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Wednesday, January 10, 2007
(10:57 PM) | Stephen:
Liberal vs. Conservative Giving

Arthur Brooks' book, Who Really Cares, is of course finding quite a bit of use as yet another rhetorical bludgeon to use against liberals. Conservatives give more to "the poor" than the hypocritical liberals who always preach against the wealth of the GOP.

Of course, giving to churches counts as "charitable" giving in this country, when it is nothing of the sort. Common congregational practice is to give a so-called "tithe" of the congregation's income directly to the poor, the idea obviously coming from the 10% tithe that most churches prescribe for their members. You may be surprised to know that I don't criticize that. Given the expenses congregations have, 10% is sometimes a stretch, and since it is staff members who tend to feel the pinch before anything else, I don't think we need to change this up at the moment. But the point is that most congregations are simply not in the business of providing food, shelter, medical care, etc. to people who need such things. Usually congregations will either band together for this type of thing or send their money to parachurch organizations.

Parachurch organizations are the ones that provide more direct services to the poor. Homeless shelters, "soup" kitchens, even job training and legal aid are provided by these organizations. However, there is one glaring difference between, say, a Christian homeless shelter and a secular homeless shelter: required attendance at worship services. I've actually preached at these things before, though I've always been a bit uncomfortable about it. The services are normally right before the meal. Those who aren't there don't eat. If there is a shelter, people who don't attend the services can find their resident status in jeopardy. In downtown Kansas City there is a parachurch organization that runs a homeless shelter, job training, addiction counseling and meals for people who just come in off the street. It's a good place, and I've volunteered there several times. The only problem I have is that a substantial portion of their payroll is taken up by current seminary students and recent graduates. Most of the people who provide the more technical services - addiction counseling, for example - are volunteers. I would think that an organization that is not a "church" could perhaps spend the money given to it on professionals that provide the services that distinguish it from churches and rely on various volunteer theology students and clergy to provide spiritual sustenance. So even here, some of the money - indeed, at times a significant portion - is not being spent on the poor.

We must also remember that Brooks is tracking charitable giving. This helps his cause, since one of the key differences between Democrats and Republicans, for example, is their relative willingness to use governmental programs to help society. This is shown by the universal healthcare plans already put in place by Massachussetts, Oregon and San Francisco, and Schwarzenegger's proposal for a statewide plan in California. Of course Medicaid is a liberal program, as are breakfast at school, free lunches for poor kids, HeadStart, TANF, WIC, and the multitude of other programs that had conservative opposition at their beginning and suffer continual attacks on their existence. These programs are usually funded better in "blue" states than in "red" states - for example, the complete breakdown of the social safety net in Texas is well-documented, even if it wasn't well-publicized in the 2000 election.

Then there is the troubling fact that red states are federal tax donors, while blue states are federal tax recipients. Some of this is offset by the larger number of military installations in the Western red states. For example, New Mexico is chock-full of land given over to one or another branch of the military, NASA and various other governmental organizations. However, we must not discount how Medicare and Social Security, those great liberal programs, figure into these numbers. Also, when state programs are subsidized by federal dollars, the money is coming from liberals in their blue states.

I would be willing to call it a draw, to admit that the differing worldviews of liberals and conservatives just propel us to different strategies, and that someone like Arthur Brooks probably just doesn't even comprehend that liberals give charitably through governmental programs.

I would be, but I've noticed that whenever some study comes out that paints the USA as a skinflint nation in terms of giving to poorer countries, the same people who never count a government program as "charity" are the ones who howl the loudest and longest about "their tax dollars" going to foreign aid, and how that money needs to be included. And that just pisses me off.

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