Features

Money, time, blood

"Money, time, blood" Continued...

Issue: "Looking at India," Dec. 9, 2006

BROOKS: Numerous studies by economists over the past decade have demonstrated that a dollar in government spending on nonprofit activities directly displaces between 25 and 50 cents in private giving. The highest level of this "crowding out" occurs in assistance to the poor and other kinds of social welfare services-including to religious organizations-indicating that government social spending for the needy benefits recipients, but only by about half its face value. While less than a full-blown indictment of the usefulness of public money, it still means that the true effects of government assistance are weaker than government officials and nonprofit proponents think they are.

WORLD: How do you deal with the New York Times argument that the share of contributions going to organizations helping the poor has fallen?

BROOKS: That argument makes it sound as if people were donating less and less to causes that help America's poor. However, that's not true. First, the inflation-adjusted, per-capita amount given by Americans to human service charities was 14 percent higher in 2004 than it was in 1960. Second, over the same period, the percentage of the American population living in poverty fell by half, and the amount of real federal government payments to the poor increased by more than 500 percent. In other words, there still is need in the U.S., but it has clearly decreased over the last 50 years-while private charity to alleviate this need has not.

WORLD: Europeans tend to lecture U.S. residents about "American individualism" that purportedly leads to selfishness. Do Europeans or Americans tend to be more personally charitable?

BROOKS: We do hear this criticism frequently: Americans are consumerists, capitalists, individualists, and thus uninterested in the good of others. But this assertion falls apart when exposed to even the smallest bit of evidence. In per capita private charity, Americans give three and a half times as much as the French, seven times as much as the Germans, and 14 times as much as the Italians. To give an idea how much Americans give, consider the fact that American annual charitable giving exceeds the entire GDP of many European countries, such as Norway and Denmark. Of course, Europeans often note that they have more generous government welfare systems than America. That's mostly true, but should not be confused with giving. Government welfare and private charity are very different things.

WORLD: Do children raised in religious households or secular ones tend to be the most charitable?

BROOKS: People who were taken to church every week as kids are 22 percentage points more likely to give charitably as adults than people who were never taken to a house of worship when they were young. The effect of childhood church attendance is clear even among those who fall away from their faith as adults: Secularist adults who were taken to church every week as children are 21 percentage points more likely to give than those who were brought up in secular households. From my perspective, this is one way that religion appears to create beneficial "hardwiring" in people. I intend to do more work on this topic because I think it is so important for understanding the deep benefits of religion in American society, and the long-term costs of a secularizing society.

WORLD: Should the government create more incentives to be charitable? If so, what kind do you think would work best?

BROOKS: Policies such as tax-deductibility for contributions are sensible, but they will never create a population of givers. On the other hand, government at its worst can create massive damage when it creates the perception that there is less need for private charity. The most effective government efforts for private giving would probably be just to avoid regulatory barriers and financial disincentives.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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