certain thing and who isn’t.

    This makes better sense to me, at least if we’re still talking mostly about charitable behaviors. As to economic force (redistribution) or even force in general, well, that a whole different kettle of fish, which I’ll leave untouched for now.
    We had a thread (complete with discussion and comments) a few months ago about European vs. American social models, which I think goes to the heart of the liberal vs. conservative split, with the European socialists recast as the SmartBlkWoman’s liberal American forced redistributionists and the American free market capitalists as her conservatives. This is also related to an entry I threatened to write on market fundamentalism but haven’t yet had the time to do. It’s still percolating in the back of my brain, though. I’ve just got to get my household moved before I can sit, collect my thoughts, and compose my entry.

    Comment by Brutus — November 18, 2006 @ 5:24 pm | Reply

  18. Conservatives have more money and free time.

    Comment by Amanda Marcotte — November 18, 2006 @ 7:35 pm | Reply

  19. His work corrected for income, Amanda. A religious person of income level X tends to give more than a nonreligious person of income level X.

    As for free time, I suppose it is possible, but it doesn’t connect to the people I know. Have you any evidence for that contention?

    Comment by bobhayes — November 18, 2006 @ 7:41 pm | Reply

  20. If I had to guess, I’d say the explanation is probably that religious people are always getting hit up for money at church. And since they actually use the church’s services, and since the social pressure to tithe is stronger than the pressure to give to secular charities, it’s harder to say “no.”

    Comment by Brandon Berg — November 19, 2006 @ 1:21 am | Reply

  21. A reasonable hypothesis, but one which the author considers and discards as contradicted by the data. From the cite in comment #3:

    One might argue, for example, that religious charity is more likely to take place for non-altruistic reasons than is nonreligious giving and volunteering: Religious people might give because of social pressure, for personal gain (such as stashing away rewards in Heaven), or to finance the services that they themselves consume, such as sacramental activities. Therefore, disparities in charity might disappear when we only consider explicitly nonreligious giving and volunteering. The sccbs data do not support this hypothesis, however: Religious people are more generous than secular people with nonreligious causes as well as with religious ones. While 68 percent of the total population gives (and 51 percent volunteers) to nonreligious causes each year, religious people are 10 points more likely to give to these causes than secularists (71 percent to 61 percent) and 21 points more likely to volunteer (60 percent to 39 percent). For example, religious people are 7 points more likely than secularists to volunteer for neighborhood and civic groups, 20 points more likely to volunteer to help the poor or elderly, and 26 points more likely to volunteer for school or youth programs. It seems fair to say that religion engenders charity in general — including nonreligious charity.

    Comment by Robert — November 19, 2006 @ 5:02 am | Reply

  22. I think that Daran, in post #7, wins.

    The group of people who attend church weekly and the group of people who attend church very rarely (both those who have no religion and everyone else) are fundamentally not comparable groups on the level of civic and social involvement. One group has been selected to be exclusively those who have civic involvement, so the fact that they then score high for traits that demonstrate civic involvement is unsurprising.

    Regular church goers are generally a good proxy for religiously devout people, but not if the subject under study is civic involvement. Regular church goers are specifically the civically involved religiously devout. They need to be compared to people who are equally civically involved along one specific axis, or else church going needs to be replaced with a different proxy for religious devoutness (say, specific questions about religious belief and the personal importance of those religious beliefs).

    I suspect that people who declare that they have no religion but attend some sort of public event once a week or more also tend to score well above average in their other civic contributions (giving blood, contributions, etc).

    Comment by Charles S — November 19, 2006 @ 5:35 am | Reply

  23. Thank you, Charles. I was beginning to think everyone had missed my point.

    Comment by Daran — November 19, 2006 @ 6:32 am | Reply

  24. Yeah, I pretty much posted because I thought everyone had missed your point. I don’t think I really added much to your point, but I thought it worth restating, in the hope more people would notice it the second time around.

    Comment by Charles S — November 19, 2006 @ 7:44 am | Reply

  25. Daran’s hypothesis looks reasonable to me, but partisan bickering is also fun.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 19, 2006 @ 7:48 am | Reply

  26. Charles wrote:

    say, specific questions about religious belief and the personal importance of those religious beliefs

    Interestingly, that question was included on the questionnaire; people were asked to rate how important religious belief was to their life (“very important”, “somewhat important”, etc).

    Comment by Ampersand — November 19, 2006 @ 1:55 pm | Reply

  27. The Daran-Charles hypothesis seems possible. I suspect, however, that correcting for social activity would diminish but not eliminate the observed effect.

    Comment by Robert — November 19, 2006 @ 3:44 pm | Reply

  28. Professor Brooks has a public e-mail, and I’ve sent him a link to this thread and a request to discuss Daran’s point. So we’ll see!

    Comment by Robert — November 19, 2006 @ 4:00 pm | Reply

  29. Prof. Brooks responds via e-mail:

    The book has lots of material on relligiosity, measuring it in many ways, including how much effort people say they devote to their spiritual lives. So I’m pretty confident in the underlying religion-charity relationship.

    Looks like we’ll have to look at the research more directly in the book to figure this out independently, but he doesn’t think that the social effect explains the disparity.

    Comment by Robert — November 20, 2006 @ 1:09 am | Reply

  30. Robert quoting Prof. Brooks:

    The book has lots of material on relligiosity, measuring it in many ways, including how much effort people say they devote to their spiritual lives. So I’m pretty confident in the underlying religion-charity relationship.

    Take a sample of people chosen randomly from the population. Divide into two groups, according to whether the individual believes or does not believe in some deity or other. From the first group, the believers, select only the most enegetic, as evidenced by the effort they devote to their spritual lives. Call them “religious”. To the second group, add the idle slackers from the first group, and call them “secular”.

    Brooks may have measured religiosity in several different ways, but the two ways he describes both suffer from the same problem.

    Comment by Daran — November 20, 2006 @ 4:03 am | Reply

  31. Yes, I understand the concept, Daran. I simply don’t think that it is the entire explanation for the phenomenon.

    Comment by Robert — November 20, 2006 @ 4:42 am | Reply

  32. I think Daran is on the right track.

    But, this doesn’t entirely unwind the partisan aspect. This is because believers who attend church regularly are systemically more conservative than believers who do not attend church regularly. Indeed, church attendance is one of the better measures of partisan inclination.

    On the other hand, because this is basically a regression model, it does cast some real doubts on whether the samples of very liberal regular church goers, and very conservative secular people is really large enough to make meaningful comparisons of people alike in all respects except religiousity.

    Also, while it verges on a No True Scotsman fallacy, it could be that regular church goers who describe themselves as liberal in telephone surveys, and that non-regular church goers who describe themselves as conservative in telephone surveys, are really not very accurate in their self-descriptions.

    For example, I know that compared to the nation as a whole, I am definitely a liberal. But, if I’ve hung out with partisan political activists or Daily Kos bloggers for a while, I feel like a moderate and might reply that way to a survey.

    Comment by ohwilleke — November 20, 2006 @ 6:06 am | Reply

  33. I’m curious about the measure of generousity. Conservatives send their kids to Catholic schools and give generously to those schools, but vote against raising taxes for public schools. Liberals send their kids to public schools and support those schools with taxes. Both groups are acting in their own self-interest, but the author only regards the conservatives as being “generous.”

    Here’s a different measure: Choose a purpose for which generosity is required — reducing poverty, promoting health, promoting education, etc. Now look to see in which states these goals are best achieved by whatever means, public or private. And see how these states correlate with politics. I suspect you’ll find that the Blue states are better at achieving charitiable ends.

    Bob gives a charitable donation to help the poor, but votes to keep his taxes low. I vote to increase my taxes to help the poor, but may not give so much to United Way. Bob and I may differ in many respects, but it is not obvious to me that we differ in our generosity.

    Comment by nobody.really — November 22, 2006 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  34. Bob gives a charitable donation to help the poor, but votes to keep his taxes low. I vote to increase my taxes to help the poor, but may not give so much to United Way. Bob and I may differ in many respects, but it is not obvious to me that we differ in our generosity.

    I think I know how Bob would reply.

    He’d say you were being very generous with other people’s money.

    Comment by Daran — November 22, 2006 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  35. Conservatives send their kids to Catholic schools and give generously to those schools, but vote against raising taxes for public schools. Liberals send their kids to public schools and support those schools with taxes.

    Was supporting the school the singular measure here?
    What about liberals and public schools — Is there a difference between liberals and conservatives in that aspect, adjusted for parental income (obviously poor people make heavy use of public schools).

    Now look to see in which states these goals are best achieved by whatever means, public or private.

    The ends may justify the means in some cases, but it’s hardly charity.

    Bob gives a charitable donation to help the poor, but votes to keep his taxes low. I vote to increase my taxes to help the poor, but may not give so much to United Way.

    So you can vote about your taxes without affecting those of others on your income bracket?

    He’d say you were being very generous with other people’s money.

    He would be (half) right. (As obviously, also n.r’s taxes are affected).

    Comment by Tuomas — November 22, 2006 @ 2:48 pm | Reply

  36. The ends may justify the means in some cases, but it’s hardly charity.

    And THAT may be the real issue: liberals care about achieving benefits for people who need them, and are less concerned with the purity of people’s hearts; conservatives care about the purity of people’s hearts, and are less concerned with achieving benefits for people in need.

    Thus to Tuomas, voting to create a government programs that benefit people isn’t being generous, but donating money to charities – even if those charities are less effective than government programs – is being generous. I don’t share this view.

    Comment by nobody.really — November 22, 2006 @ 4:38 pm | Reply

  37. Thus to Tuomas, voting to create a government programs that benefit people isn’t being generous, but donating money to charities – even if those charities are less effective than government programs – is being generous. I don’t share this view.

    Why? I thought you didn’t care about purity of heart.

    Comment by Tuomas — November 22, 2006 @ 5:21 pm | Reply


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

%d bloggers like this: