Home  |   Jihad Watch  |   Horowitz  |   Archive  |   Columnists  |     DHFC  |  Store  |   Contact  |   Links  |   Search Friday, March 23, 2018
FrontPageMag Article
Write Comment View Comments Printable Article Email Article
Who Really Cares? By: Jamie Glazov
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Frontpage Interview’s guest today is Arthur C. Brooks, Professor of Public Administration and Director of the Nonprofit Studies Program at Syracuse University 's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs. In 2007, he will be a Visiting Scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Brooks earned his PhD in Public Policy Analysis from the Rand Graduate School in 1998, and also holds an MA and BA in economics. He is a regular contributor to The Wall Street Journal's editorial page. His latest book is Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism.

Preview Image

FP: Arthur C. Brooks, welcome to Frontpage Interview.

Brooks: Thanks very much. It's a pleasure to be with you.

FP: What inspired you to write this book?

Brooks: For years I did research on the economics of charity and philanthropy, looking at important -- but fairly dry -- topics like tax deductibility. The trouble was, I always felt I was missing the real story about why people give. When I discussed giving with donors, they never talked about their taxes; they talked about their values. I saw that I needed to investigate giving as a cultural issue, and that's what this book does. It asks who is really giving in America , and why. As a result of what I found, my views on charity have changed a lot.

FP: So how do myths about charity in America differ from reality?

Brooks: The biggest myth about charity today stems from the stereotype that conservatives are less compassionate than liberals. Here in Syracuse , New York , the most popular campaign sign before the 2004 presidential election proclaimed, "Bush Must Go! Human Need, not Corporate Greed." Now, keep in mind that New York was not a state in play in the election (Bush lost the state by more than a million votes), so this was nothing more than a moral statement about Bush and his supposedly-selfish supporters.

Conservatives are less supportive than liberals of government income redistribution, which is typically how progressives define economic compassion. (Conservatives, we should note, often argue that redistribution is not compassionate when it leads to dependency by recipients, but that's another story.) But another -- perhaps more obvious -- measure of compassion is private, voluntary sacrifice: charity. And conservatives tend to give more, not less, than liberals and moderates. For example, one major survey from the year 2000 showed that the average conservative-headed household in America gave 30% more money to charity than the average liberal household, despite earning, on average, 6% less in income.

This said, the evidence shows that the charity gap between conservatives and liberals is not a function of politics per se -- being a conservative by itself doesn't make somebody virtuous -- it is the values and culture typically associated with a conservative worldview: especially religion and attitudes about the government's role in our lives.


FP: I have always noticed that leftists like to talk a lot about the importance of the redistribution of wealth but that they themselves have a big problem redistributing their own wealth. Can you talk a bit about the pathology that lurks between the discrepancy between leftists' social criticism and the ingredients of their private lives?


Brooks:  The data do in fact show that people who think the government should redistribute income and wealth give a lot less, privately, than do people who not believe this. For example, in 1996, people who said the government should not take greater measures than at present to reduce income inequality gave, on average, four times as much money to charity each year as those who believed the government should equalize incomes more.

I think this charity gap comes down to a difference in how the two groups see the rights and responsibilities of individuals. Conservatives believe that everything starts with individual behavior; liberals often view large groups as the only effective vehicle for meaningful social progress. Sometimes, this translates into a neglect for private voluntary action on the left, and a focus instead on laws and regulations which apply to huge groups.

There is an old joke, that a socialist is a man who loves humanity in groups of one million and above. That's unfairly harsh, of course -- there are lots and lots of charitable liberals out there. But it's pretty amusing nonetheless.


FP: Absolutely, the Left depersonalizes real people and individuals. It pretends it loves humanity as a whole, but when it comes to really caring for and loving the individual up close, leftists are, in my own personal experience, frighteningly callous and indifferent.


So, in other words, Conservatives believe more in the value of personal generosity, correct? Because they believe in big government and little (or no) individual responsibility, leftists are more prone to seeing human suffering and getting upset that something isn’t being done by someone else (i.e. the government) about it, rather than doing something themselves as individuals about it.


And, let’s be honest, socialism is based on theft anyway. The people who believe in stealing from others who have earned wealth to give it to those who haven’t aren’t really going to be the kind of people who are symbols of personal generosity.


Just provoking a bit of discussion here to get some more wisdom from you. What do you say?


Brooks: I think many conservatives simply find it easier than liberals to give privately because they have more opportunities to give in their daily lives, and have had the importance of charity wired into them throughout their lives. I'm talking about religion, of course: Conservatives are much likelier to practice a religion than liberals are, and this gap is widening, not narrowing. (Presently, there are about three times more religious conservatives in America than there are religious liberals.) Houses of worship are great for stimulating both the supply and demand for charity -- and not just religious charity; secular charity as well. Religious folks -- irrespective of the actual religion, incidentally -- give far more time and money than secularists to all kinds of charities, including to totally secular causes like the United Way or the PTA. The data on this point are just stunning.

And as we have discussed, it is also true that conservatives generally have a more individualistic worldview than most liberals do, which is good for stimulating private service to others. (Incidentally, I'm working on a new book right now on happiness. It appears that this individualistic worldview is quite important for life satisfaction, and part of the reason conservatives tend to be happier than liberals.)

None of this is destiny, of course. Many liberals -- especially religious liberals -- take individual responsibility very seriously and give as much as religious conservatives do. In addition, there are plenty of conservatives who, despite the giving culture, are not generous. In fact, the least charitable group in America today is made up of secular conservatives, although this fact doesn't hurt the overall conservative giving stats much because this group is relatively small. But in general, the biggest giving challenge is on the political left today, in my view -- particularly as the left continues to secularize and advocate government income redistribution. This is something progressive leaders need to take very seriously if they wish to avoid a widening (and unnecessary) political charity gap.

FP: Why does it matter whether Americans give to charity or not?
Brooks: One of the most exciting areas of research in economics and psychology looks at the benefits of giving to givers themselves, as well as their communities and our nation as a whole. There is strong evidence -- detailed in my book -- that these benefits are just enormous. In a nutshell, giving makes us richer, happier, and healthier than we would be if we didn't give. Givers are more effective in their jobs after they give; they are happier and feel more in control; they are better citizens; they even suffer less from physical and psychological ailments. In point of fact, voluntary charity is a major source of American strength and vitality. Giving is not just about the time and money charities get -- it is also crucially about what we all get because we and our neighbors are givers.

This has big implications. For example, we displace privately-funded charities with government programs at our peril. Not that there is no role for government spending on certain activities, but private giving has no substitute, and we need to protect and nurture it. Ralph Nader once said, "A society that has a more justice is a society that needs less charity." This stems from the common misconception that charity is just about cash, so the government might as well just raise taxes and pay for everything.


FP: Is it worth it in academia to write a book that is "subversive"?

Brooks: I've been told that this book is a bit subversive indeed. But I think it's part of my job, especially as a full professor with tenure, to question assumptions and follow the evidence where I believe it leads. When academics don't question our assumptions, we are doing society a tremendous disservice. We are a privileged, protected class of professional thinkers. This system can be abused, as we all know, but it can also be used for good, when we try and uncover hard truths in the data, and carry knowledge forward.

Of course, there is a prevailing political and social ideology in academia that we all know about, and doing research that goes against the established dogma can sometimes be a little disconcerting. It doesn't necessarily provoke a lot of high-fives around the office. But honest inquiry and academic freedom are not about being part of the academic amen corner.


FP: I can tell you that when I was doing my doctorate in academia I was quite open about being a Conservative and the fact that Ronald Reagan was my favorite president.


You can just imagine the reception I received.


I was, to put it mildly, shunned, ostracized and made into a non-person by many in the academic establishment. Not that I cared in the least, because those aren’t the friends I seek anyway. But that was the reality.


In my own experience, leftists make friends according to how people fit into the structure of their ideas, not according to what they like about people themselves. Look at the long list of ex-leftists who were abandoned by their communities after they changed their politics.


What is your experience? Do you think you might lose some friends over this? Might you be hurt in some other way in academia?


Brooks: The book is brand new, so the full effect remains to be seen. Wish me luck! The Wall Street Journal called it a "tidy time-bomb of a book," which I loved, but which made me think I had best run away before it blows up.

Seriously, though, I have no doubt I'll be harangued here and there. I've already had the experience of showing up to give a scholarly talk at a university, and finding a few folks looking for a fight before I even open my mouth because I'm supposedly a right-winger. But that sort of thing is simply a cost of doing business if I want to do work that has an impact on the national conversation.

I'm lucky to be stationed at a university where the leadership is supportive of my work. Also, I sit in a school of public policy, which tends to be a less ideologically-rigid environment than many other parts of academia. In fact, most of today's top policy schools are making noises about taking all reasonable worldviews more seriously -- even those of conservatives and religious people. We haven't achieved anything like "balance" yet, but I think it is probably getting less scary for grad students and junior faculty to do policy-oriented research that doesn't support a particular political or social agenda. Academic entrepreneurs and sincere scholars on both the left and right need to push this progress along, and to help it spread around the academy.

FP: What do you hope this book will achieve?

Brooks: I really hope this book will do two things. First, I hope people will read it, examine their own giving, and give more as a result -- for everyone's good, including their own. Second, I hope researchers will see this book as a conversation-starter and undertake new work on charity. This book is not the last word on these issues by any means; there is a lot more research to be done. Some of that might come to different conclusions than mine, and that's fine. We need more thinking about charity from all perspectives.


FP: Arthur Brooks, thank you for joining us.

Brooks: It's been a pleasure. Happy New Year to you and FrontPage's readers.


Click Here to support Frontpagemag.com.

Jamie Glazov is Frontpage Magazine's editor. He holds a Ph.D. in History with a specialty in Russian, U.S. and Canadian foreign policy. He is the author of Canadian Policy Toward Khrushchev’s Soviet Union and is the co-editor (with David Horowitz) of The Hate America Left. He edited and wrote the introduction to David Horowitz’s Left Illusions. His new book is United in Hate: The Left's Romance with Tyranny and Terror. To see his previous symposiums, interviews and articles Click Here. Email him at jglazov@rogers.com.

We have implemented a new commenting system. To use it you must login/register with disqus. Registering is simple and can be done while posting this comment itself. Please contact gzenone [at] horowitzfreedomcenter.org if you have any difficulties.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Home | Blog | Horowitz | Archives | Columnists | Search | Store | Links | CSPC | Contact | Advertise with Us | Privacy Policy

Copyright©2007 FrontPageMagazine.com