Monday, March 31, 2008
A provocative op-ed piece in today's New York Times suggests that charitable giving decreases to the extent potential givers believe their giving will inure to the benefit of persons of different races:
Americans are not less generous than Europeans. When private charities are included, they probably spend more money for social purposes than Europeans do. But philanthropy allows them to target spending on those they personally believe are deserving, instead of allowing the government to choose. Mr. Glaeser’s and Mr. Alesina’s work suggests that white Europeans support a big welfare state because they believe the money will probably go to other white Europeans. In America, the Harvard economist Erzo F. P. Luttmer found that support for social spending among respondents to General Social Survey polls increased in tandem with the share of welfare recipients in the area who were in their own racial group. A study of charity by Daniel Hungerman, a Notre Dame economist, found that all-white congregations become less charitably active as the share of black residents in the local community grows.
I think Richard Delgado, late of the University of Pittsburgh School of Law, now headed to Seattle University School of Law, has written on the "cut your nose off to spite your face" phenomenon.
In an editorial published last Thursday, George Will made the case that "bleeding hearts" are all talk and no action. His thesis is that there is more compassion in conservatism than there is in liberalism.
While conservatives tend to regard giving as a personal rather than governmental responsibility, some liberals consider private charity a retrograde phenomenon -- a poor palliative for an inadequate welfare state and a distraction from achieving adequacy by force, by increasing taxes. Ralph Nader, running for president in 2000, said: "A society that has more justice is a society that needs less charity." Brooks, however, warns: "If support for a policy that does not exist . . . substitutes for private charity, the needy are left worse off than before. It is one of the bitterest ironies of liberal politics today that political opinions are apparently taking the place of help for others."
Some scholars, of course, argue that humans are incapable of true altruism. Instead, they give for self-fulfilling reasons, including efforts to assuage their own guilt. Just a thought.