Monday, December 03, 2007


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Review by QiN-Hombre

Who Really Cares
America's Charity Divide

2006 Basic Books

"Not to be a socialist* at twenty is proof of want of heart; to be one at thirty is proof of want of head."
French Premier Georges Clemenceau (1841-1929)

Does the author ask us a question in the title of his book?
If so, the answer I’d like to suggest is:

Those who have a heart and a head.

Proof is relevant in this book. The author, Arthur C. Brooks, a self-proclaimed political liberal proved his previous inclination wrong – that liberals must surely give more to charity than conservatives. He proved himself wrong by looking at facts, or data about the act of voluntary giving to charity – which he equates to really caring. (Giving by re-distributing income through taxes is not voluntary, in his own intuitive definition.)

Politically conservative religious people statistically give more to charity than politically liberal secular people. Brooks says that the mere belief, or political opinion, of liberal people that the government ‘should’ re-distribute income through forced taxation, reduces the giving behavior of these individuals, or at least this group of individuals.

Republicans are also statistically ‘happier’ than Democrats, he says, based on evidence he’s found in the data. Brooks cites 10 empirical studies which he shares in the appendix of his 2006 book to support his hypotheses.

He goes one step further. Not only are conservatives wealthier and happier for some unknown reason - the voluntarily giving of time and money to charity, which conservatives do more than liberals - makes them even happier, more exposed to opportunity, and hence more successful. He likens this phenomenon, as a sort of social / individual self-propelled continuous feedback loop. He takes association one step further and shows causality. Read it for yourself and see if you agree.

Brooks’ thesis, weaved in a common thread throughout the book, is not who cares - which I think we all do mostly – but who gives, and how much. The overriding factor Brooks keeps coming back to is that religious people are more apt to voluntarily give the most. Religious people have more children (itself a charitble act) and they give more to both religious and secular charities than non-religious people. Relgious people also teach their children charitable giving by their example and the practice of giving is shown to be passed on through generations. Brooks also says that religious people statistically tend to be politically conservative. Of course, it’s not true in every case, or possibly in the case of YOU.

So, just in time for the U.S. Presidential Primaries and for the day called ‘Christmas’ which cometh shortly, we might take a moment now to look at giving to others, through charity, both secular and religious and what your politics might have to do with your giving behavior. After all, Brooks was writing about those who are one of various sub-groups of people. I’m writing to YOU.

I recently wrote an essay, ‘What the Quaker Faith Costs YOU’, in which the use of 'YOU' was deliberately provocative, in that Friends mostly try not to focus on individuals - their merits or their faults. I’ve experienced liberal urban Quaker meetings where operating budgets and committee rosters have not been met with sufficient giving. The conundrum of what and how meetings should ask for money and for time just keeps cycling around and around – broken. Who Really Cares may be an affirmation of what I’ve experienced, or it might also have important news for THEE, Friend.

My message in any future segments of ‘What the Quaker Faith Costs YOU’ is what the giver – YOU - to your Quaker Meeting, as long as YOU and your Meeting have done the hard work of putting the correct numbers on each budget expense line - will receive spiritually, and possibly materially, for the giving or the self-sacrifice YOU have made. If Brooks is right, your own experience might mirror what the data told him about who gives and how much.

The quote in the beginning of this review should speak to the urban, baby-boomer hippie generation, liberal-leaning adult-children I've mostly experienced who call themselves Quakers. Quakers once called themselves ‘Children of the Light’, as Christ asks us to receive the Kingdom of Heaven like a little child, or one will never enter it.

But how much do children share things on their own? Can we have the heart of a child and have the head of an adult at the same time? I alluded to some difficulty in my own life when I was 20, to achieve this kind of integrity in a previous essay - 'The Costs of the Quaker Faith'.

When will Quakers begin to behave as a responsible, thinking and caring adults and start to give more? How can YOU possibly get off the treadmill and place yourself on the playground jungle-gym feedback loop of giving and receiving? Do you think if you did, you would start being happier, wealthier, more community-connected, harder working, more religious, more politically active, more productive and successful?

Why not try? I think the answer is right in front of us. Give. Give a little more. Get involved. Get more involved.

I wholeheartedly recommend this book to those who would like to connect more vibrantly to one’s religious faith, and investigate how their own giving might be the key that unlocks the door to meaningful spiritual growth - true spiritual growth which is rooted in this material world.

One last assurance. For Democrats, the future is unknown, in terms of whether the party will reverse polarity in voluntary giving to charity in the future. It has happened in the past in the U.S., when Republicans were liberal, and Democrats, were…not.
This book review has an interesting link to the previous book review - God's Name in Vain. Brooks doesn't ask, but I inject here: What if our government stops being something that equitably re-distributes income to those who have less?
Studies show that giving behavior stops when those who simply 'have the opinion' that the government 'should' give. Giving also stops when the poor who do not work receive government aid (vs. the working poor who actually give more than the middle class).
What if the reflex of giving behavior is lost and the future government turns into, by evolution or revolution, something we don't like? Like in the struggle of Church vs. State in the previous review, what if the government assumes all the functions of religion, non-profit and volunteer community organizations, which are heavily dependent on voluntary charity?
Larger issues aside, maybe you should focus on YOU. The change in order to save the world, might just begin with thee.

* Ironically, ‘republican’ was used instead of ‘socialist’
when the quote was originally coined. The phrase originated
with Francois Guisot (1787-1874) and French Premier Georges
Clemenceau (1841-1929) later used ‘socialist’.