Friday, November 6, 2009

Wise Public Policy Frees the American Spirit

During a recession, there is much less money in circulation than there was before. That's what a shrinking economy means. Fewer people have jobs. People spend less. Governments have revenue shortfalls. But non-profit organizations, everything from local churches (which depend entirely on giving) to big universities (which have large endowments to carry them), also suffer a decrease in contributions.

These circumstances make it all the more useful to learn what three sociologists from Rice and Notre Dame universities have discovered regarding American giving patterns, particularly among churchgoers. In Passing the Plate: Why American Christians Don't Give Away More Money (Oxford UP, 2008), Michael O. Emerson (sociology professor at Rice University), Christian Smith (sociology professor at the University of Notre Dame), and Patricia Snell (Notre Dame religion and sociology researcher) have that, "When it comes to sharing their money, most contemporary American Christians are remarkably ungenerous."

Fifty percent of American who do not attend church give nothing to charity.

Twenty percent of American Christians give nothing to charity.

Regular churchgoers give two percent.

Nine percent of self-identified Christians give ten percent or more of their after-tax income to charity.

Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more.

As real income have risen in the last one hundred years, giving as a percentage of income has declined.

The poor are more generous in their giving than the rich.
Compare these two figures: "Regular churchgoers give two percent" and "Twenty-three percent of active Protestant church attenders give ten percent or more." This appears to indicate a significant difference between Protestant and Catholic giving. I suspect that most of the giving in those Protestant churches is from Evangelicals, including Evangelicals in the old mainline churches.

Clearly, there are many people who simply will not give to charity, regardless of how much money they have. I recall that when Al Gore's tax statements were released during the 2000 campaign, we discovered that he gave a miniscule amount to charity out of his ample income. Liberals, it seems, don't believe in private giving. They believe in establishing generous though inefficient and generally ineffective government programs. People with lower incomes are more generous in their giving, as these reports confirm.

The last fact calls to mind the 2006 book, Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism, by Arthur C. Brooks, the Louis A. Bantle Professor of Business and Government Policy at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and Whitman School of Management, and president of the American Enterprise Institute.

But there are others who give regardless of their income, but who would give more if their income weren't so squeezed under the burden of having to pay for bloated government programs, including government schools. If taxes were lower, including property taxes (on Long Island, you can pay $10,000 a year on a middle to lower middle class home), people would give more money to private charities which are far more responsive to what I would call "neighbor needs" and far more effective at bringing remedies. Marvin Olasky's The Tragedy of American Compassion is the classic study on this point.

John Fund, when he spoke here at The King's College the other day, told us that occasionally he will ask a liberal audience the following question. If you received a million dollars for some reason, and you wanted to give away ten percent to a worthy charitable work, raise your hand if you would give it to your local welfare office. In all the years he has been asking this question, only three people have raised their hands. One person was just hard of hearing, and otherwise would not have raised her hand. One person was Swedish. The third person worked in a local welfare office.
Freeing the world-transforming energy of the American spirit, which is powerfully informed by the Spirit of Christ in many of those Americans, entails lowering taxes not only to spur business enterprise and technological innovation, but also to release the imaginative and vigorous charitable giving and labors of a citizenry already inclined to serve one another directly, personally, and sacrificially.

1 comment:

Chris J. said...

While intriguing, I wonder if the numbers would add up. If taxes were reduced, would the increase in charitable giving be enough to compensate. I imagine that the percentages of charitable giving in relation to population and income would not change much, so the question is whether the increased income for those who do give would be enough to cover for the lack of government social services.
I am not a big believer in the ability of the government to efficiently use funds, but I also know that even among Christians charitable giving is woefully inadequate. The simple truth is that if they aren't giving now, they probably won't give even if they have more money. I wish it were otherwise.