Thursday, January 04, 2007

Compassionate Conservatism

As you know, I'm a big fan of small government and truly believe in the power and ability of the private sector to deliver far greater results to a myriad of problems. One are that seems to have a better track record in the private sector that in the government purview which is elevating poverty. I have to say that had it not been for the scholarly work of Marvin Olasky and Charles Murray and their respective books The Tragedy of American Compassion and Losing Ground, , I doubt we would have seen such a monumental gleaming of the welfare and the further tearing away of a good bit of the "war on poverty" out of the hands of the government(Uncle Sam has spent $6.6 trillion since 1964 on a failed policy) and placing it in the portfolio of the the private sector charity, church and the individual. While the above mentioned books and individuals have had a lasting impact on showing how the federal government had failed miserably in fighting poverty and how the private sector was much more efficient and successful at this job, the fight over who delivers the goods are still being debated between the right and the left. Thankfully this debate seems to be falling further on the side of the private sector and its devotees with the most recent publication of Arthur C. Brooks' Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth about Compassionate Conservatism. In this wonderfully researched book, Brooks, an economist from Syracuse University, lays out a detailed study which shows that individuals who believe in the power of private sector, are more politically conservative and attend church regularly are more likely to donate a larger amount of their income or time towards a private charity than folks who cleft to the big government ideals found most prominently amongst the left-of- center. I believe Jonah Goldberg aptly summed up the whole argument in Who Really Cares when he made the following point in his syndicated column:
The further to the left you are — particularly to the secular left — the less likely you are to donate your time or money to charity. Imagine two demographically identical people, except that Joe goes to church regularly and rejects the idea that the government should redistribute wealth to lessen inequality, while Sam never goes to church and favors state-driven income redistribution. Brooks says the data indicate that not only is Joe Churchgoer nearly twice as likely as Sam Secularist to give money to charities in a given year, he will also give 100 times more money per year to charities (and 50 times more to non-religious ones).

Because Brooks is using vast pools of data, and because he’s talking about averages rather than individuals, there is no end of exceptions to prove the rule. No doubt there are pious Scrooges and Santa-like atheists. But, basically, if you are religiously observant, a married parent, and skeptical toward the role of government, you are much more likely to be generous with your time and money.

You’re also more likely to be a political conservative, but it’s a mistake to find causation in that correlation. Certain types of people are likely to be conservative and to be charitable. But being a conservative doesn't make you charitable.

Still, the partisan ammo is what has interested the Bill O’Reilly types the most — and it is interesting, since it so directly contradicts the generations-old propaganda of the left, which depicts the rich right as stingy, unfeeling and selfish. “Blue state” America spends a lot of time talking about how much more caring and enlightened it is. But that’s with somebody else’s money. When it’s their own money, that’s a different story.
While America has a long way to go before it can change the minds and powerful interests that still cling to the various vestiges of FDR's New Deal and Johnson's Great Society, the debate and public at large will gain a greater perspective on the debate on the fight on poverty. Above all, Brooks' Who Really Cares should be a great blinking sign to populists like John Edwards that this dream world of greater involvement of government in our lives is something of the past and will always be done in by the private sector and individual initiative. I recall that Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman and Ronald Reagan have got a lot of mileage out of such ideas.

*Also, check out Andrew Ferguson's column over at on Arthur C. Brooks' Who Really Cares.

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