Real Charity

It’s a common narrative in many elections, and this year is no exception. Democrats care about the poor; Republicans do not. Progressives are concerned about those who have less; conservatives only care about the rich. It’s been stated so many times, many have come to believe it.

Then come periodic studies on actual charitable giving – you know, the kind where people actually give their own money instead of relying on the government. Turns out the oppositie may be true.

The latest is a recent report from The Chronicle of Philanthropy showing that those in many “red states” give more as a percentage of their income than in many “blue states.” For example, the eight highest states in their ranking (those that gave the most as a share of income) went for John McCain in the 2008 presidential election. The seven lowest ranking states went for President Obama. See this chart for the details.

This is nothing new. Back in 2004, I wrote a column noting a similar study with similar results. Back then, all of the top 25 states that gave the most in relation to their average incomes all went to George W. Bush in the 2004 presidential election, and 19 of the bottom 25 went for John Kerry.

Despite the rhetoric from progressives about “giving back” and the need for spreading the wealth around, it appears they don’t practice it as often in their private lives. That includes some in the current administration.

In a previous post, I noted that perhaps one reason the blue states give less is because they also often pay higher taxes per capita, leaving them with less income to spend on charity.  The effect of such higher taxation is damaging to voluntary giving – a notable unintended consequence. The six lowest ranking states were all in the northeast.

The type of ‘charity’ the most touted by progessives is dubious at best. Besides the noted unintended consequence of hindering voluntary giving, the basic principle behind forced ‘charity’ is misguided at its core.

Imagine three of your neighbors coming to your door step threatening you – picture them with ball bats or pitch forks – to give them $500 to help a fourth neighbor. The fourth neighbor may be in really dire straits. Perhaps he lost his job, contracted some rare disease and maybe even has no health insurance. You name the problem, he has it. Would you still not have a problem with the three others threatening you?

What makes it OK for government to then do it? The democratic process, you say? Back to our illustration, what if your neighbors took a vote? Would it then be OK for them to swing a bat or two at you?

The underlying principle is that no matter how noble the ends, the means are seldom justifiable just because they reach the ends. Forced ‘charity’ is not charity at all. We need more real charity.

* To use an interactive tool to view information about charitable giving in your neighborhood, go here.

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