Skylar Burris's Reviews > Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism -- America's Charity Divide--Who Gives, Who Doesn't, and Why It Matters

Who Really Cares by Arthur C. Brooks
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Nov 09, 2010

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bookshelves: politics, sociology
Read in April, 2010

It's not surprising (at least to me) that conservatives (and in particular religious conservatives) contribute more money to charities (both religious AND non-religious), volunteer more time to the service of others, and donate more blood than do liberals (and in particular secular liberals).

It seems to me logical that when one's political philosophy is that the government should provide for people, that one would be less inclined to help people directly oneself.

It also seems logical to me that when one's political philosophy is that the private individual and the private sector accomplishes things better than the government does, that one would be more inclined to help people through private means.

The fact that conservatives out-donate liberals in time, money, and even blood, however, apparently comes as a revelation to many, and so this book lays out, in full statistical clarity, "the surprising truth." The goal of the author is, in part, I believe, to encourage liberals to step up to the plate and starting giving more money to charity.

The statistics of course reflect broad categories and have nothing to say of any specific individual within a category.

The book is interesting in parts but rather dry over all. It would probably be of most interest to people who work for non-profit organizations or to conservatives who are tired of the stereotype that conservatives oppose the welfare state and the social security boondoggle and the tangled web of universal healthcare because they just don’t care if old people and children die in the street.
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message 1: by Sas (new)

Sas Hi Skylar,

Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if this were true but I'm curious about how the stats on this are collected. I'm quite sure that I have never been asked my religion or political affiliation, when making a donation of time, money or blood. I assume the data was collected through surveys?


Skylar Burris He uses data from many sources, including religious and secular charities (who conduct surveys in the course of researching who gives and how to get more!), government organizations, and non-partisan research groups. (He does not conduct his own surveys.) The author was a political liberal most of his life but is now an independent.

Also interesting – the two most generous groups are the rich and the working poor (with the working poor giving more as a percentage of income than the rich) – while the middle-class gives the least.

The single greatest predictor of high giving was regular religious participation (defined as attending a house of worship at least once a week – which is true of about 30% of the population)– and this was not limited to giving to their religious institutions, but takes into consideration non-religious causes, volunteer time, and blood as well.

Political affiliation did not have as much impact on giving as religious participation. That is, religious liberals give about as much as religious conservatives, it’s just that liberals on average are less likely to be religious. Secular liberals give the least of any group.

Americans also tend to give much more (as a percentage of income; not just in whole dollars) than other developed countries via private charity.

It’s interesting, but, as I said, a general picture that says nothing of any particular individual. I'm not sure how it would be useful, exactly. His main point seems to be to encourage secular liberals to give more.


message 3: by Sas (new)

Sas Skylar wrote:
"religious liberals give about as much as religious conservatives, it’s just that liberals on average are less likely to be religious. Secular liberals give the least of any group."

It doesn't surprise me that people who are affiliated with a congregation are more likely to donate than those not affiliated, simply because charity or tzedakah is a central tenet of most faiths, so if you're an active participant in your faith, it stands to reason that you're going to be charitable.

What I don't get however, is how the authors statistics can be accurate. I give to both religious and secular organizations and not one has ever inquired about my religious or political affiliation. Does the author surmise that if a donation is made to a Christian charity, the donor must be Christian? I have actually answered a survey for secular charity but was never asked my religion. They wanted to know what type of appeal was most effective in my case, ie. an e-mail vs. a letter vs. a phone call. Am I more likely to donate in the spring, summer or fall? That type of thing.

I should pick up the book and see what he says...


message 4: by Skylar (last edited Nov 20, 2010 04:48AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Skylar Burris There are surveys that ask political and religious affiliation and about charitable giving. They ask pretty specifically about religious affiliation - getting at attendance. I don't believe I've ever taken such a survey either. Like most surveys, they ask say 20,000 people (in a country of millions) and extrapolate from there. This is how sociological research works.

Any of these books or articles that claims such a such a percentage of Americans says, does, or believes x really only has data on a sample. But in sociological research, the sample sizes of the data he uses is considered quite large and representative and he uses multiple studies for trends/cross-verification.

These surveys are pretty specific too. They don’t just ask religious affiliation, but, how often do you attend a house of worship? (When he says “religious” people far and away give the most money, he defines “religious” as people who attend a house of worship at least once a week.) It doesn’t just ask political affiliation, but more specific questions on political philosophy.

You’ll be happy to know that, according to sociological research, liberals are smarter than conservatives on average. Again, one is left with those questions –where are they getting this data from? I’ve never been asked my political affiliation while taking an IQ test. It’s all sample surveys. How accurate that is remains open to debate (we must consider also that people may lie on surveys), but it’s the way most sociological research is done.

Here his results make logical sense to me. If you’re told regularly that God Almighty wants you to give, and you believe it, you’ll give more. If you think that, in general, it’s the government’s responsibility to give and that the government works better than the private sector, you’re less likely to give to private charities and more likely to rely on the government to supply that “public good” than people who think the private sector is far better at charity. Etc. So I didn’t see anything shocking in here, not really even the fact that the middle-class gives less in comparison to the rich and working poor. The poor, to give at all, must give a lot as a percentage of income, since they’re poor. The rich can easily afford to give a lot. The middle-class is in an economic middle position, and thus they’re giving reflects that. He also suggested that the working poor give more because they see themselves as potentially needing charity more themselves one day than the middle-class does, and there may be something to that – people are more generous when they’ve “been there” or can easily see themselves in someone else’


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