January 22, 2009

don’t be so tight

Posted in giving, money, politics, stuff I think about tagged , , at 11:28 am by weiszguy

Here’s an article from Arthur Brooks about giving patterns among people across the political spectrum

People who said they were “very conservative” gave 4.5% of their income to charity, on average; “conservatives” gave 3.6%; “moderates” gave 3%; “liberals” gave 1.5%; and “very liberal” folks gave 1.2%.

The central point of this article is that conservatives give more of their income to charity than liberals do.  But although I’m proud that conservatives outgive liberals in general, I’m still a little appalled by the low numbers.  The most generous group in this survey still only gives 4.5% of their income.  There’s no reason this number shouldn’t be twice as big.  10% is not just a conveniently round number that happens to be espoused by most religions, it’s a significantly large enough portion of your income that you’ll probably have to give something up in order to give that much.  You’re telling the charity you’re concerned enough about their mission to delay a little of your own gratification.  Giving 10% is a stretching exercise that will help you focus on needs outside of yourself, help you learn satisfaction with what you have, and chip away at the greedy portions of your heart and soul.

Economists measure the “income elasticity of giving” to predict how much people change their giving in response to a particular percentage change in their income. It turns out the response in 2008 was dramatically different for left and right. For instance, a 10% decrease in family income for a conservative was associated with a 10% decrease in giving. The same income decrease for a liberal family led to a 16% giving drop. In other words, if this relationship continues to hold, the recession will almost certainly exacerbate the giving differences between left and right.

It stands to reason that when your income goes down, your giving (as a dollar amount) should also go down.  But giving a proportionately smaller amount of money just because you’re making less just sounds greedy.  Being generous and giving profusely doesn’t seem like an option to me. As human beings, we have a moral obligation to help those around us.  There is absolutely nothing to be gained by holding on to every last dime, except possibly some temporary material comforts and the smug satisfaction of an overly inflated bank account.

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