Giving Back and Helping Others-A Look At Ourselves

As we close the year, people often give though to taxes and year end charitable giving. As we do, Thinking Man couldn’t help but ponder the topic. And because, after all, we do talk about ‘politics’, we talk about charitable giving and helping those less fortunate among us in the context of the ongoing debate that we have in our country about social programs, and how much the government should spend on programs to help low income individuals and families. A broad generalization, which admittedly leaves out very important details such as the effectiveness of social programs and their social effects, is that liberals tend to favor more spending on social ‘safety net’ programs that give money to the lower income or disadvantaged while conservatives tend to not want to spend as much as liberals on those programs.

Part of the premise of ‘Thinking Man’s Politics’ is to think and not to give attention to blind rhetoric or political ‘talking points’. To get answers, and answers that work we much think for ourselves and to find what’s best no matter which side of the political spectrum it comes from or who is in favor of an idea. So, Thinking Man wanted to use data to examine the intersection of those topics-does a certain political belief or perspective indicate a level of compassion, at least as indicated by personal charitable giving. And so the following is a summary of parts of that discussion: of where charity-specifically personal donations to charity- comes from and who gives the most to others. (In examining the issue, several sources have been used, including IRS data from 2012-admitedly a bit dated but it’s what was readily available and compiled).

First, in looking at geography we can look at rankings of all the states in regard to their levels of personal charitable giving. When we do, we find that the ‘most charitable’ fifteen states are all states in the South or the Mormon West (Utah, Idaho), in addition to Oklahoma and South Dakota.  When looking at the same rankings, states such as California, Massachusetts and Vermont which tend to vote more politically liberal are all in the bottom ten of giving as a percentage of income.

In one study, researchers asked respondents about whom they had financial information to describe their political beliefs. Among these, self-described conservatives had 6% lower incomes than self-described liberals-as a group liberals earned more. However, conservatives, who tend to advocate for lower level of government social spending, personally give roughly 30% more to charities than their liberal counterparts.

And when we look at religion, we find data that may not be surprising but, in some ways, may be quite surprising. Religious people, defined for this purpose as those who say they attend religious services 27-52 times a year, give more than four times more to charity than those who are not religious. That probably isn’t surprising since much of the money given to charity by ‘religious people’ are given to religious organizations and charities. What is surprising is that among the total populations, 15% more religious people give to secular/non-religious charities than do non-religious people. Additionally, among those populations that give to secular charities, religious people give 20% more money to those secular/non-religious charities.

So what does all this mean? A lot of things. Most obviously, it means that stereotypes aren’t true and don’t apply when it comes to who ‘cares more’ about the poor or disadvantaged or other ways of ‘giving back’.

It says something about religion. Clearly, the moral compass that religion must tend to build in the religious individual influences how they feel about ‘giving back’. The evidence is so overwhelming that there seems to leave little room for debate. Whether those religious beliefs are right or wrong, the evidence suggests that religious people give overwhelming more even to non-religious causes than the non-religious.

It also says that self-described conservatives are not ‘heartless and ‘don’t care about the poor’. They say you can judge a person’s priorities by where they put their money and data shows that conservatives aren’t not lagging those of other political persuasions in personal charitable giving. By giving of money outside of that which is required (by taxes), conservatives are the most generous. And that same line of thinking probably also applies in looking at geography and how those regions tend to fall on the political spectrum. Those that tend to vote more politically conservative are the most personally generous. Conversely, those states that probably are the most liberal are among the bottom in terms of personal income given to charity.


Among other conclusions that could be drawn, the most clear cut is one that says that–as is so often the case–political talking points and accusations about compassion aren’t valid. That is not necessarily to say that liberals or non-religious people aren’t as compassionate. But, at a minimum, it says the political disagreements on the topic may be more about the role of government and about whether government is effective at solving problems of the poor and whether the broad way they are administered can build a class of dependency that hurts society.

So when you hear blather about people of this political belief want poor people to starve or don’t care about others if they ‘have their own’, you can chock it up to unintelligent ramblings of talking points. There is no data that supports such stupid ramblings. Now, let’s all go and take one last opportunity this year to give to others who may be in need.

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